Monday, August 2, 2010

Produce storage tips

Here are some tips to ensure you are getting the best out of your produce:

General Tips:
 Washing: Wash ALL fruits & vegetables, JUST before eating (not ahead of time), including those with rind you don’t eat – melons, oranges,etc. You can contaminate the flesh by cutting through rind into flesh. Don’t use soaps/detergents: many pesticides are water soluble and will be removed with drinking water. Produce is porous and can absorb soaps.
 Storing: Store most produce in crisper of refrigerator (higher humidity extends shelf life). Store fruits separately from vegetables, due to naturally producing ethylene gas that ripens/matures fruits and can adversely affect vegs.
 Ethylene Gas: Some fruits continue to ripen after harvested, by producing ethylene gas. These include bananas, apples, avocados, peaches, plums, nectarines and tomatoes. In general, keep these away from other vegs, as they will cause them to age/deteriorate faster.
For ex: Ethylene gas has the following adverse effect on these vegs:
o Asparagus: makes it tough
o Broccoli: turns florettes yellow
o Eggplant: softens/causes “pitting” (brown spots on skin)
o Green Beans: makes them tough/causes pitting
o Lettuce: wilts
o Cucumbers/Summer Squash (zucchini): Softens
o Watermelon: Makes flesh mealy
o Flowers: Wilts them!
Ripening: To ripen fruits quickly, put ethylene producing fruit (yellow banana, apple) in PAPER bag (not plastic) with item you want to ripen for a day or more.
> Cooking: Vitamins are extracted from vegs into cooking water. Steaming is ideal. If going to cook in liquid, use broth instead that you can consume vitamin rich liquid with vegs. ALSO – Vitamins are lost after about 1 ½ hours of cooking. So the vegs in soup/stew/pot roasts are worthless if left in longer than that!!

Specific Produce Tips: (Standard procedure is refrigerating in crisper – except counter items such as bananas, avocados, tomatoes, pineapples, melons uncut)

> Asparagus: Store cut ends upright in water or wrap ends in wet paper towel, then in plastic.
> Apples: Will last 10X longer if refrigerated, unbruised – up to 3 months.
> Potatoes: Remove any green skin – it’s solanine – and indicates prolonged exposure to light, is bitter and often toxic.
> Carrots: Trim off green ends before storing – store in plastic bag refrigerated.
> Celery: Sprinkle with water, store in plastic container refrigerated.
> Corn: Highly perishable, refrigerate and eat ASAP.
> Cucumbers: Store in plastic bag refrigerated
> Garlic & Onions: Cool, dry, well ventilated place – NOT in plastic bag.
> Mushrooms: Store in original container or PAPER bag, not plastic.
> Peppers: Store in plastic bag, refrigerated.
> Heirloom tomatoes: these beauties deserve a blog posting all their own. Especially the history of some of the tomatoes that our House in the Woods Farm CSA grows - some seeds date back to the revolutionary war! To get the most of these precious gems, eat them quickly! Do not, under penalty of law, refrigerate them! The cold air sucks up their fresh-from-the-garden earthy flavor and makes them mealy. Their skins are delicate, so handle with care. Generally they'll last up to 3 days, stored at room temperature on the counter. Remember tomatoes give off ethylene gas as do bananas, so don't keep these next to each other on the counter or you'll have a ripe-fest on your hands! I keep mine gently wrapped in the tissue paper that I put them in when I pick them up from the farm, resting gently in the open shoe box I use to transport them. They get so much love and attention!

Let me know if you have any specific questions about storing your produce.

Your CSA Gourmet

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Farmhouse Scramble

Well, this morning I found myself with a few precious extra minutes before I had to leave for work, so I decided to forgo my usual blueberry yogurt in favor of a protein packed farm fresh scramble. I'm too lazy to make an actual omelet during the week, I admit!

