Saturday, June 28, 2008

OLS: CSA supper

This week's One Local Summer meal was inspired by and mostly produced from the Community Supported Agriculture box we picked up Thursday night. Our week 2 box contained yellow squash, zucchini, beets, and mixed lettuce like last week and three new items: green beans, baby potatoes, and cucumbers.

The thinking for our OLS meal went something like this: cucumbers - tzatziki sauce; baby potatoes - potato salad; hmmm, how about a potato salad with tzatziki sauce instead of the normal dressing; green beans are good in potato salad; last night's grilled chicken leg quarter would make the whole thing a main dish. That with a green salad could be a good cold supper.

I made a half batch of this tzatziki sauce recipe and still only used about half of it in my dish, leaving plenty to dip and spread and dress other food in the coming week. I took lots of advice from the comments to make the sauce less runny -- used hand tools instead of the food processor, used yogurt cheese instead of the yogurt, and drained the grated cucumber for a few hours. I used rosemary instead of dill because that's what I had available from the garden and because I like rosemary with potatoes.

I blanched the green beans (cut bite size) and boiled the potatoes (whole), using the same hot water and ice bath water for both vegetables. The potatoes and grilled chicken were cut bite-size and all stirred in to the tzatziki sauce. I left the whole thing in the refrigerator for a couple of hours so the flavors could marry.

The salad is the lettuce mix from the CSA box. I grated beets in it. We tried the beets boiled and chilled last week, but didn't really like them. We didn't hate them so we thought there might be some way we could appreciate them. I baked those sliced beets in a 400 degree toaster oven until nearly burned and enjoyed the beet chips but with lots of oil and potentially carcenogenic charring. According to this article about "The 10 Best Foods You Aren't Eating," the best way to get health benefits from beets is to grate them and eat them raw, so that's the way we intend to try this week's beets.

I also put purslane on the salad. Purslane is number 6 on that 10 Best list. I considered buying seeds this winter after learning about the health benefits of purslane. But I was concerned about the weediness and wasn't sure we didn't have some already. We have a garden bed that we haven't really decided what to do with so, of course, it got weedy this spring. It turns out that one of the weeds is purslane. So, I'm gradually pulling the other weeds and this will be my purslane bed this year. Guess what? It grows like a weed! Much better than any of the vegetables I planted are doing.

The results? We liked the green salad even with two new-to-us vegetables. I grated the beets finely, pretty much liquefied them, and they blended into the homemade russian dressing. Next time I'll try a coarser grater to see if we like them that way as well. We barely noticed the purslane with the other greens.

The potato salad was, well, bland. I guess there's a reason that tzatziki sauce goes with spicy meat in gyros. We doctored it with soy sauce at the table and that helped a bit.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lowfat Chocolate Frozen Yogurt

Happy Summer! We spent the first weekend of the summer doing Pond-O-Rama, the garden tour of the St. Louis Water Gardening Society. We saw lots of beautiful and inspiring gardens.

When I posted about my strawberry sorbet, two people asked about the ice cream maker I got with my birthday money last month. It's a Cuisinart ICE-20. I bought it at Cornucopia, the kitchen store in Kirkwood, but Bed, Bath, and Beyond carries it as well. The going rate seems to be about $50. Ice cream makers underwent a revolution while I wasn't paying attention. They now involve a gel-filled freezer bowl that you have to remember to put in the freezer a day before you want your frozen dessert. The advantages of these new styles is that they don't require messing with rock salt and they make small amounts suitable for small families.

This recipe doesn't have a single local ingredient. Someone else can do the calculations about the relative carbon footprint of freezing your own dessert versus buying factory-made and freezer-truck-shipped product. The reason I'm making my own frozen desserts is less about being green and more about using ingredients that I'm happy to eat.

I combined this recipe with the one in the booklet that came with my ice cream maker. But I wanted to use nonalkalized cocoa as my flavoring because I read somewere that was the healthier way to consume chocolate (how's that for good library research?). I've been using Chatfield's Premium cocoa from Whole Foods but I'm open to hearing about sources that are Fair Trade, especially if they are produced in the Midwest.

I've had two problems with this recipe. I'll write about my solutions but this is also a plea for more experience cooks to let me know how I should be handling these ingredients.

