July 22, 2009

Week one of the Cooking Away My CSA Challenge went beautifully as Team Peas went to work on their summer-fresh produce. Last week we divvied up the contents of our first CSA box from Grow Alabama. Here's what they made of it.

Ann Pittman, senior food editor: 1 small eggplant, 1 green bell pepper, 2 pints of blackberries

Eggplant and green bell peppers are not my husband’s favorites. But Romesco sauce is—so I figured with enough smoky Romesco involved, he’d take to the veggies. With our Grilled Eggplant Stackrecipe as inspiration, I created my own stack: layers of sliced grilledeggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash, with some Romesco sauce as themortar to hold it all together (pictured above).

I roasted the green bell pepper(to mellow its flavor) and snuck it into the stack as well. I topped itoff with some nice sheep’s milk feta tossed with basil, and added a fewSun Gold cherry tomatoes from my garden. The veggies were nice andtender, the Romesco bold and powerful, and the tomatoes sweet andacidic. I was so proud of this one, I took it out back for a photoshoot! The hubs loved it. The kids, not so much (they don’t digRomesco).

 I was also lucky enough to bring home two pints of blackberries. I put one pint to excellent use in Blueberry and Blackberry Galette with Cornmeal Crust(followed the recipe verbatim - pictured on left). Although I ended up with some fissuresin my crust, the galette was delicious. That. Crust. Is. GOOD. I toppedthe grownups’ servings with crème fraiche; the kids got ice cream. Theother pint of berries went into blackberry milkshakes—yum, my favorite,seeds and all!

Jason, editorial assistant, culinary school student: tomatoes, corn, lady peas

Anyone as food-obsessed as I am should love tomatoes. Every summer, food writers wax poetic about the wonders of sliced heirloom tomatoes dressed with just olive oil and salt. Unfortunately, I just don't like tomatoes. So I invited some friends over to eat mine for me. I decided to make gazpacho because it's something different that calls for a lot of tomatoes. I chose Yellow Tomato Gazpacho, the highest-rated among nearly two dozen Cooking Light options. It has lots of great fresh flavor—sweet from the tomato and cucumber but still with a nice savory undertone. The easy croutons provided a nice texture contrast, too. The texture was a bit grainy for my taste, however; I think cooking the veggies before pureeing might help that.

On the other hand, I love corn. And my favorite way of preparing it is also the simplest; throw on the grill, husks and all, until the outer husks are mostly blackened. The corn ends up perfectly cooked and nice and hot. Unfortunately, I don't have a grill, and the neighbor whose grill I might have used was out. So I had to boil it. C'est la vie. I still used this recipe from our sister magazine Sunset that I've made many times and loved, Honey-Chipotle Grilled Corn. The magnificent honey-chipotle butter in this recipe is fantastic on pretty much anything, from bread to popcorn. Too bad there weren't any leftovers.

I don't really follow a recipe to cook peas. Here's the method I use just about every time I make them: Saute a chopped onion (add a chopped slice of bacon if you like) until soft, add peas, salt and pepper, and enough water to cover, then boil until cooked (most of the water should boil off while this happens). Add a splash of apple cider vinegar, some Tabasco Sauce, and a couple sprigs of fresh thyme. And with peas, you have to make cornbread. This Chipotle-Bacon Corn Bread is perhaps my favorite recipe from the magazine. I make it about once a week—I use whole wheat flour instead of white and the texture comes out dense and perfect. This time, I was out of bacon and had bought a big bag of beautiful jalapeños at the farmers' market, so I left out the bacon and chipotle and stirred two peppers, sliced thinly, into the batter.I had seeded the peppers, but it wasn't quite hot enough. Next time, I'm leaving the seeds in.

Cindy, associate editor, healthy living: eggs, squash, peppers

I did it! And it wasn’t too bad. I successfully cooked away myportion of the CSA (ok, minus one squished squash and half a bellpepper) this week. After working late and making an impromptu grocery storetrip, I sat down to a summery meal of this yummy Corn, Bacon, and Green Onion Tart (I finally got to use you, tart pan!) and Baked Couscous with Summer Squash and Herbs.

I’ll definitely make the tart again, swapping out the staringredients as the seasons change. I got a little hurried and nervousas it was time to pour the mixture into the dough-lined pan, so it lookslike there’s a corn convention hanging out on one side. But it managedto emerge from the oven as a filling, yet not too heavy, main dish. Plus, it easily and successfully translated into lunch the next day. Imade it pretty much true to the recipe, adding in most of achopped bell pepper from this week’s box so that it didn’t feel leftout. Also, I may or may not have slipped an extra piece of bacon inthere to reward my sous chef.

The baked couscous was less thrilling, but made a nice plate companion to thetart. I think I’d omit the oregano on the next go around and add a little more basil (I used Thai basil that was overflowing from mygarden). Despite my self-professed adoration of (almost) all things cheese, I’m notso excited about fontina. So instead of buying an $8 wedge, I swung bythe deli counter and procured a few slices for only $1 or so. Also, I threw in a real egg (instead of the egg substitute called for in therecipe) in order to use another CSA item. Since the squash was prettysubtle, this would be a great dish to sneak veggies to unsuspectingyoungsters. Or husbands. Speaking of husbands, mine enjoyed the rest ofthe Easter-colored eggs (almost too pretty to eat) and bacon for Sundaybrunch. Hope there’s a bottle of Champagne in my next box so that wecan more easily justify those mimosas.

CJ, administrative coordinator: bell peppers, cucumbers, watermelon

I chose Skillet Stuffed Peppers and prepared them as directed. Well, almost. Halfway into the recipe, I turned around and spotted a packet of taco seasoning that I'd forgotten to add to the beef as I seasoned it. Realizing this would likely result in a pretty bland dish, I felt dismayed. Then I looked on the bright side. In the eyes (and the tummy) of a cook with IBS, a less-spicy dish is a good thing. Besides, maybe adding an onion and a dash of garlic powder could enhance the flavor.

I moved on to the cucumbers. A Michigan-based friend of mine has served cucumbers and onions marinated in Kraft mayonnaise as a side dish all the years I’ve visited. I used light mayo and subbed a red onion to add color. I substituted Splenda for sugar and added a teaspoon of lemon juice. Basically, it’s a peel-and-cut prep, and then you add a little mayo. Tip: the juices will give volume to the mayo, so start with an amount relative to the number of cucumbers.

The watermelon I received from the CSA box was small (about 5 pounds) and had seeds. I decided to have a little fun with this guy. While the picture below is a wild departure from our typical styling, it's my take on our Watermelon-and Kiwi Skewers with Starry Strawberry Cream. I couldn’t quite get the nice triangles like our stylists did. But then, the fact I got them on the skewers was enough for me to call it a success. I added bananas and strawberries to my skewers. Then I prepared the dip as instructed. I placed my skewers in a quart-size zip lock baggie, covered the watermelon and dip and refrigerated before delivering. On a whim, I added a few features to give a little more life to this party.

 

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