Clean Out the ‘Fridge Soup!

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I started poking through the refrigerator last night and realized I had some vegetables that were going to go past their prime if I didn’t cook them soon.  I also had a bit of chicken left from the roasted local chicken I made on New Year’s Day, so it made sense that it was time for a big pot of “Clean Out the ‘Fridge” Soup!

“Clean Out the ‘Fridge” soup is pretty simple.  It’s really just whatever you want to throw in, with some simple seasonings and an hour or two to simmer.  I started by taking inventory of the vegetables that needed to be used – and the ones that I wanted to add “just because.”

Clean Out the 'Fridge Ingredients

I started with a couple of carrots, celery hearts, mushrooms, some of the local tomatoes, and figured it was time for me to cut up and roast the local pumpkin before it got soft.  I decided to add 1/4 of it to the soup, and roast the rest for later.

Cut Pumpkin

Gorgeous inside, right?  This pumpkin came from Sejah Farm.

Soup and Pumpkin Getting Started

I chopped up the carrot, celery, 1/4 of the pumpkin, and left the pumpkin in large pieces to roast.  I put a bit of water in the pan with the pumpkin and then covered the whole pan with foil, and roasted it at 350 degrees for an hour (or until soft).

More Tasty Ingredients!

And here’s the soup with the tomato and mushrooms chopped up and added!  I decided to toss in some frozen green beans as well, and then started getting creative and went out to the garden for some japanese greens, which I gave a quick rinse in the sink before slicing them up and tossing them into the pot.

Japanese Greens and Amaranth

Last, I shredded the leftover chicken, tossed in a can of chickpeas, added some vegetable bouillon paste, salt, pepper, dried oregano, and put the pot on to simmer for a while.  I want to point out that with soup like this, I don’t worry too much about how I chop up the vegetables.  The most important thing is that they are all bite-sized pieces, and that they fit on the spoon when they are being eaten!  So some of the mushrooms are cut in wedges, other in squares…I don’t care.  Save the perfect little diced cubes for when you’re entering a cooking competition, but at home all that matters is that it tastes good and is easy to eat.

Soup Set to Simmer

And here’s the soup at the finish.  I stirred in some tomato paste because I decided to give it a bit more tomato richness, but that’s purely optional.

Clean Out the 'Fridge Soup

And, as a bonus, here’s the pumpkin puree – scooped out of the shell after cooking and popped in the freezer for future dishes…like pumpkin bread…or one of my favorites, pumpkin lasagna!

Frozen Pumpkin Puree

The best thing about making a soup like this is that it carries over for several meals, and is even better the next day.  It would also go well mixed with rice, or pasta, or a loaf of crusty bread.  I had it for breakfast.  🙂

So when your vegetables are starting to wilt, don’t throw them away…make a big pot of soup, and enjoy the abundance of flavors!

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Braised Lettuce and Peas, Cucumber Salad, Avocados, and Grits

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For the next meal from Saturday’s shopping trip, I wanted to use up all the lovely butter lettuce, as it wilts quickly!  I found this recipe on Food Network (a site I go to quite often):  Braised Lettuce and Peas.  I’ve never cooked lettuce before, so I was willing to experiment – I wanted to do something other than simply make a salad.  And since I had some frozen peas in the freezer,this seemed a perfect way to use them both!  The recipe calls for shallots, though, which really can’t be found on St. Croix (at least not very fresh), so instead I substituted the last of the organic onions.

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I also had some organic grits, and I thought those would go well with the lettuce and peas, so I got that out too.

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I chopped up lettuce, tossed in the pot with the peas.  Grits on to boil.

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Chopped up the cucumbers, tossed with pepper, salt, and a splash of white wine vinegar…and then I noticed the lovely ripe avocado just waiting to be eaten (doesn’t it look lonely in the photo?).  So that was sliced up to add to the meal.

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And done.  A simple weekend meal.  Doug likes hot sauce on his grits and avocados, so I sprinkled a bit on top before serving it to him.

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The butter lettuce was very good cooked!  I think next time I’ll wait a bit longer before tossing the lettuce in to cook with the peas so it doesn’t cook down so much.  It seems to me that maintaining a bit more of the “leafiness” vs. a spinach-like texture would be nicer.  But it still was very tasty, and another experiment done.  So don’t be shy about experimenting with food, especially for a daily meal…you just might surprise yourself with how good it turns out!

