Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The End

This July world famous Spanish (Catalonian, actually) chef Ferran Adria is going to close El Bulli --  considered by some to be the best restaurant in the world.  If he can do that,  then I can stop blogging on Cook Out of the Box.  Which is what I am going to do. After today.

Sometimes creative people just need to set off in a new direction.  I can't help it.  I'm a Gemini.

Now now.  No whining.  It's not so bad.  I know there are a few of you out there who will go into a little withdrawal, and I love you for that.  But you will get over this.  You will find comfort in the arms of one of the zillion other food bloggers and cookbook authors who preach the gospel of cooking from scratch with fresh, organic and local foods.  Also, I know there will be several people from the farm, including Jack's wife Jenni, who will be writing several times a week on the farm website with new ideas and a fresh perspective on the food in your box. Here is the link:
I am not going to totally disappear.  You will still be able to e mail me at with your food questions or comments.  Think of me as Featherstone Farm's own Ann Landers, except I won't be advising you on how to deal with annoying neighbors,  rude in-laws or errant spouses.  I'll just be providing information, advice and encouragement concerning food and cooking to people who take the time to e mail me.   And who knows?  Cooking may help you solve other problems.  I like to think that many human troubles would go away or at least be more bearable in the presence of regular home cooked, nutritious and tasty meals.

I also will continue to show up at Featherstone events at the farm to do the occasional food demonstration.  I will be at the Fall Harvest party August 27 and hope to see you there.    My husband Frank, rhubarb farmer and gardener extraordinaire, will be joining me and I promise an entertaining and educational session.  Maybe I can talk him into showing off his famous knife sharpening skills as an added bonus.

Finally, I will be commenting occasionally on the farm's Facebook page and I hope you do, too.  I would love to see some pictures of the meals you make at home.  They do not need to be perfect or fancy.  Just real.  I would also love to see some pictures of happy children eating vegetables.  We have a lot of work to do to stamp out vegetable prejudice in this country.  (I call it vegotry - for vegetable bigotry.   Here is my post on that, titled "Broccoli is not a punishment" )  Let's give Michelle Obama a hand, okay?  She can't solve the horrible epidemic of childhood obesity all by herself, you know. 

And don't forget - every single blog post that I have written since Jan 17, 2010 is archived at  There are 180 out there in the cloud, counting this one.  These posts are not going anywhere.  Virtually all of them are just as relevant and useful now as they were when I wrote them.  Bok Choy, for example,  has not changed since last year.  My instructions on how to make homemade yogurt or hollandaise sauce are still pretty darn good.   You can even bookmark it as a favorite and read it every so often on a rainy day.  

I would like to thank Jack Hedin,  farmer in chief at Featherstone Farm, for giving me the opportunity to write about food - in particular about making meals from scratch at home using organic vegetables from the Featherstone Farm CSA box.  He and I agree that good farmers need good cooks.  Featherstone Farm grows some of the most beautiful vegetables anywhere -- but the farm would have no business plan without people who care how food is produced and who are willing to wash and dry their own lettuce, peel and chop their garlic and onions, stir fry some broccoli or carrots and roast a chicken or make a pot of soup once in a while.

I also would like to thank Margaret Marshall, the CSA manager, for her patience, support and good humor.  And all the farm staff who work so hard to plant, tend, harvest, pack and transport good food. 

Finally, I would like to thank you - CSA members and home cooks everywhere.  You are saving the world one meal at a time.  God bless you in your labors.  I have one parting request -  please keep cooking and share your knowledge, enthusiasm and experience with a child or two or three.  If our nation's children grow up knowing little or nothing about how to properly feed themselves, we haven't done our job now have we?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Inspiration - Week 6/2011

In this week's box:  Mixed salad greens, basil, spinach, kale, garlic, potatoes, cucumbers, green beans, broccoli, summer squash

I hope you survived the Fourth of July weekend unscathed.  We took our two grandsons and daughter in law to Eitzen, Minnesota.   Eitzen is a small town - population around 220 - that does the Fourth in a big way.  I think it is the most southern and eastern town in Minnesota.  We enjoyed the parade, the American Legion Chicken barbeque, the playground and the beer garden.  The chicken was excellent and the potato salad was so-so (it was storebought).  I suppose it is unreasonable for me to ask for homemade potato salad - volunteers served 1,000 meals yesterday.   
Grandsons, curbside, wait for more candy.  Grownups relax.
If you have never experienced a small town Minnesota Fourth of July I highly recommend you do so some time.  Eitzen awaits.  (Or you could also try Cherry Grove and Harmony, also in our neck of the woods.)

Perhaps you overindulged with food and drink last weekend.  Get back on track with your CSA box full of good green (and some white) food.

See recipes below for dishes marked in italics.
1.  Salad Nicoise, french bread, for dessert - a small piece of really good cheese - make sure it is at room temperature and some grapes

2.  Vegetable cheese soup, rye bread, pear crisp

3.  Kale cheese calzone,  potato green bean salad w creamy vinaigrette   (Steam green beans and potatoes until tender.  Cut into desired pieces (you can cut up potato when raw so it cooks faster) and add dressing when vegetables are still warm.  Add a handful of chopped fresh basil for extra flavor.  Marinate at least an hour before serving.

