Fire Up Your Kitchen

If you haven’t noticed, a shift in food sourcing has occurred in our country over the last 25 years.  One of the early champions of this movement among chefs and restaurateurs was Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant and Café in Berkeley, Calif. She has authored countless cookbooks, started a nonprofit to promote garden education for school children and continued to invite people of all ages — the president of the United States included — into what she calls “A Delicious Revolution.”

The message is about regaining the critical connection we once had between the land and the table by proposing we eat more locally and seasonally.  In practice, this means shopping at local farmer’s markets whenever possible and building relationships with the growers.   If we, along with chefs and restaurateurs, do this more, many believe we will eat fresher and healthier meals, and in the process help strengthen our local agriculture economy along with our own sense of place – something of immense value, lost on many of today’s families.

Entertaining-Watel1As we seek a locally sourced cooking experience, we can feel riddled with challenges in navigating a farmer’s market each week.  For the busy, the overscheduled or the carefully budgeted, the answer lies in becoming a member of a Community Supported Agriculture or CSA program. I took a look at one local CSA offered through San Antonio’s family-owned Koch Ranches.   

Koch Ranches brings the farmer’s market to you through a reasonable fee you pay upfront to participate.  Preparing meals from locally sourced ingredients is no longer a wishful thought, but through Koch Ranches, it can be a way of life where the farmer’s fresh ingredients guide your menu planning, inspire more adventure in your cooking, connect you more to the people and land from which your food came, and stimulate more engaging conversation at your table.

Community Supported Agriculture was introduced to North America in 1985 by Jan Vander Tuin after he learned about it in Europe and co-founded a CSA in Switzerland.  He and several others believed in the concept of “sharing the harvest.” A group of Japanese women are also credited as playing a role in the community-supported agriculture conversation.  As early as 1965, these women became disenchanted with the heavy use of pesticides on produce, increased imported foods and the decline of local farms, and so they instigated teikei, meaning cooperation or partnership, evolving to mean “food with a farmer’s face.”

While Koch Ranches is best known for raising and selling grass-fed and grass-finished meats, including beef, venison, wild boar, lamb and goat, their CSA operation involves many other Texas farms, many of which are just down the road.

There are several options when signing up for a 10-week subscription, depending on the size of your family and how much you want of either meat or produce or a combination of both.  Each week items shift according to what is fresh, and each week Koch Ranches is ready with support.  Every Thursday, subscribers pick up orders and receive an emailed newsletter explaining what is included in their orders, along with one or two recipes (with pictures) to help demystify preparing a foreign-sounding vegetable or an unfamiliar cut of meat that week, as examples.  Another avenue for online support and recipe inspiration can be found by viewing photos posted by other subscribers showing their inventive creations on Instagram: #kochranchmeal.

Koch Ranches also operates a gourmet country store located just outside Loop 410 off Broadway.  It is filled with food products from all over Texas, including their own healthy cuts of meats and sausages.  The country store serves as the CSA pickup site, although delivery options are available for an additional fee.

To show you how easy the CSA process is, we invited two prominent San Antonio chefs, Stefan Bowers of Rebelle Restaurant and Lisa Watel of Bite, to participate in a Koch Ranches CSA challenge.  They each received the same supply of meat and produce and were tasked with creating one or two simple but elegant meals they would serve to family and friends when cooking at home.  They were not required to use every ingredient.

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Koch Ranches Ingredients

Herbs:

Cilantro

Veggies:

Acorn squash – Seguin, TX

Cauliflower

Broccoli

Carrots

Greens:

Arugula

Collards

Mustard mix

Fruit:

Tangerines

Grapefruit

Cocktail tomatoes

Meat:

Eggs

Tri-Tip Roast

CSA Interpretation by Lisa Astorga-Watel,

Executive Chef and Owner of Bite

Lisa and Damien Watel naturally enjoy cooking together, but running their own restaurant kitchens and raising a child leave little time except for Monday nights, when they offer private cooking parties – in your home or theirs.  They make learning fun and try to highlight local, seasonal ingredient as much as possible.  “It’s something we strive for, wherever we are cooking.  I grew up in Chile and Damien grew up in France – both places where farmers and farming play an integral role in the community and food culture.”

A Quick Spring Meal

Cauliflower Gratin

1 head of cauliflower

¼ cup flour

½ stick butter

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup chicken bouillon or broth

1 cup milk

½ cup Parmesan shavings or Swiss cheese

Optional: 4 slices of ham or prosciutto

Directions

In one big pot of boiling salted water, cook the cauliflower whole for approximately 15 minutes.  When tender, drain and set aside.

For the béchamel sauce, melt butter over medium heat in a medium-sized skillet.  Add flour and stir to make a pale roux.  Add chicken broth and stir well, using a whisk, then add milk and stir constantly with the whisk until a smooth and creamy consistency has been reached (about 5 minutes).  Add garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper and then cheese, reserving some for the topping.  Once cheese has melted, remove pan from heat.

