Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jess & Nick's CSA Deliery #11 - Sept 20, 2012

CSA delivery number 11 is here.  In it I found poblano peppers; Japanese rose daikon radishes; cauliflower; tomatoes; peppers; more peppers and more celery; golden beets; leeks; and desiree potatoes.  Not pictured are green and red baby romaine lettuce, spigarello, garlic, onions, saute mix, and edamame.

Thank you Harmony Valley Farm
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Matzo Ball Soup with Pastrami on Rye - Sept 14, 2012

Nick stayed home from work last Friday with a cold.  That meant chicken soup was on the menu.  Instead of noodles, I thought matzo balls would be a nice addition.  And why stop there?  Since I had a little Jewish Deli theme going, pastrami sandwiches on marble rye with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut seemed only appropriate.


I followed the recipe in our How to Cook Everything cookbook.  Luckily I had carrots, celery and onions from our CSA delivery to make up a nice mirepoix.  I picked up the matzo meal at the store and mixed it up according to the directions.  All turned out deliciously.  Nick is feeling much better.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fresh Tomato Basil Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches - Sept 12, 2012

This is that same tomato soup that makes an appearance at Chez Jess and Nick every year about this time.  It's a Dinner Club recipe, and by that I mean that this exact recipe made an appearance at an original Dinner Club meeting.  If I have my history right, this was part of the very first dinner, hosted by Jaime.  Oddly enough, neither Nick nor I were present that night, which might be why we make sure to have it once a year at our house.  We don't want to miss out on it ever again!  As I posted last time, I can't find a link for the exact recipe online, but it's from a Martha Stewart Living magazine, circa August 2001.

We made grilled cheese to to with the soup.  I used up some Boursin garlic and herb cheese along with the sharp cheddar and it was delicious.
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Shrimp Tacos - Sept 9, 2012

I don't remember what inspired this dinner idea.  I think I was looking through our How to Eat Supper cookbook and came across directions for cooking frozen shrimp to ensure they have good flavor and texture.  The process involves boiling lime juice, along with the squeezed lime halves, in a pot of water.  Anyway, I tried the technique and it worked out fine.  I can't say I noticed any more flavor than usual, but then I'm probably spoiled for frozen shrimp forever after our trip to Folly Beach earlier this summer.  Nothing comes close to those fresh shrimp we ate at the beach.


These were good tacos, though.  Nick and I topped them with shredded cabbage, fresh tomato salsa, and cilantro.
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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekend Morsels - Sept 8-9, 2012

The chill in the air here in Minneapolis is a reminder that fall is on it's way, and causing me to keep the tea kettle on heavy rotation. After cleaning out my tea cupboard, I've been enjoying a sampling of teas that I forgot I had. This particular flavor is a gift from my sister, Kate.

In addition to tea, I've been treating myself to weekly bouquets of gladiolus from Trader Joe's. They are so pretty, and TJ's has them for a bargain.


I love how they have such a sharp, vertical profile. They are, at the same time, modern and old-fashioned (my grandma loved them!). I hope you are all enjoying your late summer/early fall.
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Corn Chowder - Sept 5, 2012

Nick and I made this soup using the fresh ears of corn on the cob from our CSA.  It was delicious and hearty, with potatoes, peppers, and onions in addition to the corn.  I used a recipe from my trusty Foster's Market Cookbook, which can't be beat for traditional Southern soups and desserts. This is a great soup to bridge the gap between summer and fall.  It's warm and comforting, while at the same time, fresh and bright.  I can't think of a better way to utilized some of late summer's bounty.  
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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jess & Nick's CSA Delivery #10 - Sept 6, 2012

Here is our vegetable array from CSA delivery number 10.  Nick and I received an assortment of lovelies, including patty pan squash; Dr. Seuss-ish tomatoes; fresh lemongrass; loads of brightly colored peppers; red onions; and edamame.  We also got broccoli and corn on the cob. 

