CSA Begins Again!

Holy greens, Batman!  With a cold, wet spring in the Northwest, the CSA share is all about the green.  I love the little baby lettuces – that’s gonna be salad very soon!  Because of a scheduling issue for Tuesday (our CSA pick-up day), I didn’t take my normal photo of the share listing for the week.    From the newsletter, I see that the tasty, unitentified leaves I just munched are fava leaves.  We’ve got braising greens, spinach, three kinds of lettuce, chamomile, chives, and radishes.  Now, I’m not a radish fan, but it turns out that Travis has been avoiding eating the radishes we’ve gotten before ’cause he was saving them for me.  Now that we’ve got that figured out, I’m sure they’ll be gone in a jif!  I will definitely be making some kind of pesto out of this bounty, which will be just the thing to change up our pizza recipes this week!

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Hand-tossed Pizza Crust

I went over the recipe I use for hand-tossed pizza crust here, but I have worked out the technique a bit, so I thought I’d share my tips.  I found a tutorial online  (look for the “tossing tips”) that really helped me get going with the whole pizza tossing technique, and now I toss all my pizza doughs.  I’m still not an expert, but I get consistently roundish pizzas (I actually make them oblong so they fit better on my parchment paper), and I can usually get them the thickness I like pretty well.  Here’s what I do:  after dividing the dough into 6 pieces and letting it rest for 10 minutes, I work with one piece at a time and press it into a disc shape.  Because the act of tossing the dough automatically makes the edges of the crust thicker than the center, I make sure that I leave the middle thicker than the edges as I flatten the rounds:

Then I follow the guidelines in the tutorial and toss each disc into the air.  I tend to get into the whole process, getting my knees into the program and keeping a close eye on the dough (because I hate when it lands on the floor or the sink because I wasn’t paying attention).

Sometimes the dough gets really pretty and manta ray-like in its motion in the air. 

After I toss one piece, I put it on a piece of parchment paper and stretch it a bit more.  It’s important to hold the stretch as you’re arranging your dough.  If you stretch and let go of it right away, it will just go back to its original shape.  So you need to stretch, wait for the dough to relax, and then set it down.  I then proceed with poking the dough with a fork, brushing with olive oil, and parbaking for 2 minutes each.  As one piece is parbaking, I can usually toss the next piece so that there’s little delay between baking times.  I tend to get into a sort of zen baking state as I’m processing my pizza dough, and I love looking forward to the creative toppings we’re going to use!

Menu May 30th-June 5th

This is the last week before CSA starts again for the season, and Travis and I cannot wait! I did another trip to the farmer’s market this weekend and prepped a little ahead, so we’re back into meal planning mode!

  • Sunday: Homemade pizza & salad
  • Monday: Burgers & salad
  • Tuesday: Goat Cheese and Asparagus Pasta
  • Wednesday: Italian Sausage skillet pasta
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: Tacos
  • Saturday: Graduation Party
  • Sunday: Pizza

During the growing season, I love the variety of foods we get to munch on.  I love meals that have the basics the same, but utilize whatever produce is best at the market or CSA.  So at least one of our pizza nights will include marinated feta and spinach in the toppings.  Although we’re going to be duplicating the same pasta dish we ate last week, we’ll be changing that recipe up as different veggies come into season.  It’s such an exciting time of year to cook and eat!

Asparagus, Red Pepper, and Spinach Salad

Here’s my inspiration (this time from America’s Test Kitchen The 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:

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1 by 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
  • salt & ground black pepper
  • 1 medium shallot, sliced thin
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed thorugh a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 6 ounces baby spinach (about 8 cups)
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, cut into small chunks

Preparation:

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until beginning to smoke; add the bell pepper and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes, stirring only once after 1 miniute.  Add the asparagus, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper; cook until the asparagus is browned and almost tender, about 2 minutes, stirring only once after 1 minute.  Stire in the shallots and cook until softened and the asparagus is tender-crisp, about 1 minute, stirring occasionally.  Transfer to a large plate and cool 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 4 tablespoons oil, the vinegar, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper together in a medium bowl until combined.  In a large bowl, toss the spinach with 2 tablespoons of the dressing and divide the spinach among salad plates.  Toss the asparagus mixture with the remaining dressing and place a portion of it over the spinach; divide the goat cheese among the salads and serve.

The Verdict:

Dinner with Kenna Rae!

