Cooking away the CSA, week 23: Quick and seasonal side salad
If you've followed this column for a long time, you know that salad is always my default. It's my best friend at dinner and lunch, and my old stand-by when I have no idea what to make.
And even though I'm tight with the little green bowl of awesome, I'm well aware that I'm not in the majority. Homemade salads can seem like work. So many ingredients to have. So many things to chop. So much ... green.
I actually used to think the same thing. As in: If I didn't get my ingredients from a salad bar, I'd be chopping and prepping until my stomach pulled rank on me and sent me straight for the easy button (aka a sandwich, crackers, chocolate chips, etc.). Plus, I didn't really think it was a salad without certain things on hand, like store-bought dressing or tomatoes or (when I ate it) cheese.
But, over time, I've come to love the "kitchen sink" qualities of the dish. Really, once you figure out what you like in your salads, you can pretty much throw together one you'll enjoy without any planning (or thought) at all. Eventually, it becomes quicker than making anything else, and so satisfying that it's worth the wait if you have to do a bit of chopping.
This week's salad is a perfect example. It was totally thrown together at the last minute to go along with some leftover fajitas, but it was delicious, healthy and used up some of our delicious bounty from our Rolling Prairie CSA share.
Quick and Seasonal Side Salad
2 handfuls baby spinach
1 red bell pepper, chopped (from our CSA)
1 carrot, chopped
10 garlic-stuffed olives, chopped
1/4 cup almonds
Olive oil and lemon juice, drizzled on to taste
Divide all ingredients among two bowls. Enjoy. Serves 2.
What’d we get in our Rolling Prairie CSA this week? Two types of tomatoes, butternut squash, okra, hot peppers, sweet peppers, garlic and greens.
Cooking away the CSA, week 21: Creamy and sweet summer salad
It has come to my attention that maybe a few of my readers are afraid of the big F-A-T word when it comes to eating.
I’ve mentioned this before and I’m going to say it again: I, too, was once scared of F-A-T making me F-A-T.
But, as part of my growth in understanding food as fuel and how our bodies work, I’ve also come to love that big, scary macronutrient.
So, let’s get this out there: Not all fat is bad.
Not in the slightest.
There is a reason an avocado is all monounsaturated (aka heart-healthy) fat. There’s a reason nuts and seeds are full of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. There’s a reason the fat in coconut oil happens to be medium-chain saturated fat, which the body loves to burn for energy.
We are meant to eat fat.
Real, naturally occurring F-A-T.
What we’re not meant to eat are the fake, processed foods completely devoid of their original, natural fats. Or “foods” created in such away that they are more chemicals than technical food. This is not food, even if it’s “low-fat.”
I’ll repeat: This is not food.
I could get on my soap box and go on and on about this. But I’ve only got so much space, so just believe me when I say: Do your research.
Know how food as fuel is supposed to work.
And then stop buying denatured crap. Buy real stuff.
Focus on real food.
Do not focus on numbers and percentages and labels — if you really want to avoid the Standard American Diet (aka the SAD diet) don’t buy food with labels at all.
End soap box rant.
So, in light of this discussion, I’m going to share a recipe made with REAL food, that’s full of GOOD FAT.
It combines our Rolling Prairie CSA cherry tomatoes with fresh spinach, ripe raspberries, avocado, hemp seed and a simple drizzle of olive oil and white balsamic with a squeeze of lemon.
Healthy, real and most definitely not SAD.
Creamy and Sweet Summer Salad
2 handfuls baby spinach
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 6-ounce container of raspberries
1 tablespoon hemp seed, divided
1-2 avocado, divided
Good-quality olive oil (I used Extra Virgin's garlic-infused olive oil)
White balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic)
Line the bottom of two salad bowls with baby spinach. Top with 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes and half a container of raspberries. Place 1/2 tablespoon of hemp seed in each bowl, along with 1/4 of a whole avocado. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, a splash of balsamic and finish with a bit of lemon juice. Enjoy. Serves 2.
What’d we get this week? The motherload of: slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, hot peppers, bok choy, edamame, cantaloupe.
Cooking away the CSA, week 20: Taking the kitchen outside
I always love the idea of eggplant.
And I have a very, very bad habit of neglecting them. I buy them, or pick them from my Rolling Prairie CSA choices, look at their glorious purple skins a tad bit too long and end up doing absolutely nothing with them.
