It’s not a short week for everyone, but it’s a short one for me. It feels like this week is less about cooking, and more about processing lots of food for cooking later. Enter vegetable soup. And it’s cousin, lettuce soup.
Home late Monday night after three weeks away meant there was almost no fresh food in my kitchen. That changed after getting the remains of last week’s CSA box (i.e. all of it) on Tuesday. My parents had picked it up for me while I was away but hadn’t used any of it. With a double box still coming Thursday, that’s a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables.
At the risk of repeating myself, the morning was a perfect example of why I love both hot cereal and my freezer. It also highlights one of the things to love about fall and winter: fresh produce that keeps for weeks.
As a side note, I know many readers probably think Seattle’s coffee is overrated. This idea is justified seeing as how we inflicted terrible coffee upon the world. (I felt the annoyance myself just yesterday in Vancouver. Going from the airport to the train station, all I could find was an effing Starbucks.) Yet, one taste of my morning coffee with breakfast today … mmm. I think we do have the best coffee in the world. (Or perhaps, it was that 28-hr coffee deprivation overlapping with the 8-hr time change.)
My parents dropped off last week’s CSA box just before lunchtime. Lots and lots of produce. Perfect! Except I don’t have time to deal with it right now. I settled for eating up the three-week old apples and Asian pears in my fridge along with some yogurt from my new box.
Overwhelmed for Dinner?
As I already mentioned, this week is about using stuff up! So I didn’t even bother to put most of the food away. I just let it sit on the stove hoping the visual cues would inspire me by dinnertime. For one day, I can say I did pretty well. Two dishes, half the ingredients used. Here’s how:
- One of the beauties of colder weather? Soup is always appropriate. I tag all frozen items in my kitchenlister pantry list notebook with “#freezer”. By searching for that term later, I can easily see my freezer inventory. I found a range of homemade stocks: chicken, fish and vegetable. I also found broths from cooking dried chickpeas and black beans. Combining vegetable and chickpea broth, I simmered the liquid with corn husks from my CSA box. (I freeze liquids in plastic containers saved from yogurt and other dairy products. To use, rinse the outside of the container until the frozen liquid loosens. Dump the contents into a pot, then heat and use.) It looks something like this:
The stock had a sweet corn flavor after an hour; I strained the liquid and set it aside. For my vegetable soup, I added chopped onions, carrots, parsnips and golden beets. I like to cook the vegetables in a little butter. The mixture was seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs de Provence. Keep in mind, I don’t prep the veggies ahead of time. I started the onions, then added each vegetable as it was prepped. This means the onions cooked the longest. This gives more time for the vegetables to develop flavor. I want everything to be soft for the soup anyway so I’m not worried about overcooking. The only tip is the order of the ingredients should reflect how long you want them to cook for. For example, I wanted the onions and carrots to caramelize a bit, while I simply wanted the beets to soften.
I added the broth and simmered the soup until all the vegetables were soft (longer is fine too). Then, I stirred in chopped pea shoots. I didn’t cook the soup more than a minute longer because the leaves are quite tender. They’ll cook more when I reheat the soup anyway.
Now I have three quarts of vegetable soup to eat, freeze, or transform into other dishes. Out of my 15-item share, I used 4 items in this one dish. (I also cut off the corn kernels and froze both the corn and the cobs. So, technically, that’s 5 items.) Next.
That’s a lot of chopping, and I haven’t even started dinner yet! No worries, it was easy. You can always count on vegetable pasta for a delicious and dependable meal. My pasta share was a beautiful, fresh tri-color fusilli. For the sauce, I sautéed mixed sweet peppers with garlic in olive oil. Then, I added sliced French breakfast radishes and a dab of butter. When tender, I stirred in a mixture of chopped greens: beet greens, radish greens, and tatsoi.
