Our CSA box #7 arrived, all to be cooked, photographed, documented, and presented in a post that I almost considered calling “scenes from a family table”…or “the gluttons”. Having two short weeks of cooking due to travel, I sorely missed the feel of a chef knife in my hand and the sound of onions frying on the stove. There is no place where I feel more at peace and secure than in the kitchen.
We’ve had fun together this summer. I’d venture to say that we’ve had more fun than we’ve ever had. Living at the lake has been a bonding experience for the family, giving us the opportunity to sit together, share meals, relax, talk, and enjoy an occasional sunset.
With busy school schedules, babysitting help, and long work hours, it hasn’t always been possible for us to eat our meals together. This summer we’ve not only grown closer as a family, but my kids have also become better eaters. For better or for worse, I’ll tell you why in a minute.
But first, this week’s box:
3. Ghost peppers*
6. New potatoes
7. Fairytale eggplant
8. Red radishes
9. Kirby cucumbers*
10. Red onion
11. Yellow onion
* purchased separately
When I saw the weekly Bialas newsletter come out, I was ecstatic that fairytale eggplants were going to be delivered. I remember them from last year – small and beautifully mottled, without the seeds typical of larger varieties. I served this dish – a Greek-inspired plate of sautéed eggplant, ground beef, and tzatziki – 10 minutes after I arrived home from the market.
To make the sautéed beef & eggplant:
Start by making the tzatziki by mixing an 8-oz container of Greek yogurt with a squeeze of lemon juice, 1 small cucumber shredded and squeezed dry, ½ clove of grated garlic, and a handful of chopped dill. Season to taste.
Next, season and sauté in a medium pan some minced onion and 1 lb. of grass-fed beef, breaking up the beef until the onion is translucent and the beef is no longer pink. Transfer the beef to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan. If you’re using grass-fed beef, there won’t be a lot of fat; if using a fattier grind, drain some of the fat off, leaving 2-3 tablespoons. Slice 6-8 fairytale (or other) eggplants lengthwise, and sauté them in the remaining fat on medium-high heat until golden. Season to taste.
On a platter, pile the eggplants, then the ground beef, and finally the tzatziki.
Back to that “for better or for worse comment”, the rest of the veggies were still lying out as we were finishing lunch, and while I eating my last few bites of eggplant, my three little mice disappeared to go sampling the vegetables from the new box. Which generally wouldn’t be an issue, but this week they went straight for the ghost peppers, which on the Scoville heat index, are twice as spicy as a habanero. 30 minutes, a bucketful of tears, one frantic call to Poison Control, and two bowls of ice cream later, Sam and Emma were playing anew, unchanged except for a newfound appreciation for chili peppers.
I had to get the peppers out of harm’s way; my first use was a ghost pepper and rosemary-infused vodka (which presumably they won’t drink, but at this point, I’m not entirely certain)…
The rest of the ghost peppers went into batch #2 of the sweet and spicy fridge pickles that I told you about last week.
I’ve been eating pickles on everything. They work beautifully with the pickled beets that I made a few weeks ago – I didn’t have a chance to share that picture, so here they are- simple, earthy and sweet with a touch of coriander.
Here are a few examples of the combo:
I topped some Brooklyn Bangers Num Pang spicy Asian hot dogs with the pickles, along with sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Which goes to show that a CSA lunch doesn’t need to be elaborate. Served with an IPA these dogs made the perfect lunch…
And then there was the breakfast sandwich. Local pork patties from our Ringwood Farmers’ Market, grilled and nestled within a Kaiser roll with more of the beet & Kirby pickles, and some melted provolone.
And yes, that’s beer that you see. In some parts of the world they drink it with breakfast. While breakfast is a little early for me, brunch at 11AM is kosher.
Even when Rodney is traveling for work, we’ve been making time to sit together for a proper dinner. My kids love anything deconstructed, so throwing a bunch of CSA vegetables on the table with some sliced strip steak, and warmed pitas is a great way to tackle dinner.
One of my favorite times to make food for the day is early in the morning before anyone is awake. I love to prep food ahead of time so that I’m not racing around to make lunch or dinner when it’s mealtime. Early one morning I made this tarragon chicken salad with the leftover tarragon from week 3. Believe it or not, it was still alive. Barely.
Lauren and I both agreed that the chicken was delicious piled on WASA crispbread.
Summer has been full of camp activities, including a few that happen in the evening. So despite the fact that we’re on summer vacation, we occasionally have a dinnertime rush. The carrots were peeled and prepped in the fridge, so all I needed to do was boil them while I sautéed some pork chops, and then toss them in a brown sugar and cumin glaze. If you’ve been reading the previous CSA posts you’ll be sick of hearing me talk about that flavor combination, but for carrots, it’s hands-down my favorite preparation.
To make the sautéed pork and braised carrots:
Scrub and peel 6-8 large carrots, multicolored if you can find them, and then cut them lengthwise into pieces about 4 inches by 1 inch. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and then add the carrots, cooking until almost cooked through (about 10 minutes).