4.  Steamed broccoli w peanut sauce over thin egg or rice noodles  (add some thinly sliced basil leaves as a garnish to the broccoli dish for extra flavor - maybe with an extra squeeze of lime juice), lime sherbert

5.  Miso soup, Japanese noodle and cucumber salad,  lightly sauteed spinach marinated in a little soy sauce sweetened with sugar or mirin, simple baked egg custard, chilled, for dessert

6.  Zucchini feta pancakes, plain yogurt, rice, cold melon
Go to this link for a post I wrote last year about vegetable pancakes.  You can use many different types of vegetables to make pancakes that are good for breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper.  They are very easy to make  -- grating the veggies is the biggest part of the work and if you have a food processor this goes fast.

Salade Nicoise
The classic version of this salad includes potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, tuna, anchovies and nicoise olives.  However you can vary this as the season and your tastes may guide you.  With or without tuna, this salad is a full meal, served with some bread.  The concept is simple.  Toss salad greens with a simple olive oil and vinegar vinaigrette.  If you have fresh basil, tear some leaves and toss with dressing along with the greens.  Divide greens one plate for each serving.  Arrange on top of the greens some or all of the following:  boiled potatoes (marinated in some vinaigrette), steamed green beans - cooked just until tender, quartered fresh tomatoes, quartered hard boiled eggs, tuna (good quality canned or fresh cooked) flaked into chunks, sliced cucumber,  roasted red pepper, French or Greek black olives, feta cheese, sweet onion sliced into rings.  If desired, serve some extra vinaigrette alongside in a pitcher.  If you like anchovies, drape a few on top of the salad as a garnish.

Japanese noodle and cucumber salad
(This recipe is from Molly Katzen's Still Life with Menu, one of my favorite cookbooks)
5 to 6 ounces of vermicelli noodles (Molly says Japanese saifun or Chinese bean thread noodles are best but regular vermicelli - thin spaghetti - also work.  You could try rice noodles as well)
6 T. rice vinegar
4 t. sugar
2 t. soy sauce
1 t. salt
2 T sesame seeds (I would lightly toast these in a frying pan)
1 medium sized cucumber- peeled, seeded, cut into lengthwise quarters and sliced thin
thin sliced scallion greens
(Note - I think a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil would be lovely added to the soy vinegar dressing.  A little grated carrot, daikon radish or even kohlrabi would be good along with the cucumber.)
Cook noodles until just barely tender, drain and rinse in cold water.  Divide among 4 serving bowls.  Top with sliced cucumbers, sesame seeds and sliced scallion greens.  Mix vinegar, sugar, soy and salt into a dressing and pour over the individual salads.

Creamy vinaigrette
Mix in a blender or food processer or with a whisk
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup olive or sunflower oil
2 T red wine or sherry vinegar
2-3 t. honey or real maple syrup
1/4 t. salt
3 T. yogurt
fresh herbs to taste (try 2 T. fresh basil chopped fine or 2 t. finely snipped dill)

Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese and Vegetable Soup

This recipe is adapted from one in Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson.  I like it because it has a good ratio of vegetables to cheese.  Most commercial cheese soups are full of fat and thickeners and who knows what else.
Saute the following vegetables in 3 T. butter over low heat until softened:
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onion

Add the following and simmer about 5 minutes until vegetables are tender:2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
2 cups chopped broccoli (or cauliflower) (about 1/2 inch pieces)
2 cups chopped potatoes (peeling optional) (about half inch pieces)
1 quart milk
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper
Puree the soup in batches (note - if you use a blender or food processer - cool soup first or it will "explode".  You could save back half of the milk and add it after cooking the vegetables to speed cooling.)
Put puree back in the pot and heat to a boil.  Turn off the heat.  Add 3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese in small batches,  stirring well.  Make sure each batch melts before you add the next.  If you add the cheese all at once it might get gloppy and stringy.
Gradually reheat soup but do NOT boil.  Whisk in 1 T. Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup sherry and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco to taste.  Garnish with toasted croutons and more grated cheddar.

Kale-cheese Calzone
First make your favorite pizza dough.  Make a double recipe and freeze half the dough.  Next time you want to make pizza you will be halfway there.  This is a time honored trick of experienced cooks -- make extra and freeze for another day.  Efficient.
Divide dough into portions - about one tennis ball size ball of dough per person.  Let dough relax.  Roll into four 9 x 6 oblongs.  Place filling on long side of each oblong, leaving room on the edge for sealing.  Lightly brush the edges with water.  Fold dough in half, adjusting so that filling is distributed over the half circle.  Press edges of dough together to seal.

