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A Feast of Vegetables, or How Not To Waste Your CSA


Here in Wonderland Kitchen, some weekends are all about the big projects–sourdough bread baking or cheese making or pickled vegetable canning. Other weekends consist of 105-degree-shellacked days in which the majority of the “cooking” is devoted to sitting in the direct blast of the window air conditioner and contemplating the meal plan that requires the least amount of time out of its cool company. As you have probably already guessed, today I’m going to tell you about the latter.

I wasn’t going to post about any of these “recipes.” In fact, I was thinking of taking a couple weeks off–a little summer vacation–during which I would consider what this blog might best become as it cruises into its one-year anniversary. But then I started reading. The publication of The Locavore’s Dilemma seems to have sparked an entire series of forehead-slapping columns mirroring the same basic argument: namely, that people like me–a woman who finds a weekly trip to the farmers market both gratifying and the best way to feed myself and my family–well, we’re all just deluded, bougie romantics.

Now, that may be so, but it might also be that my compatriots are reading labels and health reports and making some decisions about what goes in their mouth. I’m not sure what big box grocery store the authors of The Locavore’s Dilemma shop at, but it must not be the ones I have access to in which the “real food” section is but a small slice of the proceedings and much of what’s on view is so waxed it’s sticky or so wilted that it’s yellow before I even get it home. I’ll take some grit and bugs and seasonal selection over all that, thanks. I don’t deny that I buy citrus year round, and I don’t feel the need to hide my avocados under my toilet paper, either, but I do directly trace the high percentage of plant consumption in my diet to the fresh and varied and delicious produce provided by the local farmers who sell to me here in Maryland.

The even stranger criticism I’ve read in these anti-CSA articles this week (I have not read the book itself) is that the system is “wasteful” because homemakers can’t manage the volume of food received, either when they travel and need less, or when they have guests and need more. This leads me to believe that the authors neither cook efficiently nor share with their friends and neighbors.

CSA Feast

Still, I’ll admit that I was feeling kind of down about the whole thing when I read this inspiring article about cooking to eat rather than following a recipe in order to cook. It both encouraged me (this is how I’m trying to teach myself to work more creatively off-script in the kitchen, even without any formal training) and reminded me why the CSA system works for me. It challenges me to use what I have while allowing me to keep it simple, because fresh quality produce usually doesn’t need much help.

Anyway, at the end of last season, I ran my own numbers and found that the CSA and farmers market supply chain worked for my health (mental and physical), my social life, and my pocket book, so we’re still committed. The measures of good economics and fair trade may vary, I suppose. Yesterday, I pulled our “harvest” out onto the counter and came up with a Saturday night feast that proceeded from planned to plated in well under an hour. I don’t claim any of these are actual recipes as much as they represent one set of solution-instructions to the problem that was dinner. How are you solving these equations lately?

Cold Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Cold Tomato and Cucumber Salad

1 small tomato, cored, seeded, and diced
1 small cucumber, from a friend’s garden, must be eaten already
1/2 cup leftover chick peas
4 basil leaves from the garden, shredded
Several generous drizzles of that fancy herbed olive oil we got for Christmas last year
salt to taste

Place all in a bowl, toss.

Creamed Kohlrabi

1 large bulb kohlrabi, peeled and cubed
1 large garlic clove
2 T buttermilk
1 tsp pesto from our friends a few blocks over

Boil kohlrabi until fork tender. Drain and place vegetable and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until broken down. Add remaining ingredients and pulse a few more times to combine. Taste and add salt as needed. Serve hot.

Beets in a Thyme Balsamic Glaze

Beets in a Sweet Thyme Balsamic Glaze

5 small beets, various colors, boiled, peeled, and cubed
4 T balsamic vinegar
4 thyme springs from the garden
1 tsp. honey

Place vinegar, thyme, and honey in a small sauce pan. Simmer until honey is dissolved, thyme is fragrant, and vinegar is somewhat reduced. Remove thyme sprigs and drizzle sauce over beets. Sprinkle dish with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Five-Minute Broccoli

1 bunch broccoli, rinsed and cut into florets
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T vegetable broth
Drizzle of tamari

Heat olive oil in a skillet and saute garlic and broccoli just until vegetable is bright green. Add broth and cover pan, steaming until vegetable reaches desired level of crispness. Drizzle with tamari to finish.

