Wednesday, October 23, 2013

One Last Pick-Up

It was a little sad yesterday afternoon when we pulled into the parking lot at Crystal Spring Farm to do our last farm share pick-up of the season. As we were walking up the driveway, the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program van was coming the other way.  Doreen, the food bank coordinator, stopped to show me what was in the back--boxes and boxes of lettuce and perhaps a few other things.  I know what the Wednesday crew in the food bank will be doing this morning!

The U-pick field was closed, so it was a short stop in the farm store to choose salad greens, heads of lettuce (thankfully smaller than last week), carrots, a few sweet potatoes, potatoes, parsnips, beets, turnips, onions, leeks, cabbage, delicata squash, peppers, shallots, chard, and stalks of Brussels sprouts.  I left my two kohlrabi there. We lugged our heavy bags to the truck and came home.

I started putting stuff away, keeping an eye out for the guy who was supposed to come and film for a documentary about the Mainers Feeding Mainers program run by Good Shepherd Food Bank. When he arrived, I had time to put away the rest of the stuff while he got his equipment ready. I had decided ahead of time that I would make a colcannon inspired dish of potatoes, cabbage, onion, and garlic, so I gathered the stuff and started working.  I had washed several of the purple potatoes we'd gotten a few minutes earlier and cut them up, putting them in a pot of water to boil.  Then I chopped a red onion and put it in the puddle of oil that was in my cast iron skillet.  I chopped up half a head of savoy cabbage and turned on the burner, stirring stuff around with some garlic while he filmed and asked some questions. He seemed surprised when it was done--faster than he thought it would be, I think. I mixed everything together and he asked me to plate it and then have Bill eat a forkful. We kept on talking and sometimes he would ask me to repeat something on camera. He was here for an hour or so, I think.

I hope the documentary will be useful in keeping the Mainers Feeding Mainers program going and expanding. As I understand it, Good Shepherd, the large regional food bank, gets donations and grants that enable them to work with local farmers.  They pay the farmers wholesale prices for an agreed upon quantity of food--sometimes farmers have fields that would not get planted, but if they know they've sold the food they can grow in the field, they'll plant.  The food goes to smaller food banks and pantries around the state.  This helps the farmers, the economies of the communities in which they live, and the people who get incredible local produce. I can't see a down side. Because the New England region is pretty small, this program could be expanded into neighboring states, which would benefit Maine farmers and economies even more. I like the concept, so I was glad I could help out.

We ate the cabbage and potato dish with some leftover chicken for supper last night.  I will cook something today--probably pasta and veggies with some hot sausage--and make enough for tomorrow, too since it's soup kitchen day. I'll be making ham and beans for lunch.

various kinds of cabbage and some turnips donated to MCHPP from a local farm

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stuffed Jalapenos

Yesterday I brought home several large jalapenos, a poblano pepper, and a block of queso fresco from the pantry, so naturally, I decided to make some stuffed jalapenos (and a stuffed poblano) to go with lunch today.  I snipped some of my regrown scallions and some garlic chives into each pepper, then added the cheese.  I baked at 400 until the cheese was starting to get slightly brown on the edges.  I love these!  Of course you never know what you're going to get with the jalapenos--Bill doesn't like things really hot, so I scrape out the seeds and ribs.  Some were hot anyway and others were mild, as was the poblano.  I think Bill doesn't want anymore because he got a hot one.  That's OK, more for me :-)  I love 'em!

The queso fresco seems a lot like paneer, which I have been meaning to try making for ages.  I even have a paneer box to press it in.  When I was working at the "sustainable goods" store (most of the stuff for sale was not really "sustainable" at all--we will not shop our way out of environmental problems!) I was chatting with a customer about sprouts one evening. She was in town to visit her son, I guess, who was a Bowdoin student and she was going back to India the following day.  She said when he came back after the holiday break, she would send back a paneer box and ask him to bring it to me--and one day, he did!  It looks quite simple to make--I just never seem to get to it.  But I will!

