Salads

We inventoried the refrigerator tonight to see how well we’re keeping up with our CSA and Farmer’s Market produce. We’re making progress, but there’s stil a lot left! Next week, I’ll try to remember to take a picture of the fridge once it’s been filled.

We had broccoli parmesan fritters from Smitten Kitchen for dinner. I forgot to get a picture of them, but I assure you they’re delicious. We usually eat ours with parmesan garlic sauce from Buffalo Wild Wings, which  you can buy in bottles. It’s a bit of an odd combination, but the sauce adds a fun spice to the fritters.

We’re having the Roasted Fennel and Hazelnut Salad with Shallot Dressing from Veganomicon on Thursday, so we roasted a bulb of fennel this evening. It’s also a pleasant surprise (for me, at least) to cut into fennel and smell licorice. (Full disclosure: I have no idea how to cut fennel. Aaron did that–I just enjoyed the smell.)

Roasted Fennel Although we’ve had several salads, we still have mixed greens left; we tried to finish up the bag by making salads for lunch tomorrow. There’s probably one salad’s worth left. Oops. I’ve been enjoying the various fruits and vegetables we have available for dressing up a salad; tomorrow’s lunch has beets and strawberries, along with feta and goat cheese. This picture is a little bright with the flash, but it’s a prettier picture than the non-flash version, so we’re going to go with it.

Strawberry Salad

Delicious Strawberries and Swiss Chard

Our fridge is bursting with produce from our CSA delivery last week, and we’ve been enjoying trying new recipes to make use of the variety.

The first night, we made these spicy swiss chard chips. I apparently neglected to get an after photo, but here’s one from before. We’ve made kale chips in the past; while these weren’t quite the same, they were quite delicious.

Spicy swiss chard chips

The past few years, we’ve made strawberry rhubarb pie, purchasing either strawberries or rhubarb from the farmer’s market to supplement the other from our CSA. We missed the rhubarb delivery this year while we were in Door County, but there’s still rhubarb available from the market. However, these strawberries are so delicious that we’re just eating them raw instead.

Strawberries

Tonight, we tried one of the recipes I listed last week: wild rice gratin with kale, caramelized onions, and baby swiss, from Smitten Kitchen. My friend Allison introduced me to the Smitten Kitchen a few summers ago, and we’ve never been disappointed. We substituted swiss chard for the kale in this recipe. I’m sometimes skeptical of recipes with cooked greens, but there was nothing to be skeptical of in this recipe. This gratin was absolutely delicious, and I look forward to leftovers this week. The bread in the background is a ciabatta roll from Madison Sourdough.

Wild rice gratin

First CSA Share of the Summer

This is our third summer with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share; we’ve always purchased a share from Vermont Valley Community Farm, and they have a nice page describing what exactly a CSA is. We’ve been very happy with Vermont Valley, and have been looking forward to the start of the CSA season for many months.

We were in Door County with Aaron’s parents for our first CSA delivery, so this week’s share is the first we’re getting this year. This week, we received:

  • lettuce head
  • fennel
  • broccoli
  • russet potatoes
  • swiss chard
  • pearl onions
  • garlic scapes
  • strawberries
  • escarole
  • salad mix

We had some of the salad mix and strawberries for dinner this evening, and both were delicious. This year, we’re going to try to keep track of what recipes we make with our CSA produce. The beginning of the season is always a bit challenging, as we receive large quantities of leafy greens. Many of these (e.g., lettuce, salad mix) cannot easily be preserved, so we need to look for ways to incorporate them into our meals quickly. So far, we’re planning on making the following recipes with this box:

  • Escarole Calzones from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (escarole)
  • Roasted Fennel and Hazelnut Salad with Shallot Dressing from Veganomicon (fennel)
  • Fennel and Potato Gratin from Farmer John’s Cookbook (fennel, potatoes)
  • Rutabaga, Cheese, and Spinach Stuffed Triangles from From Asparagus to Zucchini (swiss chard in place of spinach)
  • Sesame Kale Salad from From Asparagus to Zucchini (swiss chard in place of kale)
  • Wild Rice Gratin with Kale, Carmelized Onions, and Baby Swiss from Smitten Ktchen (swiss chard in place of kale, pearl onions)

Seitan

We’ve recently started incorporating seitan into our meals. Seitan is made from wheat gluten and is often used as a fake meat substitute; although we do use it to replace meat in some recipes, we also like to think of it as an excellent and tasty source of protein.

At first, we were purchasing seitan from the grocery store. However, seitan can be a little pricey, and recently the store was actually out. So, we’ve begun adventuring to make our own, using the “Simple Seitan” recipe from Veganomicon. We tried once in February, but due to some miscommunication about whether we were halving the recipe, we ended up with a less pleasing version.

