Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The challenge begins: the 2010 produce list

The email I've been waiting for arrived this week: this year's breakdown of what the CSA farm is growing for our produce box this summer!

One of the features that attracted us to the CSA we use is the ability to tailor our boxes a bit to our family's tastes. At this point in before the season, we can say we want less or none at all of any of the items. Why have something delivered that we know we won't use? We can also pick up to five items that we would like more of. I learned my lesson last year--when we were overrun with cucumbers and watermelons--to only ask for more of items that can easily be preserved. Because when you tell the farm you want more, it gives you MORE.

The list doesn't show three full flats of berries we'll get or the 50 pounds of tomatoes and peppers we go to the farm to pick, all of which are also included in the share.

So what are we getting this year?
  • ¼ lb basil x 8 deliveries (I asked for more)
  • 1 bunch parsley x 3
  • 1 bunch celery x 3
  • 2 lb. green beans x 8 (I asked for more)
  • 1 bunch beet greens w/small beets attached x 3
  • 2½ lbs. beets x 4 (I asked for less--no one in our house is that fond of beets)
  • 1 lb. broccoli x 4
  • 2 cantaloupes x 4
  • 2 lbs. carrots x 4
  • 1 bunch cilantro x 4
  • 12 ears corn x 5 (I asked for more)
  • 5 slicing cucumbers x 10
  • 1 lb. lemon cucumbers x 8
  • 1 small head cabbage x 4
  • 1 head Napa cabbage x 2
  • 1 head cauliflower x 2
  • 5 oriental eggplants x 7 (I asked for less--also not fond of eggplant)
  • 1 lb. elephant garlic
  • ¾ lb. ground cherries x 6
  • 1 honeydew melon x 1
  • 1 Mai Quing (Bok) Choi plant x 4
  • ½ lb. kale x 5
  • ½ lb. Swiss chard x 4
  • 2 kohlrabi x 2 (I asked for less. One kohlrabi is challenge enough for me.)
  • 1 lb. leaf lettuce blend x 17
  • ¼ lb. arugula x 3
  • 1 large bunch green onions x 4
  • 4 leeks x 2
  • 1 lb. sweet onions x 5
  • 5 lb. keeping onions x 1
  • 2 lb. sugar snap peas x 5
  • 2 Anaheim peppers x 7
  • 2 Ancho (Pablano) peppers x 6
  • 2 bell peppers x 6
  • 6 jalapeno peppers x 3
  • 5 lbs. potatoes x 4
  • 2 pumpkins x 1
  • 1 bulb fennel x 2 (I asked for less. I can't stand the taste of fennel.)
  • combination of summer squash (green zucchini, yellow zucchini, pattypans) x 9
  • 2 each winter squash (butternut, acorn, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, Delicata) x 1
  • 1 lb. tomatillos x 6 (I asked for more. I love me some tomatillos.)
  • 5 lbs. tomatoes x 9 (I asked for more.)
  • 2 lbs. cherry tomatoes x 7
  • 1 watermelon x 5

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Useful things: food storage labels

Having a freezer full of tasty produce isn't much good if you can't tell what's what!

Freezer tape is an old, economical standby. It isn't bothered by moisture, sticks to everything food-storage related, and peels off easily, making it great as a label. Use it to make a tight seal when wrapping with aluminum foil or freezer paper. You can find it for a few dollars a roll at most hardware stores or well-stocked big box stores; it's also available online.

Another classic: one-time use freezer labels. The self-adhesive labels come 100 to a dispenser box and peel right off your container when the season is over. Available for $5 a box at The Container Store or $6.65 at The retro look of the box makes me feel domestic.

My personal favorites are the erasable food labels by LabelOnce. We use them everywhere in the kitchen: on bulk foods in the pantry, storage containers in the freezer and even recipe files. You write on the label with a fine-tipped Sharpie marker, then simply erase the writing and relabel when it's time to use the container for another purpose. I really like being able to change out the contents of my storage tubs--especially in the pantry--without worrying about putting beans in the container marked "flour" or other such madness. They've stayed stuck on for us through a year in the freezer and even trips through the dishwasher so far. I picked up ours at The Container Store; $10 for a starter kit that includes a Sharpie and eraser, $7 for sticker refills.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Useful things: food scale

For a long time, I pooh-poohed the idea of a kitchen scale. My cookbooks used volume measurements, not weight. I could eyeball things when cutting up meat or dividing dough. Who needed a scale?

But when I got into food preservation in earnest, I found myself wishing I had one all the time. Typically in the late hours of the night, as I stared down an enormous stockpot of cooked beans waiting to be frozen in 15-ounce can-sized portions. I now have the 11-pound Oxo Good Grips Food Scale  ($45, also available in a 5-pound version for $30).

Some things to keep in mind when picking out a food scale to use in food preservation:

  • Beware of buying a lightweight. Pay attention to the weight limit--you'll likely want something that will weigh more than a few pounds, at the minimum.
  • Make sure it has a broad, flat surface. Some have small removable bowls attached to the scale or tiny platforms. You'll want something that will hold your own large bowls, plates and other containers.
  • A tare feature is also very helpful, so that you can measure and weigh items without needing to factor in the weight of the container.
  • The pull-out display on the Oxo scale has also been really useful for me. With other scales I've owned, the buttons and displays were often obscured by whatever plate or bowl was on the scale. It's nice to be able to pull the buttons closer to me when I need to.
  • Digital scales tend to be easier to use and take up less space than old-school mechanical scales, but they do use up batteries.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Freezing pizza dough

Homemade pizza has become something of a weekly tradition in our house. The kids love it and making it at home lets us have a dairy-free version for The Girl (hello, soy "mozzarella"!). It's a fair sight cheaper--and less greasy--than ordering it in, too.

After experimenting with some different healthier crust recipes, I settled on a favorite from one of my Moosewood Cookbooks.  It's low on sugar and oil, uses some whole wheat flour without tasting too "healthy," and incorporates rolled oats for a little bit of texture. I typically make it that day in our bread machine using the Dough setting. But when I have more time--or an antsy child who needs to work out some energy pounding dough--I make up a big batch and freeze it in dinner-size portions.

Mix the yeast with warm water and set it aside to do its bubbly thing. The recipe calls for a teaspoon of sugar, but sometimes I feed the yeast with a half-teaspoon of honey instead.

Now you get to make your own oat flour! Whirl rolled oats in a blender or food processor until they've become a coarse flour. I like to leave it pretty chunky for the texture it gives the dough.

By this point your yeast should be foamy and ready. Add the oat flour, whole wheat flour, salt, olive oil and enough of the white flour to make a stiff dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until stretchy and smooth, about ten minutes, adding more flour as needed. This is a great time to get the kids involved! Little fists are great for pounding on dough.

You know the drill: put the dough in a greased bowl, cover and set in a warm place until doubled in size.

Time to punch down the dough--The Boy's favorite step! If you're using it right away, roll out your crust and get your pizza on. If freezing, work quickly to wrap it up and pop it into the freezer before it starts to rise again. I wrap it in plastic wrap then put the frozen dough balls into a freezer zipper bag. If I pull the frozen dough out in the morning and leave it on the counter, it's ready to use by dinner time. If you were more on top of things than I am, you could probably defrost it overnight in the refrigerator instead. Frozen bread dough usually lasts just fine about three months in the freezer.

This recipe makes a little over a pound of dough, which makes a 12-inch crust (a medium at most pizza places). It's just a bit more than enough for one meal our family--the Girl puts away more pizza than I do!

Recipe below, or view a printable version here.

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