Monday, July 29, 2013

CSA Farmshare and an Impromptu Dinner Party!

I was really lucky again this summer.  My friend Melissa (follow her blog here) is part of a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture AND she likes to take long trips in the she offers up her farmshare to friends so it doesn't go to waste!  Last year I picked up her share one week and learned to make Salsa Verde from tomatillos!   One of the best parts of CSAs is that you are given a variety of vegetables, typically including something you don't know what to do with, each week.

In this share I received:

  • 4 potatoes
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 green pepper
  • 12 jalepenos (really should have been 4, but another lady and I traded onions/garlic for peppers)
  • head of cabbage
  • 4 peaches
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • a big bunch of basil
  • a big bunch of sorrel
  • 6 eggs
  • a purple basil plant
I immediately started thinking about what I could make with all this....since another part of the CSA charm is the freshness.  Everything is organic and has no preservatives sprayed on (like at the grocery store) so you need to use it quickly!

My friend Amy came over Sunday afternoon to hang out and we decided it was perfect reason for a dinner party.   I made Paleo stuffed peppers and a mixed greens salad with peaches.  Yumm!  And a perfect way to use a lot of these yummy veggies!

First up - Paleo Stuffed Peppers.  

I added a few ingredients to the farmshare for this one:   a head of cauliflower, 6 red bell peppers, shredded mozzarella cheese (optional), ground beef and my home canned tomato basil sauce.
Rice your cauliflower.  Yes, Rice is a verb!   Basically, to do this, you cut the cauliflower up into florets and then pulse in a food processor (you can see we tried to grate it with little success).  You will get something the texture of fine grain rice.  I used about a cup and a half.  This gives your ground beef some bulk without a grain...and keeps your peppers from feeling like they are stuffed with a little meat loaf!   Saute (just a little!) your cauliflower rice and a bunch of torn basil and 3 chopped up jalepenos (take the seeds out).  Set aside.

Brown your ground beef.  I used organic, grass fed 85% lean from Costco.   This gives you very little extra grease in your pan. Set aside.

Chop up one green bell pepper and one red bell pepper and 2 tomatoes.   Saute in a skillet, just till they soften and mix in with the ground beef.

In a large bowl (maybe a giant Tupperware bowl if that's all you can find) mix all these ingredients together - cauliflower/basil/jalepeno and ground beef/peppers/tomatoes.   Add in 2 pints of tomato basil simmer sauce.   Stir together well to mix.

Cut the tops off of 5 red bell peppers and clean out the ribs and seeds.  Stand them up in a baking dish.  (If they won't stand up, stick them in ramekins or fill the extra space with ramekins!)  Spoon the beef mixture into the peppers to fill them.   Put any additional meat mixture into a baking dish for leftovers. (I used the Pampered Chef Mini Baker).  These leftovers will be great on Romaine lettuce boats! 

Bake for about 45 minutes at 350.   Top with shredded mozzarella cheese if you eat dairy and bake for the last 15 minutes. 

Mixed Green Salad with Sorrel and Peaches

For this salad I ripped up some romaine hearts, cut some basil and sorrel and mixed all these greens together.   I probably used 2/3 romaine and 1/6 basil and 1/6 sorrel.   

Sorrel - this has a tart, lemony taste.  It is too tart to have a whole salad of it (for me at least!) but worked really well with the romaine and basil to balance it.   A lady at the CSA pickup gave me the tip to wash it in cold salt water when I got home, then put it in a papertowel in a ziplock bag in the fridge so it would last longer.  It also made it super easy to snip into my salad since it was already washed.

Peaches - I cut the peaches into bite size bits!  Yum!  They were so ripe and juicy!

Dressing - I wanted something light, just a little extra flavor.  In my blender I mixed two tbsps coconut oil and the juice from 1/2 of a ruby grapefruit plus salt and pepper.  It was the perfect dressing for this!  

This was a perfect dinner party meal and a great way to use the delicious CSA veggies!  We are getting ready for a move (in less than 2 weeks) so packing up is certainly underway.  It was nice to clear off the table from all the packing materials (can you see the boxes in the background?) and sit down for a nice homemade meal with a great friend.  She brought a decadent chocolate cake and ice cream that was the best final touch for the non-paleo eaters at this healthy meal!  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Baking...with what we have!

One of the most wonderful parts of being home in the mountains of WV is being with my mom and cooking and baking with local meat and produce.

My mom is an incredible cook.   She doesn't usually cook with a recipe - she just knows how to make the most amazing dishes.  Growing up, occasionally we used a cookbook or a recipe book, but most often she just knew how to make a delicious dinner from the ingredients we had on hand. If we were out of something she just knows what to substitute in and make it work. We usually didn't make a big grocery list each week based on what we would cook and we didn't have a weekly meal plan.  Sunday, after we got the paper, she would make a list of sales and we would go from store to store buying what was on sale.  She had a general idea of what staples we needed in our house and made our shopping lists and meals from that.

