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(500) days of salad

I’m nearly done with the community-supported agriculture box’s haul of lettuce, although I still have Awesome-Garden-Lady’s lettuce to get through. This one is a grape and walnut salad. Next time, I’ll probably slice the grapes to make them easier to spear with my fork.

I’m learning that I like these in salads:

  • Crunchy and nutty warmth: Toasted sliced almonds, toasted pine nuts, and home-made glazed pecans; walnuts not as much as the others, actually
  • Something sweet: strawberries and grapes so far; maybe apples or pears? (oh my)
  • A simple dressing, a bit on the sweet/sour side: balsamic vinaigrette, mostly, but I don’t need fancy oil
  • Maybe some additional protein: sliced eggs, nuts, or pairing the salad with a lentil soup

I just have to get through enough salads so that I can get back to writing about other things. I’m getting better at photography, though! =)

An abundance of cilantro, now freezing in cubes; strawberries and peas

Awesome Garden Lady down the street gave us two large bunches of lettuce and a bag of cilantro, so I made an Asian-inspired salad yesterday: toasted sesame seeds, cilantro, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and the rest of our bag of baby greens, dressed with tamari and olive oil. The cilantro made it feel like eating one of those Vietnamese sandwiches, except without the meat. Yum.

Today I spent the morning chopping up the rest of the cilantro and packing it into our ice-cube tray for freezing. That way, we can easily add cilantro to stir-fries, soups, and other meals.

Many herbs freeze well, which is a good thing because they usually come in large bundles.

In other news, look at what’s in the garden:

The first of many, I hope!

Getting the hang of community-supported agriculture

I’m starting to get the hang of working with our community-supported agriculture box: a weekly assortment of fruits and vegetables from farms in Ontario. I finished last week’s lettuce today, supplementing it with lettuce from our cut-and-come-again planter (which is actually working as planned!) and topping it with two eggs from last week’s share.

Today we picked up baby greens, two kinds of lettuce, broccoli sprouts, two tomatoes, kale, basil, green onions, and a dozen eggs.

I like processing the vegetables as soon as possible so that I can lock in their freshness and avoid waste. I chopped the green onions and added them to last week’s freezer bag; they’ll see us through many recipes. I made lentil soup with the leftover asparagus stock, the green onion ends, and some carrots we had in the fridge. I ground the Genovese basil into pesto and popped it into the freezer. I baked half of the bunch of kale as chips, making sure to go easy on the oil and salt. The results:

 

The kale chips came out just right.

Kale chips: Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Wash, dry, and tear a bunch of kale into bite-sized pieces, removing the stems. Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Spread kale on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or however long it takes for the kale to become crispy but not burnt. Munch away guiltlessly.

Summer is short enough as it is. I might as well eat like it. =)

Make-ahead meals

Patricia wanted to know what sort of meals we like preparing in advance. We often make large batches of frozen meals so that we can take them to work or have them as quick, no-fuss dinners. Here are some of our staples:

  • Shake’n Bake chicken: well, really, the generic equivalent of it; baked breadcrumb-style chicken with rice and vegetables
  • Jerk chicken: mostly W-, as it’s too spicy for me
  • Lasagna
  • Chicken curry
  • Tomato sauce for pasta
  • Pesto
  • Rotisserie chicken from the supermarket
  • Roast turkey
  • Soup
  • Rice and beans
  • Baked beans
  • Home-made bagels or biscuits
  • Chicken pot pie or turkey pot pie
  • Shepherd’s pie

What are yours?

2011-06-15 Wed 20:33

Cook Or Die Season II: Community-Supported Agriculture

My “Cook or Die” project started when I moved into an apartment-style dormitory shortly after university. My room was equipped with a small kitchen – really, just a hot plate, a microwave, and a toaster oven. Instead of always eating at the nearby KFC, I resolved to prepare at least one of my meals each day. Hence: Cook or Die. (Well, Cook or Starve.)

