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bean soup (heavy on the CSA veggies!)
Sunday April 22nd 2012

Wow, vacation sure does addle the mind a bit, no? Came back and saw that I had a few blog post drafts in the folder. Well, better late than never…

Here’s an easy soup we had on a cold wintery night here in San Francisco. To be honest I barely soaked the beans at all, they cooked fairly fast. And if you’ve read the greatest cookbook ever written you’ll know that the secret is a pressure cooker, which, um, I don’t have. (Honey, you reading this? My birthday is coming up pretty soon…)

So I got some beans going in some stock. Yup, that’s a block of chicken stock I pulled out of the freezer. What’s that you say? You don’t have the time or energy for that? Puh-leese. Get on it, my friend, there are few things in the kitchen that will make your food taste better than homemade stock, other than salt. And it’s damn easy to make too, so go make some!

Then while the beans were cooking, in a separate pan, I got a mix of veggies from the box going. Spring garlic, carrots, turnips, I forget what else. Just pile it in, throw in whatever herbs you have in the garden (Huh? What’s that? Do you really want another lecture from me!?) and more-salt-than-you-think-is-healthy.

I had some greens around. I think they were some erbette chard? Or maybe mustard greens? Can’t remember. But really it doesn’t matter.

When it cooked down a bit, and when the beans were almost cooked, I hucked it all together. Doesn’t that look good?

Okay, credit where credit’s due. I never used to make soup. Well, maybe the occasional roasted butternut squash soup, but that’s really it. Melinda is the usual soup maker and is quite influential. She’s the one usually throwing this all together, and dare I say damn well! She’s my inspiration …

This weeks bounty (and a NYC recap)
Saturday April 21st 2012

Nice looking box, eh?

Before I get started, I promised you some details about our NYC trip. Well, damn, isn’t that a fabulous city? It really is the center of the known universe! We were there for Alexis’ school choir (Carnegie Hall don’t cha know), half staying with Yvette and The Gordo at their fabulous pad in Carroll Gardens. We did lots of touristy stuff, and walks through parks and museums and such, but we also ate well. Real well!  People are forever comparing the restaurant scene in San Francisco with New York, but I’ll tell you one thing they surpass San Franicsco at is with service. Every single place just had the best service – friendly, professional, not a hint of snobbery. And we ate at some hot places – Momofuko’s Ma Peche, where a 4-top walk-in at 8pm was greeted with a smile and a we’ll-make-it-work attitude. And when it jumped to 9 a half hour later, they again worked it out. And at the lounge at The Modern, our group of 6, plus an 8-year old was again greeted with smiles and they gladly and professionally dealt with getting us all sitting (er, lounging) together and eating and drinking. And at ultra trendy Frankie Sputino’s and Prime Meats (we went to both – they’re literally 20 feet from Yvette and The Gordo’s apartment, lucky them!), it was totally professional - I mentioned that the wine by the glass was slightly corked and they were horribly embarrased, whisked it away, gave no attitude, and a new glass was back in less than two minutes. These places are packed, in all the magazines, are hot hot hot. They don’t have to have this level of service, but they do, and that’s what makes NYC different from San Francisco. The level of service in restaurants in San Francisco is definitely a step, or two, below.

Okay, so what about that glorious picture above? Here’s what all the items are, and what I’m going to do with them:

Purple Kohlrabi – What makes this CSA box so much fun is that there is generally one item per week that makes you think “What in the world do I do with this?!” Gotta say I’m stumped. Recipe search time!
Lettuce – easy peasy. Might thinly slice some of the spring onions in with it too.
Green Garlic – garlic soup! A couple potatoes, some stock, a whizzer and away we go.
Spring Onions – some for the salads, some for the soups, the rest for something else.
Rapini – pasta! Some crumbled sausage browned up, throw in the rapini, toss into pasta.
Radishes – they’ll be the victim of snacking by the kids before dinner
Erbette Chard – maybe in with the pasta? Maybe some in a soup? Hmm, lots of options
Fennel bulb – cold, thin sliced in a salad. Maybe caramelized on some grilled meat? Or maybe into a soup …
Strawberries – what was that awful movie called? Gone in 60 Seconds?  ;-)

Now lets step it up a notch. Two people didn’t pick up on Wednesday night, so now I’ve got 3 boxes to get through this week! I feel confident. We could always just make a bigger garlic soup batch and freeze some. The radishes are just snacked on before dinner. And the three boxes of strawberries were gone in 24 hours! Still though, don’t know what I’m going to do with over a dozen kohlrabi though!

