Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hands On - Pie Crust

Why do you think we have the expression "easy as pie"?  Do you think it is because making pie is easy?  YES!  It is.  It is like anything else - you need the right tools and a little experience.  Once I get out the flour, salt, lard, ice water and equipment I can throw together a single crust in less than 5 minutes.  Really.  Add clean up and it is a 10 minute job from beginning to end.  And MUCH better - and cheaper - than storebought crust.

So today we are going to make a pie crust. This is enough for a one crust pie.  Can be doubled.
I recommend good lard (I render my own but I don't really expect you to do that) for a crust.  You can also use butter or shortening - the same amount should work fine, but you might want to try adding an extra T. of fat if you are not using lard.  I like lard for the flavor and also because it is so easy to work with.  In moderation, lard is a good fat.  Real food.

I am giving you a quick and simple approach to pie crust in this post.  I am trying to avoid the intimidation factor.  I don't want you to think this is any more complicated than it really is.

However -- if you promise not to be intimidated and if you are in the mood for a longer discussion of the finer points of butter v. lard v. leaf lard -- then you might want to look at this 2006 article from the New York Times.   It pretty much covers all the pie crust bases.

mixing bowl
measuring cups - 1 cup, 1/3 cup
measuring spoons
rolling pin
good surface for rolling - wood, marble or a clean countertop will all work
optional - pastry cutter
pie or tart pan or just a cookie sheet if you are making a galette (put pastry on a baking sheet, place some fruit or other filling in the middle - leaving a border of about 4 inches.  Gently fold up the edges all around, pleating a bit if necessary.  Bake in hot oven until crust is browned and filling is done.  Quite impressive result for little work.)

1 cup flour plus extra for rolling
1/2 t. salt
1/3 cup lard, cold  (or 1/3 cup butter or a mixture of butter and lard)
2-3 T. ice water

Here is a video demonstration Frank and I made this morning:

In words, not pictures:
Add salt to flour in mixing bowl.  Add lard and, working quickly with fingertips or a pastry cutter, incorporate the lard into the flour.  Don't overwork the dough.  Add 2 T. ice water and mix with fork until dough sticks together.  Add more water if dough seems too dry.  Gather into a ball and knead a few times - shape into a smooth disk.  Refrigerate about half an hour.  Roll on a clean smooth surface - sprinkle surface, dough and rolling pin with flour to avoid sticking.
Use dough as directed in whatever pie or tart recipe you are making.

Dig In - Mustard

clockwise from top: brassica alba, mustard powder, brassica juncea
You don't need a lot of money to live like a king. All you need is a mustard pot. Mustard was such a highly regarded seasoning and condiment in the Middle Ages that medieval courts included an official called a "mustardius" who supervised the growing and preparation of mustard. And when King Louis XI of France was invited out to dinner he carried with him the royal mustard pot.  The Roman legions carried mustard seeds with them wherever they went.  Used mustard with their MRE's I guess.  (I totally get this. We bring a bottle of malt vinegar when we go to American Legion fish fries.  A person has to take care of himself.)

There is a reason that mustard was and continues to be so popular. It has great flavor and adds zip and character to a wide variety of other foods. Mustard is as at home on a hot dog in its bright yellow American style as it is mixed into the most sophisticated shallot and olive oil vinaigrette in its Dijon form.

Have you reviewed your mustard inventory lately?  If all you have is yellow ball park mustard, I beg you to expand your collection.  Purchasing - or even making - a few kinds of mustard is a very inexpensive and fun way to improve the quality of your food and cooking life.

Some mustard history
The first commercial mustard was made in the area of Dijon, France in the mid 14th century. The French have always favored "made" or prepared mustards. Mustard powder has never been popular in French home kitchens as it has been in English kitchens.

There are several important English names in mustard history.  At least as early as the mid 16th century, a horseradish style mustard was made in the town of Tewkesbury.  That style of mustard still exists and is famous for its strength.   Some artisanal varieties are still made there.

Another big name in English mustard history is Colman.  Jeremiah Colman was a mustard magnate - he is the reason that Britain dominated the mustard powder industry starting in around 1804.  (He owed a lot to a Mrs. Clements, it would seem.  In 1720 she developed a process for drying seeds enough so that they could be milled into powder instead of an oily paste. )  Here are some mustard recipe ideas from the folks at Colman USA.