Problem One is getting the lumps out of the cocoa and cornstarch. I'm sure the correct tool for the job is a sifter (I'm pretty sure that I have my mother's in a box somewhere), but I've been dumping them in the saucepan and using a whisk to break up the lumps. I've yet to find lumps in the final product whether or not I worked to get rid of them, so this may be a problem that is being solved somewhere along the way without my effort.

Problem Two is a sticky substance that develops at the bottom of the sauce pan when I'm heating the evaporated milk and other ingredients. I've started putting the saucepan on very low heat, stirring continuously with a metal spatula, and raising the heat very gradually to boiling. That seems to have solved it. The sticky stuff doesn't re-melt into the mix, but it does taste like a fudgy taffy, so not an unpleasant surprise in chocolate frozen yogurt.

EDIT August 17, 2008: It turns out that the biggest problem I've had with lumpiness in my frozen yogurt this summer was from another source entirely -- the evaporated skim milk. I learned this: don't shake the can and don't scrape the gunk out of the bottom of the can. If you do, you get milky, flavorless lumps in the final product.

Lowfat Chocolate Frozen Yogurt

2 tsp cornstarch
3/8 cup nonalkalized cocoa
1 can evaporated skim milk
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 1/2 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt

1. Whisk the cornstarch and cocoa together in a small saucepan.

2. Whisk in the evaporated milk and the agave nectar.

3. Cook over low heat while continuously stirring with a metal spatula. Gradually increase the heat until the chocolate mix begins to boil. Turn off the heat and continue stirring for a couple of minutes.

4. Allow the chocolate to cool for a few minutes. Stir by spoonfuls into the yogurt.

5. Chill the yogurt mixture in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

6. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for freezing the yogurt in an ice cream maker.

Friday, June 20, 2008

First ever CSA box!

CSA logo courtesy of A Veggie Venture.

The day I've been anticipating for months finally arrived -- the first delivery from our Community Supported Agriculture service. Our CSA is called Family Harvest and is a subscription to two farms, Yellow Wood and Lee. This reduces our risk, slightly. Both farms experienced too much rain as we all did in this region, but only one field at one farm is currently in danger of flooding. I'm very much hoping it doesn't, because that's our tomatoes, onions, and peppers for the summer. One of the points of using a CSA is to get the consumer in closer contact with the food source -- it's working for me.

The picture is of the contents of our box after I prepped them before putting them in the refrigerator. I thought this would be a good time to write about how I prepare produce, mostly tips I've picked up in the last year from reading Cook's Illustrated. I had feared that it would take a long time to wash up the produce every Thursday evening, but this week it only took a half hour or so.

I keep a spray bottle with 1 part white vinegar, 3 parts water, under the sink. I used this for the initial wash of the zucchini and yellow squash, then rinsed them with water.

The two different kinds of lettuce are Summer Crisp Head Lettuce and Leaf Lettuce Greens Mix. My method for washing greens (both salad and cooking) is to put them in the bowl of the salad spinner and cover them with water. I gently swirl the leaves around in the water and then let them sit for a couple of minutes. Then, I gently lift them into the strainer portion of the salad spinner. I appreciate my big sink at this point because I can have the bowl and the strainer in the sink at the same time. Dump out the bowl and repeat the process. Usually two rinses are enough, but I did four rinses once on some really muddy bok choy. When the water is clear after lifting the greens out, I know I'm done. Then I use the salad spinner in the conventional way and spin the washed greens to get them mostly dry.

I store washed vegetables, including greens, in reusable produce bags like these Evert-Fresh ones. I get them at Whole Foods and have used that brand and another one. This has cut down considerably on my use of ziplocs and seems to work at least as well. The instructions say to use each bag 8 to 10 times -- but how am I supposed to keep track? In practice, I use them until they tear or I accidentally let something go bad in them.

Until a few months ago, I would have thought that beets only came pickled and I've rejected all pickled things since childhood, so it's possible I've never had beets. Fortunately, one of our farmers, Tricia, wrote some advice in the newsletter that came with our box (she boils, peels, slices, and chills beets in a balsamic and olive oil dressing to serve cold alone or in salads -- sounds good to me). So, I started by separating the beets into three parts. The leaves were washed like the lettuce, the beets were washed with the vinegar spray, and the stalks were rinsed and then thrown in the stock bag in the freezer -- except for the really dirty ones that went straight into the compost bowl.

That leaves the cabbage. When I buy a head of cabbage from the supermarket, I wash the outer layer of leaves with the vinegar spray and rinse. But supermarket cabbages don't come with those beautiful curling outer leaves. The cabbage wasn't very dirty, so I decided to just leave it like it is and rinse it when we're ready to use it.