Cut out (hollow out) the top center part of the cauliflower.  Cut the center part into small pieces (florets) and mix with béchamel sauce. Place cheesy mixture back into the center hole of the cauliflower and sprinkle remaining cheese over the top.   Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet or in a baking dish for 30 minutes at 375 degrees until golden brown.  (You can also add ham or meat of your choice into the sauce.)

Serve warm, presented on a plate or platter, family style.  Then cut into wedges appropriately sized for lunch or dinner portions – as a main or side dish.  (Size of cauliflower will vary and determine number of portions.)

         Serves four to eight.

* Chef’s note: Acorn squash can be substituted.  Boil until soft (will take much longer than cauliflower), cut in half and scrape out seeds.  Use other half’s flesh and mash it welEntertaining-Bowers1l with desired flavorings (butter, salt, spices, herbs, etc.) and place back into the other squash half. Pour béchamel over the top and bake as instructed.

Beef Carpaccio

1 pound of beef, tri-tip or tenderloin

Parchment paper

Rolling pin

For the dressing:

½ cup of olive oil

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespooons capers

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

½ cup of sliced cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs (basil, thyme or oregano)

½ cup of kalamata olives (pitted and halved or whole and unpitted)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Cut beef into eight thin slices.  Place slices between two sheets of parchment paper and roll each slice as thin as possible without breaking it.

Assemble beef slices evenly onto four chilled plates.  (If doing ahead, place plastic wrap over the beef and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.)

For the dressing, place olive oil and mustard into a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk well.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.

Finish the beef carpaccio by brushing the dressing on top of the meat and then garnishing with some dressed arugula and shaved Parmesan.

    Serves 4.

Amaretto Peach Salad

6 peaches (or ripe pears or plums, depending on availability)

½ cup amaretto

¼ sugar

Sliced toasted almonds

Chopped fresh mint

Directions:

Cut peaches in slices.

In a bowl, mix amaretto and sugar with the sliced peaches, almonds and mint.  Let marinate for 30 minutes.

Serve in martini glasses.

Serves 6.

* Lauren’s note: If substituting oranges or grapefruit for peaches, try using a different liqueur as well – one with citrus notes, such as Grand Marnier.

CSA Interpretation by Stefan Bowers,

Executive Chef of Rebelle

Stefan Bowers is also a believer in the importance of utilizing local farms.  When he unpacked his bag of Koch Ranches CSA items, I witnessed genuine delight when he exclaimed, “These are the same kale leaves we order for a dish on Rebelle’s menu.  I really like how the leaves are so young and tender.”  Stefan put Koch Ranches’ grass-fed beef in the same category stating, “When grass-fed beef has been bred and raised well, the true flavors of beef shine through instead of being masked like beef from the stockyard.”

Marinated Tri-Tip Two Ways

Marinade

1 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup brown sugar

¼ cup chili sauce

½ cup water

4 garlic, chopped

1 ½ pounds tri-tip beef

Directions:

Whisk to combine all the marinade ingredients.  Marinate the tri-tip for six hours or overnight.

Tri-tip with Grilled Farmer’s Vegetable Salad

4 small or 2 large tomatoes, cut in half

½ white onion, sliced thinly

Young, tender kale leaves

1 cucumber sliced into ½ inch-wide half-rounds

Extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Red wine vinegar, to taste

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Remove steak from marinade and pat off excess marinade (save marinade for stir fry).  Brush lightly with olive oil and season with fresh cracked black pepper and light salt.  Grill over hot coals for 6 minutes per side until medium rare.  Remove and let rest.

Rub with oil and quickly char the tomato halves over the grill, skin side down, for 3 minutes.  Remove and toss with kale, sliced onions, cucumber, salt, pepper, a couple of “glugs” of olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar.   Season with salt and pepper and mix to combine. Entertaining-Bowers2

Slice tri-tip and place salad on top or alongside and serve.  Save one-third of beef for other dish if desired.

     Serves 4.

Left-over Tri-tip and Farmer’s Vegetable Stir Fry

2 cups cauliflower florets, blanched and reserved

2 cups broccoli florets blanched and reserved

½ pound sliced tri-tip that was previously grilled.

2 tangerines, peeled and segmented

1 cup cilantro leaves

2 cups prepared rice

Directions:

Add a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil to a saute pan.  When it begins to smoke, add the sliced beef and sear for one minute.  Add the ½ cup of marinade and toss to coat beef, add broccoli and cauliflower and toss to heat through.  Remove from pan and place on a platter.

Add the tangerine segments and the cilantro and serve with rice.

     Serves 2.

These two culinary geniuses showcase not only artistry, but also ease and speed.  See for yourself how rewarding a CSA subscription with Koch Ranches can be for you and your family.  Take the CSA challenge.  Bon appetit!

By Lauren Browning