However, we tried again last week! Seitan starts out as a stretchy dough. After the cooking process, you end up with this:

Seitan

From here, seitan can be cut into cubes and used in a variety of dishes. We used the first hunk to make an orange-ginger stir-fry, which we’ve also made for Aaron’s parents in the past.

Then, tonight, we repeated a recipe we’ve come to love: vegan orange chicken. In general, I’m not a huge fan of using “meat substitutes” to re-create meat dishes. I would rather have new dishes that make interesting use of vegetables and grains. However, there are some marinades that I love and want to find new uses for; Aaron discovered that tempeh makes a good base for a lemon-dill marinade with which I grew up. And, I happen to adore the sauce that’s used for orange chicken (specifically, the gooey version that you get from Panda Express). A quick google search found us the Vegan Happy Hour blog and a wonderful vegan orange chicken recipe. This recipe creates a fantastic replication of orange chicken; the sauce, in particular, is remarkably close to what you’d get at the restaurant.

Vegan Orange Chicken

 

Patio Plants

Despite a slow start this year, spring appears to have arrived in Madison. We’ve been enjoying more pleasant walks around our neighborhood, renewed interest in our patio (see Aaron’s post about our new drainage system), and abundant sunshine–except for when it tried to snow last week.

As Aaron alluded to in his post, we lost most of our plants during last summer’s heat, drought, and subsequent watering fiasco. But, this gives us the opportunity to make new plans this year. I will quickly admit that I am not the gardener in our house–I am likely responsible for much of last summer’s poor watering, and I have very little intuition about the entire process. That said, I love having all kinds of flowers, herbs, and vegetables on our balcony (we cannot have indoor plants because our cats devour them).

Once we decided how our pots would be set up this summer, we set out to pick plants. We first acquired these hyacinths from the farmer’s market. The colorful baskets are from Target, if you’re curious.

IMG_6390We then made a long stop at Menards to purchase seeds. After much deliberation (and consultation with the ASPCA’s toxic plant list), we settled on:

  • vegetables: beets, green beans
  • flowers: snapdragons, impatiens, alyssum, pansies
  • herbs: parsley, mint (to be purchased from the market), basil (we will receive a basil plant in our first CSA share)

You’ll note that hyacinth is actually poisonous to cats; we’re planning to mitigate the risk by not allowing the cats out on the patio unsupervised.

Last year, we grew pansies and bell peppers from seeds. Unfortunately, before they were ready to be planted outside, Luna devoured them. The bell peppers survived, although you could see that the leaves had been attacked for many weeks. The pansies did not survive the attack.

So, this year, we decided to try something a bit different. We still wanted to grow things from seed, but we knew that doing so inside was a lost cause. Instead, we decided to make a mini greenhouse, using an old cage from our late guinea pig and some painter’s plastic tarp.

SeedsThe seed packets are just in the picture for decoration; they are now safely stored in our “garden” box. And yes, those are knives we’re using to label the various sections of seeds.

IMG_6514The plastic cover actually turned out pretty well. We placed a small thermometer inside, so we can monitor temperature in our “greenhouse.” The first day, it was quite sunny, and we saw a high of 122. Yikes! During the cold spell we had last week, we saw temperatures in the low 40s. If it gets cold again here in Madison, we may bring the greenhouse inside temporarily. The cage will protect our seedlings from feline predators.

When I checked this weekend, we were starting to get growth in a few sections–the alyssum is coming up, and we have the beginnings of green beans.

IMG_6566The finished potted plant arrangement looks like this:

Finished patio

We’ve been enjoying keeping the patio door open while we’re home in the evenings, and we’re starting to lounge out there also. Now that all the pots are in place, we have a lot more room to move around out there, and I expect we’ll start eating dinners out there soon.

Of course, the cats don’t want to be left out of this enjoyment!

Hairy and the GreenhouseHairy frequently dashes out onto the patio when we open the door. Last night, we pulled out his leash so we could let him lounge on the patio (still strictly supervised). Hairy, however, is in the middle of a rigorous weight-loss plan. He’s down 3lbs from when we got him a year ago, and 3.5lbs from the highest we’ve seen him. For those keeping track, that’s over 20% of his total weight lost. We would be very proud of his hard work and progress, but this has been sheer calorie-counting (you too can count your cat’s calories–it’s fun!), and Hairy isn’t too happy with it. But, we look forward to many future years with Hairy, and hopefully this weight loss will contribute to a happier, healthier life. In any case, his harness no longer fits. At the tightest setting, it can easily be removed without unfastening. We adjusted Luna’s harness (which is a size smaller) to fit Hairy so that he could come out on the patio. If you look closely, you can see “Luna” written on the back of the rabies tag on the harness. Next weekend, we’ll get a smaller harness for Hairy, and return to multiple cats on the patio.