It’s a total shame.
If not for the fact that my compost pile also gets their tasty little ruined forms, but for the fact that they happen to be one of the hubby’s favorite foods. The man loves eggplant Parmesan about as much as he loves apple pie.
But it is too dang hot to make eggplant Parmesan.
Yet, we ended up both buying some eggplant at the Lawrence Farmers' Market on Saturday and then ended up getting two eggplants, along with tomatoes (slicing and grape), cucumbers, melon and little sweet peppers) in our Rolling Prairie CSA last Monday.
And I knew I couldn’t just let four of these precious little beauties waste away.
So, we took to the Internet and found the perfect recipe. Used up all four eggplant in making this special dish not once but twice this week. And, thus, avoided dropping our purple beauties in the compost pile.
Grilled Eggplant Topped with Goat Cheese and Tomato (adapted from The Kitchn) serves 2
2 medium eggplants*
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons honey balsamic vinegar OR 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar
3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 stalk Italian parsley, leaves only, minced (we didn’t use them)
Small handful fresh chives, chopped (we didn’t use them)
Salt and pepper
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Slice the eggplants into rounds about 3/4-inch thick. Salt lightly and set aside. Heat the grill (or stove-top grill pan) to high heat.
Whisk together the olive oil and vinegar and lightly dunk the eggplant slices so each is moist with the oil. Place them on the heated grill and cover. Cook, turning halfway through, for 8-10 minutes, or until they are as soft as you prefer.
Meanwhile, toss the chopped tomatoes with the minced herbs and mix with just a little salt and pepper to taste.
In the last couple minutes of cooking, sprinkle each eggplant slice with a few crumbles of goat cheese and cook so that the cheese begins to soften. Remove the slices, top with the tomato mixture, and serve!
*Baby eggplants, or the long, skinny Asian eggplants, are best, but smallish purple globe eggplants will do.
What’d we get this week? Tomatoes (slicing and cherry), cucumbers, garlic, green beans, bell peppers, potatoes.
Cooking away the CSA, week 19: Summer by the forkful
Usually my family food goals revolve around attempting to plan meals and using up everything in our fridge, but last week it was something else entirely.
I was determined to get as many bits of our last CSA box from Rolling Prairie into a single salad as possible.
Hey, it’s good to have goals, right?
So, what was I trying to shoehorn? Summer squash, edamame, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, a cucumber and green beans.
We wanted to save the watermelon for dessert and the summer squash later to grill, so I threw the rest of the ingredients into a salad and called it good. (This is after boiling the green beans and edamame a bit, because they wouldn’t have been very tasty if we’d just thrown them directly in a salad, unfortunately.)
I'd say that pretty pic right there equals success.
Spoils of Summer Chopped Salad
1/2 avocado, chopped
One tomato, chopped, or 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
10 olives, halved
1/4 large cucumber, chopped
1/2 to 1 whole sweet pepper, chopped
Edamame, boiled and shelled
Green beans, boiled and trimmed
Dressing of choice
Optional: Chopped hard-boiled egg, goat cheese
Separate out all ingredients into two bowls. Enjoy. Serves two.
What’d we get this week? Tomatoes (slicing and grape), cucumbers, eggplant, melon and little sweet peppers.
Cooking away the CSA, week 18: Pantry potato pieces
So, I’m going to change things up a bit.
You see, last week we got a fabulous assortment of yumminess from our CSA, Rolling Prairie: Watermelon, tomatoes, snap peas, cucumbers, starter onions, yellow squash and peppers.
Everything was delicious. As can be expected. But I’m not going to write this week about any of those things.
Why? Because if you’ve just been following along, you know that for weeks when I describe how we use the potatoes we picked up from Rolling Prairie, I would say that we stored them. And I’m guessing if you have a CSA, you may have done the same thing.
So, this week we pulled out those stored potatoes and made some home fries to go along with one of our very excellent CSA meals.
And they were excellent. And addictive. And totally gone in a flash.
Pantry Potato Pieces
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice potatoes into quarter-inch thick slices, leaving the skins on. Place in a glass lasagna dish, toss in olive oil to coat and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and eat immediately. Servings vary based on size of potatoes.
