When you get your produce home, spend some time sorting it out. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash and citrus store well in a cool, dry place that is out of direct light. A counter top out of direct light should work just fine. Greens should be stored in the crisper of your refrigerator. Separating roots from their greens when you get them home will help preserve the freshness of both. Prioritize using tender leafy greens and very ripe tomatoes or fruit before hardier vegetables. If you need to, get in the habit of making a Sunday or Monday night soup to use up any leftover vegetables and clear up space in the vegetable drawers of your fridge.
Home-made Frozen Food Tip
Sound like a bit of an oxymoron?! Well, having something on hand that was pre-made and then frozen can be a savior when you have no time or energy at the end of the day. Even though I love to cook, I am not always in the mood to prepare a meal. When I have extra time or abundant leftovers, I like to make individual sized “hot pockets” for future use. Call them what you will; empanadas, samosas, dumplings, calzones, they are good with an endless variation of fillings. Any stew-like dish makes an excellent filling for a variety of wrappers. You can use a homemade pastry, yeasted dough, fillo-dough, pre-made pizza dough, or wonton wrappers. Cut the dough into the desirable size squares, add a scoop of filling to one half, then pull the other half over and seal. Put them on a cookie sheet and freeze for a couple hours until they harden, then put them in plastic bags to store. Straight from the freezer and into the oven, they usually take about 20 minutes at 350ºF for the crust to brown nicely and the filling to heat through.
(Making your own “frozen dinners” instead of buying packaged ones will save you a ton of money, be much more healthy with less sodium and preservatives, and eliminate packaging from entering the waste stream).
Random Tips for Expanding Your Recipe Repertoire
The bulk bins at natural food stores enable you to experiment with different spices/grains/etc without being committed to buying a large quantity. You can also try out new tastes!
- Many people who join the CSA start cooking their meals from scratch. If you are not used to preparing a meal entirely from raw ingredients, you may find that you need to use salt and oil more liberally than you do when cooking with prepackaged ingredients. Keep in mind that salt and oil can be the essential “vehicles” that carry flavor to your taste buds in certain dishes.
- If you have the time and inclination; read/browse cookbooks to familiarize yourself with a wide range of cooking styles. Or if reading recipes is boring or too intangible for you, find cookbooks and cooking magazines with pictures to inspire you.
- Cook with a friend or group of friends. This is a great way to show off your specialties as well as get new ideas from watching your friends. Most of the recipes I have created have come from some lingering image I had in the back of my mind. They always start with “I saw a great recipe for this a while ago and I think it went sort of like this…”
- Try to duplicate your favorite restaurant dishes. It is good practice for analyzing taste and understanding how a dish goes together.
- For just one week, try not to do too much shopping and don’t supplement your CSA vegetables with any others. Working with random or limited ingredients can spark simple and delicious ideas that you may not have thought of otherwise.
- Keep an open mind and curiosity about cooking. Be creative with ways to deal with a dish that doesn’t quite work out as you had expected.