Friday, August 24, 2012

Learning to Love Zucchini

We are more than halfway through the  Great CSA Experiment with Confreda Farms & Gardens. I can't believe how fast the summer has gone by and now the calendar is filling up again with a new school year fast approaching. The veggies keep on coming no matter what's on the schedule and I must find a purpose (or a home) for each one.

Some veggies come and go but the one that keeps cropping up in the box without fail is zucchini. I've tried to make the best of "too much of a good thing" and I have to confess, there are times when I treat it like the prodigal son of the CSA.  I know, it's awful, but I'm sure there are people out there who get things in the CSA box that they may not be crazy in love with.

I'm here to tell you, that is ok.  There is hope and I found a way to learn to love zucchini and yellow squash.  I've sauteed it, grilled it, frittata'd it, and casseroled it.  And I thought I was done with it: Until a lovely reader shared a recipe for her favorite Chocolate Zucchini Bread. Transforming a vegetable into a dessert (that contains chocolate, no less) is something I can finally get on board with.

Before you go crazy on me and think that this can't possibly taste good, you must try it. This bread (really it tastes like a rich moist chocolate cake with no trace or sign of a vegetable in it) would typically use green skinned zucchini but I tried it with yellow squash.  I didn't even peel it, just washed it and used my metal box grater and shredded it. I then squeezed out the water and added it to the recipe as instructed.  I followed the recipe to the letter and of course, added more than a cup of chocolate chips and it came out perfectly.  The recipe makes 2 loaves. I froze the other loaf by wrapping in wax paper, then foil, then in a Ziploc bag. It tasted even better after being frozen for a few days! (The recipe link also includes a lightened up version too which also sounds fantastic.)

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the zucchini too?

 Here is what to do. Shred it up and drain it as I mentioned above. Then freeze it in 1 cup increments in ziploc baggies and then keep in the freezer.  You can use it later on for fritters, zucchini breads, muffins, etc. They don't take up too much freezer space and thaw rather quickly if you run the bags under warm water or defrost in the microwave on low power.

I hope this blog has saved a few squashies from being ostracized. Please welcome them back into the family with open arms and you will realize just how sweet your life will be again!

Monday, August 20, 2012

50 Shades of Facebook: Part One

After logging my fair share of Facebook hours over the last 4 years, I have concluded there are multiple personalities on Facebook.  I've spent HOURS, wait, no, days with 397 "friends".  I have learned a lot; sometimes too much and oftentimes my retinas actually burn.

But I go on, like any loyal Facebook soldier does.

My powers of observation had gotten the best of me so I put them to work.  What started as a tiny list in my head has now exploded like a hot dog in a microwave.  (I feel a part 2 already calling.)

Do you recognize any of these people?

1. The Triathlete:

 "Taught 3 back to back Pilates classes today, then kickboxing!  Went by Delilah's school and totally rocked the PTO bake sale with my vegan, gluten free brownies.  After that I took Jimmy to his baseball game (he looks so cute in his uniform!) and to ensure no time was wasted while watching his practice, I did 1000 Kegel exercises. After that, we went home and I cooked a home grown, organic dinner that he gobbled right up (My little guy is awesome like that!), then did 3 loads of laundry, worked on my novel,  enjoyed a glass of wine with the Hubs while he rubbed my feet and then we really got busy (wink wink!). Phew, I don't know how I do it."

PS. There will be a photo album of the day's events, including a picture of her perfectly pedicured toes propped awkwardly near the Chardonnay glass.

2. The Podium Seeker: This FB friend uses Facebook as their personal political platform.  A post might sound something like this:

 "Dear Obama,
You suck.

No love,

"Mitt Romney really should get a wardrobe consultant, I'm wicked tired of his Grampa jeans and I know his approval ratings are suffering."

"My donut had very little jelly in it today so I returned it to Dunkin Donuts and got a refund. I will NOT be taken advantage of!"

3. The Debbie Downer: Don't read her updates if you're already on the ledge of a window. Hers read like this:

"Ugh! It's Monday, again. And it's raining and I forgot my damn umbrella. *Sigh*. Why me?"

