music: “love vigilantes” by Iron & Wine

Winter presents a bit of a challenge to eating local when you reside in Northern New Jersey.  It is currently snowing here and in general the weather is FREEZING!  Basically, it’s the type of weather where if you go outside to go running, your eyes tear, and then they immediately freeze on your face.  It may be a bit more challenging in the winter months to eat locally here because winter’s farmers markets are extremely sparse, but thanks to Blooming Hill Farm, a local, organic farm that runs their own CSA I have been able to continue eating local produce!

It wasn’t until this summer when I started doing 99% of my food shopping at farmer’s markets that I learned about CSAs.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  They can be set up weekly, monthly, or seasonally.  Basically, you support the farmer by paying a set price and they reward your support with a bounty of local produce.

I was so excited the first time the box of produce was dropped off.  It was a few weeks before Christmas, but it was just as exciting!  Throwing open the top of the crate was just like tearing off wrapping paper, I couldn’t wait to see what I got.  What I found inside was so exciting.  I honestly could not believe the amount of produce I got for the extremely reasonable price I paid.

Let’s not forget this is like a holy grail of food here.  LOCAL, SEASONAL, and ORGANIC.  And CHEAP!

Being part of a CSA is rewarding for so many reasons.  You get to support a local farmer, get a bounty of fresh and healthy food, eat with the seasons, and be exposed to foods you might not have otherwise picked out.  It is a really fun and creative process to come up with  meals when trying to utilize a box full of produce you didn’t pick out.

The best part of this CSA is that you don’t have to commit to a weekly pick-up/delivery.  This is a really nice feature because, if you don’t get the chance to use everything up, you don’t necessarily have to overload yourself with another box full of produce.

Contents of my crate:

Bok Choy

Red and White Onions

White Potatoes

Kale (and tons of it!)

Parsnips

Apples

Corn Meal (I think its cornmeal at least…)

Acorn Squash

Turnips

Parsnips

Popcorn Kernels

 

Find your local CSA

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Triple Squash Soup

music: “airplanes” by Local Natives

Hopefully everyone had a wonderful holiday!  It is snowing here in the northeast, so it’s the perfect weather for soup!  A few weeks ago, I had this delicious triple squash soup for lunch at Whole Foods.  Knowing I would have to recreate it for myself, I snapped a quick picture of the ingredients before leaving.

But before getting to the soup, first…I have to show off a brand new tool.

I have always wanted a spout for olive oil.  I think it will really be helpful in getting the hang of the drizzle of olive oil, rather than having to measure it out.  I really envy all those home cooks who can do it all by eye.

By the way, I love espresso, especially freshly roasted beans straight from the coffee roasters themselves.  You can see the remains of the beans I brought home from my last trip to California.

Flavoring agents

Heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large stock pot.  Then add two chopped carrots, two chopped celery stalks, one chopped onion, and salt and pepper.  Saute for about 5 minutes.

Once this has cooked down a bit, add in one chopped acorn squash, one chopped butternut squash, and one small, chopped pumpkin.  Saute this for about 10 minutes.

Next add 1 teaspoon of ginger, 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, and one tablespoon of brown rice syrup.  Let this cook down for about five minutes.

Then add enough water to almost cover the vegetables.

Turn the heat down to medium and let this cook partially covered until the squash are very soft.  This will take about 20-30 minutes.

Once the squash are very soft, puree the soup using an immersion blender (or in batches using a regular blender)

Next add chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Triple Squash Soup

Drizzle of olive oil

2 Carrots, chopped

2 Celery Stalks, chopped

1 medium Onion, chopped

Salt and Pepper

1 acorn squash, seeded and chopped

1 butternut squash, seeded and chopped

1 small pumpkin, seeded chopped

1 teaspoon ginger

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon brown rice syrup

(*note: brown rice syrup is used to add sweetness; if you don’t have it you can simply omit it, or substitute another sweetening agent like agave syrup or brown sugar)

water

1/4 cup parsley

 

Heat drizzle of olive oil in large stock pot over medium-high heat.  Add carrots, celery, and onion.  Saute for about five minutes, or until onion is translucent.  Add squash and pumpkin and saute for about ten minutes.  Then add ginger, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup.  Saute for another five minute.  Than add enough water to almost cover the vegetables.  Lower the heat to medium and partially cover.  Let this cook for about 20-30 minutes or until the squash is very soft.  Next, puree the soup and add parsley along with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Quinoa with Roasted Mushrooms

music: “Snow Day” by Matt Pond PA

It really is interesting to try to use up different local vegetables. In this case I had a bunch of tatsoi, which is very similar to spinach.  This recipe has an awesome flavor due to the dijon mustard and the pear balsamic dressing.

Adapted from Whole Foods

Mushrooms roasted in a simple oil-free pear balsamic dressing are delicious tossed with quinoa, spinach, green onions and almonds. Serve this dish warm, room temperature or cold.


Ingredients

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small pear, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1 garlic clove, halved
2 pounds shitake mushrooms, stemmed and gills scraped out (cremini work well also)
1 cup red quinoa
3 cups tightly packed tatsoi, chopped (substitute spinach for the tatsoi)
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat oven to 475°F.

Put vinegar, mustard, pear and garlic in a blender with 1/3 cup water and blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Cut mushrooms into chunks and combine in a large mixing bowl with 1/4 cup of the pear balsamic dressing. Spread mushrooms in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast mushrooms until tender, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

While mushrooms roast, prepare quinoa. In a medium pot, bring 1 3/4 cups water to a boil. Stir in quinoa, cover pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove pot from heat and set aside, covered, 10 minutes more. Uncover and fluff quinoa with a fork.