We already ate one zucchini in a pasta dish last night. The beet greens will go in our chicken and greens dish tonight. I'll be eating lettuce salads with beets and at least two kinds of cabbage salad. That cabbage may be big enough to be the basis of a soup as well. I'm not quite sure what I'll be doing with the rest, but I can't wait to find out!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

OLS: Grilled Chicken and Salads

Our One Local Summer meal this week was a supper of two summery salads and grilled chicken.

Potato Salad with Kohlrabi
Biver Farms (which I learned during a chat with Alanna of A Veggie Venture at the Kirkwood Farmers Market on Saturday is pronounced "beaver") at the Tower Grove Farmers Market had tiny potatoes on Saturday. I boiled those in their jackets until they were fork tender, then sliced them in half for the salad. On the advice of CJ at the Kirkwood Farmers Market, I diced my kohlrabi and soaked it for several minutes. Then I sauteed it until carmelized -- it developed a nice touch of sweetness as well as a more tender texture. I tossed the potatoes and kohlrabi with thyme from my deck. For the dressing, I used local honey and Blue Heron Orchard habanero apple cider vinegar with nonlocal mayo, mustard, salt, and pepper. After chilling for a couple of hours, this was the highlight of the meal.

Green salad
The green salad was simply two kinds of lettuce from recent trips to farmers markets and sunflower shoots from the Claverach Farm booth at the Maplewood Farmers Market. The dressing has no local ingredients, but it is homemade which makes it locally produced! I don't measure salad dressing ingredients -- just toss things together until they taste good. In this case, it was mayo lightened with yogurt cheese, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and agave nectar.

Grilled chicken
R grilled the leg quarters from two Farrar Out Farms chickens (one bought at the Kirkwood Farmers Market, as usual, and the other at the Maplewood Farmers Market where Farrar Out started appearing last week). I wanted leftover chicken for chicken salad sandwiches later this week when our nephew will be here to help with yard work. R still gets a bit of a thrill out of the fact that our chicken legs match up. He remembers the six-packs of leg quarters I used to buy at the supermarket that would have five right legs and one left leg. As he was grilling those he'd find himself wondering about the odd chickens they raise at commercial operations.

This is the first One Local Summer meal that I shared with someone else. The verdict: "we should do this every night!"

Saturday, June 14, 2008

OLS: Farmers Market Day lunch

My Saturdays are suddenly packed. I now have an established habit of going to two or more Farmers Markets bright and early on Saturday morning. That's going to be a bit rushed for the next couple of months because I need to shop and get it all home in time to make it to my cartooning class at Meramec Community College at 10 AM. Saturday afternoons and evenings will need to include some produce preparation time.

So, I needed a quick lunch and a local one since I haven't recorded a One Local Summer meal yet this week. I cooked up a pot of black turtle beans from Kimker Hill Farm last night. Then, today, all I had to do was spoon some into the food processor with a little of the cooking liquid and some Kimker Hill "nice and mild" summer salsa. I was a little worried that it would be too runny for a sandwich spread, but it held up just fine. The cilantro on top came from the Three Rivers Community Farm this morning at the Tower Grove Farmers Market. The strawberries are from the Our Garden booth -- they have consistently had the prettiest strawberries I've seen at the markets and they are also available at the Wednesday night Maplewood Farmers Market.

I also had a large salad with this lunch. There's enough local produce in my refrigerator now that I have a selection of salad vegetables. Today I used two different kinds of lettuce, grated kohlrabi, sunflower shoots, asparagus, and feta cheese. The dressing was homemade but leftover from something, so I don't have an exact recipe. I would have used local honey in it and, since it was kind of gloppy from being in the refrigerator, I thinned it with Blue Heron Orchard habanero apple cider vinegar -- you can pick that up at Local Harvest Grocery.

This meal really feels like a transition meal, moving into late spring and full speed ahead into summer.
Edit: oh yeah, and the bread is 97% Local Bread.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Defining "local"

When a person begins to source his or her food more locally, a question comes up: what is local?

People in the Bay Area of California often use a 100-mile circle as their definition of local, tempting others to use a similar definition. You would do pretty well with that definition in St. Louis -- there are several produce farms in Southern Illinois. Farrar Out farm where I get my eggs and chicken just fits inside that circle. But you would miss out on Ozark Forest Mushrooms and Sandhill Farm sorghum. I've found that I'm willing to use the 100-mile circle on the Illinois side, but I prefer to use the entire state of Missouri on this side of the Mississippi River. Among other reasons, that puts me in a kind of partnership with state programs like AgriMissouri.