The Mighty Chocolate Fruit!

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Before I moved to St. Croix, I had no idea such a thing existed.

Chocolate Fruit

It truly is pretty darn ugly, isn’t it?  I mean, where in human history did someone look at this thing and think…Hey, I want to eat that?!?  This one is particularly large, about the size of a softball.

Chocolate Fruit Insides

Cut open though, you can see how the inside looks and tastes exactly like fudge pudding.  Doug made short work of this one tonight.

Chocolate fruit are actually persimmons – but they’re a dark-fleshed variety that has this unique flavor.  If you want one of your own, the best place to buy them on St. Croix is from Aberra, who has a farm stand on the Southgate corner on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.  He’s my primary source for unusual tropical fruits.  Give it a try!

Grilled Veggie Tacos with Butter Lettuce

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So there’s a delicious pile of fresh veggies sitting in the kitchen, and now the fun begins!  But before the cooking begins though, a few thoughts.

As I talk with others about buying and preparing local foods, another statement I frequently hear is, “I see all these great vegetables, but I don’t know what to do with them.”  Or, “I don’t have a recipe for them.”  I understand both those statements.  But the key to buying and preparing local is to be inspired by the food, and not the other way around!  We’ve been taught as cooks to go through three steps:  1) Find a recipe; 2) Go buy ingredients, and; 3) Prepare.   This is actually a very wasteful way to cook!  Invariably, when buying ingredients, too much of one ingredient is purchased (due to packaging) and some is thrown out – or, left to languish and rot in the refrigerator because there isn’t another recipe handy to cook with it.

When cooking locally though, the food is the inspiration!  Every week when I do my shopping trip(s), I have no idea what I’m going to prepare that week…that’s actually part of the fun.  I head out and I buy what looks freshest and tastiest, bring it home, and then I start to think about what I’m going to prepare.  Cooking this way means that I will use all of my ingredients and that I will be preparing food that’s as fresh as possible – and therefore, healthy as possible!  Oh, and delicious too, yep yep yep.  Doug and I eat very well, simple foods and simple meals that are filled with flavor, because we are eating foods that haven’t been sitting on a shelf or in a cooler for weeks and weeks.

Also, local cooking does not need to be complicated!  Really, everyday meals do not need to be elaborate cooking events that take several hours to prepare.  When I’m cooking for just Doug and myself, most of the time it’s a pretty simple dish, or a combination of a few simple dishes.  Doug eats vegan most of the time, so often much of what I prepare is vegetable dishes, which can be simple or elaborate depending upon my mood.  I often will choose a recipe based upon ingredients I have in the kitchen to prepare, but I freely exchange ingredients depending upon what I have.  So feel free, experiment, taste, cook, and enjoy!

And now for the first meal from yesterday’s shopping trip.

Doug bought me a grill for Christmas, which I’ve been dying to have!  I chose a charcoal grill, a Weber, which I’ve owned previously in the past and really enjoy.  So last night I wanted to fire it up and try it out with something simple.  I decided to grill some of the veggies and make vegan tacos for Doug, since he’s been craving some simple meals.

I started by choosing the veggies that I knew would grill best.  I pulled out some of the eggplants, the green bell peppers, and some non-local organic onions that I bought at Quality Food.  I did notice yesterday on my shopping trip that ARTfarm now has local onions in season, so I’ll be buying those next week!

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Washed, chopped, and in the grill basket (I LOVE this grill basket!)

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Getting the fire ready…wait, how did that get in the pic?  *grins*

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Next some seasoning.  I use Penzey’s spices almost exclusively for my cooking spices.  This blend of Szechuan pepper and sea salt is very tasty on vegetables – slightly spicy, and it has a warm earthy flavor.

IMG_2262Basket on the grill…wait…toss…drink more wine…

IMG_2268And then we’re done!  I had some tortillas left from the batch I made on Friday, so it served as the shell of the taco.  I lined it with some of the butter lettuce leaves, and filled with the roasted veggies…and topped off with Miss Anna’s hot sauce (made on St. Croix)!

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And…eat!  Doug said it was quite tasty.

One simple meal down, more on the way.  I’m getting ready to start preparing lunch, stay tuned!  😀