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My second 2013 Dennison’s Family Farm CSA box yielded the following:

  • Three onions: red, white and yellow. These went into a couple of really tasty stir-fries and a pan of delicious chicken fajitas.
  • Bell pepper: Sacrificed to the stir-fry.
  • Sweet banana peppers: Seeded and sliced to add crunch to summer salads.
  • Jalapeno and Serrano peppers: Currently waiting to be added to salsa.
  • Squash (Slick Pik, Zephyr, patty pan and zucchini): The base for the fabulous Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes and Basil that I wrote about earlier this week. Except for the zucchini, which was reserved for the best brownies in the world, which I will tell you about next week.
  • Cauliflower: I admit to having rarely encountered cauliflower except at salad bars. I tried this Cook’s Illustrated roasted cauliflower recipe I found at Food Lush, adding in the optional chili powder for a little pizzaz. It was edible but uninspiring, and the leftovers were absolutely off-putting (I’m pretty sure leftover roasted cauliflower is the scent they add to natural gas so customers know when they have a leak). I’ll probably just wash, chop and save it for salad next time.
  • Broccoli: I think this was the first head of broccoli I’ve ever eaten that didn’t come from the grocery store. The fresh flavor was amazing. I ate some straight off the stem while I was prepping my photo, and the rest was truly the guest star in our stir-fries, outshining the protein and all other veggies.
  • Leeks: I am again perplexed by leeks, since I never really encountered them before. I used them as a substitute for shallots in the Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes and Basil, and they definitely added a bit of bold flavor.
  • Cucumber: I forgot I had a cucumber in the crisper. I should probably slice it up for salad.
  • Green tomatoes: I have never understood the appeal of green tomatoes. Even when I’ve had really good fried green tomatoes, I found myself thinking, man, if only these had stayed on the vine a little while longer, I could be having an awesome sandwich. I put these aside in dismay and then wrapped them in a newspaper a couple of days ago in hopes of turning them into real tomatoes. I should probably go check the cool dark closet to see if they’ve transformed.
  • Chard: I have neglected my greens, yet again.
  • Basil: I used a lot of the basil in the Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes and Basil, and chopped up the rest for salads.

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Late update, since tomorrow will bring us the Week 2′s CSA  box.

My first 2013 Dennison’s Family Farm CSA box yielded the following:

  • Three onions: red, white and yellow. These have gone in everything from quinoa to chicken fajitas.
  • One leek. Still in the crisper, it’ll probably end up in quinoa.
  • Broccoli rabe. I washed and chopped the greens and buds, and the husband mixed them into ricotta along with spicy Italian sausage to add a little zest to his fabulous homemade calzones. In truth, the sausage overwhelmed the flavor of the rabe, but we tried.
  • Pac Choi: This sits abandoned in my crisper, because I am shamefully bad at using leaf vegetables that have to be cooked.
  • One green squash. I immediately chopped this up and stir-fried it in olive oil with a bit of garlic. Easiest side dish ever.
  • Two quarts of strawberries. Alas, the last two quarts of strawberries I’ll get out of Tennessee this year. I made ice cream with them using my favorite recipe from Ben & Jerry’s (this is the only ice cream recipe book you need to own, BTW). I tossed in a cup of white chocolate chips toward the end for Something Completely Different, but I can’t really taste them. Turns out super sweet strawberries are enough all by themselves.
  • Pistou basil. This is a dwarf basil plant that I need to transplant outside. Last year’s wasn’t very prolific, I have to admit, but I’ll be swimming in fresh basil for the rest of the summer when Dennison’s herbs, along with my emergency back-up plant, start producing.

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Cucumbers, squash, lemon cucumbers, green tomatoes, more squash (sigh) and red noodle beans.

This week’s CSA box was heavy with a little bit of everything.

I faced two unfamiliar items: lemon cucumbers and red noodle beans. The lemon cucumbers are round and a little sweeter than other varieties, and the red noodle beans were tasty but weird.

I riffed on this recipe for Red Noodle Beans with Cracked Black Pepper, only I didn’t have any soy sauce, and I forgot that I just received a couple of bell peppers, so I pretty much just sautéed them in olive oil with diced onion and garlic for about 10 minutes. They tasted like string beans, more or less, except they were squeaky, like cheese curds.

Like I said, tasty but weird.

The box also contained one lone cherry tomato, only I thought I saw two cherry tomatoes, so I ate it expecting to dig the other one out for the husband in a few minutes. Alas, no. I scarfed down the only one. Lucky for me, he’s the forgiving type, and he doesn’t have the same extreme craving for homegrown tomatoes that I do.

Sweet onion, bell peppers, basil, the biggest eggplant I’ve ever had and various hot peppers.

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Yang, simply exhausted from all the sniffing.

My first CSA delivery of the summer yielded quite a spread, including cucumbers, jalapenos, onions, leeks, basil, squash, greens, strawberries, English peas and Roma beans.

