Monday, May 30, 2011

Inspiration - Week 1/2011

This week's box:  Mixed salad lettuces, spinach, asparagus, green garlic, rhubarb and radishes.  

For the next 21 weeks I am going to be cooking out of my Featherstone Farm CSA box and sharing ideas for meals and recipes with you.  I also will be happy to answer your cooking questions if you e mail me at  My goal is to help you use all the vegetables and fruits in your CSA box - and have fun doing it.   If at all possible let's avoid vegetable anxiety, okay?

Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran in the kitchen - I hope you find this blog useful and inspiring and maybe even funny once in awhile.  I welcome your comments and also encourage you to share your ideas for menus and recipes - either by commenting on the blog or posting on Featherstone's facebook page.

I will be picking up my box from the farm every Monday afternoon and posting menu and recipe ideas by about noon every Tuesday.   I expect to post one other day each week as well.   For the most part I will try to keep things simple.  I will include occasional tips for saving time and effort.  I know you are busy.  Make sure to use the search feature in the blog too -- there are lots of posts from last year that you might find interesting.

I get a Grande box each week.  I can easily use up the contents - there are three adults in our household (husband Frank and my Dad and me) and we don't eat out very often.   We like eating lots of vegetables - even for breakfast.  We like meat, too.  But we eat meat with our vegetables.  Not vegetables with our meat.

I have included a rhubarb crisp recipe this week.  But if you have a grande box you have enough rhubarb for a rhubarb pie!  (about 5-6 cups for a nine inch pie).  The Betty Crocker cookbook calls for only 4 cups rhubarb, but I think that is skimpy.   I like a pie with a lot of filling.  This is what six cups of chopped rhubarb looks like:

six cups of chopped rhubarb
You will need enough dough for a two crust pie.  Just mix the rhubarb with about 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1/3 to 1/2 cup flour. (use more flour if you are using 5-6 cups rhubarb)   Let stand about 15 minutes and turn into unbaked 9 inch pie shell.  Dot with about 2 T butter and cover with another crust.  Bake at 425 degrees about  45 minutes - until crust is light golden brown and filling is bubbling.
If you have a chica box, just mix the rhubarb with a little chopped fresh apple and proceed as directed.  Add a little cinnamon if desired.
If you need some help with the pie crust, check out my pie video here:

Note:   Recipes included at the end of blog for dishes printed in italics. I am often purposely vague on exact amounts of ingredients.  That is because I want you to learn to use your own judgment when you cook.   Use more or less of some things as your own tastes and the contents of your refrigerator or pantry dictate. 

Menu 1
Lettuce salad with simple olive oil and vinegar dressing.  Top with a few thinly sliced radishes and toasted sunflower seeds.
Asparagus-mushroom pasta (note - make extra pasta if you decide you want to make pasta salad.  And save some asparagus for the salad.)
Small piece of flavorful cheese

Menu 2 (good for a brunch or light supper)
Poached eggs on toast or English muffin topped with creamed spinach.  Add a slice of ham or Canadian bacon if desired.  Here is how to make a cream sauce for spinach:  Some grated nutmeg is very good with creamed spinach.
Rhubarb crisp

Menu 3
Spinach-radish-rice salad (make extra and bring some to work for lunch)
Broiled fish or chicken or other protein of your choice
Sliced oranges or pineapple

Menu 4
Lettuce salad - add some chopped fruit, nuts and cheese - whatever you have on hand.  Or maybe add some chopped hard boiled egg and sliced onion.  Toss with olive oil and vinegar.  Sherry vinegar is nice.
Potato garlic spinach soup
Rye crackers or bread
Leftover rhubarb pie or crisp