Kinds of mustard
Mustard comes in two basic forms - powdered and seeds.
Almost all commercial mustard is made with either Brassica alba (tan or yellowish seeds native to Europe) or Brassica juncea (small reddish brown seeds native to Asia, often called "oriental mustard"). Brassica nigra - black mustard seeds - are seldom used commercially.

There are basically three kinds of "made mustard":

Bordeaux – mild and brown. Has a slight vinegary taste and can contain sweetener and herbs - often tarragon.

Dijon – paler yellow than Bordeaux but stronger. When Mr. Grey invented the steam driven mustard mill in Dijon in 1853, this mustard's fortunes were made.

Meaux – usually fairly mild and made with unmilled crushed grains. Sometimes called Moutarde a l‘ancienne

Mustard chemistry
Mustard seeds contain glycosides.  These are sulphur compounds found in other members of the cabbage family.  Once the seed coat is broken and the contents come in contact with water, an enzyme (myrosinsase) starts breaking down the glycosides.   This is what creates the sharp mustard flavor we know and love. In about ten minutes the mustard flavor will peak, unless it is stopped with the addition of either heat or acid, such as vinegar.  If heat or acid is applied to mustard seed as soon as it is ground, the enzyme reaction never starts.  So the time at which acid is added affects flavor and punguency of the mustard.  In Indian cooking, whole mustard seeds are often sauteed.  This creates a mild, nutty flavor.

Uses of mustard
Mustard - usually the Bordeaux kind - is essential with German type sausages.   The Chinese use mustard mostly in the form of mustard greens, the vegetable.  Many Americans know the hot mustard sauce often served with eggrolls - it is just mustard powder (from Brassica Juncea) mixed with water.  Scandinavians love mustard sauces - hot and cold - with various types of fish.  Italians don't use mustard much in cooking - but they do love a special fruit relish made with mustard called mostarda di frutta.  In modern American kitchens mustard is a must - with all kinds of salad dressings or sauces or as a condiment with various kinds of meat or boiled dinners.

Some cooks prepare a little mustard fresh just prior to a meal for best flavor - blending mustard powder with a little water or beer and then after 10 to 15 minutes adding a little vinegar, perhaps garlic or a pinch of sugar or bit of honey and any desired herbs or spices.  A good ratio is 1/4 cup mustard powder to 2-3 T. liquid.  Note that mustard powders vary in their rate of liquid absorption and heat - so you may need to experiment to find your favorite kind.  I usually get mine in bulk at the food co-op.

Mustard recipes

Mustard Gingerbread
2 1/4 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. soda
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 t. powdered mustard
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1/2 c. butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 large egg
1 cup hot water
Mix together dry ingredients.  Cream together butter and sugar.  Add molasses and egg and beat well.  Add flour mixture alternately with hot water.  Beat batter about one minute.  Pour into greased 9 x 9 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool in pan about 10 minutes and turn out onto wire rack to finish cooling.  Good served warm - with applesauce, lemon sauce or whipped cream

Mustard Horseradish Sauce
1 t. water
1/2 t. powdered mustard
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
combine water and mustard.  Let stand 10 minutes to develop flavor.  Add horseradish and mix well.  serve with ham, pork, roast beef and tongue.

Hot mustard sauce
Prepare at least 2 hours prior to serving.
3 T. white wine vinegar
2 T. grainy prepared mustard
1 T dry mustard
3/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground white pepper
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 t. ground cardamom (this is the Scandinavian influence)
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
Whisk together all ingredients except oil.  Gradually whisk in oil until sauce is thick.  Makes about one cup.  (Note - you might wish to mix mustard powder with a little water first and wait 5-10 minutes if you want a sharper flavor.  The acid in the vinegar will inhibit the mustard enzyme.)

Tarragon mustard
This is from one of my favorite cookbooks, now out of print, called Better than Storebought
1/4 cup white or yellow mustard seeds
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2 t. dried tarragon
1/3 cup water
1/8 t. ground black pepper
1/8 t. ground allspice
2 t. honey
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
Combine mustard seeds, wine, vinegar and half the tarragon in a dish.  Let stand 3 hours or more.

Pour the mustard mixture into a blender or food processor and add all the other ingredients except the extra tarragon.  Whirl to a puree.

Cook mixture in a double boiler over simmering water about 10 minutes - until thickened.

