CSA: Week 17

CSA half share for week 17

CSA half share for week 17

Even though I haven’t been posting much during the week, we’ve been doing a pretty good job of eating our vegetables. This week’s share is more of the same, which isn’t a bad thing. The tomatoes are slow roasting in the oven with olive oil, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. We’re grilling the corn this evening for dinner and hoping it’s better than last week’s corn. This coming Saturday we’re going to the IU vs. Navy football game, so I’m thinking about smoking a pork shoulder on Friday and making a potato salad on Saturday morning before we start tailgating.

For dinner tonight, I’m thinking about some kind of Mexican strata, with layers of corn tortillas, squash, cheese, smoky tomato salsa, jalapeños, and eggs to bind it all together. I’ll probably slice the squash length-wise and salt the strips to draw out some moisture. One squash isn’t much, so maybe I’ll fry some potato slices too. Man, I hope that sweet corn is good!

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CSA: Weeks 15 and 16

I’m teaching a couple of sections of a course this semester that I haven’t taught before, so I’ve been busy preparing the syllabus and other course materials. Hence I’m a week behind in posting to Al Gusto! But I’ll make up for it today by posting not one but two photos of the weekly bounty from Heartland Family Farms.

CSA half share for week 15

CSA half share for week 15

The half share for week 15 was mostly more of the same with the exception of parsley. I decided to try something new with the green beans. I sautéed some onion slices with the green beans and garlic, then added some water and let them simmer for about 10 minutes. I removed those from the pan, added a couple of tablespoons of butter, then added some flour to make a roux. I added about a cup of warm milk and stirred until it started to thicken. Then the green bean mixture went back into the pan to get coated with the roux. All of that went into a greased baking dish, I grated some smoked Gouda on top of that, sprinkled some fresh bread crumbs on top of the cheese, and hey presto, green bean gratin ready for the oven (350F for about 20 minutes). It was creamy and crunchy and delicious!

CSA half share for week 16

CSA half share for week 16

Week 16’s half share has corn! We were excited to have some farm-fresh corn, so we shucked it, put it in foil with some butter, and threw it on the grill. Unfortunately we were disappointed with the texture and flavor. Now I grew up in Indiana and I’ve grilled plenty of corn, so I’m confident that I didn’t ruin it. It was just kind of chewy and not all that sweet. Oh well. We had some friends over for dinner and had the green bean gratin again. That’s moved into the regular lineup for green bean season, right along with our old favorite, Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s green bean gremolata.

Canning tomatoes

Canning tomatoes

While we were picking up our share at the Farmers Market, we also bought a box of tomatoes. So on Sunday we put up over 30 lbs. of tomatoes! Those should come in handy this winter.

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Vegetarian Goulash

Vegetarian goulash

Vegetarian goulash

I was browsing the latest edition of Food & Wine when this recipe for Wild Mushroom Goulash caught my eye. Here, I said to myself, is a dish that will empty a significant portion of the vegetable crisper. Here is a dish made for our CSA share. A couple of onions, all of our wax peppers and zucchini (!), 28 oz. of freshly peeled tomatoes, and a few potatoes went into the mix. We had a pint of baby bella mushrooms that we used instead of the three pounds of wild and cremini mushrooms the recipe calls for. Also, we didn’t have hot Hungarian paprika, so I used a mixture of smoked paprika and cayenne instead. This hearty stew was a breeze to make and quite filling.

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CSA: Week 14

CSA half share for week 14

CSA half share for week 14

Hoo boy, we have a helluvalotta tomatoes! Our garden is producing 2-3 lbs. every few days, and this week’s half share has even more. We have broccoli rabe new this week instead of chard, which is a nice change. The spuds are piling up in the potato bin, and we have a crisper full of peppers. Cabbage has returned but it’s purple this time. Juliana transformed the last cabbage into potato-stuffed cabbage rolls and froze a bunch of them. This one is probably going to end up as slaw for an upcoming barbecue this weekend. We might also use a bunch of the potatoes to make potato salad.

Canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes

Let’s see, so far we’ve used tomatoes to make sauce, salsa, and paste. I’d make ketchup but we just don’t eat much of it. Last night we filled three quart Ball jars with tomatoes and gave them the hot-water treatment. So those are now stashed away in the cellar until this winter when we want to remember the Great Tomato Harvest of 2013.