Filling (this is from Ken Haedrich's Country Baking)
(enough for four individual calzones)
1/2 pound kale - wash, remove ribs, slice and steam until tender.  Cool, squeeze dry and chop.
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup grated Mozzarella
1 cup crumbled Kasseri cheese (Asiago would work too.  Or use extra mozzarella or Parmesan)
2 T. finely chopped onion
2 T. chopped fresh basil (you could also use pesto)
Mix kale with cheeses, onion and basil.  Divide between dough pieces.  Fill and seal.  Let rise about 5-10 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees about 25 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Broccoli with peanut sauce
Steam or boil broccoli until just tender-crisp.  Drain.
Prepare peanut sauce:
Spicy peanut sauce (Plenty for about six cups cooked broccoli or one pound of pasta. This keeps well in the refrigerator – make a double batch for another day.
1 cup peanuts-only peanut butter (salt added is ok) – chunky or smooth
1 cup hot water
1 T peanut oil
2 1/2 t. fresh garlic – minced fine
2 t. fresh ginger – minced fine (optional)
2 T soy sauce or tamari
2 T hoisin sauce (optional – find this at an Asian market or ask your grocer to stock this great condiment. If you omit this, add an extra two teaspoons each of sugar, vinegar and soy sauce)
2 T Asian toasted sesame oil (optional but very nice if you have it)
1 T chile paste (Asian style) or red pepper flakes to taste or finely chopped fresh hot chile peppers
2 T brown sugar, white sugar or honey
5 T rice or cider vinegar
Gently saute garlic and ginger in peanut oil for about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well mixed. Pour over cooked broccoli (warm or at room temperature). Optional additions: chopped sweet red or green pepper, tofu cubes, chopped sweet onion or scallions, chopped fresh cilantro.
Serve broccoli and peanut sauce mixture over rice or thin rice or egg noodles.  Add a wedge of lime if desired.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Inspiration - Week 5/2011

In this week's box:  Mixed salad greens, red oakleaf lettuce, fresh basil, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, snow peas, broccoli, chioggia beets and beet greens.

Before I get down to business with some menu ideas and recipes for this week's CSA box, I have to tell you about last weekend.  I went to Duluth with my fellow Rhubarb Sisters (we are a singing quartet) to perform at the annual Rhubarb Festival put on by CHUM (this is a group of 40 churches which supports various programs and services for homeless people.)  I brought along two of my favorite classic cookbooks - Finnish Cooking and The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.  Both were written by Beatrice Ojakangas, a nationally famous cookbook author who has lived and worked in Duluth for decades.  I knew Ms. Ojakangas was going to be at the festival selling cookbooks and I wanted her to autograph mine.  And she did.  Plus a new book I bought about baking whole grain breads. Best of all, I was able to thank her for her work and tell her in person how important those books have been to both me and my husband and the quality of our food life.

I encourage you to invest some time to discover your favorite cookbook authors.  They have different personal styles and approaches - find one that works for you and invest in some of their books.  I have my favorites - Jane Brody, Alice Waters, Molly Katzen, Mark Bittman, Elizabeth David (You won't be able to get an autograph from her - she is in the big kitchen in the sky) and, of course, Beatrice Ojakangas.  Who are your favorite kitchen friends?  Even if you have a modest cookbook library - maybe especially if you do - give some thought to finding some authors you like and trust.  Stick with them and your kitchen will be a happier place.

Menu ideas for this week (If a dish is in italics, recipe follows)

1.  Steak Salad, Bread,  Roasted summer fruit

2.  Stir fry with pork, broccoli, snow peas, garlic scapes (cut on the diagonal in 2 inch pieces),  rice, mango sorbet.  (Cut broccoli into florets.  Peel and slice stems on the diagonal)

3. Sloppy joes with homemade BBQ sauce, braised beet greens, chocolate pudding.

4. Kohlrabi salad, roast chicken (save some for pasta salad another day), potatoes, buttered beets

5.  Chicken pasta salad - chop leftover roast chicken and combine with cooked and drained pasta, thinly sliced basil, broccoli and snow peas (either raw or cooked in boiling water just one minute, drained and cooled) and a favorite dressing.  Serve atop lettuce leaves, with some good bread.  Bring any leftovers to work for lunch.

6.  Lettuce rolls -- If you find yourself with some large oak leaf lettuce leaves make this snack.  Wash and dry leaves and pile (whole) on a plate.  Set out various fillings such as chopped peanuts, raisins, grated kohlrabi or carrots, bits of cheese or meat, sprouts - you get the idea.  Put a little filling onto a leaf and roll up, tucking in the sides. Enjoy.  Serve with a peanut or soy dipping sauce if you like. 


Steak salad
Wash and dry salad greens.  Wash and dry basil and tear off desired amount of leaves.  Toss with a simple oil and vinegar vinaigrette and divide between individual serving plates.  Pan fry a steak - preferably in a heavy cast iron pan - cook rare.  Thinly slice meat when done, saving any juices to pour on the salad.  Four to five ounces of meat per serving is plenty.  Garnish the salad with some or all of the following:  crumbled blue or feta cheese,  sliced sweet onion, julienned raw kohlrabi, snow peas.