What’d we get this week? Summer squash, edamame, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, a cucumber and green beans.
Cooking away the CSA, week 16: Double squash delight
Before we get started on how to do nutritional double duty with not one but two kinds of squash in the same meal, I wanted to say thank you to all of you who contacted me with such positive things to say about my writeup on veggies and kids last week.
I heard from several of you who are also doing the very best you can, knowing that perfection just isn’t going to happen when we’re talking kids and food. If you want me to post more frequently on this topic, I most definitely will. Because children’s nutrition is obviously important, especially if it’s doable children’s nutrition.
So, thank you.
Now, to the matter at hand: how to gobble up all that CSA goodness, you’re surely getting/have gotten this week.
We’re more than halfway through the season, and it’s pretty clear from the variety coming in at local CSAs (we use Rolling Prairie) and at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market. As an example of variety, last week we received: blackberries, yellow squash, onions, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, Swiss chard, corn and cucumbers.
The cherry tomatoes and cucumbers were gone pretty darn fast, claimed by the kiddo, who helped “chop” the cucumbers with his kiddie butter knife.
The blackberries disappeared into a chocolate-spinach-banana-hemp seed smoothie.
The chard was juiced, the corn was boiled and the potatoes were stored.
But the squash and onions, they went into a delightful new dish I’m calling Double Squash Skillet.
This warm dish combines a baked spaghetti squash with an Italian-inspired saute featuring mushrooms, onions, garlic, marinara and a chopped yellow squash, for doubly squashy goodness.
Note: You will need to cook the spaghetti squash first. We do this by splitting it in half lengthwise, taking out the seeds, rubbing the edges with olive oil and then baking it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet at 425 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.
Double Squash Skillet
1 spaghetti squash, baked, “noodles” scraped out with a fork
1 yellow squash, cut into half-inch pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 pint button mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
1 ½ cups marinara
1 tablespoon oil for the frying pan (we used coconut oil)
Once the spaghetti squash has finished in the oven, heat oil over medium heat in a large frying pan/skillet/wok.
Add garlic and onion, stir for 1 to 2 minutes, until the onions start to become clear. Add the yellow squash. Wait a minute, stirring. Add the mushrooms and baked spaghetti squash. Stir until they’re heated through.
At the last minute, add the marinara. Keep stirring and cook until all the veggies are soft.
Take off heat and serve immediately. Serves: 4.
Cooking away the CSA, week 13: The best beets yet (you can’t beat ‘em)
A few weeks ago, Karrey Britt and I were discussing all the ways one could serve beets. One of the ways we discussed was roasting them a la my balsamic veggies. But another way I hadn't tried was one so simple it seemed like a bit of trickery: Baked beets, no oil.
Just aluminum foil packets and a 375-degree oven.
Supposedly (so said the Internet), you don't even have to peel them — the skins will just slip right off after they finish cooking and cool.
Seems too good to be true, right?
Well, when we received the most adorable little beets last week in our Rolling Prairie CSA, I decided to give it a go, figuring it might be the perfect method (if it worked) for them.
So, I washed them, ripped off their spindly ends and put them in their foil packets, oven set at 375.
After an hour, I pulled them out, let them cool, unwrapped them and let them cool some more. When they were room temperature, I grabbed a butter knife to coax the skin off.
And you know what? It worked like a charm.
What took me so long to try this, I'll never know. But this will probably be my new go-to way of cooking them.
I enjoyed them in a lunchbox salad of baby spinach, local blackberries from the Lawrence Farmers' Market, walnuts, cashew goat cheese and then topped it all with honey mustard dressing.
What's we get this week? Chard, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, green beans, yellow squash and cherry tomatoes.
Cooking away the CSA, week 11: Pizza-tinged mushrooms for summer’s first basil
I might have a tiny, wee bit of an obsession with basil. Not only do I have four basil plants from starters in pots but I also plant some from seed every season as well. And then I freeze it or dry it or make it into pesto at summer’s end.
So, I was pretty excited when we received our first bit of basil at our Rolling Prairie CSA last week. I mean, I already had my basil plants on my deck, but actually getting it? Awesome.
We also got beets with greens, basil, head lettuce, snap peas, kale and broccoli. We steamed the broccoli and snap peas, juiced the beets and kale, and made salad with the head lettuce.
