This week, we again feature a blog from guest blogger Susan Walker, a Farm Fresh RI volunteer and grad student at Brown University. She takes us through her experience preparing local foods on a budget for a weekend out of town!
While I was packing up for the 29th Annual Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in Framingham last weekend, I realized that I was going to be in a hotel for 2 nights and 3 days, and had no idea how I was going to eat. I can’t eat at a restaurant for 3 days. Eating high quality local food has ruined going out to eat for me and many others who refuse to give another dollar to corporate food. You can eat higher quality, more nutritious food for less money at home. So I called a friend to ask what to do, and found out that everyone packs coolers and crockpots at the event. I decided to cook everything in the house last Thursday.
It started with roasting vegetables. Now I know it’s too late to buy native peppers and eggplant and freeze them, but I really want to demonstrate how much freezing a few bags of veggies this fall improved my winter. I would definitely recommend doing this during this upcoming summer/fall season.
I bought these peppers and eggplant for $.50/lb! I bought 18 pounds of peppers, sliced them, towel dried the extra juice off. I use them just about every day. Also, I bought about 12 large eggplants, sliced them, rubbed them with olive oil, and roasted them pretty fast - then froze the roasted eggplant. The butternut squash was $10 for a bushel this fall, and it is still just fine sitting out and looking pretty on my shelf. I got the beets for free when I volunteered packing Veggie Boxes for Farm Fresh. (Farm Fresh never promised me or any other volunteer free vegetables, but last time, there were extra beets, and I got to augment my grocery supply for the week.) The sweet potatoes were the really expensive component at $5 for 3lb. Total cost of all the above food: $6.
I started with the beets. Slice off the top and bottom, then just quarter them. I was super happy to discover a few striped beets. I tried to grow a variety of beet called “guardsmark” this summer that was supposed to be striped, but critters got to them. I was so excited to see the pretty stripes! I coated the beets in my own rosemary oil I made in September and threw them in the oven. I added water to the roasted beets after about 35 minutes. It fluffs them out, and they get chewy like craisins.
I peeled the squash and sweet potatoes and chopped them up. I normally don’t even bother to peel either of these. Coat in rosemary olive oil and bake. The cooking times vary on these veggies, but you can do them in one pan. Things roast best when they’re not touching each other.
Same thing for the frozen veggies, except that they were already chopped. I was sure happy I put that effort in way back in October - I am not a fan of peeling and chopping. I actually thawed these out, put them in a strainer and then rolled them around in a towel. Excess water is the enemy of roasting. I can hear Julia Child in my head, “If you have too much water in your pan they will steam, and you don’t want them to steam, you want them roast.” You can get the Julia Child DVDs on Netflix, and I highly recommend them. She goes to farmers market in nearly every episode. I added my rosemary olive oil to the eggplant and peppers and roasted them up. At the end I mixed them all together and they fit in a nice quart tupperware container. Also, you can get those aluminum foil roasting pans for free any time you volunteer to work at any community dinner sort of thing.
This is my new friend the celeriac bulb, or celery root. I also scored these bulbs by volunteering at Farm Fresh. I think I just got lucky that day, but volunteering always pays off in unexpected ways.
I had no idea what to do with it, so I punched it into my favorite online recipe site and decided to make soup. My trusty potato peeler handled the rough, hairy, rooty skin just fine. I chopped it up, along with 3 sad-looking native potatoes that needed to get cooked, and put it in the pan with some onions and homemade chicken stock. (Note: My next post will be devoted to homemade bone stocks. They will cure what ails you.) I only had a little stock in the fridge, so I took a quart of turkey stock from Thanksgiving out of the freezer to defrost. The recipe I read said that if you use a vegetable stock you will overpower the delicate flavor of the celeriac. I don’t know what they were talking about -there is nothing delicate about the flavor. It tastes a lot like celery (minus the stringy business), but it’s warm, smooth, a little sweet, a little spicy…. I don’t even know. I never made the soup. I mashed it up, tasted it, and ate a whole bowl of mashed celeriac right there on the spot. The banjo players were fighting over it up at Joe Val. I ate it hot, served it cold, and when I got back there was some still in my fridge that I made omelets with. Next time I’ll make the soup. It’s ok to make it up as you go when you cook.
Every time I travel, I make a frittata. I did this one with Farm Fresh collard greens. I was worried the collard greens would be too watery but it worked out. I slice my washed greens by rolling them up and making diagonal chops. You end up with short little ribbons. This is a 10-egg pie above. If possible, take your eggs out and let them warm up. They have a better texture if you warm them up to room temperature (works for omelets, quiche, souffle, and popovers.) This is also where the ends of all the cheese go. I actually put the end of the brie in the celeriac mash. My poor friends who didn’t show up at Joe Val until 2:00am on Saturday morning, and who had a 10:00am show the same day thought I was a breakfast angel when I produced frittata from my cooler. No plate required. I know I sang the praises of frittata in a previous post, but I’m just trying to show that a few easy techniques are so versatile, and work with our local foods every time. And that everybody likes them!
Don’t forget to check out my next blog on making stock from leftover bones coming soon!