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Unloved Veggie: The CSA

As the resident vegetarian my goal is to introduce the concept of veggies to the normally meat-centric food writing you see here at Rogue Estate.  This series of posts will be intended to introduce or explore some of the underused or misunderstood vegetables seen at the supermarkets or farmer's markets. This post is to introduce people to the concept of the CSA or community sustained agriculture.  The CSA is a pretty basic concept of basically purchasing a share of a farmer or collective of farmers output.  The CSA service has a few different options and concepts behind them.  Most CSA's operate by having individuals purchasing a "share" of the farm's output before the season starts.  This allows the farmers to fund the farm during slower months and gives them capital to use for seasonal start costs such as seeds and supplies.  Some CSA farms have work options that give reduced cost to the customer in exchange for a work share that the customer provides by working a day or even a few hours at the farm.  Sometimes this work share is once a month or more depending on the farms needs or harvest schedule.  The schedule varies by farm and region but most will run from May through September sometimes later.  The great advantage is that you get seasonal fresh produce and a relationship with the people who grew it. The CSA is a great way for people to get involved with their food and their community as these CSA's are generally localized.  The CSA will either drop off the share at a central location or farmer's market or will require the customer to pick up their share from the farm directly.  Some CSA's allow their customers to specify what their likes and dislikes are and in some cases allow the customer to choose their exact product. My own experience with CSA's was cultivated over two years with a share of the Wild Way Out CSA based out of Coldwater.  The owner, Kate Weilnau, is a small-scale sustainable organic farmer who had a pick-up point nearby and had the interesting concept of a "wild" option that included wild and foraged goods.  The CSA introduced me to many unfamiliar vegetables and Kate had options and suggestions as to how to prepare them.  The "wild" option introduced me to many interesting things I had never had before including stinging nettles, burdock leaf and root, cattail pods and shoots, amaranth, purslane, wild grapes (which turned into a fantastic grape jelly), chestnuts and my absolute favourite rattail radishes.  Megan and I decided not to renew our share this year because we've now discovered enough vegetables that we like and we know where to find them, plus we put in a bunch of vegetables in our garden based on what we learned from Kate's offerings. The CSA is a great way for people to get to know where there food comes from and helps to support small-scale local farmers by giving them an outlet for their efforts.  It also gives the unadventurous or the overwhelmed a good starting point for culinary creativity.  You'll have a bag or box of fresh vegetables in front of you and you'll need to discover or learn how to prepare it.  Most CSA's are vegetable based but there are an increasing number of  farms that offer meat shares and dairy shares (in fact it is almost impossible to buy raw milk unless you "own" a share of a cow).  The best starting points are Local Harvest at www.localharvest.com and also at your local farmer's market.  Many farm market vendors also offer CSA's with pick-ups available at your local market or it gives the farmer the idea that there may be people interested in a farm share CSA option.

