Summer bounty, or, my box runneth over

Week after week, my box brings the bounty of summer. Ripe tomatoes (so ripe they sometimes turn moldy within two days), fat green and yellow zucchini, paper bags full of small tender pink and yellow potatoes, and bunch after bunch of basil. All these vegetables happen to be ones that we don’t readily use so they’ve piled up as the weeks go on. We tend to go for things that can be easily steamed or sauteed, and these fellows don’t lend themselves particularly well to these techniques. (Yuck, steamed potatoes with steamed basil topping!)

Summer gratin of potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and basil

But when I searched using my beloved Food Blog Search for recipes with potatoes, zucchini, and tomatoes, I couldn’t find anything combining these three. Has no one else been confronted by this particular food dilemma? I would clearly have to strike out on my own, which is never a bad thing as long as I have the energy for a little culinary adventure.

Inspired by my one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Suppers, and author Deborah Madison’s love of gratins, I decided to make a giant, summery gratin out of my collection of wayward vegetables. I found a recipe online for Classic Potato Gratin that sounded rich and filling, essential as I wanted this to be a full-meal dish. But this recipe was decidedly un-vegan, containing both butter and cream, so I searched high and low for vegan cream recipes, finally locating and adapting a recipe for a vegan creme fraiche that turned out very well.

The dish turned out delicious. The main flavoring was the garlic and basil, and the contrasting textures of the different vegetables, from chewy potato topping down into soft roasted tomato and tender zucchini and waxy interior potato, were quite wonderful. The gratin was filling but not too rich, and the colors, pink and yellow potatoes, red tomatoes, green and yellow squash, and dark green basil, were just gorgeous.

I’m pretty proud of myself for coming up with a fairly elaborate and very delicious solution to my produce conundrum, so I’m submitting the recipe to Culinarty’s Original Recipe blog event. This is also a perfect entry for this month’s Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free! event, hosted by Rachel over at The Crispy Cook. The theme for this round-up of gluten-free delights is Seasonal Vegetables and well, it doesn’t get any more seasonal than a neverending summer cascade of potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini and basil!

I’ve written out the recipe below (this blog is part of Food Blog Search, so now there will be at least one recipe featuring the potato-tomato-zucchini trifecta) but I have a few caveats and addenda, as usual, so be sure to read those first! Continue reading

Box Gone Bad: I taste & create!

Taste & Create is a very cool monthly blog event that assigns participating food blogs together in pairs. Each blogger of the pair reads through the other’s site and chooses a recipe to create, taste, and blog about!

This round was my first time participating, and I couldn’t wait to see who I would be paired with, and what dishes we would choose from each other’s offerings. I was paired with the lovely Cowgirl Min, over at the blog The Bad Girl’s Kitchen. Ooh, how saucy! Let’s see what bad girls are cookin’ up these days…

The first thing I noticed and enjoyed about BGK is that it is something of a collective site. Min is not the only bad girl sharing her recipes, although she is the main contributer, and the “life story” you get to follow throughout the posts (which is half the fun of a food blog) is mostly hers. But other friends contribute both recipes and personality, which makes the site extra fun to read.

Breakfast casserole, In My Box-style

Breakfast casserole, In My Box-style

And then, well, it turns out that what bad girls are cooking these days… is mostly meat and wheat. One I don’t eat, and the other I can’t eat. I think I was as bemused as Min was reading my site. I’m going, “What on earth can I make here that doesn’t involve meat or wheat?” and she was asking, “Where the heck do I find Laura Chenel aged goat cheese when the nearest, minuscule grocery store is 35 miles away? And they’ve never heard of goat cheese?” You can read more about Min’s adventure with my blog over at her post about making my decadent breakfast tacos.

In keeping with the theme of my blog, I wanted, if possible, to make a recipe that would use something from my CSA box. I found recipes at BGK for marinated mushrooms and for roasted green beans that sounded good and fit my dietary needs, but neither mushrooms nor green beans would be showing up from Eatwell any time soon. I decided to make something that truly represented the down-home, rich ‘n’ filling spirit of the Bad Girl’s Kitchen, something using the lovely farm-fresh eggs I get every week in my box. I decided to make Min’s yummy-sounding breakfast casserole.

I found gluten-free bread with the proper texture for this sort of dish at Mariposa Bakery in Oakland. I was going to just skip the sausage component, but when I stopped at Trader Joe’s for cheese, I lucked out and found some soy chorizo that contained no wheat gluten! (It’s very rare for fake meat not to be based on wheat gluten.) I already had at home a can of Amy’s Organic Cream of Mushroom Soup (which does contain a small amount of wheat flour), a half-full quart of Silk soy milk, and, of course, my eggs. The only thing I was missing was a can of condensed milk, which I picked up at the corner store by my house. I decided to make a half-recipe since Duck wouldn’t be able to share in this very un-vegan treat.

Look at my ingredients - they live in packages!

Look at my ingredients - so conveniently packaged!