Tuna ceviche

Tuna ceviche

On a side note, one day I thawed a nice piece of tuna that I picked up on sale a couple of weeks ago. I diced it and threw in some minced jalapeño and red onion, squeezed a couple of limes over it, and let it sit for an hour or so, mixing every once in a while. So dinner that night was tuna ceviche scooped up with homemade tortilla chips. Simple and delicious—just the way we like it!

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CSA: Week 13

CSA half share for week 13

CSA half share for week 13

As August begins, we’re seeing a greater variety in our half share from Heartland Family Farms. New this week are tomatoes, eggplant, and jalapeño peppers. Juliana suggested making and freezing salsa with some of the tomatoes, jalapeños, and onion. For dinner tonight, I’m thawing some tuna, which I will finely chop and mix with thinly sliced red onion and lots of fresh lime juice (and maybe some minced jalapeño). That will sit in the fridge for about an hour while I thinly slice the eggplant lengthwise and give it a quick grilling. I’ll add some diced avocado to the ceviche and a little salt and pepper. I’ll put a big dollop of that on a slice of eggplant, roll it up sushi-style, and sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.

Zucchini bread and muffins

Zucchini bread and muffins

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Last week was a busy week around the Al Gusto World Headquarters. We had friends over for a mid-week dinner that featured pasta with the oven-roasted tomatoes I mentioned in the last post. For dessert, last week’s blackberries accompanied some peaches in a delicious galette that I somehow managed not to take a picture of. We spent the weekend visiting my family in northern Indiana and, not coincidentally, went to the Brew Haven craft beer festival in New Haven with my brother, who took third place in the IPA category of the homebrew competition. We came home with a bunch of zucchini from my parents’ garden, so Juliana got busy and made zucchini bread and muffins.

Amish paste tomatoes

Amish paste tomatoes

Tomato paste

Tomato paste

In the meantime, our garden was busy producing paste tomatoes, so I made a couple of batches of tomato paste. I peeled and seeded the tomatoes, chopped them, put them in a pan and sprinkled them with salt, and cooked them in a 250F oven for a few hours, stirring every 30 minutes at first, then more frequently as they reduced. About 5 pounds of tomatoes resulted in a 1/2 cup of paste. The paste is in an ice cube tray in the freezer, so eventually I’ll have 8 tablespoon-size chunks of tomato paste ready to plop into a sauce.

Zucchini fritters

Zucchini fritters

Also, these turned out so good I had to share them. I made fritters with the remaining shredded zucchini and we had them for dinner with a salad of marinated cucumber, tomato, and onion. Now that’s a little bit of summer on a plate!

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CSA: Week 12

Garden tomatoes in late July

Garden tomatoes in late July

Roasted tomatoes

Roasted tomatoes

We’re deep into summer, so I thought we’d be getting more tomatoes in our CSA by now. It’s just as well that we’re not because our garden is providing plenty! Juliana roasted some today with garlic and oregano, so here are some before and after photos. They’re so-o-o-o delicious—sweet and garlicky. They’ll be fantastic on pizza or salad or in risotto. There’s nothing like slow-roasting tomatoes to concentrate their flavor; plus, without so much water, they freeze well and can be saved for winter as a reminder of warmer days.

CSA half share for week 12

CSA half share for week 12

So anyway, let’s see what’s in this week’s CSA half share. Blackberries! Mmmm, there’s enough for a small tart, or I could make blackberry ice cream. Maybe blackberry custard tartlets? I’ll have to think on this. Juliana grabbed some extra beets, so she’ll be having salad with beets for lunch at some point this week. Seeing cabbage again was a bit disappointing, but Juliana dug up a recipe for stir fried cabbage with South Indian spices, so that’s what’s for dinner tonight. Last week’s potatoes accompanied a roasted chicken, and now we have a half-gallon of chicken stock to either use or freeze. We almost always have chicken stock in the freezer because it’s so versatile and gives you lots of options when you’re trying to figure out what to make for dinner.