Roasted soft summer fruit
Wash and cut up (large pieces) plums, nectarines, peaches, cherries, berries or pears or a combination.  Place in a heavy glass baking dish in a single layer.  Sprinkle with a little brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and dot with bits of butter.  Bake at 375 degrees until fruit is soft and slightly browned.  Serve plain or with a little vanilla ice cream or custard sauce.  Or serve with yogurt and a little granola for breakfast.

Beet Greens
Go to this post from last year for lots of ideas for preparing beets.

Homemade Barbeque Sauce
This recipe is from Country Tastes - Best Recipes from America's Kitchens by Beatrice Ojakangas
This sauce would be good combined with ground beef or pork for sloppy joes or served with pulled pork or cooked chicken.  If you want, you could vary this recipe by adding hot or sweet peppers.
Ingredients:  1/4 cup butter (or oil), 1 cup finely chopped onion, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 cup tomato ketchup, 1/2 cup dry sherry, 1 T. light brown sugar, 1 t. mustard powder, 1 T. fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 2 t. Worcestershire sauce, 1/3 cup water.
Saute onion and garlic in butter until onion is soft.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer one hour - stir occasionally and watch to prevent scorching.  If a puree is desired, put finished and cooled sauce into a food processor and process until smooth.

Kohlrabi Salad
Kohlrabi is excellent served raw - but it must be peeled to remove tough outer skin.  Slice peeled kohlrabi into 1/4 inch slices and then cut slices into thin strips.  Cutting thin strips like this will give you a "julienne" of kohlrabi.  Mix the julienned kohlrabi with a mustardy vinaigrette.  Combine 1/2 cup olive oil with 2 T. red wine vinegar, a little chopped shallot or garlic and 1 T. whole grain mustard.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Combine with vinaigrette.  Serve salad atop lettuce leaves if desired.  Note - if you don't want to julienne the kohlrabi, you could also grate or just thinly slice it.
Here are more ideas for cooking kohlrabi:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Focus: CHARD (Beta Vulgaris)

Chard is a flavorful, mild and nutritious workhorse vegetable.  It is a staple green in many kitchens.  Available from spring to fall, it can be used in soups, stir fries, salads, side dishes and quiches, frittatas and omelets.  It can be used in any recipe calling for spinach.  The very young and tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads.  But mostly chard needs to be cooked.

Chard is closely related to beets and is used similarly.  Both the bottom stems or stalks and the green leaves are edible - but need to be prepared differently.  The stems need longer cooking than the leaves and can be eaten like asparagus or else combined with the chard leaves in many dishes.

According to the Featherstone Farm Cookbook, chard is native to Sicily.  It was eaten by ancient Romans, Greeks and Arabs.  Chard is often called Swiss chard, because it was classified by a Swiss botanist named W.D.J. Koch.

One cup of chard contains 35 calories.  It is high in vitamins A, B, C and K and minerals magnesium, potassium, iron, copper and calcium.   Unlike spinach, chard does not contain oxalic acid, which interferes with absorption of minerals.

Storage and preparation

Storage - Do not wash the chard leaves or remove stems before storing.  Place in ventilated or perforated plastic bag in the vegetable drawer in your refrigerator.  The leaves should keep at least a week if kept cool and dry.  Stems can last longer.
Washing - holding the leaves by their stems, wash vigorously in a pan or sink of water.  Dirt or sand can sometimes hide in the crinkly leaves.  Use your fingers to rub the stems a bit to remove any dirt clinging to them.  Drain.
Once the chard is washed, separate the stems from the leaves.  If the stem ends are discolored, just trim them by cutting off a small slice.

In general,  stems will take from 5 to as many as 15 minutes to cook - depending on size and age.  Leaves should cook in 3 to 6 minutes.

Freezing - Chard leaves freeze very well.  Just put washed leaves in briskly boiling water for two minutes.  Drain, cool in cold water, squeeze dry and coarsely chop if desired.  Place in plastic freezer bags or containers.

How much chard is in a "bunch"?
This is a mystery.  Many recipes call for a "bunch" of chard and do not define that by weight or volume.  It is up to the cook to decide how much is enough.  Many recipes calling for "a bunch of chard" can be quite flexible.  The cook can add more or less chard according to taste.

One pound of chard leaves, once cooked, results in about 3 cups of cooked chard, depending on whether the leaves are chopped.  A quarter pound of stems cooks down to about 2 cups.

Cooking Chard
When cooking, separate chard stems from leaves

This is what one pound of uncooked leaves and one quarter pound of uncooked stems looks like. This is a big bowl.

Steam or saute stems about 5 -15 minutes, depending on size.  Young and slender steams cook faster.

If you are steaming chard, just add leaves on top of the stems and cook 3-5 minutes longer

Drain and cool leaves before chopping

This is what one pound of leaves and one quarter pound of stems looks like after steaming and chopping.

