CSA report: Week 2

CSA, Week 2

What a difference one week can make on the farm.
In addition to asparagus, radishes, spring onions and mixed greens, which we received last week, this week’s CSA bounty included butterhead and romaine lettuces, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, grape tomatoes and strawberries.
I also bought another dozen eggs and a jar of honey.
Because the box is packed and waiting for pick-up, you don’t know what you’re getting until you get home and open it up. As I drove home last night, smiling and looking forward to the big reveal, I thought, “I’m never this excited/happy when I leave the grocery store.”

Here’s a breakdown of how we used last week’s box:
Asparagus: roasted with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper for dinner side
Beets: raw, sliced in slaw with fennel, apples, mint, canola oil, balsamic vinegar
Beet greens: chiffonade in soup with sausage, carrots, celery, red pepper, spring onion (whites and greens), marjoram, tomatoes, chicken stock
Eggs: lemon pound cake (five); Caesar dressing (one); corn cakes (three)
Jerusalem artichokes: not yet used; roasted?
Maple syrup: not yet used
Radishes: snacks
Rhubarb: stewed with strawberries, eaten mixed with plain yogurt; more in the freezer
Salad greens: five small salads (lunch and dinner)
Spring onions: greens in salad, bok choy and pork stirfry, corn cakes, soup; whites in soup and alfredo vegetable sauce

Our first foray into CSA

We picked up our first CSA (community supported agriculture) box today.
CSAs are a way for consumers to buy directly from farmers. They pay a lump sum in the spring and are supplied with produce (and sometimes other goods) on a weekly basis throughout the growing season. Consumers support small local farmers and are rewarded with great local produce.
Golden Harvest Family Farms, located in western Kawartha Lakes, runs the Triple Cord fresh produce program and offers a pick-up in Sharon, just a few kilometres east of our home in Holland Landing.

Contents of our first CSA box.

Our first box included: mixed salad greens, radishes, green onions, beets, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus and rhubarb. Because the produce pickings were a little slim, we also received a dozen eggs and a 250 mL jar of maple syrup. We made arrangements to buy a dozen eggs each week when we go to pick up our box.

I plan to dedicate some time every Monday evening to prepping and cooking the fresh produce.
Tonight, I trimmed and washed the radishes and stuck them in a container of water in the fridge – ready for snacking through out the week. The salad greens made a quick side for dinner.  I used a few chopped green onions to garnish the wild rice and vidalia onion soup I made yesterday, reheated and then broiled with a few rye bread croutons and gruyere cheese.

The rhubarb was stewed with sugar and frozen strawberries.

The long and lovely rhubarb stalks were washed, chopped and stewed with sugar and strawberries from the freezer.
I separated the beets from the greens, storing both in the refrigerator, along with rest of the produce, to use later in the week.

In praise of onions

Local onions, ready to slice for French onion soup.

Once or twice a winter season, my local FreshCo offers a deal on 10-pound bag of onions. I always take advantage of the sale (last week, $2.99). The onions are perfect: smallish, firm, clean, dry and grown close by, often in Bradford-West Gwillimbury, but this time in Newmarket.
Ten pounds might seem like a lot of onions for a two-person household to consume at their peak. But we love their sweet mellow flavour in any number of winter favourites from soup to risotto. In a few short days, I managed to put a significant dent in their numbers with a pasta sauce, jambalaya and this French onion soup.

French onion soup
This recipe is inspired by one from PEI chef Michael Smith. I wanted to try his method of wet cooking the onions in a closed pot first. I did get good results — thanks as much to my nose as the recipe. I could smell the onions starting to brown before the prescribed 10 minutes and quickly removed the lid, stirred and reduced the heat.
I’ve made a few ingredient changes as well.
This made two generous bowls, with leftovers.