Menu 5
Asparagus pasta salad
Ice cream or sherbet

Asparagus mushroom pasta
Ingredients:  Chopped green garlic (about 1 t. - or more if you like garlic- per serving); asparagus cut in one inch pieces (about 3-4 spears per serving); fresh mushrooms - about 2 oz. per serving; olive oil; favorite dried pasta - linguini is nice or use rotini or mostaccioli if you are cooking extra for a pasta salad.
Cook pasta according to package directions.  Add plenty of salt to cooking water.  While pasta is cooking,  saute garlic, asparagus and mushrooms in about 1-2 T olive oil until vegetables are tender.  (Use the white part of the garlic stalk.)  Drain pasta, saving about a cup of starchy cooking water.  Toss pasta with vegetables, adding water as desired to keep pasta from being too dry.   Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Rhubarb crisp
Cut rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces.  Add about 1 1/4 cups of sugar per 6 cups of rhubarb.  Or 3/4 cup sugar for 3 cups rhubarb.  Mix well and put rhubarb into a baking pan large enough so rhubarb is not more than about an inch deep.  Sprinkle with topping.  Bake at 375 degrees about 1/2 hour - until top is browned and rhubarb is bubbling.
Topping:  Mix together until crumbly:  1 cup flour (white or whole wheat pastry), 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats, 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar, 1 t. ground cinnamon, a pinch of salt and 1 stick of butter, cut into small pieces.  Optional - add chopped toasted nuts.  (Tip - double this recipe and freeze extra.  Use with any fresh fruit for a quick dessert.)

Spinach radish rice salad  (You can take this to work for lunch.)
Ingredients - rice, radishes, spinach, toasted sesame seeds, asian vinaigrette dressing.  Nice additions - thinly sliced green or red bell peppers, sliced scallions or spring onions, toasted almonds,  green peas or edamame soybeans.

Cook rice and cool - enough for about 1 cup per serving.  Sushi rice would be nice in this dish.  Or brown rice.  Wash and dry spinach.  Stack leaves and slice in thin strips.  Thinly slice radishes.  Mix rice, radishes, spinach and toasted sesame seeds in proportions that appeal to you.  Make Asian vinaigrette:  2 t. finely chopped green garlic, 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, 1/3 cup salad oil, 2 T. toasted sesame oil, 2 T. rice vinegar (or a little more to taste), about 2 t. sugar or to taste, 2 t. soy sauce.  Adjust vinaigrette ingredients to your taste.  Toss rice and vegetables with dressing.  This amount of dressing should be plenty for 4 servings.  Save any leftovers for green salad.

Potato garlic spinach soup
Ingredients:  potatoes (about 8 oz. per person), 1 t. chopped green garlic per serving, spinach - about 12 leaves per person, milk or cream, butter, salt and pepper
Peel and chop potatoes.  Chop garlic.  Saute in butter about 5 minutes, add water about 1 cup per serving.  Cover and simmer until potatoes are soft.  Mash potatoes coarsely, add spinach, milk or cream and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with grated Parmesan.

Asparagus pasta salad
We had this for dinner tonight.  Note I went heavy on the veggies and light on the pasta.

Ingredients:  cooked pasta, lightly cooked asparagus pieces (steam or saute), sliced or torn spinach leaves, sliced radishes, sliced fresh sorrel leaves (If you have access to sorrel, which is in the spinach family, you are lucky.  This is an easy to grow perennial herb - first up in the spring - and has an acidic lemony flavor.  I prefer it fresh rather than cooked.  Find a plant and start one at your house.)  Here is what sorrel looks like: 
 Use your favorite lemony vinaigrette salad dressing on this salad- preferably homemade.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Too much asparagus? No such thing.

