Sunday, May 29, 2011

Week 11 - Keep On Moving

There are weeks where this seems really thrilling, and weeks where I feel like I gotta keep on going because this is a commitment that I've made. In order to try and keep things exciting this week, I'm giving myself a challenge within a challenge, and that is going to be to use up all the lettuce. With a couple of heads left over from last week's box along with two large ones this week, I need to find some new recipes that break up that sense of having another boring old salad. Fortunately, I've got some great citrus in the box this week that I hope will 'zest' things up!

In the box this week
 (top) Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Basil
(bottom) Cucumbers, Beets, Green Garlic, Lemons, Blood Oranges, Strawberries

Meal plan for the week
Sunday: Lemon Basil chicken salad sandwiches on homemade bread, Orange Cucumber Lettuce salad
Memorial Day: Steaks with Orange and Beet salad, hot Spinach artichoke dip, fresh Lemonade
Tuesday: Whole wheat spaghetti with Swiss Chard and pecorino (substituting Green Garlic for the regular garlic)
Wednesday: BLCs (bacon Lettuce Cucumber sandwiches) with spicy mayo
Thursday: Breakfast for dinner with waffles and homemade Strawberry jam

With lots of sandwiches and salads on the menu, this definitely feels like summer eating. Now, if only the weather would oblige...

P.S. If this is your first time at Year in a Box, read this to learn more about what our family is up to! 
This week's title is inspired by the song of the same name by Soul II Soul.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lemon Drop

We are very lucky to have a small but high yielding Meyer lemon tree in our backyard. We have lemons available from it almost year round, and there are at least a couple of times a year that they start dropping off the tree faster than we can consume them or give them away. My husband has experimented with preserving lemons in salt, and we've enjoyed the end result of those efforts in savory salsas and sauces. Given my attempts to get a whole lot better at canning, I decided last week to try making my very first marmalade. While the recipe that I used is from a book that I own and isn't publically available, I was able to find a very similar (though more complicated) blueberry and Meyer lemon marmalade recipe that was inspired by the one from the book. In my case, cutting up the lemons after removing membranes and seeds was the most complicated part. Fortunately, the blueberries took a while to cook down and gave me plenty of time to tackle the lemons. 

Lots of tiny lemon pieces, simmering blueberries, and warming jars

The lemon seeds and membranes went into a makeshift cheesecloth bag (see top center of photo below), which was simmered in with the blueberries and lemon rinds in order to release pectin and thicken the batch. 

Getting the pectin out

It was a lot of work for five half-pint jars of marmalade, the first of which was gone in under 24 hours. We ate it on french toast, regular bread, and mixed into homemade yogurt. I guess when you've essentially got pie in a jar, you can't expect it to last very long.

French toast with fresh marmalade
This blog title is inspired by the song of the same name performed by Woody Herman and Ella Fitzgerald.

Week 10 in Review

The Score
Eaters - 11    Compost - 0     Carry Over - 1
Once again, we have lettuce carrying over into next week. It sometimes seems funny to me that the one vegetable we most commonly ate in the past is the one that is often the last to get eaten up these days. A boring old salad just doesn't seem to be cutting it these days. What did get made this week seemed to be all about balancing and playing with different aspects of the ingredients: sweet and sour, umami and salty, chewy and tender, hearty and light. Though not a lot got made as compared to a typical week, what did get made was all quite yummy. 

The Winner
  • Though not officially 'from the box,' we all love the blueberry meyer lemon marmalade that was made out of berries from our weekly trip to the farmer's market, as well as lemons from our backyard. For more on the fun we had making marmalade, have a look at blog entry Lemon Drop

The Good
  • Our weekend dinner straight from the farmer's market was our first dinner eaten outside this year! The grilled Zucchini and Zebra Potatoes were the perfect accompaniments for a juicy barbecued steak.
  • Crispy prosciutto was delicious with the spinach and basil. This frittata was the best one yet.
  • Simply sauteed Sugar Snap Peas with Green Garlic were a great addition to fresh Basil pesto pasta. The heartiness of the whole wheat pasta rounded out the dish quite nicely.

The Rest
  • Experimenting in food preparations continued last weekend. In addition to the fantastic marmelade, we tried a second batch of pickles, along with some yogurt and fresh bread. We liked last week's pickle recipe better, the yogurt was a bit runny, and the bread didn't rise quite like it seemed it should have, but it was still a really fun couple of days of cooking!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Week 10 - Pure Imagination

Now that we're getting more comfortable with all of the produce in our weekly box, the stresses of this process is slowly but surely transforming into fun.  Instead of quickly sneaking in and out of the farmer's market to pick up our box - hesitant to buy anything more than what we already had to 'get through' - it's been great to take a few minutes to see what else we might add to the week's bounty.  After a simple attempt at pickling last week, I decided it'd be fun to try a slightly more challenging recipe this week so bought a few extra pounds of pickling cucumbers.  Weiser Family Farms had their very own variety of Zebra potatoes available (see photo below), and those seemed like they'd go perfectly with the Healthy Family Farms rib-eye steaks that we were going to pick up from our meat CSA.  There were also some gorgeous blueberries that seemed to be calling out.  So, although this week involves a business trip and a big event at the boys' school (= fewer family meals), I'm hoping to do some canning over the weekend to make up for the mid-week cooking that just won't be happening.  

