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CSA Challenge: Week 4 Results (Team Carrots)

If you haven't checked out the Cooking Away My CSA Google group, you really should. Besides the dialog on Twitter (search #CAMC), this is a great place to discover what others are doing with those armfuls of summer zucchini and kale. Turns out, they're making veggie chips! Blogger Tild of Tildology swears her Red Russian Kale Chips, tossed in olive oil and sea salt and baked in the oven, won her friends' kids over to kale. Cook Local did a similar experiment with Zucchini Chips, but took a pan-fried approach. If you need more ideas for zucchini and fruit, check out the Cherry Zucchini Muffins on Lisa is Cooking and see a step-by-step blog on jamming on Green Your Plate, which features some delicious-looking Blueberry Nectarine Freezer Jam.

We always like to see what others are doing, because the possibilities seem truly endless. Here's what our staff made this week:

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Phillip, deputy editor: watermelon (1 small), cucumbers (4), green peppers (2) -- pinch-hitting for Mary Kay this week

My mom drove over from Georgia to spend the weekend with my partner and me at Smith Lake. (You might recognize her Apple Date Bars, a childhood treat that the magazine lightened in 2006.) Mom brought recipe boxes filled with childhood favorites, so cooking and photographing fit perfectly into our weekend of making new memories centered around food.

One small watermelon goes a long way. Its first appearance: Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions and Feta, served with a summer standby: pesto-marinated grilled chicken. Pickling the red onions softened their bite, but retained a nice twang that contrasted beautifully with the sweet, refreshing melon and salty feta. Confession: The photo is a stunt salad assembled the next morning. Friday's 9 p.m. dinner was served on a candlelit porch suited better for tableside lingering than amateur food photography. Now I truly know why Cooking Light photographs food in natural light.

Noon is never too early for a cocktail on a 95-degree Saturday. Watermelon and Cucumber Tonic (shown at the top of this post) was refreshing, easy to make, and even easier to enjoy with a “Snacks Around” (Mom’s term for a hodge-podge meal) mixed flatbreads, proscuitto, soppressata, Manchego cheese, arugula, zucchini, dill dip, and smoked almonds. Since cheese cloth is in short supply at the country market, we used paper towels in a sieve to strain the melon mixture. Gin’s juniper tones gave the froofy pink drink a bit of gravitas. The tonics are shown in my favorite glasses, one of which I promptly dropped and shattered. (It happened three sips into my first cocktail, not my second, for which I downgraded to plastic.)

The remaining cukes appeared in our dinner of Salmon with Spicy Cucumber Salad and Peanuts. It’s another recipe well suited to a hot summer night—light, refreshing, and satisfying. We made two adjustments: The salmon was grilled instead of pan-seared, and we had no parsley, so we made do with mint. I couldn’t think of a suitable side, so I just boiled edamame and tossed it with kosher salt—a new dish for Mom, but one that I think (hope) she enjoyed.

Finally, the green pepper was simply diced and tossed with basil, garlic, and red onions and cumin-rubbed corn that I had grilled Saturday night in anticipation of an easy Sunday supper at home to cap off a wonderful weekend. Served it with seared hanger steak and arugula salad.

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Tiffany, assistant test kitchens director: okra, soybeans, one gigantic portobello

Just this year I've begun to really like okra so seeing a bag of it in my CSA goodies was a real treat. In the past I found them rather slimy. Although that does something for gumbo, it never did much for me. My fiancee, however,has loved okra forever, and I credit Stanton's technique with my turnaround.

The secret to slimeless okra: Simply thread the okra on a skewer with cherry tomatoes and onion. While grilling for 4 minutes per side, brush the vegetables with a mixture of kosher salt, EVOO, sugar, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and water. We've cooked okra this way five times this summer, and each time it's fantastic. I was curious why this preparation is effective at curbing the slime, and I found a great post on Mental Masala that explains it.

Our soybeans were a treat and a cinch to work with. I love to steam them whole, toss them in a little soy sauce and rice vinegar, and pop them out of the shell straight into my mouth. It's a great mid-day snack filled with soy protein. Plus, soybeans seem so much more fun than most foods.

The portabello we received was enormous. It was Stanton’s turn to make dinner, and he likes to “clean out the fridge.” Fortunately, we have a fridge full of some really great things (thanks, Grow Alabama!). He made Cilantro Rice with Chicken, which was delicious. The rice tastes very rich with a little twang from the cilantro. We had cooked chicken breast which he substituted into the recipe and, of course, he used the portabello in place of the shiitakes. We both really liked it!

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Susan Roberts, assistant copy chief: corn, eggplants, eggs, onions

My enthusiasm for the CSA project was dampened slightly when I found a couple of big fat worms in my ears of corn. Horrors! But I soldiered on and made this recipe for Corn Spoon Bread. I love spoon bread and have made a few different versions. This one was very simple (and from sister pub Real Simple, appropriately enough) and good. And I’m inclined to like anything baked in a cast-iron skillet.

I have never prepared eggplant and haven’t really eaten it much, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do with these—make Eggplant Parmesan. An old roommate of mine used to make it, and I always liked hers. I went back into the vault to find this Cooking Light recipe from 1995. I like this dish a lot, but it’s a bit labor-intensive. But if I somehow wind up with a bunch of eggplants—and stranger things have happened—I have some idea of what to do with them now. I definitely should’ve sliced the eggplants thinner. My thick slices are a little chewy.

It turns out my favorite vegetable is eggs—who knew? I hated to copy Maelynn from a couple of weeks ago, but I really wanted to make an angel food cake. What better way to burn through a dozen eggs? This is only the second one I’ve made—the first was for my birthday, earlier in the year. That one was plain, so for this one I added 1 tablespoon

grated lemon rind and 3 tablespoons lemon juice. (The recipe is in the cookbook Secrets From the Southern Living Test Kitchens.) It smelled heavenly while baking, and it turned out well. I saved some yolks to try one of our crème anglaise recipes, but I’ll have to report back on that one. I was tired after beating all those egg whites!

 I’m afraid I gave the onions short shrift this time around. I didn’t really plan anything for them because I assumed they would be used in some other recipes. But then I proceeded to make three of the few recipes in the world that don’t call for onions. I’ll definitely pick them up in the future, though, and they should keep better than most of these other items.

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Maelynn, managing editor: heirloom tomatoes, green beans, yellow squash, potatoes

I love red potatoes. And from the moment I put them in my bag, I knew exactly their destiny. One of my favorite CL recipes is the microwaveable Rosemary Potatoes. I still remember reading the story “Microwave Virtues” (March 2001) and being very interested in trying the recipes. I was glad I did, as  several of them became household favorites. Potatoes are terrific in the microwave and this recipe has been a go-to side dish in my house ever since. Easy. fast. Yummy.

The big surprise this week was the Spicy Pickled Beans. I’d never pickled anything before so I was curious/hesitant to try this one. Turns out, it was super simple and DELICIOUS! I’m on a pickling kick now. Look out little cukes. You’re next.

I finished the week with Olive-Tomato Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and rounded out a dinner of grilled chicken and couscous with a Yellow Squash Casserole. Like last round, I felt nourished by my CSA take and I’m glad it’s been fostering my newfound sense of adventure.