While the carrots are cooking, season two bone-in pork chops with salt and pepper, and sauté them on medium high heat, flipping halfway through until cooked through. Set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the sauté pan where the pork was cooked, then add the drained carrots, and cover with a few tablespoons of brown sugar, a teaspoon of cumin, and if necessary, a tad more salt. Stir the carrots until the butter and sugar gives them a glossy coating, and the carrots are fully cooked through. Pile the carrots on a plate and add the sliced pork on top.
Weekends at our place are unhurried, and although I love to eat a big brunch with everyone, I hate to spend a lot of time cooking it. I’ve usually got some waffles in the freezer that I’ve made and frozen ahead of time, so our breakfasts are pretty easy to assemble – just fry up some bacon, throw some kitchen leftovers together into a cast iron skillet (this week it was chicken hash), and make a few eggs over easy. 20 minutes to put this together (and another 20 spent chasing after kids, and hauling them back inside to set the table). In a few years this whole process might become easier…
When we have a big breakfast, I usually try to keep lunch light. One of my all-time favorite summer soups is the Andalusian gazpacho from Epicurious. I modify it by adding a squeeze of lime and smoked paprika for extra heat. And I love to mix things up by adding unique garnishes. Here, I used diced nectarines, avocado, and some crumbled goat cheese from our friends at Vermont Creamery.
My little testers found it to be a little too spicy, but overall, not too bad…
Weekend dinners tend to take the least amount of work, ironically, but only because we’re too busy playing outside or having a glass of wine to bother with kitchen prep.
And I think I may have found the easiest way to satisfy the whole family. This baked pasta dish uses broccoli, combined with lasagna-style malfada noodles. The dish is then baked in the oven with creamy mozzarella and mascarpone. It’s cheese heaven.
To make the baked broccoli and cheese malfada:
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and then add a 1 lb. bag of malfada. Boil for 2 minutes, and before you drain, add 1 bunch of chopped broccoli to the same pot, boiling an additional 2 minutes.
Drain the pot, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the broccoli and pasta to a casserole dish, and add an 8-oz container of mascarpone (I used the Vermont Creamery brand). Add 1 cup of grated Parmesan and the reserved cooking water, and give the contents a stir. Add the cup of cooking water (or as much as you need to loosen up the pasta). Finally, add a 16-oz package of fresh mozzarella, cubed and stir to combine.
Toss 2 cups of fresh breadcrumbs with some olive oil and a pinch of salt, and scatter on top of the pasta. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
It’s so decadent that you only need a small bowl. Served alongside a big green salad, it’s a great way to eat through a bunch of your CSA greens in one sitting.
And now saving the best for last….one of the more offbeat but delicious ice cream flavors I’ve had the pleasure of eating is tough to find in the grocery store or local ice cream shops. If you’ve ever eaten sweet corn ice cream, then you’ll know what I’m talking about – the sweetened corn flavor is distinctive, and as I found out this week, the perfect foundation for a more elaborate dessert.
With a few extra ears of corn on hand from my Week 6 box, I decided to make something sweet instead of savory. Enter the corn ice cream, which is made from soaking the corns in a mixture of hot cream/milk. I also added a few sprigs of lemon thyme for some nuanced flavor.
You then make custard, and freeze it in your ice cream maker. On its own, delicious…
To make the lemon thyme sweet corn ice cream:
(Adapted from epicurious.com)
Shuck 4 ears of corn, and add the corn and cobs to a Dutch oven. Add 2 cups of milk, 2 cups of heavy cream, 3-4 large sprigs of lemon thyme (or any woody herb) and ½ cup of sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring the sugar until dissolved, and then turn off the heat. Remove the cobs, and puree with an immersion blender. Let the mixture steep for 2-3 hours.
When finished steeping, crack 4 egg yolks into a bowl and whisk with 1/4 cup of sugar. Bring the mixture back to a simmer, and slowly add a ladle of the cream to the yolks to temper, whisking quickly. Add the yolks back to the cream mixture and cook, stirring, until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon. Strain and chill for several hours before processing in an ice cream machine.
But here’s the kicked-up version – corn ice cream with sautéed peaches and candied bacon. It’s a wonderful dessert made with quintessential summer ingredients. You may have realized by now that we don’t eat dessert too often, so when we do, it’s fun to indulge.
To make the sautéed peaches and candied bacon:
Coat 12-14 bacon slices with 2-4 tablespoons of brown sugar and a pinch of black pepper and lay them between two sheet pans (preferably in between sheets of parchment). Bake at 250 degrees for 45-60 minutes, checking periodically for doneness (they’ll crisp up further once out of the oven). If using with the ice cream, crumble the pieces when cool.
Slice 2-3 peaches and sauté them in a little butter and brown sugar in a hot pan, preferably cast iron.
To make the dessert, pile a scoop or two of the sweet corn ice cream into a bowl, add some peaches and their juices over top, and sprinkle with some of the crumbled candied bacon.
My kids’ opinion of the corn ice cream wasn’t as enthusiastic, so I ended up making them a separate batch of mint chip. Jackson only had eyes for the corn and bacon.
So that’s it for this week’s post. Hope your heads aren’t spinning. I confess that my head spins a little from writing these posts each week, but I’ve gotten such great feedback. Hopefully they’re inspiring those of you with CSA boxes, as well as the vegetable/famer’s market-inclined, to be creative with your local produce. Happy cooking everyone.