Delicata Squash and Roasted Mushrooms with Thyme

Here’s my inspiration (as usual, found at Epicurious), as well as my personal editing (I’m taking out these parts of the published recipe, and adding in these parts), based on what I actually have on hand:

Delicata Squash and Roasted Mushrooms with Thyme

Gourmet  | November 2004

yield: Makes 6 servings (as part of main course)
active time: 25 min
total time: 1 hr

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thymerosemary
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 1/2 lb delicata squash (3 medium), halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide slices
  • 2 1/2 lb mixed fresh mushrooms such as cremini, shiitake, and oyster, trimmed (stems discarded if using shiitakes) and halved (quartered if large)

Preparation:

Stir together oil, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Toss squash with 2 tablespoons thyme oil in a shallow baking pan (1/2 to 1 inch deep) and arrange in 1 layer. Toss mushrooms with remaining 1/4 cup thyme oil in another shallow baking pan (1/2 to 1 inch deep) and arrange in 1 layer. Roast squash and mushrooms, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through roasting, until vegetables are tender and liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cooks’ note: Squash can be sliced 1 day ahead and chilled in a sealed plastic bag.

This was delicious.  The squash is a bit sweet, and the mushrooms decidedly savory.  Although both items were a bit on the squishy side (I’m not sure we’ve known each other long enough to get into my texture issues yet), I enjoyed them quite a bit.  I didn’t finish my squash, but Travis did, so that’s a good sign!

At the same time Trav was making the squash and mushrooms, I was in the middle of preserving other foods we had in hand.  I love Mexian Rice (to an admitedly psychotic extent).  We had some tomatoes that were about to go bad, and we had onions (which is the begining of my favorite recipe).  So I pureed up the tomatoes and onions and forze them in my favorite method (muffin tin).  We had some leftover cilantro and jalapenos also, and some leftover chicken broth.  All of the above got processed in the Cuisinart and frozen in the muffin tins except the jalapenos – no one needs 1/2 cup of frozen processed jalapenos!  The jalapenos I froze in our spare ice cube tray, instead.

It felt so good to be so productive – cooking and preserving all in the same day!

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Leftover Tomato Soup

Here’s my inspiration (found in America’s Test Kitchen’s New Best Recipe), as well as my personal editing (I’m taking out these parts of the published recipe, and adding in these parts), based on what I actually have on hand:

Tomato Soup
America’s Test Kitchen’s New Best Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 large shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • pinch ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or dry sherry
  • salt and cayenne pepper

Preparation:

Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Seed the tomatoes and spread in a single layer on the foil.  Sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar.  Bake until all the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off the foil; transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until foaming.  Add the shallots, tomato paste, and allspice.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes.  Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.  Whisking constantly, gradually add the chicken broth; stir in the reserved tomato juice and the roasted tomatoes.  Cover, increase the heat to medium, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend the flavors, about 10 minutes.

Strain the mixture into a medium bowl; rinse out the saucepan.  Transfer the tomatoes and solids in the strainer to a blender; add 1 cup of the strained liquid and puree until smooth.  combine the pureed mixture and remaining strained liquid in the saucepan.  Add the cream and warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in the brandy and season with salt and cayenne to taste.  Serve immediately.  (the soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 2 days.  Warm over low heat until hot; do not boil.)

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
  • Tillamook Cheddar Cheese, sliced
  • Tillamook unsalted butter

Preparation:

Unwrap one end of your butter and place the whole stick of butter on end in a 10″ – 12″ skillet on medium or medium-high (depending on how well-done you like your grilled cheese).  Although Martha Stewart will tell you that this ruins the entire stick of butter, I find that the rest of the butter is completely fine, and you end up with less wasted butter.  Once the skillet begins to heat up, move the stick of butter around until there’s a thin coating of melted butter across the entire skillet.  Meanwhile, assemble your sandwiches.  Stack a slice of bread, a layer of cheese, and another slice of bread (you really needed a recipe for that?).  Once you’ve coated the skillet with butter, remove the remaining butter and set aside.

Place as many sandwiches as fit flat in your skillet.  Cover with a loose-fitting lid and cook until the underside is as golden brown as you like it.  I personally like mine to be a deep, coffee-brown, but this recipe will work for any done-ness level.  Flip sandwiches, adding more butter to the pan if necessary.  If your cheese is already thoroughly melted, there is no need for the lid while you cook the second side.  If not, the lid will speed the melting process so that your sandwich isn’t overcooked.

