Blogging the CSA

26 04 2010

Last year we bought a half share in a local farm through Community Supported Agriculture.  It was really neat going to the farm every Friday afternoon and seeing what had come in that week.  And there were vegetables (or varieties of staples) that we’d never heard of.  The produce was so beautiful that this year we bought a whole share.

This faces us with several challenges.  First, there’s no way Karen and I can eat all that food.  We’ve got to get the boys eating more veggies or we’ll waste a sizable portion of what we bring home.  The other challenge is us.  We realized quickly last year that there were lots of foods that we simply didn’t know how to cook.  It was an eye opening experience.

We’re really looking forward to our first harvest in May, so I asked myself “How could I make this a lot harder?”  My answer was this.  I’m going to blog about the CSA.  The kinds of foods, how we cook them, what goes with them.  It’s a true education about food.  My goals are simple: First, use everything.  No more hearty greens in the fridge to rot because I didn’t know how to prepare them.  Learn, do, consume.  Second, blog about it.  There’s going to be a lot of food, so this one may be as tough as getting the boys to eat their share.

Implicit in this goal is the fact that we’re going to be eating more vegetables this summer.  So we’ll be eating healthier, and hopefully that will also have a positive impact on all of us.

Wish us luck!





My first baguettes

6 04 2010

We were committed.  We were making French onion soup.  The recipe called for baguette croutons, and that’s when Karen said the unthinkable.  “Great.  Panera is on the way home so I’ll pick up some baguettes and we’ll take it from there.”

Buy baguettes?

We were going through all this trouble to make this perfect broth from scratch, and she wanted to buy baguettes?  Clearly she’d had too much on her mind lately and she’d forgotten herself.  Good thing I am fearless, and although the only bread I’d ever made was pizza dough I said I’d make the baguettes for the soup.  And if they were terrible, at least I’d get an amusing blog post about how I not only ruined the bread but also the soup by association.  So I went to the authorities on making bread: The flour people.  The lovely folks at King Arthur Flour had this recipe to follow:

Baguette bread by the nice King Arthur Flour people

A great place to start.  Even better, I learned a new word immediately upon reading the recipe.  Poolish.  What’s a poolish?  Apparently it’s a mixture of flour, water, and yeast that’s set overnight on a very slow rise so that it can add lots of good flavor to the bread.  I learned from Alton Brown that slow rise = better flavor.  So how much yeast goes into a poolish?  A pinch.  That’s right, they actually called for a pinch of yeast.  That’s scientific. Fortunately I have the tools required:

So here was my poolish when I mixed it:

And here it was the next day:

Yeah.  I know.  Another couple days and I’d be bowing before it and doing its bidding.  After this part, the recipe is kind of self-directed.  Mix, knead, rise.  Standard stuff.  I found lots of very good instructions on how to roll and shape the loaves on Youtube.  This one was particularly useful:

You know what?  They weren’t as easy to roll as he made it seem.  This dough is sticky and as you peel it off the counter it gets longer and skinnier than you expect it to.  So here they were before they went into the oven:

And after:

I’ve heard people on the Food Network talk about baguettes.  Easy to learn but difficult to master, you know the type?  Well I’m no master, but these will do just fine.  And they were way better than Panera, and do you know why?  Because I made them myself, that’s why.

So, now you want to know about the soup, don’t you?  Well, it turned out great.  French onion soup is supposed to have melted cheese on top.  Notice that the only cheese is a little bit sprinkled on the baguette croutons.  This is, after all, from Cooking Light.  Next time I’ll add more cheese.  Karen found an awesome recipe for sandwiches to go on my awesome bread:

Baguette Cheese Tomato Sandwiches

And we had a perfect soup and sandwich night.

A lot of work? Heck yes.  Worth it?  Oh my, yes.





A labor of love

4 04 2010

Karen loves French onion soup.  She always has.  She’s begged me to make some for over a year now.  I never have because I was intimidated by it.  Think of it.  It’s all about the broth.  There your broth stands, almost alone, with no one to hide behind.  And I don’t make my own stock that often.  So I was scared.  But finally I relented.  We found a recipe in Cooking Light’s Soups & Stews cookbook for the soup.

It calls for beef stock and beef consomme.  Beef stock sounds pretty straightforward, but you know me, I over think everything.  And everyone has their own idea for how to make beef stock.  Tom Colicchio doesn’t make beef stock; he makes veal stock.  No wonder his food is so expensive.   In the end I chose a recipe that called for roasting some bone-in meat before boiling it.  We chose beef shanks and oxtails.

Karen made the stock, and truthfully that’s probably why everything else turned out so well.  The next day I set about making the consomme.  This is the entertaining part, since I didn’t read the recipe before setting to work.  It said to blend ground beef, celery, carrots, onion, egg and beef stock well.  Now, when I read “blend” it means put it in the blender.  The mixture went from this:

to this:

It looked like vomit.  I was horrified at this point, so I read in some of my other books, and they say merely to mix everything together.  I can see how that would be better.  But I’ve reached the point of no return so I put the heat to it.  The egg white is supposed to congeal everything together at the top into what they call the raft, leaving clear broth below.  You’re supposed to disturb the raft as little as possible, but poke a hole in it so the bubbles can rise to the surface as it simmers.  Honestly, for a long time it still looked like vomit.  But I finally saw a glimmer of hope with as the raft took shape.

See some clear broth in there?  I was cautiously optimistic.  Now, getting the broth out without disturbing the raft is another issue.  I decided to use a turkey baster and it worked really well.  And to my surprise, a perfectly clear broth emerged.

Hope?  Now I’m excited to make the soup.  Karen takes it from here and makes the finished product.  I’m busy with other things, as you’ll see in the next post.  We were wondering how clear the broth is supposed to be in the finished product, but the recipe calls for corn meal so it’s not going to be crystal clear.  What you see is not the finished product, but merely the soup portion of the meal.  There are also croutons and cheese included in the recipe, but that’s another post.

...to be continued...

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