Help! My life is being controlled by my CSA box.
It didn't seem that way until I was talking to one of the interns on the ICU team last Wednesday. I was on call in the hospital, and knew that it would be hard to remember to pick up the box as I drove home on Thursday because of typical post-call delirium. I said as much to the intern, and she flatly said, "I hate CSA boxes."
I thought to myself, what's to hate? Delicious seasonal produce, delivered to a convenient spot weekly (well, for us, every other week since we alternate pick-up with A&K), allowing a connection for jaded city dwellers with enthusiastic local farmers. I mean, I do dislike that the large box has gotten figs for the past two weeks, while we medium-sizers haven't gotten any figs at all this summer, but I love pretty much every other aspect of the box.
The intern continued to make her case while I ruminated. Her friend with a CSA box was never able to go out to eat, because she had to make dinner at home in order to use up produce from the box. Her friend had to rearrange her schedule to be able to pick up the box. Her friend had to design awkward meals around that week's shipment of vegetables. This Slate article the intern pointed me to sums up these difficulties.
Of course, these points are valid. But I cook more than this intern does, and I look at the contents of the box each week partly as a challenge and partly as inspiration. That is, I did look at the produce that way. I did, I swear I did, until we began to get bag...after bag...after bag...of carrots. And, like I said, we only pick up the box every other week!
The bags of carrots accumulated in the crisper, and I finally started to feel guilty about not using them. I tried pickling some; they looked really, really beautiful in the Mason jar, but they didn't taste like what I imagined (basically, I wanted to replicate the ones that come on the side of the panini at Tartine), and they were sort of a pain to make. I also used the odd one here and there for chicken stock or a vegetable curry, but I still had a lot of carrots to deal with. I came across a few recipes for cooked carrots, which are pretty much my least favorite cooked vegetable in the entire world. JL suggested making carrot juice (he calls it "decadent"), but we don't have A&K's juicer. The carrots were becoming a problem; they were more challenge and less inspiration.
Then I pulled out my secret weapon: carrot cupcakes. (See the ray of sun on the left? Even the ubiquitous San Francisco fog parted in honor of the inspiration.)
Mmm, cupcakes. I promised that I would write about them soon. They are really one of the greatest desserts known to man! My mom made B's and my wedding cake, but if she hadn't, we would have considered one of those cupcake tiers. Cupcakes are the perfect size for a snack, plus they have a great cake-to-frosting ratio. And this recipe has the added benefit that it uses four (count them, four!) carrots. I still have a few left, but the bags have (finally) been depleted.
No offense to the CSA box, and the carrots from it, but the cream cheese frosting is my favorite part. Silky smooth and tinged light brown from the molasses, it provides a great foil to the moist, dense carrot cake beneath. The cupcakes themselves are sort of healthy, with all those carrots within, and their only fat is canola oil. The frosting, on the other hand, has half a stick of butter in it. I like the frosting the way it's written in the recipe below, but if you want to experiment, I think it would turn out well with less butter too.
Maybe you have a CSA box or farmers' market to provide farm-fresh carrots, or maybe you have a few old ones lying around in your crisper, or maybe you're planning to head to the store expressly to buy carrots for this recipe. However you get your hands on some carrots, make sure to try these cupcakes. Enjoy!
Carrot Cupcakes with Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes: 17 to 18 cupcakes
Time: 25 min active, 2 hours total
3/4 c. canola oil
1 1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 t. vanilla
1 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
2 generous c. carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded (about 4)
1/2 c. walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
8 oz. light cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 stick (1/4 c.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 T. powdered sugar
1 T. molasses
1/2 carrot, finely shredded (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Line muffin tin with paper or aluminum cupcake cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla. Then whisk in dry ingredients, including flour, baking soda, and spices. Then mix in carrots and nuts. Fill each cup two-thirds full with batter. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned and cake tester plunged into the center comes out clean. Place cupcakes on a rack to cool. Line muffin tin with new cupcake cups, fill with remaining batter, and bake as first batch.
Cool cupcakes completely on rack, at least half an hour. Beat cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and molasses together in a small bowl until completely mixed. Frost cupcakes generously. Place 1/2 teaspoon shredded carrot on top of each cupcake, if desired. Cupcakes stay well, covered, for several days.