So that’s what we have to work with this week. Today Juliana wondered aloud whether we could handle a full share next year. We certainly aren’t buying many vegetables at the grocery this summer, and we’re doing a good job of eating the ones we get from the CSA. However, I think her pondering was prompted by the fact that the full share this week included eggplant. She loves her some eggplant.

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CSA: Week 11

Zucchini tart

Zucchini tart

We’re still eating our way through last week’s half share. A highlight for me was this savory zucchini tart, pictured here ready to go into the oven. For the dough, I used this recipe for an heirloom tomato tart with Parmesan crust.

CSA half share for week 11

CSA half share for week 11

Everything in this week’s share is a repeat of something we’ve received in the last week or two, but the good news is there’s no cabbage! We’re getting plenty of beans, squash, and potatoes though. Last week’s fennel wasn’t really enough to make a side dish for two, but combined with this week’s bulb we should have enough.

Last night before going out to see a local production of Much Ado about Nothing we had a simple meal of stuffed squash and beans. I cut three yellow squash in half, scooped out the seeds, and par-boiled the squash until tender but firm, maybe 6 minutes or so. I minced some onion and some peppers from last week’s share and sautéed them along with a half pound of ground pork, some fennel seeds, salt, and pepper. Then I added some fine bread crumbs and a little milk to sweeten and bind. That filling went into the squash and then into a 350F oven for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile I put the cleaned beans in gently boiling water for about 8 minutes, then removed them and sautéed them in butter with salt and pepper for a few minutes. It wasn’t a spectacular dinner, but it was tasty enough and used several ingredients from our share.

Okay, that’s it for now. I think we’re having potato-leek soup some night this week, and I’m going to look for something interesting to do with that fennel.

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Award-Winning Homebrew!

A page from my Brewer's Log

A page from my Brewer’s Log

I’ve been homebrewing for 2 1/2 years now, and I’m certain that I’ve improved over that time. I usually set out to achieve a particular aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and alcohol level, and I take careful notes about my process, temperatures, and volumes. That way when I make a good beer, I have a good chance of replicating my success; and when I make a not-so-good beer, I can try to figure out where I went wrong. But it’s difficult to get really helpful feedback about homebrew from family and friends for two reasons: 1) Most people don’t know much about beer styles and don’t know how to judge whether a beer adheres to its style. They only know whether they like it or not. 2) Most friends either don’t want to hurt your feelings or don’t want to get cut off from a free source of quaffable brew. So over the past year I’ve entered a few homebrew competitions to get a sense of how good my beers are and how they could be better.

The Indiana State Fair Brewers’ Cup is an annual competition that has divisions for both homebrewers and professionals. This year they had 900 homebrew entries and 400 professional entries in 23 categories. These categories are beer styles as defined by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and most categories also have sub-categories. For example, the first category—Light Lager—includes the sub-categories Lite American Lager, Standard American Lager, Premium American Lager, Munich Helles, and Dortmunder Export. The Porter category includes Brown Porter, Robust Porter, and Baltic Porter. This year I volunteered as a steward at the Brewers’ Cup, and I’ll write more about that in a subsequent post.

My award-winning Maibock

My award-winning Maibock

I also entered four of my homebrews in the competition. In the Bock category I entered a Maibock; in the Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer category I entered a Blonde Ale with lemongrass, coconut, and Thai basil (Liz Lemongrass, which you may remember won the Hop Jockeys’ Iron Brewer competition); in the Smoke-Flavored/Wood-Aged Beer category I entered a Märzen for which I smoked some of the malt with apple wood; and in the Specialty Beer category I entered a Brown Porter flavored with dried chipotles. Much to my delight, the Maibock took second place and the Smoked Märzen took third place.

In a competition, each beer is evaluated by two or three judges, who score it for aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression; they also provide comments. I’ve found that their comments can sometimes be difficult to interpret (or in some cases even to read), especially when they provide contradicting notes. Nevertheless, I always type their scores and notes into a spreadsheet I keep, and I also make notes to myself in which I try to distill what I learned from the judges and what I should do differently the next time. Below are the scores and some representative comments from the judges for the Maibock and Smoked Märzen.