I started with some chopped swiss chard, leftover grilled onions from my CSA Gourmet burger the other night, (which if I didn't have, I would have chopped up some fresh onion), grated Vermont cheddar cheese (thanks Cindy for that great trip to Shelburne Farms!), some diced fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes (seeded & drained), chopped chives and 2 beaten eggs with salt and fresh ground pepper. (If I say I used 3 eggs one might think me a gourmand, so I'll say 2).

I heated up a bit of olive oil in a small saute pan over medium high heat. If only I had whole butter in the house..., but I didn't. I added the swiss chard and chopped onion and cooked them briefly. Then I added the beaten eggs and stirred them with the flat side of a fork very briefly. While the eggs were still a bit wet & not set yet, I added the tomatoes, cheese and chives, gave it all another couple of quick turns with a heatproof rubber spatula (or wooden spoon). I turned the scramble out onto a plate and then actually sat down at the table to eat them!

Eggs are such a great medium for anything you have on hand - when in doubt, scramble 'em up!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Garden Chicken Tortilla Soup

I made this soup start to finish, we ate it and I cleaned up - all within the span of 90 minutes. I used 8, e i g h t, produce items from my CSA in this soup!
They are: onion, garlic, green pepper, jalapeno pepper, green onions, bok choy, cabbage, tomatoes and parsley (of course it would have been much better with cilantro, but I didn't have any - so I used parsley). Make that 9 ingredients fresh from the farm if you count the parsley.

If you don't have all the greens listed (green onions, baby bok choy, cabbage) - don't make a special trip to the grocery store to buy them -use whatever greens you have - or none at all! That's the beautiful thing about soup. You do need everything else, though.

1) For the Chicken: I love when I can use leftover roast chicken and pull the white meat off and add it to a dish the next day. If you don't have this on hand, take 1-2 chicken breasts (bone-on preferably) and simmer them (do not boil!) in 2 quarts of chicken broth til tender. Cool and pull the meat off, tear into pieces, reserve the broth.
2) Prep the vegetables while the chicken is cooking:
Thinly slice 1/2 onion
Chop 2-4 cloves fresh garlic (depending on your preference)
Halve and thinly slice a small green bell pepper, seeds removed
Halve and thinly slice a couple of jalapeno peppers (or any other hot pepper)
Cut root off of bok choy, slice stalks into 1/4" slices, rough chop leaves
Chop into 1/2" pieces a small head green cabbage (or 1/4 of a regular size)
Cut 2-3 fresh tomotoes into 1/2" pieces, seeds removed
Chop 2-3 tbsp cilantro (or parsley)
3) Heat enough vegetable oil to cover bottom of stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and both peppers and cook about 5-8 minutes til tender (do not brown)
4) Add 2 quarts of chicken broth and bring up to a boil.
5) Add the cooked chicken meat and remaining vegetables and allow to come to boil, reduce heat and simmer only aboout 5-10 minutes more.
6) Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
7) Serve with corn tortilla chips, broken up.
8) Bonus optional garnishes: diced fresh avocado and or a cheese such as shredded monterey jack or queso freso.

This is a great summer soup and that I hope you enjoy!

Let's Clarify "Gourmet", Shall We?

According to Wikipedia: "The term gourmet may refer to a person with refined or discriminating taste or to one that is knowledgeable in the art of food and food preparation. Gourmand carries additional connotations of one who simply enjoys food in great quantities. An epicure is similar to a gourmet, but the word may sometimes carry overtones of excessive refinement."

According to Meriam-Webster: gourmet is "a connoisseur of food and drink"."Connoisseur" meaning "an expert; especially : one who understands the details, technique, or principles of an art and is competent to act as a critical judge"

I don't want to mislead anyone. As it applies to me, the common traits I share with these definitions are "knowledgeable in the art of food and food preparation","one who understands the details, technique, or principles" of cooking, and on occassion, I confess to being "one who simply enjoys food in great quantities".

