About this Blog

As I go into my second year blogging about cooking and eating locally, I am thinking more and more about my own heritage. Why is cooking and eating locally sourced food important to me? What values am I honoring by doing this and how were these values instilled in me.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Spinach Lasagna

For me, spring is a time of anticipation -- the first nice day…or the next one. Awaiting signs of flowers from the bulbs I planted last fall as well as looking forward to fresh spring veggies! 

I admit my mouth is watering thinking of fresh asparagus, crunchy snap peas and tender field greens. I tried a California grown head of romaine last week and was disappointed by the dried out, rubbery, rusty leaves. (It’s not about being from California. It’s about how far that poor head of lettuce had to travel. Anyone of us would have been rung out and dry after such a trip!) So, I am back to waiting…and loading up on the mesclun mix that comes out of the hot house at our CSA farm - Springdell Farms in Littleton, MA.

Spring is also a time of transition. The winter CSA at our farm ended at the beginning of April and the summer CSA won’t begin again until mid-June, so I am using up the last of the things I’ve put by.

I have three more little jars of jam…one blueberry and two blackberry for my morning toast. I used the last of the late season sweet corn I cut off the cob and froze last August in chili last night along with ground beef leftover from our winter share. We’ve been enjoying the sweet pickle relish made from crisp summer cucumbers on hot dogs now that baseball season has started. And, with the evenings still chilly and damp, pumpkin chutney on whole grain crackers with creamy goat cheese is still a nice pairing with a glass of red wine.

The salsas and sauces went by quickly this year, so I was delighted to see baskets of hoop house tomatoes when I pulled up to the farm stand on Saturday. I filled a bag with them and decided to make a sauce for spinach lasagna (hot house spinach has been available for about a month now from Verrill Farm). Again, with the weather still cold and damp, a sauce bubbling in the pot warms the house and soothes the soul.

Here is my recipe for Spinach Lasagna…enjoy!

(A word of warning about my recipes…I cook with my five senses, so my measurements are my best estimations. I think the best food is cooked not only with your hands, but with your heart so hopefully you will follow yours when trying this recipe.)

Spinach Lasagne (Serves six)


12 medium sized tomatoes (I used a variety of types including cherry tomatoes)

1 large sweet onion

4 to 6 cloves of garlic (to taste)

Sweet pepper (I used a jar of sweet red peppers packed in oil)

Crimini mushrooms (a handful is good)

Bunch of fresh basil

Dry white wine

Pound of hot Italian sausage

Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse tomatoes and then arrange in a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and roast until the skins burst. (About 20 minutes) I do this instead of boiling tomatoes to remove skins, but you can use the other method if you prefer. Let tomatoes cool.

While you are waiting for the tomatoes to cool you can dice the onion, mince the garlic, slice the mushrooms and chop the peppers. Put tomatoes through a food strainer. Discard the solids. Set aside tomato juice.

Gently warm olive oil in pan. Add onion and garlic and cook on medium heat until fragrant and onion is translucent. Add mushrooms and while they are cooking add a splash or two of dry white wine. Finally add the peppers. (If you choose to use a fresh pepper instead of a preserved pepper, add the pepper with the garlic and onion as it needs more time to cook.) Let ingredients simmer for a moment after adding the white wine and then add the tomato juice.

Allow the ingredients to come to a slow boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Add Italian sausage. I removed the casings and added little ball sized pieces of sausage one at a time to the mixture so that they cooked up like little meatballs. Feel free to simply crumble sausage into the mixture or slice up the sausage with the casing.

Gently simmer sauce for several hours until it reaches desired thickness.

I started my sauce at around 10 am after dropping my son at the bus, eating breakfast and cleaning up the kitchen and turned the sauce off around 2:30 so it could cool and I could put it in a safe place (we have a dog that likes to steal) before I walked up to the bus stop.

Once I got back from the bus and gave the kids (I provide afterschool care), I made the filling and built the lasagna.  It was ready to eat by the time my husband returned home and my neighbors had come to collect their kids for the evening. 