Soccer night dinner
Thursday April 19th 2012

Just back from a weeks vacation in arguably the greatest city in the world - New York! More on that in a future post (Momofuko, the Modern, Shake Shack, just to tease you), but here’s a post from a couple weeks back I failed to post before holiday.

Our house is a soccer house. Very much a soccer house. It permeates the air, and also the blood of my girls. See, Melinda was a star player in University. She played for McGill with a crazy competitiveness that got her lots of accolades from the league and press, and she’s encouraged our girls to be real active and serious players too. So that means our evening time is often tight, with two practices a week for Alexis, one for Emma (soon two), plus games on weekends, and not to mention Spanish tutoring, homework, violin, etc etc. So I’ve been a little pressed for time on meals and until I get my act in gear and plan ahead a little better (like my friend Rachel in Brooklyn) I need fast meals. Real fast. Here’s what I threw together recently for a post practice night.

I started with tipping and tailing the radishes and baby turnips from the box. Got them going in a pan with a fair hunk of butter and then pepper and more-salt-than-you-think-is-healthy. Once it was going I threw in some of the spring onions from the box …

… hucked it all in the oven and let it roast up while I cooked the rest.

I sliced up a couple bulbs of fennel, and got them going similarly in another pan with butter, salt and pepper. It’s really so simple, you don’t have to do much other than the occasional stir. Don’t worry about super thin slicing, just get it sliced up and in the pan.

Then I had two different batches of Marin Sun Farms chicken drumsticks. One I just salted over night, destined for the girls…

And then a few that I had seasoned overnight with salt and ancho chile powder. Those were for me and Melinda. I just browned them all in two different pans and put them in the oven with the roasting veg. Couldn’t be simpler.

I missed a picture of the cooked chicken legs, but here’s a good shot of the roasted veg coming out of the oven.

And here’s one of the nicely caramelized fennel. I just love cooking fennel this way. The anise flavour mellows out and the sugars in the bulb sweeten greatly.

So there you have it. A soccer practice night meal that maximized the produce in the box and was ready real quick. Most of the active time is chopping, so if you have decent knife skills I’ll bet with good timing of the cooking, the start to finish cooking time could be about 30 minutes. Post practice soccer players are a hungry lot!

First box of 2012 season
Wednesday March 21st 2012

Ahh, the first box of the 2012 season arrived, and what a bounty it is! (It’s actually last week’s – I’m playing catch-up)

It hasn’t been raining much this winter, really just sprinkles. But this box arrived just before a wave of at least two weeks of storms is due to hit us and the farm. I wonder if they harvested lots and lots knowing they might lose some of it to rain/flood.

Here’s what we got:

Little Gem Lettuce
Soup Celery
Yellow Chantenay Carrots
Red Bearded Scallions
Red Chard
Orange Chantenay Carrots

Joe sauteed the fennel in butter at Sunday Suppers this week and it was smokin good, so I think I’ll do the same.

The carrots might not survive dinner prep snack with the girls

The butter lettuce is so damn good. I was eating leaves just raw straight out of the bag. So they’re going in a salad with the arugula. Or maybe the arugula will form the base of some grilled protein, like Sara does. Yumm!

Scallions are nice and fat so I may grill them.

Chard will go in some bean soup probably, especially if it’s raining.

I have no idea what to do with the soup celery. I’ll have to look that one up!

Ahh, a new season begins. Very happy household here in San Francisco!

the whole farm box in one meal
Friday August 19th 2011

When the idea for this blog got its genesis, a lot of my thinking was the surprise I got when I heard that other CSA members have a tough time eating through their CSA box in a week. We never had a problem, and often, as a result of extra boxes left at our site can cook through 2 or 3 boxes in a week. Why is this? What do we do differently? That’s what I wanted to explore through pictures, words, and menus.

