Category: Food

Visit our kitchen today and you'll find several packages of tempeh in the freezer, refrigerator drawers full of vegetables from our CSA, and a pantry with eight kinds of flour, six kinds of rice, and four kinds of beans. Plus, there's kitchen gadgetry galore: two food processors, an ice cream maker, a grill pan, a circa 1980s standmixer/blender combo, some good sharp knives, and the list goes on. On our weekly menu board you'll find vegetarian and vegan dishes that don't take too much time for busy graduate students to make, use many local fresh vegetables, and turn out to be a (decently) well-balanced diet that will satisfy someone with a passion for cooking and someone who isn't too sure about new vegetables.

Growing Lettuce in a Fish Tank

Some Computer Science students at Colgate have asked me if I plan to start blogging again, so here is my attempt to get back on the blogging bandwagon. (We’ll see how long it lasts once the baby arrives in September.) This post is actually about a project I did with H back in February: planting lettuce in a fish tank turned greenhouse.

We’ve used the fish tank as an indoor greenhouse several years in a row. There are several motivations for using a fish tank as an indoor greenhouse: (1) fish tanks are cheap, (2) they allow in plenty of light, (3) they catch extra water when I inevitably overwater the plants, and (4) most importantly, it keeps our two cats from eating our plants.

Fish tank

We’ve collected a large stash of plastic jars that we re-purposed as pots.

Cashew jars repurposed as pots

I drilled eight holes in the bottom of each jar to allow water to drain out. I don’t recall how large of a drill bit I used (perhaps 1/8″), but in retrospect I should have drilled larger holes (e.g., 1/4″). The pots didn’t drain very well with the smaller holes, which meant that some of the lettuce got moldy, and I had to compost it.

Cashew jar with holes

H helped me fill the pots with potting soil. He made less of a mess than I expected. ūüôā Then we planted two types of lettuce seeds: Mesclun Sweet Salad Mix and Burpee Bibb Lettuce. We also planted some mixed herb seeds we had lying around from last year.

H fills pots with dirt

We used some plastic spoons we had lying around to label each pot. H used the spoons to help mix the seeds in the dirt—a step which is entirely optional and probably not recommended.

Pots labeled with spoons

I’ve learned from prior years that the plants grow better if the light from the grow lights is more concentrated. Consequently, I lined the inside of the fish tank with aluminum foil on three sides. I used a few pieces of masking tape to stick each piece to the fish tank. I left one side un-foiled to allow natural light from the window to reach the plants and¬†make it easy for H to look at the plants as they grew.

Fish tank with foil¬†Upstate New York doesn’t get much sun in late winter (and neither did south-central Wisconsin), so I purchased two TaoTronics 24w Led Grow light Bulbs a few years ago. I also purchased two clamp lights (and removed the clamps). I mounted the clamp lights on a wood frame I built to sit on top of the fish tank. The frame allows the lights to b 12-18″ from the plants: far enough away from the plants to avoid “burning” the leaves, but also close enough to ensure the light is concentrated. The frame also keeps our cats from getting to the plants.

Grow lights and frame

Here’s what it looks like with the lights on.

Greenhouse with lights on

And here’s what it looked like outside while we were doing this project: it was actively snowing.

Snow while planting

We don’t have any pictures of the full grown lettuce, but as I mentioned above, the bibb lettuce got moldy and had to be composted. The rest of the lettuce was edible, but a bit scraggly—probably a result of poor drainage. The herbs didn’t grow well—probably due to poor drainage again and the seeds being a year old. Next year, I plan to skip the bibb lettuce and just do the mesclun. I may also branch out and try to start some tomato, cucumber, and zucchini plants that we can transplant outside once it’s warm enough.

In the Beginning

In the beginning Vermont Valley created lettuce and rhubarb. Now the rhubarb was stalky and sour, reddness was over the surface of the rhubarb, and the spirit of canning was hovering in our minds.

First Week of CSA

And we said, “Let there be strawberry rhubarb jam,” and there was jam.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

We used five stalks of locally grown rhubarb (from our CSA share) and one package of “Product of the U.S.A.” strawberries (purchased at HyVee). While at HyVee we couldn’t remember whether we needed classic or liquid pectin, so we now have both on hand for our next jam making adventure–which will hopefully be in a few weeks when strawberries are actually in season in Wisconsin.

P.S. Hairy contributed to this post by providing moral support.

Aaron Blogs with Hairy

Popcorn, Successful Eggplant, and Other Adventures

Several weeks ago, we got popcorn in our CSA share. We never managed to use our popcorn in past years, but we were excited to give it a try this year. I grew up popping our own popcorn, but I’ve never done it myself. We used this recipe as a guideline; the popcorn was delicious.

CSA PopcornWe’ve been continuing our quest to consume leafy greens; this week’s first adventure was making the White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies from¬†Smitten Kitchen. I’m usually pretty skeptical of baking greens–I have a strong dislike of the stringy texture that sometimes results. But, we tend to trust¬†Smitten Kitchen (and pie crust solves most problems), so we went ahead with the pot pies.