Ingredients
10 to 11 small onions, thinly sliced
30 mL  (2 tbsp) butter
22 mL (1-1/2 tbsp) vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
80 mL (1/3 cup) sweet vermouth
5 mL (1 tsp) dried thyme
1,250 mL (5 cups) homemade chicken stock
2 slices of dark farmer’s rye bread, cut into large croutons and toasted
Gruyere, grated

Method
Cook onions, seasoned with salt and pepper, in butter and oil in large, uncovered pot over low heat until golden brown and very soft, stirring often, about 1 hour. (Alternately, add onions, butter, oil and splash of water to large pot over medium high heat. Cover with tight-fitting lid, cook until onions are softened and water evaporated, 5 to 10 minutes. Then continue cooking onions as above.)
Add vermouth, thyme and chicken stock. Simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls. Top with croutons and Gruyere.
Place bowls onto baking sheet. Broil until cheese is golden and bubbly.

French onion soup.

In search of India

It’s easy to pull together a fairly tasty Indian dinner using the pre-blended spice mixtures, curry powder or garam masala, or sauces you find at the grocery or bulk food store. But for a meal that is more authentic and satisfying in its preparation and flavours, I am learning to start with the whole spices, then grind, toast, fry and blend.
We are hosting dear friends for an Indian feast this weekend. And, while I won’t spoil the surprise by detailing the menu here, I did want to post about the spices required to make six dishes from scratch — starter, main, two sides, condiment and dessert.
Although my spice cupboard (not rack, cupboard) is well stocked, I did need to add some items for this undertaking. Here is the sum of my list.

Perhaps the prettiest of spices, star anise.

These items (most of which I always have on hand) are readily available in my local Bulk Barn:
• green cardamom
• star anise
• coriander seeds
• cumin seeds
• fennel
• cinnamon sticks
• whole dried red chiles
• bay leaves
• saffron
• nutmeg
• mace
• tumeric
• cloves
• cayenne

Indian ingredients: mustard oil, dried fenugreek leaves, fenugreek seeds, kalonji, black cardamom and black mustard seeds.

For other items, look in the Indian section of larger grocery stores or an Indian grocer.
Since I happened to be in downtown Toronto Tuesday, I stopped by a stall at the St. Lawrence Market that had everything else on my shopping list:
• dried fenugreek (methi) leaves
• fenugreek seeds
• kalonji
• black cardamom
• black mustard seeds

I’m excited to start cooking.

Thanksgiving prep, part one

We’re hosting my in-laws for Thanksgiving again this year. And naturally I’ve been thinking about the menu for weeks. I like to keep the meal fairly traditional, but add a few new dishes or flavours every year.
I haven’t finalized the details yet, but I have ordered a fresh turkey raised by Bill just down the road in Queensville and made one item: cranberry sauce.
I first made it more than 15 years ago, when I was a reluctant and rather unsuccessful home cook. The star ingredient is grown by the millions in my home community, Muskoka. I highly recommend a visit to Johnston’s cranberry marsh in Bala if you’re looking for a road trip this fall.
This recipe, with a slight reduction in the amount of water, came from the back of a Johnston’s cranberry package. You can switch it up a bit with grated apple and cinnamon or grated orange zest.

Ontario cranberries boil with sugar and water to create a traditional accompaniment to Thanksgiving turkey.

Cranberry sauce
Ingredients
750 mL (3 cups) cranberries
250 mL (1 cup) sugar
175 mL (2/3 cup) water

Method
In a small saucepan, heat water and sugar until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to boil.
Add cranberries and simmer until berries pop and liquid thickens.
Ladle hot into mason jars, check for seal and store at room temperature until ready to use.
Makes 750 mL (3 cups).

