Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Love Note to Julio and Baby Bok Choy

Dear Julio,
Thank you for leaving a basket of baby bok choy, white sweet potatoes, and zucchini on my doorstep this weekend. It was very sweet of you to think of me. Yes, I do understand that it is your job, and I pay the company that employs you to get me those vegetables, but I still think it's pretty cool of you.You're alright.


PS...I'm sorry my dog hates you.

I'm pretty stoked about finding a CSA in my area. Let's be real. Daytona Beach is not the agricultural capital of the world. Although Florida grows a variety of different crops, there isn't really a huge market for local, exciting produce in my community. The farmer's markets in the area feature a couple local growers who offer traditional southern crops, but most of the venders there are selling produce straight from a grocery store boxes. Not local at all. As a person who gets more excited about heirloom variety vegetales than about diamonds, this lack of variety in my community bums me out. Plenty of jewelry stores, incidentally.

SO, I was really excited to find Front Porch Pickins, a local CSA.

Let's talk about CSAs for a second. If you aren't familiar with them, CSA stands for "community supported agriculture," and is a system in which consumers recieved produce directly from the farmers who grow it. While this is similar to a farmer's market, a CSA differs in that you, as a subscriber, pay in advance for the goods you are receiving. This helps fund the farmers in advance, and you reap the delicious benefits throughout the growing season.

Helping your local farmers is one benefit of a CSA, but there are a couple more. When you become a subscriber, you are paying for a different basket weekly produce, but you don't necessarily know exactly what that basket will contain.  Although many CSA's will post seasonal charts on their website to give you an idea of what may come in, your basket may contain a few surpises, and often items that you have never seen or eaten before. While some might consider this a disadvantage, I like to think of it as a benefit and a challenge! Learning about and adding new vegetables to your diet is a great thing, and it can be such a fun adventure to learn how to prepare and cook them.

Yet another benefit of a CSA is the direct path of the vegetables from the farmer to you. They are not packed into crates, loaded onto a giant semi, and driven across the country just to sit in a grocery store for a week before you get to it. They are picked, and within a week they are in your fridge and ready to be eaten. You will never find produce as fresh as you will when you get it from the grower. The flavor is better, and they are some of the most beautiful veggies you will ever get.

I've been a member of my CSA for about three weeks, and have been pleased with the variety of produce I have gotten. If you are in the area, check them out.

I know I have a lot of Virginia readers, so if you haven't found Horse & Buggy Produce yet, it's time. They are the bomb-diggity. And yes, people do still say that. People = me.

For my Tallahassee friends out there, I have been told that Orchard Pond Organics is pretty awesome as well.

So, with my case for CSAs completed, here is a recipe using the baby bok choy I got in my basket this week. It is simple, but really delicious. It is in season in the south right now, so try to get your hands on some.

A note about washing this vegetable: it can be tricky. The key is to cut it up first (everything but the base, which should be removed), submerge in a bowl of cold water, swish it around, and then remove the bok choy by hand into a strainer. Do not pour the whole bowl of water and bok choy into the strainer, or you will get all the dirt with the vegetables. Dry completely before using with either a lettuce spinner or a kitchen towel.


Spicy Stir-Fried Bok Choy
1.5 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1lb baby bok choy, cut into bite-sized pieces, stems and leaves separated
1/2 cup green onions, diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

1. Heat canola oil in wok or large skillet over high heat.
2. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute for 1 minute.
3. Add bok choy stems and cook for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add bok choy leaves, green onions, and salt. Stir-fry for 2-3 more minutes, or until vegetables are tender but not mushy.
5. Remove from heat, transfer to serving dish. Drizzle with sesame oil and garnish with sesame seeds.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cleaning Out the Fridge and Fried Rice

One of the things I hate, most of all, is throwing food away. My contempt for this activity exists on many levels. 

First is the obvious fact that there are millions of people in this world that don't have enough to eat. To throw away my food while they have none, well, it hurts. Rationally, I understand that I can't exactly box-up my old leftover butternut squash soup and send it to Liberia, but it still sucks.

The second, less powerful but still significant reason is the small fact that I paid for that food. With my money. So essentially, I am throwing my cash in the trash. And that ain't cool.

Lastly, throwing away food makes me feel like a failure in the kitchen - like I didn't plan enough, wasn't resourceful enough, or creative enough to put it to use.

Did I mention that I hate throwing away food?

Luckily, I am able to prevent this from happening the majority of the time by throwing together some "clean out the pantry" dishes. These are meals that have a multitude of interchangeable ingredients centered around a few kitchen staples and usually include the use of leftovers from previous meals. Things like grain salads, pizzas (using any leftover roasted/cooked veggies), and soups can usually be thrown together from whatever you have sitting in your fridge.

To make room for my produce delivery today, I wanted to clean out all the veggies I bought this week, along with the big container of cooked brown rice I made on Monday. I always make a big pot of grains in the beginning of the week to throw in lunches, but I didn't end up using it all this week. So, I decided today was a perfect day for my Easy Fried Rice. Awesome name, huh?  It is what it is.

You start with cooking your protein. I prefer to use tofu for this. It has a similar texture to egg, which is used in traditional fried rice. I go vegan as often as possible, but if you want to use egg, fry it up first in a little oil and set aside before starting the rest of your dish. Or, use a little tofu and a little egg - it's delicious.

Then you cut up whatever veggies you have on hand - and I really do mean whatever you have. Today I used carrots, turnip greens, bean sprouts, mushrooms, peas, anaheim peppers, garlic, ginger, and green onion, but I have used all kinds of veggies in the past, including zucchini, spinach, corn, summer squash, bell pepper, red onion, arugula, cabbage, bok choy, kale, chard, broccoli, green beans, you name it!