4. The Mike Wallace.  With this FB friend you can guarantee an update at the very least, every Sixty Minutes.

"Jeremy just checked into the underwear department of Walmart"
"Marilyn just checked into OBGYN"
"Karen just checked into the driver's side of her car and is now going to run someone over".
"Sandra is at Midas getting an oil change"
 "Penny is on date night with hubby! Doesn't get any better than this LIFE IS SOOOOO GOOD!"

Or my personal favorite....
"Simon is in  Bed".

5. The Mother Teresa: Her updates are always heartfelt. She is either saving the whales, saving rain water in her blow up pool,  knitting caps for kittens, or raising money for someone's lisp. You can't not like this girl.

6. The Philosopher: They don't like to post personal things so they just post quotes. You look forward to reading them every day since they are your only form of spiritual guidance.

7. The Meteorologist:  "It's raining....again!"

8. The Sally Field:  Their updates are concocted solely for their own self-esteem . With each LIKE that is clicked, they squeal, "You LIKE me, you really LIKE me!"

9. The Seinfeld: Their posts are always witty and timely. They could be experiencing the worst trauma ever but you'd never know it. You keep this person in your news feed just to start your day off the right way.

10.  The Stalker:  This one will click "LIKE" to anything you post. You consider unfriending or blocking, but part of you likes the attention so you keep them on your roster.

11. The Oscar Winner:  When you read their updates, you almost feel like Merryl Streep's name has just been announced again.

"I'd like to thank the following for all their support during this very trying time. I didn't think I would make it through this morning when I lost my Mary Kay Fancy Nancy  lip gloss and my co workers really stepped up and helped me find it. You guys are just the best xoxoxoxoxxoxoxoxoxoxoxo. *Sniff Sniff*."

12. The Stuart Smalleys:  They click LIKE on their own status updates.

13. The Over Sharer:  "Just took a massive dump"

Click here for Part Two

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Great CSA Experiment Continues: Standoff with a Baby Thai Eggplant

This week has been a soul searching week. I think what has happened is that I may have gotten a little cocky about the CSA. I thought that coming up with recipes each week would be a total no brainer.


The Baby Thai Eggplant surfaced in the box. You would think that something so little and cute would be easy to deal with, but then again, babies are little and cute you do the math!

Fast Facts:
  • Refrigerate in an unsealed plastic bag in crisper drawer. Use within five days of purchase for optimum quality
  • About 30 calories per cup
  • Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and a ton of dietary fiber, Folate, Potassium and Manganese
For the last 3 days, I have had my own personal staring contest with these babies. I've stood at the kitchen sink, holding them, twirling them, and waiting for divine intervention.

Food styling by my 9 year old.
So I did what any loving mother would do. I sliced that baby in half with my shiny CutCo knife. My nine year old, sharing my intrigue,  sniffed it with me like a Bloodhound and we decided it smelled like, wait for it......eggplant.

I had heard (through the Google Grapevine), that Baby Thai Eggplants are very bitter. So I decided it would not be eaten by itself and that I'd have to jazz it up a bit. Surprisingly, there were not many recipes out there but I guess that's probably because they are not a mainstream veggie (actually, they are a fruit).

So here is what I did

I cut off the stems and then sliced into 1/8 inch thick slices. I laid them out on paper towels to see how much moisture would come out. (Not as wet as a traditional eggplant.) Then I brushed them with olive oil on both sides and sprinkled salt, pepper and garlic powder over the tops. I roasted them on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes at 400 to 425 degrees until lightly golden brownish.

They looked like this
They actually tasted good just as is. But of course, I needed to take them a step further and did what I know best. You guessed it, I put them on a pizza.

And then.... 

1. I caramelized 2 large onions. If you don't know how to do this, please click here for directions. And if you've never tried caramelized onions on pizza, you are missing out on a fabulous topping! Even my husband loves them and he hates onions.

2. Spread out the dough in pizza pan. Sprinkled goat cheese or blue cheese over the dough (I did half on one side, half on the other to please myself  and my husband. Wink wink).

