One of the best things about being a member of a CSA is having a personal relationship with the farmers who grow your food. You learn about the ups and downs of farming in your area, get great tips and recipes for using your veggie share, and sometimes, you get to come home with extra awesome goodies.
Early in our CSA season last year, we were getting one or two large stalks of rhubarb each week, which I used to make crumbles, muffins and scones. But I’d also been itching to try canning some rhubarb, which I mentioned to Maureen at the farm. So when she e-mailed me to say that they were cleaning out their patch for the season and would I like some extra rhubarb, I said, “Yes, Yes, Yes!”
When we showed up to collect our share that week, we also picked up this humongous pile of rhubarb for just a few extra dollars.
That’s quite a pile of rhubarb, sir!
I knew I’d have to act fast to make the most of this unexpected treasure, so I quickly set about washing, chopping and freezing a large portion of it in quart freezer bags to use later. (My sister-in-law called right as I was beginning this process, so I put her on speaker phone and passed my chopping time with some good conversation). With several bags of rhubarb tucked in the freezer for safe keeping, I proceeded to make a recipe I had been eyeing all winter: Orange Rhubarb Butter from Food in Jars by Melissa McLellan.
Rhubarb, with Macie the cat and Carlos the stuffed octopus, for size reference.
Melissa is one of my canning heroes. I love her cookbooks, and her blog Food in Jars is an excellent resource for first-time canners. Melissa focuses on making small batches with just a few pounds of produce, which makes the whole process of canning a lot less intimidating. She offers an amazing archive of recipes and techniques on her website, which I highly recommend.
Three delicious ingredients: rhubarb, orange juice and sugar!
This recipe was super simple and made me realize I want to make more fruit butters. This butter has very simple ingredients, just rhubarb, orange juice and sugar. I combined the three in a pan over medium heat, brought it to a boil and then lowered the heat to a barely bubbly simmer and let it cook. And cook, and cook and cook. Fruit butters are very easy, in that you don’t have to do much, other than be patient and not forget to stir them every once in a while. I proceeded to clean my kitchen, hang out with the cats and catch up on some webcomics, all while my butter was happily cooking away. As long as you stay in the general vicinity of your stove and keep an eye on things, you’ll be fine. After cooking down for about a little over an hour, my butter looked like this.
I kept cooking it for about 40 minutes more, until the butter was thick and glossy. It smelled heavenly!
I then followed basic water bath canning instructions to put the butter up in half-pint jars. (If you’re a first time canner, these instructions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation are very helpful. But my recommendation to any canning newbies is to immediately buy “Put Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton. This book is what made me into a confident water-bath canner, and her simple, meant-for-beginners, step-by-step instructions are the best I’ve seen anywhere. Food in Jars also offers an excellent Canning 101 section, which is another great reference.)
After a 15- minute process in the canner, I had four lovely half pint jars of butter, plus a a little extra, which I scraped into a lidded container and stashed in the fridge. I ate that stash on toast over the next few days and it was gloriously bright and flavorful!
One thing to note about this recipe and rhubarb recipes in general is that the color of your final product can vary significantly from rosy pink to very green, depending on the hue of the rhubarb you started with. Everything I have read or heard on the subject says that the color of rhubarb does not affect its taste or sweetness. In fact, sometimes green rhubarb may actually be sweeter! So feel free to use whatever color or variety of rhubarb you can find, and know that the results will be consistently delicious, even if the color may change.
I took a jar of this butter to my parents’ house when I visited them a few weeks after making it. My Dad has never been a big rhubarb fan, but that didn’t stop him from lapping up this butter with his breakfast. He kept saying, “You know, I don’t really like rhubarb. But I like this!” Thanks, Dad!
It’s tomato and eggplant season, one of my favorite times of the year! Local, fresh tomatoes are so flavorful on their own, I like to keep my preparations pretty simple. This salad combines some CSA lettuce and kale with avocado, tomatoes and an awesome secret ingredient – eggplant bacon! Okay, so maybe calling this “bacon” is a bit of a stretch, but it’s certainly smoky and salty and chewy and adds great texture and flavor to any salad, pasta dish or sandwich. It’s just another amazing creation by my cooking hero, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and she has generously posted the recipe on her blog. You can keep this salad vegan by dressing it with Isa’s Classic Vegan Caesar, or use any dressing you have on hand. If you have an eggplant hater in your life, this salad just might change their tune!
Greenhouse at Intervale Farm
For the past seven years, we have purchased a Summer CSA share from Intervale Family Farm. Each Thursday from June – October, we stop at the farm on our way home from work and come home with the freshest, tastiest, most beautiful produce you can imagine. If you’re unfamiliar with the CSA (Community Supporting Agriculture) concept, the basic idea is that a farm offers seasonal “shares” of their harvest that are purchased ahead of time by individuals. This provides farmers with more financial resources to work with early in the season and the reassurance of already having regular customers lined up. For the consumer, buying a share guarantees a regular supply of quality local produce, usually at a fraction of grocery store prices.
An early season weekly share from our CSA.