I am falling behind on the salad eating and I have just remembered that I have to empty my cotton bag to get ready to go collect more greens when we go to the farm for our last farm share pick-up of the season. In the weekly blog entry that was posted a while ago, they mentioned--not for the first time--that this season has been unusual.  Of course, when you garden/farm you can plan all you want, but some unexpected things will happen anyway.  At the farm the greens have been coming on like gangbusters and they said they plant a lot in late summer, expecting to lose some from frost and rain, which did not happen this year!  So all the greens are growing like it's early summer and there are a lot of them.  Some people are finding it difficult to keep up and some leave things there, as I did last week.  There were massive, heavy heads of beautiful lettuce and we could have brought home two heads.  I took one and gave it to my friend/neighbor who (thankfully) eats a lot of salad.  I left the second one there because I knew I would not be able to eat it.  They also said that the onions didn't do as well as usual and that the butternut squash crop was a total loss because of rain and heat in July.  I found that particularly interesting because less than a mile away is the volunteer-run community garden spot where food is grown for MCHPP.  They harvested 1400 pounds of butternut squash and 700 pounds (I think) of onions.  It is amazing how things can be so different in different places--even places that are close to one another! Of course, the scale of each operation is very different, too!

I made some more cranberry jam yesterday afternoon and we had the last of the first batch on chicken sandwiches.  I have leftover chicken for tonight.  I am supposed to have some guy come and film me cooking with veggies as part of a documentary for Good Shepherd Food Bank.  If he shows up (we were supposed to do this yesterday, but he didn't show up in the food bank as we'd planned), I will cook some farm potatoes in one pot and some chopped onions and cabbage in my cast iron skillet and then mix them together into a colcannon inspired side dish. We'll reheat it with the chicken for supper.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Quick Supper

Had some of the cranberry jam I made the other day on some oatmeal bread with a chicken breast.  Yum.  I'd cooked the chicken breasts in the oven on Saturday at the same time I cooked a Tofurky roast a friend had given me.  And since I already had the oven on anyway, I added some squash we'd gotten in our farm share.  I cooked once and we ate for three days. 

On Saturday we had some Tofurky (it has stuffing in the center), squash, mashed potatoes and gravy.  On Sunday we had Tofurky and gravy open-faced sandwiches and carrots (Bill had his cooked and I just munched on mine raw).  Today we had the chicken sandwiches and Bill had the rest of the carrots, while I had the last of the leafy greens and tomatoes from last week's farm share pick-up as a base for my salad.  I made more lime vinaigrette yesterday--there were more limes than could be given away in the food bank and soup kitchen last week, so I grabbed a bunch. 

I think there may be two more farm share pick-ups this season.  I am not sure how much leafy green stuff we will be taking home tomorrow and next week, but I guess I'll find out!  Once the season for abundant salad stuff has passed, I have a couple of heads of cabbage ready to go.  One of them can become some coleslaw and I will use the lime vinaigrette to dress that, too.  I am not fond of mayonnaise or mayonnaise-based dressings!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Time for Cranberry Jam!

Every year around this time, I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of fresh cranberries in the grocery store.  This was the week.  They are on sale, so I bought 5 bags and stuck 3 in the freezer.  With the other 2 bags, I made cranberry jam.
That's some of it just out of the pot--I think that vibrant red color is so pretty!  It's very simple to make and although I know a lot of people like to make it with orange juice and/or cinnamon, I love it plain and simple.  I simply put the 2 12-ounce bags of cranberries in a pot with a cup of sugar and a small bit of water.  I like it tart, but some people put in more sugar.  I stirred it up while it came to a boil, turned the heat down and listened to the cranberries popping.  When it was the consistency of a chunky sauce, I removed from the heat, let it cool a little and put it in the jars.  It thickens as it cools.

I LOVE this stuff with walnuts in oatmeal, so I took a container of the cooked oats from Bowdoin out of the freezer to thaw in time for breakfast tomorrow morning.  I also love it on turkey sandwiches and while it's not quite turkey time yet, I do have some chicken that I will cook this weekend.  I'll use that for sandwiches.

It's also great on pancakes.  I never buy syrup, so when we have pancakes or the occasional waffle, we top them with some kind of cooked fruit sauce. 