3. Laid the onions over the cheese(s)

4. Spread roasted baby eggplant slices over the onions

5. Topped this with some chopped up baby bella mushrooms because they were ready to expire

6.  Place some sliced roma tomatoes from CSA box over the eggplant slices. Seasoned with freshly ground black pepper and hot pepper flakes

7. Sprinkled grated Parmesan over the top and light drizzle of olive oil

8. Baked 20 minutes at 425 or until the crust was golden
Baby Thai Eggplant Pizza
I overcame my fear of the Baby Thai Eggplant!

More ideas:
  • Grill them after marinating in some soy sauce and fresh ginger
  • Use in your favorite grilled veggie wrap, sandwich, or pannini with balsamic vinegar dressing
  • And here's a quick and easy recipe which includes bok choy
Have you cooked yours yet? If so, how did you do it? Please share your ideas here. I may have to create a special Mom's group for this very misunderstood group of babies.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Children of the Corn

My mother is obsessed with sweet corn. She sends my dad out nearly every day to Confreda's to restock her supply so she can get her daily fix. And when she eats it,  it's like watching someone at a religious revival. I think with each kernel she bites into, some person in Nebraska has regained their eyesight and a cure for cellulite has been discovered.

I thought her devotion to zeppoles was strong...... until I saw her eat the corn.

A sole kernel somehow remains on her chin or lip, unbeknownst to her, and I'm convinced it's her subconscious way of keeping a lil' snack for later on.

I love corn too! Sweet corn is one of summer's culinary high points and I understand my Mom's "Eat it now while it's here" philosophy. Before you know it, the corn is gone and once winter hits, we are forced to eat the canned or frozen kind.

Sigh. What's a girl to do? Well, here is a great site to help you store and freeze it so you can enjoy it in the dead of winter when you've just shoveled your family's weight in snow and you are cursing your frozen car door.

I am blessed each week with 6 ears of corn in my CSA basket. I've tried cooking it a few different ways. There is one school of thought that tells you to peel some of the husks then soak the ears in water. Then grill them till they are charred all around. And let me tell you, I'm not a fan of this method. I think it's a total pain in the tuckus.  It's so messy to peel the husks off after you've grilled them so I found an alternate way.  I par boil the husked corn for about 5 minutes or so, dry them off, then I just grill them, turning as needed to get them brown all around. (Remember, we don't want to totally char our food anyway since the carcinogens are very damaging).  I find my method caramelizes the corn even more than if the husks were left on, creating an even sweeter flavor (if that's even possible!).

You can decide. Either way, farm fresh corn totally rocks. Here are a few more ideas if you'd like to dress yours up and try something to impress your friends. Personally, I love its natural sweetness and just eat it au naturale.  Proper dress not required.

More great facts about corn
1 cup of fresh sweet corn kernels (about 1 large ear) has 4 grams of fiber, plus it’s rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, compounds that help keep your eyes healthy as you age. It requires no utensils, kids love it and I heard myself say the other day, "This corn is so tender, you don't even need teeth to eat it!)

Clearly, the torch has been passed to me. Thanks Mom!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Inside the Mind of a Vegetable Madwoman

Many people ask me, "Becky, what is your process like? When you get your veggies home, how exactly do you decide what to do with them?"

Well, my process is very specific.

First, I unload the box on the kitchen island. I let out a small shriek so as not to scare the kids. Next, I breathe heavily into a brown bag. I line up all the veggies and talk to them. I welcome them to my humble home and thank them profusely for feeling so comfortable in their own skins that they don't mind having some group photos taken.  Sometimes a few of them get pushy, like the Cubanelle peppers like to dominate or the Zahara eggplants (the little guys in front) have a Napoleon Complex.  I always say, "Why can't we all just get along?" And then they do.  Somehow they work it out because they know their time is very limited on this island.

The poor beets didn't know how to squeeze in

Standing at attention. (I know they are all sighing though.)

Once the photo shoot gets going, everyone lightens up

Then it's time for a group hug

But then some wiseguy pulls a fast one

Then the hardcore work begins


What big ears you have!
So as you can see, it's all very methodical.  My little helpers keep my Ninja focus in check!

What's your CSA process? Do you have any special tips you'd like to share? Am I the only one freaking out?