1 15 oz container of ricotta cheese

1 egg

2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano cheese

Freshly ground pepper

6 handfuls of fresh spinach leaves

Blanche spinach leaves in steamer and then squeeze out moisture using a paper towel or a clean kitchen towel. Chop spinach and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg, Pecorino Romano cheese and chopped spinach.

Putting it together

1 cup mozzarella cheese

Ricotta and spinach mixture


9 no boil lasagna noodles

Preheat over to 375 degrees. On the bottom of a 9 x 9 baking dish, spread a thin layer of sauce and then lay three no boil lasagna noodles down on top. On top of this first layer of noodles, spread a thin layer of sauce followed by dollops of the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle one third of the Romano cheese over the ricotta and one third of the mozzarella. Repeat this for two more layers. Since I had left the Italian sausage in chunks, I spaced one sausage chunk per piece of lasagna on each layer. I also had some leftover to serve on the side. Feel free to follow your intuition and do what best suites your family’s taste.

Cover lasagna with foil and bake in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove foil and bake until the dish is bubbly…about another 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cooked lasagna for about 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Enjoy...and if you have a chance to try this recipe, let me know how it turned out...or what you did to change it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dig into Your Roots!

Some of the most frequently asked questions regarding eating locally grown foods are:  What's available and when, and can you get enough nutrients eating only produced within your region.

I live in northeastern Massachusetts about 15 minutes from the southern New Hampshire border and approximately 30 miles northwest of Boston. We can get snow as early as mid-October and have experienced blizzard conditions as late as April 1st. As I write this today, the first day of spring, it is snowing outside. Our growing season is far more limited than in southern areas of the United States and California, so while vegetables like kale grow through December and peas can be planted while snow still covers the ground in March, many of the vegetables you find being spritzed in the produce section of your average supermarket don’t grow here during the winter months.

And yet, there are a variety of possibilities for winter eating...especially if you enjoy root vegetables like I do.

We joined a winter CSA program this year at the same farm where we enjoyed our spring, summer and fall vegetables. I was excited to continue my adventures eating locally, but I had some questions as well. What would we get and would it be enough to keep things interesting as well as provide a balanced diet.

The winter offering has been a well balanced combination of cuts of meat from animals that have been raised by our farmer as well as squash, beets, garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips, apples, honey, maple syrup, local artisan cheeses and eggs.

In winter, while snow piles up outside and the temperatures dip down into the teens, I like to keep the house warm and filled with comforting aromas by cooking lots of warming soups and stews or slow roasting larger cuts of meat and/or vegetables. So, our farm offerings have fulfilled my hopes for the season.

However, each time I pass the produce section at my local Whole Foods market on my way to the bulk food aisle to stock up on grains, beans and nuts, I question whether my choice to exclusively eat local produce is adversely impacting our overall health. Shouldn’t I grab a couple of oranges and a head of broccoli just in case?

So, I decided to do a little research.

In order to keep the investigation manageable, I decided to focus on one vegetable, the rutabaga, and one nutrient, Vitamin C. I chose the rutabaga since it was not as familiar to me as a carrot or a beet and I chose Vitamin C since it is believed to be so vital to a healthy immune system.

In case, like me, you’re not as familiar with the rutabaga, here is a little background.

The rutabaga is believed to be the result of a chance hybridization between a wild cabbage and a turnip and is believed to originate from Scandinavia. It looks like a turnip. In fact, until just this week, I thought the rutabaga was a large turnip.

The rutabaga is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables which includes broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale. Like its cousin the broccoli, raw rutabaga has a pungent smell though much more subtle. Rutabagas can be roasted, boiled, steamed or mashed very much like a potato and has a light sweet flavor. I used rutabagas this season in meat stews both with other root vegetables and on its own. Rutabagas can also be eaten raw, simply peel them with a vegetable peeler. You can slice them for a snack or chop, dice or grate them onto a salad.

