Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Trade-Offs (I)

Confession: I've hardly cooked this week. When I have, it hasn't been noteworthy or photogenic, with the exception of Katerina's Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler, which I forgot to photograph anyway. Even worse, I haven't used any of last week's CSA share... I'll put the picture with this week's for you to see, but it may go to waste, and I feel guilty.

Usually I really like the challenge of cooking and feel energized by it. But sometimes, especially when my kitchen is messy or I'm not feeling great, cooking a "real" meal is too daunting. You've all been there, right?

I think in my case it's also complicated by my sometimes-conflicting goals for food and cooking. I want to support local farmers, but that often takes more time and money. I want organic food where possible, but again - more expensive and harder to find. I want to make quick meals on weeknights, but cooking with produce and grains = lots of prep (usually), and I'm worried about the BPA in the canned food I use to save time. I want to be vegetarian and it's difficult when I eat outside my home. And I recently started reading more about low-carbon cooking, and the author of the book advises against oven- and stove-intensive cooking like roasting, but that's my favorite way to cook my local produce. So health, economy, environment, taste, time, and budget - trying to do well in all those areas really narrows cooking choices. That's why I end up eating leftover soup, or fried rice with frozen veggies....

This post is called trade-offs (I) because I want to revisit this set of challenges as I get better at navigating them. So please forgive the complaining. Next time I will try to have more solutions.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Asparagus Season

[Note: I accidentally published this early, so if it showed up in your feed reader already, my apologies. This version actually has the soup recipe.]

In case you didn't know, it's asparagus season! The farmers at the Lansing City Market and Allen Street Farmers Market have fresh-picked, gorgeous stalks for $2 a pound, and we're going through at least 3 pounds a week. Asparagus is kind of a funny thing; I don't love steamed asparagus or cold asparagus, but I can't get enough roasted asparagus, and the soup recipe I got from the farmers market reminds me a little of Spargelsuppe from Germany.

Roasted Asparagus is super easy, and it is like freaking CANDY. If I make less than a pound at a time Chris and I start fighting over it. Here's how to do it: wash the asparagus and trim the ends if they're tough. Cover a baking tray in foil for easy cleanup and place the spears in a single layer on it. Drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and stick it in the oven at 400F for at least 15 minutes. In my opinion, the longer you leave it in, the better it gets - I forgot about a tray for an hour and it was great. Eat with your hands!
Note: I like to roast veggies in my toaster oven - it heats up faster, presumably uses less electricity, and is a good size for a couple of bell peppers or a small bunch of asparagus. Mine came with its own little baking tray.

Vegan Asparagus Soup

Based on the Vegan with a Vengeance recipe by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 pound asparagus, rough ends discarded, cut into 1-2" pieces (cut the thicker pieces shorter)
  • olive oil for sauteeing
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  1. Place potatoes and bay leaves in a stockpot and cover with broth. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender.
  2. While that's simmering, in a small pan, sauté the onion in the olive oil for 5 to 7 minutes; add the garlic, salt and black pepper and sauté 2 more minutes.
  3. Find and remove the bay leaves from the stock pot. Add the asparagus and the onion mixture and boil for 3 minutes.
  4. Use a hand blender, blender, or food processor to puree the soup to your desired consistency (mine was pretty smooth).
    Reheat if necessary. Add lemon juice and serve garnished with fresh dill.

Monday, June 7, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

For the first time since I was a kid with a patch of flower bed behind the shed, I'm attempting to grow food. As you can see, I'm starting small this year. My "garden" consists of five potted plants on my second-story balcony. Allow me to introduce you:

Top left: two mini bell pepper plants (I'm hoping to roast a lot of peppers later in the season)
Top right: basil (pesto here I come!)
Bottom left: cherry Roma tomato plant (I'm afraid it won't get enough sun here - I might have to take it to work with me)
Bottom right: mystery plant... I got the planter from a friend and just let it be, soil intact. This thing sprouted several weeks ago and is growing... well, like a weed. Which it might be. Anybody recognize it?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

CSA Week 2 + Muffins

On Wednesday I picked up my second CSA share from the farmers market (read this post to find out more about CSAs). Last week was cool, but this week's bounty has been easier to use, at least for me. I didn't know what to do with last week's sage, but lettuce? Peas? I can deal with those. Without further ado, here's the Week 2 CSA bag:

  • 2 heads romaine lettuce
  • 3 small heads red romaine lettuce
  • 4 beets, with greens
  • bag of sugar snap peas
  • bag of sunflower shoots (these are really cool - they look like little plants and taste like sunflower seeds!)
As I mentioned, it's been easier to get through this week's bag. I immediately washed and chopped half of the romaine, red romaine, and sprouts into a salad mix, which we've been working on the past few days; I'm taking another salad to Chris's parents tonight for dinner. I roasted a beet for the first time, and it was pretty good with salt and pepper, and I found this recipe for the rest of the beets, sugar snap peas, and beet greens.

I also came across a recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Oatmeal Muffins on Daily Unadventures in Cooking. This was right after I got home from the farmers market with a pound of rhubarb and a quart of gorgeous Michigan strawberries - I love seasonal food blogging! This morning I had time to bake, so I made a batch, and wowthesearegoodmuffins. And they're actually healthy - other than a little butter and sugar, it's all stuff that's good for you. It's a very happy Saturday.