PS. My mom thinks I have way too much time on my hands but really it's just toilet cleaning avoidance.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Eggplant Rollatini/Lasagna

Does eggplant leave a bad taste in your mouth? Do you shy away from preparing it because you feel it's slightly bitter? Well, I am here to give you the good news. This lovely veggie is now bred to be milder so you should give it a second chance!

And, it turns out, eggplant is one of the best sources of the antioxidant nasunin, which helps protect the fatty acids essential to healthy brain function.  It's only 20 calories per cup with 3 grams of fiber, vitamins A, B, C, Folate, and minerals like potassium and magnesium, calcium and phosphorus.  Talk about a well rounded vegetable!

Are you sold now? Well, you better be, because if you are a CSA member, chances are you have more than you know what to do with.  And you can't just give it away! Try something new today.

I love lasagna, and I love eggplant parm.  However, both can be sort of heavy on the waistline.  I created my version of an eggplant rollatini and/or lasagna. This is a great low carb recipe too for those who are counting carbs or doing a Paleo type diet. And it's gluten free! You use the same exact ingredients for both recipes  but how you lay it out in the end is up to you. You'll see if you keep on scrolling. This recipe makes two 9X13 pans of filling, gooey, saucy eggplant.

Eggplant Rollatini (or Eggplant Lasagna)

2 medium to large sized eggplants (I don't peel mine but you can if you don't like the skin)
1 15 oz container ricotta cheese (feel free to try fat free, part skim, whatever floats your boat)
8 oz frozen chopped spinach thawed and squeezed of excess water
1 egg
onion powder
small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
dried oregano
garlic powder
1/4 cup grated Parmesan/Romano cheese (plus more for sprinkling later on)
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella, plus more for sprinkling later on
5-6 baby Bella or button mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth then chopped small
1/4 cup chopped onion
olive oil
4 cups or more of your favorite marinara sauce/gravy. Click here for a recipe which uses canned tomatoes or click here for one using garden tomatoes.

1. Slice the eggplant the long way into 1/8"  slices using a long serrated knife.

When you get close to the end, lay it down and slice horizontally

Layer it between paper towels and then top it off with another dish and then my Mom's trick, a heavy kettle. This helps to squeeze out some of the moisture. Let this sit for about 20 minutes. (Yes, that is a Krispy Kreme box in background)
 2. Spray hot grill pan liberally with vegetable spray and then place eggplant slices on the grill until lightly browned on each side and tender, about 4 minutes per side. Remove slices from the grill pan and allow to cool. (If you don't have a grill pan, you can bake in the oven at 350 degrees, turning once). If using grill pan, be sure to spray the pan in between batches.  Set the cooked eggplant aside on a dish to cool.

3. While cooking the eggplant, heat a small fry pan with a few tsp of olive oil. Saute the chopped onion until soft and then add mushrooms, salt and pepper.  Add 1/2 tsp dried thyme and 1 clove of crushed garlic. Cook 1 minute more and remove from heat. Let cool.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, pour in the ricotta cheese, spinach, 1 egg, the mozzarella, grated parm, chopped parsley, salt, pepper, a few shakes of onion powder, 1 tsp oregano. Stir to combine well. Add the onion/mushroom mixture after it's cooled off and combine well.

5. Next, you decide if you want roll ups or lasagna, or both (which is what I did).
 If rolling up, take a heaping tsp of ricotta mixture and place it about an inch onto the slice. Then roll it up and place it with seam side down in a sauced 9X13 inch pan.

Spoon your sauce over all of the roll ups. Then sprinkle more shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan over the top. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. You can remove the foil  halfway through.

If you are doing this like a lasagna, just lay the cooked eggplant slices over the sauced pan. Then spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the slices, more sauce and cheese, then more eggplant, more ricotta, cheese sauce, then end with eggplant slices. Cover with sauce and more cheese.  Same temp and time as above.

Here are the lovely twins! You decide which version you like better. I sprinkled mine with my neighbor's fresh basil. Pretty nice, huh?

1. Make your sauce/gravy ahead of time, even a few days ahead is fine.
2. Clean up as you go
3. Make the ricotta mixture a day ahead and keep it covered in the fridge until ready to use.
4. Feel free to mix it up with different veggies in your ricotta mixture. You can try sauteing grated carrots, shredded zucchini (squeezed well), shallots, or chopped pancetta (which I realize is not a veggie but it's nice to fantasize!)
5. Enjoy the leftovers! This tastes even better the next day.