In general, cooked chard can be used in any recipe calling for cooked spinach.  Like spinach, chard has an affinity for lemon, nutmeg, dill, olive oil, onions, pine nuts, walnuts, raisins, cheese, cream, eggs, and smoked or cured pork (bacon, pancetta, prosciutto).

Chard is excellent in soups, cooked with beans (such as cannellini or chickpeas), stir fried or lightly steamed.  It can be cooked and served at room temperature with some oil and vinegar and toasted pine nuts or walnuts as a salad or antipasto.

Baked chard casserole - serves six
Cook and chop chard stems and leaves.  You should end up with about 3 cups chopped cooked chard.  Lightly brown 1 cup chopped onion.  Beat together 6 eggs, 2 cups milk or half and half, 1 t. salt, 2 T. fresh chopped dill.  Add the chard and onion and some chopped ham if desired.  Bake at 350 degrees until set - about half an hour depending on the size of pan used.  For a more substantial dish, add 2 cups cubed bread along with 2 extra beaten eggs and an extra one cup milk.  You may also wish to increase the salt and dill.

Chard with hot bacon dressing
Cook chard stems and leaves just until tender.  Serve with hot bacon dressing.
Bacon dressing (enough for about 4 servings) :  Fry 4 pieces bacon.  Remove bacon pieces when done and reserve bacon fat.  Saute some onion or garlic in the fat.  Add 1 T. sugar and 2 T. cider vinegar to pan.  Add a little extra olive oil if there is not much bacon fat.  Add a little celery seed and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over chard.

Stuffed chard leaves
Lightly steam large chard leaves.  Leave whole and lay out on a clean counter or board to cool.  Make your favorite filling using some rice or bulgar, currants, ground meat, crumbled feta cheese, dill or parsley or mint or some of each. Optional - use a little beaten egg as a binder.  Put about 1/4-1/3 cup filling on each leaf, depending on size.  Roll up tucking in the sides,  like an egg roll.  Place in an oiled dish, drizzle on some olive oil and bake in a moderate oven until heated through.  May be served hot or at room temperature.  Good served with plain or herbed yogurt on the side, and pita bread.

Chard stew - serves about 4
2 cups cooked chickpeas, 3 cups canned or chopped fresh tomatoes, 1 pound chard stems and leaves - washed and sliced but not cooked (it will cook with the stew), 1 large onion, 2-3 cloves chopped garlic (you could also use green garlic or even garlic scapes or garlic chives),  2 cups uncooked potatoes - cut in large pieces.
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil.  Add all the other vegetables.  Simmer until everything is tender.  If stew seems too dry, add some white or red wine or broth or even water.  Optional herbs:  parsley, dill, mint. 

Simple chard with Parmesan
Wash, cook and chop chard - with or without stems.  Squeeze dry.  Melt butter in a pan (about 1 T. per serving of cooked chard).  Add chard and stir until hot and butter is well distributed.  Stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan per serving.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Inspiration - Week 4/2011

In this week's box:  Romaine, mixed baby lettuce, sugar snap peas, broccoli or zucchini squash, Swiss chard, fresh herbs (dill, cilantro and possibly basil)

The weather is cool, cloudy and damp in SE Minnesota this morning.  Good for the appetite and for working in the kitchen.  Afraid it rained again last night.  A lot.  Not so good for the strawberries.  But those of you who made the trip to the farm for the strawberry festival can be especially glad you were able to pick some berries to bring home.  I really enjoyed talking with some of you.  It always makes me feel good to hear people talk enthusiastically about their cooking adventures.  As Julia Child would say - you must approach cooking with courage! 

Lots of green in this week's box -- I feel healthy just thinking about eating this food.  The romaine will keep all week in the refrigerator if you put it in a ventilated plastic bag.  I encourage you to wash and dry the baby lettuce and eat it soon.  I also think the cilantro will keep better if you wash and dry thoroughly and store in a plastic bag.  You could also try storing part of the bunch with the stems in a little jar of water, covered with plastic.

Here is a link to last year's cook out of the box post on cilantro.   It will give you lots of ideas for how to use this lovely aromatic bunch of herbs.

Menu ideas (if a dish is in italics, a recipe is below)

Mixed lettuce salad with dill dressing
Pasta with steamed broccoli or zucchini, minced garlic, dill, smoked salmon or chicken and cream (Note - if you have some extra snap peas steam them briefly and you can use them in the pasta too.)
A plum, pear, peach, nectarine or cherries

Korean style romaine salad
Grilled marinated beef or other meat
Lightly blanched or sauteed sugar snap peas or other vegetable.  You could also simply saute chard - including chopped stems - with some oil and garlic (steam with the cover on a few minutes to help cook the stems) and sprinkle on some soy sauce and a few drops of toasted sesame oil.

Small plate of sliced smoked or cured meats such as salami or proscuitto and some melon slices or chunks
Chard-quinoa cakes with yogurt sauce
Raw sugar snap peas with dill dip

Caesar salad (with grilled or broiled chicken or fish if desired)
Ice cream sundae - go all out and add some nuts and maybe even some whipped cream!  You just had a salad for dinner.