As for the basil, I’m not going to lie — some of it went in the green juice I made with the beets and kale (no, I’m not kidding), but we also used quite a bit in a little dish we were just playing with. We made stuffed portobellos, but called them “pizza mushrooms” so the kiddo would eat them.
And we let him help, which worked extremely well. Helping us cook motivates him to eat something like nothing else.
1 cup marinara
1 package baby bellas or 4 large portabella mushroom caps
1 (4 ounce) package goat cheese, crumbled and/or mozzarella
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (or more)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the sauce in the bottom of glass baking dish. Arrange clean mushroom caps, gill side up, on top. Crumble goat cheese and or mozzarella on each mushroom. Bake for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Top with the chopped basil. Makes 4 servings. Serve alone or over baked spaghetti squash with more marinara and/or cheese.
Cooking away the CSA, week 10: The best flourless peanut butter cookies
OK, I realize peanut butter cookies do not seem like a CSA-friendly treat, but they are. Just stick with me.
You see, these peanut butter cookies use two ingredients you might see in your CSA or at the Lawrence Farmers' Market: honey and eggs.
Now, I didn't get either of those ingredients in my Rolling Prairie CSA last week. Rather, we got strawberries, snap peas, green onions, head lettuce, asparagus and Swiss chard. Those items were all accordingly eaten the normal ways: strawberries and snap peas out of hand, asparagus steamed, head lettuce and green onions in salad and the Swiss chard was juiced.
Now, I could've shared that juice recipe, but I know many of you don't have a juicer or the inclination to juice. Yes, I know my veggie juice is a tad bit inaccessible. Peanut butter cookies? Not so much. They're generally pretty easy to make, and, allergies not withstanding, they work well in large groups.
This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe given to me by my friend Dorian. They are super soft and chewy, plus they don't use any white sugar or flour, which is great if you're avoiding that sort of thing.
Honeyed Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies
2 cups peanut butter
3/4 cup local honey
3/4 maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs or 2 flax "eggs" (2 tablespoons ground flax seed in 3 tablespoons hot water for each egg)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. The dough will be very wet. Scoop by the rounded teaspoon onto the parchment, leaving a good amount of space between each cookie.
Bake 8-10 minutes. When they start to brown, pull them out and let them "bake" about 5 to 10 minutes more on the warm cookie sheet before moving them to a cooling rack. They'll be very soft.
These freeze well, though they may stick together if not separated. Makes about 40 cookies.
What'd we get this week? Beets with greens, basil(!), head lettuce, snap peas, kale and broccoli.
Cooking away the CSA, week 9: (Early) summer in a bowl
The official start of summer is just over a week away. But that doesn’t mean we can’t pretend it’s already here.
I think we totally deserve some pretend summer action after having to deal with snow and frost in May. Right? Right.
So, we put our CSA salad greens from last week to work by taking a practice swing at a basic summer salad.
What makes it a basic summer salad, you ask? Tomatoes.
Yes, it’s not really tomato season, but the kiddo really, really likes grape tomatoes and so we bought some for him the other week. They aren’t as good as the ones we get in the height of summer, of course, but the kid will take what he can get. (Tomato monster: AHHHHH!)
We asked his permission for a few and put them on a bed of the beautiful salad mix we’ve been getting all season from Rolling Prairie. Added in some carrots and some garlic-stuffed olives, added a bit of EFA oil and balsamic and we were off to the races.
Delicious, easy, healthy and a sign of things to come.
As for everything else? In addition to the salad greens, we also got strawberries, Swiss chard, mushrooms, head lettuce and asparagus.
As you can imagine, the strawberries were pretty much finished the second they got home (thanks, kiddo). The asparagus was steamed, the chard and head lettuce juiced and the mushrooms stir-fried in one similar to last week.
Basic(ally) Good Salad
For each serving:
2 handfuls salad mix, baby spinach or chopped head lettuce
1 handful grape or cherry tomatoes
1 handful carrots
1 handful garlic olives, green olives or kalamata olives
Drizzle EFA or olive oil
Drizzle balsamic vinegar
Place all ingredients except oil and vinegar in a bowl. Toss. Top with oil and vinegar. Enjoy!
What’d we get this week? Strawberries and snap peas (gone before I could take a picture), green onions, head lettuce, asparagus and Swiss chard.