Cool.  Add remaining 1 t. tarragon.  Scrape mustard into a jar and cap it.  This will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.  Makes about 1 cup.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Inspiration - Week #18

In the Grande box this week:   Red potatoes, leeks, broccoli, kale (or swiss chard), red daikon radish, dill, acorn and carnival squash, bok choy, mixed salad greens
I hope you like the menu ideas I have come up with this week.  This post will have more links than usual. I hope you don't mind having to click on some links - but there is a method to my madness.  I want to help you find and bookmark favorite recipe web sites.  It isn't good for you to depend on me too much, you know.  Part of my job is to push you out of the nest - see if you can flap your wings a bit in the kitchen. 

I am sure many of you, when stumped or just when you want some new ideas,  just google a vegetable.  I do.  Well that is fine as far as it goes.  But then what happens once you get over half a million hits?  How do you know what to choose?   Better to assemble a list of web sites you trust and enjoy.  Most have search features if you are trying to find something to do with one or two particular ingredients.  They also often have "recipe boxes" where you can save your favorites.  Then you can gradually collect some of your own "tried and true" recipes.  And you can pass them down to your children or someone else you love.

MENUS  (Sorry - no cute little headings this week.  It was just too hard.)

Mixed green salad with simple oil and vinegar vinaigrette; pasta with broccoli and chickpeas*; something chocolate - a brownie would be nice.  Go on.  After salad and broccoli and chickpeas you deserve it.  Maybe even with a little glass of cabernet sauvignon.

Radish salad (sliced or grated radish in rice vinegar, sugar and soy dressing- maybe a teeny bit of toasted sesame oil)  Or something else with radishes - see radish recipe link below; Bok choy with rice noodles and cherry tomatoes*; Fresh orange slices

Barley broccoli salad (with dill and radishes)*; Potato-Leek Gratin*; fall fruit compote*

Bok Choy Slaw*; Baked stuffed carnival squash (stuff with bread crumbs, sauteed onion or other veggies chopped small, herbs, melted butter or olive oil.  Add some nuts, grated cheese or meat for extra protein if desired. Remember to bake the halved squash upside down until partly done before stuffing and baking right side up.); the juiciest and sweetest fresh pear you can find.  Serve sliced on a plate and drizzled with a little honey or maple syrup and take your time eating it.

Meat loaf or other meat, fish or chicken; baked acorn squash; mashed potatoes and kale*  (I have given you two recipes for mashed potatoes and kale, a classic Irish dish also known as colcannon.  This is a lesson in how the same basic recipe can be subject to widely different interpretations.  Like music.); ice cream or sorbet  (I think a good life rule is whenever you eat kale for dinner you can have ice cream for dessert.)

Pasta and Bean Soup with Kale; whole grain bread; apple pie a la mode (You can eat ice cream with the pie because you ate kale in the soup.  Isn't this a nice rule?)  I am going to write about apple pie for
Saturday morning's post.  And do a short video on pie crust for posting on Thursday.


Pasta with broccoli and chickpeas
This link is to Martha Rose Shulman's series in the New York Times, Recipes for Health.  You will find articles on a long list of fruits and vegetables and grains and more -- each article usually has about 6-8 excellent recipes.  I highly recommend spending some time with this website.

Bok Choy with Rice Stick Noodles and Cherry Tomatoes
This is from another Martha Rose Shulman article - this one about stir fries.

Radish recipes - Twenty seven recipes - Editors' picks from food52:
There are some great ideas in this assortment.  If you get a Featherstone winter share - you will be needing more ideas for radishes.

Barley Broccoli Salad
I like this recipe because it is full of fiber and nutrition and flavor.  It includes dill and radishes too - both in your box this week.  You could substitute other grains for the barley: wheat berries, quinoa, bulgar, brown rice.

Potato Leek Gratin
This recipe requires a long baking time - save it for a quiet evening at home.   If you don't like the cumin seasoning suggested, thyme would be excelent.  As long as you have the oven on that long - plan some other baking or roasting.  Maybe bake some banana bread or cookies.  Or some rice pudding.  Or baked apples.  Or a fruit compote.