The Verdict:

I have to admit that this soup doesn’t measure up for me.  Tomato soup will always come from the ubiquitous Campbell’s can for me.  One time, early in our courtship, Travis surprised me with a complete ghetto lunch – including Campbell’s soup and velveeta and wonder bread.  When I was a teenager, working at camp Soundview, my absolute favorite lunch was mass-produced grilled cheese (white bread and American cheese) with tomato soup.  Nowdays, I prefer wheat bread and Tillamook cheddar, but I still love the Campbell’s version of the soup.  For some reason (maybe because we only have a food processor and no blender?), we can’t ever get the soup we make from canned tomatoes to smooth out.  Although America’s Test Kitchen would (and does, in print) disagree with me, I have to say that I love the tried & true condensed soup from a can.

Leftover Simple Pumpkin Soup with Mushrooms and Feta

So it’s the reprise of the soup I made on Sunday.  This time, we tried it with the sauted mushrooms (just criminis though – on sale for $4/pound trumps shiitakes) as well as the feta.  Although this is the second time for the recipe this week, it was Trav’s first time experiencing it.  I cooked it while he was at work on Sunday and by the time he got home, it was already stored for our meal on Thursday.  He enjoyed it, and I can say that it’s much better with the mushrooms and more feta.  Both additions worked together to overcome the sweetness that I complained about on Sunday, and moved this recipe firmly into the “keep” category.

Leftover Kale and White Bean Soup

Here’s my inspiration (as usual, found at Epicurious), as well as my personal editing (I’m taking out these parts of the published recipe, and adding in these parts), based on what I actually have on hand:

Kale and White Bean Soup
Gourmet February 2002

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 qt water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (not California)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 lb smoked sausage such as kielbasa (optional), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped relatively finely – I don’t like having long pieces of kale hanging off my soup spoon.

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

While soup is simmering, brown sausage (if using) in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, then transfer to paper towels to drain.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Cooks’ notes:

  • Soup is best if made 1 or 2 days ahead. Cool completely, uncovered, then chill, covered. Thin with water if necessary.  This is probably the most important note you’ll receive on this recipe – I was completely underwhelmed the first time I tried this recipe.  I only tried it the second day because we’re so committed to eating the food we have whenever possible.  The second day, it had a wonderfully rich broth and became entirely satisfying.  I tried just simmering the soup longer, but apparently the only thing that works is to refrigerate & reheat the soup.  I now make the soup at least a day before it’s on the menu.
  • Lacinato is available at farm stands, specialty produce markets, and natural foods stores. Be aware that it has many aliases: Tuscan kale, black cabbage, cavolo nero, dinosaur kale, and flat black cabbage. I literally use whatever type of kale is included in my CSA share – it has looked both curly & flat in different weeks, and both turn out wonderfully.

There’s something missing in this recipe still.  I’m not sure if it’s that we need more chicken stock instead of water or if it needs more bacon and sausage?  Grated parmesan in addition to the rind?  Those little meatballs for Italian Wedding Soup?  I’m open to suggestions – let me know what you’d do!

Roasted Vegetables, Mashed Potatoes & Braised Greens

Here’s my inspiration (found at Epicurious and America’s Test Kitchen), as well as my personal editing (I’m taking out these parts of the published recipe, and adding in these parts), based on what I actually have on hand:

Roasted Vegetables
Epicurious 2005

Roasted Vegetable Preparation

Ingredients

  • 2 leeks, white part only, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 pound turnips, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • whatever root vegetables you have on hand, cut into pieces; the softer the vegetable, the larger the piece & vice-versa: potatoes, turnips, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, parsnips, etc.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 head garlic, 1/2 inch trimmed off top broken up into cloves but not peeled

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine vegetables and garlic cloves in a large bowl. leeks, turnips, and sweet potatoes in large roasting pan. Top with bay leaves and drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle with thyme, salt, and freshly ground black pepper, and toss to coat thoroughly.  Spread vegetables in a single layer on a cookie sheet or pizza pan.

Place garlic, cut side up, on a piece of foil and drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil. Wrap garlic in foil and place on oven shelf. Place roasting pan next to garlic in oven, and r Roast until vegetables are just tender and slightly browned, about 35 minutes.

Unwrap garlic. Squeeze cloves from their skins, slice cloves, and toss with roasted vegetables.

Mashed Potatoes
The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook 

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 8 6 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup half-and-half 1/2 cup whole milk, hot
  • salt and pepper

Preparation:

Cover the potatoes by 1 inch of water in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender and a fork can be slipped easily into the center, 20 to 25 minutes.  Be careful not to overcook the potatoes.  If the potatoes are starting to break down instead of just easily pierced with a fork, they will hold water and the mashed potatoes will turn out runny.