I am learning to cook more like this as I have gone Paleo...I have let go of needing to always make fancy recipes all the time.   I generally have a bunch of high quality meats and vegetables on hand and know what I want to grill or bake.  (I still like to try baking with recipes to try new things, especially to bring to events with both paleo and non-paleo friends!)

This week we have a lot of local fruit and veggies on hand.  We got a 5 qt bucket of fresh picked blueberries on Tuesday from a family friend.  Delicious! We have been snacking on them and tonight decided to make something yummy.  I knew I had seen a recipe from George at Civilized Caveman Cooking for a fruit cobbler and that seemed perfect.  Only we were out of some of the like my mom would do, I made do with what we had!   No almond flour?  I had a bag of almonds and cashews that were my "traveling snack" so I ground those up to use.  No cinnamon honey?  I added ground cinnamon and plain honey.  Mom and dad and I didn't really need 8 servings so we changed it to a little more than half (but still used one whole egg since it's hard to use a 1/2 egg!)   It was sooo delicious!


Last night we had an abundance of strawberries and Mom had seen a recipe for a custard pie with berries.  So we found a recipe for making custards ... and modified it to use honey and no flour!  They were yummy!  We ate them so quickly we didn't get a picture of the baked version - just this lovely picture of them as we put them in the oven! 

Individual Strawberry Custard Cups
Place 6 custard cups/ramekins in a 9x13 pan.  In a bowl, lightly beat 4 eggs with a little less than 1/4 cup honey.  Pour in 2 cups of milk of your choice and mix well.  In 6 custard cups, add sliced strawberries (about 1 1/2 cups total).  Evenly divide the egg mix into the 6 cups.  Sprinkle with cinnamon.  Boil water and fill the 9x13 pan with about an inch of hot water.  Bake at 325 for 55-60 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Whirlwind Adventure!

Whew!  The end of the school year really got crazy for me!  I can't believe that it is July already and I haven't written here since the end of May (really blew my goal of 3+ posts per month by skipping a month entirely!)

Sorry about that!  Know that I made it through a crazy end-of-the-year at my large elementary school with a lot of crazy-summer stuff happening as we speak in time to go back at the end of July.  I am trying to enjoy the month of "vacation" as much as possible.

Over the last day we took a whirlwind 24-hour trip to New York City.  Officially Google Maps (the authority!) says it is 252 miles from my town to Penn Station in NYC.  We took an Amtrak train to the city after Will got off work on Wednesday night.  Whew!  Here is the crazy timeline!

July 3:
9:00 - Will is done with work and we jump in the car to rush to DC's Union Station.  The NorthEast Regional Amtrak leaves at 10:10....GO GO GO!   We didn't buy tickets ahead of time because we didn't know what traffic would be like with the holiday and if we didn't make it we would be out a bunch of $$.  PLUS the only tickets we could buy for this train were the upgraded Business Class need to spend extra money there either.

9:55 - Park at Union Station and head in to buy tickets.

10:02  The counter closes at 10...and we just missed it.  So we headed to the little electronic kiosk...only to find the tickets were all gone.  Even the expensive business class ones!! BOO!  The nextr train has regular seats available and it leaves at 3:15am.   What to do?

10:05  Decide to walk around DC at night and see what is going on.  We heard music as we drove by the Capitol.  We walked to the Capitol and heard the last few numbers being rehearsed for the July 4th Concert.  We walked around to the Supreme Court and back to Union Station.

11:30 Over dinner and drinks at UNOs in Union Station (only thing open then!) we decide to wait for the 3:15 train and see what we can do...

11:30-3:00 WAITING. Union Station is weird at night.  Everything is closed and everyone is corralled into one tiny waiting area.  And the police are patrolling heavily...

July 4
3:15 - finally on our train and on the way!   It was so cold on the train (and I had my sweater on!) that I couldn't sleep.  Full on blowing air conditioning.  I shivered the whole way.  This was my first time on an Amtrak train!

6:20 We arrived at Penn Station!   This was my first visit to NYC.  We took off walking...hoping to find a coffee place but it was so early even Starbucks wasn't open (not at 6 up there, we must be hardcore here).  While we walked toward Battery Park we started making a list of the things we each wanted to do today - as much as we could fit in!   Statue of Liberty was first for both of us so that was our first stop, to avoid as many lines as possible.   Also on the list:   Ground Zero, Wallstreet, Coney Island, Times Square, Central Park, ride the Subway.  We quickly decided we needed to save time so we hailed a cab and headed to Battery Park with a quick drive around Ground Zero with an awesome (and FAST) cabbie who knew the city.

7:20 First priority - coffee!  Starbucks is right across from the entrance to the Liberty Island Ferry.   Perfect and the guys in there were all high school wrestlers so Will had great conversation with them while I waited for my drink. :)  Making friends, wherever we go!