Fall fruit compote
Plan on no more than about 1/2 cup per serving.  Combine cut up fresh and dried fruit in a 2 to 1 ratio in a covered baking dish with enough apple, orange or other fruit juice to barely cover, sweeten with honey or brown sugar.   Add a few cloves or a cinnamon stick or both or neither.  A little freshly ground cardamom would be nice if you use pears.   A tablespoon or two of spirits adds a lot of flavor - such as rum, cherry brandy or orange liqueur.  Bake, covered, in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.  Stir once or twice during baking time.  Best served the next day after flavors have a time blend.  Here are some possible fruit combinations to get you started.
apple/calymyrna fig
pear/dried apricot
rhubarb/raspberry (good to have in your freezer)/golden raisin (when using rhubarb, add extra sugar or honey)
apple/cranberry/prune (also use a little extra sugar with cranberries)

Bok Choy slaw
This recipe is from the kitchen daily web site. It has a feature for saving recipes as well as a nice how to section and of course a recipe search section.  Search "kale" on this web site just for fun.  I found this recipe by searching for "bok choy".  It is a good basic recipe.  Bok choy is quite good raw as well as cooked.

Mashed potatoes with kale
This first link is to the food blog - 101 cookbooks.  It is a very popular food blog and when you go to this link you will see why.
And here is another version of the same dish - from the Recipes for Health website:

Pasta and bean soup with kale
This recipe is from an interesting web site - food52 - that has weekly recipe contests.  The site also has a blog.  This recipe looked pretty reliable to me and can be varied if you wish.  I could see a soup like this becoming a staple in any household.  Kale or other greens like chard, spinach or even collards are often paired with beans in soups, stews, casseroles or even salads.   Here is another way to do it.

Barley broccoli salad

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tried and True - Chili

Homemade chili

Today I am going to give you my recipe for basic middle of the road Midwestern chili that my kids would eat with enthusiasm.  I also will share the recipe for raspberry salsa that was the result of the team effort at my food demonstration last weekend at the fall harvest party.  We made do with what we had - used all Featherstone produce - and it turned out great.

But before I get to that ...... A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Bluff Country Co-op in Winona yesterday afternoon.  I was driving slowly down Highway 43, which is the main drag in Rushford.  The rain had stopped, there was finally some blue sky showing.   American flags waved in the breeze up and down the street.  The high school homecoming parade had recently ended.  On the front seat next to me - just like Red Riding Hood, I had a big basket.  Resting securely in the deep basket was a covered pot of cream of butternut squash soup- about one and a half gallons.  The soup was cold - I intended to heat it up at the co-op for my Featherstone Farm food sampling session.  I had squash biscuits to share too -- all was right with the world.  The vegetable evangelist was on a mission.

You know what is coming, right?  WHAM.  POW.  THUD.  Somebody drove right into my car.  Out of nowhere.  (A poor teenaged girl driver.  Her fault.  Nobody hurt.) About a gallon of soup flew out of the pot from the force of the impact.  I am sorry I cannot show you what this looked like because I do not have a camera on my cell phone.  (I know, I'm a dinosaur.)   But it was not pretty.  Squash soup was dripping from my entire dashboard and the windshield on the driver's side.  It penetrated all the vents, covered the steering column, my shoes, my pants and more.  I will spare you further details, but suffice it to say that between the disgusting dashboard and the crash itself I think my car is totaled.  I wonder if there has ever been an insurance report that said "Car totaled due to squash soup."    Is this what they mean when they say a car is souped up?

Yesterday in my post on squash I referred to squash as a "coping tool".  I talked about some of my life's complications and said that butternut squash soup made me feel better.  Clearly I tempted the gods and the joke is now on me.  Now I have to cope with one of my coping tools.  So I am sorry, Bluff Country Co-op, that your soup did not make it to its destination.  Half a gallon was left in the pot and we are going to eat it.  Maybe it will make me feel better.

p.s. thanks to Gary Brown and Jeff and Tony (I think that was his name)  at Brown's Tire and Battery in Rushford -- they brought me back to their shop and kind of cleaned up some of the mess and made sure it was safe for me to drive my car back home.   Maybe I should bring them some chili?  I really don't think they want any squash soup.

Chili - You may notice that there is a relatively high vegetable to meat ratio in this recipe.  I think it is still quite meaty.  Editorial comment: I love meat - especially meat raised on grass in Fillmore County.  But we would do our bodies and the planet a favor if we all consumed more vegetables and less meat.  This recipe makes quite a bit.  This freezes well.