We had Kenna Rae over for dinner tonight – what a bundle of energy!  She helped me clean the kitchen and TV room while Travis picked up some groceries, and then she helped me make salad while Trav took care of the rest of the meal.  Then she ate all the foods I asked her to.  She didn’t really want to leave, but it’s a school night, so it had to be done.

The Menu

  • Hamburgers on the grill
  • Grilled Asparagus
  • Salad
  • Crispy Crowns

Hamburgers

Quick patties from the grocery store, thrown on the grill.  Trav & I had blue cheese on ours, and Kenna Rae asked for “normal, yellow cheese.”  We had Tilamook Cheddar, so that’s what she got.  She thought they were good except for the “burned parts,” so I cut those off as best I could.  Trav & I also had sprouts on ours (we have them on tacos too).  Kenna didn’t want any “tiny things” on her burger, so she just had a cheese burger with ketchup.

Grilled Asparagus

Trav trimmed the asparagus and added some butter & pepper and wrapped it in aluminum foil and popped it on the upper rack of the grill.  He left it there until it was tender, but not mushy.  Beautiful.

Salad

Kenna & I tore leaves of spinach, lettuce, and field greens and added the last of the pea shoot leaves to the salad.  Kenna asked for tomatoes, and I shredded some carrots as well.  Trav and I used our home-made blue cheese dressing, and Kenna asked for dressing too, so I used some of the milder, store-bought dressing for hers.  She liked the dressing fine, but there was one chunk of blue cheese in her serving (even though I tried to avoid it).  She ate it, but then scrunched up her face, made a retching noise, and pronounced, “this tastes disgusting!”  She drank some milk and was okay.  So she doesn’t mind blue cheese dressing, but blue cheese itself is just awful.

Crispy Crowns

Trav introduced me to these years ago.  They’re exactly the same as Tater Tots, but shorter and wider (more disc-shaped).  They’re made by Ore-Ida, and we just follow the directions for oven baking.  We like them on the crispy side, so we keep them in there until they get to that stage.  Although baking doesn’t make them a health food by any means, they are delicious as a treat (especially a treat for little girls that already ate two pieces of asparagus and a serving of salad)!

Pasta with Goat Cheese, Lemon, and Asparagus

Farmer’s Market!!!

So the CSA doesn’t begin for another couple of weeks, but I’ve been dying for fresh, local, organic produce.  I’ve been to the farmer’ market in the Proctor district a few times, and purchased their early season veggies – that involved several salads, and we did make home-made blue cheese dressing.  But this is the first week that we really stocked up on a variety of produce, specifically in order to prep a menu for the week.  I’m excited for this week’s food.  Here’s what we got:

  • Spinach (3 pounds)
  • Lettuce (1 large, beautiful head)
  • Spring Mix (1/2 pound)
  • Asparagus (2 pounds)
  • Apples (7)

We’re going to be making:

  • Pasta with asparagus and goat cheese
  • Wilted Spinach and asparagus salad
  • Various salads throughout the week
  • An apple a day for me

I’m so excited to have the CSA starting up again, and I was saying so to Travis.  He agreed that it’s exciting, and I asked him if he was sure.  I’m certain that we participate in the CSA because it’s so important to me to eat local, fresh, organic produce and because I love knowing who grew our food.  I was sure that Travis just went along with the whole process.  As you may know from reading the early posts on this blog, we only started being successful using our share without a lot of waste last (our third) year.  I’m glad that we’re both finally at the point that we’re excited to begin the year.  There’s something wonderful about being surprised by the variation each week and meeting the challenge to use the veggies we get.  It’s also wonderful how the CSA season encourages our veggie intake!

Another big step this year:  we’re finally composting.  Over the years of CSA, I’ve been dismayed with how much green waste was going into our trash can.  Since Tacoma doesn’t offer curbside composting, and since our yard waste bins are only intended for “small amounts” of fruit and vegetable waste, we were tossing all our scraps in the trash.  Lame.  So we created the most basic composting system possible and we’re trying to keep our green waste out of the landfills.  Better late than never!

Flour Tortillas from Scratch!

Flour Tortillas

Adapted from the weekend gourmand, who adapted from Homesick Texan

Makes 16 tortillas (if you’re going to the trouble of making these from scratch, don’t just make 8–you can save whatever you don’t eat right away for the next day or two)

So the problem I see with the recipe as written is that I have to be way too involved in the whole mixing and kneading thing.  My favorite pizza dough recipe happens almost entirely in the Cuisinart, my favorite pita bread recipe happens almost exlusively in the KitchenAid.  I’m an appliance kinda girl (at least when it comes to baking).  So I’m trying this tortilla thing adapted to the Cuisinart.  One of the notes that the ladies at the weekend gourmand said was that they thought they might have over-handled the dough.  The Cuisinart takes the guess-work out. 