Combine mushrooms, quinoa, spinach, green onions, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup more pear balsamic dressing in a large, wide serving bowl. Stir to mix well.

Serve with remaining dressing on the side.



Polenta with Apple Chicken Sausage, Kale, and Beans

music: “Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells


This time of year is so crazy!  I haven’t even had the time to enjoy the Christmas season and the snow because I have been to crazed with finishing up school.  Unfortunately, cooking gets sporadic at these crazy times for me.   Luckily, my school work actually encourages me a lot of the time to get back into the kitchen and make myself a healthy meal. Last week, I came across this recipe on Whole Foods’ website while doing research for a presentation I had to do for school.  It is so warm and yummy especially this time of year!

Polenta is a cold weather dish popular in Italy, especially Venice! The apple chardonnay chicken sausage (available at Whole Foods) adds a really nice taste to this dish. You should try it out!

Polenta with Apple Chicken Sausage, Kale, and Beans adapted from Whole Foods

4 cups chicken broth

Salt to taste

3 cloves garlic, peeled

4 sage leaves

1 (2-inch) sprig rosemary

1 teaspoon red chile flakes

Cheesecloth and kitchen twine (you could also use a loose tea holder)

3 cups  dinosaur kale, large stems removed, leaves chopped

3 yellow polenta

drizzle of  extra virgin olive oil

10 ounces Apple Chardonnay Chicken sausage, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans (for a quick shortcut you can use a can)

1/4 c Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Method

In a large pot, bring the broth, 4 cups water, and salt to a boil. Meanwhile, wrap the garlic, sage, rosemary, and red chile flakes in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with a piece of twine to make a pouch. Reduce the heat to low, add the herb pouch and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and discard pouch, then add kale and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain kale, return liquid to the pot and return to a simmer. Set kale aside.  With the broth mixture at a simmer, pour the polenta into the pot in a slow, steady stream while stirring with a wooden spoon. Keeping the heat very low, stir slowly every few minutes for about 40 minutes. If some lumps form, press them against the side of the pot to dissolve them. The polenta should be thick and creamy.

While the polenta is cooking, heat drizzle of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until golden brown all over. Remove and reserve.

To finish the polenta, turn off the heat, cover pot and let rest, without stirring, for 10 minutes. Remove lid and stir polenta, scraping the sides of the pot with the wooden spoon. Add reserved kale, beans, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the parsley and stir gently to incorporate all the ingredients into the polenta. Cook for another 2 minutes at a simmer, continuing to stir.

To serve, top the polenta with the sausage and sprinkle with remaining parsley and Parmesan cheese.



Applesauce Made Easy

music: “Boy” by Ra Ra Ra Riot


Things have been so hectic for me lately.  With the end of the semester looming and then Thanksgiving, I haven’t been able to really do anything I wanted.  In fact, I am at school right now preparing for a presentation I have to give on Whole Foods later tonight.  So I thought, a quick simple recipe, which is relatively quick and simple, but produces something ridiculously tasty!


4 pounds apples, peeled and cored
4 strips of lemon peel
1-2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup water

Core and quarter your apples


Put all of the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil

Once boiling, reduce it to a simmer and cover the pot.

Cook for approximately 30 minutes, or until apples are quite soft.

Using a pair of tongs remove apple skins, lemon peels, and cinnamon sticks

Let cool slightly then mash or puree depending on whether you like a rustic, chunky applesauce or a smoother applesauce

 

 


Delicious served hot or cold,with or without a sprinkle of cinnamon!

My Favorite Place

music: “Let It Be Me” by Ray LaMontagne

My breath slows every time I think of Och’s Orchard.  It is my absolute favorite place in the entire world.  It is a small orchard in NY that is just perfect.  To me there is nothing better than a cool, crisp autumn day picking apples at Och’s.  It just doesn’t get any better.  Since words just don’t do it justice, these pictures might help give you a better idea. (My pictures do not do this place justice, heck even if I was a professional photographer and could take exquisite photos, they would still not be as breathtaking as this place actually is.)

Pumpkin Pasta

music: “Lake Michigan” by Rogue Wave

When I saw this post, I knew I had to try a pumpkin sauce for pasta!  About two years ago I first made a pumpkin ravioli recipe I came across in Cooking Light.  That night at the dinner table, my little brother said nothing as he ate his serving of ravioli.  He had absolutely no expression on his face and he just made his way through his plate.  When he was finished he got up and opened his mouth.  I can remember sitting there thinking, ok here it comes, he hated it, he’s going to ask mom to stop letting me cook dinners for everyone and stop forcing him to eat new, strangely concocted dinners.  He opened his mouth and said, “This is by far the best thing you have ever made! If you had made more I’d eat it all and forget about making weight for wrestling.”  At that point, I knew pumpkin and pasta were a happy couple!

Pumpkin Pasta

Serves four

1 lb of gemelli pasta

drizzle of olive oil

1 shallot, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

15 oz of pumpkin (I roasted my own, but using a can is the next best thing)

2 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon fat-free half and half (this is optional, also you could use milk)

1 tablespoon parmesan cheese, grated (or more to taste)

sprinkle of cinnamon

dash of nutmeg

1/4 c fresh sage, chopped

 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt and cook pasta according to the package instructions. Drain. DO NOT RINSE WITH WATER! You need that starch on the pasta to hold onto the sauce.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the olive oil  over medium heat.

Add the shallots and saute until tender (about five minutes).  Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Stir in the chicken broth, pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Cook until the sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes, and then stir in the fat-free half and half (or milk or cream, anything to give it a bit of a creamy texture) and parmesan cheese.  Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes,  and then toss in the sage and cook for one minute longer.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss it up.

Serve with additional cheese if you like.