I try to get a supply of cranberries in the freezer every fall, because they just don't seem to be readily available the rest of the time.  I use them straight from the freezer in muffins and to make the jam. 

Cranberry jam--just one more sign of fall!  Yay!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cheese Muffins and Healthy Desserts

The other day we finished the pumpkin pudding pie with oatmeal crust that I'd made a few days earlier.  We both liked it a lot.  I had stopped making pumpkin pie over the last few years because it always gave Bill bad heartburn, but this version did not.  I am not sure why this should be so, except that there's a lot less sugar in the pumpkin pudding.  In any case, now he can eat pumpkin pie again. 

I was thinking about other ways to use the crust, which reminded me of an oatmeal cookie without all the fat and excess sugar.  Yesterday I made a double crust recipe and baked it.  After it was completely cooled, I broke it up and put the pieces and crumbles in a container.  Later I cut up some apples and put them in a pot with some blueberries and cooked them.  When Bill got home from work I heated up the apples and threw in some pieces and crust crumbles--instant apple crisp! Once again, this met with approval.  I can see using these crust pieces with fruit, in pudding parfaits, with yogurt and who knows what else!  I am sure more ideas will come to me.  I've been trying to come up with more healthy dessert ideas--things that satisfy the desire for something a little sweet, but that also offers so nutritional value.  So far, so good!

I brought home some Panera cheese bread last week from the soup kitchen and I remembered how much I like it.  This was white bread though and I prefer my bread to be whole grain, so today I was going to make some. I realized that I did not have enough white flour, though--it is something I rarely use.  I remembered a cheese muffin recipe that I dimly recalled making and liking, so I got out the recipe book where I'd written it down and was happy to see that it called for oatmeal mostly and a bit of whole wheat flour for the grains.   I made a double batch and they are as good as I remember.  We had some with lunch.  They would be good with breakfast or even as breakfast with a piece of fruit if you're pressed for time.  They also make a nice snack.

Whole Grain Cheese Muffins
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cubed or shredded cheese (I used extra sharp cheddar, but Swiss, provolone, pepperjack or some other flavorful cheese will work as well)
snipped chives (I used my garlic chives that are growing in the window) or herbs of your choice (optional)

Mix all of the above ingredients in a large bowl. 
Mix the following in a separate bowl:
1 1/4 cups buttermilk or soured milk (place 1 tablespoon vinegar in measuring cup, add milk to 1 1/4 cup level and let sit for 5 minutes)
1 egg
2 tablespoons of oil

Add wet ingredients to dry and mix just until moistened.
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins and bake at 375 for about 15 minutes.  Tops will be a little pale and sides will be golden brown.  Cool on wire rack.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fennel and Chicken

Last Monday in the food bank, we had a lot of fennel from a local farm.  It came to us with the stalks and fronds still attached to the bulb, but Sue, the food pantry coordinator, likes those parts cut off.  Rather than put all those stalks in the pig bucket, I filled a gallon bag with them and brought them home.  I have discovered that I love munching on the stalks--same texture and crunchiness as celery, but with a lot more flavor.  The fact that I like them so much surprises me because I don't even really like licorice, except for licorice Altoids. I hope we have more tomorrow! In addition to munching away on the stalks, I've been chopping them and adding to salads.  Yesterday I wanted a quick lunch and they came in handy again.

I cut up a couple of chicken breasts and plopped them in my cast iron pan that had a bit of oil in the bottom.  I chopped up some bell pepper, onion, and a bunch of the fennel stalks.  I stirred everything around until it was cooked and dumped it on some ripped up whole grain bread ends I'd taken from the freezer and thawed. 
I have been a bit out of my routine of cooking a lot one day and just reheating for the next few.  There have not been leftovers for a few days now.  Today we will have some soup that I cooked in the Crock-Pot overnight.  Someone gave me a jar of French Canadian split pea soup mix--whatever that means--so I threw it in the small Crock-Pot with a container of turkey broth I took from the freezer, some water, carrot, onion, and potato.  It smells pretty good and I am curious to see what is French Canadian about it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Making Chili on a Hot Day

The weather remains summer-like around here and I remain annoyed, but resigned.  Summer has to go away sometime.  In spite of the fact that I walked home from the soup kitchen hot, tired, and grumbling to myself, when I could squint enough to actually avoid being blinded by the blazing sun, I could enjoy the sight of the yellow and red leaves on the trees and shrubs.