Farmers Market purchases sound like they would all be local. But, for example, Summit Farms at the Kirkwood Farmers Market is more of a distributor, selling lots of California produce alongside locally grown produce in season. It's generally very good quality produce no matter where it comes from. I learned recently that if it weren't for Summit, the Kirkwood Farmers Market wouldn't be sustainable, so I'm grateful they are there. However, for my One Local Summer meals, I will do more of my shopping at some of the other booths.

I buy grains, including flour, and beans from Kimker Hill Farm at the Tower Grove Market. They don't grow all of the items that they mill or package, but Denise says she sources them as close as she can get. Since she is my only source for locally milled flour, I'm going to consider that close enough. Plus, I love her blog since it lets me know what to expect at her booth each Saturday.

If you're eating local meat, do you care what the animals eat? Do you want them on a 100-mile diet, too? Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food, convinced me that meat and dairy products are healthier for me if the animals are pastured. But, at the moment, I seem to have a choice between buying butter from pastured cows in Wisconsin or from cows who eat grain from who knows where, but do it in Missouri. Which is better? For One Local Summer meals, I'll use the butter from Missouri cows, but for some of my other meals, I'll probably choose the pastured butter.

People who have been buying organic for years sometimes have trouble switching to local foods because they suddenly have to choose between those two values -- do you buy organic apples or do you buy local apples that are not organic? Many small farms use organic practices, but they don't go through the considerable bother and expense to be certified organic. But, of course, that's not true for all local farms, and particularly not apple orchards in this region.

In the end, though, I find it really doesn't matter how I answer these questions. What matters is that I asked them and thought about the answers. That, in itself, has made a huge difference in how I think about my food and who produces it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

One Local Summer posts

The first One Local Summer posts are up at the Farm to Philly blog. The Midwest recap is very inspiring. A lot of folks, like me, relied on eggs and asparagus for our first meal. I think some of the salads may inspire my local meal for this week.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chautauqua -- a summer cultural event

When I went to the Pike County Chautauqua in the summer of 2005, I wrote (in my Chautauqua Diary) these definitions of Chautauqua:

  • a resort town in upstate New York
  • a circuit of tent shows at the turn of the twentieth century, kind of a revival for the mind
  • a present-day cultural and educational institution in Chautauqua, New York (like summer camp for adults)
  • a modern phenomena of cultural and educational programming for summer entertainment, featuring scholar-actors portraying historical characters

I will again be attending a Chautauqua of the last variety this week. But, I won't be writing a diary -- I will be too busy as the stage director for the performances.

If you live in the St. Louis area, please consider attending. We will have Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Margaret Mitchell, and P.T. Barnum. If the weather is clear, and tomorrow is looking good, the show will go on at the Lions' Amphitheater in Kirkwood Park. The rain location is the theater at Meramec Community College, which is also a lovely venue. The full schedule is linked from the Kirkwood Public Library's website.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Strawberry season starts

Farmers Market logo courtesy of A Veggie Venture.
Strawberries are one of the poster children of eating locally and seasonally. In case you've never had a local in-season strawberry, learn this: strawberries are red and tender all the way through. They don't have a crunchy, flavorless, white core.

As I wrote mid-week, I found my first strawberries of the season at the Maplewood Farmers Market. I was correct that the Our Garden booth had them again at the Tower Grove Market on Saturday. I saw them and a long line so I did my other shopping first. By the time I got around to Our Garden again, both the line and the strawberries were gone.

I thought I had lost my chance at more strawberries, but when I swung by the Kirkwood Farmers Market for my chicken and eggs from Farrar Out Farm, I found that two vendors were selling strawberries by the quart. They weren't nearly as pretty as the ones from Our Garden, but the price was more attractive -- 2 quarts for $9 compared to 1 pint for $3.

Two quarts is enough to experiment with. I'm trying to decide if I want to freeze berry puree to eat later in the year. If I do that, it will be with berries that I pick myself at a very low price. The first experiment is strawberry sorbet, following the recipe that came with the ice cream machine I got for my birthday. Definitely a success.

Post submitted to the Farmers Market Fare carnival at
Eat. Drink. Better.