The Weekly Meal Plan, Walden Local Meat and CSA Haul

Walden Local Meat CSA June Share

Summer is here, and we are feasting! Each summer, I get a good percentage of my food from my two CSA’s – our summertime farm share, and our meat share. The rest I supplement from local farmers markets, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods.

Our meat and eggs are from Walden Local Meat Co.if you are interested in trying out a meat share, you can get a $20 referral discount to Walden this month (and through August 30th) by leaving my name – Sam Tackeff or thesecondlunch – as your referral! They do home and office deliveries in the greater Boston area, and the small packages start at just under $50 a month.

Life is just better when farm season has started. We had the first farm pickup of the season last week, and I headed out on Friday afternoon to get my bounty. It’s actually quite a schlep from home – over an hour – to get to the farm, but I’ve been a sharer at Stearns Farm CSA since I went to college at Wellesley, and it’s definitely one of my happy places! We get an alternate share, so I only go once every two weeks.

:: June 17th produce at Stearns Farm CSA ::

To pick: 1 quart strawberries, and I snuck a small handful of mint and thyme.
Pre-picked: a large head of escarole, three heads of lettuce, lots of bok choy, a pound of spinach, a bunch of radishes, and garlic scapes.

If you are overwhelmed with your own share, or curious how I organize: here’s a post I wrote for tips for organizing my CSA share. I have a great system down!

:: The Weekly Meal Plan: Week of June 20th, 2016 ::

This week’s prep: hard boil eggs and pre-peel some of them, defrost and cook another piece of meat from my meat CSA (chicken thighs, chicken sausage, pork chops), Cook down bok choy with cubed pancetta and sherry.

Sunday: beef arepas with pickled onion, avocado, and radishes. This was a Blue Apron meal that I ended up modifying for our taste – didn’t make the arepas, but added green beans to the beef, cut the onions, and pickled the radishes instead.

Monday: roast chicken and potatoes with green beans. This ended up being a bit of a dud, because somehow I managed to overcook the potatoes and the green beans because I wasn’t paying attention to them. Whomp!

Tuesday: chicken Italian sausage from Walden and a green salad with a green herb tahini green goddess dressing. I started getting some great chicken Italian sausages in my meat share, and requesting them every month. I chopped up them up and tossed them in some sauce. The salad had fresh lettuce from the farm!

Wednesday: Turkish stuffed peppers with rice and currants – my mom actually made these, but when I make them myself, I usually use a riff on this recipe. Yes, that’s a bit of a blast from the past. I was trying!

Thursday: wild cod and potatoes with fresh herb aioli over salad – keeping dinner light, but I’ve been loving some fresh herb sauces with a little bit of home made mayo or even just an olive oil slurry. Simple and summery!

Friday: out. Alternately, I have some defrosted pork chops that need eating! We’ll either do takeout from one of our favorite places or I’ll finally get some propane for the grill!

Saturday: Ottolenghi’s chicken and cardamom rice. I’ve been craving this one for weeks!

Sunday: shakshuka (eggs in tomato sauce) – it’s been far too long since we’ve had eggs braised in tomato sauce, and I have some extra sauce left in the kitchen from this week’s sausages. I also have a surplus of eggs that need cooking – I get three dozen a month from Walden as an add on to my share.

What’s cooking on your table this week? 

Aussie Lamb at Tremont 647 + a Tomato Braised Lamb Recipe

Tomato Braised Lamb with Cannelini Beans

Disclaimer: when I started blogging, my goal was to get out and eat on a regular basis, and I tried to hit up any event that would have me. I got into this game to eat, and now, I’m boring and more of a homebody, so I try to only say yes to things that I know in advance that I’ll love. So take this at face value – this isn’t sponsored, but I wittingly got myself into a situation where I acquired free Australian lamb, and then ate said lamb.

A few weeks ago, I headed to an industry event in the South End, at Andy Husbands’ Tremont 647 – a spring campaign for Australian lamb. (This was a total treat. Andy Husbands has been a lynchpin of the food community in Boston for a long time  – there aren’t too many restaurants that have been around for two decades under the helm of one person.)