For more easy eggplant recipes, click here for Rachael Ray's great ideas.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Finding Peace at the Farm Around the Corner

I had reached my I.Q last night. Yes, my Irritability Quota had been filled. My kids were just being kids, but for some reason, I had to get out. I felt like I was being smothered and suffocated. This happens on occasion and when it does, I try to hide in the bathroom. (You know you do it too, I can't be the only one). Thankfully, last night we were lucky to have something on the calendar so I wouldn't have to look at T.P.  A private farm tour at Confreda Farms was planned for CSA members. Just what the farmer ordered!

All I can say is, Confreda, your timing could not have been more perfect. We were treated to some light refreshments from the cafe and then hopped on the bumpy tractor and embarked on our journey. The farm is less than 10 minutes from my house, yet I felt like I was suddenly swept away to another time and place.  There is something magical about being on an open farm where all you see for miles and miles is green, green, green. 

Sunset on the farm. The icing on the cake!

Being right in the middle of where it all happens, how the plants are nurtured, and where our food is born evoked a serenity in me that quite honestly, I didn't know existed.  It was like Nature's Prozac, minus the dulling side effects.

And after 5 weeks of receiving my CSA share, I still light up like a Christmas tree each time. I keep thinking, "People who don't have this really don't know what they are missing. I want everyone to experience this!"

I've said this before and I'll say it again. It's not just getting "a box of veggies" each week. It's a box filled with so much more: The promise of a seedling, TLC, and 4 generations of hard work and determination against Mother Nature's unpredictable temperament.

All this time I had been trying to find my happy place by hiding in a bathroom or basement. Now, I just need to find my own tractor and run for the fields.

Mothers of the Corn.
 If these stalks could talk...
I'll be sending all my mom friends your way so that they too, can find their happy places.
Photo credits to my husband Bill, who finally eats beets. Thank you Confredas!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green

This week my favorite bakery closed down and I was a little preoccupied with the last worthy chocolate cream pie to ever touch my lips. (I know, a little melodramatic).

Now that I have indulged, I am back on track and ready to tackle my next CSA challenge. While there was no whipped cream hiding underneath the veggies, there definitely were a few surprises that I didn't expect.
The first one was Purslane and if you've never heard of it, you are not alone. You MUST click here to see the nutritional benefits of this "gourmet weed". 
The Vitamin A and Omega 3 content will blow you away!
 You can saute it or use in a salad but just be sure not to cook it at high temps to avoid ruining its precious nutritional content.

Next in my mystery box was green tomatoes. Now, some people feel the need to resuscitate these to the color of red, but I accept them for who they are. (There are some tomatoes that are not destined for a Good Gravy. But you certainly can try.)  Click here for tips on how to ripen them.

If you're like me, and accept all green tomatoes "as is", then read on:
For a fried green tomato recipe even Jessica Tandy would love,  click here.

And for a great remoulade sauce to dip them in, click here.  For additional tips on how to eat them click here.

But if you'd like to know what was on every Thanksgiving and Christmas spread in my house growing up, it was Grampa Rico's Pickled Tomatoes.  I was nuts about these as a kid and loved eating them right out of the jar. 

If you are afraid to tackle anything pickled, fear not. It's very easy.

First, sterilize your jars and click here to see how. Next, wash your green tomatoes and cut up into wedges. Add them to the jar(s). You can also add a few whole cloves of garlic to the mix.

By the quart:
Boil 1 cup water and 1 TBS salt. Let it cool. Add the liquid to the jar of tomatoes. Fill the rest of the jar with white vinegar. Add 1 tsp of pickling spices (sold in the spice section, Job Lot 99 cents!) to the jar and cover tightly.
Let the jars sit for 3-5 weeks on shelf in a cool area.
Add these to your salad or antipasto. Store in fridge after opening.

Also included in my CSA box this week: Eggplant, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, and long hot green peppers. More recipes to come. Please share what you are doing with your goodies this week. I'd love to know!