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One of my least favorite parts of the CSA box is the kale. I like my greens raw, coated in olive oil and vinegar, so when the kale gets too leathery to simply toss into the salad spinner, I have to face cooking it in some manner. And I have NEVER liked cooked greens, no matter how much bacon, salt and cornbread were added into the mix.

A few fellow foodies suggested that I make kale chips, advice that I took to heart after sampling the dried okra at Earth Fare. Crunchy veggies instead of mushy greens? I’m in.

I followed a friend’s simple set of instructions:

Separate stems from leaves. Toss with olive oil to lightly coat and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper. Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes and let the chips cool on the tray for extra crispness.

The chips were pretty tasty when I tried them straight out of the oven, but when I sat down with them 20 minutes later in an ill-fated attempt to use them as a popcorn substitute while watching Butter (good movie, by the way), about half of them had wilted. Too much olive oil, maybe? Do you have to eat these within five minutes of their exit from the oven?

Anyway, no crunch = no popcorny goodness. So we’re back to Square One, where I make elaborate plans to steam the kale and stir it into quinoa and then pretty much don’t.

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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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After four summers of putting up with the squash in my CSA box, I have, at last, found a reason to love the stuff.

My habit of perusing stacks of used books finally paid off during a spring visit to Nashville’s BookManBookWoman, which yielded a copy of Cover & Bake by the Cook’s Illustrated team. I’ve found the Cook’s Illustrated collections to be virtually foolproof — they do, after all, painstakingly test each recipe numerous times before releasing it into the wild.

I grew up with very little respect for the squash. I remember eating it mostly fried, although surely that wasn’t the only way my mother and grandmother prepared it. The only thing I really figured out to do with it myself was to chop it up and sauté it with a little garlic and olive oil. Passable, but by no means a method to use up copious amounts of squash.

This recipe, however, uses 2 entire POUNDS of squash, meaning I haven’t spent the last two weeks feeling bad about unwanted veggies languishing in the crisper. They’re all gone.

The original recipe specifically calls for zucchini and summer squash. I was saving my zucchini for brownies (I’ll share that recipe soon — seriously the best brownies ever), and I had at least three other varieties of squash in the box, including Slick Pik, Zephyr and patty pan.

Squash is squash, I say. I also substituted chopped leeks for the shallots, since I had leftover leeks and the Internet vaguely signaled that they would be OK. No complaints.

I also never bother keeping parsley in the house, so I used an entire cup of chopped basil instead of buying a whole bunch of parsley just for 1/4 cup.

This recipe is a lot of work, to be sure, but totally worth it. The creamy sauce delivers a consistent hint of fresh basil, and every forkful delivers a healthy array of veggies.

Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes and Basil
(Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
Serves 6 to 8

Topping
4 slices white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Filling
2 pounds zucchini and/or other squash varieties, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/2-inch thick
Kosher salt
3/4 lb. penne
4 tbsp. olive oil
6 medium shallots, minced (about 1 cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Ground black pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered

For the topping:
Process the bread and butter in a food processor fitted with the steel blade until coarsely ground, about six 1-second pulses; set aside.

For the filling:
1. Toss the squash with 1 tbsp. kosher salt and place in a large colander set inside a large bowl to drain, about 30 minutes.
2. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 2 tbsp. kosher salt and the pasta; cook, stirring occasionally  until al dente. Drain the pasta, return to the pot, and toss with 1 tbsp. of olive oil; set aside. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat to 400 degrees.
3.  Spread the salted squash evenly over a double layer of paper towels and pat dry with additional paper towels, wiping off any residual salt. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half of the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and slightly charred, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to the pan and return to high heat until smoking; brown the remaining squash and transfer to the baking sheet.
4. Wipe the skillet clean with a wad of paper towels. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, basil and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add the sauce, tomatoes and sautéed squash to the pasta; stir gently to combine. Pour the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish  and sprinkle with the breadcrumb topping. Bake until the casserole is bubbling and the crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

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The Bodum Bistro Universal Knife Block: definitely on my list of Favorite Things right now.

The new cookware we bought a couple of years ago came with a set of really groovy, really sharp knives.

I began using them in place of the set of less exciting knives that have been getting duller by the minute in their wooden block ever since someone gave them to us nearly two decades ago.

Where do you keep loose knives, especially when you want them to keep their edge? I was reduced to keeping these in the silverware drawer and trying to keep them from butting into each other.

I really like the look of a magnetic knife rack, but I don’t trust Yang, despite his advanced age, not to go smacking shiny knives off the wall in the middle of the night.

Amazon.com to the rescue. I found the Bodum Bistro Universal Knife Block during my search for a solution. It’s STUNNING, and it takes up next to NO room on the countertop. I love the bold color (it was, at some point, also available in black, orange and lime green), and the functionality can’t be beat. It contains hundreds of narrow plastic sticks, which allow the knives (and scissors) to easily slide into place. My largest knife is too tall to drop in vertically, but it goes in quite neatly at a slight angle.

A view from the top: Although it currently houses only three knives and a pair of scissors, the Bodum knife block has plenty of room for more occupants.

At nearly $50, it was a bit of an indulgence, but what’s better than an indulgence that actually solves a problem?