I would not use the word "refined" or "discriminating" - then I'd be a hypocrite to admit I love a good Steak n Shake double steakburger platter, or fried onion rings just about anyplace that has them on the menu, including Lou's Drive-in in Peoria.
As for "competent to act as a critical judge", I've learned everything is a matter of personal taste. What you or I might find bland, too salty, too spicy, over-cooked, etc - believe me there are people who like their food this way and wouldn't have it any other way and who are we to judge the way other people cook or eat! Each to his own, I say! Garlic scapes charred beyond recognition could easily invite criticism, but let me tell you - they were suprisingly sweet and (of course) tender and smoky. My mother-in-law, and now my daughter, love their toast burnt. Just because that doesn't appeal to me, doesn't give me a right to be a "critical judge".
And bland cooking - well, I guess all these folks will live a lot longer without the devastating effects of a high-sodium diet, but of course, if they wanted more flavorful food, in a healthy way, perhaps they haven't discovered the virtues of herbilicious cooking -the magic that heavenly, heroic herbs can transform ordinary, bland dishes into memorable meals. But I'm getting ahead of my next blog...

I just wanted to come clean about this "gourmet" thing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stay tuned for: Herbilicious! Heavenly Heroic Herbs

Coming in my next blog.

Don't Fear the Beet!

Some people find beets intimidating to cook. Or they just plain don't like them. If you do like beets, or are at least are willing to try them (if somehow you've never had a beet), then read on. Dwight Schrute would be so proud!

When picking out beets, the small ones will be most tender, and will cook the fastest - so get those if you can. The roots should be firm with a smooth skin and rich ruby colored. The green tops should look fresh and these can be cooked as well.

Beets will keep for at least 2 weeks and up to 4, especially when you've gotten them home the same day they've been harvested! First, trim the greens off the top, leaving about 2 " of stems attached. Place the greens in a separate bag in the crisper, where they can last up to a week, and store the beets -do not wash them - in the refrigerator crisper. Did you know that swiss chard and beets are different varieties of the same plant?! So beet greens will have a similar flavor to swiss chard when cooked.

When you're ready to cook them - rinse them off but don't scrub them with a vegetable brush like they're a potato or carrot! Their skins are very thin and will rub off, and then you'll have a bloody mess on your hands! So, be gentle. This is why most recipes call for cooking beets whole first, then rubbing off the peels after they're cooked. This is not meant to drive you mad, but just to protect you from the bloody mess, which would also result in loss of valuable nutrients and we don't want that!!

Tonight for dinner we had hamburgers, but I chef'ed them up with this delicious farmstead cheddar cheese I had just brought back from Shelburne Farms in Vermont while I was on vacation this past week with my sister. I built my CSA Gourmet burger with a hearty slice of a farm-fresh sweet white onion, just-harvested sliced tomatoes ( heavenly) and bright tender lettuce from the farm. I didn't even really need the meat!

Back to the beets....

Roasted Beet Salad
I made a roasted beet salad and no it didn't take 2 hours to make!

You'll need: about 8 baby beets, 1 1/2 oranges (blood oranges are best, but navel is what I had and they turn bloody anyway when you add them to the beets so you can just tell your guests they're blood oranges!); fresh parsley; fresh lettuce (mix with arugula if you got it)

1) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
2) G e n t l y wash the beets, trim the tops and bottoms, being careful not to cut into the "bloody beet".
3) Toss them in a bit of canola or vegetable oil to coat -do NOT season - salt causes bleeding
4) Check them after 30-45 minutes by piercing them with a fork or a slender knife - if they're tender, take them out, if they're not, don't - check again in 10 minutes.

**Alternative cooking method:
After you wash the beets, put them in a baking dish with with enough water to just cover the bottom, cover with foil and bake them in a 375 degree oven til tender.