7:30 In line for tickets at Castle Clinton.  This is one of four forts that were built in 1811-1812 to defend against a British invasion of NYC during the war of 1812.   We got in and bought tickets to the Liberty Island Ferry and to the Pedastal of the Statue of Liberty.  Then we moved into another line for the security screening.  In this line is where we found out that we were there on a very special day.   This was the first day that Clinton Castle, Liberty Island ferries and the Statue of Liberty were open since Superstorm Sandy hit in late October last year.  All three sustained major damage to the infrastructure (docks, ramps, shoreline, power systems, etc) but Lady Liberty was undamaged!  Ellis Island remains closed while repairs are in full swing.   The security was a whole new system - very much like an airport screening (except we kept our shoes on) in a large airconditioned tent.  This was the first day of operation for this screening system and crew of workers and there were some initial growing pains (like our metal detector that went off on EVERYONE including the 4 year old girl in front of me who had no metal at all).  After we went through the line was closed and the technicians were working on the detector.   (I had a wand screening and a pat down to get through.  Turns out the button and rivets on my capris and the underwire in my bra were what set off the detector)

8:31 We were on the first ferry to leave NY for Liberty Island!  The ferry was packed with a mix of tourists and reporters!

9:04  We were on Liberty Island and walking around the Statue of Liberty.  Her size is just enormous.  She is beautiful and the craftsmanship is extraordinary!   We were interviewed by a reporter for the NYTimes and she thought our story of taking the train in the middle of the night was pretty awesome.  :) We took lots of pictures and headed into a security line to enter the Pedestal.  Another airport like security line....but the waiting for this one was in a hot, stinky, stuffy (no AC) tent.

9:58  But it was worth it for views like this....First is just inside - they have the original torch.   We climbed the steps up to the first level of balconies...then up to the second level.  Just incredible.

10:29 Boarding the ferry to return to Battery Park.
After we got back on land, we went BACK to the Starbucks from this morning to get some water.  There was this RIDICULOUS line but the guys remembered Will from this morning and got us water without us having to wait in line.  Hehe...talking to people is good stuff!

11:03 We walked past the NY Stock Exchange

11:12 We got to Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial.  Unfortunately the passes were gone for the day.  We did visit the Visitor's Center and will be sure to reserve passes online for our next visit (we are already planning for when we come back!)

11:20 - ok, so then the craziness of the subway navigation began.  I don't really understand the system of tunnels and trains and stations.  We got directions from a transit cop and found a station, but nowhere to buy tickets.  You had to swipe your metro card to enter the station....but you couldn't buy it there.  Finally we went to the Wall Street station, bought our fare cards and headed off.  The plan was to take the 4 train to Atlantic Ave Station then transfer to the Q to ride out to Coney Island.  GO!  The stations are funny - some (in Manhattan) are gorgeous, with really cool tile work designs.  Others (like near Penn Station) are gross and smell like pee and are filthy!   The best thing was that all train rides cost the same amount so no crazy math like on the DC subway!

12:30 We made it to Coney Island in time for the Hotdog Eating Contest!  WOW!   40,000 people there, crammed in the streets.  It was broadcast on big screen TVs on big trucks because the crowds wrapped around the corners.  We had a hotdog from Nathans and then a Lobster roll too!  Will and I both ate them without the bread and enjoyed every bite.  Will wanted to ride one of the coasters at Coney Island but there was some emergency construction and lots of things/areas were closed.  One of the big rides had a major malfunction and they were dismantling it on the 4th of July!!

1:15 Back on the Subway to head to Times Square - just to walk around in the chaos.  :) It was big and bright in the day time.  I can only imagine how fabulous it lights up at night.We had some veggies and some water in an air conditioned restaurant close to where we came out of the subway.  It's crazy how much my body was craving veggies.  The hotdog and lobster just didn't do it for me!! We had been sweating all day and hadn't had enough water since every time we went through security we had to get rid of any bottles.

We took another cab to Penn Station to see if we could get on an earlier train home to make it out of DC before the fireworks....starting to get super tired (wonder why).   We had a little while till the train boarded so we went back to street level and walked around some of the shops and street vendors looking for a long sleeve shirt or hoodie to wear on the train home in case it was as cold as it was going!

3:37 We saw the Empire State building from afar. The height of the buildings is staggering.

4:00 A little waiting room time at Penn Station....and there were pigeons, basically batting this piece of bread around like a hockey puck, until it got stuck on the back of one of them.  INSIDE THE WAITING ROOM!  He kept spinning in circles trying to find the bread....weirdo!

4:42 Back on the Amtrak train on the way home!  We both slept on the train as much as we could, waking up at each stop along the way but snoozing like we deserved it!

8:30 back to DC's Union Station and out of DC before the fireworks craziness started.  WHEW!