Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cooking With a Box

I did say I would write about cooking with a box, didn't I?

For those of you just joining us, I order boxes of produce from Diamond Organics. It is more expensive than searching out organic produce here at home, but the quality and freshness is hard to beat (local organics from the farmer's market are best). The same ideas would work for CSA boxes or even eating out of your garden.

I love sticky notes. I am sure I posted about it on one of my blogs at some point. Anyway, after I inventory the box I get out my sticky notes and plan some meals. At the top I write the name of the dish (ie. vegetable curry, roasted mushrooms, etc.) and under that I write the ingredients. I use the sticky notes so I can move around the meals and change my mind easily (vs. making a meal plan on a sheet of paper) and so I can take the sticky notes into the kitchen with me and stick them to the refrigerator.

We have a basic meal plan that we follow. Fore breakfast the adults have fruit or fruit smoothies while the children usually have hot cereal. For lunch the adults have big green salads, accompanied by a yummy soup or a simple frittata. The children have all sorts of things: bean tostadas, corn tortillas roll-ups (peanut butter or salmon salad), sandwiches on gluten-free bread, etc. Dinners are based on vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fish.

Box cooking is not for the half-hearted chef; the boxes I order are big (Gourmet Greens and Veggies or the Family Box) and we have to eat vegetables as a main part of our diet everyday to use it all up. If you want a box and you're not sure about how much you'll eat I would suggest ordering the Original sampler, a smaller box with some fruit. Or split a bigger box with a friend! Anyway, it is hard to use the box fully if you eat out a lot, or if you get sick or just plain tired of cooking on a regular basis. The plus side is, if you are eating from a box each week you are probably eating a healthy diet!

Now, sometimes the entire meal comes from the box (such as roasted vegetables), but a lot of times you need to add just a little. If you want to keep it really simple all you need for seasoning is a good olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, coarse salt, and black pepper. To complement the vegetables it is nice to have a whole grain; I use a rice cooker for brown rice, or more often, quinoa. Keep the extras in your fridge for quick meals. We also eat beans made in the pressure cooker. Pinto beans are the favorite around here, but there are also all sorts of specialty and heirloom beans available. Cook some chickpeas (garbanzo beans) to add to your curries and to make hummus for raw veggies. Try rattlesnake beans in a greens dish (they are great with spinach!). If you don't want to make beans at home buy them canned - it's okay, really! Do try to get them unsalted or at least rinse the liquid off of them really well before using them. It is far better for you to eat canned beans than to not eat beans at all. I always keep canned beans on hand for emergency meals.

You can get really fancy following recipes, and it can be fun, but day in day out if you want to cook with a box and not devote your life to the kitchen you need to know some basic cooking methods. One of my favorites is oven-roasting. I use a 5 quart Le Creuset buffet casserole as my main cooking vessel, both in the oven and on the stove for sautes and curries (if your family is large you may want to go with the Bouillabaisse or perhaps the 13.25 quart round oven). To oven roast you toss your veggies with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put them in a hot oven (400-425) until they are done. You can roast with or without the lid; I usually use the lid for the first 30 minutes but I don't for roasted mushrooms. I roast slow cooking vegetables for about 30 minutes and then add quicker cooking vegetables. Super quick greens like spinach can be added for the last 5 minutes. Add fresh soft herbs at the end; they will lose their flavor if roasted the entire time (but rosemary will hold up just fine).

Stove top cooking is similar, but takes a bit more of your time. Still, any vegetable will do well with this method. Heat your pan, add olive oil, then add garlic, shallots, onions, etc. plus salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes, add slower cooking veggies, cook some more, then add quick cooking veggies and any precooked ingredients (cooked beans, leftover potato, etc.). Finish by adding quick cooking greens and herbs. Eat as is, or add a sauce (cashew cream sauce is divine, as are lovely wine sauces...if you eat dairy feel free to add real butter and cream).

For the boys I often steam vegetables. It's easy and they prefer them this way. In a perfect world they would eat whatever I make, and love it too, but in reality I would rather they eat steamed broccoli than refuse to eat broccoli sauted with garlic and onions. When I make curry I always keep some veggies aside and steam them for the boys.

By Tuesday I start figuring out what we need to use before the next box arrives. Often I make a soup. Sometimes, like today, I will make curried vegetables, and then tomorrow I will either make a vegetable stock, or I will juice the leftover veggies and use the juice in soup. Both methods work fine.

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