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CSA Journal: 5 quick lessons from the CSA box
Four months of cooking through a big box of assorted vegetables each week made me a more agile home cook in a lot of ways. Here are some of my favorite techniques I learned, some thanks to Front Burner readers.
- You don’t have to wait for water to boil or a grill to heat to have good corn on the cob.
Reader Steve Blancard told me his favorite way to eat corn is “husked, rubbed with butter and then roasted on the grill over hot coals,” and seasoned with Old Bay. But when he’s pressed for time–as we are lately–he recommends using the microwave.
I’d heard bits and pieces about microwaving corn on the cob, but I’d never really thought it would work. After getting Steve’s e-mail and bringing a newborn into our home, we decided to give it a try.
According to his method, you put unhusked corn straight into the microwave and cook it on high for about four minutes per ear (Exact time will depend on the strength of your microwave–ours takes about 3 and a half minutes per ear.).
Be sure to use oven mitts to remove it, because it will be hot. Once it’s out of the oven, cut off the end of the corn ear that was attached to the stalk with a sharp knife. Once you do this, you should be able to slide the ear out of the husks without dealing with those pesky silks that make husking corn such a mess.
Give it a try, it’s a quick, easy way to get good corn on the cob on the table on a hectic night.
- When it comes to raspberries, live in the now.
The late-summer raspberries we got from our Snead’s CSA were really top-notch. They had a sweetness that not many raspberries achieve.
I had a tendency to want to ration them out to enjoy them as long as possible, while my husband preferred eating them by the huge bowlful.
Turns out, he was right. If you find yourself with good raspberries, by all means eat them quickly, because the really ripe ones won’t last long before they start spoiling.
- Gardening decisions will be easier next year.
Poring over seed catalogs can be dangerous if you don’t have a plan. You get over-ambitious, order all kinds of things that look interesting and fun, and then have way more work on your hands than you can handle come growing season.
Going through a summer with a CSA share (and planning to continue that share next year) has made it a lot more clear what I need to put in the ground next spring. Tomatoes (you can never have enough), herbs, maybe one zucchini plant, and lettuce for salads will pretty much keep me from having to spend any of my weekly food budget on produce.
- Think in terms of techniques, not specific vegetables.
You don’t always have to go to Epicurious.com and find a recipe that specifically calls for kohlrabi, or kale, or whatever it is that showed up in your CSA box this week. If you start to group vegetables in terms of their textures and cooking qualities, you can adapt one technique to an entire family of them.
For example, I now think stir fry when I see many spring vegetables, from green beans to Napa cabbage to, yes, kohlrabi. And I use the same stir-fry recipe and technique for all of these types of vegetables.
Greens, like kale or chard, tend to put me in the mood for baked dishes like lasagnas, quiches or tart-type dishes like spanakopita.
Tender summer veggies like okra and summer squash get me thinking about stewing them in a tomato-based sauce with some onions and garlic.
Eggplant, onions and bell peppers send me reaching for my roasting pan.
The great thing about tomatoes, though, is you don’t have to do a thing to them–the ultimate low-maintenance food.
- With great sides, who needs a main?
One of the most satisfying meals I had all summer came just days after I brought my son home from the hospital. My mom was helping us, and she cooked some of the great variety of that early-July box into an array of vegetable side dishes. There was sauteed corn, squash casserole, blanched broccoli and plain old sliced tomatoes.
It hit the spot and reminded me that vegetables can hold their own on a plate. There’s not always a need for a meat or heavy bean- or grain-based “main dish” when you have so many great smaller dishes to choose from.
If you cook like this, your CSA box can really earn its keep in your weekly food budget, as you won’t feel the need to buy meat or other ingredients for an “entree” to accompany all your beautiful farm-fresh vegetables. Work with what you have, and you’ll feed yourself well.