Maibock
Characteristics Possible Score1 Score2 Score3 Comments
Aroma 12 7 6 8 “Sweet malt, some noble hop aroma. Pleasant.”
Appearance 3 2 1 2 “Tan” “Light copper” “golden” “Nice head retention” “Light on retention”
Flavor 20 15 15 12 “Hop flavor noticable” “Hop bitter aftertaste” “Expected a little more malt flavor”
Mouthfeel 5 3 4 3 “High carbonation” “Dry finish”
Overall 10 6 6 7 “A little on the hoppy side” “Appropriate hop flavor, too much hop aroma” “Very drinkable”
Total 50 33 32 32 Very good (30-37)
Notes: In the final judging, the score was increased to 36.
Smoked Märzen
Characteristics Possible Score1 Score2 Comments
Aroma 12 10 9 “Nice subtle applewood aroma” “Sweet bready malt – biscuity”
Appearance 3 2 3 “Bright clarity” “Good head retention”
Flavor 20 16 14 “Smoke flavor is somewhat subtle and light” “Malt is a little more Pilsner than Vienna – could use a little more malt character”
Mouthfeel 5 4 4 “Medium-light body” “Creamy but not cloying”
Overall 10 7 8 “Very nice smoke flavor and balance” “Good clean smoke character” “Would drink a lot of this”
Total 50 39 38 Excellent (38-44)
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CSA: Week 10

Another week, another half share from Heartland Family Farms! Let’s see what we’ll be eating this week….

CSA half share for week 10

CSA half share for week 10

There are a few new items: fennel, broccoli, and green tomatoes. We’re getting full of cabbage, so we’re hoping it’s near the end of its cycle. Two weeks ago we got red potatoes and put them to good use. We roasted them and used some for hand pie fillings. The rest we spritzed with some oil and put on the grill for a side dish.

If the weather weren’t so hot, we might whip up a leek and potato soup. Instead, we’re thinking about pairing the leeks and fennel with salmon for dinner. We eat a lot of broccoli, so the little bit that we have here will be gone before you know it. We’re getting a lot of green beans from our garden, and Juliana has been quick pickling them. And I can’t see green tomatoes without thinking about covering them in panko and frying them.

So that’s what’s in store for this week. Last Saturday I stewarded at a beer competition (and a couple of my beers won awards!), so the next couple of posts will probably be about that experience.

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Hand Pies

Potato-chard hand pies

Potato-chard hand pies

Whether you call it a pasty, an empanada, a pastel, a calzone, a patty, a bridie, a turnover, or some other name from the seemingly endless list, there’s clearly something fundamental about a flattened piece of dough folded over to contain a savory or sweet filling and baked or fried. Here at Al Gusto we call them hand pies and we’ll eat them no matter what you call them, thank you very much. When we started this blog, we discussed possibly featuring a different type of hand pie each month, but apparently that was a little too structured for us. So it looks like hand pies will be an occasional feature, beginning right now.

Faced with a long list of vegetables that must be eaten in a timely manner, I naturally have started thinking of dishes that use multiple vegetables. We had some red potatoes, an onion, a yellow squash, and some chard from our CSA share, so I decided to make a filling for hand pies by roasting everything but the chard, which I sautéed in olive oil with some previously roasted garlic. I chopped it up and mixed it all together and Robert is your mother’s brother. Actually Robert is my brother, but I don’t have children (praise science!).

For the dough, I combined 8 oz. (by weight) of unbleached flour, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a teaspoon of baking powder in the food processor and gave it all a few blasts to mix it. Then I added 4 oz. (one stick) of unsalted butter that was cut into rough cubes. I processed all of that for about 45-60 seconds until it started to come together. I flattened the dough into a disk, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Then I rolled it out, cut some circles about 6 inches in diameter, and placed those on parchment paper on a baking sheet. I put a large spoonful of filling on each circle, brushed the edge with egg wash, folded the circle over the filling to form a half moon, and used a fork to seal the edges. Then I brushed the hand pies with egg wash, put them in a 400F oven for about 15-20 minutes, pulled them out, and let them cool for as long as I could wait.

A hand pie is a nice alternative to a sandwich for lunch. This is where the savvy bloggers ask their readers something like “So what’s your favorite kind of hand pie?” to stimulate discussion in the comments section. But I just don’t see how anyone could pick a favorite.

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