I cooked the sausage, mixed everything together, and popped the casserole in the oven. Since I’d gotten pre-shredded cheese, there was barely any work involved at all, which was a huge relief because this has been a very tired week. It emerged looking browned and gooey and delicious, which it turned out to be. Except for one thing… Okay, so I am not an expert on the canned goods section of the market. Is there an unsweetened variety of condensed milk? Because I thought that condensed milk and sweetened condensed milk were the same thing, until I tasted the oddly sweet, mushroomy topping of my breakfast casserole. Somehow, despite having poured a highly concentrated sweetener over my casserole, I was still expecting a mouthful of savory, egg-bread-sausage goodness. But instead I taste sweet, sweet, sweet, and my mouth gets all confused and doesn’t know what’s going on. [EDIT: I’m a bit of an idiot. Shortly after I posted this post, a reader commented to point out that the original recipe calls for evaporated milk. I know evaporated milk is not sweet and condensed is, but somehow this entire time, and I even thought I went back and checked, I have remained convinced that the recipe called for condensed milk. Did I mention it was a very tired week?]

Nonetheless, the casserole is rich and filling and yummilicious, and I consider this a very successful visit to someone else’s world of food. I don’t know if I would make it again, because I found it as arduous to gather the ingredients (Oakland for GF bread soft enough for this kind of use, TJ’s for soy sausage, etc.) as Cowgirl Min found it to track down my fancy-pants Bay Area stuff. But overall my first round of T&C was a great deal of fun – I got to know someone else’s food blog intimately and I got to walk on the bad girl side of the kitchen. As Min’s blog says, “Try a new recipe… You know you want to.”

Roma Tomatoes and Yellow Finn Potatoes: Week of August 13th

Maybe it’s just that summer’s not my favorite season, produce-wise. Maybe my lifestyle has changed more than I can perceive, now that two cooking styles are comingling in one kitchen. Whatever the reason, Duck and I are talking about not renewing our box.

CSA montage created using Montage-a-google and the keywords “CSA box”

The past few months have been monotonous, and not in a good way. (Good monotony, of course, goes: kale. kale. kale.) I don’t like tomatoes all that much, unless they are truly stunning. The tomatoes from Eatwell have not been. I find the heirlooms watery and tasteless, and they rot within two days. (I know they are picked at the peak of ripeness, and if I liked them in general, I would be glad to do what I had to to not let them spoil – either eat them straight away or preserve them. But since they don’t taste like much, I generally don’t muster the energy until it’s too late.) The Shady Ladies have been tasty, and a few have been very good. The Romas we had in this week’s box are just awful, but then, Romas generally are. (Last night, on The Splendid Table, Lynne Rosetto Kasper called Romas “the eunuchs of the tomato world.”) The cherry tomatoes have been pretty good, and this week we got a huge batch, which is nice for snacking.

The other two things we’ve seen a lot of have been potatoes and zucchini. The potatoes have been wonderful – small, tender, and gorgeously pink, in the case of the Huckleberries, or creamy yellow, in this week’s Yellow Finns. The zucchini has been fine. It lasts a long time in the fridge, isn’t too watery when cooked. But you know, it’s zucchini. It doesn’t have a lot going on.

And now to the fruit. Earlier this summer we were getting apricots and cherries and then plums and pluots. The apricots were okay, the cherries were quite good. The plums and pluots were inedible. Tasteless, mealy – after one bite the whole batch would go in the compost. Now we’re getting peaches and nectarines. These have been good, but the peaches invariably arrive bruised, and the quantity is so small (maybe two nectarines and a peach, say) that we have to go to the farmer’s market right away anyways.

I love the concept that is community supported agriculture, the idea of giving reliable financial support to the necessary and extremely valued people who grow our food. I think Eatwell is a very good farm – their growing practices seem responsible, their manager-worker relationships seem respectful and fair. (Although I don’t think I want to eat eggs anymore that come from chickens who are killed after two years. I have found other, albeit less convenient, places to source eggs from chickens who live more natural lifespans.) And the whole point of CSA-style relationships between farmers and consumers is that farmers can experiment and learn and go through disasters and medfly quarantines, and still know they’ll have an income, even if the plums are mealy or the tomatoes are quarantined.

Because this is the bottom-line reality of our food system: If no one took the risks to grow the food, there would be nothing to eat. Organic and sustainable and ethical and biodynamic and all that may seem like a luxury (which they aren’t really, in the long run), but food itself is not. The burden of producing a necessary commodity under variable and uncertain circumstances (no widget factories to make our fruits and veggies) should not have to be entirely assumed by the producer. I really believe this. I am, in fact, quite passionate about it.

But I’m just not enjoying my box very much these days. For many months it was a special treat every time it arrived. I couldn’t wait to unpack it, photograph it, lovingly store away my food and start planning recipes and menus. Now I feel cranky at having to go pick it up, and tired at the idea of stuffing everything into a fridge already overflowing with radishes and turnips. When I go to cook, I reach for my farmer’s market vegetables, and I have to make an active effort to use box items.

Also, honestly, I’m sure part of this has to do with personality, which I wish were irrelevant, but is in fact highly influential. If I had had some super awesome interactions with the people of Eatwell farm, instead of a kind of awkward and off-putting one, I would probably feel much more personally invested and that would weigh in heavily on the side of continuing this relationship. On the Eatwell side of things, their CSA is completely full with a waiting list, and they just won “Best of the Bay” for CSAs, so my dropping out won’t change things for them. It’s just a question of whether or not I want to still have this in my life.

Enough musing for now. Let’s get to the purported point of this post. Here’s what came in our box this week:

Roma tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes
Onions
Summer squash
Strawberries
Yellow Finn potatoes
Basil
Nectarines
Radishes

(We were supposed to get plums according to the newsletter – I didn’t see any, but perhaps Duck tasted one and deposited them in the compost?)