Last week at the Featherstone Farm Spring Open House I had several interesting conversations with Featherstone Farm CSA members - some new and some who have been cooking out of the box for a few years now.  I often ask people why they have chosen the CSA experience.  I get lots of different answers -- but a very common one is:  "We want to eat more organic vegetables.  If we sign up for a whole season they come to us automatically and then we HAVE to eat them."  Fair enough.  These folks are willing to give up some control and let the weekly box kind of run their lives - at least when it comes to some of their meals.  They are ready for this commitment and the trade-offs it brings.  They will be a little more tied down, culinarily speaking.  But they will be comfortable.  Secure.  Better fed.  They will know they can count on those boxes of lovely food.  They will have fewer vegetable buying decisions to make.  And lots of vegetables to cook.
Simple pasta sauce: green onions, morels, asparagus and cream (and salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg
But what is security for one household is vegetable tyranny in another.  Consider another conversation I had recently - with someone who likes to play the vegetable field, so to speak. Vegetable commitment is not for them.  They confessed to me that they tried CSA boxes for a few years, but stopped.  They said the reason was that they felt the box was in control of them and not the other way around.  If that was how they felt, I can see why the CSA experience was not for them.

I feel their pain.   There are times when I feel that vegetables are controlling my life.  Like right now.  We have our own asparagus patch, and the spears have been coming on like gangbusters the last few days.  I cannot ignore them.  I have to deal with them.  We have given some away, which is a lot of fun.  We have had asparagus and poached eggs on toast.  Roasted asparagus.  Stir fried asparagus and green onions with rice noodles and tofu (kind of my own version of pad thai).  Asparagus soup.  Scrambled eggs with asparagus and morel mushrooms.  Tomorrow I think I will make asparagus crepes with mushroom sauce. Or perhaps sauteed mushrooms and asparagus with cream over pasta.

Plain steamed asparagus - add to eggs, soup, pasta, salad

Scrambled eggs with morel mushrooms and asparagus.

But I don't mind letting vegetables take control.  I think it is a good thing.  Because we have been eating some really good meals in our house.  It is true that the asparagus is demanding.  Sometimes I even have to put other things aside in order to deal with it.  But it is also so rewarding.  So full of flavor and nutrition.  So fleeting.  Before we know it asparagus season will have passed and something new will be making demands on me  - spinach or lettuce or radishes.  Meanwhile, I have decided that there are worse things than letting vegetables run part of my life.  (And besides, I still get to make lots of important decisions, like what kind of shampoo and toothpaste to use and who to vote for.)

So you can decide where you are on this important issue.  Are you ready to let the contents of your CSA box control at least part of what you eat?  Do you want to reap the rewards that will come from letting seasonal vegetables guide your meal choices?  If you are ready to make a vegetable commitment,  welcome aboard.  We will have some fun this year cooking out of the box.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

True Confession: Panicide

I confess.  I did it.  It was my fault.  I did not act out of anger or hate.  It was neglect and I am sorry.   A photo of the victim is below.  It is graphic and if these types of things bother you perhaps you should stop reading right here.

Give us the facts, Ma'am.  Just the facts.  I had a few raw peeled potatoes sitting around in water in the refrigerator.  I had a made a venison stew a day or two before, and had not used all the potatoes I peeled.  So I decided to chunk up the spuds and boil them.  My plan - innocent enough -  was to mash them in their cooking water and use them to bake some yeast bread.  (Mashed potato adds moisture to bread dough and helps with keeping qualities.  I may be careless, but at least I am frugal.)  I put a few inches of water in the pan, added the potatoes and brought it to a boil.  Turned down to a simmer or at least I thought I did.  Covered the pot. And then -- this was where I went wrong -- I strayed.  Stopped paying attention.  Started a load of laundry.  Opened the snail mail.  Swept the floor.  I just forgot all about the potatoes.  Until I smelled the acrid smoke.

OH NO.  Not again.  How bad was it?  This bad.
I will miss my two quart pan with the copper bottom. 

This is not the first time I have committed culinary incineration.  In the past I have managed to scour away the stuck on carbon.  Sometimes my husband has helped.  He has tools in his shop that can rehab the destroyed inside of a stainless steel pan.  But not this time.  This poor pan had come back from Frank's pan hospital just a week or two before.  It was not fair to the pan to attempt heroic measures and to put it through such suffering again.  So I declared it dead.

