Monday, November 30, 2009

Brussels sprouts, shake 'em all about

Bacon, you say? Isn't this blog about eating healthily? Yes. For a couple of decades, I avoided cured meats entirely. There are lots of good reasons to do so. Then I discovered "natural, uncured" bacon in the "health food" section of grocery stores. (All the quotation marks are because these words can have many definitions; I try to navigate a reasonable, common-sense course down this thorny path.) Anyhoo, let's face it. A little bacon can make a big difference in a lot of dishes. Hence, My Bacon Philosophy: Use "natural," use just a little, and use it rarely.

I read somewhere that you can roast Brussels sprouts with bacon, but thought that would be too much work. Pots and skillets are so much easier to wash than roasting pans! Nutmeg classically brings out the flavor of cruciferous vegetables, and since nutmeg is also used in fettuccini, I thought a bit of Parmesan cheese would finish this dish off well. It was delicious.

Trim ends of Brussels sprouts, discarding any unattractive leaves. Save the nice leaves that fall off, though. Cut sprouts in half, or if they are very small and cute, leave them whole.

Cut bacon into pieces however you like. Fry it up in a large-ish skillet. When bacon is done, lift out with slotted spatula onto a paper-towel-covered plate to drain. Put aside the bacon you want to use for this recipe, then freeze the rest. It's great to add to soups, eggs, or wherever you want a bit of bacon flavor.

Drain almost all the fat from the pan. Over medium heat, deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine. Add the Brussels sprouts and saute until tender but not mushy. Add a little water if necessary.

Sprinkle with a bit of freshly-grated nutmeg and stir briefly, stir in the reserved bacon, then transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese.

Spinach: The Anti-Carb

After a Thanksgiving trip hiatus from my CSA responsibilities, I returned to inspect my patiently waiting veggies. The spinach looked like it should be used first, and what better counterbalance to over-rich eating than virtuous, iron-rich, noble spinach? The leaves were thick but tender and flavorful, and such a dark, earthy green!

As for messy pots and colanders and squeezing cooked spinach by hand, I say, why? I just took my kitchen shears to the bowl of cleaned spinach, reducing it to a semi-chopped state, then put it into a Corning casserole and microwaved it for 3-4 minutes. Once it had wilted, I used the shears to chop it further.

The hot, chopped spinach was tossed into the cream sauce, for which I used milk instead of cream. After the spinach was added, I undercooked it just a tad to avoid mushiness.

We had a light post-holiday supper, with a fried egg and a homemade whole-wheat roll. And left the table feeling healthier than when we sat down.

This recipe is from a blog I like: Creamed Spinach Recipe

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

First Box!

Drove to the drop site, a home about 10 minutes from mine. There were the boxes, sitting in the front yard! Mine had my name on it as I had asked for the offered kale, mustard and cilantro. At home, I arranged my bounty and mulled over a little what dishes I could make with each type of produce, what I should use quickly, and what would keep. I felt a deep sense of rightness, satisfaction, anticipation, "rootedness," if you will. This is just beautiful, tactile, LOCAL food.

How can I describe the vigorousness of these vegetables? They traveled less than 20 miles from farm to me. The salad mix is crisp, colorful and fresh, a fantastic, leafy blend of spicy and sweet greens. The Chinese cabbage, bok choy, kohlrabi, kale, mustard greens and spinach are pristine in their many hues of green. And the Brussels sprouts! A few minutes with kitchen shears and I'd removed those puppies from the stalk and bagged them, in all their layered, spherical splendor. Carrots and radishes look tender and ... how many ways can you say fresh?

Less than an hour after I set out to the drop site, everything was bagged (second photo), the salad mix was washed, dried and refrigerated, and tonight's and tomorrow's dinners planned.

Now ... to the kitchen to make my first CSA dinner! Fresh trout, picked up from the seafood market where my local egg subscription was also picked up today, couscous with CSA cilantro (there was just a little handful), radishes, and braised cabbage and mustard greens. I'm just using the outer leaves as they are gorgeous and I removed them to more easily bag the rest.

Only one disappointment ... the cranberries, from the west side of the state (more local than Maine!) looked like they had been washed and then stored, and were unusable. If they'd been left dry, they would have been fine. Update: Farmer's e-mail says they were probably in storage too long. I love the way the farmer stays in touch with us by e-mail, sharing his thoughts and perspectives on this winter CSA adventure. Update on the update: Some folks actually used the cranberries ... and some made liqueur out of them! I was not so inclined, but you do want to think twice or three times to make sure you don't waste anything in the precious box!

There's a lovely loaf of brioche ... but I think that's for tomorrow, with the creamed spinach ...

I love my box.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What have I done!

Things are getting less vague and more REAL ... just got a list of what will be in my first box! In addition to decorative Indian corn and pumpkins ...

  • "Radishes, either red, round or long and white
  • Spinach - 1 pound
  • Cranberries - 2 pounds (these are fresh)
  • Brussels Sprouts - straight from the field, supposedly better tasting because they have been frosted. They will be still on the stem, you have to cut them off yourself.
  • Carrots
  • Bok choi
  • Broccoli or Chinese cabbage
  • Kohlrabi or turnip
  • Winter squash
  • Salad mix - 16 ounces. This should be some salad.....we anticipate having 9 ingredients in it. One challenge is that some of the leaves in the salad are longer than we would like. Interesting things going on in the greenhouse."
Also, I can get kale, collards, mustard and cilantro if I wish. The farmer is clear that this is the first Winter CSA offered in this area, and exactly what will be going on crop-wise and weather-wise in the fields is an unknown. So we are all on this wild culinary ride together.

I love the changeable and adaptive nature of this adventure! We'll see if this exuberance lasts through April ... !!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Notice of first box pickup

Just had an e-mail from the Farm ... the first box on November 24 is going to contain "bread, fresh cranberries, squash, salad mixes, radishes, spinach and several other great items."

Now, I'm a little concerned about the bread. I have high standards for bread, most notably that it must contain no white flour. We'll see! I am resolved not to be a whiney customer, complaining ahead of time.

I don't see how cranberries can be local, but I appreciate that the box is being rounded out with items for variety. I know from the Farmer's Market that this farmer's lettuce mixes are wonderful. Squash and spinach ... yay! Getting excited.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

From whence cometh our veggies: the Winter CSA begins

Looking north from my home. About 17 miles out there lies the farm where my Winter CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes will originate. Delivery to a drop point near my home begins November 24, and will continue every two weeks for five months. The same day, I'll pick up a dozen eggs from another local farmer.

Much that is awry with our country, I feel, could be corrected if we invest our resources in products and services close to home. It makes a huge difference to meet and talk to the people who grow your food and who handle your money. There's an accountability you don't find from remote corporations.

To that end, I signed up for the first-ever Winter CSA offering in our area. The CSA farmer's motto is "Pay for flavor, not transportation." My motto: "It's not health food if nobody eats it." So ... let the creative cooking begin!