In the box this week
(top) Spinach, Lettuce, Zucchini, Basil
(bottom) Zebra Potatoes, Green Garlic, Sugar Snap Peas, Pickling Cucumbers, Avocados, Blood Oranges, Strawberries

Meal plan for the week
Weekend fun: homemade yogurt, blueberry and meyer lemon (from our backyard) marmalade, and quicker kosher dills - all recipes from the great book Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff
Sunday: Rib-eye steaks, Zebra Potatoes, Zucchini - all on the grill
Monday: Basil pesto pasta, with sauteed Sugar Snap Peas and Green Garlic
Tuesday: Frittata with prosciutto, Spinach and Basil

My husband commented the other day that I've been really domestic of late.  I think it's more that I'm finding my love of science through its manifestation in many kitchen-related activities.  All of this is a big experiment, and every new process that I can try is a fun challenge for me.  It might seem like a return to the past, but I love the idea that I can do more and more of the feeding of my family and rely less and less on 'processed foods.'  The possibilities seem endless!
This week's title is inspired by the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory song by Gene Wilder.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Week 9 in Review

The Score
Eaters - 10.5     Compost - 0     Carry Over - 1
Lots of amazing eats this week, fueled by a lot of amazing spring goodness!  I had a chance to make a few things that I've never made before (pickles, fresh berry pie), and all in all had a week of really successful recipes.  Nothing was overly complicated or time consuming, and for the first time in this process almost every recipe was eaten and enjoyed by all.  We still have a bit of lettuce left over, but I'm hoping to use that up in my lunch tomorrow.  Other than that, we've put away quite a bit of produce this week.

The Winner
  • This was a tough one, but I have to say that the Strawberry almond challah french toast tasted like something that you'd get in a fancy restaurant for brunch, but was super easy to prepare.  Just remember, substitute almond extract for the vanilla in the recipe, and sprinkle with some slivered almonds for french toast that tastes like an almond croissant.

The Good
  • Last week's Basil was so fragrant, and the leaves were larger than any basil I've ever seen.  With such perfect raw materials, the Basil pesto pasta with Zucchini and mint was a huge hit with both our family and the visitors that we had over for dinner that night.
  • Also a big hit (not surprisingly) was the fresh Strawberry pie.  With perfect berries, not much effort was needed to turn out an amazing end product.
  • Easy to make, good to eat.  The homemade garlic basil dills were so much easier to make than I ever would have imagined, and (though designed to be kept in the fridge, vs. stored long term) only required a day of waiting before eating.  Thanks to my sister-in-law for the pickling advice for this newbie!  One jar is already gone, so we'll need to be revisiting this recipe when we get more Pickling Cucumbers in our box.
  • Oh, Sweet Onions.  How sweet you are.  The grilled sweet onions in contrast with jalapeno jack cheese made for a yummy yet simple quesadilla.
  • This Spinach salad felt a bit like a deconstructed omelet.  Fresh, crunchy spinach with some hard boiled eggs and bacon, topped with a vinaigrette, seemed much heartier than a salad typically would.

The Rest
  • The sesame chicken with Sugar Snap Peas was good, but the peas looked a little brown by the time recipe was done.  The whole thing could have used a bit of a 'kick', too.  
  • This Zucchini bread is delicious, but I still can't get over that the recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar and a full cup of oil.  Even doubling the zucchini (which increased the cooking time by about 10 minutes), I'm left feeling that this 'vegetable' bread is really just fat and sugar.

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Week 9 - I Don't Want A Pickle

    Actually, I want to make some.  This week's box features some ingredients that really make me want to get old school, and take on some food preparation that is outside my comfort zone.  That said, trying to find the right supplies to make pickles (pickling salt) and fresh fruit pies (fruit pectin) had me driving all over town on Saturday, without finding exactly what I was looking for.  I guess that there isn't a lot of canning happening in my area of town?  I did end up finding what I hope are work-around ingredients and am willing to give things a try, along with a few other recipes that will serve as main courses for the family.

