Potato Salad with Peas and Mint

I love to cook.  I love trying new recipes and experimenting with flavors and spices.  Before I went to college, I was sure I was going to go to culinary school.  I started working in restaurants when I turned 16.  I started out in the kitchen and thought I’d found my niche until I realized that I would never have a weekend off and I’d have to spend hours slaving in a hot kitchen and all for a measly salary because, let’s be honest, there are few out of hundreds of thousands that actually make it big.

So now my husband and friends get to reap the benefits of my cooking adventures.  Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) has been the best decision ever for someone like me.  Each week is like an episode of “Chopped”.  What will be in my CSA box this week?  What recipe can I come up with that uses as many of the ingredients as possible?  I’m a freak, I know, but it’s fun.

This week brought us red skin potatoes, mint, goat’s milk feta, ramps, popcorn, maple syrup, spelt flour, and eggs.  I first thought of just a pea salad with mint and red onion, but then I thought about throwing the potatoes in and then topping with the feta…YUM!!  It was one of my better ideas.

Potato Salad with Peas and Mint
Adapted from this recipe I found

2 lbs redskin potatoes, chopped into bite sized pieces **It’s better if you chop the potatoes smaller, so they blend with the peas better
12 oz peas (thawed if frozen)
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
2 ramps, chopped (or substitute a shallot or onion)
2 tablespoons vinegar (I used apple cider because that’s what I had, I think red wine would be my first choice)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt to taste

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold, salted water.  Bring the potatoes to a boil on high, then reduce heat to medium and allow to gently boil until fork tender.  Drain potatoes.  Mix potatoes with the next 5 ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Top with crumbled feta. I like to mix everything while the potatoes are still warm so they soak up the oil and vinegar.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

Rosti Casserole with Baked Eggs

Yesterday was an exciting day.  A day I had been anticipating for weeks.  It was the start of the CSA I signed up for.  All day, all I could think about was what was going to be in that box. Most ingeniously, I received an e-mail a couple days ago letting me know what might be in the box, so at least I was somewhat prepared.  With baited anticipation, I prepared by searching through recipe books to figure out what I was going to do with turnips, a heaping pile of potatoes, and another dozen eggs I wasn’t expecting.  Fate brought me to my Cooking Light cookbook where in the first few pages I discovered a recipe for Rosti Casserole with Baked Eggs.  Turnips?  Check.  Potatoes?  Check.  Eggs?  Check.  It was a match made in heaven for this CSA box.

Rosti Casserole with Baked Eggs

1 1/4 cups fat free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups grated, peeled turnips (2-3 small)
1 1/4 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup onion (the original recipe called for 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated whole nutmeg
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and grated (the original recipe called for 1 30 oz package of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, thawed)
Cooking Spray
8 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine yogurt and flour in a large bowl, stirring well.  Add turnip and next 7 ingredients to yogurt mixture.  Spread potato mixture evenly into a 13 x 9 inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and brown around the edges.  Remove from oven.  With the back of a spoon, make 8 indentations in the top of the potato mixture.  Crack 1 egg into each of the 8 indentations.  Return dish to the oven and bake for 8 minutes, or until egg whites are firm and egg yolks barely move when the pan is touched.  Garnish with chives and additional black pepper, if desired.

My First Chicken

Today I cooked my first free range, organic chicken and it was amazing.  To be honest, before this I’ve never even cooked a whole chicken.  I followed this recipe over at Local Kitchen, with only minor adjustments.  I used fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme and just regular milk.   I even had to chop off it’s neck.  It sounds a lot worse than it was.  I honestly was gearing myself up for it the entire day before, but the chicken and I made our peace and it came off quite easily.

So the consensus?  It was good.  Really good.  The main difference was the texture of the meat and the durability of the bones.  You’re eating muscle that was actually used.  It really makes you realize how bad the other chickens must be if you can break their bones in half with your bare hands.

I wish I could show you a pretty picture of this after it was plated with an amazing cauliflower puree and delightfully rich gravy, but it was devoured within seconds of hitting the plate.  I’m surprised we even used forks.

