Sometimes you have to improvise...

This week was one of those weeks we open up our Farm Share box and think, "hmm...now what are we going to do with this?"  Farmer Dave, in our weekly newsletter, informed us that we would be receiving an "emergency box" this week with minimal produce from outside the state of MA.  Really, the box wasn't too different from other weeks where we receive a variety of produce items we've never cooked with before.  This week, we just had less of a wide variety of produce to work with.

After we pulled out our salad mix, an eggplant, parsnips, beets, and some apple and grapefruit, we got to the bottom of the box and saw this:

The first thing that popped into my mind was how much these root vegetables looked like creatures from Harry Potter...the "Mandrake" root the Hogwarts students had to repot.

The second thing that popped into my mind was the question I mentioned before..."hmm, now what are we going to do with this?"

Fortunately, Farmer Dave sends us a list of produce we might receive, so I guessed correctly that it was celery root and didn't have to search too far and wide for what these things actually were.  I went to Epicurious.com, found a recipe for root vegetable gratin, had an idea of what to do with them, and went to work.

I took the parsnips, celery root, and potatoes and made the root vegetable gratin.  When it comes to cooking, I try to go for things that are quick and easy yet flavorful.  We didn't have any heavy cream as the recipe called for (and in an effort to cook healthier, I wouldn't have wanted to use it anyway) so in its stead I whipped some milk and ricotta together.  I sliced all the veggies with our mandoline, piled them up in a baking dish with thyme, rosemary, and nutmeg sprinkled between, then dumped the ricotta/milk mixture along with some vegetable broth on top of the vegetables and baked at 350 for about 45 minutes.  The result was really good--and surprisingly my husband really liked it.  What was great is the flavor of the vegetables weren't lost, and the tanginess of the parsnips was a nice compliment to the heartiness of the other vegetables.

Here are some pictures from the process of putting the gratin together...

The celery root before peeling and slicing.  I should have taken a picture of the celery root once sliced.  The texture is so different than what I expected.  Once peeled, the inside is surprisingly spongy and has the strongest aroma of, what I should have guessed, celery!

Peeled parsnips.

The gratin, baked.

Our meal that night, the gratin rounded off with kale and kielbasa.

Apple Pie

I participated in a bake sale once and, for a lack of time, bought slice and bake cookies to make.  I've never been a big baker and for that reason I always ate slice and bake--they were my go-to for casual functions when I was supposed to bring dessert.  However, after reading and emailing a friend the ingredient list (in case we had to disclose ingredients to purchasers who were worried about allergies), I vowed never to bake slice and bake again.

And thus my journey to TRY to become a baker.

It's been hit or miss when baking from scratch.  I made muffins once when a friend was in town that were horrible: eggy, flat, and greasy.  I've also made cookies that turned into pancakes.  I have had a few victories: some really good chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (recipe from Food & Wine--amazing), I did vindicate myself by making some better muffins...and I can do pies.

Apple pie is one of my favorite desserts.  We had a ton of apples from our Farm Share that needed to be eaten, so I made one yesterday! 

With our mandoline, I sliced thin (1/8-inch thick) slices of apple (I didn't even peel the apples).  Between a 1/2 inch-thick layer of apple slices I would sprinkle sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg--and I also drizzled some honey.  I had three layers of apples with the sprinkling in between, topped it with the crust, then threw it in the oven.  Really easy, and aside from the butter in the crust (which, if making pie crust, you know there will be a lot of butter) there is nothing else "unhealthy"--just loads of apples and a touch of sugar!