2 pounds ground beef (We have switched totally to beef raised in SE Minnesota on grass.  If you can find pastured beef, I encourage you to try it.  More on this big topic another day.) 
1 pound dry beans (will yield about 6 cups cooked) or 6 cups canned beans - about 3 typical sized cans.   Kidney beans are traditional, but black beans or pinto beans work fine too.  You could even mix types of beans.
2 quarts whole or crushed tomatoes (Home canned are best.  Store cans are fine too.  Typical store cans are about 28 ounces, 4 ounces less than a quart.)
2 cups chopped onions
1-2 cups chopped red or green bell peppers
6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
optional - minced fresh jalapeno or serrano peppers.  I never used to add fresh peppers to my chili, but I have become a fan of serrano chilis lately.  If you are okay with extra heat, add about 3 serranos to this recipe. Or more if you really like chili heat.
4 T. chili powder (Add more to taste depending on who is going to eat this chili)
1 T. cumin seeds, crushed
1- 2 t. salt
2 t. cocoa, optional but adds a little depth to the flavor.  Kind of like midwest mole.
1-2 T. olive or other cooking oil

Saute onions, garlic and peppers in oil about 10 minutes or until soft.  Add meat and brown.  Add chili powder, salt and cumin.  Add tomatoes and beans.  Simmer, partly covered, for about one hour, stirring occasionally.

Serve with some or all of the following garnishes:  chopped onion, red or green salsa, shredded cheese, yogurt or sour cream, corn kernels, chopped olives, chopped fresh cilantro, wedges of lime  -- you get the idea.  My Mom used to serve chili on top of cooked macaroni and called it chili mac.  We kids liked it.  If you need to stretch dinner, this works. 

2010 Harvest Festival Raspberry Salsa
(Thanks to Letitia (Tish) Kopperud for assisting me with this project.) 
This dish could be served with corn chips for dipping.  It could be served as a side dish with any Mexican type food.  It  would even be good as a side salad with a simple turkey or grilled cheese sandwich or hamburger.

4 c. watermelon, cubed (1/2 inch is nice size)
3 pint cartons of fresh Featherstone Farm raspberries
2 c. chopped fresh tomatillos
1 c. chopped red sweet pepper
1 c. chopped onion (sweet if possible)
2 T. minced fresh garlic
2 - 3 T. minced fresh serrano peppers (jalapeno would work too.)
1-2 T. sugar
choice of:  3 cups chopped fresh cilantro or 1 cup chopped fresh basil
choice of: 3/4 cup rice vinegar or 3/4 cup red wine vinegar 
(NOTE - we thought rice vinegar went well with the cilantro and that red wine vinegar would be best with the basil.  For either approach, you could also substitute some lime juice for some of the vinegar.)


Friday, September 24, 2010

Focus: WINTER SQUASH (Cucurbita Maxima/Pepo/Moschata)

The days are getting shorter,  the rain keeps coming, my car guy says I need a new set of tires before winter and my yard is crying out for attention.  I took care of myself yesterday by making cream of winter squash soup.  I feel better already.  You might consider making a habit of always having some winter squash on hand from at least October through March.  First,  the many varieties are quite beautiful to look at before they are cooked.  Second, squash, when cooked, is a most satisfying vegetable.  It is not just a food.  It is a coping tool.

Squash is packed with nutrients, has rich flavor, stores well, comes in many varieties and is very versatile.  It can be used in soup, stew, bread, muffins, cake, pie, pudding, pancakes and as a side dish. It can be roasted, baked, boiled, steamed, stuffed or fried.   It can be served mashed or in chunks.  Squash loves to be combined with fruits such as apples, pears, cranberries, oranges or even prunes.  It is quite compatible with many flavors and seasonings, such as maple syrup, honey, ginger, nutmeg, sage, thyme or chile pepper.

If you think you don't like winter squash I beg you to give it another try.  I think you just have not experienced it properly prepared.  Maybe you think of it only as baby food.  Try combining it with some of your favorite foods or flavors at first.  After a while you will come to appreciate it even on its own.

Like a lot of my favorite foods, squash is a New World food, native to South and Central America.  It was unknown in the Old World until about the 1500's.  The Europeans introduced it to Asia and Africa.  In its early days, it was valued primarily for the high protein and fat content of the seeds. But over time it was bred to yield a higher proportion of flesh to seeds and today we have many fine varieties from which to choose.

Nutrition and Yields
One cup of cooked winter squash contains 150% of the minimum daily requirement of vitamin A, 30% of vitamin C and 20% of potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber.  It is also high in folate, omega 3 fatty acids,  vitamin B1 and copper.  Baked, squash has about 130 calories per cup.  Boiled, about 90.
(The variation is due to density and water content.  I got these numbers from Jane Brody and I trust her science writing.)
One pound of peeled and trimmed squash, uncooked, should yield about 2 cups cooked pieces or chunks or 1 to 1 1/2 cups mashed.