Backyard Garden String Beans

Backyard Garden String Beans + Party

12 green beans that are worth cooking because you grew them yourself, cleaned
sprinkle of lime juice from that lime you zested yesterday
Last of the sliced almonds still hanging out in the pantry

In the pan you just cooked the broccoli in, still coated with broth and oil and garlic bits, saute the beans. Wash remaining dishes and wipe counter off while they cook. When ready, sprinkle beans with almonds and lime juice.

Open some wine. Invite the neighbors over. Enjoy your feast.

Homesick for Life on the Road: Mutter Paneer


Making paneer reminds me of the brief time I spent in Nepal. Not of the streets I walked and the music I was there to study, but the many quiet hours I spent in the kitchen with the family who had taken me in, cooking alongside the “sister” who had adopted me into her household, welcoming me with an infectious smile and a cup of tea. I miss watching Hindi soap operas with her to this day, and I didn’t understand of word of them (so that’s saying something).

Our kitchen corner (left) and a view down onto wedding feast preparations (right). When cooking for 50, I guess it's easier to work outside.

Aside from your basic college survival budget cooking (lots of rice and beans and steamed carrots, in my case) I was not all that sophisticated when it came to food prep at that point in my life, and it showed painfully in this sparely equipped, two-burner kitchen. By the time I left a few months later, however, I could make curries and dals and chaats and momos…well, if not like a pro, then at least like an over-enthused novice. Paneer was another of these new delicacies, the construction of which was introduced to me in Kathmandu, though I’ve only made it a few times more in the ensuing decade.

On my last trip to NYC, however, I grabbed a bite at a little Indian lunch counter where the food was as divine as the shop was covert. The mutter paneer spoke to me through the glass. It was so tasty that once I got home I found myself fixated on the taste of it and the desire to revisit that simple cheese making process. It got me a little homesick for life on the road (if that’s possible), but the resulting dish itself was so tasty I consoled myself with quite a few spoonfuls before the paratha was even off the griddle (no recipe for those here, because I cheat and buy frozen).

*The lovely aluminum serving dish pictured above is from Don Drumm’s studio.

For the paneer

1/2 gallon whole milk
3-5 T lemon juice (best to have more than enough squeezed and ready before you start)
1 piece fine cheesecloth

In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring the milk up to a gentle boil. Add lemon juice, a tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition, until milk separates. Remove from heat.

Line a sieve with the cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through to separate them. Rise the curds under cold water then drain well, gathering the curds together into a ball. Twist the cheesecloth together and gently squeeze to remove some of the excess water, then leave to hang for 30 minutes. To further press the curds into a more solid cheese that can be cubed and fried for dishes such as the one below, twist the cheesecloth closed gently but securely and place on a counter or cutting board with a weight on top to further press out liquid (I use my marble cheese board). Check the cheese after an hour and continue pressing until it has reached the desired texture (if it becomes too dry it will crumble, so take care). Use right away or wrap well and refrigerate.

For more beautiful instructions than mine, see this tutorial.

For the mutter paneer
Adapted from Manjula’s Kitchen

3 T olive oil, plus more as needed
paneer (see recipe above), cubed

1 T ginger, chopped
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
1/2 inch of cinnamon stick
Pinch of asafetida

Here I must admit that I went a little cross-culture crazy and omitted the remaining spices, instead using a few spoonfuls of that amazingly delicious berbere paste I made a little while ago. However, recognizing that you probably won’t have that on hand, the original recipe indicates:

1 T coriander powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt or to taste

16 oz. frozen peas

Heat enough of the olive oil to thickly coat the bottom of your skillet and fry the paneer cubes. When they are golden brown, spoon them out onto a plate lined with paper towels to soak up excess oil and set aside.

Puree the tomatoes and ginger together.

Add a little more oil to your skillet if needed and, when hot once again, add the cumin seeds, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and asafetida. Stir and fry for a few seconds, then pour in the tomato and ginger mixture, plus remaining spices. Once the sauce begins to sputter, reduce the heat and allow to reduce a bit.

Add peas, stirring to combine. Cover and continue cooking until peas are tender. Toss in the paneer and heat the dish through, adding salt as needed.

Serve with flatbread or over rice.

If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler


Not long ago, I enjoyed a particularly fantastic supper at Woodberry Kitchen which consisted of navy beans, torn bread, kale, turnips, and smoked red chile, all baked up in a petite cast iron pan and garnished with fresh pea shoots. It was delicious top to bottom, but those torn bread chunks studding the dish–so crisp, so well seasoned, so tasty–have haunted me ever since.

