Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dig In - Chicken Broth (or is it Stock?)

Broth. Stock. Stock. Broth.  These terms are pretty much interchangeable.  If you want to put a fine point on it, broth is usually considered a bit milder and lighter than stock.  For today, let's just talk about chicken broth and agree that we could just as well call it chicken stock.  Another day we will talk about merits and how to's of vegetable broth.

No matter what you call it, a good broth is the essence of any flavorful soup, sauce or risotto.  It can also be served as is, as a plain soup.  Homemade broth is better than storebought.  You can control the amount of fat and salt and you will know what went into it.  Homemade broth is made from real food, not chemical additives.  As Marion Cunningham put it, "  . . . there is no true replacement for the full bodied flavor of good homemade stock or broth."  And everybody knows a rich, long simmered homemade chicken broth is good for what ails you.

I think knowing how to make chicken broth is a basic life skill.  If you have children in your life - teach this to them.  They will be better prepared when it is time to enter the cold hard world.  Think of it as another kind of health insurance.

Broth takes a long time to cook, but the amount of labor involved is negligible.  There are a few basic  do's and don'ts you need to know - but after that you can feel free to improvise.  The stockpot is a place you can practice both frugality and imagination.  Frugality because you can use bits and pieces of various vegetables and meats and bones that might otherwise go to waste and imagination because a wide variety of seasonings and vegetables may be used in chicken broth.

Always start with cold water.  Bring rapidly to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.

Skim the foam (not the fat) off the top with a ladle or skimmer right after the broth boils.

Add salt early in the cooking process- but not too much.  You can always add more later.  About 1/2 t. per quart of water would be a good place to start.

Simmer partly covered - you lose less nutrients but still allow for some reduction of liquid and thus concentration of flavor.

Use flavorful vegetables like: celery (especially tops and leaves), carrot, onion, garlic, mushroom stems, dill and parsley stalks and leaves.  I sometimes use cleaned potato peels or potato cooking water.

Leave vegetables in fairly large chunks - they are less apt to fall apart and cloud the broth.

Taste as the broth cooks.  Be judicious in adding salt.

Cool broth after straining and before refrigerating.  To speed cooling,  leave the cover off and put stockpot into a sink of cool water.


Don't add vegetables until the broth has come to a boil and the foam has been skimmed.

Don't use strong flavored vegetables like cabbage or turnips.

Basic chicken broth recipe
4 pounds of chicken parts - wings, necks, backs, feet. (feet are especially prized as a broth ingredient) You could also use a whole chicken.  More meat = more flavor.  If you use a whole chicken, you may want to remove the breast meat about an hour into the simmering process.  You can use it for soup, sandwiches, salads or casseroles.  The rest of the meat can also be removed from the carcass at the end of the cooking process and used for another purpose.

Add chicken or chicken pieces to a large pot.  Add cold water to barely cover - at least 4 quarts.

Bring water quickly to a boil.  Skim off foam.

Add vegetables:
1 large onion, cut in half
1 bulb (not clove) garlic, cut in half
2 carrots, chunked
2 celery stalks and tops - cut into large pieces
A few springs of parsley
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
15 peppercorns
2 t. salt

Simmer, partly covered, 4-5 hours.  Strain broth.  If a very clear broth is desired, strain again through a tightly woven, wet cotton dish towel or napkin.  Cool, then refrigerate.  Fat will congeal at the top and can then be removed.  Store in refrigerator up to one week.  Freeze up to 3 months.  If you freeze in a wide mouth container you can use broth without waiting for it to thaw.  Just warm the outside under running water and the frozen broth will slide right out.

Tomorrow:  Hands On - Grating

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Inspiration - Week #5

 Week 5 - leaf lettuce, snow peas, kohlrabi, cauliflower, new Norland potatoes, basil, baby white onions, bunch of beets  (Chioggia and red)

I am different from Martha Stewart.  For one thing, I have never served time in a federal prison.  For another, sometimes my kitchen is a mess and I do not have minions to clean it up.  It is not dirty, mind you.  Just occupied with concurrent projects.  I live in the real world, just like you do.

When I arrived home with my box Monday, I had already put in a long day.   I was sorely tempted to fall back onto the sofa and have a bowl of granola and milk for supper.  I did not have the choice of ordering a pizza because there is no such thing as pizza delivery service in Fillmore County - imagine that!  So I soldiered on.

First I bagged the leaf lettuce - to wash and dry later.  Then I filled the sink with water.  In went the beet greens (I cut off the stems) and the greens from the kohlrabi..  Swished those around, lifted them out, shook a few times (the greens, that is) piled 'em up, sliced in one inch strips and bagged those up to use within a day or two.  You can see them on the cutting board.  Swished the basil in the water, dried in the salad spinner and picked off the leaves to use for pesto.  Whacked off the onion tops, trimmed the beets and bagged up beets, onions and kohlrabi.  Trimmed the cauliflower and bagged it (after I gave 1/3 of the head to a friend).   Left the snow peas in their bag. Put all the trimmings in the compost pan (you can barely see it - just to the left of the cauliflower.)

Now everything - including a jar of pesto - is in the refrigerator, even the new potatoes.   (If you wonder why I put the spuds in the refrigerator - read this piece by Jack archived on the web site.  I'm glad I resisted the sofa's siren call.  Now I can relax and conjure up some meal ideas for this week. 

As usual, an asterisk appears for dishes with recipes included.

Steamed chopped cauliflower with basil pesto sauce* on pasta; bread, fresh cherries - Fresh cherries are coming into season.  They are still a little spendy, but with a meatless dinner you can probably afford them.  (Note - See my June 23 post for a recipe for basil pesto.)

Steamed or boiled new potatoes; steamed kohlrabi - peeled, cut into small strips (julienne) or diced ; good quality boiled, steamed or grilled smoked sausage or even a pork chop with a spicy grainy mustard; applesauce- homemade if possible   The first fresh potatoes of the season deserve to be eaten pretty much plain. Don't overcook the kohlrabi - you want it a little crunchy.  Consider making a sauce for the meat and vegetables:  some spicy mustard, yogurt, sour cream or cream fraiche and some minced fresh parsley or dill if you have it.  A good dark rye bread would complement this meal.  If I were eating it, I would enjoy it with a beer.

You could also cook some extra potatoes for homemade potato salad.  Add some vinaigrette and chopped parsley and thinly sliced onion to warm potatoes - just enough to coat.  You could also add snow peas to potato salad. Boil about 30 seconds first- then drain, cut in half and add to the potatoes.

Stir fried chicken with snow peas and brown riceFruit sorbet  Add snow peas at the very last minute - they cook very fast.  Probably less than a minute.  If you still have broccoli around use it up in this stir fry.

Beans and greens*; corn bread (see Tried and True this Saturday for a corn bread recipe); a nice piece of chocolate

Beet soup* garnished with potatoes and hard boiled eggs; leaf lettuce salad with grapes,  goat or blue cheese and a few toasted walnuts or hazelnuts if you have some; bread


Beans and greens  (about 4 servings)
4 cups cooked white navy or cannellini beans
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion - or more, to taste
2 cups diced potatoes, uncooked
1 cup chopped carrots (optional)
1/2 cup diced red pepper (optional)
3 cups packed fresh greens (such as beet and a few kohlrabi greens.  You could also use kale, chard, collards, mustard greens or escarole.)
Fresh or dried herbs to taste - use fresh parsley and basil if you have these.   If you have pesto, use a spoon or two of that.   Dried sage and thyme would also work.
Olive oil
About 1 t. salt, red or black pepper to taste

Saute onions and garlic lightly in olive oil for 3-4 minutes.  Add potatoes and saute another 5-6 minutes.  Add all other vegetables except fresh greens and 2 cups water or broth.  (You could substitute some red or white wine for up to half the liquid.)  Cover and simmer about 30 minutes.  Add greens.  Cover and simmer another 15 minutes or so.  Serve in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil.

