Friday, May 27, 2011

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)

When I first heard the acronym CSA, I thought someone was talking about accounting. But it's actually something much more interesting - Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, it's a group that works with local farms to offer you fresh produce, and sometimes meat and dairy items as well.

CSAs are something a friend of mine in Seattle introduced me to, and then I really got interested in when my sisters started an email conversation about them in the Bay Area. I'd heard a lot of great things about the freshness of the produce, but what they didn't like was not knowing what they were getting every time, and consistently getting uncommon produce that they didn't know how to cook, or didn't necessarily like.

So when I looked around at options that served our little beach town, I was very excited to find a company that offered you the ability to choose what you wanted every week by filling out the order form online. Perfect. I get to change my mind every week, and I get to do it online. It didn't take much to convince my cooking hobbyist husband that we wanted fresh produce every week, so we signed up for the trial of 4 weeks. That was 4 months ago.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Challah Bread

Urged by the frequent audible daydreams by the hubby about making challah bread french toast, I decided to look some recipes up online. I haven't made bread since I was a kid, but I hoped that some of those recessed memories would come back and aid me in my baking exploit. I've talked before about how my mom went through quite a bread-making phase, which lasted a wonderful few years. There's just nothing like walking into a house filled with the aroma of fresh-baked bread.

I remember helping her a few times with the loaves of white, egg, and wheat bread. And one Christmas we went crazy, making loaves of egg bread shaped like round teddy bears for all my teachers. We paired that with our homemade strawberry jam from our summer adventure of picking our own strawberries at a farm in Watsonville. Let me tell you, with a family of 6, we came home with quite the haul - 52 pounds of strawberries! And that doesn't include the raspberries and olallieberries we picked that same day. Good thing we had an extra deep freeze to hold it all.

I decided that the teddy bear loaves were probably pretty similar to challah (also seen as hallah), so if I could do it as a kid, I should be able to do it now by myself. So I found a recipe that looked good, stocked the pantry cabinets (oh, to have a real pantry!), and hoped some baking muscle memory would emerge as I went through the recipe. After a second trip to the grocery store to purchase the yeast I had forgotten the first time, I was ready to go.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lemon Bars

My older sister's favorite dessert growing up was lemon bars. Personally I thought they were tasty, but could take them or leave them. That is, until a few years ago, when the hubby brought home some lemon bars from a co-worker, calling them the best he'd ever tasted, and how lucky I was that they made it home for me to try (before eating them all himself).

And he was right. They were the best lemon bars I'd ever tasted. And of course, I then demanded politely requested that he get the recipe so I could try making them myself.

Turns out that the recipe is a classic Betty Crocker, and apparently has gotten mixed results from others trying it. That only made me more determined that I would conquer this recipe and claim it for my own! Considering I had never actually made lemon bars (that was always my sister's job), I convinced myself not to be intimidated and to rely on my innate baking skills to pull through.

And now a few years and many experimental batches later, I share my findings with you. Because I've seen enough bad-cooks TV shows to know that not everyone knows how to get perfect results from a slightly nebulous recipe (that probably seemed very straightforward in the time of home-ec classes and daily home cooking). First let's start with the recipe.