I made chili today.  It was much slower than last week and we served 110 meals today--73 fewer than last week. As always, the chili was made with a little of this and a little of that--whatever we had on hand.  We had a lot of canned beans this time, so we used those.  Annette thawed 45 pounds of steak, so I cut that up and put it in pans with a little water.  I put it in the convection oven at 400 and let it cook for about 45 or 50 minutes.  While that cooked, I sweated some onion, garlic, and diced bell peppers.  To one of the three pots, I added some vegetarian chili mix that Annette had found in the back, along with various kinds of canned beans and some corn--kernel and creamed corn both.  Then I added some diced tomatoes and let things simmer.  To the other two pots, I added the beans and tomatoes, some tomato sauce, some chili seasoning, and some seasoning I found on the shelf--it has dried carrot, tomato, onion, garlic, pepper and other stuff.  I used it on the chicken last week and it was good, so I added some to the chili.  Once everything had a chance to simmer, I got the vegetarian chili in the steam table pan and got the rest into pans, too.  The meat was done, so I removed it from the drippings and water with a slotted spoon and mixed everything together.  We served the chili with some oyster crackers and/or Panera bread on the side and some shredded cheese on top.  And Annette found a huge can of pickled jalapenos, so we had little cups of those available for people that wanted them.  There were a lot of jalapeno slices left, so I put them in small containers to bring home--I took a few and I gave a few to a woman who volunteers in the food bank.  They would not have gotten used if we'd left them there and once things have been opened and been put in smaller containers, we're not supposed to save them for reuse anyway.

I had the veggie chili with some extra jalapenos myself and it was quite good.  I had a lot of people tell me they liked the beef chili, too, so things went well!  It was a calm day, people liked the food, and there were hardly any leftovers. And Mike, one of the crew members, got a chance to bring home scraps for his dogs, too. We trim off the excess fat and bag it up for him.  I do that with the excess chicken skin as well and he took some of that home last week.  When I was doing something with steak almost every week, he took some home every week and put it in the freezer.  The dogs apparently got used to getting a little treat when he got home from the soup kitchen, and they kept expecting it during the long summer months when I was making fish chowder every week and he had no scraps to share.  His freezer stash came in handy then, but we need to make sure it does not run out!  Glad I could start replenishing it these last couple of weeks.  Next week, more chicken (or, as Mike calls it, "buzzard").  Gotta keep the puppies happy!!

At the end of lunch service, a lot of limes remained--they were available for people to take if they wanted--guess they didn't.  I took several so now have enough for another two or three jars of lime vinaigrette.  At the rate we keep getting lettuce and other leafy things, I'm gonna need it!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Oatmeal Pie Crust

When I worked at the library in Klamath Falls, Oregon several years ago someone left a little booklet of oatmeal recipes on the magazine exchange shelf.  It was put out by Quaker Oats and on the back it says it's the 4th printing 1979.  There are some interesting ideas in there, such as making something they call "add-a-crunch" and cooking oatmeal in such a way that the grains stay separate (they toss with a beaten egg) and serving as a side dish instead of rice or other grains.  I keep thinking I will try some of these things and never do, until today, when I made the Oatmeal Pie Crust.  Since I am unable to prepare things exactly as written, I did make one small change--I added less sugar than the recipe called for.  The crust is done in the same way you would make a crumb crust with graham crackers or cookies, except you use quick oats instead of crumbs.

Oatmeal Pie Crust
1 cup quick cooking oats, uncooked
1/3 cup finely chopped nuts (or you can skip the nuts and use the same amount of wheat germ or quick oats)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
Mix the oats, nuts, and brown sugar in a greased pie plate.  Stir in melted butter.  Press mixture into bottom and up sides of pie plate.  Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned.  Let crust cool completely and fill as desired.
I filled this with pumpkin pudding.