Beet Soup (  About 4 servings)
1 T cooking oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
about 5 medium raw beets (1 1/2 pounds) peeled and grated
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
3 cups stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste

Serve with the soup: Diced boiled potatoes and sliced hard boiled eggs to add as desired.  Chopped fresh dill or chives too if you have this on hand.  Excellent served with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche.  I might add a few drops of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice too.  This could be served hot or cold.

Saute onion in oil 4-6 minutes or until soft.  Add grated beets and carrots and continue to saute - about 10 minutes, medium heat.  Add stock or water and cover - simmer about 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  If desired, cool and puree in a blender or food mill.

Tomorrow:  Dig In - Broth

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tried and True - Rice

I could write a lot about rice, but I'm going to try to keep this short and sweet.  I just finished making 210 shortcakes for the strawberry social tomorrow and I am pooped.  Have to pick up the whipping cream at 6:45 a.m. tomorrow morning too.  The berries are all washed, cut up, sugared and stored in freezer bags.  (Thanks again Fred and Naomi)

 Now where were we:  Oh yes - rice.

If you are thinking "I just can't cook rice.  It is too complicated.  It never turns out just like it does at the take out place",  then I suggest you consider an attitude adjustment.  Over half the people on the planet rely on rice as their primary grain and often even their primary source of protein and they seem to have figured this out.  We citizens of this great nation ought to be able to cook plain rice at home, and I don't mean Minute Rice or even Rice a Roni.  This is worth a little effort because rice is a great tasting, nutritious and inexpensive food.  Brown rice is especially tasty and nutritious, although not near as popular as white rice. 

If you want to go the extra mile, ricewise, I highly recommend Seductions of Rice by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.  This beautiful and interesting book has great recipes and photos and is a history, geography and anthropology book as much as it is a cookbook.

But for today,  I am going to talk just about how to cook basic white or brown rice.  Not pilaf.  Not risotto,  Not paella.  Just plain rice - a basic building block or accompaniment for many wonderful dishes.  In our house sometimes we eat plain cooked rice for breakfast - with some milk and cinnamon sugar and a few raisins if we are feeling wild and crazy.

I hope you will decide to keep a few kinds of rice around the house and that you get comfortable preparing them.  It really does not take long - even brown rice.  While it is cooking you can make your stir fry or curry or beans or steamed vegetables and set the table and when the rice is done you will be ready to eat.

Kinds of Rice - Indica and Japonica
Indica rice is long grain.  When it is cooked the grains stay separate and fluffy.  This kind of rice is grown in tropical regions such as India, SE Asia, Pakistan and the southern United States.  Basmati and jasmine rice are in this category.  Basmati rice has a nutty aroma and complex flavor and is the best known rice of SE Asia.  Jasmine rice has a milder and more neutral flavor and slightly stickier testure than Basmati.  It is often used in Thai cooking.

Japonica is short or medium grain.  When it is cooked it is sticky and moist.  It is grown in northern China, Japan, Korea, Europe (almost all in Italy) and California.  Arborio, Carnaroli and Calrose rice are examples of this type of rice.  Short grain rice is used for risotto or sushi among other dishes.

What kind of rice should I buy?
There are thousands of varieties of rice in the world.  But if you have these four kinds of rice in your cupboard, you will be in good shape:
1.  White basmati
2.  Brown basmati
3.  Arborio (or other short grain white rice for risotto)
4.  Short grain brown

Brown rice is growing in popularity - it is more nutritious.  It is the only rice with Vitamin E, plus it has more fiber and protein.   Plus it has more flavor - a little nutty - and is chewier than white rice. 

Where should I buy rice?
Many large grocery stores or co-ops have pretty good selections of rice these days.  But if you live anywhere close to some kind of ethnic food store (Asian, Hispanic, Indian, etc.) you may want to buy rice there.  Usually there are more choices and the prices are good, especially if you buy a large bag.
I know Rochester has a store called Rice n Spice - on Broadway south of downtown.  We have found the proprietor helpful.  Maybe you can find a personal rice advisor in a small - or large -  ethnic store to help guide you on your rice journey.

How do I store rice?
I keep rice in covered glass jars on an open shelf in my kitchen - but only in amounts which I will use up in 4-6 weeks.  I keep my reserve supply of rice in a cool and dark place away from sunlight.  Basmati rice is considered better by some people if it is aged at least a year.  (Note - because brown rice still has the bran and germ, it can become rancid more easily than white rice.  If you are going to store brown rice for any length of time it might be a good idea to refrigerate or freeze it.  You also want to make sure it is fresh at the time you buy it.)

How do I cook rice?
The big trick with rice is figuring the ratio of water to rice.  In general, for white long grain rice the ratio is 2 cups water to one cup rice.  For brown rice,  you should probably add 2 1/4 cups water to one cup rice.  Depends on the rice you are using.  I made long grain brown rice (not basmati) tonight and followed the ratio on the package, which advised 1 cup rice to 2 1/2 cups water.  Bad advice.  It was way too soupy.  I say when in doubt use a little less water - you can always add some more during cooking if it is too dry.

Absorption method
I think this is the simplest way to cook rice.  Combine 2 cups rice and 4 cups cold water in a heavy cooking pot.  (add a pinch of salt to taste).  (This is a large batch.  It is good to get into the habit of making more rice than you need.  Make fried rice for an easy meal another day.  Or reheat rice - just add a little water to rice in a pot, cover and heat gently until heated through.)

Bring rice and water (and salt if you are using it)  to a boil.  Then turn down to medium low, cover the pot and cook about 15-20 minutes for white rice and 30-40 minutes for brown.  It is ok to peek once or twice near the end of the cooking time.  Stick a spoon down into the bottom of the pot to see what is going on.  If rice seems too dry, add a spoon or two of water.  If too wet, leave the cover off for a while to allow water to evaporate.  Once the water is absorbed, turn off heat and cover pot.  Let rice rest about 5-10 minutes.  Fluff or stir with a fork or spoon before serving.

What is converted rice?
This is white rice which has gone through a process which improves it nutritionally.  However, I think the texture suffers plus it is more expensive.  If you want better nutrition, consider using brown rice.

I grew up on Minute Rice - I like it because it is quick and easy.  So what is wrong with that?
It might be quick and easy, but I really really think it does not taste very good.  And it is the most expensive and least nutritious kind of rice.  So maybe you can reconsider.  Start with plain white basmati rice.  Try it.  You'll like it.  And if you don't - well -  Minute Rice is not against the law.  You can stick with it.
(Editorial comment: I think it is interesting that many Americans, with a supposedly high standard of living, are eating poor quality and expensive rice that tastes ten times worse than rice typically eaten by humble Asian peasants.)

Hope I see some of you at the strawberry social.  Otherwise - until Tuesday. . . . . 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Focus: PARSLEY (Petroselinum)

"Parsley, the jewel of herbs, both in the pot and on the plate."  Albert Stockli

I would like to give a shout out for parsley, an underappreciated yet most flavorful and nutritious food.  Here in the American Midwest parsley has long been relegated to the role of visual accent.  You know what I mean - the little sprig, tucked next to the Salisbury steak.  Sometimes it is fresh and perky.  Sometimes a little droopy.  It is a common solution to the problem of how to add color to the plate when vegetables are lacking.   I just hate to think how much perfectly good parsley ends up in the food waste stream in this country.

So much more than a garnish
Parsley is so much more than a garnish.  It is the world's most popular herb and is used in soup, salad, vinaigrette, bread, dumplings or sauces (it is excellent in both cream and tomato based sauces).  It can be added to meat, dried bean, pasta, vegetable or egg dishes.  Many people are familiar with the popular Middle Eastern dish, tabouli, which contains lots of parsley.  Many Middle Eastern dishes use parsley more as a vegetable than an herb or seasoning.  Mark Bittman, cookbook author and NY Times food writer, says it is "impossible to overstate" the importance of parsley.