CSAs come in all shapes and sizes, and the details of what you get and how you get it (some CSAs will deliver to your door!) can vary greatly. Check out the Local Harvest website for more information about CSAs in general and how to go about finding one that meets your needs.
We have thoroughly enjoyed asparagus season this year. We roasted bunch after bunch of it on the grill and added those deeply flavorful, smoky spears to pasta dishes, salads, sandwiches and anything else we could think of. We also devoured a fair bit of it straight off the grill, delaying only long enough to avoid burning our fingers and tongues.
Now that the season is winding down, I wanted to try putting up a little bit of that summery goodness to enjoy this winter. I used a recipe from The Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chesman. This book has a great chapter of recipes that were developed to be made “by the pint”. So you can use up that last little bit of produce you have on hand, or you can scale the recipe up as needed if you have a larger harvest.
This method worked well, as I had earmarked two bunches of asparagus for this little canning project, not enough for some of the larger batch recipes I had seen. The asparagus was very easy to process, as there was no chopping, peeling or salt soaking involved. I added some whole garlic and lemon peel to each jar, as directed in the recipe, and ended up with three pints of beautiful pickled asparagus.
With pickles, I always like to wait at least six weeks before opening a jar, to let the flavors fully develop, so stay tuned for a taste test down the road!
mocha mamas from vegan cookies invade your cookie jar
When I’m in the mood for a fancy coffee, I always choose a cafe mocha. Coffee and chocolate were meant for each other, and that goes for baked goods as well as hot beverages. This is illustrated by two great recipes from my cooking hero, Isa Chanda Moskowitz.
Mocha Mamas are one of my favorites from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I first made these at the last minute for a work celebration, and they were a big hit. Light and fluffy, with a nice coffee flavor and a simple but impressive icing drizzle, these can take your coffee break to a whole new level.
mocha chip muffins from vegan brunch
If you’re more of a muffin person, try the Mocha Chip Muffins from Vegan Brunch. Chocolate Chip muffins have always been my favorite, and this is a solid basic recipe, with the addition of a coffee kick. Perfect for warming you up on a wintry morning.
This time of year, I want to put pumpkin in everything, so I’d been craving Pumpkin Baked Ziti from Veganomicon. (I didn’t have ziti, so I used elbows – pumpkin mac!) This creamy, comforting casserole with caramelized onions and a savory crunchy topping is always a winner. I’ve taken it to church suppers, given it to friends recovering from surgery and served it for Christmas dinner. It’s that good. Paired with some roasted brussels sprouts from the CSA, it was a highly satisfying fall meal.
Left to Right: Salsa Verde, Dill Spears, Spicy Pickled Carrots, Marinara, Bread & Butter Chips and Onion Yellow Squash Relish
We spent some serious time in the late summer putting up a portion of the harvest from our garden and the bounty of our CSA. We had never done water-bath canning before and relied on the excellent recipes in Put ’em Up! by Sherry Brooks Vinton. It’s an encouraging and upbeat beginners guide, full of step by step details and fun recipes that aren’t too complicated. Everything we made came out great, and not a single jar failed to seal – even though we weren’t actually using a canner, just a big metal pot we had gotten at a tag sale. And best of all, the results have all been delicious. Once we started doing it, it got kind of addictive. (We ended up with 22 pints of pickles!) I already can’t wait until next year.
We wanted to do something special with the first Yukon Gold potatoes we harvested from the garden, so we decided to cook up an outdoor brunch on the deck with our camp stove. (I don’t know why, but cooking outside just makes everything taste better).
I fried the potatoes into a simple hash with onions, fennel and red pepper flakes and paired it with some fresh eggs from our CSA. I have to say, breakfast doesn’t get much better than this.
You know I like to eat blueberries in their simplest state, but I also love putting them in baked goods. So I was psyched to finally try the recipe for Fudgy Wudgy Blueberry Brownies from Veganomicon, which I have been eyeing for some time.
Well, let me just say, these brownies are crazy. In a good way. They contain two different forms of blueberry (fresh berries and blueberry spreadable fruit) and THREE different forms of chocolate (cocoa, melted chocolate and chocolate chips). The batter was a little unwieldy at times, but it all came out deliciously in the end. They were rich and quite fudgy, and the blueberries and chocolate were a perfect pairing.
Vegetarian Times recently featured a recipe for shell peas grilled whole in the pod and eaten like edamame – a genius idea that I immediately wanted to try. Luckily I had a mess of peas from the CSA sitting in the crisper, and I had been feeling kind of lazy about shelling them.
So instead, I blanched them whole in boiling water for about two minutes, drained, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, wrapped them in a foil packet and put them on the grill on medium for about 20 minutes, pulling back the foil to toss them occasionally.
When all the peas looked shriveled and some were starting to brown and caramelize, I took them off the grill and let them cool a bit. We sat on the porch and feasted on them, pulling each pod through our teeth to scrape out the peas and then tossing the empty pods in a bowl bound for the compost. It was a fun and tasty snack that would be a great cookout appetizer alongside chips and salsa.