White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies (Smitten Kitchen)

White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies (Smitten Kitchen)

White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies (Smitten Kitchen)

We went to a vegan potluck at FUS yesterday. We wanted to take something different this time, but we didn’t want to adventure too far. We went with the Herb-Scalloped Potatoes from¬†Veganomicon. We included the nutritional yeast topping; we’re sometimes skeptical about nutritional yeast, but I was reluctant to leave out ingredients during the first go-around. The yeast was actually a nice addition–it wasn’t trying to emulate cheese¬†too much, but added a good flavor and texture.

Herb-Scalloped Potatoes (Veganomicon)

This post is getting pretty long, but we’ve made two other fun dishes recently. First, we made these Flourless Chocolate Chip Zucchini Oat Brownies from Ambitious Kitchen.¬†Now, I’ll admit that trying to make healthy desserts is often a lost cause; if you want a gooey brownie, you really just need to accept the calories and lack of nutrition that comes with it. But, it sounded like a good idea at the time. These are…okay. Aaron thinks it was the “flourless” part that really did us in. We’ll definitely still eat the pan (maybe with some powdered sugar on top!), but probably not a recipe we’ll make again.

Flourless Chocolate Chip Zucchini Oat Brownies (Ambitious Kitchen)And finally, the promised successful eggplant recipe. We thought about making eggplant enchiladas again, but decided to try something new. We went with¬†Eggplant and Artichoke alla Napolentana from¬†Vegan with a Vengeance. The recipe suggested that the artichoke can be replaced with zucchini; I really like artichoke, but we had tons of zucchini in the fridge, so we went with zucchini. These were basically fried eggplant with a delightful sauce and a pesto sauce (with basil picked from our patio!); they were¬†delicious.¬†Definitely a keeper of a recipe. Plus, I discovered that I actually do like pesto; I’m not sure what I was afraid of in the past, but this was much more successful than I had anticipated. We even enjoyed this dinner on our patio! We haven’t been eating out there as much this summer, but it’s a nice change when we do. We were actually rearranging our apartment last night, and our dining room table was otherwise occupied.

Eggplant and Artichoke alla Napolentana (Vegan with a Vengeance)

This Week’s CSA Share

I rarely post on our blog, so as a special treat I’m writing about this week’s CSA share.¬† Emily took this photo of our share.

CSA Share Week 4

This weeks share includes:

  • Nevada lettuce head
  • Cucumbers
  • Summer squash (Zucchini and Zephyr)
  • Sweet corn
  • Estiva tomatoes
  • Eggplant (Dairyu and a traditional Italian variety)
  • Tendersweet cabbage
  • Celery
  • Dark Red Norland new potatoes (not to be confused with old potatoes)
  • Beets

We started brainstorming menu items last night.  On our menu this week is:

  • Herb-Scalloped Potatoes (Veganomicon)
  • White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies (Smitten Kitchen)
  • Eggplant and Artichoke alla Napoletana with Classic Pesto (Vegan with a Vengeance)
  • Broccoli Slaw (Smitten Kitchen)
  • Ratatouille sub (Smitten Kitchen)

CSA Share Recap

Clearly, writing about new recipes on a regular basis is still a work in progress. However, I did manage to snap photos of most of the dishes we’ve made the past two weeks, so I’ll go ahead and make one¬†giant post instead.

We went to visit my family for my birthday (and my grandma’s, which is the day before); we wanted to bring a dish that could serve as most of a meal for us, but that someone (anyone!) else might try. We settled on this Asian Quinoa Salad from Two Peas and Their Pod¬†(we skipped the edamame, because we already had the rest of the ingredients on hand). The salad turned out pretty well, though the cucumber didn’t hold up very well for leftovers. I might prefer to stick with the Thai Quinoa Salad¬†from Ambitious Kitchen in the future.

Asian Quinoa Salad

We’ve definitely entered summer squash season; we got zucchini in our last share, and we got lots of zucchini and summer squash in this week’s share (which I’ll blog about next)! My mom gave Aaron a mandoline for his birthday this year, and suggested this great zucchini recipe¬†from Smitten Kitchen to try it out.

Quick Zucchini Saute

We made dill-marinated tempeh to go with our zucchini and provide some protein in our meal. We’d definitely make this zucchini dish again.

Quick Zucchini Saute

Anyone who’s gone out to eat with me can probably attest to my fear of portobello mushrooms; they’re a frequent substitute for meat, and I detest them. Those who dine with us enough know that I have similar feelings about eggplant. I had an amazing eggplant parmesan at the wedding of two friends last summer; other than that, I have been pretty unimpressed with eggplant.

But, it’s a common summer vegetable, and we’ll get several throughout the summer. So, we need to deal with them. We made the Eggplant-Almond Enchiladas from¬†The New Moosewood Cookbook last summer, but they weren’t that great. We made them again this year, but used flour tortillas instead of corn. Usually, I love corn tortillas. But, in a baked dish that already includes almonds, it was just too much crunch. They were quite tasty with this minor substitution.

Eggplant-Almond Enchiladas

We also tried a new beer from New Glarus: Strawberry Rhubarb. Delicious! Though I’ll admit that I thought it was pretty similar to their more standard Belgium Red.

Overall, we did a decent job of getting through this last share. I didn’t take any photos, but we made this extremely simple Thai Marinated Cucumbers dish to munch on, and we made the wild rice gratin again to get through our swiss chard. We still have carrots, cucumber, and popcorn to eat.