In search of healthy and fun meals to feed my family, with an eye toward sustainable living.

Here you'll find recipes & ramblings about keeping my family fed with what's available in Alaska between local produce, a little bit of wild harvest, and the modern grocery store.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

What's a CSA box?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and is a concept that has been around for a while, but only recently has caught on in the American mainstream. I just found out, interestingly, the idea started in the mid 1960's in Germany and Switzerland, and was based on the economic ideas of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf School education.
The idea is simple: local farmers are supported by people in nearby urban populations -- if enough people get together, they can contract the farmer to keep them supplied with fresh produce throughout the growing season, supporting local sustainable agriculture based on ecologically sound practices.

Originally, most CSAs would work thus: you prepay the farmer (let's say $300), and then all summer long you receive your "share" in weekly produce boxes. Some farms even had the city dwellers come out and help with harvest at the farm every week.

Gradually CSAs became more "user-friendly", and you could choose when the boxes come -- so if you went away on vacation, you didn't end up with produce going to waste. Some now even allow you to choose the contents of the box (hate kohlrabi? then substitute carrots...)

We get out produce from Glacier Valley Farm in the nearby Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and this time of year it's a mixture of organic produce from Alaska and Outside (that's what Alaskans call the rest of the US). Another popular CSA around here is Full Circle Farm which ships its produce from the the Pacific Northwest.

So every week on Wednesdays, we pick up our CSA box. It's a little bit like Christmas: opening the box and finding out what goodies await your culinary experiments this week (but first it's time to hit the recipe books...)!

It's interesting to me how, after having lived all over the world and tasted many cuisines (and I love exotic produce and ethnic foods!), I'm now coming "home" to the recipes of Northern Europe -- heavily reliant on potatoes, apples, carrots, the cabbage family, etc...

Beets galore

Our CSA box contained red beets both this week and last: this week they came with the leaves attached, and those are very tasty (see last recipe below "Eggs in a Nest").

It's been a while since I've cooked with beets -- I'd forgotten how much I like them, and was pleasantly surprised that the Prof likes them too (still working on the kids-- they're suspicious of food that's this RED).

Borscht is not in my culinary background, but I did grow up eating cold "Rote Beete" picked beet salads. Here's the recipe from the GlacierValley CSA website, very similar to what I ate -- can be served hot or cold.

beet salad with horseradish dressing

You will LOVE this recipe, even if you’re a beet skeptic. It uses the beets, stems, and leaves—and the red wine vinegar and the sharp horseradish contrast really well with the sweet, earthy taste of beets. This recipe is adapted from one in Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.

1 bunch beets, washed
the beet greens and stems
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste
1 garlic clove, finely minced

1. Put whole, unpeeled beets in a baking dish or dutch oven and put ¼” of water in the dish. Cover tightly with foil or the lid of the dutch oven and bake them until tender when stabbed with a paring knife. Usually they take 40 minutes or longer, but young beets might be quicker, depending on their size. Remove from the oven and let them cool.
(Note-- Germans just boil them on the stove in a pot of water, and test whether it's done with a knitting needle --I'm not making this up!)
2. While the beets are roasting and then cooling, wash the greens and cut the stems off the greens. Chop the stems into ½” pieces. Steam the chopped stems in a steamer until they are tender. Remove them from the steamer and then steam the greens until tender. Drain the greens and chop them up a bit.
3. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip their skins off. Cut in halves lengthwise and then crosswise into ¼”-thick slices, or in wedges—as you prefer. Put them in a bowl with the greens and stems.
4. Mix up the remaining ingredients, pour the dressing over the beets and greens, and toss. Adjust the seasonings with more vinegar, salt, and/or horseradish. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I dug out my German recipe book, and here are some more things you can do with beets, and they are a bit richer!

Hot Beet Puree in Horseradish Cream
(from The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton)

2 pounds beets, boiled until tender, peeled and pureed
5 slices bacon (Canadian or other)
2-3 T freshly grated horseradish (or 1T prepared)
1/2 c sweet cream (use sourcream if you're using prepared horseradish)

Fry the bacon until crisp, add beet puree, horseradish & cream. Serve hot.

Raw Beet Salad
(from The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton)

6 medium sized beets
2-3 T vinegar (or lemon juice)
4-6 T sour cream or yoghurt
1 T finely minced onion
salt/ sugar to taste
2 t caraway seeds (chopped or crushed)
optional green herbs

Wash beets, peel and wash again. Grate beets and add marinade. Let sit for 2 hours before serving.