Case in point was last night. We cooked through the entire box in one meal. That’s right, 2 adults and two kids piled through the whole box in one sitting. The box had the following:

Yellow Potatoes
Walla Walla Onions
Padron Peppers

Here’s how we did it.

First off, the strawberries. They were eaten so fast I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture! They are really tasting sweet and strawberry-like now after a long ramp up. Yumm.

Then the padrons. This was a fast (3 minute total working time) snack as we cooked the rest of the meal.

The spigariello got pan sauteed with  one of the walla walla onions to serve as a base for …

The small pork tenderloins that I butchered out of the pig I bought for Pig Fest (more on that in future posts.)

Add in the potatoes, just simply gently boiled and tossed with butter, more-salt-than-you-think-is-healthy, and chopped taragon, and here’s the main dish of the meal

But there were lots more veggies in the box. The romaine got washed by Alexis and turned into her favourite …

… creamy salad (aka Caesar Salad)!

The tomatoes were snacked on while cooking and what was left over got combined with a cucumber and an onion from the box. Some fresh goats cheese was added as was some basil, and it got quickly tossed with some balsamic and olive oil.

There you have it. What’s left from this week’s box? One onion and one cucumber. The cuc is going into the kids’ lunch, and the onion will go whereever it is needed.

So how much active time did this meal take?

Padrons – 3 minutes
Spigiarello – 7 min to pull off stems and wash. 5 minute to cut up onion, garlic and cook it all. Total 12.
Pork – Excluding the butchering, which was an hour, it was about 7 minutes active time. Get a pan hot, throw in the pork, toss in some herbs and a few cloves of garlic, turn a couple times. Easy peasy.
Caesar – 5 min to tear and wash. Dressing takes a bit of time, maybe 10 min.
Potatoes – 1 minute to dump in pot, wash, cover with water and put on the stove.
Tomato and cuc salad – maybe 10 minutes to chop it all up?

Total? 48 minutes. And I had help from the family with some of this as we ate the padrons and tried to weasel info out of the kids (how was school? fine. what did you do? nothing.) So in the end, it was maybe 30 minutes.

And clean-up? The pork and the spigiarello was cooked in the same pan, in that sequence (the pork needed to rest). The potatoes in one pot. One serving platter, plus the salads served in the bowls they were tossed in.

Sure, we have had lots of practice in using up the CSA boxes, but with a little fore-thought I think you’ll find it easy too.

10 minute (100% Farm Box) meal
Monday August 15th 2011

Just back from vacation and the kids were ravenous. Between piling clothes in the laundry machine, and putting the shorts back in deep storage (man, is San Francisco ever damn cold in the “summer”!), I didn’t have time for a large elaborate meal. So I took a look at the contents of the just-arrived Farm Box from Mariquita and threw together a big salad for dinner. In the end it took only about 10 minutes to make, was delicious, fresh, and actaully quite healthy! That’s how long it would have taken to go through a drive-through for heaven’s sake!

I started just by roughly cutting some pale green peppers into fattish strips, peeled and roughly chopped up some lemon cucumber, and chopped some medium sized yellow tomatoes into fair sized wedges. I didn’t want the pieces too small – I wanted large chunks. Here’s what it looked like so far.

There were some beautiful looking onions in the Farm Box, but putting them in raw tends to leave them too strong. So I macerated them in a sweet (cheap!) balsamic for a while to mellow them out.

Then I tossed it all in together, hit it with more balsamic and soem olive oil, more-salt-than-you-think-is-healthy, and topped it with a fresh light ricotta, which added a real nice creaminess.

What do you think? Not bad for 10 minutes, eh? And nutritionally it’s pretty good by my reckoning – fiber in the peppers and cucs, fat in the olive oil and cheese, and even a little protein from the cheese. Not to high in carbs, which doesn’t hurt either. And the most important thing – it was tasty!

(Last) Supper with Yvette
Wednesday July 06th 2011

We’re very sad here at the Farm Box blog household. Yvette and The Gordo have ended the “California Experiment” and moved back to NYC. For a year they lived with us, and then for another 6 months they were in the (awesome neighborhood of) Hayes Valley. We loved having them around, and Alexis and Emma sure did too. But jobs land where jobs land and they had to do what they had to do. Though a part of me thinks that if they could have more readily found black clothes here in San Francisco, they might have stayed! Damn colourful Californians!

