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Recipe Tue Jul 05 2011

CSA: Cooking Some Awesomeness

rooba.JPGYou're a chef Boyardee aspiring to be an iron chef." My friend tells me this as I complain to him about my lack of desire to cut some onions up for a soup I'm preparing. And it's so true. I like cooking, but I'm not superb at it. I can bake up a mean cake and grill some fish but when it comes to preparing a solid meal for dinner I fall short. It's been a goal of mine to get over this culinary hurdle and become a decent cook. I don't want to be one of those pseudo-gourmet home cooks that's whipping up cherry reduction sauces for their roasted duck. I don't have the time nor the patience to be one of those people. I want to be a person who can come home after work and make a good, healthy meal for me and my boyfriend without burning anything.

To accomplish this goal I signed up for a CSA delivery program through Harvest Moon Farms. Every week Harvest Moon drops off a box of produce, most of which are things I've never eaten (to my knowledge), let alone attempted to cook. It was a challenge every day - pick a vegetable, look for a good recipe, and cook it up for dinner. It's a kick in the butt to motivate myself to cook every night. Already I've found myself itching to find recipes to prepare for dinner. I picked three vegetables I'm not use to cooking and made up a menu for a perfect summer dinner. Preferably for a night that doesn't storm and/or hail.

First Course: Creamy Asparagus soup
I'm not a big asparagus eater. I normally don't purchase it, and when I do get it I grill it up with some sea salt and olive oil. But with this CSA delivery I've gotten pounds of the stuff. I didn't know what to do with it all. Until I had an idea - make a soup. Soup is a great first course AND the leftovers make for a healthy lunch the next day. I found a great recipe for Creamy Asparagus soup on Simply Recipe that I used to get rid of the 2+ pounds of asparagus I had in my fridge. It's simple, easy to make, and you probably have most of the ingredients in your house already. So laziness is no excuse.

2 lbs asparagus
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
5 cups chicken broth
Leaves of 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp dry vermouth
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

1. Cut stalks of the asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside.
2. Cook onion in butter in a 4 or 6-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add asparagus pieces and salt and pepper to taste, then cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Add 5 cups broth, thyme, and simmer, covered, until asparagus is very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth. Be careful when blending hot liquids! They have a tendency to explode on you. Make your you hold down the lid of your blender tight. If you want a very creamy texture, you can put the purée through a food mill or press it through a sieve. Transfer to a bowl, and return to pan. Stir in cream. Stir in vermouth and a squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

If you want to fancy up this soup, for a dinner party or just because, you can chop of the tips of 12 asparagus and set them aside. While your soup is simmering, cook reserved asparagus tips in boiling salted water until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes, then drain. Add the tips as a garnish to the soup while serving. Or you can top your soup with some grated Parmesan cheese.

Main course: Baked Pork Chops with Swiss Chard
Chard is a vegetable that I've probably eaten but I just never knew it. Leafy and green, it's a super veggie chock-full of vitamins and nutrients. Good to clear out all of those toxins you may have wandering in your body. I found a great recipe that combines the healthiness of chard with the deliciousness of pork on Food & Wine that's quick to make. You can use green or red chard for this recipe, but I used red.

1 pound Swiss chard, stems removed, leaves washed and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
2 pork chops
1 1/2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 ounces grated fontina (about 1/2 cup)

1. Heat the oven to 450°. Oil a 7 1/2-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish. In a medium bowl, toss the Swiss chard with 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Put the chard in the baking dish.
2. Rub the pork chops with 1 tablespoon of the oil, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Put the pork chops on top of the Swiss chard. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon oil over the chard, around the pork chops. Sprinkle the Parmesan and fontina over the chard, around the chops. Bake until the chops are just done, about 18 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Dessert: Rhubarb crisp
Rhubarb is a weird vegetable. It looks like celery, but it tastes sour, and I haven't found one recipe that uses it in something that's not a dessert. What are you rhubarb?! I didn't want to get too adventurous and make a pie or some crazy rhubarb cake, so I settled for a rhubarb crisp. This recipe I found and modified does take up a lot of time to make (about 1 hour to prepare and almost 1 hour to cook), so make sure if you're making this that you have some time to kill.

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup melted butter (one stick of butter)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups sliced rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
Butter or Crisco for the baking dish
An 8x8 square pan

1. Start by slicing the rhubarb into little chunks - first by slicing the stalk lengthwise and then chopping it up horizontally. Cut up about 4 cups worth and set aside.
2. Combine light brown sugar, flour, melted butter, oats, and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix until crumbly.
3. In a greased pan use about half of your crumble mixture and press it down into the bottom of the pan (or use as much as it takes to make a decent bottom layer). Top with sliced rhubarb.
4. In a saucepan combine sugar, cornstarch, water, and vanilla and stir until well-combined and somewhat clear. Pour sugary mixture over rhubarb.
5. Use the rest of your crumble mixture and put it on top of the rhubarb. Break up any parts that are clumped together. Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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