CSA – Yes or No?

I’ve said in earlier posts that I joined a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture). I get a farm box with fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to my doorstep every Sunday. Now that I’ve been a member for a while, I can talk about the pros and cons. Some of the novelty has worn off. So in case you’re considering it, here’s my list:

Pros:

– The produce is all in-season, locally sourced and sustainably grown.

– Grocery shopping is fast and easy, since I’m building meals around my farm box produce.

– I try fruits and vegetables that I wouldn’t otherwise try. Mulberries, cherimoyas, guavas, fava beans are recent examples.

– I eat more produce than I ordinarily would.

– It gets delivered to me every week, so even I don’t have the chance to go grocery shopping I can generally make a meal out of my produce and staples around the house (e.g. eggs).

– It’s fun to see what surprise I’m going to get.

– It forces me to be a more creative cook.

Cons:

– Since the produce is all in-season, you get the same thing for weeks in a row. Enough with the beets – really! And I don’t care if it’s cone cabbage, Napa cabbage, or regular cabbage — there just not that many things to do with cabbage! They try to change it up by giving me a different variety of kale every week but it’s still kale every week.

– It’s more work to plan meals around the produce I’ve received rather than picking my go-to recipes and shopping accordingly.

– It’s a little pricey, although for me it’s worth it not to have to make an extra stop at the farmers’ market.

– Sometimes we don’t eat the produce fast enough and it goes to waste.

– Although the produce is very good, it’s not amazing. I used to buy my produce at Whole Foods or the farmers’ market and my farm box produce is equivalent. Once I added eggs to my farm box and they tasted just like the brown eggs that I buy at Trader Joe’s.

– Some of the produce is weird or too fussy. What’s the point of a baby artichoke? Too much work for too little yield. And once I got flowering rapini which I thought was going to be like broccoli rabe but it wasn’t. Watermelon radishes are gorgeous but kind of bitter. And I’m just not into guavas – way too many seeds.

– Sometimes this happens:

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Turnips? Beets? Watermelon radishes? You tell me what these things are!

So stay with the CSA or quit? I think I’ll stay for now, at least through summer fruit season. Then the jury’s out.

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Cast Iron Skillet

Not long ago, I bought my friend a cast iron skillet for a wedding present. I suspect she’s still trying to figure out what to use it for. So in the name of research I bought myself one and have been loving it. My question is, what wouldn’t you use it for?

What to make in your cast iron skillet:
Any type of meat or fish cooks beautifully in a cast iron skillet. I’ve pan fried steaks, fish, sausage, and burgers. Basically, anything you want to pan fry, this is your pan. It’s also perfect for searing. I like to sear thick fish at high temperature on the stovetop for 1 minute on each side and then finish the cooking in the oven. The cast iron skillet gets really hot so it’s perfect for searing and it also cooks well in the oven.

This may be heresy, but I also stir fry in my cast iron skillet. I don’t have a wok because they’re too bulky and my non-stick skillet has lost its non-stickedness. The cast iron skillet can get really hot, so you can stir fry quickly at high temperature and nothing sticks. I made Korean pancakes in it, and will undoubtedly make my latkes in it next Chanukah.

This is just a small sampling of what I’ve used the skillet for so far. I believe that the only thing that should be avoided are acidic foods like tomatoes or lemon.

What size to get:
The only down side to a cast iron skillet is that it’s very heavy. If you need to lift the pan for some reason, e.g. to swirl your oil or to transfer ingredients from the skillet to another pan or bowl or serving plate, you (or at least I) need two hands. So for the sake of weight, you may want a 10 inch pan. But I opted for a 12 inch because it’s so much more useful. The extra surface area allows me to cook for my family in one batch.

How to use:
Today’s cast iron skillets are all pre-seasoned so I don’t think I did anything special when I first got it. When I’m using it, I preheat it on the stove for a few minutes and when it’s hot, I add a small amount of oil. I’ve read that as you use you skillet, it will build up seasoning and will be naturally non-stick but I don’t want to take the chance so I add a little oil. Nothing sticks!

How to clean:
I’ve read that you shouldn’t use soap — just wipe the pan out. But that does not seem very sanitary to me so I do use soap. I wash the pan like other pans, but I’m careful not to scrape it. It doesn’t necessarily look pristine — a la the day I bought it — when I’m done, but it’s clean. I dry it right away and rub a little canola oil on the whole pan with a small piece of paper towel. Just the smallest amount.

I’m pretty much down to only using my cast iron skillet and my Le Creuset dutch oven. There’s a reason they’ve been around forever while other cookware trends come and go.

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Milk Frother

My new favorite gadget/appliance is a milk frother that I bought on a lark at Costco.  You know how you go in for coffee and toilet paper and come out with a milk frother and a television set?  Just kidding – didn’t buy the television…yet.

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Seriously, this wasn’t very expensive (about $40, I think) and it works really well. I love it so much because it makes this:

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Now I have lattes every morning.  Yum!

Garlic Press

Not all garlic presses are created equal.  I had a garlic press when I first started cooking — no doubt I received it as a wedding or shower gift.  It didn’t work well at all.  It was hard to press the garlic, and much of the garlic was wasted.  I assumed that all garlic presses were bad.  For years, I chopped garlic by hand, using the smash-the-clove, remove-it-from-the-skin, and chop method.  For years, my fingers always smelled vaguely of garlic.

Somewhere along the line, I acquired a Zyliss Susi garlic press.  What a revelation!  It worked like a dream.  I haven’t chopped garlic since.  When my daughter was a toddler, the garlic press disappeared.  I suspect she was playing with it — she liked to play with kitchen objects — it’s no surprise that she’s a good cook now.  When it became clear that I wasn’t finding it any time soon, I bought a replacement faster than you can say Zyliss.

Now if only I could find a device that would chop my onions for me.

My Favorite Tools – Spoons

From time to time, I’ll share with you some of my favorite cooking tools.  Good tools make cooking easier and more pleasant.  Here are my favorite spoons and what I use them for.

Everyone needs a good wooden spoon.  I love the round shape, the sturdiness, the smoothness and the dark color it’s acquired from years of use.  Also, it comes from France.  Via Sur La Table.

This is a spoonula.  It does everything a wooden spoon can do and pretty much everything a spatula can do.  You can tell by the chipped top that I use it a lot.  This spoon is excellent for dishes that require stirring and scraping, such as the millet recipe a few posts ago.  It’s also excellent for deglazing pans, because of the flat top — you can scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan better than with a wooden spoon.  It’s also great for scraping out every drop of marinade or cream, or whatever viscous liquid I’m using, from the measuring cup into the pan.  I got this at Williams-Sonoma, but they have them everywhere.

I love this spoon.  It’s great for serving, especially saucy dishes like stews or dishes that sort of require cutting but are soft enough that you don’t need a knife — like a baked pasta dish.  Because the edges are sharper that a plastic spoon, the servings are much neater.  And do you know how some pasta recipes ask you to reserve some of the pasta water?  I just wait until the pasta is almost cooked and the water is nice and starchy, then I use this spoon to transfer a little of the water from the pasta pan to the pan I’m using for the sauce. This spoon is also excellent for basting roasted meats — much easier to clean than my baster.  I got this at a restaurant supply store.  I also have a slotted spoon just like it, but I rarely use that one.