As always, a big thank you goes out to everyone working hard on the farm.  Thank you Harmony Valley!
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Broccoli and Cannellini Bean Salad - Sept 4, 2012

While I'm on the topic of cannellin bean salads, here's another one Nick and I made, way back near the beginning of September.  We used a favorite recipe from the book 'How to Eat Supper,' but replaced the wilted spinach with roasted broccoli.  The rest of the ingredients are the same, right up to the topping (which I think is the best part), a mix of toasted breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper.
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Friday, September 21, 2012

Parmesan Celery and Cannellini Bean Salad - Aug 21, 2012

Nick and I enjoyed this salad way back in August. Yikes!  It's been awhile since I've been on a regular blogging schedule, I guess.   It was inspired by the beautiful bunch of celery that arrived in our CSA delivery. The recipe, like so many of my quick, weeknight, vegetarian dinners, is from 101 Cookbooks. Heidi's recipes are healthy, always delicious, and beautifully photographed. She's one of my go-to's for dinner inspiration when I open my refrigerator and all I see are vegetables staring back at me.  We garnished ours with celery leaves and enjoyed the freshness and crunch of this salad.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Herb Salsa - September 11, 2012

After our brief vacation to Puerto Rico last weekend, we returned home to find that the mid-Atlantic area's months long summer heat wave had finally broken and a hint of fall was in the air. That has inspired me to do more meal planning and less flying-by-the-seat-of-my-plants scrambling. It has also made heavier, meat centric dishes much more appealing. This dish was a nice transition to the fall season because while it fit that bill, it also utilized the grill which was extremely pleasant on an evening when then temperatures hovered in the low 70s - especially after what felt like an endless stretch of upper 90s and high humidity on top of that.

This recipe for grilled pork tenderloin with herb salsa came from this month's issue of Food & Wine magazine, which we have been getting for a few months now as a free bonus after I bought a new KitchenAid mixer. I made a couple modifications, starting with the reality that the flat leaf parsley plant has given up for the summer and the curly leaf plant is still going strong, so I used that. Also, I couldn't find any dried currants that didn't have suspicious "vegetable oil" in the ingredient list, so I substituted my tried and true Thompson raisins from Trader Joe's.

The pork came from one of the local farmers that sells at our closest little farmer's market. It was so much darker in color than the supermarket pork we are used to that when I unwrapped it I actually did a double check of the wrapper to make sure I hadn't accidentally bought beef.

The dish was tasty, but not particularly exciting. Come to think of it, that is how I would describe every recipe from Food & Wine we've tried. Don't think they are going to convert us to paid subscribers once the free year is up...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Mobile Post: Minnesota State Fair - Sept 1, 2012

I'm trying a little experiment here, attempting to blog from my phone.  Hang with me, Dinner Clubbers, while I figure this out.  It probably won't be very often that I use this function, as the quality of the pictures is not what I consider to be blog worthy, but sometimes I don't want to carry around our big camera on excursions.  The State Fair is definitely one of those times.

Here are Nick and I on our way to the fair, via express bus, ready for the day's excitement, complete with sun-protection accessories.

Our first stop was the FFA Dairy Cattle judging in the new AgStar Arena.  White show pants, clean and clipped heifers, fresh sawdust on the floor, I got a little giddy reliving my college days of hanging out with Dairy Jocks.  Needless to say, I got to school my companions on the intricacies of Dairy Cattle competition.  It was a bit of jackassery on my part, but exciting nonetheless.

Next up, we paid a visit to the small ruminants.  We saw goats galore, but no sheep.  Perhaps the sheep hang out earlier in the week?

After a few more stops, including a visit to the Thom Thumb donut stand, we visited the award winning produce.  There is something about the organization of these fruits and vegetables that I find quite appealing.

And last, but obviously not least, we checked out the giant pumpkins.  These things are pleasantly huge, and delightful in the same way as the State's biggest boar (which we did not see this year).

I think this was a good experience overall.  We managed to leave as the crowds really started to swell and the heat became overwhelming (two reasons we've avoided the fair in the past).  I still have to say, though, that my hometown county fair holds first place in my heart.  Nothing else even comes close. 

Friday, September 07, 2012

Labor Day Weekend - Sept 1-3, 2012

Labor Day weekend always brings with it the warm glow of nostalgia for a summer almost past.  I always have an increased urgency to enjoy each sunny moment, knowing that it will all end soon.  Little twinges of regret sink in when I realize how many summer plans, made during the hopeful days of early spring, didn't happen. Sadly, I think this is my first Pimm's Cup of the season.  I made it count, though, and enjoyed it on our porch, which was glowing with late summer sunlight.

