Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Getting kids excited about trying vegetables

One of the great thing about the produce box is the way it entices The Boy--who is not always the most adventurous eater--into trying new foods. There is something so exciting about discovering what is in the box each week that his natural reluctance is put on hold.

During the off-season, he goes back to his reluctant self. But he recently begged at the grocery store to take home an artichoke to try. In fact, as soon as he spotted them in the produce section, he was ridiculously excited at the idea of trying a new vegetable!

For that I can thank Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z, a charming picture book by Lois Ehlert. Like a pictorial directory of fruits and veggies, it offers up colorful watercolor collages of different vegetables and plants for every letter from A to Z. The text is sparse--just the letters and the names of the foods--letting the vibrant illustrations take center stage. Seventy-four foods are featured, from familiar favorites like apples and blueberries to more unusual items like the ugli fruit. The back of the book has a glossary that tells you a little bit about each fruit and veggie. I appreciate the enticing and accessible way it introduces these healthy foods. It's turned a trip through the produce section into a scavenger hunt as he searches for items from the book. How fun is that? He has his eye on trying the starfruit next.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cooking and freezing beans

Cooking and freezing your own beans is a double win: you save money and avoid the yucky BPA-lined cans. Woot!

It's simplicity itself--you just boil water--but, y'all, I still managed to mess it up the first time I gave it a go.  Seriously. I put way too much water in the cooking pot, things boiled over, and it was an absolute disaster to clean up. But I forged ahead! And it went much better the next time!

Now it doesn't take much thought at all. The basic formula: rinse, soak, cook, freeze.

Rinse: Pick through and remove any rocks or funky beans (split skins, discolored, shrivelled). Rinse with cool water.

Soak: Most beans need to be soaked before cooking to soften them up. The exception are some of the softer beans: lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas. Put into a large bowl and add enough water to cover the beans by 3-4 inches. Ignore for 6-8 hours.

(If you don't have 6 hours to spare, you can do a quick soak on the stove. Bring the beans and water to a boil, remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour.)

Cook: When the beans are happily soaked, drain and change out the water. For every one cup of dried beans you started out with add 3 cups of water. (Thirsty little garbanzo beans need 4 cups of water per one cup dried.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer:
  • Black-eyed peas - 30 min.
  • Navy beans, pinto beans - 45 min.
  • Lima beans - 1 hour
  • Kidney beans - 1-1.5 hours
  • Black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas) - 1.5 hours
It's better to undercook them slightly, if you'll be using them in recipes. When they're finished (bite into one if you want to double check), drain and let cool a bit.

Freeze: Pack into pint-size baggies or freezer-safe containers. A scant 1 3/4 cups equals a 15 oz. can. The bean experts say beans keep about three months in the freezer.

Each bean is a wee bit different, but one pound of dried beans makes the equivalent of about three 15 oz. cans, sometimes four. Such a deal!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Useful things: pasta insert

A pasta insert, sometimes called a cooking colander, sits inside a saucepan or stockpot. It makes it easier to cook things in boiling water because you can just pull out the insert when its done and the water drains away back into the pot. It's perfect for blanching vegetables before freezing them; you can zip them quickly from hot water to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. It also lets you reuse the cooking water for another batch. You can also use the inserts to steam food by boiling water just below the bottom and covering with a lid. They are typically steel (shown at left, IKEA 3 quart STABIL, $8), although there are also silicone ones which nicely collapse for storage (shown below, Oxo Good Grips silicone collapsible colander, $30).
Oxo Good Grips Silicone Collapsible Colander, Red

It doesn't need to be expensive. This is a basic utility piece--it just needs to be the right size and get the job done. It should fit comfortably inside your pot and still allow you to use the pot's lid.  Resist the urge to buy a big one, too. I made that mistake last year, thinking that I'd be processing a lot of food. But it's better to blanch in small batches, to keep from accidentally cooking the veggies too long because they overwhelm the ice bath. Now I've got a nice 5 quart size that suits the job just right.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Introducing us

We're a family of four living in the Pacific Northwest. This is our second year with a local CSA. Beginning in mid-June and running through mid-October, a big box of locally grown, organic veggies and fruits appears on our doorstep once a week.

Seventeen weeks. Four hundred pounds of produce. Holy crap.

Last year we enjoyed a lot of fresh, yummy produce and tried some things that were new to us. (Ground cherries, anyone?) But we also wasted more than we'd like to admit. We're determined not to let that happen in 2010. This blog keeps us honest as we prepare, eat and preserve every last ounce this year in ways that are kid-friendly, healthy, easy (let's hope) and inexpensive (let's really hope--this CSA ain't cheap).

If you're wondering what in the world you're going to do with all that CSA produce, this is the blog for you. Because we're probably wondering that same thing. Come join us--and share your wisdom!

Cast of characters:

  • Me - Occasionally brilliant, mostly hapless cook with the best of intentions. My dirty secret? I don't really like vegetables. Don't tell my kids. Produce box favorites: tomatillos, berries
  • The Husband - My easy-going, always-hungry spouse who has yet to meet a vegetable he didn't like. Favorites: tomatoes, lettuce, corn
  • The Boy - Our capriciously finicky four-year old son. Unpacking the produce box is a highlight of his week. Favorites (always subject to change; see above re: capricious): snap peas, ground cherries, all melons
  • The Girl - Our two-year old daughter who refuses to concede that leafy greens are food. She is allergic to cow's milk, so you'll notice that a lot of our recipes are dairy-free. Favorites: peas, tomatoes, watermelon

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

And so it begins

In late January we signed up for our 2010 share of our preferred CSA. Whoo hoo! Even though most CSAs in the area don't start up until the summer, shares of the favorite ones are snapped up months ahead of time, before the seeds are even planted.

Beginning the week of June 21 and going through mid-October, a big box of organically grown produce will appear on our doorstep once a week. It's magic! Or one very dedicated local farm. I'll let you know when I figure it out.

Seventeen weeks. Four hundred pounds of produce.

Bring. It. On.
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