Gardening… the Beginning

It’s been a busy past two weeks.  Between long work hours and researching the best way to feed my new obsession, I’ve had close to no time to cook anything worth writing about.  Although, there was a very delicious homemade corned beef that I brined myself and was amazing.  However, I think the time has passed for people searching for corned beef recipes, so that will wait until next year.

In the past two weeks I’ve commandeered I small and super cheap freezer from Craigslist, poured over every website containing information about eating locally in the Greater Pittsburgh area, went to a Go Green fair, and started a garden.  So far we have started 3 different kinds of tomatoes, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, green peppers, two different kinds of salad, spinach, lavender, basil, and oregano.  We went a little overboard and picked up like 20 other things that go straight into the ground.  I’ve never done this before, and haven’t done nearly as much research as I should have, but I figure something has to grow, right?

Garden Gnomes are keeping watch…

The issue I’m finding is that every piece of helpful information (blogs, articles, etc.) all ended in 2007.  Where did these people go?  I know I’m late getting to the party, but did the hoopla already die out?  I hope not.  I hope by sharing my path from square one, it will inspire someone else to do the same.

A Time to Change…

I’d like to think I’m not an impressionable person, but I am.  At least I can say that when I put my energy into something, I go all out.  I like projects.

Practically every day I see someone trying to cheat the system for their own benefit.  So what’s to say people don’t do it with food?  There are times when we go out to eat and I am appalled by the slop that they serve and expect you to pay a ridiculous amount of money for.  It makes me think, if they’re willing to serve this mess to your face, what are they willing to do behind your back?  And then I started reading.

I admit I shop at big chain grocery stores.  I buy almost everything non-local and out of season and the cheapest I can find.  I read The Jungle years ago and it still didn’t hit me.  But I make sure my animals only eat the highest quality organic produce.  Seems a little off balance and messed up, right?  I’m willing to go out of the way for my animals but not myself?

It really makes me realize how messed up our relationship with food is.  We have tried cutting out carbs and replacing them with bacon and cheese, replacing sugar with aspartame and replacing eating fruit with fruit drinks.  We mask “nutritious foods” in chocolate, sugar, or grease so that kids will eat them.  One of the most profound things I found in my internet wandering was a study of obese children in California being diagnosed with rickets, a disease that is caused by malnutrition and often seen in poverty stricken countries.  How could obese children be malnourished??  Because corn is in everything and when your diet consists of highly processed, manmade foods you are mostly eating corn and that is it.  What ever happened to eating in moderation?

I could write a 15 page essay on the treatment of animals and the soil and how as a country we have raped every bit of nutrition out of the food we eat and then wonder why we have to rely on vitamins and supplements to get us through the day.  I could write about how chicken can be labeled “free range” and it only means that they are packed so tight in a dirt field that they can’t even move, or a cow is “organic” even when it spends its days knee-deep in its own excrement.  How this doesn’t count as animal cruelty, I have no idea.  And don’t even get me started on the “high fructose corn syrup is healthy” advertising campaign.  It’s messed up and changing shouldn’t be just a fad.  I realize I’m a little late to jump on the “slow food” bandwagon.  Maybe I just needed to grow up a little to realize how important it is.

So I’m changing.  Not because it’s the cool thing to do, because it’s the right thing to do.  I care about my health, the health of my family, and the treatment of the food we eat.   Just because I want to eat chicken it doesn’t mean I think it should be tortured.

What’s sad is it isn’t easy or convenient to make this change.  Unfortunately, we have been raised in a country where we get what we want, when we want.  I’m operating under Michael Pollan’s philosophy that “good isn’t the enemy of perfect”.  I joined a CSA so I can have farm fresh, local produce delivered to a convenient location in the suburbs and we’ll go from there.

I hate labels because I think people get too caught up in meeting the standards of the label and miss the whole point.  However, there is a ton of information on the internet if you search “locavore” or “slow food movement”.