Drain the potatoes in a colander, tossing to remove any excess water.  Wipe the saucepan dry.  Add the potatoes back to the pot and mash to a uniform consistency (or process through a food mill or ricer back into the dry pot).

Using a flexible rubber spatula, fold in the melted butter until just incorporated.  Fold in 3/4 1/4 cup of the half-and-half, adding the remaining 1/4 cup as needed to adjust the consistency.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make ahead:

The peeled and cut potatoes can be kept, submerged in water, in teh refrigerator for up to 24 hours.  Drain the potatoes before proceeding with the recipe.

Braised Mustard Greens with Garlic
Gourmet December 2004

Ingredients:

  • 1 slice bacon, chopped fine
  • 1/2 lb mustard greens and kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped (4 cups packed)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup water

Preparation:

Heat bacon in pan over medium-high heat until crisp.  Meanwhile, blanch greens in a 4-quart heavy pot of boiling salted water 1 minute. Drain greens in a colander and wipe pot dry.

Set cooked bacon aside and empty all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from pan. Cook garlic in bacon fat oil in pan pot over moderate heat, stirring, until pale golden, about 30 seconds. Add greens and water and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

This menu is a little different than what I grew up with.  We would often have roasted vegetables as part of a pot roast night, but I don’t remember ever having specifically roasted vegetables until I was in my twenties and Katie Felesina’s dad, John came to town and cooked dinner for all the girls.  The vegetables turned out so wonderfully, I asked him for his recipe.  He thought it was crazy that I needed a recipe for what is basically “chop up some vegetables and toss them with olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper.  Then roast them.”  I’ve been roasting vegetables ever since and I always love them.  Mashed potatoes have always been a favorite food of mine, and since I want to make them so often, I cut back a bit on the fat included in the recipe.

The greens are a complete departure for me.  I remember my mother not liking cooked spinach, and I don’t remember ever having any kind of cooked greens until I was in Manhattan in 2000.  The chefs in the big apple tend to create wonderfully sauted menu items if you show up at a 4-star restaurant and ask them to make something vegetarian.  Creamed spinach was probably the first thing I loved from that experience (with mushrooms and zucchini coming in second and third).  Over the last decade, I’ve grown considerably in my tastes, especially when there are greens included in the share!  However, tonight I forgot to saute the garlic before adding the greens back in, and I don’t recommend this recipe that way.  We ended up putting a lot of the greens into the freezer for a soup in the future.  The fact that I messed up the recipe tonight probably will not change how a soup turns out.

We keep a container in the freezer that is specifically for leftovers that might be good in soup.  Once we accumulate a full container of miscellaneous leftover vegetables, we cook up a batch of chicken soup and add the veggies in.  Thank you to Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar for the idea!

PS – for those of you that are keeping track, this meal was actually scheduled for Wednesday, but a schedule change encouraged me to change the meal order as well.  One of the nice things about having a menu for the week is that since we grocery shop for the enitre week ahead of time, a schedule change does not make us toss out the menu. Instead, we simply substitute one of the easier meals on a busy day or a labor-intensive meal on a day we get home earlier than planned!

Black Bean and Bell Pepper Salad

Here’s my inspiration (as usual, found at Epicurious),as well as my personal editing (I’m taking out these parts of the recipe, and adding these parts)based on what I actually have on hand:

Black Bean and Bell Pepper Salad
Bon Appétit June 1996

Ingredients (for ½ recipe):

Vinaigrette

  • ¼ cup water
  • 8 dates (about 2 ounces), pitted, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano lemon thyme
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander cayenne

Salad

  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained
  • ¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped green bell pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Preparation:
For Vinaigrette:
Boil water and dates in heavy small saucepan for 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 1 hour to soften.

Transfer date mixture to blender food processor. Add lime juice, oil, oregano, honey, cumin and coriander and purée. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature before using.)

