Day 270–Yellow Squash Muffins

There are some food combinations that immediately speak to me–chocolate and hazelnut, tomato and garlic, bacon and, well, anything. Other combinations make me wonder–is this a joke? This recipe falls in the latter category. Yellow squash and applesauce? Blech. Since I had some homemade applesauce and large, lovely yellow squash on hand, I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and give this a try. This recipe is from Food.com, but was shared with me via our weekly Produce Box. How was it? Abso-freakin-lutely delicious. These taste more like corn muffins, but they don’t have any corn in them. We loved them. They are moist and light and not too sweet. Perfect with our acorn squash and apple soup and they would be delicious with chili as well. We ate our fill and froze the rest for some future fall soup nights!

Yellow Squash Muffins (makes 18)

2 lbs. yellow summer squash
2 eggs
1/2 c. melted butter
1/2 c. applesauce (we used our crock pot applesauce)
1 c. sugar
3 c. flour (we used whole wheat pastry flour)
5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tin with liners or lightly grease cups.
2. Wash squash, trim the ends and cut into 1-inch slices.
3. Put squash in a medium saucepan along with 1/2 cup of water and cook for about 20 minutes or until very soft.
4. Drain squash very well and mash with a potato masher.
5. Measure 2 cups of the cooked squash into a medium mixing bowl and add eggs, butter and applesauce. Stir well and set aside.
6. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of mixture and add wet ingredients. Mix until just combined.
7. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.
8. Bake about 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
9. Cool 5 minutes in the tin and remove muffins to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Day 269–Squash and Apple Soup

I love, love, love to roast vegetables. Roasting is one of those techniques that is easy and makes great use of any vegetable from the farmer’s market. Roasted vegetables are terrific on their own as a side (or main) dish, served over pasta, worked into risotto or pureed and used in baked goods. There is something wonderful about how roasting brings out the natural sweetness and nuttiness of fresh, ripe vegetables. This soup is warming and satisfying and it takes advantage of fresh, local acorn squash and apples. Chock full of roasted goodness, thick and creamy. Great for one of those drizzly fall days when you want to hibernate. To save time, I roasted the vegetables and apples the night before so dinner the following night was super quick! This recipe makes about 8 cups–some for eating now and some for freezing to eat later!

Squash and Apple Soup

  • 2 acorn squash
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 medium, crisp apples, peeled, cored and quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tbsp. or so of olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Cut acorn squash in half and compost the seeds. Drizzle cut sides with a bit of olive oil and put cut side down on the baking sheet.
  3. Toss the onion, garlic and apple with remaining olive oil, salt, pepper, coriander, red pepper and rosemary. Add to baking sheet.
  4. Roast vegetables for 45 minutes until soft and golden. Remove from oven and let cool.
  5. While vegetables are cooling, put pumpkin seeds in a small cake pan and toast in oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
  6. Scoop pulp from the acorn squash and compost the shells. Add pulp and all roasted vegetables to a large bowl. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth (you can also do this in a standing blender).
  7. Add puree and stock to a Dutch oven. Stir well and heat. Add cream just before serving and adjust for seasonings.
  8. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with roasted pumpkin seeds for garnish.

Day 268–Best Practices for Garden Food Safety!

Many of us know how to put a plant in the ground and give it some basic TLC to get it growing. But how do we make sure that the gardens we plant yield safe food that will not unintentionally make us sick? And what can we do to make sure children working with us are safe? The North Carolina organization, Advocates for Health in Action have a new web-based resource to address those issues. While it is primarily designed for people starting community gardens, I found plenty of tips for my own home garden!

Here is the link to the booklet. Happy (and safe) fall gardening!

Day 267–A Farmer’s Response to the Stanford Organics Report

I posted my own thoughts on the Stanford University survey of existing research on organic produce HERE. But I thought this piece from the Huffington Post was excellent, especially since it comes from a farmer’s perspective. Hope you enjoy!

Challenging the ‘Conventional’ Wisdom: One Farmer’s Take On The Stanford Organic Food Study

Andrew Stout, Founder and CEO, Full Circle

Much has already been written about the recent study from Stanford University claiming that organic foods are no more nutritious or healthy than non-organic foods. In short, the researchers concluded that an apple is an apple and all lettuce was created equal — no matter the food’s provenance, how it was chemically treated in the field, or how many miles it traveled to reach your table.

“There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” said Dena Bravata, MD, MS, the senior author of the study.