Last, but not least, here's a great recipe for the leaves, which you can use for just about any dark leafy greens (even the kids loved it, and that's saying something!). Our box also contained bok choy, so I put some in with the beet greens and spinach -- can use any combination of greens that appeals, even wild greens in spring.
Note: Leafy greens are extremely good for us: high in Omega 3's, anti-oxidants, iron, etc. -- but don't tell the kids!

Eggs in a Nest

(adapted from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver)

1 onion, chopped
garlic, chopped (optional)
olive oil
several carrots, chopped
dried tomatoes (optional)
1 really large bunch of dark leafy greens (chard, beet greens, spinach, etc)
4 eggs

Saute onions & garlic in olive oil. Add carrots, tomatoes w/ a little water as needed. Cover with lid and let carrots get soft. Add the greens, cover until wilted. Make indentations w/ back of a spoon. Crack eggs and place into dents. Cover w/ lid, and poach for 3-5 minutes. Serve over rice or toast.

Quick, easy & yumm!

In praise of my breakfast-cooking husband

It's Saturday, and I don't have to be at work until noon. We've already had our cup of coffee with biscotti, and now the Prof (my husband) is in the kitchen with the pixie in tow to cook us breakfast: Smoked salmon omelettes -- one of my favorites, and nobody makes them as yummy as he does!

Pixie (11 years old) is learning how to chop the onions and peppers just right, teenage son is catching up on his beauty sleep, and I'm lying in bed (yes, propped up with pillows and laptop in my lap), and I get to launch my new blog! Good smells are wafting in from downstairs -- ahhh, this is heaven on earth!

Friday, February 27, 2009

What shall we have for supper?

No sooner have I cooked a meal and the fam has devoured it, I find myself scratching my head: what shall I cook for the next meal?
As a mom, I have to think about food a great deal of the time -- I need to procure it, store it, cook it, serve it, clean up after it. Further, my job description includes that it be timely, healthy, tasty, and appeal to the different family members.
Let's meet the players, shall we:

There are picky eaters: "But, MOM! You know I don't like..." That's not much of a problem in my family -- they're pretty good about eating a variety, willing to try new things, and mostly appreciate my cooking. I do occasionally hear "MOM, you're the best cook!" Music to my motherly ears...

There are hungry starving masses, who walk in the door "I'm starving! What can I eat. NOW?!?" They can't possibly wait for dinner...

There are the sceptics: "What's in this -- what are these green/brown/red/purple things?".
Plus, I frequently get asked the question of "What's for dinner?" in the middle of the afternoon, and woe to me if I don't have an answer...

There are the condimenteurs (my own term), who feel everything tastes better if you add salt/sugar/ketchup/peanut butter... For crying out loud, can't you just taste it first without ruining it?...

And last, but not least: "Is that all?" and "What's for dessert?"

So, I've started writing about my family's adventures with food.
When I was in college, I read Francis Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet, and it rang very true for me, and I promptly became a vegetarian -- to save the planet! That lasted less than a decade: when I was pregnant with my first child, I started craving meat, and realized my body needed the protein, iron, etc. I still love vegetarian food, and prefer a diet that's not too centered on meat, but believe that humans are squarely in the omnivore category.
Last year, my eldest daughter (in college), who knows and thinks a great deal about food and is also an excellent cook, suggested I read Michael Pollen's In Defense of Food and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Excellent books, very thought-provoking.

So we're trying to eat more local food (we buy a weekly CSA box & farmer's markets), we've always enjoyed Alaska's wild harvest (salmon, blueberries, etc.), plus there's the good old grocery store. I personally don't tend toward extremism, and can't see my family repeating Kingsolver's experiment of eating only local organic food (much as I admire that, it's very difficult here in Alaska) -- but I'm becoming more and more aware of how our food is produced.

Middle child Wolf (high school freshman), was assigned to read Pollen's writing in his science class this week. Bravo to the teacher: what an excellent assignment -- great discussions! Like the rest of our family, this child is always thinking, questioning, wondering.
Yesterday over dinner I witnessed the following exchange with dad:
son: "Are organic vegetables really better for you?"
dad: "Marginally. But organic is better for the planet."
son: "I can see that. Less chemical fertilizers and pesticides, right?"

Alleluja, the next generation is on board! One meal at a time...