back to blogging and life transitions (and eating good food)

After intending to break from this blog only while I was in Northern Ireland, I found it a bit harder to get back into after breaking the habit. Free time normally spent on the computer blogging and wasting time has now been spent job searching and life searching. My life has been full of transitions since graduating High School seven and a half years ago- I’ve not had much consistency with my day-to-day lifestyle for much longer than a year at a time since then. And so I begin again. Here’s to the beginning of more transitions and a new season.

I have a slew of ideas written down for future posts on here, and that is something I intend to keep consistent again. So, with no further ado, here is my Sunday CSA post a week and a few days late.

watermelon, broccoli, apples, grapes, cherry tomatoes, basil, an heirloom tomato, romaine, green onion, zucchini, avocado, jalapeños, and kale

WHAT a haul this was! My mouth was watering as each item got put into my bag, and then I didn’t know what to work on first. Apples have long been one of my favorite foods, but I haven’t had them consistently in a few years. I have been savoring them over the past week; shared one the day I got them, had one for snack at work a few days later, and the last is still sitting in my fridge, probably to be enjoyed tomorrow. I wanted to savor the grapes for just as long, but it was impossible. They were quite definitely the best grapes I have EVER eaten. Nice and crisp and a delicious sweet flavor with a slight hint of tartness. They lasted all of two days, and it was hard to not eat them all in one go. The broccoli and zucchini got sauteed into a delicious stir fry with carrots, potatoes, and just a hint of salt and pepper. I love sauces with my veggies, but they really do taste the best at their plainest. Those cherry tomatoes have been too good on their own and have been snacked on consistently. The heirloom tomato was great on bread with cheese and more homemade pesto from the basil. Still working on perfecting my version of that recipe. The romaine got given to Jeremy to enjoy with his lunches. I tried to be a fan of green leafy things but I’m starting to allow myself to give up that dream. The kale got cut up and there was every intention to use it in a stir fry with salt and pepper and olive oil and lemon juice and feta, but that never did happen. It will be part of tonight’s dinner- veggie burgers with the rest of the heirloom tomato and the last half of the watermelon. The avocados are sitting on the counter, ready to be used for baking a double batch of chocolate chip cookies. The poor jalapeños are still sitting in the bottom of my fridge. I love spicy food but I do not like the taste of jalapeños. Any suggestions? I’ve not done any looking in to that, and they haven’t gone bad yet.

Lots of good food, but getting back into the swing of things and finding new recipes for the food just didn’t happen this week. I was supposed to have another pick up this Sunday, but I will be out of town, so I’ll have no more CSA fruits and veggies for another two weeks.

Have any of you tried baking with avocado yet? I am really looking forward to making my cookies again, and I remember them going well the first try, which is nice. I still would like to find a better science for figuring out what temperature to bake avocado goods on and how long they should be in the oven- particularly cake-type items. Any suggestions?

Happy Tuesday!

August 22 edit- I’ve linked this post up with this week’s CSA link party at inHerChucks … you should check it out!

a day for recipes

Life has been busy recently with a trip home, a weekend of celebrations, and a full work week. I’ve been looking for uses for my CSA batch from Sunday and have made a few nice dishes.

The broccolini was great over a bed of orzo, fresh tomato, feta, lemon juice, and olive oil.

I used the entire head of lettuce and a handful of kale for another of my standard Chinese-style stir-fries and ate it alongside some vegetable gyoza from Trader Joe’s.

lettuce, kale, egg, garlic, peanuts, crushed red pepper, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a bit of sugar

I decided to try something “different” with the kale today. “Different” only meaning a different flavor of stir-fry … it’s a start! I sauteed a handful of it with olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, and black pepper, and added crumbled feta just before eating it. VERY tasty!

My win for the week may very well be the homemade pesto I made this morning. I used my friend Megan’s recipe, I love how simple it is with only five ingredients. My basil has been slowly dying over the week, so I knew that it was today or never. It was so easy to make! I just put the ingredients into my tiny food processor and blended them all together. The smells when I took the lid off were AMAZING! Fresh basil is something that words can’t describe. I love catching a whiff of it! This was the first time I attempted homemade pesto, and it was a fair first try. I over-did it a tiny bit on the lemon juice (accidentally!), and added extra garlic on purpose but maybe that wasn’t the best idea. However, I am confident this pesto will taste wonderful when paired with fresh tomatoes and cheese for a sandwich soon. PS, my friend Angie took the following picture; it is her book underneath the pesto. Angie is, in one week’s time, getting her Master’s of Fine Arts. Check out her portfolio here.