As a farmer and a father, I strongly disagree, and I think the Stanford study sends a terrible message to U.S. consumers. Here’s why:

The word “conventional” may sound relatively harmless when used to describe the food we eat, but the reality is our nation’s “conventional” factory farms use far more pesticides, herbicides and fungicides than most consumers realize when shopping for produce or preparing a family meal.

Granted, conventionally grown foods have to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s minimum safety threshold when it comes to the amount of traceable pesticides. But the Stanford report fails to appropriately consider the compounding effects that multiple chemicals ingested through different foods may have on our long-term wellbeing, or the effects they have on vulnerable populations like pregnant women and small children.

As a parent of two young boys, I for one don’t think the minimum requirements are anywhere near sufficient. Consider the chemical chlorpyrifos, an insect-killing organophosphate that has been approved for use in “conventional” American agriculture for more than four decades.

In 2009, more than one million pounds of this pesticide were used in California alone. Yet according to researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, minimal chlorpyrifos exposure, even at very low levels consistent with standard agriculture use, has been proven to cause adverse impacts on brain development in ways that interfere with academic achievement, reading and learning comprehension, and even sexual development. Not to mention the adverse impact that millions of pounds of this chemical, and hundreds of others like it, can have on the soil and watershed that supports delicate ecosystems for hundreds of miles or more. San Francisco Bay? Puget Sound? Gulf of Mexico? These chemicals eventually end up there, many times with devastating effects.

Agricultural chemicals are designed to kill things. They are toxic substances that come with skull-and-crossbones on the containers. Farm workers commonly wear futuristic-looking “hazmat” suits as protection when they spray the fields. In some cases, farmers, workers and even pets are not allowed to enter the fields for hours after treatment.

Farmers and food producers in this country have an opportunity, and an obligation, to provide consumers incentives for making the healthiest choices possible. The debate should not just be about whether a strawberry produced at a factory farm is more or less nutritious than its organically grown equivalent. We should instead be asking: “How can we grow and provide families with the freshest, cleanest, and most flavorful, strawberries possible?”

It’s something we take very seriously at Full Circle, the 400-acre organic farm I founded in Carnation, Wash. My wife and brother were there at the beginning with me, helping to sow the fields from day one. It just didn’t make sense to me to expose them, our customers, our land or our community watershed to toxic chemicals in the name of yield and cost. We’re about purity. Flavor. Freshness. Stewardship.

Full circle. Farm to table. Cradle to grave. These are not concepts that have much resonance in our nation’s industrial food system. But in the words of food advocate and organic pioneer David Lively, “Conventional agriculture is based on a lot of non-sustainable limited-resource practices and principles, and the chickens are coming home to roost.”

It doesn’t take a bunch of academics to tell us that industrial farming isn’t working on many levels. We need to stop debating and measuring how “un-harmful” chemical pesticides are in our food. We need to instead focus on how we can best grow and distribute fresh, pure foods that are as inviting, delicious and healthy as possible, encouraging people to eat more of them and make better overall food choices. We should be giving folks incentives to eat those apples, greens and strawberries – not more reasons to fret over and avoid them.

Day 266–Starting Week 39–Budget and Menu

We’re enjoying the last of the field tomatoes!

The weeks sure are speeding past! I always feel like the time between Halloween and New Years is a big slide and woooosh! Before you know it, you’re into the next year, looking around thinking “what the heck just happened?” We are definitely into our fall growing season, although there are still some vestiges of summer left. This week we are getting acorn squash AND a watermelon. Weird, but I’ll take it!

Our fall greens are doing well so far–no bunny damage yet, thanks to some product Tom sprays on my raised beds. I think it’s some form of coyote urine, which baffles me. We are actually paying for pee. If someone’s dog came and sprayed my raised beds, I would be highly irritated, but when it comes from Lowes, it’s ok.

We are rocking this week’s budget, which is mostly vegetarian and totally yummy. In addition, I’ll be making some maple oatmeal bread, which will be breakfast along with some more crock pot applesauce. Now that I have put up about 100 quarts of tomato sauce, my trips to the farmer’s market are a bit more contained, which is helping our budget also!

