Thursday, November 17, 2011

The End of an Era

When I started Eat Outside the Box ten years ago, there were no CSA deliveries from local farms to our region. It was as if Central Contra Costa County existed in a local food black hole.

So, I thought it would be a great idea to start something up. I was new to the area and didn't really know how to get going. I called some farmers in Brentwood. I asked them if they knew about CSA and would they like to start one that delivered to the Walnut Creek area. Nobody was too excited about creating the shares, collecting the money, managing the books and membership and promoting the thing.


I called the organic farms back. "Well, what if I managed all that and you just delivered," I asked. "How do we start?" The farms agreed to start with a group of eight members who would pick up at a central location (my house--very central for me). I would need to round up members, get them to commit to a certain amount of time and take care of all the details.

I remember having a meeting at my house where about 12 people showed up. Eight signed up right away and we were off! Over the years about 300 people have participated by eating outside the box. Our yearly numbers have ranged from 8 in the first year to well over 80 a few years back. But now, there are a lot of options for joining in CSAs and buying locally produced food.

I am sad and happy to close down Eat Outside the Box CSA. It has served its purpose by increasing awareness about local eating, educating people about local farms and garnering support and enthusiasm for new models of connecting with farmers. I just had my last delivery of wonderful produce from Knoll Farms and Frog Hollow Farm this week. I will always treasure the experience and the members throughout the past ten years who have been so supportive and full of energy.

I'm kinda excited to become a CSA member who just goes and picks up a box each week. But, I'll miss meeting the farm truck every Monday night and having the close relationship I have had with the farmers over the years. I'll also miss all the members. They are amazing and interesting people who have been willing to commit to something many people don't even think about: supporting local farms.


Friday, October 7, 2011

The Last of the Summer Tomatoes?

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Olive oil
2 pounds fresh tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh basil
hard Italian cheese

Heat the oven to 350°F and drizzle with good olive oil.

Chop the tomatoes roughly but evenly. If you decide to add cherry tomatoes (like Sungolds), cut them in half. I like a combination of tomatoes. Spread them in the baking dish. Stir in the minced garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, and about 1 teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Cut the butter into small cubes and scatter evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake the tomatoes for 2 to 3 hours. This is very flexible; you can bake them until the tomatoes simply begin to break down and release their juices. Or you can continue baking until their edges blacken, and the juices are reduced significantly. I like the darkened edges on my tomatoes and the intensified flavor of reduced liquid.

Once the tomatoes are just right, toss them with some hot pasta, sprinkle with ribbons of fresh basil and serve topped with gratings of hard Italian cheese.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I'm in the mood for summer food

As the summer vegetables come into full production, I look for all kinds of recipes to use the zucchini, chard and other items we get weekly in our gardens and CSA. This week, I am especially craving Mediterranean foods. On what may have been my most relaxing vacation, my family rented a sailboat in Turkey. Included in the deal was the crew, including a cook. The food was really good. Try as I might, I cannot reproduce those tastes but the recipes I have put here are a start.

Diane Kochilas is one of my inspirations and the recipes below as well as the zucchini crescents in this week's newsletter are from her. I recommend her books Meze and The Glorious Foods of Greece.

Greek Zucchini Fritters
2 pounds large zucchini, trimmed and grated on the wide holes of a grater or food processor
2 eggs
1/2 c chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as fennel, dill, mint, parsley (I like to use mostly dill)
1 TBS ground cumin
1 c fresh or dry breadcrumbs, more as necessary
Freshly ground pepper
1 c crumbled feta cheese
All-purpose flour as needed and for dredging
Olive oil for frying

Salt the zucchini generously and leave to drain in a colander for one hour, tossing and squeezing the zucchini from time to time. Take up handfuls of zucchini, and squeeze out all of the moisture. Alternately, wrap in a clean dish towel, and squeeze out the water by twisting at both ends.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the shredded zucchini, herbs, cumin, bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste and feta. Mix together well. Take up a small handful of the mixture; if it presses neatly into a patty, it is the right consistency. If it seems wet, add more breadcrumbs or a few tablespoons of all-purpose flour. When the mixture has the right consistency, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or longer.

Heat 1 inch of olive oil in a large frying pan until rippling, or at about 275 degrees. Meanwhile, take up heaped tablespoons of the zucchini mixture, and form balls or patties. Lightly dredge in flour.