Through my visits to a variety of nutritionally focused Web sites, I confirmed that while leafy greens and citrus fruits are certainly touted as being the best source of vitamin C, rutabagas are also an excellent source. I was also interested to learn that one cup of rutabaga has about the same amount of vitamin C as a large tangerine. In addition to this, because the glycemic load of a rutabaga is lower than a tangerine, a rutabaga is better at regulating blood sugar levels making it a better choice to maintain a healthy weight.

I have to admit that at the end of my nutritional investigation I still don’t feel as if I have a definitive answer to my question about nutrients. However, what I take away from the exercise is that you can’t really compare rutabagas to tangerines anymore than you can compare apples to oranges; they all possess unique qualities. I also suspect that the value of an individual food has more to do with how all of its elements work together within the body as well as its freshness and the way in which it was prepared. 

For me, the answer to the question about nutrition is practical good sense: eat a variety of fresh, whole foods -- fresh being the key.

I recognize that I have a bias, I do believe local is the best way to obtain nutrient dense produce. Given the choice between a fresh rutabaga from the farmer down the road or a limpy head of broccoli from outside the New England area, I’ll choose the rutabaga. And with gas prices creeping toward $4.00 per gallon, local seems to be an economically wise choice as well.

If you would like to check out the nutritional content of some of your favorite foods or a fruit or vegetable you are just getting to know, here are some Web sites I found to be very useful:


http://nutritiondata.self.com/ (This site has a tool that allows you to compare one food to another.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Squashed Out

Sometimes, even with all of the variety we enjoy through our local CSA, we can get too much of a good thing.

I look forward to seeing piles of brightly colored, oddly shaped winter squash in front of the farm stand just as the air begins to get crisp here in New England. Like a hoarder, I buy them up by the armful and pile them in baskets on my dining room table and kitchen counter.

For me, winter squash is the quintessential symbol of abundance and nourishment. It is an excellent source of Vitamin A and C.  It is a very good source of Folate, Niacin (a nutrient important for HDL levels), Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Calcium and Magnesium. 

Until this winter, I thought my family ate a lot squash. So, I was thrilled with the many varieties I found in my crate: butternut, buttercup, acorn, carnival, delicata, spaghetti and sugar pumpkins. I baked them, cubed them, pureed them, roasted them, stuffed them and made soup (See Soup for a Snowy Day).

We continued to receive more squash into our winter share, which I had expected; however, now in early March, I am tired of squash.

When I went to pick up our share two weeks ago, I was overjoyed to finally see a bag of fresh baby spinach in our crate. This was a real treat after all of the root vegetables that carried us through the winter; however, I hoped that the CSA manager did not see the brief disappointment that must have passed over my face when I saw the two butternut squash tucked into the crate as well.

I wouldn’t dream of complaining. Since we live in a town house without access to a little plot of land on which to grow my own vegetables, I am more than grateful to accept whatever goodies arrive in my crate.

However, I am squashed out.

Back in the car, I wondered what to do with the squash. The easy answer would be to give them to a neighbor or make another batch of squash soup. I still had some dried chili peppers, a couple of apples that were really only good now for baking and some broth in the freezer. But then I remembered a dish that I had made back in November using squash, sausage, barley and kale that Peter and I had really enjoyed. I hadn’t repeated the recipe because kale was gone for the season.  However, now I had some fresh baby spinach, so I thought I would try the recipe again with a few different ingredients.

Thank goodness for hot house spinach. It arrived just in time to revive a dying food love affair.

If you have a good recipe for winter squash, please share! I need to start building up a reserve of new dishes to try next winter.