Two kinds - Curly and Italian
There are two main categories of parsley - curly leaf (P. crispum) and flat leaf, or Italian (P. neapolitanum).  Some say the Italian variety has a better or stronger flavor.  You can try both and decide for yourself.  You might decide you prefer Italian parsley for a fritatta or Middle Eastern dish and the curly for garnishing or chopping into soups, breads or sauces.  Much of the flavor of flat leaf parsley is in the stems - so don't throw those away.  Find a way to use them, in a stock if nothing else. Always use fresh parsley - it is widely available.  You might even consider trying to grow a pot at home.  Don't waste your money on dried parsley.

Bunch the parsley and snip off a little of the stems.  Put the bunch in a glass of water and store in the refrigerator, covered loosely with a plastic bag.  If you change the water every day and the parsley was fresh when you got it, it should keep for a week or more.

Classic parsley recipes 
Tip:  add a little salt when chopping parsley to keep it from sticking to the knife and cutting board.

If you were in Argentina and eating a grilled steak, chances are you would be offered a parsley based sauce called chimichurri.  I would call this the national sauce of Argentina.  It is delicious served with
roasted or grilled meat or seafood as well as cooked potatoes, vegetables, pasta or grains.  Just like basil pesto, there are many versions of this recipe.  Here is a link to a good basic one - different from the link in my Inspiration post on Tuesday this week.

Mix together 3 T finely chopped parsley, 1 t. finely chopped or grated lemon zest (that's the yellow part of the peel) and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves.
Sprinkle over anything grilled, pasta, roasted or braised meats or steamed vegetables.

Persillade (purr-see-odd)
Same as gremolata, but leave out the lemon zest   Use similarly to gremolata.

Parsley, walnut and lemon zest gremolata/ gremolata di prezzemolo e noce
1 cup packed Italian parsley leaves (mince until they turn paste-like)
1/4 cup minced (finely chopped) walnuts
1/2 t. grated lemon zest
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper
Stir all ingredients until well blended
Stir into soup or sprinkle over steamed vegetables.  Add 1/4 cup olive oil and use as a pizza or pasta topping.

Parsley Frittata/ Frittata di prezzemolo
Beat 8 eggs well.  Add 1 cup packed chopped Italian parsley (Do not substitute curly parsley in this dish) and salt and pepper to taste. 

Heat about 4 T extra virgin olive oil in a heavy oven proof skillet over medium heat.  Pour in egg mixture.  Cook until bottom is slightly browned. (You can check by gently lifting the edge with a butter knife to peek underneath.)

After the eggs are mostly set - place under broiler to lightly brown the top.  Sprinkle on some parmesan or other favorite grating cheese if desired - before browning.

Tomorrow:  Tried and True:  Rice

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Anyone can learn to chop, dice and mince.  All you need is a good knife and a cutting board and practice.

It is true that there are cooks and chefs out there who have spent decades perfecting their knife skills.  (Otherwise known as their chopping chops.)  Or who have spent many hundreds or even thousands of dollars on special knives.  (Serious chefs take care of their personal knives the way the late Yehudi Menuhin took care of his Guarneri or Stradivarius.)

But we are not going to let this intimidate us.  We are going to take a simple and common sense approach to a basic daily task -- cutting up fresh food so we can cook and eat it.  Chopping food is the gateway to increasing your culinary independence.  That means you can cook more cool stuff for yourself and your family so you don't have to pay someone else to do it for you. 

Choosing a knife - or even a cleaver
Cutting up food is easy if you have a good sharp knife.  If you do not have a knife that you like to use, please get one.  This is important.  And it is personal.  A knife that feels wonderful in my hand might be totally unsuitable for you.  An 8 inch blade is what most home cooks like - that is the kind I have.  Your knife should be comfortable to hold, well balanced and should fit your hand.  There are many good brands out there. Go to a reputable store and ask questions.  Maybe try some friends' knives.  If you don't want to spend a lot, check out the restaurant supply stores and ask to see an affordable chef's knife.

Some people like to use Chinese cleavers for everyday use.  Once you get good at it, this can be a more efficient tool than a chef's knife.  I have not graduated to the Chinese cleaver yet but I aspire to it.

Here is the chef's knife I use and the cleaver I aspire to.  My husband purchased the cleaver in a tiny kitchen supply shop in an alley in Beijing in 1988.  He had to walk past cobblers sitting on stumps and mending shoes to get to the door.  But that is another story.

Keep your knives sharp
Many people use a sharpening steel - every few days for a knife in frequent use.   This is another skill I have not yet learned.  Some day soon my husband and I will make a sharpening steel video for you and we can all work on this together.  He is really good at this. Once we all get good at using a sharpening steel, then we can graduate to using a whetstone!  Now that will impress your friends.
In the picture above you can see the sharpening for dummies tool that I use.  It is better than nothing.
The important thing to remember is that knives need to be sharp.  Then they are a pleasure to use.
 Safer too.  The sharper the knife, the less likely it is to slip and cut you. You also need less muscle power with a sharp knife.  

The cutting board
I prefer wood.  Wood is beautiful and easier on knives.   I have boards in several sizes - make sure your cutting surface is big enough.  It is so annoying when food keeps falling off the board when you are trying to work.   I keep my boards in a convenient location.  If you have to go digging in a back cupboard every time you want to chop you are making things too hard for yourself.   No matter what kind of board you use, you of course need to keep it clean.  Scrub especially after using for any type of meat or fish product.

Here is a great fact sheet from the USDA about cutting board safety and choices.  We pay for them to write all this stuff - so I say let's read it.

Chopping is nothing more than cutting food into pieces with a knife or other cutting tool.  Use common sense to decide how important it is for the pieces to be either uniform or of a certain size.  Some recipes will suggest an ideal size.  If you are making a stew, for example, you might want all the vegetables about the same size.  If you like the pieces big, make them big.  It just means they take a bit longer to cook.

Here are pictures of the chickpea potato spinach curry I made yesterday.  I decided to cut the potatoes into pretty big chunks.  But I could have cut smaller pieces and that would have been fine too.  Same thing with the spinach - I was in a hurry so I piled it up and cut big fat slices. 

Here is a short video about chopping

Tip - if you are working with something round, cut one side off or cut it in half so it has a flat surface and is less apt to roll or slip.   Much safer. 

Dicing is just chopping food into fairly uniform small pieces.  Dicing carrots, potatoes or celery is faster if you first cut them into long strips and then cut the aligned strips into pieces crosswise.  Again, with common sense and experience you will develop your own ways to dice or chop efficiently.

Mincing is chopping something very finely.  Start by chopping roughly.  Then rock the knife blade back and forth - repeating in different directions - until you reach the desired fineness.

Tomorrow:  Focus on Parsley

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Elizabeth David, legendary English food writer, called basil pesto "The best sauce yet invented for pasta".  You may or may not agree with her, but we all can probably agree that basil pesto is a wonderful thing.  It is a way to preserve and enjoy the fragrance and flavor of fresh basil year round.

Basil pesto started in Genoa
Traditional pesto is an ancient dish originating in Genoa, which is located in the Liguria region of Italy.   Genoans would use Genovese type basil and Ligurian olive oil. The classic recipe also calls for pine nuts, fresh garlic and cheese - most commonly Parmesan.  A Genoan cook might substitute Pecorino Sardo cheese - a pungent Sardinian ewe's milk cheese - for some or all of the Parmesan.

Mortar and pestle or food processor?  The debate rages on.
The word "pesto" comes from the verb pestare, which means to pound or bruise.  A traditional Italian grandma would probably make her pesto the "old way" - using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle - adding one basil leaf at a time and using a little coarse salt to pound and bruise the basil into a smooth paste.  Or she might use a cleaver and a cutting board to turn the basil, garlic and nuts into a thick paste.  I have never made pesto by hand this way but I probably will some day - just to see if it really is better and if it really is all that much work.  Most people nowadays use a food processor.  Mark Bittman, a modern cookbook author who gets around, says that even though Italians say a mortar and pestle is best, "when you get into their kitchens" they use a food processor to make pesto.  And so does he.