I’ve come a long way since I discovered that pita pockets were called pita pockets for a reason. I hardly ever eat out now. I’d much rather eat at home, where meals are frugal, tasty, and just the right size for me. The kitchen is well-stocked. The garden’s full of herbs. I’ve got a decent collection of favourite recipes, and I’m always learning more about cooking.

We’re heading into our second month of community-supported agriculture. W- has signed up for a weekly summer half-share from Plan B Organic Farms. Every Thursday, we pick up a box containing an assortment of vegetables, some of which I’ve never tried before. The box arrives every week, a relentless parade of perishables. (You can postpone for vacations and get a credit, but I think that would be cheating on our experiment.) I’m getting pretty creative about how to get through all of this plus the groceries we buy. The nooks of our freezer are filled with pesto in small Nalgene containers and chopped green onions in Ziploc bags.

I’m also discovering new recipes. I’d never made green garlic pesto before, but the Internet thinks it’s good, so I gave it a try. Today I baked kale chips, although I oversalted my first batch; and yes, they do taste oddly like potato chips. We’ll see if I can get W- and J- to try them. We all like seaweed, and the texture’s not far off.

I turned our ripening avocados into guacamole, mixing in my chopped-up frozen green onions from the vegetable box. I still had lots of guacamole after making myself an omelette. Turns out you can freeze guacamole, but I figured it was more useful to just share it with our neighbours, as they were having a small party. So I rubbed the tortillas with olive oil, cut them into eighths, and baked them for about 8 minutes at about 400’F until they were crisp and light brown. After testing a few, I assembled the chips and the guacamole on a plate and carried it over. Win!

Now we just have to finish the parsnip and the lettuce, and we’ll be ready for Thursday’s box. Cook or Die? More like Cook or Get Overwhelmed By Vegetables…

2011-06-14 Tue 19:27

Seasons and salad days

imageThe stove idles as we switch gear to salads. No heat. No cooking. Just the whirl-whirl-whirl of leaves in the salad spinner, a quick whisk-up of salad dressing, and whatever I can grab from the fridge. Today: chicken on top of kale and lettuce tossed with a lemon vinaigrette. Even the chicken was a kitchen shortcut, bought from the supermarket rotisserie.

Salads don’t fill me as much as a warm meal would, except with a certain self-satisfaction. I tell myself that salad is better for me. This helps me ward off the temptations of rice and adobo, pan-fried bangus, spaghetti bolognese. Mmm. If I can eat those in the heat of Manila summer, I can certainly make them during Toronto’s spring. But we still have salad greens in the fridge, and they will go to waste soon enough. We’ve signed up for a summer share of a community-supported farm, so more vegetables will come in. No sense freezing the spinach, then, or saving the beets. May as well eat them. Behavioural economics in the kitchen: the loss-aversion approach to eating well.

So I stock up on slivered almonds, olive oil, and different kinds of vinegar, thumb through recipes for inspiration, and talk myself into enjoying the fruits and vegetables that are harder to get the rest of the year.

In the Philippines, where it’s warm all the time, my meals felt abstracted from the seasons. Here in Canada, nature’s influence is practically inescapable: what to buy at the supermarket, what I feel like eating, how I want to prepare it. Winter is baking season and soup season. Spring brings the first salads. Summer is a burst of colour and flavour, barbecue afternoons and ice-cream treats. Fall winds down with an abundance of root crops and the return to pies. I miss being able to eat whatever I like. No, I miss the constancy of those likes unshifted by the sun. I still like baked lasagna, but it feels odd to make it when the days are so long and the spinach is wilting.

Basic Vinaigrette (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
About 1 1/2 cups, which is more than enough for two people’s worth of salad as a main dish

1 small clove garlic, peeled
2 – 3 pinches of salt
Mash into a paste; the tines of a sturdy fork will do the trick

1/3 to 1/2 cup red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, minced – you can also use part of an onion; I didn’t have any
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Whisk with the garlic and salt – use the same fork you used to crush the garlic, to cut down on the washing

Add slowly, streaming it in with one hand while you whisk with the other:
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil – or really, however much oil you need; taste periodically to make sure it still tastes like vinegar or lemon juice instead of being too olive-y.