    In the box this week
    (top) Spinach, Lettuce, Basil
    (bottom) Sweet Onions, Zucchini, Sugar Snap Peas, Pickling Cucumbers, Apples, Blood Oranges, Strawberries

    Meal plan for the week
    Weekend brunch: challah french toast with Strawberries and sliced almonds (substituting almond extract for the vanilla that is called for in the recipe); Zucchini bread (doubling the amount of zucchini)
    Sunday: Basil pesto pasta with Zucchini and mint (from the garden), fresh Strawberry pie 
    Monday: Sweet Onion quesadillas, salad with Lettuce and the rest of last week's Carrots
    Wednesday: turkey burgers with Lettuce and homemade garlic dill Pickles

    When we pick up our box at our local farmer's market, the farm has a stand open and allows us to swap out an item or two, and we can always buy more of what's available.  This week, I bought an extra three quarts of berries knowing that I wanted to take on the creation of a fresh strawberry pie, which is a new project for me.  I've never done any sort of canning before, either, so this week feels pretty exciting.  If the pickles work out, I may just have to try some fresh strawberry jam next week (assuming that strawberries will continue to be in the box for a while), so a few more quarts may be on the shopping list again next weekend!

    P.S. If this is your first time at Year in a Box, read this to learn more about what our family is up to!
    This week's title is inspired by Arlo Guthrie's The Motorcycle Song.

    Saturday, May 14, 2011

    Week 8 in Review

    The Score
    Eaters - 8.5   Compost - 1   Carry Over - 1.5
    It feels like we cooked a TON of food this week, but somehow still did not get through all of the box.  A lot of our recipes involved baking, and that didn't lend itself to us getting through the greens that we more typically eat uncooked.  One head of lettuce wilted beyond repair, and we just didn't get around to the spinach, though it is still in great shape and will get used up this week.  We also still have a few carrots left over from the gigantic bunch that we got in last week's box; thankfully, there are none coming in the box this week, so we'll have a chance to use them up as well.

    On the recommendation of a reader, I'm going to start these reviews by highlighting the best recipe of the week.  Of course, it will be my very subjective opinion - but will consider taste, enjoyment by the family, and overall ease of preparation.  It will be my way of saying 'if you're going to try one of these, try this!'

    The Winner
    • Our first winning recipe would have to be the mini chicken pot pies with bacon, Marjoram and Carrots.  The flavors were delicious, the presentation was lovely, and - using a store bought rotisserie chicken, and frozen puff pastry - it was quite easy to throw together.  We all loved it, and there sadly were no leftovers at all!

    The Good
    • This one shocked me.  I was pretty sure going in that this was going to be a colossal waste of time, making crust from scratch, then a pretty involved recipe for the filling that I was convinced would turn out all mushy.  Honestly, it was the only semi-edible looking recipe I could find when searching for a recipe that contained both zucchini and swiss chard.  But you know what?  The provencal Zucchini and Swiss Chard tart was good!  The boys weren't super excited about it, but we grown-ups quite liked it.
    • The pasta with Sugar Snap Peas, asparagus and parmesan was a perfect spring pasta recipe.  The Peas from the box were oh so sweet, and it was one of those delicious, just-a-few-ingredients recipes that show what good Italian-inspired cooking is all about.
    • Nothing like a summery crisp recipe to enjoy on a hot spring - but wishing it was summer - afternoon.  Yum!

    The Rest
    • My husband made several pizzas on the grill last weekend, and experimented making a white pizza with Summer Squash, Zucchini and ricotta.  It wasn't bad, but the pizza lacked a bit of pizzazz. 
    • The pot roast from our meat CSA was quite delicious, as were the monstrous but sweet roasted Carrots.  I'm just not sure how one makes a pot roast dinner look very pretty when serving it?

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Week 8 - Climbing Up the Walls

    Yesterday, that's about where I was with this whole 'elimination diet' thing.  Although I made a good week and a half out of it, I knew I had another week's planning ahead of me, and I wasn't feeling super excited about the foods on my 'ok to eat' list.  Luckily for me, I had a doctor's appointment yesterday - and based on my food diary and conclusions that this approach to food wasn't really telling us anything useful, we collectively made the decision to go back to my regular eating habits.  Hooray!  I probably broke every rule in the book by running right out for a piece of NY-style pepperoni pizza, but I hadn't had any pizza in months, and I had been craving it like crazy.  So now, back on solid ground, I'm ready to take on this week's meal plan... here goes!