Now for the “risky” part. The obvious addition here is tomatoes. But I don’t have any. (Yes, you might be wondering what happened to all my frozen tomatoes. They are temporarily in my parents’ freezer as I’m currently out of room in my own tiny kitchen.) Scanning my list, I landed on tomatillos. These green fruits are tomato-like, or rather, they are like green tomatoes. I am a big tomatillo salsa fan, but I’ve never tried them in pasta before. (One thing I like about this blog is I’m encouraged to try ideas I’m afraid won’t work, just so I can tell you about them.)
The result? You seriously should try adding tomatillos to your pasta. I removed the paper husks and cut them in quarters, before adding to the other veggies. They cook down enough to make a light sauce in about 10 minutes. I finished the sauté with a liberal amount of salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and sherry vinegar. I stirred in the cooked pasta and topped it with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.*
Dinner taken care of, and enough leftovers for lunch. Plus I used another 4 items and the pasta. One day down and only 6 items are left!
I didn’t realize how reliant I had become on eggs for breakfast until I didn’t have any. So I made chia pudding on Tuesday night in anticipation of breakfast. In the morning, just top with fruit—such an easy meal. And the fruit? Well, apples and pears… again. This is why seasonal eating can get difficult outside of summer. Sometimes (okay, frequently) it can seem monotonous. After all, I had yogurt with chia seeds, apples and Asian pears just yesterday. So is the answer to buy some bananas and avocados? NO! More often than not, the ingredients aren’t the problem. It’s your lack of creativity in serving those ingredients.
Case in point, this morning’s breakfast:
I cooked chopped apples and pears in melted butter. When soft, I added a handful of frozen cranberries and a little brown sugar, salt and brandy. This was a completely different dish than Tuesday’s lunch. That’s true even though most of the ingredients were the same. Changing the preparation method and garnishes makes a satisfying variation to break the monotony.
This week my CSF included two types of fish: black cod and rockfish. The season is coming to the end and it may be the last black cod I eat for a while. So I decided to make my favorite black cod recipe I have found in kitchenlister. I had bookmarked the recipe before for easy retrieval in the recipes view. This recipe is the epitome of what I consider to be a good template. It’s simple, variable, and interesting enough that I wouldn’t have come up with it myself. I’ve devoted a whole post to it (coming soon).
By the way, just to keep the tally going, that’s two more items used up, plus part of the lettuce. So just 4 to go after two days.
For dessert? Homemade cookies! No, I didn’t whip up a batch. (To be honest, I hate making cookies so you will find little about cookies on this blog.) My mom, who claims she can’t bake, does make cookies throughout the year. She also does many home canning projects, including green tomato mincement. I already mentioned tagging my pantry list with “#freezer“. Well searching this term yielded “cookies” as a result. My first thought was “Huh?” Reading the notebook entry I had made, I remembered freezing mincement cookies in August. A great find this week when I’m already doing so much other cooking.
No eggs, no bread … hot cereal to the rescue. I cut up the last apple and added it while bringing the water to a boil along with salt, butter and cinnamon. Staying away from the controversy around how much protein to eat, I’ve wondered if hot cereal is too low. So along with the Scottish oatmeal, I stirred in a spoonful each of flaxseed meal and wheat germ. I also added chopped brazil nuts, toasted coconut, poppy seeds, and bee pollen. These additions upped the protein to about 9–10 grams. Still low in protein as far as breakfasts go, but an improvement over plain oatmeal. (Hey, just like you, I’m learning how to create healthier meals too.)
Recall that I made a big pot of vegetable soup on Tuesday evening to help use up the plethora of vegetables I had. Although I had not used the soup for any meals yet, I had tasted it and noticed it was quite sweet. Not a surprise since it consisted of onions, carrots, parsnips and beets—all vegetables that sweeten when cooked. So how to improve my soup and use up some of that huge head of lettuce? I turned to another recipe bookmarked in my kitchenlister account: lettuce soup. Anyone trying to eat seasonally is faced with too much lettuce at some point. This recipe is a great antidote. It’s easy to make and freezes well. The ingredients and amounts are also quite flexible but this is one soup I would definitely puree.