Lettuce salad - with either baby mixed lettuce or romaine.  Serve with simple oil and vinegar vinaigrette
Black bean tortilla pizza
A piece of dark chocolate

Caesar Salad
If desired, you can add a broiled chicken breast just like they do in the restaurants.  Or some broiled salmon or other fish.  There are a lot of bad Caesar salads to be found in restaurants.  Sometimes they think that if you just pile shredded parmesan and croutons on romaine and maybe squeeze on a little lemon then they can sell it as a Caesar.   Too bad.  You owe it to yourself to make the real thing.  This recipe has good instructions for coddling an egg - which is an important step in an authentic Caesar salad.  If you hate anchovies you could leave them out.  A compromise would be to use a bit of anchovy paste.  A hint of anchovy flavor is most desirable in a Caesar salad.  I am not crazy about anchovies but I do like some in a Caesar salad.

Dill Salad Dressing
Here is a link to a good recipe from Epicurious.  You could substitute some chives for the chopped garlic.  You could also substitute yogurt for the sour cream if you are watching calories.

Dill Dip
When my kids were little this was their preferred companion for all kinds of raw vegetables.  I wonder why most children seem to prefer their veggies raw rather than cooked?
Combine equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream.  Add some minced onion and chopped fresh dill weed to taste.  Stir.  Add a few drops lemon juice or wine vinegar and a dash of sugar, salt and pepper to taste.  If you want a sturdier dip, add a few ounces of softened cream cheese and mix until smooth.   A food processor helps with this task.

Black bean tortilla "pizza"
Ingredients:  One or two corn or flour tortillas per person, depending on size, black bean puree (see below for recipe), shredded or crumbled mild Mexican type cheese or co-jack, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped fresh peppers, onions or tomatoes if you have some, fresh romaine leaves, sliced in thin strips, wedges of fresh lime.
You don't need me to tell you this - but the black bean puree would make a good dip, too.  Even sandwich filling with some lettuce, onion and extra fresh cilantro.
Spread black bean puree on a tortilla, sprinkle on shredded cheese and some chopped onions, peppers or tomatoes.  You could even add some chopped olives.  Bake on a baking sheet about ten minutes at 400 degrees - or until tortillas are crisp and cheese is melted.  Serve topped with lettuce (or finely shredded cabbage) and chopped fresh cilantro.  Squeeze on a little fresh lime juice.
Black bean puree
Ingredients: 3 cups cooked black beans, 1 cup chopped onion, 2 t. minced garlic, 3 T. fresh lime juice, 2 t. cumin seed (crushed a little with a mortar and pestle or improvise if you don't have a M & P,  chopped jalapeno or other hot pepper to taste, 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, 1 T. oil.
Saute onion, garlic, hot pepper and cumin seed in oil until onion is soft.  Combine with beans, lime juice and cilantro and process in a food processor until smooth.  If you don't have a food processor you could just mash everything together with a potato masher.  The end result will not be as smooth but will taste just fine.

Chard quinoa patties with yogurt sauce
Ingredients: one pound swiss chard or fresh spinach or a combination, 1 cup cooked quinoa (cooked brown rice, bulgar or even barley would work too), one egg, 1/4 cup grated parmesan or crumbled feta cheese, minced garlic or green garlic to taste, plain yogurt - stirred, fresh dill or other herbs, a few tablespoons of olive oil for frying.  If you don't have garlic, saute a little onion or shallot until soft and use that.  Optional addition - some toasted sunflower seeds.
Wash the chard, including the stems.  Chop the stems in 1/4 inch pieces.  Boil stems in an inch of salted water about three minutes.  Add the chard leaves and cook another three minutes.  Drain (save the cooking water for stock) and squeeze dry.  Chop the leaves fairly fine.  Stir together the greens, stems, grain, egg, cheese, garlic, herbs, sunflower seeds if you are using them and some salt and pepper.  Form into four patties.  If you want, dredge each patty in some fine bread crumbs or a little flour.  Heat oil until a drop of water sizzles in it - then fry the patties a few minutes on each side until done.  Serve with plain yogurt on the side.  Serve more chopped fresh herbs on the side too if you wish.

Korean style romaine salad
This is a quick and simple salad recipe from Epicurious.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Focus: STRAWBERRIES (Fragaria Ananassa)

Minnesota may not have pineapples or oranges, but we have strawberries!   For fruits grown in the U.S., strawberries are second only to apples in popularity. They are probably the most commonly planted fruit in home gardens. Traditional varieties bear fruit in late June or early July and for that reason have been called "June bearing" berries. New varieties that extended the season - but produced slightly smaller berries - were called "everbearing". Now a third type of strawberry has been introduced which produces berries throughout the season - they are called "day neutral".   When most people think of Minnesota grown berries, however, they think of a June season. 