Though I have no wood-fired brick oven here at home, nor any cast iron pans for baking such a dish, I decided to try for an approximation with the ingredients I had on hand.

The stew I came up with was hearty and comforting, but it was ultimately a dish quite unlike the original, of course. It was plenty tasty, sure, but disappointment encroached at the dinner table. I had failed to capture the bread–both in texture and taste. It was good, but it wasn’t that bread. How did they do it?

So it’s back to the drawing board on that part. I’m not even sure what I’m looking for exactly–more of a crouton, perhaps? even drier and spicier than what I made?–but I’ll let you know when I find it.

Meanwhile, this is a dish that would warm and welcome any visitor arriving at your door on a cold night.

Traveler's Stew: Process

Traveler’s Stew

1 1/2 cups crowder peas, cooked
4 T olive oil, divided
1 sprig rosemary
1 small red onion, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, cubed
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
28 oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp paprika
2-3 cups swiss chard, de-ribbed and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Several slices of crusty bread, cubed (an 8-inch portion of stale baguette works especially well here)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Traveler's Stew: Process

In a 4 qt. oven-safe pot, heat 2 T olive oil and sizzle rosemary to infuse. Add onion and saute until softened, then stir in mushrooms and continue cooking until they release their juices. Remove and discard the rosemary and add the carrots, celery, beans, tomatoes (with their juice), wine and spices to the pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until the carrots have softened. Add the swiss chard, and continue cooking 10-15 minutes more, until greens are wilted and flavors well merged. Season with salt as needed.

While you wait for the greens to cook down, preheat the broiler and heat the remaining 2T olive oil in a skillet. Add the garlic to infuse the oil and then add the bread cubes, tossing to coat with the oil. Continue to toast them in the pan, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until the cubes are golden, about 7 minutes.

When ready to serve, layer the bread on top of the stew. I decided to push the chunks down into the liquid just slightly to soak them into the tomato broth somewhat, then I placed the pot under the broiler for a few minute to recrisp the bread and actually burn it just a bit (personal preference).

Remove from oven and garnish with parsley. Serve piping hot.

Traveler's Stew

Making the Connections


I opened the refrigerator in search of dinner last night and was confronted by leftover portions of ingredients that seemed anxious to be combined together into one epic dish. Seasonal produce conveniently seems to work that way, doesn’t it? As I pulled various items out onto the counter–half an onion, some mushrooms, half a box of spinach–a dish started to materialize in my mind. The freezer coughed up half a bag of frozen sweet potato cubes and the pantry matched that with half a pound of whole wheat pasta. I was itching to stir.

I should pause here to point out that while I’m no slave to a recipe or a measuring spoon, when I try to cook completely without a net, well, result may vary. But I was feeling bold, plus I was home alone, so I just kept crashing forward. The cat looked worried, but I figured I could cook the various pieces and then pull the dish together with a little cream and butter. In the end, I was mostly hoping it looked good enough for me to plate it and try out my new photo lighting system.

Though I was nagged by the thought that this impulse I was following was completely ignoring some essential thing that I would only realize once the meal was prepared and I tried to actually eat it, no drama ensued. I just ended up with a nice autumn pasta dish that effectively consumed all my leftovers into something classy. Mission accomplished.

Considering how the dish was made, there are obviously no hard and fast ingredients or proportions. However, this was my approach:

Autumn Pasta with Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, and Greens

1 T olive oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup frozen sweet potato cubes
4 cups spinach or leafy greens of your choice
1/2 cup vegetable broth

1/2 lb. whole wheat pasta

4 T butter
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp chopped sage
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion until softened and translucent. Add garlic and mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms release their juices. Add sweet potatoes, greens, and broth to the pan and, without stirring, place lid over top and allow vegetables to steam for six minutes. At this point, the greens should have begun to wilt and the potatoes to soften. Toss the vegetables and continue cooking until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions. When complete, drain and return to pot, adding the cooked vegetables and any cooking liquid in the pan. Stir to prevent pasta from sticking together.

In your (now empty) saute pan, melt the butter and add the sage, cooking for a minute or two. Add the cream and cheese and stir until melted and heated through. Return pasta and vegetables to the pan and toss to coat with the sauce and rewarm the pasta. Season with salt and pepper to taste as needed. Garnish with a few chopped nuts (I had a few toasted hazelnuts on hand–leftover, of course) and enjoy.