As I unloaded the goods, I recalled how Yin used to closely inspect every CSA haul — it was nearly impossible to set up a picture of vegetables without a cat in the frame.

Yin, very serious about his vegetable inspection duties.

Not 30 seconds later, Yang strolled over and resumed Yin’s inspection and photobombing duties. He spent nearly five minutes sniffing every square inch of plant material, nipped at the Chinese cabbage and finally plopped down right on top of the Yukina savoy.

He was in every photograph, just like his brother.

Cats. They know comedy.

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I spent nearly 30 minutes Sunday afternoon chopping vegetables. Homemade pico de gallo is a harsh mistress.

Admittedly, it probably should have taken only about half that long. I’m slow and accident-prone.

Still, it gave me a long time to ponder the psychology of food preparation these days.

I grew up in the ’80s, when moms were going to work in droves and the buzzword in cooking was “timesaving.” Jars of spaghetti sauce and boxes of brownie mix became standard pantry supplies.

The divide between male and female roles was never more apparent. Women became fully aware that they were working a second shift after their 9-to-5 job ended, and many resented every minute of it.

Cooking became a chore made easier by letting somebody else do the grunt work. Convenience was our mantra, and we bought into the pursuit of better living through chemistry.

Somewhere along the way, we went too far. There seems to be a couple generations of people who think nothing of buying a week’s worth of meals from the freezer case. There are likely teenagers who think French toast only comes in sticks, and that “homemade” cookies come from rolls of dough in the dairy case. There are 30-somethings who cannot navigate the meat counter, not because they’re vegetarians, but because the only meat they ever buy is pre-seasoned and pre-cooked.

I’m no cooking saint or food snob. There’s a jar of spaghetti sauce in my pantry and a big bag of Costco meatballs in the freezer, and I’m not afraid to use them.

But I’ve also made my own sauce and meatballs from a recipe passed down through my Italian mother-in-law’s family. I’ve melted three different kinds of chocolate to make brownies that would make anybody eschew the boxed stuff forever.

I, ladies and gentlemen, have made a souffle.

While there has been a foodie revolution gaining momentum over the past decade or so, the quality of many American diets seems to have gone down.

For some, it’s an economic issue. You can buy a couple of cheap hamburgers if all you have is $5 in your pocket, but that $5 won’t cover ground beef, buns, condiments and veggies to make a better version.

Note, however, that if I see you with a cart containing a $6 carton of organic milk AND a stack of Lunchables, you’re doing it wrong.

I don’t always have 45 minutes to make my own pico de gallo and fajitas, but I do have a slow cooker and mad planning skills.

All in all, I don’t mind cooking on the second shift (though I must add that the husband makes an excellent calzone and superb oatmeal cookies). I deserve proper nourishment, as does my husband and anybody else I’m feeding. More than that, though, we deserve delicious nourishment, and the way to delicious is sometimes marked with a sharp knife and zen-like concentration.

By choosing what we eat based on convenience, we stand a chance of shortchanging our bodies and our tastebuds. Avoiding that outcome is never a waste of time.

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This week's CSA haul.

This week's CSA haul.

I’m up to my neck in CSA vegetables: Swiss chard, zucchini, cucumbers, poblanos, cherry tomatoes, squash and more. I made tiny souffles (my first ever) on Friday night with a recipe for Poblano and Cheddar Cheese Souffle from the 5 Star Foodie Culinary Adventures blog. I give credit to the Inspired Bites blog for helping me through the pepper-roasting process.

Oddly, I was more scared to roast a poblano pepper than I was to attempt a souffle. Go figure.

Truly, I could not handle this culinary adventure without the world wide web. Thank you, Internets.

You’ll note that there is no photograph of these alleged souffles. That’s because about three-quarters of the way through the 20-minute baking time, I realized that I WAS ACTUALLY MAKING A NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT DISH and I SHOULD BE SCARED and THEN THE TINY SOUFFLES ACTUALLY PUFFED UP and there was no way I was taking the risk that my first-ever homemade souffles would be served all sunken and non-poofy just so I could stop and take pictures.

They looked just like the ones here, and they were delicious. Trust me. I’m a woman who can make souffles.

I leave you with photos from the other half of this weekend’s food experiments: the Dehydration Debacle. Really, it was only half a debacle. Someone at work brought in some freeze-dried snap beans last week, and they turned out to be a crunchy, tasty snack. Having an excess of snap beans AND cucumbers crowding the CSA box, I decided to drag out my old-school stackable-unit dehydrator.

The results: crunchy bean curls that don’t really taste like anything, and thin cucumber chips that I would definitely pay good money for. I put just a slight sprinkle of salt on top of most of the slices before cranking up the dehydrator, and it seems to draw out the cucumber flavor.

Next weekend, I’ll bring out the dehydrator again to take care of all the pesky zucchini and squash taking up room and dealing out guilt in the hallway closet.

Dried snap beans.

Dried snap beans.

Dried cucumber slices.

Dried cucumber slices.

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