Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Last CSA Box of the Season

I have had several requests to review my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Basically the idea behind a CSA is that you team up with a farm before the growing season starts by purchasing a share or perhaps a half share depending on your family size and needs. I purchased a full share for $675 which is a share for 4-6 people. The farmers get some up front cash and a stable customer base, the share purchaser gets boxes of ultra-fresh vegetables throughout the growing season. The purchaser shares in the bounty of the farm but also bear the risks of a potentially bad season. Well the end of the season has arrived and this morning I retrieved my last box from the front porch - *sigh*. Winter is now officially imminently upon us.

While it was a great beach and tourism season here at the Jersey Shore, it was one of the toughest growing seasons in many, many years due to the lack of rain and excessive heat over the summer. The fall brought extremes in temperature between warm and cold. All of these conditions affected the crops and we actually missed two weeks of the CSA (24 weeks instead of 26). Some of the crops were not able to withstand the adverse weather conditions.

I would say that a CSA definitely is not for everyone. You have to know going in that farming is extremely weather dependent. We had our Tuesday night delivery rescheduled for Thursday night a couple of times. It was hard to use all of the fresh vegetables between Friday and the next Tuesday's delivery. Also, you may receive quite a lot of a vegetable that you don't necessarily love or know how to prepare. Think lots of radishes! Well, I made radishes every which way and learned to really like them! Radish greens are fantastic by the way! You also have to know that you can't rely on the box for all of your vegetable needs. You have to supplement from other sources. I wish that salad greens were available for more weeks and I also wished for more fresh herbs. Those were the items that I purchased regularly during the season.

Sometimes I felt that communication from the farm was kind of lacking but their business is farming not PR. There were a couple of instances of computer problems which delayed the receipt of the emailed weekly newsletter. Also since I never have actually seen the farm, I feel like I am missing a connection to it. I think that it would be nice to have a day to visit but again they are farmers not tour guides...

The passion for farming was evident in the quality and freshness of the vegetables.  I enjoyed the challenge of finding ways to use certain vegetables. I also tried mizuna and kohlrabi for the first time this year. My particular CSA delivers and they somehow are able to stealth in without making a sound - they must double as Santa's elves! Overall I feel that my investment paid off. When you think of all the ways that you can spend (blow) $28 dollars in a week (which would be even less in a better growing season), isn't a box of fresh organic vegetables for your family a good purchase? Can't a family easily spend that at a fast food restaurant, on a takeout meal, or on a few cocktails? You have to be patient, flexible and creative and you will really enjoy a CSA share. Would I participate in a CSA again? Absolutely! 

Shares are limited so now is a good time to contact a CSA in your area if you are interested in joining for next season.

What was in the boxes?

Salad Mix
Summer Squash
Sweet Corn
Sweet Peppers
Sweet Potatoes
Swiss Chard
Winter Squash
Green Beans
Hot Peppers
Mustard Greens
Snow Peas

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quick Huevos Rancheros

Okay - while this is by no means traditional huevos rancheros since hey there is no ranchero sauce, it is quick, Mexican-inspired and really, really delicious!    I cooked the eggs sunny side up in a mild olive oil and put the lid on for the last minute to set the tops a little.  I served the eggs generously sprinkled with fresh ground pepper over top of Trader Joe's all-natural Salsa Autentica.  It is not chunky or thickened and is the perfect consistency to serve with the eggs.  I also turned to Trader Joe's for the black beans on the side.  They are already seasoned with onions and peppers and are a really nice and healthy alternative to meat on the side.  Vegetarian refried beans would be good as well.  A few Garden of Eatin' tortilla chips and some slices of avocado for good measure. Voila!  A fast, tasty and healthy weekend breakfast!  Oh, and of course the key is farm fresh eggs.  Happy Saturday!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How I Make Eggplant Rollatini

Eggplant rollatini - lightly fried, stuffed with creamy cheese, and topped with fresh marinara - oh yeah!  Remember in the 1990's when chicken Francaise, penne with vodka sauce, Caesar salad and eggplant rollatini were served at every party?  Maybe it was just my area, or my friends but that was party food to me for the better part of a decade.  I have lots of happy memories associated with these Italian- American favorites!  I love that the eggplant can be made ahead of time and is just delicious reheated.  There are lots of versions of eggplant rollatini but this is how I make it:


1 medium eggplant sliced into 1/4 inch lengthwise slices (I leave the skin on)
1 cup of seasoned flour
3 whole eggs plus 1 egg white (reserve egg yolk for filling)
3 tablespoons grated parmesan reggiano
dash of salt and pepper
olive oil for frying

1 cup of fresh ricotta
reserved egg yolk
1/2 cup diced fresh mozzarella
1/3 cup grated parmesan reggiano
dash of fresh nutmeg
dash of salt and pepper
prosciutto di parma (optional)
fresh basil (optional)

Cut off the eggplant top and thinly slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices.  Dredge the slices in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, tapping off excess.  Dip in egg batter (eggs, parm., salt and pepper).  Fry in hot skillet coated with olive oil over medium to high heat.  Make sure that the oil is nice and hot before adding the eggplant or it will be soggy.  Also be sure not to crowd the pan.  The eggplant will need to be fried in batches - add oil as necessary.  The eggplant cooks quickly (about a minute or so per side).  Drain eggplant on paper towels. 

Mix together the filling ingredients through the nutmeg.  Spread an even layer of the filling onto the eggplant slices leaving a little space around the edges.  You can add a slice of prosciutto and/or a fresh basil leaf if desired.  Roll up the eggplant slice and place in a  9x12 baking pan coated with a little olive oil.   Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.  Top with your favorite marinara sauce and some extra grated parmesan cheese.   I usually make my marinara homemade but I do like Rao's and Silver Palate jarred marinara in a pinch - they are both really good.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

PUMPKIN LOVE ~ Creamy Pumpkin Custard

Pumpkin time is upon us!  A time for family, friends and giving thanks.   I was invited by Carmen of Baking is my Zen to participate in a collaborative pumpkin dessert post to celebrate the season.  I was happy to join in and hope that you check out all of the delicious pumpkin desserts that the other bloggers posted.   Enjoy! 

Pumpkin Pie Tamales
"Why should tamales be limited to only dinner... why not dessert?"

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes
"After making fat-free desserts one Thanksgiving, everyone in my family missed the Pumpkin Gooey Butter
Cakes. lt is now a 'must' that I bake this cake for Thanksgiving."

Pumpkin Pots de Creme with Candied Spicy Pecans

"Pumpkin rocks!  Need I say more?"

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

"I got this recipe from Taste of Home and added some extra spices to it. Haven't heard a bad thing about it! Actually, gave it to a friend as a birthday present. And, everyone who tried the cake in his family wrote a note about how much they liked it."

Rebecca of Beurrista
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
"Remembrances of a fun weekend getaway with college girlfriends"

When looking for the pumpkin recipe that I would contribute, I came across this creamy pumpkin custard with rum-raisin compote described as "the texture is somewhere between a creme brulee and a light and airy cheesecake" - adapted from a Gina DePalma recipe - I was sold!

Creamy Pumpkin Custard with Rum-Raisin Compote
Recipe courtesy of Traca Savadogo