For salad:
Combine beans, bell peppers, and onion and parsley in large bowl. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Even though I didn’t have any dates on hand, I wanted to include them in the vinaigrette. Almost every person who reviewed the recipe on epicurious mentioned what a key ingredient the dates are. So I added them to my shopping list on Sunday. Since the vinaigrette takes an hour in the middle of the prep time, I went ahead and started it on Sunday so that we could enjoy the salad during the only time we’re off work together on Monday – midday. My plan was foiled when Travis beat me home and ate a cereal lunch so he could get straight to his nap. I finished the recipe and enjoyed a bowl of the completed salad.
The Verdict:
This is a simple enough recipe that is fairly good. I can imagine this being a fabulous side salad at a summertime picnic – the lime in the vinaigrette keeps things nice and bright and fresh-tasting. Even making the 1/2 recipe we did, there will be plenty of leftovers for the two of us. This seems like it will also make a good taco filling on leftover day, especially with some of the Mexican rice we’ve got in the freezer!

 

Simple Pumpkin Soup

Here’s my inspiration (as usual, found at Epicurious), as well as my personal editing (I’m taking out these parts of the published recipe, and adding in these parts), based on what I actually have on hand:

Very Simple Pumpkin Soup
Bon Appétit October 2001

Ingredients:

  • 2 15-ounce cans pure pumpkin 4½ cups pumpkin puree made last week
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup half and half 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 3 garlic cloves, pressed minced
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 4 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder* some combination of spices from the cabinet: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and a touch of cayenne
  • 4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, sliced crumbled feta

Preparation:
Melt a bit of the butter in a large saucepan and sauté garlic until fragrant. Add Bring first 4 3 ingredients and bring to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking often. If your homemade pumpkin puree simply refuses to whisk into a smooth consistency as it’s obviously meant to do in this recipe, it’s probably fine to pull out that immersion blender you got for Christmas a few years ago and blend the clumps out. Whisk in syrup, 2 tablespoons butter, and five spices powder. Simmer soup 10 minutes, whisking often. Season with salt and pepper. (Soup can be made 1 day ahead. Chill until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Bring to simmer before serving.) Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Divide soup among 6 bowls. Sprinkle soup with feta; mushrooms, dividing equally; serve.
* A blend of ground anise, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and ginger available in the spice section of most supermarkets.

As you can see, I changed the order of preparation (what recipe isn’t better if you sauté some garlic to begin), substituted some ingredients with items I had in the house, and totally changed the garnish since I don’t have any mushrooms on hand.

The Verdict:
I’m trying to keep an open mind, considering how far I strayed from the recipe. This soup is a little on the sweet side for me, which I think is intended to be balanced by the savory garnish of mushrooms. Even imagining the earthy flavor of shiitakes paired with this rather than the sharper flavor of feta, I don’t think that would quite overcome the sweet factor. Now, please keep in mind before you try this recipe: I don’t like sweets. I like my coffee black with a topping of whipped cream, I like my scones savory, I like my chocolate as dark as it comes. I’ll often skip dessert not because of any diet but because I would rather eat French fries than cake. My ideal pastries all involve lots of butter and not much sugar. So please take my critique as completely biased – some of you may love the balance of sweet and savory in this recipe exactly as written. It is still a really nice soup even if it is sweeter than I would like.

Here’s what I’ll do in the future: first off, there will be leftovers of this soup on the menu this week, so I’ll be buying some mushrooms for that. For next time (I do have 6 squash sitting in my kitchen, and I’m likely to get more each week for the next five weeks), I will likely sauté onions or shallots first, and then add in the garlic to build a stronger savory base for this recipe. I think that a combination of water and chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want to keep this ovo-lacto) would also add some depth to the flavor. I’ll also cut back a bit on the syrup, depending on how sweet the particular squash I’m using is. I think that I’ll also serve some sort of savory roll on hand as an accompaniment – maybe a rosemary dinner roll, for example. I think with these modifications, this soup will become a staple food for Travis and I in the autumn (and heck, I’ve got 6 cups of frozen puree from this same pumpkin, so we could probably make this recipe again and again, only running out of puree next spring when our local farmers’ markets start giving us fresh options again)!

Here’s what it would turn into:

Melissa’s Simple Pumpkin Soup
Adapted from Bon Appétit October 2001

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated
  • ½ cup shallots or onions, chopped fine
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, minced or put through the garlic press
  • 4½ cups home-made pumpkin (or other squash) puree
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup half and half or whole milk
  • 1-2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • some combination of spices from the cabinet: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and a touch of cayenne; whatever you like
  • 4 ounces fresh shiitake (or other) mushrooms, stemmed, sliced
  • Crumbled feta (optional)

Preparation:
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large saucepan and sauté onion or shallots until translucent. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add pumpkin puree, water, broth and milk and bring to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking often. If your homemade puree simply refuses to whisk into a smooth consistency as it’s obviously meant to do in this recipe, it’s probably fine to pull out that immersion blender you got for Christmas a few years ago and blend the clumps out. Whisk in syrup, 1 tablespoon butter, and spices. Simmer soup 10 minutes, whisking often. Season with salt and pepper. (Soup can be made 1 day ahead. Chill until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Bring to simmer before serving.) Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Divide soup among 6 bowls. Sprinkle soup with mushrooms, and feta if using, dividing equally; serve.