I am still grieving but I am moving on.  I will work hard to prevent panicide from ever happening again in my house.  But I can't promise it won't.  That's the way it is in a busy home kitchen.  Stuff happens.  Food burns.  Sauces curdle.  Roasts dry out.  Pots boil over.  Knuckles get grated.  Cakes fall.  That's what makes it so exciting when everything turns out fine or even great.  If it was so easy to get perfect results every time, being a good cook wouldn't count for much now, would it?

So if you are on the cooking road and disaster happens,  don't get discouraged.  Press on.  Say you are sorry and learn from your mistakes.  Enjoy the daily opportunities for small triumphs.  A bowl of perfect oatmeal.  A fresh salad glistening with a simple vinaigrette.  A plate of pasta with sauteed asparagus and green garlic from your CSA box.  A poached egg on toast with creamed spinach on top.  A chunk of corn bread with melted butter and honey.  The possibilities for success are truly unlimited.  So honor those dead pans and fallen cakes by staying in the game.  You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


The first Featherstone CSA box of the 2011 Summer season is only a few weeks away. Are you ready?

Here are a few things you can do in the next few weeks so you will be better prepared to make some beautiful meals with the food in your boxes.

1.  Herb and spice tune-up
Do you have basic dried herbs and spices on hand?  Have you had some around for so long that they have lost their flavor?  Time to go to the co-op and fill in any gaps in your seasoning line up.  The dried herbs I always have around: thyme, sage, bay leaf, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, dill, mint.  (Note - dried parsley is virtually tasteless.  Use fresh or none at all.  Dried basil is okay in a pinch but fresh is much better.  If you are lucky you have some pesto in the freezer.  Dried mint is ok, but fresh is much nicer.)

My favorite basic spices: cinnamon, nutmeg (fresh grated whole nutmeg is really nice), cloves, ginger, chili powder, cumin, turmeric, sweet paprika, dried mustard powder, white and black pepper,  fennel seed, caraway seed, cardamom (don't get ground because it loses flavor fast.  Get the little seeds and grind yourself with a mortar and pestle.)

You can find all kinds of fancy salt these days.  Most of the time I use good old Morton's Kosher Salt.

2.  Equipment inventory
Do you have a salad spinner yet?   Other essentials:  chopping board, chef's knife and paring knife, peeler, colander, strainer, measuring spoons and cups, tongs, whisk, graters, rubber scraper, pepper grinder, spatula, ladle, wooden spoons, can opener, slotted spoon, mixing bowls - especially a nice big bowl for tossing salads,  pots and pans.  Half a dozen absorbent cotten kitchen towels.  There are lots of other things I could list - but you can accomplish many kitchen tasks with this short list.

For more on basic kitchen equipment  -- see this previous post:

3.  Olive oil and vinegar
See these two previous posts for oil and vinegar tips.

4.  Are all your knives sharp?  If not - sharpen them.

5.  Do you have a good supply of plastic bags on hand for storing produce?  There are a lot of alternatives out there these days.  I have had good luck with Hefty Fresh Extend bags.  (I rinse and re use quite a few times with no problems.)

6.   Oils other than olive
I really like having some walnut oil around for salads.  Toasted sesame oil is nice for Asian style vinaigrettes.  I have found a Minnesota produced cold pressed, filtered (not refined) sunflower oil which I love for general cooking.  I buy mine by the half gallon at Lanesboro Local in - you guessed it - Lanesboro.  Ask your grocer to stock it or order some online:

7.  Good to always have on hand:
Fresh ginger, lemons, limes, butter, cream, yogurt, eggs, canned tomatoes, nuts, dried fruit, flour, pasta, rice, fresh parsley

8.  Last but not least - review your cookbook situation.  Are your favorites close at hand?  Do you have at least one "classic" all purpose cookbook?  Such as Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, Betty Crocker's Cookbook, The Fanny Farmer Cookbook.  Here is a blog post I did on some recently published cookbooks if you think you are ready to add to your collection: