Friday, October 30, 2009

Week 20 Maple Creek Farm CSA 2009 - October 28, 2009

Week 20 Maple Creek Farm CSA 2009 - October 28, 2009

Here is what we got this week and how I plan to use it:

Apples - My son and I ate two the day we got them, and they were excellent.  Two more left for a snack this week.
Brussels Sprouts - Bringing them to my mom's house to go with our Halloween Dinner.
Acorn Squash - I am going to try and bake them, puree the flesh, and use it in my pumpkin bread with coconut milk recipe.  I will post the recipe.
Cabbage - A Cabbage Salad
Red Onions - For cooking through the week
Mixed Greens - Salads through the week
Beets - Roasted beet salad with walnuts and feta.

I am so sad that the CSA season is over.  The quality of the food we have been getting every week is far superior to what we can get in the grocery store.  For example, this week I bought some Kale at the grocery store.  Compared to what I've been getting in the share or at the farmer's market, this was some sad Kale.  It was slightly wilted, had no smell to it, and the leaves were very small.

During the season I would pick up the share during lunch and bring it back to my office until I was ready to go home.  Every week without exception the share would small my entire office up with the wonderful aromas of whatever we got that week: apples, kale, onions, cabbage, arugula, everything.  This is what is frustrating about living in Michigan.  I love the fresh fruits and veggies, but our choices for fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables are almost non-existent in winter.  June seems like such a long way away....

Week 19 Summary & Review

Here is how I used last week's share:

Long Island Cheese-heirloom pumpkin - This pumpkin is waiting for a thanksgiving pie :-)
Mixed Greens - Made a couple of salads out of these through the week.  They were really good.  I find myself craving greens more and more.  I feel like in the absence of sugar (more about that in an upcoming post), my body is able to identify what real foods I am really craving, like greens, kale, specific fruits.  When I eat too much sugar, I feel like I just crave more sugar, not specific foods.
Chinese Cabbage - Made a Cabbage salad out of them with sesame seed oil and rice vinegar.
Apples - Snacked on them through the week
Acorn Squash - Found this recipe from Alton brown for Squash Soup and made it.  It was VERY good, but almost too rich.  It would be better be served as  cup of soup with something as a main dish rather than a bowl of soup for the main course.
Leeks - Used them in a Kale lasagna.
Onions - Cooked with them through the week.  

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Week 19 Maple Creek Farm CSA 2009 - October 21, 2009

Here is what we got this week and how I plan to use it:

Long Island Cheese-heirloom pumpkin - Pumpkin Pie...what else?
Mixed Greens - Salads
Chinese Cabbage - Salads
Apples - Snacks through the week
Acorn Squash - Found this recipe from Alton brown for Squash Soup.
Leeks - Cooking through the week
Onions - Cooking through the week

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Week 18 Summary & Review

Carrots Ready To Eat

Here is what we got last week and how I used it:

Carrots - I peeled them and my son and I ate them for a snack one afternoon.
Apples - snacked on them through the week
Onions - used them for cooking through the week
Green Peppers - still have to stuff them and post the recipe here.
Vitamin Greens - Made a Vitamin Green Salad.
Potatoes - Used through the week, still have some left (truth: I HATE peeling potatoes, so I really have to be in the mood to make them)
Squash - I have a lot. On Thursday, I plan on making this soup.
Rutabagas - Adventure FAIL.  I peeled them and boiled them with 2 carrots and 3 small potatoes.  When they were done, I drained them and put them in the food processor.  I added some butter and turned the food processor on.  I really should have used a food mill, but I don't have one, so I improvised and added some milk to the mixture so it would run through the food processor more smoothly.  It was VERY sweet.  It would have made great baby food.  It tasted like I had added about 1/2 cup sugar to it.  Way too sweet.  But now I learned my lesson and my husband has a gift idea for me - hint hint.

Vitamin Green Salad - Part 2

Vitamin Green

A few months back, I made a Vitamin Greens Salad with the Vitamin Greens we got from the share.  It was good, but at the end of the post, I mentioned that it needed some sweetness.  Well we got the greens again this past week so I attempted Vitamin Greens Salad Part II.  This version was MUCH better.

To offset the slightly bitter flavor of the Vitamin Greens I cut up some very good, very sweet grapes.  I added some thinly sliced purple onions and some shredded raw Parmesan cheese.  Then I sprinkled it with salt and pepper and drizzled olive oil, toasted sesame oil and apple cider vinegar on the top.  It was really good.  The sweet grapes and the tart vitamin greens complimented one another nicely.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fagor Pressure Cooker Review

Fagor Pressure Cooker

If there is one thing that can say revolutionized my cooking more than anything else, I would say it is a Pressure Cooker.  Last spring I picked up a late model Fagor Pressure Cooker from Craig's List.

I initially bought the pressure cooker because I wanted to start using dried beans in all my recipes instead of the canned ones.  With a pressure cooker you can make dried beans without presoaking or thinking ahead.  Awesome, right?  But little did I know that I would use the pressure cooker for soooo much more.

I was so excited when I first got my pressure cooker, that I updated to Facebook status saying so.  I received a lot of cautions to be careful on and offline.  What you need to know is that today's pressure cookers are much safer than the pressure cookers our moms and grandmas used.  A safe modern pressure cooker will have three safety measures: a pressure regulator, vents to let out excess pressure and windows in the top that open in the event of excess pressure.

I LOVE my Fagor Pressure Cooker, and here is why:

1) Cooks food FAST!  My Chili took 4 minutes on high pressure yesterday.  Homemade Chicken Broth in 30 minutes.  Lentil Soup in 7 minutes.  Soups and Meats that used to take me an hour or more to make are done in minutes.  Those minutes are precious when I get home from work tired and hungry and want to prepare a healthy meal fast for my family.  When I use my food processor to prep the ingredients, even the chopping only takes a couple of minutes.

2) Uses a lot less energy than boiling something for hours or putting it in the oven.  That means it is green and it saves you money on your electricity bill.

3) Healthier - according to the Fagor website, 50% more vitamins and minerals are retained when pressure cooking.

4) Great Food - The food from a pressure cooker is great.  Unlike a slow cooker, where sometimes I feel like the food kind of disintegrates and tastes a little off, I think the pressure cooker helps things taste better.  You can buy a cheaper cut of meat and it will taste as tender as a pricey cut of meat.

.....But, there are a few things you will need to know about Pressure Cooking.
* Because the food is cooking under pressure, it is a little bit louder than using a traditional stock pot.  I am sensitive to noise, but because it is only for a few minutes, I can handle it.
* You will have to spend some time learning how to cook things in a pressure cooker.  I highly recommend the Pressure Perfect book that has recipes and charts that will teach you what you can cook in a pressure cooker and how you can adapt your own recipes to your pressure cooker.  I spent about 30 minutes reading through the first pages.  I consult the book frequently as a reference to adapt the recipes I already use.
* Not everything cooks in a pressure cooker.  You need to be careful when cooking things with tomatoes in them.  It can be done, you just need to do it right.

Here are some additional pictures of my Fagor Pressure Cooker:

Here is what the inside of the lid looks like:

Fagor Pressure Cooker Lid

Here is what a Valve Looks Like.  It attaches to the lid:

Fagor Pressure Cooker Valve

You can buy a Pressure Cookers from a variety of places, but if you find this post useful, you can buy it through the link below and I will receive a small portion of the sale value.

Buy a Pressure Cooker on

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Homemade Yogurt With Flair: Chai Tea Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt Chai Tea with Honey

While making my kids some decaf Chai lattes the other day, I had an idea.  Why not make myself some Chai Tea Yogurt?  Homemade Chai Yogurt would have two benefits: 1) Caffeine and 2) Chai Tea

I'm a big fan of the Bigelow Spiced Chai Tea and the kids like the decaf version so I started with that.

Here is how I made my Chai Tea Yogurt.
Specific directions on how to make basic yogurt are at the end of this post.

First, I put three tea bags in the milk as it was heating up.

How to Make Yogurt

While the milk was getting hot, I stirred a little too vigorously and the tea bags broke, opps

The Tea Flavoring the Yogurt

But that wasn't a problem because I pulled out my tea strainer and strained the tea leaves out once the temperature got low enough to add my yogurt starter in

Straining out the tea leaves since the bag broke

Then I put it in the glass jar pictured below to put in my yogurt maker.  I thought it would be interesting to put a glass of milk next to it, so you can see the color difference, and how much the tea infused the milk.

Color Difference Chai Yogurt, Glass of Milk

waiting....waiting...waiting....and it is done.  Oh wait, not yet.  It had to get it cold.  I put it in the fridge and finally when I got home from work, I tasted it.

It was good!  I usually like to eat my yogurt plain and sweeten it by adding some cut-up fruit.  Without fruit, the tea added a nice subtle flavor without being over-powering.  I added a little bit of raw honey to see how it would taste sweetened...and it turned it from good to great!  I am happy with how my Chai Tea Yogurt turned out.  I plan to try other flavors of tea and maybe even a few Senseo coffee pods sometime.

How to Make Yogurt

If you haven't made yogurt before, it is very easy.  All you need is milk and a plain yogurt with active live cultures (look for this on the yogurt package).  I find that a yogurt maker and thermometer with an alarm make my results a little more consistent, but you definitely don't need one.

How to Make Yogurt without a Yogurt Maker:
A page in French Women Don't Get Fat has great directions for making yogurt if don't have a thermometer or yogurt maker.  Here are some options for keeping your yogurt warm while it "grows".

How to Make Yogurt with a Yogurt Maker:
Here is a printable recipe for those who have a thermometer and yogurt maker.  I omit the powdered milk because I like to keep the unnatural ingredients to a minimum.  If you do omit it, your yogurt will be a little runnier.  Alton Brown says he finds 2% milk "the perfect balance between flavor and texture" and I tend to agree.  If you are more of a visual person, here is his video on making yogurt.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Week 18 Maple Creek Farm CSA 2009 - October 14, 2009

Here is what we got this week and how I plan to use it:

Apples - For snacking through the week
Onions - For cooking through the week
Green Peppers - Stuff them....again. This week I promise I'll post the recipe specifics.
Carrots - For snacking through the week
Vitamin Greens - I'll make a few salads out of it to serve with dinners.
Potatoes - Save for cooking through the week
Squash - I have a lot. Need to get kicking making something.
Rutabagas - Hmmm. This is going to be the first time I cook with Rutabagas. I'll probably consult a few of the books on my shelf to learn more about it and then decide on something. I've never cooked or eaten Rutabagas so it should be a fun adventure.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Grass Fed Beef vs Store Brand Beef

Many people are scared of ground beef.  And honestly, you should be afraid if you aren't buying grass-fed beef from a trusted source.  Feed-lot beef is not heart healthy and it carries the very real risk of e-coli contamination.  Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, is lower in saturated fat, higher in omega-3's, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamin A and vitamin E (source: Time Magazine).

But I wondered does Grass-fed beef taste any different than Feed-lot beef?  I'll cheat and tell you the answer before I finish, the answer is a resounding, YES!!

The picture above shows you the two brands I compared.  Honestly, I usually buy my grass-fed beef at one of the local farmer's markets or from Creswick Farms, but I wanted to compare grass-fed beef that anyone can purchase.  So I compared Organic Prairie Grass Fed Ground Beef  ($5.82 per lb) and the Kroger Ground Round ($2.99 per lb).  The organic prairie is obviously more expensive out-of-pocket, but I think the long-term health benefits make it a more economical choice in the long run.

You may wonder about ordering meat online.  How does it arrive?  Well, here is how it comes.  Snuggly wrapped in a cooler box with two cooling packs (my order had more than just meat):

Organic Prarie Box

Then I browned it in the pan.  I noticed two things when I was browning it.  First, the Organic Prairie grass-fed beef had a little more blood in the package.  I just drained it out before I put it in the pan.  Second, the Kroger brand was stringy.  If you look at the top picture you will notice that the Organic Prairie looks a little more chunky, while the Kroger is more mushy.  This mushiness was really noticeable as I was trying to break it into chunks while browning it.  Here are both of the versions on a plate:

Kroger Ground Beef vs. Organic Prarie

Once they were cooked, I couldn't feel that much of a difference when I rubbed the crumbles between my fingers.

Then I cooked it up into this stuffed eggplant and our family did a little taste test.  First we ate the eggplants that were stuffed with the grass-fed beef.  They were good.  Then we ate the ones stuffed with the feed-lot beef.  The feed-lot beef filling was tasteless.  While the grass-fed beef picked up all the other flavors and tied the stuffing mixture ingredients together, the fed-lot filling was just filling.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't was just there.

For a long time I considered myself to be a failure at all of my mother-in-laws recipes because they never tasted as good as hers.  But since our family has switched to the grass-fed beef I am finally tasting some success.  She lives in Malta where feed-lots don't exist, so it wasn't my cooking skills, it was the beef. :-)

UPDATE:  This post is getting a lot of traffic for the term "where to buy grass fed beef in Michigan" with slight variations.  If you found this page through that search, I suggest you head on over to my Southeastern Michigan Local Organic Food Sources Guide to find a few suppliers that I know of who sell grass-fed beef in Michigan.

Greensbury Market brings you certified organic meat for less.  Buy now and save on our delicious grass-fed sampler!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Week 16 & Week 17 Summary & Review

Here is a summary of what I have done with the shares for the past two weeks:

Here is how I used Week 16's Share:
Eggplant - Pictured above, I stuffed them with a mixture of ground beef, onions, cooked eggplant flesh, salt & pepper, eggs and bread crumbs.  
Leeks - I cut them up and used it in a cabbage salad. I was half way into making it when I realized that I didn't have a lemon for the dressing. I used vinegar instead, but the lemon would have been much better.
Cabbage - I used 1/2 for a cabbage salad mentioned above and the other 1/2 for a Borscht Soup from the Pressure Perfect cookbook.
Green Peppers - I stuffed them with a mixture of ground beef, bulgar, onions, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt & pepper.  I put them in the slow cooker and had them cook in a tomato sauce (1 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes, 1 14-oz can tomato sauce, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp salt, pepper to taste, and 1 tsp garlic powder) that I used the next day for a pasta sauce.  It turned out very nice, and convenient.
Acorn Squash - Saving for after the season, probably for some soup.
Apples - My friend let me borrow her food dehydrator and we made some yummy dried apples.
Delicata Squash - I still plan to remake them as a twice baked version, since I had some improvements I wanted to make from last time, but have to do it soon.
Brussels Sprouts - I saw this recipe for a side dish. I used hot dogs since it was the first time the kids ate Brussels sprouts.  They were really good, but the kids were still a little leery on them. I will persevere and find a way for them to eat them!
Mixed Greens - Salads throughout the week.
Summer Squash - put them on the BBQ for some end-of-summer fun!
Onions - Used for cooking during the week.

Here is how I used Week 17's Share:
Acorn Squash - Soup
Onions - Used for cooking for the week
Arugula - Arugula Pizza. It was excellent. My husband said it is the best arugula he has had in the United States.
Butternut Squash - Storing for winter.
Beets - I made this Borscht soup from the Pressure Perfect cookbook.
Brussels Sprouts - Side Dish. Made the same recipe from above.
Green Peppers - Cut up and froze for winter use.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Week 17 Maple Creek Farm CSA 2009 - October 7, 2009

Here is what we got this week and how I plan to use it:
Acorn Squash: Soup
Onions: Use for cooking for the week
Arugula: Arugula Pizza.
Butternut Squash: Roast it
Beets: Soup
Brussels Sprouts: Side Dish
Green Peppers: Cut up and freeze for winter use.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Real Butter is Healthy Butter - and it Tastes Better!

Inspired by my dad's recent question at Sunday dinner, "Why is your butter so yellow?" I decided to do a little butter review.  The folks at Organic Valley were kind enough to send me some to review.  I took a little trip to the local Kroger store and bought some of their store-brand butter to compare against the Organic Valley Pasture Butter they sent me.

First, 3 Comments for the Butter Haters:
1. My definition of real butter is; butter made from cows who have been grass-fed.
2. Butter is fat, and your body needs healthy saturated fats to stay healthy.  Don't buy into the lipid hypothesis lie.
3. Grass-fed butter has good stuff for you like omega 3's and CLCs.  Your body needs this stuff.