Here’s my recipe for barley risotto with sausage, squash and greens:

Barley Risotto with sausage, squash and greens

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 pound sausage
4 cups stock (vegetable, turkey or chicken all work fine)
1 cup pearled barley
1 medium yellow onion or three shallots, chopped (I like to use shallots with sausage)
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
3 dried chili peppers, chopped (or to taste)
1 bunch kale or several handfuls of baby spinach, chopped (I tend to use my eyes to judge)
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, cook sausage through until done.
Remove cooked sausage from pan and set aside.
If sausage is extra greasy, remove some of the fat from pan then add onion or shallots, garlic and chili peppers.
Cook, stirring constantly, until vegetables are tender.
Add pearled barley, stir and then add broth and season with salt.
Bring to boil.
Turn heat down to simmer and cover.
Cook until barley is not quite tender.
Add squash cook until squash is tender.
Add kale or spinach and cook until greens are just tender.
Add cooked sausage, Romano cheese and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Buying food through a CSA is better than shopping at a supermarket

If you’re a mom like me, then you know that cooking two to three meals a day for a family can quickly enter the realm of the mundane. So, anything that keeps me interested and inspired draws me into the kitchen. Belonging to a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) through a local farm has made shopping and cooking for my family more interesting, tapped into my creativity and provided us with a greater variety of better quality food that is as convenient as shopping at my local supermarket.

Convenience versus Connection

I don’t look forward to my trips to the supermarket; however, they are a necessary part of the routine of family life. For me, pacing up and down the same generic aisles each week can be a soul deadening activity, so making the weekly chore more interesting and engaging makes the task something to look forward to doing rather than something to avoid.

While shopping at my local supermarket is convenient, it is an anonymous activity far removed from the original source of the food we eat. When I go and pick up my CSA share, the crate has my name on it. I can chat with other like-minded CSA members just steps from the fields where our food is grown while chickens forage at our feet. I have gotten to know the farming family who grew and harvested my food, am able to ask questions about growing practices and have the opportunity to directly express my gratitude.  When I enter my local supermarket, no one knows my name, I don’t engage in conversations of more substance than to ask for a pound of ground beef or to remind the cashier that I have a reusable bag.

For me, shopping at my local supermarket versus getting food through a CSA is akin to the difference between thirty minutes on my treadmill and a thirty minute walk in the woods with my dog -- one gets the job done and the other feeds my soul.

Demands Creativity

For better or for worse, modern life rarely leaves us with many interesting problems to solve. I think the reason we seek out so much reality TV, overeat and feel generally dissatisfied is that while daily living has become much more fast-paced and complex; the tasks required of daily living have become too simple and mechanical. Our minds need creative problems to solve and solving these problems provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Before I started my journey sourcing and cooking locally grown foods, the way I planned our weekly meals was pretty routine. On Saturday morning, I’d sit down with a stack of cooking magazines and recipe books, develop a menu, write out a shopping list and then head to the supermarket to purchase the ingredients. For ease and convenience, many magazines, like Everyday Food, will develop the recipes, menus and shopping lists for you. Some supermarkets will even deliver the groceries right to your door.

Now my Saturday morning begins with a I drive to my CSA farm, which is about the same distance from my house as the closest Whole Foods Market. When I get there, I am greeted by one of the members of the family farm who gives me a crate of fresh, locally grown food. I don’t need Sudoku because each week, after I pick up my CSA share, I am engaged in creative problem-solving in order to develop interesting and tasty ways to use the foods I find in my crate.

This week, for example, we received the following items: two dozen eggs, two small butternut squash, a one pound package of lamb sausage, a lamb shank, hot house tomatoes, a bag of hot house baby spinach, russet potatoes, parsnips and a container of fromage blanc artisan cheese.

Using some items that I keep stocked my pantry, dried ingredients from the summer harvest and homemade turkey stock from the freezer, I developed a barley risotto with lamb sausage, butternut squash, baby spinach, dried chili peppers, garlic and onions. The lamb shank, potatoes and parsnips could become part of a stew, or the shank could be the base for a stock. I can bake, roast or fry the potatoes as a side dish or bake and stuff them as a main meal. Tomatoes and baby spinach can become a salad or combined with the eggs to make a frittata. I could have used the lamb sausage for this purpose as well. The fromage blanc still has me puzzling.