I currently have these muffins (with some changes) in the oven. They are not cooking through. It is a hot day. I’m taking a break from the kitchen while they continue to sit in the heat. Hopefully they’ll get to an edible point and will taste DELICIOUS. I am really excited about these muffins because 1. They are vegan, and 2. They are gluten free. Angie is staying with me and wanted to be able to eat them, so I used her gluten-free pancake and baking mix as a flour substitute. This mix already has some baking soda and baking powder in it so I only added another 1/2 tsp of each to my mix. I also used allspice instead of nutmeg because that is what I have in my pantry, did not include walnuts, and I added a whole avocado just to see what would happen. I did not measure the carrots, I probably used a little more than a cup. I started baking them at 300* because of the avocado, and over the course of this past hour (yes, an HOUR), have lowered it down to 280* and raised it to 340*. They look great and the batter tastes great, but the centers are still gooey. We’ll see how it goes …

Before being cooked. I’ll be taking them out of the oven in 5 minutes time, regardless of how they are in the middle. I find a way to use the parts that aren’t done …

Any suggestions as to what I did wrong with the muffins? The bit of reading I’ve done in the past few minutes makes me think it has to do with the baking soda or baking powder. Does it at all have to do with the use of gluten-free flour? I’ve never baked gluten-free before. (I’ve never baked fully vegan before either.) Any suggestions for next time? This recipe really does look good and I’d like to do it right!

I still have potatoes and patty-pan squash and more carrots to use from Sunday’s CSA pick up. Some sort of stir fry is probably in order again.

I’ll be linking this post with this week’s link party at inherchucks … you should check it out and add your recipes too! Happy weekend!

July 24th addendum- Read this post for the rest of the muffin saga, and how it all turned out for good.

another beautiful CSA day- with recipes!

I tried a new CSA recently, and had a beautiful box of produce waiting for me when I checked outside my apartment at 7:00am. What a wonderful thing to wake up to, no?

Plums, peaches, romaine, bok choy, beets, carrots, broccolini, and avocado. The box was supposed to have sweet potatoes, but I put them on my list of things I don’t want (yes, I’m one of the few that just can’t seem to enjoy them), and so the bok choy was subbed in for them. Upon pulling out the beets, I thought perhaps they made a mistake- I thought I had added them to the “no” list as well. Another look at my subscription and I found I was wrong. I believe I decided to keep them on the list so that I could try to like them.

I only had a week to use these veggies before heading on a trip out of state, so I got to work with them immediately. The broccolini went well as a bed for vegetable gyoza from Trader Joe’s that I eat at least once a week (it is TOO tasty!) Hooray for a vegan meal!

The fruit has been used well as snacks, as always. I wasn’t as thrilled with the quality of it as I have been with the other CSA, but I’m going to give this one another week before I make any solid decisions. The carrots weren’t wonderful at all, but I ate them anyway, just raw and simple.

I’m still trying to find a better way (that I enjoy) to use up all the leafy greens. Stir fry continues to be my default. A good friend of mine is living with me for this month of July and she brought a blender, so perhaps I’ll delve into the world of green smoothies. Until then, I used the beet greens, bok choy, romaine, and leftover collard greens from a week or two ago to make a stir fry with scrambled eggs, peanuts, onions, fresh garlic, crushed red pepper, and soy sauce, all over rice noodles. It turned out to be SO MUCH more satisfying than I expected- I was just making it to eat the greens, but it was SO tasty!

The best food to come out of this box was actually the beets and the avocado. I was excited for the avocado because of my new realization that I can bake with it. Since google was so helpful with that idea, I decided to look up “baking with beets,” and I came across some interesting recipes. I knew that beet juice can be used in place of red food dye (which is something EVERYONE should do, red food dye is terrible!), so I figured I might come across something. The recipes weren’t too numerous or different from each other, mostly cakes or breads or cupcakes. It seems that beets are best used in baking alongside chocolate to help mask the flavor a bit better. I’m completely fine with that- I LOVE chocolate. I decided on this Chocolate Beet Tea Loaf that I came across in my searches, and I am SO glad I did!