Peggy's pesto law
There is no one right way to make pesto.  There are no pesto commandments.  But there is Peggy's law, which is simple and straightforward:  use only high quality fresh basil, fresh garlic and a good extra virgin olive oil when making pesto.  If you add cheese, use high quality cheese.  Don't use stale or rancid nuts.  This is not the time to use parmesan from a round, green cardboard can.

But other than Peggy's law, you have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to proportions.  See this array of books?  Twelve different basil pesto recipes.   Twelve different viewpoints on the proportions of olive oil, basil, garlic, nuts or cheese.  Virtually all recommended walnuts as an alternative to the harder to find and more expensive pine nuts.  And several suggested using pecorino cheese instead of or combined with Parmesan.  See why I am always encouraging you not to worry so much about exact measuring?  This is cooking, not carpentry.

Now that you know you can't get in trouble for making pesto the "wrong way",  I hope you feel less anxious.   I encourage you to taste and smell as you cook.  Observe the texture.  Channel your inner Alice Waters, who explained that when making pesto, she enjoys the "sensory experience of pounding it and smelling and tasting it as I go."  (Looks like she is a mortar and pestle girl.  At least some of the time.)

Basil pesto ingredients
(Note - Fresh herbs other than basil may be used to make a pesto. Some or all the basil can be replaced.  Some possibilities: parsley, cilantro, sorrel, mint, arugula (also called rocket).
This basil pesto recipe is mine.  It is a sort of consensus gleaned from my research. It is meant to get you started.   Feel free to adjust it to your personal tastes.

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic (about 1 t. minced)
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
1/2 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper or to taste
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts  (Note:  If you have access to Minnesota homegrown hazelnuts by all means try them in this dish.   We are going to do just that at the noon pesto demonstration at the Featherstone Farm strawberry social this coming Saturday at the farm.)

Pesto Preparation
Whether working by hand or with a food processor, pound or chop together the basil leaves, salt, garlic and nuts until they form a thick paste.  Do not over process.  Add the olive oil a little at a time and mix well with a whisk or wooden spoon.  Add the cheese last.  (If you are going to freeze the pesto some recommend not adding the cheese until the pesto is thawed and used.  I have done this both ways and either way is fine, I think.)

Pesto Storage
If you think the cookbooks were all over the map when it came to ingredient proportions, you would be amazed at the different advice on storage time and methods.
Refrigerate  - One book said the pesto could be stored up to five days in the refrigerator.   One said "indefinitely".  Several said 3-4 weeks.  Here is my advice:  You can store pesto in the refrigerator about a month IF you keep a layer of olive oil - about 1/4 inch - on top of the pesto and it is stored in a very clean (sterilized or at least scalded) and tightly sealed glass jar.

Freeze - If you want to store pesto longer than a month, freeze it.  Lots of people say to use ice cube trays.  I think that is a pain.  I suggest putting foil or waxed paper on a cookie sheet and plopping little pesto cookies on the pan.  Freeze.  As soon as the "cookies" are hard, lift them off and freeze in a plastic bag.

Pasta with pesto
Cook your favorite pasta.  Linguini is nice for this.  While that is happening, gently warm a pottery or other heavy bowl big enough to toss the pasta.  Put desired amount of pesto in the bottom of the bowl.  Drain pasta, saving a cup or so of the cooking water.  Put drained pasta into the bowl and toss with pesto.  Add a few tablespoons of cooking water and toss again until you have the desired consistency of sauce.

Pesto serving ideas - endless
Flavor soup - a spoon or two in tomato soup is excellent

Pizza sauce - spread thinly on crust. Try with sliced onions and peppers and black olives.

Spread for sandwiches or crostini

Use as a flavor concentrate to enhance stew, sauces or soups

Add with some mayo to potato salad made with new potatoes (and maybe some sugar snap peas)

Add to basic vinaigrette - use with sliced fresh tomatoes and mozarella

Use as a sauce for grilled or steamed vegetables, grilled fish or poultry

Put a little under the skin when roasting poultry

Topping for pizza, pasta, baked potato or polenta

Filling for an omelet

Tomorrow:  Hands On - Chopping, mincing and dicing

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Inspiration - Week #4

The landscape is green, green, green right now in Fillmore County.  Though we are tired of all the rain and it makes farming a lot more complicated  - the river mist, lush vegetation, and low hanging clouds are quite beautiful.  Kind of like living on King Kong's island.   Your CSA box is green, green, green too.   (Except for some white onion and some boxes will have beets)   In your box this week:  romaine lettuce, spinach, sugar snap peas, broccoli,  Orro Blanco sweet white onions, parsley, and garlic scapes.  I predict some excellent meals in your future.

I continue to choose meal ideas that mostly do not require a lot of extra ingredients or vegetables that are not in your box.   I hope this way you have no trouble making use of everything and you can spend less time shopping and more time chopping.  And it is nice to be able to taste and appreciate each vegetable in its own right.  I say if you have A+ broccoli - then let it be the star of the show, not just a bit player.   You probably will have to pick up some extra garlic and maybe a sweet red bell pepper and some potatoes and a fresh lemon depending on what you decide to try.  If you don't have fresh ginger at home, don't forget to put that on your list.  Sooner or later you will need it.  For me it has become a staple like olive oil and garlic.

Make sure you have rice on hand, too.  Two of the meal ideas for this week include rice.  If you do both, make extra rice the first time to save time another day.  Reheated rice is just fine I think.  (Certainly ten times better than Minute Rice!) Add a little water and heat gently. Fast food.

Don't forget omelets or frittatas as an option this week.  For a weekend brunch or quick easy supper, eggs with vegetables like spinach, onion or broccoli are a lifesaver.  Add a little cheese and herbs and some good bread on the side and life is good.

The parade of lettuce continues.  If you have a salad story, recipe or picture to share, join the discussion on the Featherstone Facebook page.

Meal ideas:  As usual, dishes with recipes included at the end of this post are marked with an asterisk.

Caesar Salad*(no need for bread since the salad includes croutons).  I think I would have ice cream for dessert after this meal

Stir Fry - with sugar snap peas, onion, garlic scapes and choice of meat or other protein; Korean Romaine*
This is a "snap" - Highly recommended to add a few teaspoons each of minced fresh garlic and ginger to almost any stir fry.  Oyster sauce would be good with these veggies.

Long-cooked broccoli with pasta*; Simple lettuce side salad;  Fruit and cheese for dessert (a few nuts would be nice, too)

Grilled or broiled marinated beef, pork or chicken; chimichurri sauce*, steamed new potatoes, simple lettuce side salad; steamed sugar snap peas or broccoli or spinach

Curried chickpeas with spinach and red bell pepper*; rice; raita*

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 you 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.

Korean Romaine 
Note - the head of romaine in my grande box was quite large.  You might be able to divide your romaine and make both caesar salad and Korean romaine.  Find recipe here:

Long cooked Broccoli with pasta
This recipe is from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food.  If you follow this link you will find the recipe as it appears in the cookbook.  The recipe is printed after some blog commentary, including a nice riff on the beauties of broccoli stems.  (Aren't I confident - linking you to the competition?  I am not worried.  I know something about what you have in your refrigerator.  They don't. ) Anyway, I suggest throwing in a handful or two of chopped parsley into the broccoli before or after you cook it.  And some chopped garlic scapes wouldn't hurt either.  I would cook those along with the broccoli.