Despite, or perhaps because of, these feelings, Nick and I enjoyed a particularly socially packed weekend, at least for us.  We had a mini, non-quorum Dinner Club reunion, getting to see Anna (in town for a few hours on her way home to Wisconsin) on Thursday, and Matt and Nikki (in town for a friend's wedding) on Friday.  Saturday brought us to our first Minnesota State Fair.  That's right, Nick and I are now "experienced" in the great Minnesota get together.  Sunday we met up with local friends for brunch.

That left us with Monday to relax and reflect on the summer of 2012.  We grilled out and I made this melon and cucumber salad with mint-coconut dressing.  It seemed an appropriate way to say good bye to the season.

Mint Coconut Dressing

2 T apple cider vinegar or lime juice
1 T coconut oil
1 T olive oil
1 T sugar
2 T chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper to taste 

Here's looking forward to fall!
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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Tomatoes - September 1, 2012

The couple brands of commercial canned tomatoes without added citric acid available on the market (Pomi and Bionature) are imported from Italy and therefore exorbitantly expensive, so ever since my corn allergy was diagnosed last summer I have been searching for a cheaper and more environmentally sustainable solution. Growing my own tomatoes and then canning the harvest seemed like an obvious solution, but unfortunately we live in a city townhouse with a postage stamp yard without much sun and likely very nutrient-poor soil. Undeterred, I started a huge number of tomato plants this past winter and transplanted them outside where unfortunately they just never thrived. We did get a decent number of tomatoes off our three container plants to eat fresh, but no where near the quantity I was hoping for and would get us through the winter.

Our local farmer's markets are loaded with gorgeous tomatoes this time of year, but with a going price of $2.50 a pound, I quickly realized that canning those was not going to be any cheaper than continuing to purchase the imported tomatoes.

Finally, I stumbled across some "u-pick" options and found Hollin Farms in Fauquier County, Virginia was offering a "canning special" at $1 a pound as long as you bought more than 20 pounds. Of course, it is about an hour drive from the beltway, but even factoring in the cost of gas I was finally going to get some tomatoes at a price that I could stomach. Plus, it was a pleasant drive to a beautiful location with gorgeous mountain and valley views in all directions and we could bring the dog! Our total haul was 46 pounds, about half roma tomatoes and the other half a variety of other types.

I then spent the bulk of Labor Day weekend peeling, chopping, food mill-ing, cooking, and canning tomatoes! We ended up with 6 quarts of quartered tomatoes, 3 quarts and 3 pints of diced tomatoes, and  4 quarts and 7 pints of sauce.

Converting everything to pints just for math simplicity sake, I managed to put up 36 pints of tomatoes.

Cost of tomatoes - $46
Cost of gas - $30
Cost of jars - $25

Total - $101

Cost per pint, including jars - $2.80
Cost per pint, not including jars - $2.11

Cost per ounce, including jars - $0.18
Cost per ounce, not including jars - $0.13

(I can't decide if it is fair or not to include the cost of the jars. I did have to buy them this year, but expect to use them again and again over the rest of my life like my mother has done. Next year I will only need to buy new lids. I also used up a bottle of organic lemon juice, but that was already in my pantry and I can't remember what it cost. And of course, there is the cost of electricity to run the range and the water, but I don't have an easy way to calculate that.)

So... in terms of cost, how did I do compared to the expensive stuff from Italy?

You can purchase a case of Pomi chopped tomatoes from Amazon for $27.99. This is a pack of 12, with each TetraPak container holding 750 grams or 26.46 ounces. That is a per ounce price of $0.09. Sounds wonderful, until you realize that this offer is not eligible for Amazon Prime and shipping is an astonishing $23.38!

The Bionature crushed tomatoes are also available currently on Amazon and are selling for $60.23 for a pack of 12 cans holding 800 grams or 28.2 ounces. That is a per ounce price of $0.18. There are free shipping offers, so that price is accurate.

The bottom line... This was not an exercise in extreme frugality, however I did not do worse than my only store bought options and I have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what is in those jars and that they didn't have to travel half way around the globe to get to my cupboard. And it was kind of fun!


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