Monday, July 25, 2011

I really hope I don't pack the chocolate before I need it.

Hello again, naked readers!

Sorry for the lack of updates and explanations of what's been going on around here lately, I have been moving - whilst simultaniously getting this blog updated for upcoming events and sales! We also have a new printout of business cards so be sure to pick some up at the Joel Salatin workshop on the 5th of August.

Don't worry, is staying right where it is, it's just the owners are moving. We will be renting a commercial kitchen until our new kitchen is approved, don't you worry.

I also got myself a job at the lovely and local Food Connect recently. A small job but I am hoping the connections and feel-good vibes at this place will really last a lifetime. For those that don't know, Food Connect is an awesome local-food-only CSA provider in the Brisbane area and one of my main contacts for last-minute produce.

For those of you that don't know, I get my produce direct from farmer at a fair price - sourcing all my produce by hand. Food Connect makes this slightly easier by having a larger variety and more sources on hand than I do and selling to me when I run short. They also provide me with my weekly CSA box, which I absolutely adore for my style of eating.

When eating from a CSA you can't always (aka never) pick what you get unless you get extras. This makes your first venture into CSA from a 'normal' diet quite difficult. Not only do you find odd pieces of food you don't know what to do with (kohlrabi seems to be the fun one - that, and yakons) but you also have to suddenly learn how to work with what you have. Gone are the days of buying at the shops what you need per meal - instead you have to work out how to change virtually every recipe to adapt to what's in the fridge so it doesn't go off. For beginners, this can be quite difficult.

When I first started this venture, I used Epicurious for my needs. I love love love cooking gourmet (NO SHIT SHERLOCK, for my next trick I'm going to invent the broom) so Epicurious was a *perfect* match for my style. It also has a nifty habit of being searchable by ingredient, food type (seeing as I'm kosher and all that) and meal type. I find, for beginner CSA-ers, this is an excellent choice to start. Especially if you really want to expand your cooking horizon.

Once you start becoming more familiar with ingredients and your own personal style (I was once referred to as 'country gourmet') then you can really begin to have fun with the CSA and, in turn, save a lot of money. Once you get in the habit, CSA becomes more of a really tasty lifestyle than a chore (which, admittedly, it can start out as).

Some useful tips for first-time CSA-ers:

Replace things in recipes with what you have on hand. This does not mean spinach is a perfect replacement for potatoes, but it does mean you can waver on *perfect matching* a recipe and actually have something that's more personal to your tastes. You might not even know what you personal tastes are yet as you try new things! A few things: onions can replace onions. SHOCKING, I know - but you can use any onion to replace any onion. Instead of going by cooking time, go by appearance (as, say, shallots will caramelize quicker) and remember flavour will change slightly (but, honestly, it may improve your meal as opposed to destroying it as some seem to think).

Replacements for potato can be sweet potato, jerusalem artichoke, even kohlrabi root, once peeled, taste good in potato-esque dishes. I find eggplant and zucchini almost perfectly replaceable by weight, minus the differences in flavour. Both taste excellent. Both can be pretty much in the same exact dishes, from noodle-less lasagne, to fried and even to baked. If grating, zucchini has slightly more water so do account for that (or simply squeeze it out).

When in doubt, stir-fries are excellent things. You can use just about anything and in general, all you have to do is throw the tough stuff in first, let it soften and then add the soft stuff. Pumpkin (which is also a good potato replacement), zucchini, eggplant, corn, cabbage - chuck it all in the wok with a tablespoon of water (maybe sesame oil) and some grated ginger, garlic and a touch of soy sauce (or what you like), serve with rice and suddenly you have an extremely healthy meal that uses up all those random veggies. It also helps you learn cooking times and delicious food combinations. Plus, you can pretty much never fail. I like to throw cooked udon noodles into mine at the very end with sesame seeds for a nice crunchy noodle-box type meal.

Use seeds and nuts. It's amazing how dishes transform into gourmet spectacles when you use a seed or nut. Pumpkin tastes surprisingly good with pumpkin. Pepita is the name for a usually roasted pumpkin seed. It has to be the only Mexican Spanish word we use in Australia. Ever. Minus jalepeno, which no Aussie can correctly pronounce. (But it's okay, I still can't figure out the proper pronounciation of have in this country - does it have an h in it or not?!) Sesame with Asian dishes, linseed with veggies or ground in fruit smoothies, pecan and walnuts with sweets, and almond goes on just about anything, provided it's flaked. Why it tastes different chopped than whole, I don't know, but it does.

Bake. Everything. I'm not kidding. If it's new, bake it. Unless it's a lettuce, then don't do that. Grill lettuce! Not actually joking here, grilled lettuce is delicious. Almost everything reveals it's true (delicious) flavour when baked or roasted (which is about 40 degrees higher than baking). This can give you a real feel for the flavours of your food, plus it almost never tastes bad.

When you have leftovers, figure out what you're going to do with them. This is key to a good relationship with your CSA box. Whether you intend on compost, preserving or chook food; you really need to figure out what to do with what you don't eat or you're going to disappoint yourself with your waste (which will gradually wane as you become familiar with CSA eating).

At first you will waste slightly more than you used to because you will go out and buy more to fit in with what you have. You needn't do this. If you work with what you have instead of buying more (I conceed to things like meat, lentiles, legumes, beans, bread, etc) you will slowly reduce your waste to nearly nothing. For preserving, remember you will most likely be working with small amounts so jarring is not practical. However, there are neat things like preserving in oil, which requires little prep and can be added to as you get more - as with mushrooms. If you have a container of preserved mushrooms, you simply add more mushrooms and flavourings to your desires and then fill over the top with more oil. Lemons can be preserved with salt. Eggplant and zucchini can both be grated on a mandolin and dried for an almost chip-like snack that'll keep a week or two in the pantry. Admittedly, I've eaten some after a few months back there. They were delicious. Making ice cream is also an excellent way to preserve food and, bonus, you have an excuse to make and eat ice cream.

You can also make veggie stock out of just about any veggie. The basics are carrot, onion and celery and even those are replacable. I've made delicious stocks out of eggplant, kale and corn cobs before. You really can use anything. So it's not 'proper stock' or whatever the chefs will tell you - it's still delicious, salt free, and works. Pop it on the stove, covered with water, boil twenty minutes, allow to cool and then strain. Use the soggy leftovers for chickens (except the obvious, like corn cobs and onion skins) or compost (except the obvious like corn cobs and onion skins).

Bread. Corn bread. Zucchini Bread. Pumpkin Bread. Bread with peppers and bits of corn in it. Bread with cheese and onions. Potato bread. Bread has the added bonus of being freezable as well.

Avocado and banana can both replace egg in cakes and breads. 1/2 avocado or 1 whole medium banana per egg. Both taste excellent with chocolate and here at Nothing But An Apron chocolate is a food group (and so is butter), so eat plenty!

This is just a couple basics to help you on your way; I will probably do a more in-depth report on CSA eating to reduce wasting and expense and increase health, but not right now... I've already shirked packing for long enough.

See you on the other side of the fence!


  1. I agree. My first few goes with the CSA box was NOT good. I wasted a bit. Now, I either use the recipe finder OR I make it up as I go along. I am anxiously awaiting my first kohlrabi!

  2. Sady you won't get kohlrabi for at least another 4 months! It's an autumnal vegetable, like potatoes. Which is fantastic because so is late season cabbage and Colcannon is like the. best. dish. ever. on a winter's day. You can successfully use kohlrabi to replace part of the potato in Colcannon or mash to create a softer sweeter taste. You almost don't need the butter! (but no really, butter is awesome too)