Wednesday, June 5, 2013

First CSA experience

After researching them last year but missing the boat, we finally joined a CSA this year. For $500, we get super fresh veggies weekly from a farm just 7 miles from our house. I was hesitant to do this, because I am a creature of habit and definitely don't base my vegetable purchases on what's in season. I know that makes me a bad person, but I buy the same things, every week, month in and month out, regardless of whether they're sourced from New Zealand or New York. Again, I know this makes me unadventurous and a hater of the environment, but it also keeps me on a nice schedule and keeps my stomach happy. So there.

This week's haul was:
- Lots of Scallions
- About 5 smallish beets with greens attached
- 7 or 8 white turnips (no greens)
- Salad greens (romaine mostly)
- English peas
- sprigs of rosemary and mint
- 7 or 8 small new potatoes
- Gorgeous strawberries

Nick and I picked up the bag together and immediately started eating the strawberries. They were deep red, perfectly ripe and delicious.

English Peas
We also quickly dug into the the pea pods. I didn't read the email from the CSA organizers until that evening that said "English pea pods- shell these, the pods are not edible." That explains why they were so fuzzy and fibrous and difficult to eat. Noted. Once we got past the pods, the peas inside were hearty and sweet. We hulled them while watching TV and probably ate 20% of the peas as we went. We've been enjoying them as a salad topper because they're delicious raw. If we get more this week, I'm going to steam them or make pea soup or something, just to mix it up.

I like the flavor of scallions but I think I'd only ever had them as a garnish. I started Googling recipes immediately and were were intrigued by scallion pancakes. We followed this recipe pretty much, but since we already had frozen wonton wrapper dough, I just defrosted that dough to use instead of making it fresh. That dough was made pre-gluten avoidance, so I knew it would be gluten-y. Therefore, delicious, and deadly. Oh well. It definitely screwed up my stomach, but the texture was pretty good. Nick made the dipping sauce. It was great! The pancakes fell apart a little, and we didn't use nearly 2 cups of scallions, but they still made for a good dinner.

The rest of the scallions are still lingering a week later. After 3 days, I finally had the sense to dice them and refrigerate them instead of letting them slowly die on the countertop. Now I have about a cup worth of diced scallions to use in... something.

I have had mashed turnips before, so I knew they could be treated basically like potatoes. I wanted to mash them originally, but Nick mentioned potato pancakes and they sounded delicious. I found this recipe and it had good reviews, so I used my small turnips and a couple of the new potatoes to approximately equal five big potatoes. I also added about a cup of scallions to the recipe, about a teaspoon of garlic powder, and grated the onion in with the potatoes instead of chopping it. I dipped them in ketchup because I am a 5 year old and potatoes go with ketchup, always.

I've never had potato pancakes, so I have no idea if these were true to what they're supposed to be. I do know that the egg separated out as they sat, so the last pancake was quite eggy. I'm not complaining. Also, grating onions releases extra onion-y goodness, but it stings the eyes terribly. I think I could taste the turnips since they were slightly more flavorful than the straight potatoes. They made a nice addition.

Salad greens
Used in salad. Pretty good, and they held up well until we used them up around day 5.

Sprigs of herbs
TOTALLY forgot we received these. Oops. The farmers' email recommended using them with the peas and beets, but they didn't really fit in with the recipes I made. Next week.

Many strawberries were eaten straight from the container. I also made this recipe once I realized we still had wayyyy too many strawberries to handle. I chose it because I only had one egg in the fridge. I read the comments and added a teaspoon of vanilla extract to bump up the flavor. I also used gluten-free flour and non-dairy milk. I was not wild about them, but Nick's been eating them all week. I can see them being better with some sort of topping on them, either butter, honey, or jam. I was surprised that the strawberry flavor was so underwhelming. They tasted mostly like cake. Nick also suggested that next time we puree some extra strawberries to increase the flavor.

Finally, jam. I followed this recipe from Martha Stewart. We had less than a quart of strawberries left, so I under-added the sugar and lemon juice. It wasn't thickening up very well, which many commenters said happened to them, so we added a tablespoon of cornstarch and boiled it for about 17 minutes instead of the recommended 8. The result was thicker, and almost the texture of real jam after it was refrigerated. It was yummy, but the cornstarch didn't all dissolve so there are some random chunks in there. They don't taste like anything in particular, but they're unattractive.

I was the most worried about the beets. I've had a few bites of pickled beets in my life and didn't enjoy them. The ones we received were small so I was hoping they would be sweet. Some of the first Google results I saw for beet recipes were for beet chips- that sounded easy and most likely to be tasty since everything in chip form is good. I loosely followed the recipes that said to toss thinly sliced beet chips in olive oil, then bake. The first batch were a failure. The recipes recommended that you cook the beets between 2 baking sheets (to keep them flat? slow the cooking process? unsure), remove the first baking sheet after 20 minutes, and continue baking. I couldn't tell that my beets were way overcooked after the first 20 minutes, because the recipe said my endpoint was when the beets "began to lighten." Well, that happened for me sometime between minute 0 and 20, and I totally missed it. I assumed the crispy, charred chips I pulled out of the oven at 20 minutes were still undercooked. Mistake.

For the second batch, I shortened the cooking time to about 12 minutes, removed the top baking sheet and kept cooking. This time, I saw them lighten from deep purple to a pretty fuschia color.  I put garlic salt on them and they were great. The third batch (so many beets.) were also pretty successful. Next time, I might slice them by hand because the slicing blade in my food processor makes them almost too thin, and also gives some unevenness which is fine for any other application beside making chips in the oven.

I still have beet greens left. No idea what I'm going to do with those, and I haven't checked them in a few days so they might have turned already. Boo.

This CSA experience is going to be quite the adventure. I get in a dinner rut, so it's nice to have some options to mix it up but also a little overwhelming to try 5 new recipes in a week! I am very glad we didn't just dice everything and toss it on top of a salad though. 

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