Vegetarian Night

As one of the newest members of the Rogue Estate contributors I have to make a full disclosure...I'm a vegetarian. Many of you who regularly read this blog and follow along in the escapades of these merry bandits will know that the dishes lean heavily towards the dead flesh variety. Megan and I were tasked with coming up with a theme to host for our first ever Chef's Night and we bantered around many ideas such as homemade pasta (coming), traditional Mexican (done before), Ethiopian (coming possibly), Canadian (eh?), German (coming) and vegetarian if for no other reason to greatly mess with the meat-filled sensibilities of the current Rogue Estaters.  We figured we'd save the vegetarian night to give everyone a chance to get to know me and not hate me right off the bat.  Oh, well. The menu was devised with the idea of promoting alternative proteins for the non carnivore. Beans, whole grains, tempeh and tofu would all make an appearance in the meal. For the appetizer Chilly was set to make crackers to pair with Megan's creation of Hillbilly Hummus. The crackers are a pretty simple recipe that allow for infinite variation in toppings and flavourings. The Hillbilly Hummus is an interesting spin on traditional hummus with a southern flare using black eyed peas in place of chick peas and peanut butter in place of the sesame tahini. Jack, being the master of all things uncooked got tasked with the salad; endive and quinoa salad with poached eggs.  Endive is one of those more underrated, underused and under-appreciated vegeatables (more possibly on that at a later date).  The quinoa is a unique product that is usually considered a grain, but is in fact a seed.  Quinoa is found in most supermarkets with the rice and beans and has a nutty flavour.  Here the quinoa was added atop a salad of chopped endive and vegetables and a balsamic vinaigrette.  The whole salad was further enriched with a perfectly poached egg.  The egg yolk mixes with the salad ingredients to add a certain unctuousness to the whole dish. The main dish I took care of was the maple mustard tempeh.  This is a fairly common dish to be served in our household as it's tasty and pretty simple.  Tempeh is a pressed and fermented soybean patty.  It also has a nice nuttiness that works well in multiple presentations.  Here the tempeh was marinated in a fairly neutral marinade before frying in a pan.  The tempeh needs a bit of marinating as it's a pretty dry product (see un-marinated and tasteless blackened tempeh slab from the Lundi Gras Chef's Night).  The tempeh is glazed in pan with a combination of dijon mustard, maple syrup, hard cider and cider vinegar.  Simple and fantastic.  The maple mustard glaze can easily be applied to any protein and would be great on chicken or pork as well. The vegetable side was a dish of balsamic glazed brussels sprouts.  The brussels sprouts is one of the most unloved vegetables on this side of the planet.  Many people dislike the funky quality of this relative of the cabbage family.  This dish may have been the easiest to prepare and has made re-appearances in this house.  The sprouts are roasted until golden brown in the oven then topped with a simple balsamic vinegar glaze of two parts vinegar to one part sugar.  The sprouts are finished with a sprinkling of dried cranberries to add some textural contrast and a pleasing sweet-tart flavour. Bob was our Indian specialist for the evening as he was tasked with a palak paneer.  Paneer is an Indian cheese that is a simple preparation of whole milk and lemon juice.  The mix causes the milk to curdle and the curds to separate from the whey.  The whey is poured off and the curds are pressed with cheesecloth typically overnight but for this evening only for about two hours which still resulted in a pretty firm cheese.  The cheese is then fried on its own to give it a bit of a crust and body then set aside before the palak (spinach), tomato and spices are sauteed up.  Traditionally, palak paneer is more of a gravy of pureed spinach but Bob went crazy and left it unblended and it resulted in a much fresher and heartier version once the cheese was added in at the end.  It was a great idea and it makes me wonder why this doesn't get prepared like this more often. Megan took on the vegan tofu chocolate pudding.  This is another favourite recipe around the house and it's great to serve to the unsuspecting (once you know they don't have a soy allergy) as no one would guess the main ingredient is tofu.  A brick of silken tofu is whirred up in a blender with melted chocolate, Kahlua and golden syrup.  The intention of the recipe was to put it into a chocolate cookie pie crust but the crust was too dry and unusable, so pudding it is.  Still darn tasty. Sadly, I can't remember all of the beer pairings.  I do remember a Detroit lager for the hummus and salad.  A nut brown ale to pair with the brussels sprouts, tempeh and palak paneer.  Finally, a lambic for the dessert.  I have to admit I normally don't like lambics and was trying to find a polite way to decline, but Jack's choice was really good and a perfect pairing for the pudding.  Rounding out the evening was a bloody mary with almost an entire salad as garnish.  Perfect.
Brussels sprouts with cranberries in a balsamic glaze
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Recipe Type: side dish
Author: Jason
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 40 mins
Serves: 6-8
Roasted brussels sprouts with tangy cranberries and a syrupy balsamic glaze.
Ingredients
  • 2-3 pounds brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cups dried cranberries
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Trim the base off the brussels sprouts and remove the outer leaves if yellowed or dry looking. Cut in half.
  2. Mix brussels sprouts and oil together on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Roast brussels sprouts in oven at 375 for 30 minutes or until desired amount of brownness.
  4. While sprouts are roasting mix balsamic vinegar and sugar together over medium heat until sugar dissolves then reduce to a low simmer to reduce until thick generally about 15-20 minutes depending on the heat you have your stove top set to.
  5. When sprouts are finished remove from oven and pour over dried cranberries and transfer to a serving dish.
  6. Drizzle balsamic glaze over sprouts and cranberries.
  7. Serve immediately.
Notes
You can increase or decrease the amount of brussels sprouts for this recipe depending on how much glaze you want with your sprouts. The sprouts should be roasted until golden brown, but are pretty good and have a nice caramelly bitterness if done to a slightly deeper brown. Since the glaze and cranberries are pretty sweet the bitterness is not overpowering and is actually well complimented. The glaze will set up pretty fast if you let it sit at too cool of a temperature and can over reduce if not watched properly. If either of these happen just reconstitute with a tablespoon or two of water and reheat on low. Raisins can be used in place of dried cranberries, but honestly the tart-sweet cranberries work best.
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In the end it was a pretty successful and satisfying meal.  Everyone seemed to enjoy a meatless meal and no one (to the best of my knowledge) snuck in any bacon to eat while my back was turned.  The great thing about a vegetarian meal like this is that it is fairly adaptable and can be served to carnivores and herbivores without coming off as a health meal.  The point of this meal was not to create a meal using meat substitutes but to use proteins suitable for a vegetarian diet.