Nutrition Label Comparison.  You can click on the picture to see the full-size label if you are interested (it will open in a new window).  The differences are the Kroger butter has over twice the sodium (90 mg vs Organic Valley 40mg).  The Organic Valley butter has 1 more gram of total fat (12 grams vs. Kroger 11 grams) but both have 7 grams of saturated fat.

Kroger-Butter Organic Valley Butter

Color Comparison
You can see that the Organic Valley butter is much more yellow than the Kroger butter.  Why?  Because grass-fed cows produce more beta carotene and it makes the butter more yellow.

Organic Valley Butter vs. Kroger Butter

Let's Taste it on Some Bread
We picked up some Chocolate Cherry Bread from the Give Thanks Bakery and put a little on each of our pieces. WOW. What a difference. My mom, my husband, and I immediately noticed the difference (they didn't know which one they were eating, but I did).  The Organic Valley had a rich buttery taste as soon as we all put it in our mouth.  The Kroger butter was tasteless.  The second time I tasted the Kroger butter, I timed myself and it took 10 seconds until I was able to taste the butter.  From 0-10 seconds the butter was just kind of a tasteless wax.  All of us noticed this very obvious difference in taste.

Organic Valley Pasture Butter vs. Kroger Butter

Lets Bake It Up
My mom and I decided to try making sugar cookies with the each butter to see if we noticed a difference.  We weighed the ingredients to make sure everything was the same.

Butter Cookoff Ingredients Weighed

While creaming the butter and sugar (yes, way too much, these were a real treat) together the Organic Valley butter mixture was much more soft than the Kroger butter mixture.  Once we added the flour, the Organic Valley mixture was noticeably moister.  Not sure why?  Maybe you have an idea?  Leave it in the comments section.

Below you can see the finished cookies.  As you can see, there really isn't too much of a difference in how they look (The Kroger ones have a line in them so I could tell them apart).

Sugar Cookie Bakeoff

But how do they taste?  The taste difference wasn't as overwhelming as when we all tried the butter on the bread, but we did notice a slight difference.  Both cookies were very good, but the Organic Valley ones did have a more buttery flavor.  The texture was a little different too, but that could be to the additional flour I used when I was rolling them out, due the aforementioned very moist dough.

Before I started becoming more educated on the benefits of dairy products from grass-fed cows I used to regularly buy the Kroger butter.  I never really had any bad results when using it for baking or cooking.  However, now that I have taste tested the two side-by-side AND know the health benefits of the grass-fed over the corn-fed butter, I'll continue to buy the Organic Valley or Kerry Gold butter I usually buy.

Please don't think I am saying that Kroger is bad.  They have a very good organic section where I frequently purchase many of their organic foods.  The Organic Valley Pasture butter is cheaper at Kroger than at Whole Foods, so I always shop there to get it.  If you are looking for additional ways to save, check out the Organic Valley website where you can download and print Organic Valley Coupons.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Wordless Homemade Pasta

Week 16 Maple Creek Farm CSA 2009 - September 30, 2009

Here is what we got this week and how I plan to use it:

Leeks - Probably will make this French Leek Pie. It is really good! I've made it a few times before.
Cabbage - Probably a cabbage salad. I still have 1/2 of a white one left, I can combine them together for a pretty looking salad.
Green Peppers - Yeah! I was hoping that I would get some more because I felt like stuffing them. I plan on blogging this recipe, because last time I made them, I put them in the slow cooker and had them cook in a tomato sauce, that I used the next day for pasta. It turned out very nice, and convenient.
Acorn Squash - Saving for after the season, probably for some soup.
Apples - Will eat for snacks through week.
Delicata Squash - Think I try to remake them as a twice baked version, since I had some improvements I wanted to make from last time.
Eggplant - I am going to stuff them with some ground beef.
Brussels Sprouts - I saw this recipe for a side dish, think I'll give it a try. The recipe uses bacon, but I might use hot dogs since it is the first time the kids will be eating brussels sprouts, and I want them to have a positive experience with them so I can be more "creative" next time.
Mixed Greens - Made a salad tonight for dinner, will use the other half tomorrow night.
Summer Squash - On the BBQ -- one more time before the cold weather starts.
Onions - Use for cooking during the week.

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