When the oil is very hot, add the patties in batches to the pan. Fry until golden brown, turning once with a spider or slotted spoon. Remove from the oil, and drain briefly on a rack. Serve with plain Greek style yogurt or with the carrot puree below if desired.

Spicy Carrot Puree with Mint-Flavored Yogurt
For the Carrots
4 large carrots, chopped
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
2-3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
salt and cayenne pepper to taste

For the Yogurt
1/2 c Greek yogurt
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil to taste
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, peeled
salt to taste
2 TBS fresh mint leaves, cut into very thin strips

Steam the carrots over medium heat until soft, about 25 minutes.

Pound the cumin and caraway seeds together in a mortar and pestle.

When the carrots are soft, transfer them to a food processor and pulse once or twice for a few seconds to mash. Add 2 TBS olive oil, lemon juice, salt and spices and pulse a few more times to puree until smooth.

Place the puree on a serving dish and make a well in the center.

Mix together the yogurt, olive oil, and lemon juice. Crush the garlic cloves in the mortar and pestle with a little salt and add them to the yogurt. Season to taste with additional salt. Place in the center of the serving plate encircled by the carrot puree. Sprinkle with the mint leaves and serve.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Crazy Weather and Farm Production

I have been out of California for a while. Driving home, middle of summer, I had the air conditioning on high through Nevada. I drove into the sunny eastern Sierra and once I topped Donner Pass, I looked into a bank of thick black clouds. In July. By the time I got to Sacramento, it was raining cats and dogs. It was still pouring when I arrived home.

How odd, I thought.

The few days before, temperatures were reaching 105 degrees. The days following the rainstorm were, again, hot and sunny. Stifling.

So, how does this unpredictable, unseasonable weather affect our food?

Globally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that there will be, or already are, 30 countries in crisis and in need of external food aid. In January of this year, President Obama readied the military for widespread food rioting that was predicted for the spring. We witnessed the "Arab Spring" that many attributed to a desire for democracy and others to lack of food. In Tunisia,the protests that led to the downfall of the government began after an educated but unemployed 26-year-old man set himself on fire when police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit.

On the home front, our weird weather may mean that cherries split in the late rains, peaches have brown rot, yields are low and what's left in the field and on the trees ripens all at once. The idea of planting for harvest over the entire season is just a memory and things need to get off the farm and onto the shelves fast and now.

As eaters, we may feel like we didn't get enough asparagus or cherries. Did anyone have apricots this year? The harbingers of summer have been less than perfect. Now, plums, plums, plums...and the figs ripen faster than we can eat them. It seems like the tomatoes in my garden have just stopped fruit production and my corn ears -- well, as close as I live to Brentwood, my corn is not an example of that great sweet corn region.

So, as much as I can complain about having too much of one thing and not enough of another, I just keep thinking how hard this must be for farmers. Their lives depend on some measure of predictability and on an expectation of yields. And farmers around our globe are facing unbelievable challenges feeding us.

I'll just keep buying local, whatever is available. At least I have that luxury.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New York Times Recipe sent by a Member

New York Times

May 24, 2011
Quinoa and Chard Cakes
I’d been thinking about making a sort of “burger” with quinoa and vegetables when I saw a recipe for chard cakes in the Dining section of The Times. I combined the two ideas and came up with these quinoa and chard cakes, which you can serve as a main dish or a side. A few days later, I made the same recipe but used spinach, which is lower in sodium, instead of chard (see variation below). Top these cakes with yogurt spiked with puréed garlic.

1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard, washed and stemmed (do not discard the stems)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 plump garlic cloves, minced, or 2 teaspoons minced green garlic

2 teaspoons cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup cooked quinoa

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (1 1/2 ounces)

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon canola oil

For serving:

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 garlic clove, puréed with a generous pinch of salt

1. Fill a bowl with ice water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously and add the chard leaves. Blanch for two to three minutes until tender, then transfer to the ice water. Drain, squeeze out excess water and chop medium-fine. Add the chard stems to the water, and cook four to five minutes until tender. Transfer to the ice water, then drain and cut in 1/4-inch dice. Measure out 3/4 cup of the stems, and reserve the rest for another purpose.

Alternatively, steam the chard leaves, then the stems, above an inch of boiling water until tender. The leaves will take three to four minutes, the stems five minutes.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a medium or large skillet. Add the garlic. When it is fragrant, in 30 seconds to a minute, stir in the chard leaves and stems and the cumin. Stir together for about a minute, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl, and add the quinoa, Parmesan and egg. Stir together.

3. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the canola oil together over medium-high heat in a large, heavy skillet. Moisten your hands, and shape the quinoa and chard mixture into four hamburger-size patties (or make smaller, fritter-ish patties). Carefully place the patties in the hot oil, taking care not to crowd them in the pan. Press down on the tops of the patties with the bottom of your spatula to prevent them from falling apart; if they are thick enough, they should stay together. Cook for four to five minutes on each side until nicely browned. Remove from the heat and serve.

Variation: Substitute 2 pounds bunch spinach for the chard. Stem and wash the leaves (discard the stems) and wilt, in batches, in a large frying pan in the water left on their leaves after washing. Proceed as instructed.

Yield: Serves four.

Advance preparation: The cooked chard and cooked quinoa will keep for four days in the refrigerator. The mixture will keep for a day.

Nutritional information per serving: 242 calories; 2 grams saturated fat; 3 grams polyunsaturated fat; 9 grams monounsaturated fat; 53 milligrams cholesterol; 18 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams dietary fiber; 485 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 11 grams protein

Martha Rose Shulman is the author of "The Very Best of Recipes for Health."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chard Tart: one of my all time favorites

This week has been cold and rainy. During weather like this, I like to return to my comfort recipes. This one is delicious and filled with chard. Yum!

Chard and Herb Tart
(Torta di Bietolo ed Erbe)
This is a popular tart in Tuscany and can include other herbs like tarragon, sage, nettles and borage.

1 lb Swiss chard, stems and ribs removed
1 ½ TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 15 oz container whole milk ricotta cheese
½ C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
¼ tsp minced fresh thyme
¼ tsp minced fresh oregano
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg

1 17 oz package frozen puff pastry, (2 sheets) thawed

Cook chard in a large pot of boiling salted water until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain. Squeeze out liquid. Chop chard. (I do this in a food processor.)

Heat oil in a heavy large skillet, over medium heat. Add garlic, sauté 1 minute. Add chard, sauté until excess liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Transfer chard mixture to a large bowl. Cool slightly. Mix in ricotta and next seven ingredients.

Preheat oven to 375 with rack positioned in lower third of oven. Roll out one pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to a 14 inch square. Transfer to a 9-inch-diameter tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim edges, leaving one inch overhang. Fill pastry with chard mixture. Lightly brush pastry overhang with pastry brush dipped into water. Roll out second sheet to a 13 inch square. Using tart pan as guide, trim pastry to a 10-inch round. Drape over filling. Seal edges and fold in.

Bake until pastry is golden brown about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Remove sides from tart pan. Transfer to platter, cut into wedges and serve.
Bon Appetit, May 2000

Monday, May 2, 2011

Greens and Eggs

I love almost all combinations of greens and eggs. I don't know why but I find them a perfect complement to one another. The recipe below is from Deborah Madison's cookbook "Vegetarian Cooking for Eveyone." Deborah was the chef at Greens for a while and now lives in New Mexico. I adore her recipes. I hope you like this one.

Chard and Onion Omelet (Trouchia)
by Deborah Madison

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
These Provençal eggs, laced with softened onions and chard, never fail to elicit sighs of appreciation. I'm forever grateful to Nathalie Waag for making trouchia when she came to visit—it has since become a favorite. The trick to its success is to cook everything slowly so that the flavors really deepen and sweeten.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red or white onion, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise
1 bunch chard, leaves only, chopped
Salt and freshly milled pepper

1 garlic clove
6 to 8 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1 cup grated Gruyère
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 10-inch skillet, add the onion, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until completely soft but not colored, about 15 minutes. Add the chard and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until all the moisture has cooked off and the chard is tender, about 15 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, mash the garlic in a mortar with a few pinches of salt (or chop them finely together), then stir it into the eggs along with the herbs. Combine the chard mixture with the eggs and stir in the Gruyère and half the Parmesan.
Preheat the broiler. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet and, when it's hot, add the eggs. Give a stir and keep the heat at medium-high for about a minute, then turn it to low. Cook until the eggs are set but still a little moist on top, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the remaining Parmesan and broil 4 to 6 inches from the heat, until browned.
Serve trouchia in the pan or slide it onto a serving dish and cut it into wedges. The gratinéed top and the golden bottom are equally presentable.

Source Information
From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

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