Cauliflower: That Is the Question


I have a particular peeve regarding cooks who regularly lament, “I love X but my husband hates it, so we never get to eat it anymore…”

I mean, I get it: you love to cook, and you love to cook for the one you love. I’m right there with you. But if you love to cook (and eat!) something the rest of the family has no interest in, well then, all the more for you from time to time. Unless they’re too short to reach the counter yet, they can get by on something they can fix for themselves if they’d rather abstain.

In my house, this kind of discussion leads directly to the cauliflower. I can’t say I’d dream about it at night if it were suddenly wiped out, but I like it. Well enough to snatch one up at my CSA this past weekend, even knowing that my husband would not touch a bite of the dastardly vegetable.

With a recipe that’s pretty much “Mix 3T olive oil and 1 T sweet curry in a bowl. Toss with one head cauliflower, and bake at 325˚F for 30 minutes, stirring half-way through,” no one needs to get very emotional over it. In the end, it’s just another bowl of fabulous looking vegetables: To be or not to be enjoyed.

Cozy Up (Vegetable Pot Pie Edition)


My oven and I are at war.

Last week, I thought I was losing my mind. I would check on some item baking in my oven, and discover that I had somehow shut the appliance off entirely only half way through the cooking time. This is actually not that difficult to do if you’re using the timer and you punch “cancel” instead of “off” to silence it when it rings. Just as my frustration with myself was about to boil over, however, I saw it happen–a click, a blank screen, and the oven turned itself off. I wasn’t exactly pleased by this but, reassured that my sanity hadn’t walked out on me, I called a repair service> and waited for my house call.

As these things go, four days later when the super-amiable repair duo showed up, the oven worked perfectly–bake, broil, not a single glitch. Nice to avoid the pricey circuit board replacement, but still. Really? I was advised to bake some brownies and call them on Monday if the oven went berserk again.

The suddenly crisp temperatures did make me want to bake something warm and comforting for dinner, so I decided to test the oven and my luck with a roasted root vegetable pot pie I like a lot (adapted from the Poor Girl Gourmet). And so I spent an uneventful afternoon in the kitchen. An hour of roasting and 40 minutes of baking and not a single oven malfunction. I got a beautiful pie out of the deal, so not a bad day, I suppose. But I wish I could have figured it all out for myself before I paid $65 just to have two strangers poke around under my oven and retrieve a pile of lost cat toys.

Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pie
Adapted from the Poor Girl Gourmet

For the roasting tray:

3 T olive oil
2 lbs peeled and cubed root vegetables of your choice (I used turnips, carrots, potatoes and a sweet potato)
1 head of garlic, exterior layers of skin peeled away and top of head removed to expose cloves

Heat the over to 375˚F.

Place the prepared garlic bulb on a sheet of foil and pour a teaspoon or so of olive oil over top. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and wrap up into a packet.
Place the prepared root vegetables in a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme to coat. Pour them out onto a foil-lined baking sheet and spread out in a single layer.
Add garlic packet to the baking sheet and roast all vegetables for 45 minutes, stirring once or twice for even browning.

For the top crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening
1/2 stick cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup ice water, plus more as needed

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the pie crust. You’re welcome to use your favorite crust, of course, but I love the poof you get out of this version. Mix flours, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in butter and shortening, and then mix in just enough water to pull dry ingredients together. Flatten dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

On the stove top:

1 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 T wholegrain mustard
1.5 T all-purpose flour
1 cup vegetable broth
1 bunch Swiss chard or dark leafy green of choice

Heat oil and butter in a skillet and sauté onion until softened and translucent. Add mustard and flour and cook for a minute or two, stirring often. Then add vegetable broth and mix well, scraping the bottom of the pan thoroughly. Once the sauce has thickened (about 10 minutes), pile the greens on top of the cooking gravy, cover, and allow them to wilt for a few minutes. Stir occasionally until greens have cooked down. Stir in the roasted root vegetables, then pour the entire mixture into a pie plate. Remove the garlic cloves from the roasted bulb and distribute them evenly around the filling.

For the crust glaze:

1 egg yolk
1 T milk

Don’t worry, you’re almost done! Roll out the pastry crust and lay it over the filling, adding whatever decorative touches you like, and then brush the top with the egg yolk/milk mixture. Place pie plate on the baking sheet and slide it back into the 375˚F oven. Bake for 40 minutes, until pie is golden. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

Light a fire, pick out a movie, open a nice Sangiovese, and enjoy!