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 T vegetable oil
  • 1.5 cups warm milk

Preparation:

  1. Add dry ingredients to food processor bowl and pulse briefly to mix. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Slowly add warm milk and oil through the feed tube while pulsing and stir until it comes together. Process for 30 seconds longer.  Turn out onto the counter and knead for a minute or two few strokes until it’s smooth, shiny and soft. Place in a bowl, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
  2. After resting, turn the dough out again and divide it into sixteen equal pieces, rolling them into balls and then setting them onto a plate of cookie sheet piece of parchment paper to rest. Cover with a damp towel again and let rest another 10 minutes.
  3. Flour your work surface, then take one dough ball at a time and flatten it with your hands into a circle. Then, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a thin disc, picking it up and rotating and flipping it every 5 or so rolls so that it stays even like you would a pie crust. Here is where you are supposed to avoid overworking the dough, and I will have to do some kitchen seconds to figure out if I messed up at this point, but I rolled them out to a diameter of about 6-8 inches.  While you’re rolling out the rest, cover the finished ones with the towel (you can stack them up without worrying about them sticking, at least in my experience).
  4. Preheat a dry cast iron or griddle to medium high heat.  Cook tortillas for about 30 seconds per side or until they’re getting lightly browned, and cover the finished ones with a towel while you finish the rest. Enjoy!

The Verdict:

Trav & I made a whole mess of these, trying to perfect the recipe in our kitchen.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a setting on our griddle that cooks at a high enough temperature to get brown spots in less than a minute on each side.  While these were still tasty, they didn’t compare to my favorite store brand tortilla.  I’m contemplating purchasing cast iron just for this recipe.  Trav likes cooking with cast iron anyway, so we might break down and buy some.  Until then, I’ll keep buying tortillas at the store.

Pizza Bread

Yes, this is pretty much as far from CSA-inspired food as you can get, while still cooking something at home. It’s not really what this blog is about, but since we’ve been getting home at 9pm or so each night for the last week, it’s going to have to do. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s tasty.

Ingredients:
French bread, sliced in half (top half & bottom half, not left & right halves)
Pizza sauce (our favorite is leftover pasta sauce, but you can used jarred sauce that you’ve put through the food processor as well).
Shredded Mozzarella cheese
Pepperoni slices
Shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)

Turn oven on to broil (we use the low setting, with racks in the medium/low area).

Spread sauce on the cut sides of the bread, and stick them in the oven for a minute or two (this step is important if you’re taking sauce straight out of the fridge to cook the meal). Remove the bread from the oven and sprinkle with mozzarella. Spread pepperoni slices over the surface and sprinkle with parmesan.

Put the pizza bread back in the oven and cook until the cheese is all gooey and melty (yes, those are the technical terms). If you like your pizza a little more well-done, leave it in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and begins to turn golden brown.

Don’t forget to let the cheese rest a little before you take your first bite, otherwise you’ll end up with those awful burns on the roof of your mouth.

For times when you just don’t have time to cook, this is an awesome recipe to keep on hand. I find that all of the ingredients will also keep well in the freezer for a month or so, althougth you’ll need to take the bread out in time to thaw for dinner that night (the cheese & pepperoni you can spread while frozen, and you can thaw the sauce in the microwave if necessary). Enjoy!

Pumpkin Ravioli Reprise

Tonight, Trav & I tried a new version of the pumpkin ravioli from Monday. Trav briefly boiled the lasagne noodles before making the raviolis, and they seemed to stick together better than they previously had. Additionally, Travis is not as scared of reducing sauces as I am. I really don’t have any of the skills necessary to reduce a sauce. I can’t estimate what 1/2 cup of chicken broth will look like once it’s reduced from 2 cups. I can’t imagine what the cream and broth mixture will look like when it then reaches the correct volume. Add to that my tendancy to get distracted when cooking and forget that I should be watching a sauce, and you’re looking at an embarrassing possibility for mistakes. So Travis is now in charge of all sauces that need to be reduced. Maybe I’ll one day be able to accomplish this, but right now it just fills me with anxiety – if I look away for a moment, will the saucepan evaporate all the liquid and leave me with a charred mess of shallots? I’ll leave the tasty sauces to Trav until I can handle a little more technical cooking.

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