Strawberries, along with blackberries and raspberries, are members of the Rose family. The true fruits of the strawberry are the little seeds on the surface of the berry, which are called achene. The tasty flesh surrounding the seeds is not the fruit - you could think of it as the "packaging" for the fruit.

The strawberry is native to both Eurasia and the Americas. The Romans planted strawberries in their gardens and the French cultivated them as early as the 14th century. Early in the 1700's the French brought large berries native to Chile back to France. Thus began the breeding which has led to our modern varieties and larger berries.  Delicious as cultivated strawberries can be, however, many believe that wild strawberries surpass them in flavor.

About 83% of American strawberries are commercially grown in California.  Thanks to harvests in California, Florida, Chile and elsewhere, strawberries are available to most Americans year around. But the flavor of most commercial berries does not compare to that of "fresh and local" berries.   While those huge California berries may look beautiful, their less flashy homegrown cousins pack a superior taste punch.

A one cup serving of fresh strawberries contains more than a day's worth of vitamin C.
Strawberries are also high in manganese, folate, potassium, iodine, dietary fiber and antioxidants.  Strawberries are low in calories - only 43 calories in a cup.

Storage and Preparation
Store berries unwashed.  Before refrigerating, remove berries that are soft or have any signs of mold.  Very ripe berries should be eaten (or frozen) within a day or two.  Store berries in a ventilated plastic berry box or produce bag.  I have had luck spreading berries in a single layer on a kitchen towel or paper towels on a cookie sheet, loosely covered with another towel or ventilated plastic bag.  This inhibits spoilage due to spreading mold.  Gently rinse berries just before using.  Drain in a colander and lightly pat dry with a kitchen towel. 

Freezing - Sugaring berries before freezing improves their color, flavor and shape.
Dry pack:  Add half a cup of sugar per each quart of washed and sliced fruit.  Place in freezer bags or containers and freeze.
Syrup pack:  Place washed whole berries in containers.  Cover with a syrup made by heating one cup of sugar to every one cup of water.  (Cool syrup before pouring over berries.)
Whole unsweetened berries:  Wash, dry and hull berries.  Place on baking sheets or trays and freeze solid.  Then pack into freezer bags.  These bags of berries are great to have around for fruit smoothies during the winter.

One way many people like to preserve berries is to make jam or preserves.  Here is a good link for jam making.

Methyl Bromide (MeBr)
Despite the Montreal Protocol on Depletion of the Ozone Layer, it continues to be common in the conventional strawberry industry (as well as other agricultural sectors) to rely on preplant fumigation with methyl bromide.  MeBr depletes the stratospheric ozone layer.  For that reason the amount of MeBr produced and imported in the U.S. was phased out by January 1, 2005, EXCEPT for "critical use exemptions".  The exemptions are "designed for agricultural users with no technically or economically feasible alternatives."  One nice thing about your Featherstone Farm berries is that you can be confident they were grown without the use of methyl bromide.   

Want to learn more?
This link will bring you to an excellent website listing all manner of resources about strawberries.  Warning - it takes a little while to load.


Strawberry Sorbet

First make some simple sugar syrup - one cup of water and one cup of sugar, bring to a boil, stir to dissolve sugar.  Let cool and then refrigerate.
Wash and hull about 4 heaping cups fresh strawberries.  Place in a blender and puree along with cold sugar syrup.  Put in an ice cream freezer (I love my Donvier - easy to use, inexpensive, no electricity or rock salt) and freeze.  If you want, put into a container in your freezer until a bit harder.  It it freezes hard, just take out 15 minutes or so before serving so i is easier to scoop.
That's it.  If you have good ripe berries it is all you need.
Strawberry Onion Relish
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups sweet onions, in large dice
1 pint strawberries, chopped
1 tbsp granulated sugar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy cooking pan.  Add the onions and cook slowly,  stirring frequently, until they are soft and the color of light brown sugar. (You are caramelizing the onions.  Now you know how easy this is.)

Next, add the strawberries, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and continue to cook over medium low heat until thick. Remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes.

Serve warm or room temperature with meats or other dishes, as you would a chutney.

Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake
1.  The biscuits.  Make some plain buttermilk or cream biscuits - but add a little sugar to the dough - about 1T per one cup flour.   If you don't have a recipe, here is one:

2.  The berries.  While the biscuits are baking, wash and slice berries - at least half a cup per serving.  Add sugar to taste, mash a little with a fork and let sit until juicy.

3.  The whipped cream.  Just before serving, make some whipped cream.  Please don't use "whipped topping".  Please use the real thing.  Add just a little sugar to sweeten.  If you have some sour cream or yogurt or creme fraiche around, add a little to the whipped cream for a nice tang.