After braving the then Hoth-like roads of the Greater Boston area, I managed to find parking in the South End less than 100 feet from the restaurant (this was at the tail end of the multiple storm situation, and parking was in short supply), and walked into the warm comfort of Tremont 647 on a pajama brunch morning. I was immediately give coffee (praise all that is good), got cozy at a table with Bianca, William, and Dan, and the gingerbread mini muffins, rosemary cornbread muffins, and sticky buns which were put right infront of me.

Tremont 647 Sticky Buns The Second Lunch

As Dan tried to tell me about Snapchat, the demo got started. [A brief note, I have now downloaded snapchat. After realizing a bot had taken my moniker that I use on every form of social media, I became deeply distressed, and have not opened it again since. It makes me feel old and crotchety.] For our demo, we watched Master Butcher Doug Piper expertly break down the back half of a lamb. And by expertly, I mean, to a level of skill that made me uncomfortable. His knife was outrageously sharp, but I’m pretty sure with his abilities, he could have done it with a dull blade, and mind control.

Tremont 657 Doug Piper Aussie Lamb Demo

While we watched, and discussed the taste, environmental impact, and general topic of Australian lamb, we also got to eat it. Everyone got some lamb pastrami on toast with mustard and sauerkraut made of brussels sprouts (smart!). We each got to choose our meals, and I went with the Tremont 647 classic Huevos Rancheros, while Bianca ordered the lamb sausage breakfast sandwich right across from me.

Tremont 647 Lamb Pastrami Tremont647 Huevos Rancheros

After filling ourselves to the gills, we were each sent home with a cooler bag of lamb. I’ve been eating lamb all winter with my meat share, and largely been doing the same thing each time: braising it in a jar of Rao’s marinara. It’s truly the best sauce on the market. I buy it in quantity any time I see it on sale at the store. The recipe is another two ingredient deal – lamb and sauce, three if you add garlic. You can gussy it up, of course, sometimes I’ll add beans at the end, or some carrots and potato.

Tomato and Garlic Braised Lamb

It goes particularly well on a vegetable noodle – I’ve been on a kick lately, as you may have noticed. (As a side note, Inspiralized, the book, just came out, and I’m currently reading through my copy.)

Tomato Braised Lamb over Zucchini Noodles

Tomato Braised Lamb

This recipe is how I cook lamb the most often – nestled in a tomato sauce. You can make it with thick braising cuts of lamb, or lamb stew meat, but I most often make it with lamb shanks, which I’ll cook, and then strip off the bone before serving. I reserve the bones and marrow for myself as cooks treat. Like all braises, it tastes best when you let it rest after cooking overnight in the refrigerator, remove the hardened fat once cooled, and reheat it the next day for dinner. I like it plain, served over zucchini noodles, or sometimes I’ll add a can of cannelini beans in the final half hour of cooking.

assorted lamb pieces, 2 – 5 lbs.
1 large jar Rao’s Marinara, or your favorite sauce (32 ounces)
several cloves garlic
salt and pepper

Generously season your lamb with salt and pepper.  I like my meat to come to room temperature with the seasoning on it before cooking, but if you are in a hurry, and want to cook right out of the fridge, that’s fine. In a large skillet, pour half of the marinara sauce, and nestle the seasoned lamb into the sauce, pouring the rest around the pieces. Nestle in several cloves of garlic (as many as you’d like). On medium high heat, bring the skillet to simmering, cover, and turn down to just under medium. Cook the lamb for at minimum 45 minutes for small pieces, up to a few hours for large steaks and shanks, until the meat is tender. If I’m cooking shanks, or larger pieces, I’ll flip the pieces a few times during cooking, about every 45 minutes.

Lamb Chops with Pesto and Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestrings

Lamb chops and pesto with spiralized sweet potato shoestring fries

Hello, friends! Here’s my first dinner of 2015, and it’s a good one! I made lamb chops with pesto and spiralized sweet potato shoestrings, and there’s a recipe at the bottom of the post. But first I want to talk about a few of my resolutions this year. The two that I’m trying to focus on are: working to improve my photography, and eating more real food, both life pursuits that make me truly happy.