Shop, cook, eat: St. Lawrence Market

This post is a few months overdue. The seed of this blog was germinating when we planned and executed this field trip and meal with David’s parents. I had the foresight to enlist David as official blog photographer that day.
It began with a Saturday morning trip to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto and ended with a fabulous four-course dinner at our house. We had no set menu — with the exception of the first course, which was to be our own version of one David had enjoyed at a restaurant nearly a year before. Instead, we decided, we would be inspired by what we saw and plan our meal accordingly.
We spent a couple hours wandering through the market’s stalls, salivating over the fresh meats, fish and produce and sampling mustards and cheeses.
Here, in no specific order, is what we bought:
large loaf of French bread
.7 kg piece of black cod
.5 kg thick cut organic beef striploin
asparagus
crimini mushrooms
small eggplants
mini red potatoes
A well-stocked pantry, fridge, bar and herb garden, plus a quick stop at the grocery store for some cream cheese, offered everything else we needed for our four-course feast.
With the exception of dessert, all dishes were prepared without a recipe. So instructions are minimal, but offer enough detail, I hope, to provide inspiration to any home chef.
We served the first and second courses with an unoaked chardonnay — a nice match for the hollandaise and buttery black cod. The beef course demanded something big and red. We went with malbec.

First course: Asparagus crostini
1. Make hollandaise sauce.
After much patient instruction from my sister chef, David now makes a killer hollandaise. We like ours with a little hot sauce and lots of fresh squeezed lemon juice. He made the hollandaise, while I prepped the crostini and vegetables.
2. Add some butter and a little oil to a hot pan. Saute sliced crimini mushrooms until brown. Add asparagus (four spears per person) and cook until tendercrisp.
3. Cut thick slices of French bread (not baguette, bread) on the diagonal. Lightly toast in 350 Fahrenheit oven.
4. To assemble, place one slice of bread on plate, arrange mushrooms and asparagus spears on bread. Top with hollandaise. Serve immediately.

Asparaugus crostini

Second course: Grilled black cod and eggplant
1. Marinate cod for about an hour in a citrus marinade. I used lemon juice and lemon and orange zest, as well as minced chives, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Cook on oiled grill. Black cod looks lovely when it is grilled; the layers of flesh separate in a very attractive way.
2. Cut eggplant in half. Sprinkle cut side with salt and let rest for an hour. This will draw out moisture and bitterness. Rinse.
Rub cut side with olive oil, finely minced garlic, salt and pepper. Grill, cut side down, until soft.
Sprinkle eggplant with freshly grated Parmesan. Broil until cheese is slightly browned.

Grilled black cod and eggplant.

Third course: Bourbon striploin with rosemary potatoes
1. Combine 80 mL (1/3 cup) each bourbon and soy sauce, 30 mL (2 tbsp) each brown sugar, red wine vinegar and olive oil, 2 mL (1/2 tsp) or more freshly cracked black pepper and 1 garlic clove, minced. (Add a small chopped onion if you like.)
Marinate beef for at least a few hours and as long as overnight for larger roasts.
Grill on hot barbecue to medium rare.
2. Meanwhile, boil remaining marinade on the stove until reduced to a thick sauce.
Allow meat to rest for several minutes before slicing against the grain. Serve slices topped with a bit of the sauce.
3. Microwave potatoes until just cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with olive oil and chopped rosemary (dried or fresh). Grill until skins are slightly crisp.

Bourbon striploin with rosemary potatoes.

