CSA tips and tricks

Image: "Clagett Farm CSA Week 18", a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from galant's photostream

Each week, I blog about what I got in my CSA box and what I do with it.  After reading this Slate piece by an overwhelmed CSA member, I thought maybe I should also write about the tips that help me figure out how to handle my weekly deluge of fresh, local produce.

  • The goal is not to love every item, but to find a way to eat every item. That might sound a little strange, but hear me out.  I don’t like turnips. I don’t really like rutabagas.  If I were just shopping the Farmer’s Market or grocery store, I’d probably never eat a turnip, a rutabaga, or even greens like collards or kale.  However, part of the appeal of the CSA experience is trying new things, and I consider it my mission to find at least one way I can eat every item without hating it.  The author mentions her struggle with turnips. I share that struggle.  I’ve hidden them in chowders, put them into risottos, and even snuck them into pot pies.  For me, they need to be part of an ensemble of other veggies that hide their turnipy flavor.  The same is true for mustard greens.  I don’t really like them by themselves, but I’ve discovered that, covered in cheese in a frittata, they’re pretty tasty!
  • The internet is your friend. Not sure what to do with collard greens? Get thee to Epicurious.  Sites like Epicurious, The Kitchn, and AllRecipes are the keys to CSA success.  You just type in “collard greens” into the search bar, and tons of recipes will pop up.  Read the reviews on the recipes, and don’t be afraid to experiment and substitute. A recipe calls for celery and you don’t have any? Maybe you can add in a little celery seed for flavor, or substitute a similar watery, crunchy veggie in its place.  You don’t have the herb they call for? Try substituting something you do have!  And don’t be afraid to Google for substitutions either– it’s how I learned I can make my own buttermilk if needed for a recipe by simply adding vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk!
  • Make a plan of attack. It helps to make time on the day you usually pick up your CSA box to plan and do prep work for the week’s worth of meals. On the day you get your CSA box, lay everything out.  Figure out which things are most perishable, and plan to eat those first. Estimate what you can reasonably eat in one week, and make plans to give away or preserve (via freezing, pickling, or canning) what you can’t.  Don’t feel bad about giving away your produce if you know you can’t eat it! You may help win new subscribers for your CSA program that way!  Use the aforementioned recipe websites to find recipes for each meal, then head to the grocery store to get things you might need to fill in. Look at any recipes that might take longer than an hour and see if you can do any prep work ahead of time to ensure faster meals later.
  • Learn to pickle. Seriously. Pickles are a great way to preserve your produce, and they’re a great thing to give away to help lighten your load. You can pickle cucumbers, squash, peppers, onions, carrots, green beans… anything.  I’m a big fan of spicy refrigerator dill pickles and summer squash bread and butter pickles (doesn’t have to be used with squash).  You don’t have to spend all day boiling them in jars, either– just keep them in their brine in the fridge for a few weeks.  They’ll get pickle-ier as time goes on, but they won’t go bad. You don’t even need jars! I make my personal-use pickles in large re-used yogurt tubs. Updated to add: Don’t stress if you can’t find pickling salt. My research has shown that kosher salt will work just fine, it just might result in cloudier brine and less-green cukes. They will still taste great.
  • Make friends with your freezer! Another great way to save veggies for a later day is to make up a big batch of soup, pasta sauce, or ratatouille and freeze it flat in a ziplock bag for a later day.  We ate frozen soups and sauces all winter long.  I even froze shredded zucchini to use in zucchini bread after the season was over.
  • Have some stand-bys. Every week, I eat at least one stir-fry made with any variety of veggies, using a simple sauce that uses any and all of the following: soy sauce, honey, lemon/lime juice, sesame oil, sriracha, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes.  Another good standby is a frittata using a variety of veggies.  Another is to saute veggies with garlic and herbs and serve them over pasta with parmesan or feta cheese.  These meals will carry you through when you just can’t be bothered to try something new and fun with your produce.
  • Have fun. Don’t let yourself feel too guilty about greens wilting in your fridge. Some days, you just aren’t feeling it, and that’s fine. I’m little miss CSA, and I still eat popcorn for dinner on occasion.  If possible, try to give away your excess produce to someone who will eat it, but don’t beat yourself up if something goes bad before you use it.  Compost it if possible!