Menu October 25th through 31st, 2009

It’s a busy week for both of us – working full time and 5 performances, so we’re going to focus on leftovers and easy meals. The Roasted Vegetables for Wednesday are actually already prepped (I cut & marinated twice what we needed last week, for just such an occasion). For both soup days, we’ll pull the leftovers out of the freezer & pop them in the crock pot on low in the morning, so we’ll have soup hot & ready to go when we get home from work & rehearsals.

Here’s the plan:

  • Sunday: Melissa’s Simple Pumpkin Soup
  • Monday: Black Bean and Bell Pepper Salad
  • Tuesday: Leftover White Bean & Kale Soup
  • Wednesday: Roasted Vegetables & Mashed Potatoes with Braised Mustard Greens & Kale
  • Thursday: Melissa’s Simple Pumpkin Soup (leftover from Sunday)
  • Friday: work & 2 performances = grilled cheese sandwiches & leftover tomato soup
  • Saturday: 3 performances = leftovers from the week

Grocery List ($74.54):

Costco ($69.42)

  • Cheddar cheese ($11.69)
  • Feta ($8)
  • Cereal ($6.95)
  • Freezer Bags ($9.69)
  • Mint gum ($8.15)
  • Beer ($21.99)
  • Tax ($2.95)

Top Foods ($5.12)

  • Mushrooms ($2)
  • Herb rolls ($2.58)
  • Dates ($0.54)

Sunday is also my day to prep foods for storage for the future. Today involved taking the pumpkin puree out of the muffin tins where they’ve been freezing and transferring them properly to freezer bags. I then washed the muffin tin and filled 6 spaces with the pumpkin soup I made today (for sometime in the future) and the other 6 spaces with the leftover beef broth from a carton I used last week. Since none of my chosen recipes this week call for beef broth, I want to make sure it gets preserved before it goes “off”.

I’m also storing batches of the soups we’ve made this week in the same way. I love freezing with muffin tins – whatever you’ve prepared (pizza sauce, the remaining broth you didn’t use in that soup recipe, pumpkin puree, finished soups, etc) is frozen in neat little ½ cup portions that you can then toss into one freezer bag. When you’re ready to use some of it, just pull however many ½ cups you want from that freezer bag and put them in prep bowls in the fridge to defrost. You can create “serving sized” portions easily this way without a lot of extra packaging – once they’re frozen, you can pop as many ½ cup portions in the same freezer bag as will fit without worrying about them sticking to each other later. This method will work with anything that will form to a muffin tin, so anything sauce or soup-like, as well as leftover portions of almost anything you take out of a can. The only thing I don’t freeze this way is rice (which doesn’t hold its shape that well once it’s out of the muffin tins) and tomato paste (which I store in 1 tablespoon portions in individual sandwich bags in the freezer). The only problem right now is that I only own one muffin tin, which only holds 6 cups total. So I can only process that much in one day (or maybe double that, if I’m motivated enough to start early & keep going late). For example, right at the moment, I’m waiting for the soup and beef broth I started earlier today to become firm enough that I can transfer it to the freezer bags I purchased at Costco so that I can freeze some of my other soups.

I would think that it’s time to get more muffin tins, but I also have a vague concern about running out of freezer space. We currently only have the small freezer attached to our refrigerator, and it’s getting fairly full. We might need to look into getting a separate freezer as we continue on our CSA journey…

The Plan

This blog has been a long time in the making.

I began reading blogs a couple of years ago, when my friend Geoff kept his Pacific NW friends updated with posts from his several-month stay in China. I would check his blog every few days to see what was up with him, and I liked the peek into someone else’s life. I found David Byrne’s blog almost by accident, and fell in love with his writing (as I’d previously done with his solo music). Over the course of a few years, I found my friend Casey’s blog as well as several personal finance blogs, blogs about happiness and parenting and fashion, many of which I read daily. At one point, I found a short-term blog project that chronicled the challenges of eating a locavore diet for a month, staying within the food stamp budget for their area. This blogger was attempting to answer the question of whether it’s possible to eat fresh, organic, local food without being fabulously wealthy (or at least well-off). I was intrigued. I found a few other locavore blogs, but not quite what I had in mind. My husband and I briefly maintained a blog during our honeymoon in New Zealand, to keep folks back home posted about our fun times jumping into canyons, snowboarding, and exploring a completely different hemisphere (at least one small part of it). Once we got home, we let the blog lapse, since daily life seemed so much tamer than our adventures in NZ.