I chose this recipe because most of the others I found required the beets to be cooked. Though I could find step-by-step directions on how to cook them, I still didn’t quite trust myself. I think the last time I’ve seen an actual beet was when I was just a few years old and my mom tried to make me eat them (I didn’t). This recipe just calls for raw, shredded beets, and I liked the idea of the simplicity. Also, I already had all of the rest of the ingredients necessary, and I need to calm down with buying baking ingredients right now.

I substituted an avocado for the melted butter or oil that the recipe calls for and it still worked beautifully! I used all three of the beets I got in the box, they weren’t very large. I didn’t measure them (or the avocado), but everything worked out well. Due to the avocado, I baked the loaf at 290 and checked on it every 5 minutes or so after it was in the oven for 45 minutes. It didn’t take much longer than an hour. I stuck with the proportions of the rest of the ingredients; I didn’t add extra sugar because I prefer a darker chocolate anyway.

Peeled and shredded beets. Such a beautiful color!

Another “loaf out of the pan” fail, but not as terribly so as the zucchini bread.

This cake loaf turned out DELICIOUS! It is a bit thicker and very moist- I think the combination of the avocado alongside the beets is helping it retain all that moisture; it’s fudgy in some parts. It is a bit earthy in flavor, but I really think it is the right combination of earthy and sweet. Not everyone I’ve shared it with has loved it as much as I do, but only one person hasn’t liked it (or at least, I found it sitting on the table an hour later, forgotten about after the initial tiny bite, I’m right in assuming I think). I really love a good chocolate cake, and this one has enough chocolate to satisfy me without being overbearingly sweet. I will now spend the rest of my CSA days hoping for beets in every box, just to make this recipe again.

Thick, fudgy, and wonderful!

Have you ever baked with beets? I’d love to hear your experiences! And how about those avocados? Have any of you tried baking with them yet?

baking with AVOCADO!

I got two beautiful organic haas avocados in my CSA pickup last week. I really don’t like avocados and I wish I did. They’ve a lot of good nutrients in them, and all the fat is “good” fat! I’ve tried time and time again to enjoy them- to no avail. So upon getting them in my CSA pickup, I figured I’d just end up giving them away. Then I went to Whole Foods and found that if I had bought them there I would have paid $5.00 for the two I had. That’s one fifth of the cost of the entire pickup they were a part of! I knew I got a good deal, and the frugal, deal-seeking individual inside of me decided to find a way to enjoy them.

Google has all the answers, yes? I sometimes forget that. A tip in the comments of that post led me to look up avocado bread, and from there I learned something very interesting about this fruit …

Avocado can be used as a direct substitute for butter in any baked good!!!!

Seriously, friends, my mind has been BLOWN. This has opened up an entire realm of possibilities I couldn’t have imagined possible. I love to bake, and haven’t found a good excuse to do so until now. I had two avocados to make use of.

The first recipe I tried was one I found after some google searches: avocado zucchini bread. I had two (yellow) zucchini, and while I love them sauteed, I figured I could use them differently just this once. I followed the recipe almost exactly as it is written. The avocado was nice and ripe, so it was fairly easy to give it the texture of being pureed without too much effort. I used my little food processor to give it an extra boost, and it was good to go for the recipe. I didn’t measure the avocado, I just used a whole one.

As I have been out of my parent’s house for just a short two years at this point, I don’t have many options in the way of cooking appliances. I’ve been wandering the country too much to feel settled enough to buy most of the kitchenware that I’d prefer to have. Just a few weeks ago I finally bought some cookie sheets (to make kale chips), and during another recent trip I did buy a quality salad spinner. This day of baking made me sorely miss my mom’s Kitchenaid mixer; I got to mix EVERYTHING by hand for these baked goods.

The color of the avocado, along with the shreds of zucchini, made the batter look a bit interesting before the flour was added … yummy, right?

A change I had no option to make was to bake the bread all in one bread pan, as that was all we have in the apartment. The recipe calls for two 7″ pans, the one I used was 10.5″ or maybe larger, I’m not quite sure. So I just put all the batter in it and was ready to reap the consequences …

The result was the bread taking well over an hour to cook all the way through, and even at the end when I decided I’d had enough, there were still parts of it that were probably a bit more juicy than they should have been, and the bread fell apart when I switched it to a plate to cool down.