Are you a CSA member? Do you have any tips to share? Questions you’d like me to answer?

CSA: Charleston – The Halfway Mark

I believe we’re now halfway through our CSA season with the wonderful Pinckney’s Produce, but I could be wrong.   Anyway, here’s what we got this week:

That’s:

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 bunch chard
  • 1 cabbage (gave away to a coworker)
  • 10 yellow crookneck squash
  • 3 sweet onions
  • 3 bell peppers
  • 5 banana peppers
  • 6 pattypan squash
  • 12 pickling cucumbers
  • 8 zucchini
  • 1 large bag green beans (gave half away to a coworker)

And here’s what we did with it all:

Tuesday

Tuesday I focused on making pickles with the squash, zucchini, peppers, and cucumbers.  I did refrigerator dills with the cukes and bread and butter pickles with the rest.  I’ve been taking jars of the pickles to friends and coworkers and everyone loves them.

refrigerator dill pickles

bread and butter squash and zucchini pickles.

Otherwise, we ate leftover corn on the cob, grilled squash salad, and grilled cabbage coleslaw from last week with some blackened salmon for dinner.

even our leftovers are yummy thanks to our CSA!

Wednesday

Wednesday I fried some bacon in a skillet, poured off most of the grease, and sauteed the chard with some garlic and red pepper flakes.  I served this with the crumbled bacon and some parmesan cheese over orzo.  Not bad for a random no-recipe meal!

sauteed chard with garlic and red pepper over orzo.

Thursday

Thursday I was feeling crummy and Jon was feeling crummy, likely because some germy kid at his work gave him a cold, which he kindly shared with me. The hazards of pediatrics! Anyway, I was feeling like some comfort food, so I made fried rice with the bell peppers, 2 pattypan squash, and an onion.  I made a ton so I had leftovers for lunch on Friday as well.  Fried rice, like frittatas, is just one of those meals where I throw in a bunch of veggies I need to use up and it always turns out great.

Friday

Friday night, I was home alone, but that didn’t stop me from making myself an awesome dinner.  I made two delicious quiches with the kale and some leeks I bought at the store, following the Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for a Leek and Swiss Chard Tart.  I’m really not sure what the difference is between a quiche and a tart, but basically this was a quiche.  I used pre-made puff pastry for my crust, and I subbed in herbes de provence, because I couldn’t find my dried thyme.  It came out so delicious, and it fed us for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday as well.  Definitely try this recipe if you have some greens around!

Saturday

Saturday I went with one old standby and tried one new thing.  The old standby is my usual green bean recipe: sautee green beans with garlic and onions with ginger and soy sauce.  Jon loves them, I love them, can’t go wrong.  The new thing was using the rest of the squash and zucchini in a potato and summer squash gratin with goat cheese.  It probably would have been a lot less time consuming if I had had a mandolin for slicing the veggies crazy thin, but my one and only Wusthof knife worked out pretty well, even if it did seem to take an eternity.  No matter what, all the slicing was worth it for a dish that tasted so good!  Mine had a few more layers than the original recipe called for, but I just kept layering.  I added more milk and more cheese to make up for the fact that my gratin was larger.  This is another recipe I highly recommend.

potato, squash, and goat cheese gratin.

Sunday we had a party to go to, so I didn’t do any cooking.

Monday

Monday we were feeling lazy and wanting to watch Battlestar Galactica (we’re nerds) and drink margaritas.  I had a bit of kale left in the fridge, so I cut it up and sauteed it until wilted, and then I used it in place of spinach in a spinach and artichoke dip recipe.  Turns out, any green will do in spinach and artichoke dip. My theory: with enough cheese, you could basically use grass clippings and no one would care.

So, another week down, and besides what I gave away to a coworker, we ate it all! I’m pretty proud!

CSA: Charleston — squash!

After last week’s poor CSA performance, wherein Jon and I were both out of town for long stretches so we ended up giving most of our CSA produce away, I was determined to do fun things with the bulk of our CSA goodness this week, and I think I succeeded! Man, I love Pinckney’s Produce! If you’re interested in signing up for the fall season, there’s a waiting list forming now, so check them out.