Chickpea and spinach curry
Saute some chopped onion (add some carrot or potato or both if you have some) and red bell pepper in clarified butter or oil for a few minutes, then add your favorite curry spices.  You can use a plain generic curry powder or a curry paste (can be found in cans in Asian markets).  Many cookbooks have lists of various spices that can be combined in a curry, including things like turmeric, coriander, mustard seed and cayenne.  After spices have cooked in the oil for 5 minutes or so, add fresh spinach. You can include stems and leaves, whole or coarsely chopped.  Add chickpeas - about 1/2 cup per desired number of servings.  If you have coconut milk, it is a great addition to a curry.  If not, water or stock will also do.  Add your chosen liquid.  Cover and cook over medium low heat until flavors are blended and vegetables are tender.  Serve over rice with raita on the side.  You can garnish with some chopped peanuts for extra protein and flavor (and calories!)

Raita (rah-ee-tah)
Combine plain yogurt with finely chopped sweet onion and parsley.  Peeled and chopped cucumber (remove seeds if they are large) is also a good addition to raita.

Chimichurri sauce
I will be talking about parsley- and chimichurri -  in Friday's Focus post.  If you can't wait, here is a short discussion about chimichurri and a good basic recipe. is a great way to use a lot of parsley.  Traditionally served with beef and is to Argentina what ketchup is to America.

Bonus recipe - Sugar snap peas with asian dressing
Wash and prepare snap peas by breaking off the little stem end and pulling off any tough "strings".  Bring water to a full boil, add peas and boil for 30 seconds.  Drain and rinse with cool water.  Set aside.
Dressing (double the recipe as long as you are doing this.  Then you will be ready for another meal.  This is a good all purpose dressing)
Mix together: 2 T. rice vinegar, 1 T soy sauce, 2 t. toasted sesame oil, 1 T (packed) light brown sugar, 1 t. (maybe less) salt, 1/2 t. fresh ground pepper. (optional  - red pepper flakes, 1 t. grated fresh ginger, a few tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro)
Pour dressing over snap peas.  About 1/4 cup dressing to 2 cups snap peas - but that is a personal preference.  Serve on a bed of torn lettuce if desired.  Or serve over rice noodles, add chopped peanuts or some other protein and you have a meal.

Tomorrow:  Dig In - Pesto

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tried and True - Croutons

Crunchy food is fun.  Crunchy food tastes good.  Some people don't like crunchy peanut butter but in general it seems that crunchy foods are quite popular.  Which is why the following words appeared on the package of the "Sweet Butter Premium Croutons" I bought at the grocery store last week.   "Our crispy, crunchy toppings add taste and excitement to salads and more!"

Who could resist?   Only $2.00 for five ounces of excitement -- about 2 1/2 cups of little cubes containing wheat flour, malted barley flour, various minerals like niacin and riboflavin, high fructose corn syrup, whey, canola or sunflower oil, wheat gluten, dehydrated butter, nonfat milk, calcium propionate, calcium peroxide, calcium sulfate, ascorbic acid, salt, sugar, butter oil. soybean oil, natural flavors, turmeric and extractive of annatto (for color) and more.  Here they are.  I have to admit, they didn't taste too bad.  Just a little of that "fake flavor" aftertaste.   Kids might like these better than homemade, at least at first, because they are used to that extra sweetness and saltiness and "natural flavor".  Plus they do look good - all golden brown and toasty.

Maybe it is because I have recently turned 60 and am jaded as well as hopelessly old fashioned and frugal in my food tastes.   But I just don't need that much excitement - at least not from my croutons.  So I make my own at home.  I personally find that quite pleasurable, if not exciting. 

I made two kinds of crouton - the cubed kind and the sliced kind.  All you need to try this is a loaf of good french bread (or other good artisan type bread with some substance.  Smooshy bread just won't do here) and a little olive oil or butter.  A clove or two of garlic is optional.  The list of ingredients for the cubed croutons is:   wheat flour,  yeast, salt, olive oil and fresh garlic.  The components of the sliced kind are wheat flour, yeast and salt.  Water of course was used to make the bread.  Lanesboro water, because I made it myself.  We can talk about that another day.

Cubed croutons - excellent with all kinds of soups or salads. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut or tear bread into little bite sized cubes or pieces.  Is is ok - even preferred - if the bread is stale.  If you find day old bread on special snap it up so you can make croutons (or french toast).

Pour olive oil into a bowl - about 1 tablespoon for each heaping cup of bread cubes.  If you wish, smash a clove or two of garlic and let it sit in the olive oil for an hour or two beforehand to infuse the oil with garlic flavor.  Fish out the garlic and save it for another use.  Add bread to oil and quickly stir around so olive oil is uniformly distributed.  Place on a baking sheet in one layer.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until crunchy.  If you want, turn off the oven and leave bread inside a little longer to ensure that it dries out completely.
Store in tightly sealed bag or other container at room temperature for a week or two - if they last that long!

I admit the homemade croutons are not as flashy looking as the storebought kind.  But they won't let you down.  Plus they are not as spendy.  And I think they taste better. 

Sliced croutons - use in soups or as a base for cheese, pates or other snacks or appetizers.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice bread about 1/2 inch thick.  Place in one layer on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake about 10-12 minutes, or until bread is crispy.  Optional - brush with a little olive oil after baking. Cool.  These can be stored in a tightly sealed bag or other container for a week or two.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Kohlrabi - Brassica Oleracea var. gongylodes

Kohlrabi means "cabbage turnip" in German.  It belongs to the cabbage family and has been around for at least 500 years so far as we know.  It is especially popular in  Central European countries and has not been available commercially in this country until fairly recently.

 When it is young and not too big (less than 3 inches in diameter) - it is known for its mild, delicate, peppery and even sweet flavor and its crunchy, juicy and crisp texture.  It is not a root vegetable, even though it looks like one.  The bulb grows above ground and is really a swollen stem.  It can be eaten raw or cooked.  The leaves can be prepared in the same way as turnip or collard greens. (fairly long braising)  Unless very small and young, the bulbs should be peeled prior to eating or cooking.

Kohlrabi can be boiled, steamed, sauteed or braised.  It can be shredded, cubed, julienned or mashed.
It is very compatible with many seasonings and flavors, such as bacon, dill, caraway, cream (what isn't compatible with cream?), onion, garlic, ginger,  nutmeg, thyme, mustard, lemon and parsley.

Some people describe the taste of kohlrabi as similar to a radish.  Some say it is like a combination of cucumber and broccoli.  Whatever it tastes like, some people are crazy about it.  This is what The New Basics cookbook had to say: "Kohlrabi, once tasted, can become an obsession, for it seems to exude freshness - almost a peppery version of broccoli."

Separate the leaves from the bulb.  Do not wash until ready to eat.  The leaves can be stored in a bag in the refrigerator for a week or so.  If the bulb is stored in an open or perforated plastic bag, it should keep several weeks.  My sources did not agree on storage time.  The range for a refrigerated bulb was 5 days to one month.  Since your CSA kohlrabi is very fresh when you get it, I think you could store it for at least 3 weeks if you needed or wanted to.

Kohlrabi is very high in vitamins C  - a one cup serving supplies 149% of your daily requirement.  It is also high in fiber and potassium.  One cup is only 40 calories.

Serving Suggestions
Last night I decided to julienne a bulb of kohlrabi.  Once it was peeled and cut up, I put it into a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes.  It was still tender crisp when I drained it.  Then I sauteed it in about 2 t. of butter and added about 1/3 cup of heavy cream, about 2 T. chopped fresh dill and a little salt and pepper.

I cooked that a few more minutes, cover off, until the cream reduced by about half.  We ate it as a vegetable side dish.  One bulb was enough for three servings.

Because of its fresh taste,  this dish could stand up quite well to something like fried fish or chicken.  Or even baked ham or a pork roast.  We had it with pinto beans, greens and brown rice.

Kohlrabi serving ideas - remember to peel  before cooking or eating unless very young and tender)

Raw Kohlrabi
Slice -about 1/4 inch.  Dip halfway into fresh lime juice and then chili powder.  Arrange on plate.