Pie Crust

* 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (I used 2 c. all-purpose, then 1/2 c. whole wheat)
* 1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
* 1 tsp (or 1 3 fingered pinch) salt
* 2 tbs sugar
* 4-8 tbs ice water

Crusts can be frustrating to make, but the key is keeping it cold.  After cutting the butter sticks into small cubes, throw them in the freezer for a while.  Then, add the butter to the flour, salt and sugar mixture and use your fingers (or a food processor) to mix the butter with the dry ingredients.  You want to work the butter and flour into pea-sized lumps of flour.  Then, 2 tbs at a time, add the water until you have a dough.  Don't mix the water in too much (otherwise the dough gets "tough").  After you have a dough you separate it into 2 discs of dough, place each disc on parchment paper, then put them in the fridge to cool.  When ready, roll the dough with a rolling pin and they are ready to bake!  (If the dough is difficult to get off the parchment paper, throw it back in the fridge for a few minutes.  The parchment paper should peel off more easily.)  I used the Ratio book by Michael Ruhlman for the pie crust recipe.

400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 375 for 45 minutes.

Cooking with Kale

So one of the other popular items during the winter in our Farm Share, aside from root vegetables, is hearty winter greens.  We've turned them into soups, put them in lasagna...but this time we just sauteed them up with some bacon, pine nuts and garlic and had them as a side.  Delicious!

(Recipe from Gourmet, found on epicurious.com.  We halved this recipe for the two of us and added pine nuts.)

Winter Greens with Bacon

* 2 1/2 lbs kale (about 4 bunches), tough stems and center ribs cut off and discarded (we also added collard greens because we had them)
* 10 slices bacon (1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 2 c. water

Stack a few kale leaves and roll lengthwise into a cigar shape.  Cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wide strips with a sharp knife.  Repeat with remaining leaves.

Cook bacon in a wide 6- to 8-qt heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, then transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.  Pour off and discard all but 3 tbs fat from pot, then cook garlic in remaining fat over moderately low heat, stirring, until pale golden, about 30 seconds.  Add kale (pot will be full) and cook, turning with tongs, until wilted and bright green, about 1 minute.  Add water and simmer, partially covered, until just tender, 6-10 minutes.  Toss with bacon and salt and pepper to taste.


To Bring Us Up-to-Date...

While my husband and I have been Farm Share members since September 2009, this is the first time I have posted a blog entry.  I have often thought about beginning a blog to discuss our Farm Share experiences and recipes, and I'm not sure what prompted me to take the step to actually begin a blog, but here goes.  It's not that I feel our experience with or knowledge of food is so noteworthy that others will benefit from hearing our stories.  Instead, being a member of a Farm Share brings such benefits, joys and fun challenges that I simply like to talk about it.  I also believe sharing our experiences may peak others' interest in being a member of a local Farm Share. 

Being a Farm Share member truly is an adventure, and one we enjoy every single day.  It has changed the way we view what we eat, how we shop at the grocery store (if and when we have to), and interact with the community.  For more information about the Farm Share in which we participate, please visit http://www.enterpriseproduce.com/.

We have a lot of experiences from the past several months I would love to share (my first time cooking with beets, turnips, and parsnips; being creative with what to do with loads of winter greens--kale, chard, dandelion greens, etc.--including lasagna and impromptu soups; the amazing salads we make with minimal effort; the hearty potato, squash, and vegetable dishes...), however, for simplicity's sake I will start sharing stories of our cooking and eating from this date forward.

To tell you a little about why we signed up for a farm share... 

We became members of a Farm Share after I read an article in Southern Living about local growers in the Virginia area.  We were in Washington, D.C. for the summer, and while we never made it out to the farms closer to Charlottesville, VA, we did frequent the wonderful farmers' markets in D.C.  My husband and I are both gradute students in Boston, so after discussing our budget and weekly food needs, we decided to sign up for a Boston-area farm share.  The impetus for our decision to support Community Supported Agriculture stemmed from many sources: our desire to know where our food comes from (geographically and how it's grown), the desire to support local farmers, and really, the simple desire to eat better food.  Getting a box of vegetables and produce once a week forces us to be creative with our meals and eat food that we may not otherwise.  Since then, our participation has been reinforced by knowledge we continue to gain about the food industry.  We read In Defense of Food and recently watched Food, Inc., which forever changed how we view the products in the aisles of supermarkets and what meat products we purchase.  I don't mean for this blog to be a political commentary, so I stop there.  But suffice it to say we are happy to support local, American growers by participating in Community Supported Agriculture.