Here’s what we got this week:

That’s:

  • 1 bunch mustard greens
  • 2 bunches kale
  • 1 cabbage
  • 4 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 4 banana peppers
  • 1 bag broccoli
  • 5 pattypan squash
  • 9 yellow squash
  • 8 cucumbers
  • 8 zucchini

What I did with it all:

Tuesday:

Tuesday night, I made a stir fry using the carrots, broccoli, peppers, and 2 pattypan squash, which I served with a soy, ginger, and sriracha sauce over rice. Yum! I had leftover stir fry for lunch the next day.

I also made two batches of refrigerator pickles, the first using my usual dill pickle recipe for the cucumbers, and the second batch using a modified form of this bread and butter pickle recipe for half the squash and zucchini.  This recipe is really special because it uses maple syrup for the sweetness rather than sugar. Though I think the maple syrup contributed to the flavor and color, if you don’t have that much real syrup on hand, I bet brown sugar would work well!  Also, I couldn’t find red chiles, so I added red pepper flakes. I basically did a refrigerator pickle method for the squash pickles too, just heating up the liquids and then putting the squash in their liquids in jars (and yogurt tubs) in the fridge and letting them “pickle” that way, rather than boiling them in jars for 20 minutes and sealing them.

Wednesday

Wednesday night I made squash and zucchini pizzas following the Smitten Kitchen’s Lemony Goat Cheese and Zucchini Pizza recipe.  I made the crust before going to work and left it to rise all day, which makes for a much better crust than just letting it rise for an hour.  I also didn’t have goat cheese, so I subbed in Laughing Cow cheese, because my husband had recently picked up a bunch of it at Costco because it was on sale.  It came out great! I forgot to take a picture of the finished product, so you’ll just have to extrapolate that it was browner and meltier and glistening with olive oil.  I had leftover pizza for a couple of breakfasts and one lunch.

Wednesday night I also cooked lentils and caramelized onions to use in Thursday night’s dinner.

Thursday

Thursday night we ate the kale in this kale and lentil pasta, which came out delicious! I forgot to take any pictures, unfortunately.  We had the leftovers for lunch a couple of times.

Friday night I went out to eat with a friend.

Saturday

Saturday I went and saw Sex and the City 2 with a bunch of girlfriends.  We pre-partied with cosmos at a friend’s condo, so I decided to bring a very appropriate snack: red velvet cupcakes made using Magnolia Bakery’s recipe.

This is me eating an actual Magnolia Bakery red velvet cupcake at 30 Rock in New York:

On the left: red velvet. On the right: caramel and banana. Both: AMAZING.

And here’s how mine turned out (the coconut was strategic, to keep the frosting from sticking all over the container or other cupcakes in transit to the party):

Smuggling cute pink cans of champagne into the theatre is basically a must when seeing SATC2.

One thing to note about the Magnolia Bakery’s red velvet recipe is that, unlike many red velvet recipes, it does not use cream cheese frosting, and uses a creamy vanilla frosting instead. I like the changeup, because I find cream cheese frosting a little sickeningly sweet for red velvet cupcakes.

Sunday

Sunday lunch was a mustard green frittata with fontina cheese.

On Sunday evening we had a few friends over for a bring your own meat cookout.  I made a grilled squash and zucchini salad following this recipe from Real Simple, as well as a grilled cole slaw (really!) using the cabbage and an additional red cabbage.  I liked this slaw a lot because it’s got a vinegar dressing instead of being drenched in mayo.  Warning: two heads of cabbage makes a LOT of slaw!!  The squash and zucchini salad was also a big hit, and my one big change was adding the sweet onions to the grill instead of using the called-for green onions.  Our meat was grilled chicken which I had marinated in Greek yogurt, garlic, cumin, and chili powder.  We snacked on pickles and had cupcakes for dessert.

Wrap-Up

Overall, a very delicious week, with no major failures! We even managed to be mostly vegetarian, with the exception of the chicken we ate at our cookout!   Outside of the CSA veggies, we also made some homemade salsa and some tabouli on Sunday, which we snacked on at the beach on Monday along with some yummy watermelon, all washed down with mojitos made with mint we grew in our yard.