Now, I once again feel that I have something worthwhile to share with a greater audience. We have committed to preparing more meals at home, as well as to consuming local organic produce. These are goals that will serve most people well in some way (better heath, better finances, it’s good for the environment). With the growing season in the Pacific Northwest being more limited than say, southern California, and since many of the plants that do well here can be grown virtually anywhere in the world (given enough water), I feel that our experiences along this journey are readily applicable to a broad spectrum of people. I hope you gain something useful from it and I welcome comments and suggestions from you all!

We’ve been participating in our local CSA (Zestful Gardens) for 3 years now, and only this year have I finally gotten the handle on how to use the food in a sensible manner, and how to manage to consume or store (almost) all of our share for the week. We re-subscribed after the first year because although we hadn’t managed to eat even the majority of our share each week (sorry, Holly & Valerie – I never wanted to tell you how much of your work we wasted!), we were exposed to new foods and even the attempt to eat from our share encouraged us to include more vegetables in what was at the time a highly carnivorous diet. The second year, we did better but we still weren’t sure it made economic sense for us (considering the amount of waste we ended up with). We agreed to try one more year, and the combination of a renewed commitment, overextending ourselves financially to fund our honeymoon last year, and reduced hours at work for both of us (thank you, recession), finally kicked us into gear. We managed this year to eat or preserve almost everything in each share, each week.

We are today (Sunday) nearing our midway point between the end of summer share and the beginning of autumn share. We picked up our final share of the summer on Tuesday and autumn share does not begin until next Saturday. This gives me a bit of breathing room to try to get a jump-start on this undertaking – please check back to keep me to my intended plan!

One more item on the agenda: Here are my actual stated goals as I plan my menu (in order of importance):

  1. Utilize everything from our CSA share for the week (either immediately as an ingredient or prepped and stored for future use).
  2. Fit the weekly menu to our (sometimes crowded) schedules.
  3. Eat food rather than chemicals. Although I would ideally only bring whole foods into my home, and make them into whatever I need, I’m not quite at that point yet. My next-best thing is to read ingredient lists on all prepared foods (and I’m including bread and cheese here) to be sure that the ingredients are at least things I consider food.
  4. Keep our food budget as low as we can – we’re currently allowing ourselves $140 a week that must stretch to cover gasoline, regular auto maintenance (oil changes and the like, but not tires or repairs), entertainment, food/beer/wine, household supplies, personal hygiene products, incidentals (baby shower gifts, nylons, etc.)
  5. Include enough meat each week to keep my previously carnivorous husband from gnawing his own arm off. Although I do not have any aspirations to return to a vegetarian lifestyle (eleven years were enough for me), the byproduct of trying to consume all the veggies we get each week is generally that we don’t have room in our menu for heavily meat-centered meals during the growing season.
  6. Keep as much as we can of our non-CSA grocery shopping local and organic.*

So that’s the plan! This blog is intended to share our journey with our CSA as we consume our entire share over the course of a year. We pick up our share Tuesday afternoons during the summer and early autumn, and Saturday mornings during the late autumn. Each week, I will post the share (with photos when I remember) on pick-up day. By the following day, I should have a menu for the week as well as a shopping list. I’ll then be updating each day with recipes, photos, reviews, etc. There, I’ve written it – this is my intention. I am now accountable to you, the reader. In all honesty, I do not know how large an audience this blog will have. I will be letting the other members of my CSA know about it so they can reap the benefit of a menu completely planned around our shares, and there may be others like me out there, that enjoy learning about the life of a stranger that has similar interests and goals… time will tell!

*Please refrain from commenting on the low placement of this goal. I know that there are tons of arguments that can be made about how this should be goal # 1 or possibly #2, since the CSA is automatically local and organic. I know, really, I know. But I also firmly believe that life requires balance. Since our budget is currently so tight, I can’t always justify spending $4 on 8 ounces of locally produced feta cheese when the Costco has feta with all-natural ingredients (all of which I can identify as foods) for $3 per pound. It travelled 3,000 miles to get to me, and I would love it if that weren’t the case. But as long as Travis can eat 8 ounces of feta in a single snack, and as long as we’re working on our other goals (get out of debt, purchase a company this year), these are the priorities we’ve set.