I take thousands of photos, and I cook at home most nights of the week. But every year I like to re-commit to my passions out loud, to help keep me accountable. And by out loud, I mean, on this blog. This year I’m trying to cook more meals at home – particularly using my Walden Meat CSA and as much local produce as I can get my hands on, shoot more photos, and share them on my Instagram feed, blog more about the food we eat at home – that one’s to encourage me to actually eat at home! And learn more about my camera, take more risks with my shots, and keep reading and learning about photography.

Walden Local Meat Lamb Chops

So here’s what I’ve been playing with tonight – let’s chat a bit about this photography work. Some behind the scenes talk? I hope I don’t bore you here. It’s like my very own photo crit. That’s short for critique, and it’s where your peers and professors share feedback in art class. It always terrified me. But one of the best ways to improve your work is to think critically about what worked well, and what didn’t work so well, so here we go!

I’ve been spending a little bit more time on Pinterest lately to help improve my composition. Before I write a post or cook dinner, I like to look at photographs of the same type of food, and analyze the styling. The goal of course, as with most art, is to be inspired by many, directly copy none, and seek to develop your own style and point of view. That’s hard though, isn’t it? I’m not sure that I can pinpoint my P.O.V. – it’s mostly real food, cooked in a real kitchen. I’m still playing with how best to achieve that on a regular basis, and make my work recognizable as my own. I love the play of light and dark. And I’ve been trying to vary my backgrounds – nobody likes hundreds of photos of the same plates on the same white background. Even though I love my Ikea white DOCKSTA table. And I do wish that it was a real Saarinen Tulip table though… alas, I’m currently priced out of my own taste, the perils of majoring in Architecture with significant advanced coursework on the Modernist Home.

This week I took my copy of Helene Dujardin‘s Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling off the shelf, to re-read it now that I’ve improved (and/or taken hundreds of thousands of shots) since purchasing it, and reading it originally in 2011. I thought I could use a fresh perspective. I also purchased a second Lowel Ego lamp, because, although I’d much prefer to be shooting in natural light, I’d have to be eating dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon for that to happen around here.

So let’s get started with this dinner! I started with the lamb rack, which I decided to cut into chops, because they cook quickly. Whole racks look really gorgeous in food photography, but I was being practical here – individual chops take just a few minutes to cook, and you can cook each one to the doneness that you’d like. We’re a family of mixed doneness requirements, so individual chops are the best choice.

I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired with the raw meat, so I shot a few chop shots quickly before finding the one I wanted – and, I managed to screw up the exposure on my camera while I was fiddling. There were several underexposed shots, and a few overexposed shots, but I figured that I’d be able to process one of them in Lightroom to my liking. This is not ideal, as you might notice, the final shot looks a little blue. So I fixed it, and moved on. And then I went onto the pesto. Store bought. I don’t bother with making my own pesto in the middle of the winter – the basil costs too much, we don’t eat a lot of it, and I usually only go home with a half cup from the Whole Foods salad bar, which is fairly affordable. I’ve also really been digging this local vegan pesto from Sauces n’ Love, based in Lynn, Mass. They also make this great scarpetta sauce. So this pesto. I wanted to try working with my black velvet background. Getting some light and dark in play to really make the green pop. But then I thought I should try a few shots on the table top – light on light. I like them both, so I put them together! Here’s the diptych I ended up with.

Basil Pesto

Of course, I want to show you what that lamb really looks like – not the six perfect pieces that I seasoned with Maldon salt and pepper, and artfully arranged in the photo. Nope, real life is rougher. My knives aren’t always as sharp as I’d like them to be. Here, you notice a few hacked pieces. They got the same seasoning, but this is what you’d more typically see in my kitchen. I’ve always really loved countertop shots, but they are definitely more of a challenge, because the lighting on my countertop… sucks.

Lamb chops and pesto

And now let’s move on to part three of this meal: the sweet potato shoestring fries. In my trusty cast iron pan. Oh, the dramatic chiaroscuro! Those perfect spirals! I love it. Next time though, I’ll bake these on my sheet pan. They crisp up a little better. Sometimes I sacrifice for art.

Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestring Fries in the Cast Iron

If you’ve been following my saga for the past few weeks, you already know that I’m obsessed with my new spiralizer. It’s the Paderno 4-blade Spiralizer, which I purchased from Amazon.  I’ve been preaching the gospel of this spiralizer. I’ve been possibly boring the entire internet with all my talk about this spiralizer. Here are my shots – the “here’s the tool, and here’s the vegetable, in a state of undress” shot, and then the “spiralizer in action” shot. Note the lights I have rigged to the bead-board. They were hanging under the cabinet, but they kept on falling off.

Spiralized Sweet Potato with the Paderno Spiralizer Spiralized Sweet Potato

Although I love my Nikon DSLR, I love shooting with my iPhone even more – but this is likely because I get the most practice with it. Your best camera is the one you have with you – and I’ll always snap a quick shot with my phone, even when I’m shooting with the DSLR. I still have a lot of trouble with the manual focus on my camera, and I can always get a slightly crisper shot on the phone.

And I really like using vscocam to edit my pictures – upping the contrast, and boosting the exposure always works gangbusters. And you can fade the photo ever so slightly, to give it a bit of a dreaminess. You do always risk falling into the over-processing trap – I’m still mourning the entire year on my first smartphone (an Android) that I used some terrible app and destroyed all of my photos with the fake polaroid filter. I hope I’m not falling in the same trap, but I really like the photos that I’ve processed recently with VSCO. I wish I could afford their desktop software!

I was having a lot of trouble shooting the sweet potatoes with the DSLR, but I love these shots that I got with my phone:

Sweet Potato Shoestring Fries

I also managed to snap some of the finished dishes on the iPhone, which you see below. I tried the plate out first with my trusty white on marble. And then switched things up with my new darker cutting board, and a napkin – I love the contrast in this one the best.

Lamb chops with pesto and sweet potato shoestrings diptych

And there we are – here’s a final closeup of the dish! Thanks for playing along! Now it’s your turn. You’ve been so quiet: any feedback? 

Lamb Chops Pesto and Sweet Potato

Lamb Chops with Pesto and Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestrings
for 2

A rack of lamb, between 1-1.5 lbs.
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 sweet potato, spiralized or cut into matchsticks
1 teaspoon cumin
salt + pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pesto – good store bought is okay!

First, preheat the oven to 450 F, and prep the sweet potato strings. Peel a sweet potato, and spiralize it, trimming the noodles with scissors so they aren’t too long. You could also cut the sweet potato into matchsticks if you don’t have a spiralizer. In a bowl, toss the sweet potato strings with olive oil, a generous pinch of flaky salt, a few grindings of pepper, and about a teaspoon of cumin. Toss with your hands to coat, and spread the potato out in a large cast iron pan, or a baking sheet, trying to give the potatoes room so that they crisp and don’t steam. Bake for 10-15 minutes, and flip or toss gently. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, watching carefully that they don’t burn, but you want to get them to brown just slightly. To ensure that these are crispy, and not soggy, I like to spread these out to cool on a paper towel after baking to let them crisp up further.

For the lamb – slice the rack into individual chops, and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a cast iron pan to medium-high, add a tablespoon of olive oil to coat, and sear the chops, about two minutes on each side. A minute more if you’d like a more medium chop. Take chops out of the pan, and let rest for 5 minutes on a plate before serving. Serve with a generous dollop of pesto on each chop, or with a little side of pesto to dip in.

A Very Good Roasted Chicken

The Second Lunch Roasted Chicken Before   The Second Lunch Roasted Chicken After

I ended up with a chicken in my Walden Local Meat CSA this month, and because my freezer is already overflowing, I knew that I’d have to defrost the bird and use it relatively soon. When you get a really great free range and pastured chicken, you want to treat it decently, and give it a good show.

Of course I searched around for a recipe for the very best roast chicken, perfect roast chickenkiller roast chicken – if you consult with the internet, people really love Ina Garten’s chicken, and Julia‘s, and my dear Jamie Oliver‘s. And everyone loves Zuni chicken – the dry brine technique makes for a wonderfully moist bird, and I love the Zuni Cafe Cookbook (Judy Rodgers will be forever missed).