Better Quality More Variety

Purchasing vegetables, fruits and eggs from a local farm means that your food is going to be far fresher than anything you will find in your local supermarket – even if, like Whole Foods Markets, they make a point to obtain stock from local farmers. Fresher food means two things to me:   1) it won't go bad within days of purchase saving me money; and 2) it will have far more nutrients than something that has been sitting on a truck or in a grocery store bin for days after harvest.  This summer, we were eating lettuces that had just been harvested the morning I picked up our share. Short of growing your own vegetables, you can’t get fresher food.
Our farm raises grass-fed beef, pork, lamb and poultry. These animals get plenty of sunshine, are provided with plenty of room to graze and forage, are well cared for and are humanely slaughtered. These facts honor the part of me that is committed to ecology and cruelty-free animal-husbandry, they also mean that our meats and eggs are tastier and are less likely to be exposed to contaminants, shot full of hormones and antibiotics and in general come from healthier animals.

Finally, we are provided with a variety of foods. A simple example of this variety, are the eggs that I find when I open the carton. They are not simply brown or white or even all the same size. Some are white, some brown, some speckled and some are even a light green! Occasionally, I’ve even found something in the crate that I have never seen before. This past season it was garlic scapes, kohlrabi and cranberry beans.

I admit that as a result of changing my shopping habits, I have less time to do other things like watch television.  Preparing fresh, whole foods takes time and commitment. I couldn’t tell you tonight’s TV line-up and I missed the Oscars the other night; however, I look forward to cooking my family’s meals each day and we are healthier for it.

If you're interested in finding a CSA or other farm fresh food options in your area, check out the Local Harvest Web site: http://www.localharvest.org/.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ready or not...Wednesday is pick-up day for Cape Ann Fresh Catch

This week illustrates many of the challenges that come with belonging to a community supported fishery (CSF) like Cape Ann Fresh Catch (CAFC). Although I love eating my weekly share of sustainably-caught fish, picking it up and using it can present some logistical challenges for a mother with a busy family. As a member, once a week we receive a whole fish (or you could receive fillets) which is delivered at a specific time and location throughout northeastern Massachusetts. For me, the pick-up day is Wednesday and the time is between 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm at Butter Brook Farm in Acton, MA which is about 10 minutes from my house.

Challenge #1 - conflict with the pick-up time.  Wednesday was also an early release day for the Chelmsford public schools which meant that instead of being able to use the full half day to take my son and a couple of his friends on a mini field trip, I had to arrange activities around our weekly fish pick-up. This time, it was easy enough to work around since the only real conflict was one that I was creating.

Challenge #2--sometimes deliveries get canceled and have to be made up.  As members, we agree to accept that from time to time mother nature will get in the way of a catch which will mean no fish for that week and a make-up delivery will be scheduled.  For the winter season, which started back in November and will end next week, we have had four deliveries canceled due to snow and unsafe fishing conditions.  The way CAFC decided to make up the missed deliveries was to double up during the last few weeks of the season, so this week instead of one whole fish, we received two…or rather many. The catch this week was winter flounder so we received two bags with about six fish in each. This wouldn’t be so bad except this week my husband had a business trip and tonight (now Friday) he and my son left for an overnight camp-out at the SEE Science Center with the cub scouts, so there has been no occasion to cook and eat the beautiful and very fresh fish we received.

Challenge #3 -- if you can't eat it right away, you still have to fillet it freeze it. Tonight, when I have the house all to myself and could be doing a variety of other more enjoyable, more relaxing activities, I will be filleting winter flounder and then vacuum sealing the fillets to put into the freezer for dinner on another night. Not so awful, but on my first mommy’s night off in over six weeks…after a month of the flu and my husband’s latest two-week business trip to Europe…I had hoped to enjoy a bubble bath, followed by a glass of wine and a baked potato while watching Netflix in my most comfy pair of jammies!