Colcannon

Editor's note: Jason is The Rogue Estate's new Resident Vegetarian. He's endured a near constant barrage of taunting and meat jokes since his first night in the kitchen with us and still shows up on time to help us create fantastic meals so we decided to get him a blog account, too! This is his first entry, detailing the dish he prepared for our recent feature in the 3/14/12 edition of Real Detroit Weekly and The Hungry Dudes blog.   For St. Patrick's Day few dishes are more traditional than Colcannon, a mix of potatoes and either cabbage or kale.  For this version I went with cabbage as I found out in research that Colcannon comes from the old Gaelic word "cal ceannann" meaning white-headed cabbage.  Kale is used almost equally as cabbage is in current preparations and kale is probably the sexier of the options, but I wanted this recipe to be as traditional as possible. A few liberties were taken with the preparation and ideas behind this recipe, mostly dealing with green onions.  Most recipes call for leeks to be used as the flavoring agent, but since leeks were already on the menu in another guise I went with green onions.  The second reason for using the green onions is another traditional Irish dish called "champ" which is basically mashed potatoes with green onions (no cabbage) that is very similar to colcannon.  I actually like the flavor of champ better than colcannon, but since colcannon is a bit more recognized I went with colcannon with a definite nod to champ in adding much more green onion than would be traditionally used in colcannon alone.  The third reason for the green onions is that it reminded me of a soup of a sort that I had at a bar when I was in college.  Near St. Patrick's day one of the bartenders would also make up some traditional Irish fare to give out to regulars.  On the unofficial bar menu along with other fare was colcannon and champ.  The first time I had ever tried either.  He also made a soup like side dish that he called "green tea" which was basically lots of green onions steeped a long time in milk and cream then served in small demitasse cups.  It was pretty magical stuff and so in tribute to him I added a bit of a variation on his green tea to the colcannon. Depending on how many recipes you look at and how far back you go you'll find that bacon is not used in the oldest recipes for colcannon.  In about half of the recipes I looked at it was an ingredient or a topping.  The reason for this is that colcannon was generally a poor farmers recipe and bacon wouldn't be available to poorer families or would be used sparingly.  I didn't intend to use bacon as I'm the lone vegetarian in this mad band, however, bacon was crisped up and made available for those who wanted it. The great thing about colcannon is its simplicity and there are quite a few variations you can play with.  If you want it softer and more luxurious version you could pulse the sauteed cabbage in a food processor and whip with the potatoes.  The spicing is definitely variable.  Mace is the traditional spice but it would be interesting with smoked or sweet paprika, nutmeg or possibly cinnamon.  Kale would generally lend a greener flavour and a heartier texture and if you wanted to really go heavier you could use collard or mustard greens.  The onions used are variable as well.  The bulbous spring onions would be excellent if not quite as readily available.  Red onions cooked with the cabbage would add an interesting colour pop.  The only things that aren't really optional are the potatoes and the butter.  Colcannon is very much a vehicle for melted butter.  
Colcannon
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Recipe Type: Side Dish
Author: Jason Schubb
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 45 mins
Serves: 6
A traditional Irish side/main dish consisting of mashed potatoes, either kale or cabbage flavoured with onions, scallions or leeks.
Ingredients
  • 5 russet potatoes
  • 1/2 head of cabbage
  • 2 bunches of green onions
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
  • bacon (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Boil potatoes in jackets in salted water until tender. Remove from water, peel and chop into rough chunks.
  2. Chop green onions and separate the greens and the whites.
  3. Core and thinly slice the cabbage.
  4. Steep in a small saucepan 3/4 of the green onion greens with 1 1/2 cup milk over low heat.
  5. Saute the cabbage and green onion whites in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, season with salt, pepper and ground mace until tender.
  6. When cabbage is tender add chopped potatoes and pour in green onion/milk mixture.
  7. Mix potatoes/cabbage mixture with wooden spoon to desired consistency. Keep warm.
  8. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons of butter in small saucepan.
  9. Saute bacon until crisp (if using).
  10. To serve place mound of colcannon on plate and make a small well in the centre. Fill well will melted butter. Top with reserved green onion greens and chopped bacon (if using).
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Leftovers reheat easily and can also be used for a killer potato, cabbage and cream soup. Topping options are endless as well - anything you enjoy on a baked or mashed potato is going to work on Colcannon brilliantly. Got a favorite variation? Let me know in the comments.  -Jason