Did you cook anything good this week?

CSA: Charleston – giving it all away

Some weeks, there’s just no way we can eat all of the CSA goodness that comes in our box, and this was one of those weeks.  Jon was gone for most of the week, and I was out of town over the weekend finding us a place to live in Little Rock (mission: accomplished!).  So I gave away most of our veggies to neighbors and coworkers so the food wouldn’t go to waste.  Here’s what we got:

  • strawberries
  • 3 carrots (gave away)
  • 4 onions
  • 1 bunch spinach
  • 1 head romaine lettuce (gave away)
  • 1 butter crunch lettuce (gave away)
  • 4 zucchini (gave 2 away)
  • 8 squash
  • 2 bunches beets (gave away)
  • 2 bunches chard (gave 1 away)
  • 1 bunch cabbage (gave away)

As you can see, I gave most of that away.  Here’s what I did with what I kept:

One night, I seriously ate a plate full of spinach sauteed with garlic, olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice for dinner.  So good!

I also baked Smitten Kitchen’s Poppy Seed Lemon Cake, which was AMAZING, and I served it with sliced strawberries soaked in a bit of sugar over night to make them nice and syrupy.  She adapted the recipe from one at Cafe Sabarsky, which is a cafe inside the Neue Galerie in New York, and Jon and I actually have been there! Here’s what we had when we were there:

And for our first meal back home, together, after all our traveling, I made a pasta using the chard and onions with a little bacon, garlic, olive oil, red pepper and parmesan cheese.  It was inspired by this pasta recipe which I use a lot with collards.  I also sliced up the squash and zucchini and made Baked Summer Squash, which turned out pretty good as well!

We’re looking forward to picking up another box of goodies this week and getting to eat most of them this time! It turns out I’m not crazy for thinking we’re getting a ridiculous amount of veggies in our smaller-sized (compared to the last season we did) boxes– in this week’s email, the farmers told us that they’re having a bumper crop, and they’re passing on the bounty to us.  No complaints here! I’m always happy to find a friend to share some local veggies with.

CSA: Charleston — I will not be defeated by fruits and veggies!

I was a very busy beaver on Tuesday when I picked up our latest CSA box from Pinckney’s Produce at the Glass Onion.  I had yoga class after work, then stopped by to pick up the box, then zipped home to lay everything out and see what I got. Here’s the bounty:

It included:

  • 3 heads lettuce
  • 2 bunches mustard greens
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • beets
  • turnips with greens
  • radishes
  • strawberries

The sheer volume of produce seemed greater than our first few boxes, and I was slightly concerned that we wouldn’t be able to eat it all. Again, I can’t freeze any of it for later, because we’re moving at the end of the season. This week was an Iron Chef challenge for sure! Continue reading “CSA: Charleston — I will not be defeated by fruits and veggies!”

CSA: Charleston — the season begins

Last Tuesday, we started our latest CSA season with Pinckney’s Produce. We did a season with them last summer/fall and loved every minute of it (you can read about those adventures here). This season, since we’re moving at the end of it and can’t freeze excess food to eat after the season is over, we signed up for a smaller box.  Here’s what we got:

  • 3 bunches collards
  • 1 curly head lettuce
  • 1 butter/bibb lettuce
  • 3 heads broccoli
  • radishes
  • onions
  • strawberries

Continue reading “CSA: Charleston — the season begins”

CSA Charleston: sometimes even i get overwhelmed

Another delicious week with our Pinckney’s Produce CSA!

DSC05663Another great haul this week! Here’s the breakdown:

  • 5 sweet potatoes
  • 1 large head cabbage
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 bunch collards
  • 4 small heads broccoli
  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • lots of various tomatoes

This was our next to last CSA box! I’m already getting sad about the season ending, and will do more of a retrospective on the experience next week.  I’ll also post a picture of the stock of food we’ve now accumulated in our freezer– at least one friend seems to be unable to believe everything I’ve said is in there fits! Continue reading “CSA Charleston: sometimes even i get overwhelmed”