Fourth course: Bourbon pecan carrot cake
Carrot cake is my favourite dessert and I was waiting for an excuse to try out one of the recipes from the spring issue of the LCBO’s Food & Drink.
For the cake, I halved all the ingredients except the spices and made only two layers. For the icing, I omitted the vanilla and added some orange zest (which I grate when I eat oranges and keep in the freezer). The result was heavenly. But, for some reason, didn’t rate a photo. Blame all the wine perhaps.
Anyway, here is the original recipe, created by Monda Rosenberg.
Ingredients
1L (4 cups) grated carrot
175 mL (3/4 cup) golden raisins
75 mL  (1/3) bourbon, rum or orange juice (I used bourbon)
500 mL (2 cups) coarsely chopped pecans or almonds (I used pecans)
625 mL (2-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
15 mL (1 tbsp) baking powder
5 mL (1 tsp) baking soda
5 mL (1 tsp) salt
7 mL (1-1/2) tsp cinnamon
5 mL (1 tsp) nutmeg
2 mL (1/2 tsp) allspice
250 mL (1 cup) vegetable oil
375 mL (1-1/2 cup) brown sugar
4 eggs
10 mL (2 tsp) vanilla
Icing
2 pkgs (250 g each) regular cream cheese, at room temperature
175 mL (3/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
30 mL (2 tbsp) bourbon, rum or orange juice (I used boubon)
5 mL  (1 tsp) vanilla
625 mL (2-1/2 cups) sifted icing sugar
Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray or oil three 1.5-L (9-inch) round cake pans.
2. Grate carrots using a food processor. Measure out 1 L  (4 cups) and set aside. Plump up raisins by placing in a small microwave bowl and adding bourbon. Microwave on high 1½ minutes, stirring partway through. Bourbon should just start to boil. Set aside and stir occasionally. Chop nuts and toast in the oven for about 6 minutes, stirring partway through. Place flour in a large bowl. Sprinkle with baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Stir to blend, then make a well in the centre.
3. Combine oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Scrape into well in flour mixture and stir with a spoon or spatula just until even in colour. Stir in carrots, followed by raisins and bourbon that hasn’t been absorbed. Sprinkle with nuts and just mix in. It will be very thick.
4. Divide batter between pans, adding about 550 mL (2-1/4 cups) to each. Spread evenly to pan sides. To remove air pockets, bang pans on counter 5 to 6 times. Bake until centres seem set when lightly tapped, from 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a baking rack to cool. After about 15 minutes, turn cakes out of pans and cool completely on racks. It’s best to bake cakes a day ahead of icing and leave at room temperature overnight.
5. Cut cream cheese into chunks. Place butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until very creamy. Add bourbon and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and beat in cream cheese, piece by piece. Beating too much will cause thinning. Add about a third of the icing sugar and beat on low until just mixed in. Scrape sides of bowl and beaters occasionally. Gradually add remaining sugar, beating just until smooth. If too thin, work in a little more sugar. Can be refrigerated for about an hour before using.
6. To assemble, place a cake, top-side down, on a platter. Lay the other 2, top-side up, on waxed paper. Brush with bourbon if you like. Spoon an equal amount of frosting on each. Spread over cakes, leaving a narrow border of cake around edge of cake on platter and on 1 other cake. Spread frosting right to the edge of the third cake. Stack cakes, placing the fully covered layer on top. Garnish with whole pecan halves. It’s best to refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving.
Make 12 wedges.

When you find Romas…

Washed and waiting: Just a few of the Romas from a 60-lb box I brought home on the weekend.

“How much does one of those weigh?” I asked, gesturing to a 1-1/9 bushel box of Roma tomatoes under the $20 sign at Joe’s Market.
“Fifty pounds, maybe a little more,” came the reply. “Do you want some help getting one to your car?”
“Yes, please.”
The tomato gods were smiling on me once again — field-fresh Ontario tomatoes and a weekend of cool weather to transform them into whatever my heart desired.
When I got home, I solicited David’s help to lug the box from the back of my car to the kitchen. “Feels like more than 50 pounds,” he opined, heading to the basement for the scale.  Yep, over 60. I had a busy weekend ahead of me.

First up: Tomato sandwiches
Usually I would turn to beefsteaks but the biggest of these Romas were just begging to be made into sandwiches. (Plus, I needed the nourishment before tackling the tougher jobs.) No recipe required here, but my favourite version features lightly toasted light rye with a skim coat of mayo, thickly cut ripe tomatoes, salt and pepper. Take it up a notch with sliced avocado, havarti or bacon.

Next: Piquante sauce