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Here in the Great Lakes region the harvest season is in full swing - the bounty of the summer's labors piled high on tables in every farm market and every kitchen counter for those who's gardens survived the punishing summer drought. What started as a quick "I want to use some of this stuff from the garden" side dish last week has been refined as the main course this week and I'm happy enough with it to share it here. This one is pretty simple and can be served hot or cold. The preparation of the squash is flexible - steaming squash is one of the few tasks I think a microwave oven is perfect for: 12 minutes in a modestly powered microwave should be enough to produce a perfectly al dente 2lb spaghetti squash every time and you don't need to dirty a single dish. The Software:
- 2 lb Spaghetti Squash
- 1 lb fresh tomatoes, diced (Use a few different types if available)
- 1/4 cup onion, diced
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tblsp unsalted butter
- 1 tblsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup minced fresh herbs (Oregano, Basil, Parsley, Chive)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Black Pepper to taste
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.
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.
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.
|Brussels sprouts with cranberries in a balsamic glaze||
Recipe Type: side dish
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 40 mins
Roasted brussels sprouts with tangy cranberries and a syrupy balsamic glaze.
- 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
- Trim the base off the brussels sprouts and remove the outer leaves if yellowed or dry looking. Cut in half.
- Mix brussels sprouts and oil together on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
- Roast brussels sprouts in oven at 375 for 30 minutes or until desired amount of brownness.
- 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.
- When sprouts are finished remove from oven and pour over dried cranberries and transfer to a serving dish.
- Drizzle balsamic glaze over sprouts and cranberries.
- Serve immediately.
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.
Heirloom Solutions, got my seedling pots ready, and planted them, along with some onion and green onion seeds. I quickly decided that my tiny patio out back was really not enough space, and had already proven to be not quite enough sun, so I figured that I could sneak a few plants out front. We had a garden up against the house that was already in place when we moved in, that was stunning. Years of neglect by us has met that it's been taken over by bug-ridden hollyhocks, and a Rose of Sharon that has spawned hundreds of mini-bushes from root shoots. Last weekend, I took a hoe to that garden, and out everything came. Over the next couple of weeks, multiple bags of peat soil will be added, mixed in to what is already there, in an attempt to get the soil a little more healthy. A tiller will be rented to help chop up the roots left from that blasted Rose of Sharon, and a bag or two of manure will be mixed in. I have blood meal on hand for later fertilizing, and am planning on placing a soaker hose in for the summer. The plan is to keep these tomatoes healthy and organic, and hope like crazy that the birds don't love them as much as I do. Is everything going perfectly to plan? Of course not! My seeds, since it never occurred to me that they would need a grow light and not just a room with sunlight, got a bad start, and are currently very leggy, and are just now starting to sprout their tomato plant leaves. For the first three weeks, they looked like tall stalks with 2 oval leaves....in other words, nothing like a tomato, and totally indistinguishable from every other seedling in the world. I panicked a bit, consulted some friends, did some looking on the web, and decided to hit them with the Ott Light I use for crafting. A few days of that, and little bitty baby sprout leaves started to appear! My hopes are high again, and soon I will replant a bunch of them into slightly larger containers, to continue growing until they can go into the ground in another month or so. The plan is to have a good dozen plants out front, some cherry tomatoes out back, along with another plant or two from this seedling bunch in containers, and to plant some at a couple of places in our neighborhood where we know the people won't mind us stealing a couple of their tomatoes if they got a type we did not. Is all of this more work than swinging by the store, and grabbing a tomato from the bin? Of course. Especially with having to start from total scratch this year, it's a ton of work, hassle, and a bit of an investment. Is it worth it? Considering the fact that I will get tomatoes that will have amazing flavor, that I know have never been sprayed or chemically enhanced, whose seeds did not start out as part of some lab project? Absolutely.As somebody who enjoys good food and cooking, I know that my finished product is only as good as the ingredients that I put into it. This is especially true when it comes to fresh produce, as so much of the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are now grown for shipping hardiness, rather than actual flavor. A sad waste, in my book! True, we can now get almost any sort of produce, grown anywhere, at any time of the year, but is it actually worth buying? In the case of tomatoes, I have to say no. I remember growing up with tomatoes, real tomatoes, that came fresh from the garden. They were a focal point on our BLTs. They were sliced and lightly pickled with vinegar and onions. They were tossed with fresh mozzarella and basil. They were broiled with herbs and Parmesan on top. Best of all, they horrified my early fall lunch mates in school when I would pull one out and eat it like an apple, juice dripping everywhere. They were bright red, acidic, and had names like Big Boy, Early Girl and Rutgers. These tomatoes were picked very ripe and traveled no further than to a neighbors house. Is it any wonder that I find today's hard pink supermarket tomatoes to be somewhat lacking? I decided to take matters into my own hands. Two summers ago, for the first time, I decided to try planting some cherry tomatoes. We put a few pots out back, had 3 or 4 plants, plus 2 of jalapenos. Last year I decided to expand, so had 10 or so cherry tomato plants, as well as a patio tomato and several pepper plants, not to mention branching out to herbs. There were some success, some failures, and some really wet weather. A total success it was not, but there were enough successes that I fully planned to do the same again this year. You know how sometimes, when you get a crazy idea, it just builds. Then you can't shake the idea, and it becomes just a big encompassing desire to go nuts with your idea? Yeah, that was me and my garden this year. Why start with pre-bought plants? I can start from seed! I purchased a mixed packet of tomato seeds from