Slice or cut into sticks.  Serve with other fresh raw vegetables as part of a crudite platter with favorite dip.

Grate. Squeeze moisture out.  Mix with beaten egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper,  minced onion.  (about 1 egg, 2 T. onion and 2 T. crumbs per cup of grated kohlrabi.  Add other herbs or spices to taste.)  Fry patties in hot , butter, olive oil or other fat.  These patties would be nice served with plain yogurt and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Grate or cut into small sticks or cubes.  Mix with equal amount of grated or cut up fresh apple.  Add a mustard vinaigrette sweetened with a little honey or maple syrup.  Makes a lovely salad or side dish.

Thinly slice or coarsely grate kohlrabi.   Spread butter or cream cheese on two slices of good quality dark pumpernickel bread.  Sprinkle with fresh or dried dill or caraway if desired.  Place slices of kohlrabi on bread and lightly salt.  Eat open faced or as a regular sandwich.  This would be excellent with a little summer sausage.

Grate or cut into very thin strips.  Use as you would cabbage to make coleslaw.  Good with grated carrot, onion and chopped parsley or dill.  I would add some fresh or powdered mustard and a pinch of sugar.

Cooked Kohlrabi

Steam or boil cubed kohlrabi about 10-15 minutes or until tender.  Mash with a little butter, salt and pepper.  Can also be mashed with cooked potatoes in desired proportion.

Cube and roast like you would carrots, rutabagas or parsnips.

Julienne (that means cut into little sticks about 1/4 inch thick).  Stir fry with garlic, ginger, cashews, carrots and shitake mushrooms.  Add a few spoons each of soy sauce and rice wine, a teaspoon of sesame oil and a pinch of sugar.  Serve with rice or rice noodles.

Cube and add to soup or stew.  Kohlrabi would be good in a Hungarian Goulash type of stew - with pork or beef, onion, peppers, paprika and sour cream or creme fraiche.

Bonus Recipe - added September 23, 2010
Kohlrabi-radish salad
1 1/2 pounds grated or julienned kohlrabi and radish (about 2/3 kohlrabi and 1/3 radish) - about 8 cups total
3 T. onion - finely chopped or grated
1/2 cup fresh parsley and dill, combined as desired (lightly packed)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 T. sugar
1/3 cup yogurt
1 T. dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Hands On -- Beating and Whipping

I just love cooking action verbs.  You know, words like baste, beat, blend, boil, braise, and blanch.  And those are only "B" words!   Cooking, like sailing or surgery or plumbing, has its own special vocabulary.  If you don't speak the language it can be a lot harder to do the work.  So every so often I think it will be fun for us to take a closer look at a cooking verb or two.  This will help us turn recipes on a page into meals on a plate. 

Today's words are "beat" and "whip".

When a recipe tells you to "beat" something, what exactly does that mean?  Is a special tool or appliance required?  Is beating about speed?   Is it the same as stirring but faster?   Is beating a cake batter different from beating an egg?   And how exactly is whipping different from beating?  Can you see how fast this can get confusing?

No wonder it is becoming standard practice to "dumb down" modern recipes.  So many people are not literate when it comes to kitchen verbs.  I just hate to see this happen.  Our food will be so much more boring if nobody ever tells us to fold, gratinee or macerate because they think we can't comprehend.  It is up to you and me to ensure that our children and grandchildren do not grow up in a world where the only cooking verbs they are expected to know are Open and Heat.

 I consulted some of my favorite all purpose cookbooks for guidance.  This definition is based on one from Marion Cunningham's 1990 revision of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook:
Beat:  To mix food or liquids rapidly and thoroughly in order to make a mixture smooth and light by incorporating as much air as possible.  If you're beating by hand, use a whisk, a fork, or a wooden spoon in a rhythmic, over and over motion, lifting and plopping.  

This is pure Julia Child and is really good ergonomic advice:  When you beat, train yourself to use your lower-arm and wrist muscles; if you beat from your shoulder you will tire quickly.

For "whip", Marion Cunningham came through again:
Whip: To lighten and increase the volume by beating.
But Alice Waters has more to add:
To whisk rapidly into a froth  
And then there is Better Homes and Gardens New (it was new in 1962) Cookbook definition which I think is the best one. 
To beat rapidly to incorporate air and produce expansion, as in heavy cream or egg whites

Here are the tools I use to beat or whip. 

Whisk(also called a wire whip)
Whisks are very effective for beating eggs and sauces and for general mixing.  They come in many sizes and don't require electricity to work.   The most common are balloon type.  The very largest are good for beating egg whites.    I really love my flat whisk.  I own one medium sized balloon whisk but I have to admit I never use it.  I think a flat whisk is much better than the round kind for getting out lumps and getting into sides, corners and bottoms of pans or bowls.  It would not be as good as a large balloon whisk if you needed to whip egg whites or heavy cream. 

Little springy thingy
I inherited this from my late Aunt Evelyn.  She was a proud, frugal, teetotaling, kind of grumpy Methodist.  She was also a schoolteacher, gardener and cook.  She loved Lawrence Welk and making clown dolls.  I don't know what this little beater is called but I like to use it for light duty beating tasks.  So sometimes when I am scrambling eggs I remember Aunt Evelyn.

Egg beater
I don't think people use egg beaters much any more.  I like to use mine for whipping cream. (I don't believe in non dairy topping like C*** W***. )  I chill the beater and the pottery beater jar ahead of time.  The whipping goes very fast.  This is a great job for a child.  Let them lick the beater.  Another nice thing about an egg beater is that it beats and whips with no carbon emissions.

Portable electric mixer
I have one of these in harvest gold but it is packed away in a box somewhere so I can't show it to you.  I guess that tells you everything you need to know.  It was ok when I was a beginning cook and hardly ever made bread, cookie dough or angel food cakes.   But once I got my Kitchen Aid workhorse, the portable mixer gathered dust.

Heavy duty stand mixer
I have had this mixer for about 25 years.  I am confident that I will have it for another 25 years if I live that long.   It is not the most powerful or fancy Kitchen Aid.  In fact I think it is the basic model.  But it has served me well.  Over the years I have acquired attachments such as the meat grinder, sausage stuffer and grain mill.  Some kind of heavy duty stand mixer is a valuable kitchen helper.  If you don't own one you might start dropping hints.  It is about 180 shopping days to Christmas.

And don't forget good old fashioned wooden spoons or a fork.

Time for me to beat it. 

Tomorrow:  Focus on Kohlrabi

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dig In - Compost

If you are cooking out of a Featherstone Farm CSA box,  you probably have some interest in where your food comes from.  And I bet that you might also be interested in what happens to food waste.  That is why today's topic is compost.  Compost makes soil wonderful.  Wonderful soil grows good food and absorbs water better so as to decrease erosion.  Composting removes materials from the solid waste stream, both saving money and reducing the need for landfills.   If you don't already compost,  I am asking you to think about adding this excellent habit to your daily life.  Depending on your living situation, it probably would be very easy.  It won't take you much more time than flossing.

And even if it does take a little time and effort, it is worth it.  You will feel better knowing you are doing something positive for the planet.  You know -  Circle of life.  Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  Food to food.  

My husband is the extreme composter in our family.  I had no choice.  I couldn't beat him so I had to join him.   We even compost when we are away from home.   A few years ago we spent about two weeks in Brooklyn, New York cat sitting when my sister and her husband were away.   They live in an apartment with just a teeny little lawn in the front.  We cooked, so we had some kitchen waste.    Coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit and onion peels, vegetable trimmings.  The usual.   We saved this waste in a plastic container in the freezer.   It was starting to fill up, so we needed a compost solution.  We knew nothing was available at the apartment.  Recycling yes.  Composting no.