Assembly:  Split a biscuit.  Spoon some berries on the bottom half.  Put a spoonful of whipped cream on the berries.  Put the biscuit top on the top.  If you are feeling extravagant, put another small dollop of cream on the top biscuit and top with a whole berry.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Inspiration - Week 3/2011

Happiness in a bowl: Fresh strawberries with unsweetened yogurt and brown sugar

In this week's box:  Red leaf lettuce and salad mix, sugar snap peas, garlic scapes, red oakleaf lettuce, STRAWBERRIES!, Fresh herbs (either basil, garlic chives or cilantro - this will vary over the next three weeks)  (If you need some ideas for how to use basil or cilantro - just use the search feature on this blog for some inspiration.)

 You have some lovely fresh lettuce in your box this week -- I recommend you wash and dry and eat the oakleaf lettuce early in the week as it is so tender and perishable.

I hope you are not having trouble using up all the produce in your box.  If it is a struggle, here is a tip.  Try thinking at least one day ahead about meals.  Maybe on your way to work Wednesday morning you can think about what you will make for dinner on Thursday.  That way Wednesday night you can do a little prep work or even pick up a special ingredient you might need.  Lots of people don't think about dinner until half an hour before they want to eat.  Sometimes that works just fine, but it also can lead to unnecessary anxiety and crisis in the kitchen.  Or emergency pizza deliveries.  In these days of instant everything,  thinking ahead is becoming a lost art. When it comes to putting meals on the table, I think it is essential. After a while it will become a habit and mealtime will be less stressful.

I will be at the Featherstone Farm strawberry festival on Saturday from 11-3 and I hope to see you there.  I'll be baking shortcakes that morning for strawberry shortcake and also demonstrating how to make a simple strawberry sorbet.

Here are some ideas so you can think ahead about some possible meals for this week.  If a dish is in italics, a recipe or link appears below.

1.  Cup of bean, lentil or pea soup,  Wilted lettuce salad, crusty bread and butter, fresh strawberries topped with plain yogurt or cream and a little brown sugar
I think the heads of red oakleaf lettuce in the boxes this week are pretty hefty.  Wilted lettuce salad is a great way to use up a lot of lettuce.  Saute some chopped garlic scapes or garlic chives (if you have them) along with the bacon for a little extra zing.  If you don't want to mess around with soup, you could put a handful or two of cooked white or garbanzo beans in the salad for some extra protein.  Not traditional but would be quite tasty and filling.

2.   Sugar snap peas and pork, rice

3.  Green salad with strawberries, corn meal muffins

4.  Garlic pasta, simple green salad, bread, an orange or pear

5.  Try this for breakfast or even lunch - real, from scratch muesli!  A great way to use some of your fresh strawberries.


Wilted lettuce salad
The wilted lettuce recipe is near the end of this blog post from last year.

Lettuce salad with strawberries
Wash and dry mixed lettuce greens.  Place in a large bowl and toss with a simple dressing made with 4 parts olive or walnut oil to one part fresh orange or lemon juice and a little salt and pepper.  Divide greens on to serving plates.  Place on top of the greens:  Sliced fresh strawberries, crumbled feta, goat or blue cheese, toasted walnuts or almonds and sliced sweet onion.  If you have a little proscuitto or other cured meat around a little of that might be nice on the side.

Sugar snap peas and pork - serves two
Ingredients:  1/4 pound thinly sliced lean pork - marinated in 1 T Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry and 1 T. soy sauce; 1/2 pound sugar snap peas (blanched for one minute in boiling water and drained); 1 T peanut oil; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 1 t. grated or minced fresh ginger,  1 cup chopped garlic scapes or 4 scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces; 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. sugar, 1 t. cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 cup water or stock.  Optional - 1 t. toasted sesame oil

Heat oil until very hot in wok or large frying pan.  Stir fry garlic, ginger and scallions or scapes 1-2 minutes.  Add pork and marinade and stir fry another 2 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, including snap peas,  and stir fry another minute or two, covering pan the last minute.
Serve hot with rice.

See last year's blog post all about rice here:

This cereal is chock full of fiber, nutrition and great flavor.  You will never buy the boxed kind again once you have tried the real thing.  You can easily bring this to work for a great lunch.
You will need the following, per serving:  1/3 cup plain uncooked old fashioned rolled oats, 1/3 cup milk, 1 T. each of raisins or other dried fruit and your favorite nuts, 1 T bran, wheat germ or ground flax seed (optional), 1-2 T. honey, maple syrup or other sweetening,  1-2 t. fresh lemon or orange juice, 1/4 cup grated fresh apple, 1/2 cup fresh berries- whole or sliced.
Soak the oats in milk at least half an hour or as long as overnight.  Mix in remaining ingredients just before serving.  Serve plain or with additional milk or plain yogurt.

Garlic pasta
Cook your favorite pasta in well salted boiling water and drain, saving about 1 cup starchy cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, make this simple sauce.  Saute chopped garlic scapes and garlic chives and even some chopped green garlic if you have some in olive oil and butter (about 2 T. per serving).
Toss cooked pasta with the garlic sauce, adding some cooking water to desired consistency.  Serve with salt, freshly ground pepper, red pepper flakes if desired and plenty of grated Parmesan.