So, why do I do it?

Because I am committed to supporting my local economy and making sure that the men and women who go out on the boats to catch the fish that make my family’s dinner receive a fair wage for the work they do and the sacrifices they make…and most of the time it is no more inconvenient than a trip to the supermarket.

Note:   Between their first delivery in June 2009 and October 2010 Cape Ann Fresh Catch kept $1.1 million dollars here in Massachusetts. Through the CSF model, fisherman are able to receive on average 50% more for their catch than through traditional markets. (These statistics came out in a recent e-mail from CAFC to its members.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pizza Night

Friday night pizza night is a tradition that reaches all the way back into my childhood when my mother would bring home Pizza Hut pizza, root beer and ice cream on my father's payday.  This was a true treat as we NEVER had soda in the house and take-out pizza was a real splurge.

My husband and I continued the tradition as a way to wind down after a busy work week when it was just the two of us and we still honor this tradition with our son. 

PJ's favorite pizza is Antonio's pizza which is made right across the street from our house.  Antonio's pizza fits loosely into my definition of eating locally.  I don't know that Antonio obtains his ingredients from local sources; however, there is no chain of Antonio's pizza restaurants, just Antonio and his family making pizza and subs for people in our neighborhood.

I can't eat pizza very often.  It is one of the foods that upsets my stomach and gives me heartburn, so over the years I have experimented with making homemade pizza that is a little easier on my stomach.  Pictured above is a deep dish pizza I made last night using Bob's Redmill Gluten Free Pizza Crust.  The toppings are inspired by my favorite Antonio's specialty pizza -- the Greek Pizza which is topped with sliced tomatoes, spinach, black olives and feta cheese.  I was out of black olives, but I had a container of marinated feta cheese which we received in our winter CSA share.  We had also gotten a pound of sweet Italian sausage. Part of the sausage I planned to in Pasta e Fiagioli for Saturday night's dinner.  I had a jar of diced tomatoes that I had put up from our summer share as well as spinach that I had blanched, froze and vacuum sealed early least summer.  So these, along with a shallot became the topping for my pizza. 

I sauteed the sausage in a skillet and when it was close to being fully cooked through, I added diced shallots and the frozen spinach which was still bright green and tender (I will definitely try putting up more spinach using this method this coming spring and summer.)

I sauteed the pizza topping while the pizza dough was prepping in the oven. 

The cheeses I used to top the pizza were:  Maple Brook Farm Mozzarrella , marinated feta cheese from West River Creamery, and freshly grated pecorino romano. 

Now if you are looking for a quick meal for a week day night what I did to make this pizza would not work for you.  The pizza pictured took me an hour and a half in total time to make.  However, there are things you can make ahead so that this could be a very quick and easy weeknight or weekend meal. 

Let's start with the crust. 

Based on the recipe on the bag, the total time to prepare the crust for pizza toppings is about a half an hour to forty minutes.  The dough can be made up and refrigerated the night before.  Or you could prepare the first step, which is to partially bake the dough in the pizza pan and then refrigerate the pizza for use the following day.  I find this dough only works for deep dish as it is very sticky and I have not had much luck rolling it out.  You could try regrigerating the dough to see if it dries it out enough for rolling and shaping into a regular dough, but I have not bothered with this.  I have added additional ingredients like flax seeds or whole grain millet.

As I mentioned, while the dough was prepping in the oven, I sauteed my ingredients:  Sweet Italian Sausage, a shallot, and then finally the spinach.  You could put the spinach leaves on the pizza without sauteeing them with the Italian sausage...just use fewer leaves as too many will make your pizza wet.

Once the dough comes out of the oven, I add a layer of diced tomatoes.  On top of the tomatoes I add the pizza topping and then the cheese.  Per the directions on the package, I cook the pizza for 15 minutes at 425 degrees and then serve. 