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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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So it turns out that strawberry shortcake is NOT simply strawberries with pound cake, angel food cake or sponge cake (no, not even those perfectly round little sponge cakes sold in packs of six in your grocery store’s produce section).

The shortcake you likely remember from your childhood? An imposter.

Shortcake is its very own thing. Simply placing strawberries and whipped cream (or, more likely, Cool Whip) on top of any kind of cake does not magically turn it into shortcake. (And while I’m on the subject of Cool Whip, how is it that nobody ever told me how EASY it was to make your own whipped cream?)

Shortcakes are essentially biscuits made with butter instead of shortening, with just a hint of added sugar. They’re supposed to accent the strawberries, after all, not compete for the title of sweetest dessert element.

I’ve made the Cook’s Illustrated version of strawberry shortcake a couple of times, and it’s a winner. The shortcakes are light, but substantial enough to hold the juicy berries without falling apart. The strawberries themselves could probably do with a little less added sugar, especially if you’re lucky enough to get specimens as sweet as I’ve found at the Dennison’s Family Farm strawberry stand this year. The recipe makes way more shortcakes than two people need, but the leftover cakes are good for a couple more days and you can make half, a third or even a quarter of the whipped cream recipe if you like.

Strawberry Shortcake

  • 8 cups (about 2.5 lbs.) strawberries, hulled
  • 6 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting the work surface and biscuit cutter)
  • 5 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tsp. half-and-half
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups whipped cream

For the strawberries:
Place 3 cups of the hulled strawberries in a large bowl and crush with a potato masher. Slice the remaining 5 cups berries and stir into the crushed berries along with the sugar. Set the fruit aside to macerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. (Note: Our leftover macerated strawberries were good for three more days.)

For the shortcakes:
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the flour, 3 Tbsp. of the sugar, the baking powder, and salt to combine. Scatter the butter pieces on top and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1-second pulses. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Mix the beaten egg with the half-and-half and vanilla extract in a measuring cup. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture. Combine with a rubber spatula until large clumps form. Turn the mixture onto a floured work surface and lightly knead until it comes together. (Note: I’m not sure how I avoided screwing this up, given my lack of prowess with bread dough. It was a sticky mess, but I somehow managed to work enough extra flour in to make it work without ruining it. The husband has mad dough-making skills, so I should probably convince him to handle this part.)

Use your fingertips to pat the dough into a 9-by-6-inch rectangle about ¾-inch thick, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Flour a 2¾-inch biscuit cutter and cut out 6 dough rounds. Place the rounds 1 inch apart on a small baking sheet, brush the tops with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar. (Dough rounds can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 hours before baking.) (The recipe notes that you can roll up the leftover dough scraps and make more shortcakes, but warns that they may not be as good as the originals. I detected no difference, so use all of your dough.)

Bake until the shortcakes are golden brown, 12-14 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool the cakes until warm, about 10 minutes.

To assemble:
When the shortcakes have cooled slightly, split them in half. Place each cake bottom on an individual serving plate, and spoon a portion of the fruit and a dollop of whipped cream over each cake bottom. Cap with the cake top and serve immediately.

Whipped Cream 
Makes about 2 cups

  • 1 cup heavy cream, cold
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Chill a deep, non-reactive, 1- to 1.5-quart bowl and beaters in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Put all ingredients in bowl and beat on low until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium and beat until beaters leave a trail through the mixture, approximately 30 seconds more. Beat on high until the whipped cream is smooth, thick and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 to 30 seconds. (Note: Don’t skimp on freezing the bowl and beaters. That’s what makes the magic happen.)

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As a friend of mine would say, Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale is real spicy-like. It’ll also produce a flaming hot soda burp. I mean, probably. Because I wouldn’t really know.

I have a not-very-secret obsession with ginger.  Ginger ale. Ginger beer. Ginger-based cocktails. Ginger cookies. Candied ginger (I like the uncrystallized version from Trader Joe’s because I can eat it at my desk without dropping sugar everywhere).

I like spicy things. I like sweet things. All of my favorite ginger concoctions satisfy both of those likes.

The addition of Earth Fare to Huntsville’s shopping choices made it pretty easy to fill my ginger beer craving. A four-pack of Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew seemed to be the spiciest ginger soda I was going to find around here, and I thought it was the perfect brand for the occasional ginger-based cocktail.

I was wrong, however. It seems I didn’t need to look to all the way to a California company to satisfy this fix. Some of the hottest, spiciest ginger ale I can get my hands on is bottled a mere 100 miles away in Birmingham, Alabama.

Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale – Southern Spice is honestly one of the zestiest blends I’ve ever tasted, challenging the array of international ginger ales that decimate the taste buds of mere mortals at the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta. (If you ever go there, you should totally mix the spiciest ginger ale you can find with ALL the other soda flavors, no matter how many funny looks you get from your date.)

I discovered this peppery ambrosia at the I Dream of Weenie hot dog van in Nashville, which is another post for another day, I promise.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale at my neighborhood Publix, meaning beverages are about to get a lot spicier at Chez Haggerty. Maybe a couple of pimento cheese hot dogs (totally a thing at I Dream of Weenie) are in order, too.

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