We had a few last meals with Yvette (The Gordo had already decamped to Brooklyn) and here’s one of them.

One of the things I made with the Farm Box veggies was some roasted cauliflower. Ho-hum, you say? I make that all the time, you say? Well, this time I jazzed it up with an idea I stole from Sara. She had made a dressing/sauce for something or other and it was so damn good that I made it myself and drizzled it on top of these roasted cauliflower florets. Take a few anchovy fillets, some chopped garlic, and a handful of capers and throw them in the mortar. Pound away, slowly adding some lemon juice, and when it’s all pounded up nice, start adding in some olive oil. Took all of about 4 minutes. And so tasty – come on, how can you go wrong with that ingredient list! And it went great on the cauliflower. Take a close look at the photo and you’ll see some bits of the sauce on there.

Then we had a couple bunches of Andy’s oh so aromatic basil, so that got whipped into a pesto to go with the …

… steamed carrots and the  …

… roasted “happy” chicken (aka marin Sun Farms).

A great simple meal that took about 20-25 minutes of busy time, and about an hour total time, with the 35 non-busy minutes spent opening up wine and soaking up some of our last SF time with Yvette. We’ll miss you guys! (But then again, we’re really glad you got a two bedroom place in NYC! Let’s book some tickets, Melinda!)

Bagna cauda
Friday July 01st 2011

Except for maybe lasagna, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an online recipe battle than I have when researching how to make bagna cauda. For some people it’s like their grandmother was attacked violently if someone suggested adding cream to it. To others, if the oil separated while making it, then it was like you stabbed them in the heart! Wow, such passion!

So what is bagna cauda. Well, it’s a dip. A garlicy, fishy-salty, oily dip that you have with parboiled and grilled veggies. The kind of thing you can have ready to go for a party, and just plunk down on a table as a first course with some charcuterie, some bread, and a bottle (or three) of wine.

Here are the veggies I prepared, all from the Farm Box. Parboiled cauliflower and carrots, and some grilled little summer squash.

This was my first time making bagna cauda, and after much research online, I decided to just let common sense prevail. How wrong can you really go when the ingredients are garlic, anchovies, olive oil, and butter?! Com’on, you’ve got to be making some serious mis-steps for that not to turn out great!

So I roughly slice up about 8 cloves of garlic, and filleted about 8 salt packed anchovies. Put it all in a pan with more olive oil than you think is needed and proceeded to cook it very gently on low heat. Then I put in a half stick of butter. Again, com’on, this is gonna taste great. Once the anchovies had pretty much dissolved and the garlic was gaining some colour, I threw it in the blender with the remainig half stick of butter and turned it on. It was still a little thick, so I added a slow drizzle of olive oil until, yup, you guessed it, it separated! So sue me! Here’s how it turned out, but the picture is hiding the fact that under that layer of oil is the most beautiful richly flavoured salty spicy garlicy goop. Heaven!

Along with the bagna cauda, I boiled up some potatoes from the Farm Box. My Danish mother will be so proud to see that I peeled them! Well, maybe she won’t be proud – she’ll just say “well, of course you peeled them! You *can’t* eat potatoes like that with their skin on!”  ;-)

I also brined up some chicken wings and some thigh/leg combos for the grill. And yup, again I wasn’t perfect – look at that nice char!! Ugh. Thankfully, Melinda likes the skin burnt so she was happy!

For me, the best part of the meal was the bagna cauda. Does it get any better than bagna cauda! Wow. I’m going to be making that alot more often!

Pickling session
Tuesday June 28th 2011

Nothing like an abundance of veggies from the Farm Box to get one thinking of preserving.  This week we had an abundance of green beans and carrots. The carrots we actually had 5 shares worth! See, someone didn’t pick up their box, so we inherited their carrots in addition to ours. Then there were three people, count ‘em three(!), who decided they didn’t like carrots and put them in the trade box. Wow, these folks don’t know what they’re missing.