Our quest was an eye opener.   When we asked at the neighborhood supposedly green and sustainable food co-op about composting, we were met with blank stares.  They just put all that stuff in the dumpster along with the rest of the garbage and didn't think about it after that.  Finally we discovered that the New York Greenmarket (the city farmers market system) did have a compost program.  We put our frozen stuff in a plastic grocery bag and headed out for the subway and a greenmarket that we knew had a compost collection barrel.  We did this two Saturdays in a row at two different markets.  We saw other New Yorkers doing just what we were doing.   Even in Manhattan.   I was so thankful for the Greenmarket composting barrel.  Without it, we would have had to bring our compost home on the airplane.  That might have been a new experience for the TSA. (Transportation Security Administration)

Learning how to compost is like learning anything -- start small, practice and you will get better at it. Maybe you have a friend or neighbor who would be your compost mentor.

Here's some Q and A to get you started.

1.  What kinds of things should we compost?
Anything organic that does NOT have any animal products or any kind of fat or oil.  You can compost any fruit or vegetable matter, coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags.   No meat.  No milk products or butter.  No cooking oils.  No bones.  If you stick with these rules you will avoid almost all problems connected with creatures invading your compost pile or with bad odors.

2.  What kind of container do we need in our kitchen?
You can spend a lot of money on cute containers with covers and charcoal filters etc, etc.  I discourage you from doing that.

Here is our kitchen compost container.  It is a funky old open aluminum pan.  We empty it every day into a five gallon plastic pail that lives outside near our back door.  Getting the compost out of the kitchen and the house fast is the secret to no smells and no fruit flies. 

Here is our five gallon pail.  These pails come with covers.  They are very inexpensive and are widely available at home improvement or farm and building supply stores.  You wouldn't even have to use this step if your backyard compost spot is handy to your kitchen.  We do this because our compost pile is not in our backyard.

3.  What do we do when our five gallon pail is full?
Find an out of the way and somewhat shaded place somewhere in your yard and designate it as your compost spot.  Improvise some kind of container. You can use chicken wire or old wooden pallets.  Go to this link at the Minnesota PCA to find a concise pdf file with some great how-to composting tips.

There are also a wide variety of purchased compost bins and systems out there.  I can't recommend any of them because we mostly use basic compost piles on our small piece of rural land.  Frank has put together a few round enclosures with old recycled wire fencing.  Do you have any experience to share?  What kind of purchased or homemade compost bin do you use?  Do you like it?  I would love to see some pictures.  So would your fellow CSA members.  Maybe you could share your pictures on Featherstone's facebook page.!/pages/Rushford-Village-MN/Featherstone-Fruits-Vegetables/80513594952?v=wall&ajaxpipe=1&__a=7

3.  We live in an apartment.  We don't even have a balcony.  How can we compost?
I have two ideas for you.  First, see if you can locate a community garden or farmers market grower or a neighbor with a yard and a compost pile or a nearby restaurant or food store that composts.   Ask if they will take your compostable food waste.  If they say yes, then congratulations.  You have found a compost buddy.  Be nice to this person or business.

Second, talk to your representative on the city council in your town.  Ask if the city has considered starting some type of composting program.  This is still not very common but I predict that within the next decade we will see a lot more centralized composting in cities.  Why not help make this trend happen faster?  Here is an article from the Washington Post about curbside composting.

4.   Does my city have rules about backyard composting?
Probably - unless you live in a small town.  In Minneapolis, for example, you must have some kind of bin.  And there are size limits.  Here is a great link so you can learn all about composting in Minneapolis.
Before you start to compost in your backyard it probably is a good idea to call your city office to find out if there are any rules you need to know.  One example is the city of Plymouth, which has good information about composting on their web site.

Tomorrow: Hands On - Beating and Whipping (it's not what you think)

Inspiration - Week #3

One thing I like about cooking out of the CSA box is that it simplifies my life.   Some of you may be thinking, "What is she talking about?  This CSA thing is complicating my life.  Just look at the huge pile of lettuce and braising greens I need to deal with this week!"

Let me explain.  I don't go to large supermarkets too often - because the nearest one is about 40 miles away and because between our garden and the CSA box and our local farmers (milk, cream, meat, eggs) I just don't need lots of things from a big grocery store.   (I also like to shop at area co-ops for things like beans, grains and spices).  Anyway - I was in a large supermarket this past weekend and it was wonderful and terrible at the same time.  The wonderful part was all the choices -- quite an amazing array of items.  You could buy the components of just about any kind of exciting or ordinary meal you could imagine - especially if money was no object.

But the terrible part was the same as the wonderful part -- all the choices.  I am an experienced and pretty disciplined grocery shopper, so I can handle the sheer magnitude of it all pretty well.  I just stroll right by the fancy bakery section (most of that stuff looks better than it tastes anyway).  I don't slow down for the steaks.  Not even a passing glance at Chef Boyardee and Hamburger Helper.   I did have to hunt to find the house brand of shredded wheat hiding amongst the circus of cereals.

This all made me wonder how normal, busy people (especially inexperienced cooks) manage to get in and out of these places with their sanity and budget intact.  I mean it.  I guess that is why brand names and advertising are so effective.  They give people some way to navigate through the flood of food.  Some way to get help with all those meal decisions.  I also think it is why most people pretty much eat the same thing over and over -- it is just too hard to make all those choices. Or why they eat out a lot.  Sure you have to choose something on the menu but someone else will take responsibility for implementation.

So that is one reason I like my CSA box.  Fewer choices.  Simpler life.   A molehill, not a mountain, to climb.   So let's talk about some meal ideas for this week.

Recipes with an asterisk printed below.  Check blog archives for recipes and posts on poached eggs and wilted lettuce.   After the recipes, see my step by step pictures : washing and drying red oak lettuce.   How very exciting.

Tomorrow: Dig In -- Compost

Pasta with beet greens and diced roasted beets*; Bread; Fresh pear 

Filled Butter lettuce cups with Asian style dressing*; Ice cream (if you eat such a healthy supper you can eat a nice serving of ice cream and feel really good about it.  You could even have a cookie too.)

Braised greens*,  Rice (make extra rice for fried rice another day),  Grilled, baked or broiled meat, fish or chicken or tofu

Red oak lettuce salad with pancetta or bacon and a warm oil and vinegar dressing (basically wilted lettuce) and a poached egg on top;  Toast or cornbread

Fried Rice* ; Seasonal Fresh fruit

Hamburgers or meat loaf,  oven roasted or mashed potatoes,  Raw or lightly steamed veggies (green beans, snap peas and kohlrabi?)  and dip, side salad with simple oil and vinegar dressing.  Garnish the salad with roasted beets if you have extra beets.  A sprinkling of sunflower seeds would be good, too.

Pasta with Beet Greens and Diced Roasted Beets 
1. Roast beets
(Note:  roasting the beets takes some time - you can do this ahead and refrigerate the beets until you need them.) Scrub beets, cut off tops to 1/2 inch.  Put in a covered dish with 1/2 water or wrap in foil and bake in 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until tender. larger beets take longer.   When beets are cool enough to handle, skins should rub off with your hands.  Use a peeler if the skin is stubborn.
2. Steam beet greens
Wash and then steam beet greens 5-8 minutes.  Drain greens,  cool and coarsely chop or cut into strips, set aside.  (add cooking water to pasta cooking water for extra nutrition.  Or save for soup stock)
3. Cook and drain pasta.  Keep warm.  (Warm the serving plates too - a nice touch.)
To assemble :
Saute the chopped beet greens in some olive oil with a handful of chopped garlic scapes or some chopped onion or garlic.  Add diced beets in desired amount, along with a handful of golden raisins or even dried cherries or diced prunes.  Stir in pasta, along with some cheese.  (blue cheese, ricotta, or some kind of soft goat cheese would all be good).  Serve topped with toasted pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts.