I'm glad I looked through the oatmeal booklet the other day and found this crust recipe because I can see myself making it quite a bit and filling with pudding, fruit, and whatever else I can think of!  Bill and I like to have some dessert on most nights, and this is pretty healthy.  I've eaten the pumpkin pudding for breakfast and love it--I think the crust will add some good flavor and a nice crunch.  I appreciate being able to have something healthy at home--at the food bank and soup kitchen, we end up getting to nibble on Panera pastries and some yummy stuff (tiramisu, cheesecake, lemon cream cake, and lots more) from the Hannaford bakery is served with lunch in the soup kitchen.  I allow myself the treats when I am there twice a week, and I sometimes get to bring stuff home.  But it's all too easy to have that be a habit.  This pumpkin pie tastes great, has nutritional value, and was quick and easy to make.  I can have my pie and eat it, too!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Leaves, Broccoli, Fennel and Healthy Banana Oat Nut Muffins

We picked up our farm share today.  The lettuce is quite abundant now.  I still have some of a large head we got last week and today we got 2 more as well as some loose greens.  I am eating salad as fast as I can, but it seems like no matter how many leaves I eat, there are still more!

Yesterday in the food bank we got a lot of fennel from a local farm.  Sue asked me to cut off the stalks and the few fronds so that just the bulb remained, and however Sue wants things is how they get done.  As food pantry coordinator, she knows how best to encourage people to take unfamiliar veggies and I guess whole fennel might be daunting.  I trimmed the stalks off, but I could not bear to throw them into the pig bucket, so I grabbed a bag and stuck them in there so I could take them home.  I figured I could slice them and throw them in salads.  This afternoon I grabbed a stalk and started munching and it was quite good just like that.  I had Bill taste it.  Since he likes licorice, I wasn't surprised that he liked it too, so I cut some into bite-sized pieces for him to take to work tomorrow.  They have a different flavor, but much the same texture as celery sticks--very crunchy.  They would be great dippers, too.  They would pair well with carrot sticks as a sandwich accompaniment.  And they are really good in salad, too.

We have a lot of broccoli, too, and some great bread that may also have come from the farmers' market--it was there when I got to the food bank yesterday, so I assume that's where it came from.  It is some kind of sourdough, I think, but has red pepper in it and has a bit of a kick.  I also have a nice, big red onion from the farm.  I will cook that with the broccoli, and a poblano pepper (both also from the farm) as well as some garlic.  I'll top some of the bread with the veggie mixture and top with a little cheese.  Bill switched shifts for tomorrow with one of his co-workers so she could be with her family during a medical procedure one of them will be undergoing, so we will eat our broccoli sandwiches for lunch and he will graze through supper at work with cherry tomatoes from the U-pick field, his fennel stalks, fruit, Greek yogurt, and a couple of whole grain banana-oat-walnut muffins I made yesterday.  They were a bit of an experiment.  I'd found the oat nut muffin recipe somewhere--in a cookbook or magazine Heather brought home from the library.  It looked like a good recipe with hardly any fat (2 tablespoons of oil is all you use) and no added sugar.  It used whole wheat flour and oatmeal.  And it used applesauce.  I had some bananas from the food pantry that really needed to be used, so I mashed them up and substituted those for the applesauce--yummy.  I also played around with measurements and added raisins.

Banana Nut Oat Muffins
Mix together in bowl:
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of sugar (I added this, but the original recipe did not call for it, so use your judgment)

In separate bowl, stir together:
1 cup mashed banana (I may have had more than this--I used 3 1/2 bananas because that is what I had and they all needed to be used)
2 tablespoons oil
1/3 cup milk

Mix wet ingredients with dry and stir just until moistened. If mixture is a little dry, add a splash more milk. Fold in raisins or other dried fruit and chopped nuts.  I think coconut would be really good in these, too.

Bake in greased muffin tins at 350 for about 20-25 minutes. Cool on rack.

These are healthy enough to eat as part of a meal (great with peanut butter!) or as a snack, yet sweet enough to be a good dessert.  Hmm, maybe next time I could make them for dessert and add a bit of unsweetened cocoa and some chocolate chips!