I’ve pickled a fair bit in the past, but was a bit rusty, so I pick up my copy of the Joy of Pickling, which I picked up at Omnivore Books. A pretty good book,  in a category with a large number of books, none of which I really like. A couple tips though from me to you dear reader. One, ignore anything the USDA says about preserving. Sure, it’ll be safe enough to survive the armageddon, but it’ll taste like crap! And two, when preserving fruit, ignore the sugar add recommendations from the package of pectin you buy – they assume you’re buying tasteless commercially grown nasty fruit. The fruit from the Farm Box (or upicks, or bulk orders) are full of natural sugar. I seriously cut the sugar adds to about a 1/5th of what they say. So if the package says add ten cups, I add two.

So back to my surplus of carrots and beans. First I peeled, then cut either in half or in quarters lengthwise depending on original size.

And then tipped and tailed the beans.

The carrots were getting a fridge pickle treatment, meaning they were not going to be “processed” in boiling water in their jars with the lids on. So they needed to get cooked a little bit to soften up, then plunged in an ice water bath.

Then they got stuffed in freshly cleaned jars. The eagle eye will see that some of the carrot jars are different – in three of them I put in some fennel fronds from the fennel from the farm box, and also some sliced garlic. The other three jars were plain. In the beans I added some garlic, some mustard seed, and some hot chili flakes. I wanted the beans to be more reminiscent of the beans they put in bloody marys in New Orleans! Yumm!

The vinegar was basically the same. Half white wine vinegar (I ran out during this so I substituted in some rice wine vinegar, and when that ran out I used red wine vinegar!), half water, with some salt and pepper. The beans were processed in boiling water for what was supposed to be 5 minutes, but I forgot about them so they boiled for around 8 or 9. Hope they aren’t too soggy.

The carrots are happily ensconced in the fridge and the beans are in a cool place. Now I just have to wait a while for the vinegar to do it’s magic! I’ll report back.

easy dinner with Mark
Thursday June 02nd 2011

Our dear friend Mark stopped by the other night to pick up some wine, and we were lucky enough that he was able to stay for dinner. Pick up wine, you ask? Well, Mark has a big birthday coming up and is throwing himself a party! Getting catering, bartender, the works, and asked me to help select some wines. So that’s what he was picking up that night – 5 cases of wine. I think he said he invited about 25-30 people – should be one hell of a party! Crazy Castro boys, I tell ya.

We were running around all evening, with soccer practice and the like, so I whipped together as low an impact dinner as possible.

First I boiled up some new potatoes, then made yet another mistake that has consistently proven to not be a mistake! See, once they were cooked I drained off the water, then put it back on the heat to dry them off completely. Then a couple pads of butter went on, a little shake, some salt and voila. Except I forgot to turn off the heat!! So I’m smelling browned butter and freak out, quickly pulling the potatoes out into a bowl. But look at that photo – they’re brilliant! And topped with some chopped up chives from the Farm Box and they were perfect. Yumm

I had taken out a pound each of Marin Sun Farms beef and pork the night before, so decided to ship up some Danish meatballs (aka frikadeller). Chopped up onion, some thyme, oregano, an egg, pepper, and more-salt-than-you-think-is-healthy. The batch in the picture here isn’t as brown as the second batch. The joy of a seasoned pan, I guess.

Then fried up some bacon and topped up some creamy salad (aka Caesar salad) for the girls, though we ate our fair share too!

For dessert, Emma got all creative in the kitchen and plated up 5 lovely looking plates for us all. Two strawberries from the Farm Box nestled along side a homemade chocolate chip cookie on top of a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s. Thanks Emma!

For the wine, we started with a Beaujolais Blanc (made from 100% Chardonnay) from Dominique Cornin, but for the dinner we switched to red and had a 2007 Crozes Hermitages from the producert Albert Bouquin. A Crozes is a region in the Northern Rhone valley in southern france, and is usually made from 100% Syrah, though a little Marsanne or Rousanne (yes, white grapes!) can be added in to soften the Syrah and/or to add a perfumed character. This Crozes went will with the meatballs, as they were somewhat delicately flavoured, and the wine was a lighter style (at least compared to the US or Australia) so didn’t overpower the food.

It was great to see Mark and we’re so looking forward to his birthday party!