The great thing about pizza is that it is very versatile.  You can often buy ready made pizza dough in your local grocery store.  Toppings can be anything you can imagine and are a great way to use leftovers.  Kids like helping out with toppings as well. 

Well, not my kid.  He has often told me he doesn't like homemade pizza.  He only likes Antonio's.  So, for now, I make a homemade pizza for me and Peter and then I support a local business owner by buying a small cheese pizza for PJ.  The point is to keep it simple and make it a treat!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Soup for a Snowy Day

Around 5:30 am on Tuesday morning,  I awoke to the sound of the telephone ringing.  It was a robo call from the public school announcing a snow day.  At first I rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour and then I got up and went down to our living room to watch the snow fall outside the window.

I love snow days...even though we've now had three in the space of 10 days.  Perhaps I feel this way because I no longer have to commute to work, but even back when I worked at a full-time job outside the home, I still appreciated the kind of full stop a good snow storm can provide.

As I sat enjoying the cascade of snowflakes falling outside the window, I thought about how I would now need to rearrange my plans for the day and the week.  Part of this was to decide what I would make for lunch and dinner since my son would be home and I would have additional kids to feed.  (I  provide back-up care for working mother's in my neighborhood.)  Fortunately, my freezer is still pretty well stocked with food I had preserved this summer and fall.  For lunch, I pulled out a sauce with meatballs and for dinner, squash soup.

The squash soup recipe I use and have adapted over the years comes from Dr. Andrew Weil and was published in an article in Body and Soul Magazine now Whole Living Magazine at least three or four years ago (unfortunately the issue date is not on the page of the magazine I tore out and keep in my three ring binder of magazine recipes).  This soup is one of my son's favorites.  I like the creamy texture of the soup which requires no dairy as well as the sweet, savory, spicy flavor that is so warming on a cold day. 

I have included the original recipe below though I confess that I no longer follow it.  I always use butternut squash as I find it is the easiest to peel and to get the most uniform chunks.  I tend to use whatever apples I have on hand.  This summer there were plenty of Macoun and Macs, so I believe one of these varieties is what ended up in the soup.  In addition to chili powder, I have added both dried basil and marjoram to batches I have made.  From time to time, I have added ground cumin seed which I think balances the sharp heat of chili powder with a more subtle, smokey warmth.  I also generally add cinnamon, another warming spice, that compliments the sweetness of the apples and squash. 

This year I was very fortunate to be able to make this soup using only ingredients (other than the cumin and cinnamon) which I received from our CSA.  By the time we were getting squash in our weekly share, I was making batches of vegetable broth in an effort not to waste the abundance of veggies we were receiving and unable to consume quickly enough.  Instead of chili powder, I roasted fresh chili peppers along with the squash, onions, garlic and apples.  I also included heirloom basil...the kind we received was a purplish color rather than the typical green. 

Roasted Winter Squash and Apple Soup

1 large winter squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), such as butternut, buttercup, or kabocha, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tart, firm apples (such as Macoun or Granny Smith), peeled quartered and cored
2 tablespoons olive oil
Course salt
Mild to medium chili powder
3 1/2 to 4 cups vegetable broth

Preheat over to 400 degrees F.
In a large roasting pan, combine the squash, onions, garlic, apples, and oil; toss to coat.  Generously season with salt and chili powder.  Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until the vegetables are fork-tender and lightly browned, about 45 minutes.
In a food processor, combine half the vegetables and half the broth; puree until smooth, and transfer to a medium saucepan.  Repeat with the remaining vegetables and broth.  Heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if soup is too thick, until heated through.  Season with salt and additional chili powder, if necessary.  Serve immediately.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Okay, so even I can get grossed out

So, the picture to the left is what I was faced with on Thursday evening...well, we didn't really come face-to-face, I only had the tail.  Our weekly CSF share from Cape Ann Fresh Catch was Monk fish and we received a hefty tail. 