From experience, some of the very best roast chicken is from Ad Hoc at Home – which is the recipe that I would have used if I had wanted to follow a recipe to the letter. I have a thing for recipe following, which is to say, unless I’m testing a recipe for a client, I rarely stick to one. I can at best say that I was inspired by this cookbook, which is a very inspiring cookbook indeed! And I will say that if you are for any reason nervous about roasting chickens, just don’t be. If it turns out awful, well, you just chop up your chicken and put it in soup for tomorrow. Or if you actually burn your chicken, you have my permission to go out and get dinner.

Ad Hoc at Home

This chicken ended up being more ad hoc than Ad Hoc at Home.

Because, well, I read the recipe and didn’t have enough time to let it come to room temperature before cooking it. Or have any twine to truss it. Or fresh herbs. I did have a lemon though. Or at least half of one. And it had been sitting in the fridge for a week. I didn’t want to let any of these problems stop me. There would be chicken on the table for dinner, or else!

So I turned the oven up to preheat at 475, and I cut up some potatoes, and tossed them in olive oil, salt, and dried thyme as a base. And then I coated the chicken in the same combination of olive oil, salt, dried thyme, and nestled the bird on top of the potatoes. Then gracefully put a lemon up the rear end. And I buttered up the breasts. So then I popped in the chicken for 25 minutes at the 475, and turned it down to 400 for 45 more minutes. (This is a 5 lb. chicken mind you. You could probably do less if it was smaller.)

Then I turned off the oven with it in there and went to pick up Devon and go to the gym (about an hour in the warm but off oven.) And then I forgot that I was voluntold to make pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, so I turned it back onto 450, set a very precise 17 minute timer, and told Devon to turn it off when it beeped, as I went to the store. He turned it off… and then took it out instead of leaving it in the oven as I had intended, so the potatoes could finish cooking. So it “rested” for 15 minutes on the counter, which was only a good thing for this chicken. Resting the meat allows it to redistribute meat juice. And then we (finally) feasted – a big bowl of potatoes (which could have admittedly used a little bit more cooking, but were mostly delicious) and perfect chicken, with crispy skin. I’m still kind of amazed how well it turned out.

Do you have a favorite roast chicken recipe? I’d love some more inspiration!

Porky dinner

Pork tenderloin brussels sprouts and sweet potato

I’ve officially started my winter training plan. Given that I don’t actually train during race season, I was surprised that I even had the initiative to consider a training plan as the weather is getting cold. This year I dabbled in triathlon and marathon running, but next year I’d like to do better! I’m sure I’m going to dread getting out in the cold (and will have to spend a good amount of training in the gym), but it always feels good to have a plan! I got in a great baseline workout on the trainer tonight, wearing a heartrate monitor for the first time in forever. After cycling 300 miles in September, I clearly haven’t spent enough time on the bike since. It was a serious sweat session.

I got home late, and was thankful that my meal planning had taken all the stress out of what I was going to eat – all I had to do was execute. In the pan went my pork tenderloin from my Walden Local Meat share, seasoned with salt, pepper, and allspice. I stuck a few sweet potatoes in the microwave, and when the pork was almost done, tossed some shredded Brussels sprouts into the pan to steam and soak up all the pan drippings.

Walden Local Meat November Meat Share

Table of November Walden Local Meat Share

For the past few months I’ve been looking forward to meat share day – my delivery of my Walden Local Meat CSA. Here’s a look at today’s haul. I get the 10-12 pound share, and supplement it with a few extra pounds of ground beef,  two dozen pastured eggs, and occasionally a few extra goodies. This month I got a couple of pounds of beef bones for bone broth.

Walden Local Meat Share November

Walden Local Lamb

Walden Local Ground Beef

Walden Local Beef Stew Meat

Meat Bones for Stock

This month’s share had: a large Boston Butt (pork), ground pork, ground beef, breakfast sausage, beef stew meat, bratwurst, Lamb round chops, and a boneless strip steak. (Each share is different, and you mark your preferences in a monthly survey they send out. You can customize, add on, and cut out things you don’t like. They also provided some of their home made beef sticks to try out.

So many great meals to look forward to!

Walden Local Meat Co.

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