We spent $87.21 this week on groceries, which I’m thinking is a record low for us, but I will have to check. The eggplant we are using came in last week’s produce box, so that’s a carry over, which helps! Here is how the budget breaks down for this week:

  • The Produce Box (apples, watermelon, green beans, acorn squash, yellow squash, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers): $23.00
  • Farmhand Foods meat csa (Local hangar steak): $12.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Co (mozzarella): $6.00
  • Mae Farm (eggs): $4.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, olive oil, shampoo, oats): $42.12

What are we having this week? Here is our early fall menu:

  • Wednesday–leftovers or cereal (Girl Scout night)
  • Thursday–Eggplant Parmesan
  • Friday–Acorn squash and apple soup with yellow squash muffins
  • Saturday–Leftover Eggplant Parmesan
  • Sunday–Grilled hangar steak, green beans, mushroom risotto
  • Monday–Pepper steak stir fry w/leftover steak, rice
  • Tuesday–Baked sweet potatoes stuffed with apples and pecans

Enjoy all the wonderful bounty of local vegetables that fall brings us! Happy shopping and eating this week!

Day 265–Crock Pot Applesauce

I’m not sure who invented the crock pot, but I love them. I mean, I enjoy getting in the kitchen and cooking, but there is something magic about putting ingredients in a crock pot in the morning and coming home from work to find something wonderful…and finished! And while I find stirring risotto to be soothing, standing around cooking apples doesn’t have the same appeal to me. Not sure why, but there it is.

So I am loving this crock pot applesauce recipe that came with my Produce Box this week. I’m not a huge fan of cold applesauce, but I do love it warm. And mix it in with some steel cut oatmeal and I feel like I’m wearing a warm, fuzzy Snuggy all morning long. Except people aren’t rolling their eyes at me. I think it would be great with the Maple Oatmeal Bread from Sugar Dish Me also (note to self: stop dreaming about this bread and make it already).

You can alter the sugar and spices (I added clove to mine) to suit your taste. This recipe makes about 8 cups of sauce–enough to eat now and freeze some for another day!

Crock Pot Applesauce

  • 4 pounds of apples, cored and sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  1. Put sliced apples (I leave the skins on–more fiber is never bad, right?) in a large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle lemon juice over the apples.
  3. Mix sugar and spices together in a small bowl and sprinkle over apples. Using a spoon or your very clean hands, toss the apples and the spiced sugar together until coated well.
  4. Put all in your crock pot. Cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours.
  5. Mash with a potato masher for chunky sauce or use an immersion blender (careful–sauce is hot!) to blend all together.
  6. Store in refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze in freezer bags to enjoy up to 1 year later.

Day 262–What’s Fresh at the Market

Tomorrow is the first official day of fall and in spite of all the hot weather we had this summer, it looks like fall produce is right on cue! Peaches and berries are a memory and more hearty vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash are here in earnest. Also, many savvy farmers have jams, jellies and fruit butters made from their summer produce. If you can’t (or don’t want to) make your own, buying local jams and jellies is a great way to eat local and support your farmers all year long! Fall is still a great time to explore your farmer’s market  so get out there and happy shopping!

Here is what’s available in central North Carolina this week:

  • Apples (not many, but totally worth the price)
  • Grapes (muscadines)
  • Melons (they are fading out, won’t be around too long)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash–acorn, butternut, gourds
  • Pumpkins (I know they are squash, but they are in a class all their own!)
  • Broccoli
  • String beans
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes (we’re at the end here with field tomatoes)
  • Summer squash
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Turnips and greens
  • Field peas
  • Collards

Day 261–Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

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On a chilly night, this butternut squash risotto is pure comfort food!

 

Winter squash is a great budget saver and so absolutely satisfying to eat on a chilly day that I have a hard time getting my fill. Like sweet potatoes, winter squash can be used in either sweet or savory dishes, which makes them incredibly versatile. I never used to make squash much because the peeling/chopping/steaming just seemed to take too long, especially on a workday. Now I never bother with all those steps. Instead I just cut the squash in half and roast it cut side down on a foil lined baking sheet for about an hour, scoop out the roasted pulp and freeze it for later. The skins can be composted–nothing goes to waste!

Butternut squash all ready for the oven!

This is how they look after roasting for about 40 minutes!