So with lettuce soup as my inspiration, I heated the chopped outer leaves in half of my soup. I added a rind of parmesan from the freezer for flavor. When the lettuce was cooked—only about 10 minutes—I removed the cheese rind before pureeing the mixture in my Vitamix. I did this last night while I was making dinner. So today I reheated the improved vegetable soup and added a garnish.
And what about those inner lettuce leaves? With winter approaching, I don’t expect to get much more (any?) lettuce so I plan to enjoy those crisp inner leaves in a salad. Still, I’m counting the lettuce as used. That brings my tally to just 2 items left: pears and kale.
More fish for dinner since I still had the rockfish to use. I reheated the other half of my vegetable soup in a wide skillet (i.e the portion I didn’t puree). I made a fish stew by poaching the rockfish in the leftover soup. Lightly sautéed tatsoi greens from my double CSA box finished the dish—to brighten the stew as much as for the flavor. Plus a sprinkling of gomashio, a Japanese seasoning based on sesame seeds. Tatsoi adds a bright green color but that isn’t to say it’s not delicious. If tatsoi greens are new to you, seek them out because this Asian green is easy to use in stir-fries and sautés. (It reminds me a cross between spinach and bok choy.)
A filling stew meant we weren’t hungry for the salad I had planned. There’s always tomorrow. Salad for breakfast, anyone? (Ha, ha! Salad for breakfast. That’s ridiculous.)
So Friday morning. What to have for breakfast … how about this?
While I sometimes have salad for breakfast, it’s usually with a poached egg. In my thoroughness in editing this blog, I wanted to confirm the spelling of “Concorde”. In doing so, I happened upon this recipe from the Pear Bureau Northwest (USA Pears). You never know where you might find inspiration. With basic cooking skills, I only needed to skim the recipe to get the gist and then improvise my own breakfast. After loving the baked pears I tried recently, I was drawn to this savory variation.
The problem with opening this cheese? I kept finding excuses to have this snack throughout the day:
In another episode of “Why I Don’t Plan Meals”, I give you Friday evening. Looks like there’s a work emergency because, well, obviously, it’s tech and critically important. So when Matt walked in the door at 8, we were both hungry and making something fast was the priority. An easy pasta came through for us again.
Now you may be wondering why I would include canned tuna in my meals. Is this actually a healthy and sustainable option? Usually the answer is a “No” for sustainability due to high bycatch and overfishing. If you eat tuna often, also a “No” for health due to mercury concerns. I was raised eating canned tuna, and honestly, it is one of my favorite foods. So I buy West Coast tuna from local fishing boats that only sell pole and line or troll-caught younger fish. It’s not only sustainable and healthier, but has an incomparable flavor. A warning though: Just like with bacon, once you try quality canned tuna, you will not want the cheap stuff. It might as well be a different fish.
St. Jude’s canned tuna is available in my grocery store. Papa George also sells a great product (and more than just tuna). Both are available online. Greenpeace has done a ranking of national brands that might be more readily available to you.
And with that, I had used up the last 2 items from my CSA. On to the next two boxes …
To end the week, a little inspiration to those of you who may still be mourning the passage of summer. (Admittedly, this is not me). Only now at this unique time of year can I get a photo of these two local beauties together:
Ah, cooking with the seasons—there’s always something to look forward to.
*Throughout this blog, I use the words “parmesan” and “Parmigiano-Reggiano” interchangeably. To be clear, they are not the same thing. Still, you can always use whichever you prefer in your cooking. If you’re wondering what I use, I only buy Parmigiano-Reggiano. A large wedge lasts us months in the fridge if wrapped well. The Italian original is expensive but is more flavorful than mass-produced domestic parmesan. Again, I have to say they might as well be different cheeses. Once in while I buy a local parmesan cheese, but I don’t find them often enough.
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If you’d like more information about any of these early fall meals, leave me a comment.
Read more about my “Week in Review” posts.