    In the box this week
    (top) Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Zucchini, Marjoram
    (bottom) Carrots, Sugar Snap Peas, Summer Squash, Apples, Blood Oranges, Strawberries

    Meal plan for the week
    Sunday: Pizzas on the grill, one featuring Summer Sqaush, Zucchini and ricotta cheese; Apple Strawberry Crisp (substituting Apples for peaches, Strawberries for raspberries, and Blood Orange for orange)
    Monday: Pasta with Sugar Snap Peas, asparagus and parmesan
    Tuesday: Pot roast with Carrots and potatoes
    Wednesday: Provencal Zucchini and Swiss Chard tart
    Thursday: Mini chicken pot pies with bacon, Carrots and Marjoram

    Lots of cooking planned for this week (including lots of oven time).  Hopefully I'm not being overly ambitious, I think I'm just very excited to have all options back on the table, but this is a lot of cooking.  I guess we'll see next week how much of this we'll get made.  Until then, bon appetit!
    This week's title is inspired by the Radiohead song of the same name.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Week 7 in Review

    The Score
    Eaters -11.5   Compost - 0.5    Carry Over - 0.0!
    Sometimes life surprises you.  I was pretty sure that - given all the limitations of my current 'elimination' diet - the meals this week were going to be awful/bland/nearly inedible, but it turns out that we had a week of mostly delicious meals.  What I was lacking in 'typical' ingredients I was able to make up for with a bunch of delicious produce, along with some great recipes and a bit of creativity.  I certainly wouldn't want to have to eat like this all the time, but for a couple of weeks, I can handle it.  With all that we made, we got closer than we ever have to using up everything before the week was out!  We just have a bit of rosemary left that will be hitting the compost, despite its use in three recipes this week (we also have a huge supply available to us in our backyard). This week, for the first time, we also have some 'in process' pictures to share!

    The Good
    • Fresh organic chicken (from our Health Family Farms CSA) with a herb marinade that featured Rosemary and Bunching Onions - we ate it up so quickly that we neglected to get an 'after' shot
    • The Zucchini-pineapple bread was a HUGE hit (though I have not been able to have some myself)!  I added a cup of shredded Carrots to the recipe, so the cooking time ran over a bit, but the bread was moist and gorgeous, speckled with hues of green, orange and purple from the veggies
    • The curried zucchini soup was simple, summery and scrumptious (and was even enjoyed by one of the boys!)
    • The chicken and spinach pasta was simple - perfect for a Thursday night when everyone was starting to run out of steam (including the cook).  I snuck in some rice/soy pasta noodles so I could eat it too, and no one seemed to notice.  I knew it was a huge success when one of my guys - who typically finds ways to avoid eating any kind of cooked leafy greens - gobbled up the pasta and had seconds, spinach and all!

    The So-So
    • Nothng too exciting about turkey burgers, but the purple lettuce and carrot salad along with the butter lettuce on the burger (no bun for me) made for a pretty plate.  We also all enjoyed the fresh baby artichokes that I had picked up at the farmer's market when picking up our CSA box
    • An impromptu lunchtime meal with buckwheat soba noodles (an allowed food) allowed me to use up the rest of the Bunching onions and some farmer's market asparagus (in place of the peas called for in the recipe) - super simple, quite yummy

    The Ugly
    • Tried my best, but still not a huge quinoa fan.  Lots of flavors (perhaps too many) going on in the Moroccan quinoa pilaf... between that and the textures, it wasn't a favorite

    • The Rosemary white bean dip went wrong for a couple of reasons: 1) I accidentally added back too much of the liquid from the beans, making the texture way too soupy; and 2) given the elimination of lemon due to my citrus restrictions, the dip was missing a key flavor.  I will likely try this again once I'm back 'on' all foods

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Inch by Inch, Row by Row

    SO excited to have gotten my seedlings in the ground today!  It was nearly a two month process from seed to ground.  What started as this on March 10th...

    Turned into this.  Given that this was my first year starting seeds, seeing them go from dirt to plants was super exciting!

    After receiving an awesome package of seeds from my brother-in-law (including some from the amazing Baker Creek - if you like to garden from seed and don't get their catalog, get on their list!), I decided that it would be fun to start more...

    As things grew, I divided them into smaller pots (and gave some away).  Over the last ten days, I hardened off all the seedlings (putting them outside during the day, inside at night)...

    And now, the garden is planted!!


    I've jammed in tomatoes (seven varieties), cucumbers (two varieties), zucchini, tomatillos, peppers (five varieties), chanterais melon, basil, parsley, tarragon, and pumpkins (two varieties).  This is more ambitious than I've ever been, but I'm planning to grow many of the plants vertically, so I'm feeling hopeful.  Everything was from seed with the exception of the tarragon and tomatillos (from the awesome Hayground stand at Santa Monica Farmer's Market), a couple of tomato plants from a gardening friend, and some flowers (marigolds and cosmos) that are needed to attract beneficial insects to the plants that are already blossoming.  Can't wait to see it all grow!  Oh, and eat it too!

    This blog title is inspired by John Denver & The Muppets' 'The Garden Song.'