The new cookbook is here!!
It arrived yesterday, and it’s gorgeous. I have already made a plan for the next week or so, and I have a grocery list and notes about 4 pages long. YAY. I’m so excited! It’s been about two years since the release of the last Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Foolproof. At that time, my friends and I speculated if Ina really had anything new to offer, and as it turns out, she did! Foolproof is one of my favorites, and I think “Make it Ahead” will have some favorites, too. There seems to be an odd affinity for cauliflower this time, and of course there are twists on old favorites. I’m excited to start cooking!
After making the oatmeal cookies from the pre-released recipe, my first recipe from the new cookbook was the Spinach and Ricotta Noodle Pudding.
Why start with such a weird side dish?
Well, I was looking for something that looked good to me but didn’t look great to Neil. He works late at church during a lot of evenings, and this week is no exception. Sometimes the kids and I go out or grab something at a drive-thru, but most of the time after a long day, we just want to stay home. The kids’ staples don’t really appeal to me, and so I’m always looking for something I can make at home for myself. That something used to be tuna casserole, which was a beloved staple at my house when I was a child, but it is much reviled by Neil. He can’t stand it. I kind of got tired of it after a while, though, and I don’t love the condensed soup version that appears in every church cookbook in the Midwest, but making my own white sauce seems kind of silly. Other than tuna casserole, I’ve been known to eat granola or yogurt for dinner, which is alright every once in a while, but not great for several nights in a row. There’s always grilled chicken or salmon with a salad or sauteed vegetables, which is my other standby. But I’m always looking to mix it up a bit. When I read this recipe title to Neil, he thought it sounded good until I got to “pudding.” Apparently he has something against savory noodle kugels.
If I were a smarter person, I would have read how many this recipe serves before making it for myself on a weeknight, but I’m hoping it keeps well for lunches for the rest of the week. It serves twelve. TWELVE. Oops.
I made the full recipe (for TWELVE, have I mentioned that?), even though I could not find fresh dill anywhere. I killed two dill plants since moving here, and I couldn’t find it at two different grocery stores. My kids are getting older and more tolerant of errands, but two grocery stores are still my limit for one ingredient in a day. I could have changed course, but once you plan on a recipe for a certain night and you’ve got the rest of the ingredients, you’ve got to just go for it. I’m kind of annoyed about the dill thing, but not nearly as annoyed I am about our CSA situation. More on that later. Is there some kind of run on dill? Is everybody killing their dill plants as fast as I am? I count on the farmers of the world to be better at this than I am. I rely on it.
I think that the kugel would have been even better with the dill, but even without it, it made a delightful dinner for a weeknight. I cooked it for longer than the assigned time, because I teach piano lessons right up until dinner time. I just covered it with foil and hoped for the best, which worked out this time. I would definitely make this as a side dish for guests. Think of it as a spinach dip combined with enough carbs to make it a side dish.
Back to the CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is a system where an individual or family can “subscribe” to a farm season, and pay up front for produce during the growing season. During the season, the subscriber gets a box of fresh produce – whatever is in season that week. We signed up with Wood Duck Farms for their fall share, after hearing about it from some friends. While I wasn’t wowed from the beginning, it has gotten progressively worse, in terms of the quality of the produce and the customer service. I had a whole rant written out here, which made me feel marginally better at the time, but it really didn’t add value to my point that we’re looking for another farm to support for the next go-round. We loved our CSA farm in Minnesota so, so much, and we were loyal subscribers for five years there. I’m going to talk to their customer service people at Wood Duck Farm to see what they can do to make it better, but in the meantime, I’m sorry to say that I couldn’t recommend this farm. So, what can you learn from my mistakes? Here are some things I could have done better:
1. Check out “your” farm at a farmer’s market before signing up for a CSA. Are the people friendly? Does the produce look good? Are they on time? How much variety is there?
2. Don’t sign up without knowing a specific drop-off site, and drive to and from that site during the hours that you’d need to go there to pick up your produce. If it’s only two miles but it takes you two hours and a trail of tears to get there, is it really worth it?
3. Ask around. This part I did – we signed up on the recommendation of several people who loved this farm. Maybe the farm is just having an off season. But definitely ask people who have opinions about these things. Ask about variety, and what tends to come in a typical box.
4. Decide what’s important to you – is it variety? Organic produce? Being grown within a certain number of miles from where you live? Convenience of drop-off or delivery? Cost? Weigh what matters most to you when making a decision.
5. Ask about policies regarding late pick-ups or missed boxes. What happens if you’re on vacation and miss a week – do you get a credit, or does someone else need to pick it up? Is there a refund policy if you’re not satisfied? (FYI – most farms will not offer a refund. I can imagine all kinds of customer service nightmares because a subscriber didn’t like the type of lettuce being grown. The CSA model steps outside of the “customer is always right” model and the subscriber gives up quite a bit of control over what he or she purchases. Thus far, I’ve been OK with that system, and I enjoy the challenge of cooking whatever comes in the box during any particular week. But the farm should have a policy to address customer dissatisfaction when the farm doesn’t live up to its end of this bargain.)
I think there must be a better farm out there for us. We live in a subtropical growing zone, FOR PETE’S SAKE. It doesn’t seem right that the produce we received in Minnesota (from Wisconsin) was so far superior to anything that can be grown here. Get it together, Texas. I like you … a lot. I’d go so far as to say I love you. I want to stay here for a long time, and I’m not just saying that because of the hell I went through to become a licensed driver here. Don’t let me down – grow me some vegetables, please! Stay tuned for reports from the local farmer markets, because the Lame Duck Farm is not doing it for me.
Thankfully, this new Ina cookbook is not disappointing me at all. Hooray!