A couple of weeks ago, I received some butternut squash with my Produce Box. As nice as it was to see squash again, it was about 90 degrees outside and I just wasn’t ready. So, while I was roasting some tomatoes for sauce, I popped the squash in the oven as well and then froze the cooked pulp for later. I received more in my box yesterday and decided to roast it while I took my evening run. It was all kinds of yummy goodness by the time I came home! Just perfect for butternut squash risotto–a great supper (or side dish) on a chilly evening.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

  • 2 cups of roasted butternut squash (2 small or 1 large)
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 4 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  1. To roast the squash, cut the squash in half remove seeds and sprinkle the cut sides with olive oil. Bake (cut sides down) on a foil lined baking sheet for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. Roast until soft. Cool squash and scoop out the pulp. Use the pulp immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 6 months.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and keep warm. Warm stock will incorporate into the rice much more quickly and you won’t have to reheat the rice each time you add stock.
  3. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add minced onion and cook until very soft–about 3 minutes (the longer you saute the onions, the sweeter they will be–just don’t burn them!)
  4. Stir in the rice and continue cooking and stirring until the rice is glossy and starting to become translucent, about 3 minutes more.
  5. Pour in the wine and stir. Cook until wine has cooked down and is absorbed by the rice. Stir in one cup of the hot stock and one cup of the squash. Cook and sir until the stock has been absorbed–about 5 minutes.
  6. Continue adding the stock, one cup at a time, letting the stock fully absorb into the rice before adding more. With the final cup of stock, add the remaining squash. Cook until stock is absorbed. This will take about 35-40 minutes.
  7. Add the Parmesan, salt and pepper (to taste). Turn off heat and let risotto sit covered for about 5 minutes. Stir and serve!

Day 260–Starting Week 38–Budget and Menu

Now that the summer growing season is shifting to fall, our menu is changing as well. I’m hoping we will have fresh greens from our garden this winter–we have planted two kinds of kale, collards, bok choi, Chinese cabbage, and Swiss chard. If we can keep the bunnies away, we might just have some really wonderful and truly local meals this winter!

Our budget is good this week at 84.92! We benefit by having a free pound of shrimp thanks to a special last week with Local’s Seafood (BOGO shrimp is something I can’t pass up) and some butternut squash I roasted and froze a couple of weeks ago.

Budget

  • The Produce Box (apples, field peas, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, bell peppers): $23.00
  • Mae Farm (boneless pork chops): $12.00
  • Harvest farm (whole pasture raised chicken): $12.00
  • Locals Seafood (Pamlico green tail shrimp): free!
  • Melina’s Pasta (lemon ricotta ravioli): $6.00
  • The Mitchell family pantry (homemade raspberry jam): $3.00
  • Trader Joes (pie crust, frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, oatmeal): $28.92

Breakfasts are shifting to steel-cut oats with apples! Lunches are the usual leftovers, which are always yummy. Dinners are looking more fall-ish with apples and sweet potatoes.  Another positive this week is that with the chicken, I’ll also be able to make homemade chicken stock and freeze that for later as well!

Menu

  • Wednesday–Butternut squash risotto
  • Thursday–Working; leftover leek and goat cheese tart from Tuesday
  • Friday–Shrimp with lemon ricotta ravioli
  • Saturday–Pan seared pork chops w/sautéed apples, baked sweet potatoes
  • Sunday–Roast chicken, field peas, sautéed squash and zucchini
  • Monday–Chicken pot pie with leftover vegetables
  • Tuesday–Leftover chicken pot pie

Is fall catching up to you yet? If so, what is on your fall menu this week?

Day 259–Stewed Okra and Tomatoes

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Okra, like eggplant, is the kind of vegetable that elicits strong reactions from people. I personally love it and I’m sad that we are at the end of okra season in NC. We eat it roasted, fried, sautéed, cooked in gumbo and stewed (my personal favorite). There is some special food magic that happens when you combine okra and tomatoes. Actually, there is some wonderful magic when you combine almost anything and tomatoes. And when you cook these two veggie BFFs slowly and stew them together with onions and garlic, oh my. I could eat that for lunch and dinner every day. I keep my okra whole for this–I don’t mind the slight slime factor with okra, but keeping it whole while you cook it does decrease that aspect. This dish is easy and very healthy. If you have some leftover okra and some extra tomatoes you’re not sure what to do with, try this!

Stewed Okra and Tomatoes

  • 1 yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 quart okra (best if they are smallish), washed and stems trimmed
  • 3-4 large tomatoes (about 2 lbs.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to prevent over browning. Saute for 2-3 minutes until onions are soft and translucent.
  2. While onions are cooking, core tomatoes and chop each tomato into 4-6 even pieces.
  3. Add okra to the onions and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to medium and saute about 3 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes to the pan, turn the heat to medium low and cook about 15-20 minutes, until tomatoes have given up their juices and the mixture starts to thicken. The okra should be very soft. If not, continue cooking, adding small amounts of water if the mixture gets dry.
  5. Correct for seasoning and serve!