When I opened the bag to rinse off the fish, what I found was a speckled brown, headless fish with slimy skin hanging over a large hole where the head and internal organs used to be. A white spine bone, about a quarter inch in diameter, ran the length of the tail.

The recipe we received was for Monk fish Piccata which called for 1/2 inch monk fish tail medallions.  Now my mistake was that I didn't research monk fish when I discovered I was going to have to cook it.  This is one of the challenges of finding out the morning of what you'll be picking up later that afternoon.  I try to cook the fish within a day of pick-up, so that means Thursday night is fish night at our house...whether I am ready or not...and I was definitely not ready.

So, as I laid the fish tail out on the cutting board and tried to wrestle off the skin and the slimy, gelatinous membrane between the meat and the skin, I found myself wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into and whether I should just toss the whole disgusting thing right into the garbage and call for take-out.  I don't like to waste food, so I powered through.  After I got through cutting away the skin and the membrane, the flesh that was left reminded me a little of the consistency of swordfish and was about the same color and texture.

I prepared the monk fish according to the recipe and popped it in the oven.  I served it with a pilaf of pearled barley, butternut squash and kale.  Let's just say it was not my finest meal.  I overcooked the pilaf while I was fussing with the fish, so the pilaf reminded me of the gelatinous membrane I had just removed from the fish.  The squash was too mushy instead of tender and the kale had lost it's bright green color.  The fish came out of the oven tender, firm and flaky.  My medallions were probably a little larger than the 1/2 inch called for in the recipe so it took a little longer to cook.  Needless-to-say, we ate very late for a week night and I was disappointed to bring a less than satisfying meal to the table at such a late hour.  PJ took one look at the whole thing and refused to eat.  I didn't argue asking him to take three bites of pilaf and then I made him peanut butter crackers.  Peter ate two helpings of the Monk fish Piccata and commented how it reminded him a little of salmon.   I wasn't sure how I felt about the fish after my experience preparing it.  One of the difficulties I had trying to figure out whether I liked the flavor of the fish was that it was covered with breadcrumbs and Romano cheese.  The consistency of the fish held up well as medallions, but I think I would have enjoyed the fish more if it were not so heavily dressed.

Since I am committed to sticking with our CSF, I decided I'd better come to terms with monk fish as I am sure this will not be the last time I find its tail in my bag.  So, I did a little research.   

The monk fish is a bottom dweller found in Western Atlantic waters and is known by other names such as goose fish, angler, all mouth or frog fish.  Based on the photos I ran across in my Internet search, the monk fish appears to be mostly mouth and tail.  It is not attractive at all, though as I was rinsing the fish off, I thought that the tail and fins must look beautiful in the water as they were long and, other than the spines, soft and feathery.  According to Zeuscat.com,"The only edible portions of the monk fish are its muscular tail and its liver. The tail meat of the monk fish is delicious: dense, sweet, and very similar to lobster tail meat in both flavor and texture. Like many fish, monk fish is an excellent low-fat, low-cholesterol source of protein and B vitamins."

After reading that the tail meat is similar to lobster, I decided that the next time I would try a simpler preparation so that I could decide for myself...maybe a butter wine sauce with fresh herbs.  Through my research, I discovered that Monk fish can be braised, fried, steamed, broiled or grilled.  Whole tails should be braised or poached.  One blogger for the New York Times advised that to avoid having the monk fish meat become tough it needs to be kept moist when preparing. The blogger suggested a recipe to sear the tail meat and then finish the preparation in a sauce.  Jamie Oliver has a lovely recipe for monk fish in a black olive sauce with lemon mashed potatoes that I may try the next time. 

Besides how to cook the fish, I also wanted to find out if there was an easier way to remove the skin and membrane from the meat.  EHow had great instructions for removing the skin, deboning and removing the membrane.  Basically, it is pretty simple and straightforward if you have a good sharp knife. 

So, the next time I find a monk fish tail in my bag, I will be better prepared both to cook it and savor it.