5) Let them cool til you can handle them. * put on plastic gloves if you have them
6) Cut them into wedges (for small beets, 1/4 them)
7) Peel down an orange using a knife to cut away the pith along with the peel. (Cut the bottom and top off the orange til you see some flesh. Stand the orange up on it's cut end, and slice down the peel from top to bottom, taking the pith with the peel and exposing the flesh of the orange with each slice. when you're done you'll have a baldy orange.
8) Cut the orange into crosswise slices, picking out any seeds as you go, about 1/4" slices. Slice all these slices in halves.
9) Squeeze the juice of 1/2 another orange.
10) Rinse and chop whatever fresh lettuce greens you have (bonus if you have arugula!)
11) Chop about 1 tbsp fresh parsley
12) Place the lettuce greens in the bottom of a glass or ceramic serving dish, add the beets, top with the oranges, pour the orange juice over, drizzle a bit of olive over, add a grind or 2 of salt, add the parsley and you have yourself one purty, tasty salad!

For those of you that look at this recipe and think it's too long (you know who you are), keep in mind most recipes lack ALL the necessary detailed steps to execute the dish as intended, my recipes are lengthy b/c they're detailed.

I will, in the future, put my recipes in more of a traditional standard format with list of ingredients, proper amounts, yield, etc- but I'm just excited to get something out there so I realize the recipes are in a pretty rough form but, have faith and be patient. I'll get there.

Don't forget to post a comment with your foodback or email me at

Monday, July 12, 2010

This week from my CSA: Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard has fast become my favorite green of the season (ok, except for basil, but you have to admit, basil's tough to beat!).

First of all, you gotta love how long this hearty leaf keeps! I had some in my frig in a ziploc bag from the 6/29 harvest, and nearly 3 weeks later, it's still fresh and has cooked up wonderfully.
Tell me, what other tender-tasting green can do that?!

Most common preparation in my family is to prep the greens 1st for sauteeing:

1) Wash it first of course - always
2) Slice up the stems about 1/4" wide
3) Stack the leaves and roll them up "jelly-roll style" (I've always found that phrase amusing) 4) Cut across the roll into 1/2" strips, then slice down the leaves lengthwise once or twice (depending on how big your roll is)
5) Place the chopped greens in a large bowl

Saute them:

1) Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in large saute pan over medium high heat
2) Add 1/4 c diced onion and 3-4 cloves of minced garlic - cook stirring until soft, but don't let brown
3) Add swiss chard stems 1st and cook them a few minutes until they're tender
4) Then add the chopped greens and stir to wilt evenly
5) Season with salt and pepper to taste (I'm generous with salt, I'll admit)
6) Remove from heat and serve as a side dish to fish, chicken, beef, pork - anything! It's very versatile!

Other suggestions:

With Pasta
1) Cook 1 # penne or any other shaped pasta til al dente ("firm to the bite"), drain
2) In large saute pan over medium high heat, brown 8-12 oz italian sausage (about 2-3 links, casing removed and sausage meat squeezed out)
3) Add 1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed to pan with sausage
4) Add 6-8 oz of chicken broth to pan and a shake or 2 of crushed red pepper, bring up to simmer
5) Add cooked pasta and sauteed swiss chard as prepared above (unless you have a really large saute pan with high sides, you'll need to transfer this all to the pot you cooked the pasta in to have enough room to mix it all together)
6) Let cook a few minutes together to allow flavors to marry
7) Season generously with fresh cracked black pepper
8) Serve with freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese and some good chewy, crusty, warm italian bread!

In a Panini
I also discovered this green is hearty enough to grill! I lightly coated the whole leaves with some olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper, heated my panini grill on high, placed the whole leaf on the panini grill, closed it and cooked it for about 10 seconds, removed it with tongs, grilled a few more leaves this way, then chopped them up and added them to my roasted vegetable panini along with grilled zucchini, eggplant, onions, mushrooms (all cooked on the panini grill) and fresh mozzarella cheese!

Thanks for reading and please share any other great preparations for this wonderful green!