Filled Butter Lettuce Cups with Asian dressing
Wash and dry individual leaves of butter lettuce - place on a large serving plate.
Chop the following (I suggest 1/2 inch dice or even smaller)  Proportions can vary according to your taste and the amount of items you have on hand: garlic scapes, sugar snap peas (raw or very lightly steamed), peeled kohlrabi, carrots, onion, radish, cucumber, cilantro, roasted peanuts.  You can also add tofu, hard boiled egg, mushrooms or cooked chicken or other meat or fish to the filling or on the side.  Some cooked brown or white rice, at room temperature,  would also be a nice addition to the filling.  If desired, serve the various filling ingredients separately instead of mixing all together.    Children might enjoy choosing their own filling ingredients.
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sunflower or vegetable oil
1 T. toasted sesame oil
2 t. soy sauce
2 t. sugar
a little salt, red pepper flakes to taste
optional - add a T. of toasted sesame seeds

Serve the lettuce leaves, filling and dressing separately.  Each person can serve themselves - making lettuce rolls to eat out of hand or filling "cups" of lettuce to eat with a knife and fork. 

Braised Greens
Wash greens in a sink or larage pan of water.  (I cut off about 3 inches of stems before washing.)
Lift out and drain - greens don't need to be perfectly dry.  The small amount of water clinging to the leaves will help cook the greens.  Finely chop one bulb of green garlic or 3-4 cloves regular garlic.  (More or less garlic depending on amount of greens to be cooked and your tastes)
Heat 2-4 T. olive oil in a large pan (again - amount depends on how many greens to be cooked and your tastes)  Saute garlic for a few minutes.  Add a little hot pepper flakes if desired.  Add greens (whole or sliced)  and cook, covered, about 5 more minutes.
Braised greens are good served with a sprinkle of either soy sauce or balsamic vinegar or your favorite hot sauce. 

Fried Rice
Fried rice is a great way to use up all kinds of meat and vegetables.  You can have it your way.  There are a few basic principles I suggest you follow.
First, you should have about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cooked, cool or cold rice per serving set aside and ready to add once the vegetables are cooked.
Second, it really makes a difference if you add some finely chopped fresh ginger and garlic ( or garlic scapes) to this dish.  It is a good idea to always have fresh ginger and fresh garlic around the house.
Third, you need some type of Asian seasoning.  If you don't have soy sauce you can use oyster sauce, black bean with garlic sauce or other favorite seasoning.  Sometimes I like to add a spoon or two of Hoisin sauce because I like that little hit of sweet barbecue flavor.   I also like to add a splash of rice wine or Chinese cooking wine or even sherry to help get the sticky bits off the bottom of the pan at the end.  Another really nice touch is toasted sesame oil.  A little - like a teaspoon - goes a long way.

Heat some cooking oil in a heavy pan or wok.  Stir in some minced ginger and garlic.  Then add vegetables of your choice.  You can use cut up sugar snap peas, green beans, broccoli, carrot, asparagus, garlic scapes - whatever you have on hand.  A little celery or onion or mushroom is always nice.  I even add chopped radishes at the end for extra crunch.  Stir fry the vegetables for awhile until they are just crisp-tender.  Then stir in the rice and soy sauce or other favorite seasoning.  If the rice is lumpy just break up the lumps with your cooking spoon.  If you have some bits of scrambled egg or omelet or cooked meat or other protein this is a good time to add them.  Bean sprouts and chopped fresh cilantro are good too.  A few big handfuls of fresh lettuce, cut into thin strips, is also a great addition to fried rice right at the end of cooking. It will cook down to nothing.  So if you get tired of lettuce salads - you can always add lettuce to fried rice.
If you make it a practice to have cooked rice on hand, fried rice is a great fast meal and a great way to use up all kinds of vegetables.  Experiment with flavors until you come up with your own special version.

Washing, Drying and Storing Lettuce 
It is for sure a little more work to prepare a fresh head of leaf lettuce compared to buying a ready to eat bag of salad shipped in from California or wherever -- but there is simply no comparison as to quality and flavor.  With this lettuce, you can make a salad you can be proud of.  Sometimes I like to roll the dried lettuce in a clean kitchen towel before I bag it just to make sure it is extra dry.  I think it keeps a little better that way.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tried and True - Rhubarb Sauce

You have to crawl before you walk.   So before you attempt a rhubarb custard pie, it is a good idea to know how to make good old basic Minnesota rhubarb sauce.   This simple but important knowledge has been passed down by generations of Grandmas.  And now I - a card carrying Minnesota Grandma - pass it on to you.

Before I get to the details of rhubarb sauce preparation, I would like to tell you the Featherstone rhubarb backstory.  So you will know where your CSA rhubarb came from.  I am the perfect person to tell you this story - since my husband, Frank Wright,  grew your rhubarb.  He is one of what is probably only a handful of professional Minnesota farmers.  Here is a video of him picking rhubarb.

I also happen to be one of the four famous Rhubarb Sisters.  What? You never heard of us?  How can that be?  Have you been living in a cave?  We've been singing about rhubarb going on four years now.   check us out here

Plus I live in Lanesboro, the rhubarb capital of Minnesota.  We have a special Rhubarb Festival the first Saturday of June every year.  I am not telling you all this to brag - because a Rhubarb Sister is nothing if not humble.  I tell you to establish my rhubarb cred.  I take my rhubarb seriously.  I know whereof I speak.

In a year or two, Featherstone Farm will be free from dependence on foreign rhubarb.  Featherstone is in the process of establishing their own perennial rhubarb crop in new fields.  So for now they found the best rhubarb guy around - Frank - and contracted with him to deliver about 1,200 pounds of rhubarb over the last two weeks.  Your  rhubarb was grown in the rich soil of our very large garden just a mile outside of Lanesboro, on the Root River.  About 15 miles from Featherstone.  The rhubarb in your CSA box was grown with love and care -- and lots of well composted horse manure.  Every stalk was hand harvested and field washed by either me or Frank.  (Mostly Frank)

Here are some pictures of this year's rhubarb harvest.  You need to pull the stalks from the bottom - no cutting.  (I think I need to work on my pulling form.)

 Frank is loading a bin of rhubarb on to the back of his pick up truck.  Love those arm muscles.

 Do you have a rhubarb plant somewhere at your house or apartment?  I hope so.  Because as wonderful as your CSA rhubarb is, in my opinion it is not enough.   If you don't have access to homegrown rhubarb, then check out your favorite farmers market.  And think about planting some for the future.  If you need a plant or two, let me know.  Maybe Frank could help you out.

In our house rhubarb sauce is a staple.  I freeze at least 10 quarts to get us through the winter.  We eat it plain for breakfast or as a simple supper dessert.  We spoon it over ice cream.  We plop in biscuit dough and bake it for rhubarb cobbler.  We add vinegar, onions, raisins and spices and make a chutney.  We put it in a blender with yogurt and ice cubes and maybe a few berries for a rhubarb smoothie.  We swirl it with whipped cream for rhubarb fool.  We steam some biscuit dough with the sauce for rhubarb grunt.  (A fruit grunt could also be called a slump.  Either way, it is steamed biscuit dough - it turns into dumplings -  with sweetened fruit sauce.  You could use apples or blueberries just as well as rhubarb.)

5 cups rhubarb (can be fresh or frozen), cut into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces
1 cup sugar
one or two 1/4 inch slices of fresh ginger (optional)
Mix rhubarb and sugar (and ginger if you are using it) in a non reactive saucepan and let sit about an hour.  Bring fruit slowly to a boil and simmer, uncovered, until rhubarb is soft but still retains some shape - about 10 minutes.  Taste - add a bit more sugar if desired.  Cool.  Store in refrigerator or freeze.
If you want to add strawberries or raspberries, do so about one or two minutes before you stop the cooking process.

Here is some rhubarb sauce to which a few handfuls of fresh strawberries was added in the final minute or two of cooking.  Doesn't it look good?  Sweet and tart at the same time.