However, I put it back together and let it sit and didn’t cut it or try any bit of it until the next day. Since it had been taken from the oven a bit more gooey, the texture of the bread now is wonderful and moist- just the way I like it. The bread is not very sweet at all, but there’s something about the texture of it for me that allows me to enjoy it just how it is, no extra butter or sweeteners necessary.

Mainly a success!

My next endeavor was chocolate chip cookies. And not a recipe that I found online that already called for avocado. I decided to be brave and try my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and just substitute an avocado for the cup of butter it calls for.

My recipe:

1 cup of butter (so, just one whole avocado, pureed)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix (my “secret” ingredient)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour (can use whole wheat PASTRY flour if not white, or part wheat and part white)
1 tsp baking soda
12 oz chocolate chips (I like semi-sweet)

-preheat oven to 375 (280 or so if using avocado)
-beat butter (avocado), eggs, sugars, pudding mix, and vanilla in large bowl
-mix in flour and baking soda
-stir in chocolate chips
-drop by pieces on un-greased cookie sheets (un-greased still worked for me, even without the butter)
-bake 10 minutes or until golden brown (changed this for the avocado- baked at 280 for 17-20 minutes)
-cool on wire racks

Looks like normal cookie batter to me, save for some green flecks! Tasted just as good as it normally does too!

The green flecks are there for decoration, right?

Beautiful, perfect cookies.

How these cookies worked out, and some other observations:

First, the avocado I had left was nowhere near being ripe. This was a bit of an issue, but I was already all in, so I made do. I spent a good half hour (no kidding) getting it all out of the skin and then I used my food processor to chop it into the tiniest pieces possible, adding some olive oil to give it a hopefully pureed texture. I believe that is why the green chunks in the batter never went away. Luckily this misfortune did not ruin the recipe or change the flavor.

From what I read about baking avocado, you’re supposed to lower the baking temperature by 25% and bake the goods for longer. I couldn’t find an exact idea for how much longer, so I just kept checking on the cookies. Around 20 minutes they were baked all the way through, but they could have stayed a bit longer to get more browned if I had the patience. I think more experimenting could be done with this to up the baking temperature at least a little bit.

I used a vegan, dairy free instant vanilla pudding mix (simply because it is all I could find outside of the jell-o instant vanilla pudding that I’m used to using). I can’t say whether or not this changed the cookies; I just didn’t want to put all the nasty ingredients in the jell-o packet in my “healthy” cookies (or any others I make from now on).

I’m used to the “normal” recipe making the cookies spread out a tiny bit while baking, instead of staying in the same clumps I made while putting them on the cookie sheets. Perhaps I could have pressed them down a bit more when putting the batter on the sheets, just for aesthetics.

The consistency of the cookies is much more “cake-y” than this recipe typically is. I am attributing that to the avocado, based on what I’ve read about baking with it. The flavor was hardly sacrificed; if anything I think the different pudding mix I used made it a bit stronger of a vanilla flavor than I’m used to (I grew up eating these cookies!)

Those who I have offered the cookies to thus far have complimented me on them, the avocado seriously does nothing to sacrifice the taste!

To use the remainder of last week’s CSA pickup I have been roasting the potatoes with fresh garlic and thyme and salt and pepper. They have been SO tasty this way that I haven’t even felt the need to add parmesan to them like I intended! I have also slowly been making batches of collard green chips to snack on (add olive oil, garlic, and cayenne pepper (or salt and pepper), bake for 13 min or so at 350 degrees), because I don’t know what else to do with them and I don’t necessarily enjoy them. They’re good to have around for snacking like that because at least they get used.

Oh, the flavors in these roasted potatoes!!

A delicious (not healthy) Sunday lunch. Roasted potatoes (mine have sauteed onions) and grilled cheese.

Have you ever baked with avocado before? What recipes work best with them? Any creative ideas for the remainder of my collard greens?

I’m trying out a different CSA and I have a box being delivered to me tomorrow morning. I am so excited to see what I get and to try some more new recipes! Joining a CSA has so far been exactly what I wanted out of it- a cheaper alternative to fresh, local, organic produce, and a way for me to explore foods and recipes I wouldn’t typically try. What new foods or recipes have you been getting into recently?