The few ingredients I always like to have in there are garlic, scallions, peas, and greens of some kind. The first three add a lot of flavor, and the greens up the health factor of this dish significantly.

Ok, so you cook your vegetables on high in a little oil, starting with the sturdiest vegetables first (carrot, onion, green beans) and then adding the quicker cooking vegetables a little later. You want them to cook evenly. Add your minced garlic and ginger, then you throw in your rice, scallions, tofu, and soy sauce, cook a little longer, and serve.

The key is to make small batches at a time and to cook on high, to get the "stir-fried" taste and to keep the texture of the vegetables and the rice firm. Big batches will yield a big pile of mush.

This is a perfect weeknight dinner, because it is a complete meal in a bowl, AND because it only uses one cutting board and one wok. For those of you out there without a dishwasher, like me, you know the value of a one-pot meal. The task of doing the dishes by hand after a completely homemade meal can be a daunting one.

This is also a good dish if you are trying to introduce tofu to a non-believer. It plays a minor role here, but tastes good as part of the whole package.

The recipe below is an approximate one. No need to bust out the measuring cups here. For the veggies, "handfuls" will work just find. Enjoy!

Easy Fried Rice
Tofu Ingredients
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 block extra firm tofu, diced
sea salt
black pepper

Rice Ingredients
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup shredded turnip greens (or any green)
1/2 cup anaheim peppers, diced
1/2 cup mushrooms, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup bean sprouts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
3 cups cooked brown rice
3/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
cilantro for garnish (optional)
chili sauce for garnish (optional)

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large wok on medium/high heat. Swirl oil around the bottom of the pan, and immediately add tofu and season with salt and pepper. Cook tofu on medium high until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

2. Heat another tablespoon of oil in wok and turn heat to high. Add carrots, greens, and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes. Add mushrooms, bean sprouts and frozen peas, cooking for 3 more minutes.

3. Create a well in the middle of your pan by pushing vegetables aside. Put a small amount of oil in the middle, and place your garlic and ginger in the oil. Fry for 1 minute. Stir in rice and 1/2 cup green onions. Cook for 3-4 more minutes, stirring when needed to prevent burning. Rice should get a little crispy.

4. Add soy sauce, stir to combine, and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Transfer to serving bowl immediately and garnish with cilantro and chili sauce.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Parmesan Garlic Dressing

A friend asked me to make some parmesan garlic dressing. An assignment you say? Yes please!
I am going to take a break from my usually verbose writing method and just give you the recipe for this super delicious dressing without fanfare. Here it is. Super yummy. Use it on salad, meat, vegetables, ok anything.

Enjoy Krista!

Parmesan Garlic Dressing
1 head roasted garlic*
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 shallots
1/4 cup chives, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 chunk parmgiano-reggiano (roughly the size of a golf ball)

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Drink directly from blender. Just kidding. But you might want to.

For a creamier variation, replace 1/4 cup olive oil with vegan or regular mayo.

*For notes on roasting garlic, see my grilled corn bruschetta post. Scroll to the bottom for a how-to.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kid-Friendly Week: Sweet Potato Fries w/Lemon, Rosemary, & Thyme

I love sweet potatoes.

I am hoping you have yet to notice that most of my blog posts begin with the statement "I love (insert vegetable here)." While the writer in me feels the need to change this and create more innovative, attention-grabbing opening lines, I am also inclined to embrace the repetition and call it my "signature phrase." It's completely intentional and endearing. Right?

Anyway, I DO love sweet potatoes. I have been known, on occasion, to make an entire dinner out of a baked sweet potato with whole lot of Earth Balance, and a little salt. Completely satisfying.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Kid-Friendly Week: Mashed Cauliflower

This week, a friend asked me if I had an kid-friendly vegetable ideas. I don't actually have kids unless you count our new dog Tommy who acts very much like a small child minus the talking part.

However, I do have a young brother who was one of those picky kids - the kind who has a very specific list of foods he deems to be edible, and a long, long list of foods that will never pass his lips. It can be a challenge, especially if your kids didn't grow up trying all kinds of food.
The good news is, there are a number of healthy, veg-centered dishes that help fill vegetable quota for the day, and can hopefully increase the variety your kids are eating without them necessarily knowing it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Guest Post: Tempeh Reubens

Check out my guest post on the fabulous Peas in a Blog with a new recipe for Tempeh Reubens.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Spicy Vegetarian Chili

YESSSS!!!!! There is a chill in the air. You know the feeling.
Yesterday was the type of morning when you can actually feel the seasons change. Here in Florida, I wait and wait for that day. While the rest of the country is going to apple orchards and putting up Halloween decorations, I wait. It feels wrong to drink cider or bust out the candy corn when it is 80 degrees. Very, very wrong.

But October is here and it has happened! The air has changed and all of a sudden it is autumn, and a flood of nostalgia rushes in. It happens every year. I am overwhelmed with the desire to bake cookies with cinnamon and nutmeg, roast brussels sprouts with sage, and fill my kitchen with the aromas of the fall.

Today, though, I want chili. A cool Saturday morning with college football on TV calls for chili, and I am almost positive it is some sort of sense memory that makes me feel this way. The chili of my youth was a meaty and mild one, so today I came up with a meat-free chili filled with vegetables and fresh peppers for a special kick. Chili is one of those easily veganized foods. You can just omit the meat and fill your chili with veggies and beans, or you can start with some savory mushrooms to add a beefy flavor. I was looking for an authentic chili taste, so I opted for some Boca crumbles.