As long as we are talking about nutrition, I just have to give you this link to a recent New York Times article about a doctor with the Kaiser Permanente health care system who thinks that "some of the best public health tools we have are a sharp chef’s knife, 2 cutting boards, and a salad spinner."   I think I'm in love.  Read more about Dr. Maring and his recipes and find a link to the NYT article here.

Squash can be stored for months.  Some varieties will keep up to six months under proper conditions.  You will need to find or create a cool, dark and well ventilated space.  Ideal temperature would be from 45-50 degrees and humidity from 65 to 70 per cent.  Squash like to be in relatively dry conditions compared to vegetables like carrots or rutabagas.  Squash can also be cooked (not blanched - thoroughly cooked) and frozen very successfully.  I like to always have some frozen pureed squash on hand for quick soups or to add to breads or other baked goods.  I like to add some mashed squash into cooked polenta for extra flavor, color and nutrition.  Stir in some sauteed chard or spinach and caramelized onions,  top with some bits of your favorite cheese or even a little bacon or pancetta and you have a great simple meal in a bowl.

Squash vary greatly in size (from 1 to 50 pounds!), shape, water content, skin thickness,  flesh color, sweetness and texture.  It is worth trying different varieties to learn your favorites.  You may prefer one kind for stuffing and baking, another for purees or soups and a third for casseroles or roasting plain.
The Featherstone Farm cookbook has a great listing of various squash varieties and their attributes on pages 279 - 280.   Some of my favorites are red kuri, butternut, buttercup and delicata.

Don't let the tough outer shell of a squash deter you.  (See yesterday's post for tips on tackling squash)  With a good knife, perhaps a rubber mallet, a sturdy cutting surface and determination you will soon be dismantling squash with great proficiency.  If you have to,  find a friend or neighbor who is a "get 'er done" tool user.  I know they would be thrilled to help you whack open some squash in return for
some cooked squash.

Pumpkin and squash can be used interchangeably in almost any recipe - so if you have a favorite pumpkin recipe, try using squash instead.  Or vice versa.

Wash and dry squash and remove stem if still on the squash.  Cut squash in half lengthwise.  Scoop out seeds and stringy flesh.  (You will need a sturdy spoon or other tool for this.  No wimpy teaspoons or you will get frustrated fast.  I don't think a melon baller is the answer either.  My husband is a professional wooden spoon maker  (really).  I have put in a request for a new design made just for scooping seeds from squash and pumpkins.  I am waiting for a prototype.  Stay tuned.)

Place squash cut side down on a pan or baking dish.  Cover or put a little water in the pan or both -- you don't want the squash to dry out too much.  Some squash are drier than others.  Bake at 350 degrees until a sharp knife meets no resistance when inserted into the flesh.  If you are going to stuff the squash,  only bake until partly tender.  Then you can add the stuffing of your choice and bake cut side up until the flesh is done.

You can roast squash peeled or unpeeled.  Chunked or sliced.  If you are working with a smaller ridged variety that is time consuming to peel raw, just cut in half, scoop out seeds and then cut into 1/2 inch slices.  This is easy if you put the squash flat side down.  Roast as you would any vegetable - with a little olive oil on a baking sheet.  For squash, I think 375 degrees is a good roasting temperature.

You can peel and cut up squash into small strips or chunks and saute as you would any other vegetable.  You could heat up some olive oil,  throw in some sliced onion and peppers and a little garlic, saute for a few minutes, add some winter squash pieces (might cover a few minutes to let the steam do some work), then add some cooked pinto or other beans and some corn kernels.  This would be a great side dish or even a full meal.  You could even use for a pizza topping, with a little monterey jack grated on the top.  I am going to try this saute soon, with some roasted tomatillo salsa on the side.


Baked acorn squash
This is a classic.  Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds and stringy flesh.  Turn upside down on a baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees about 25 minutes.  Remove from oven,  and place in the cavity - for each half - 1 t. butter, 1 T. brown sugar or honey or maple syrup, a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg and a teaspoon or so of rum, apple or orange juice.  Bake another 20 minutes or so until done. 
Other possible stuffings:  apple or cranberry sauce, bread crumbs mixed with sauteed onion, celery, fresh herbs and a little butter and broth.  Optional additions:  cooked sausage, walnuts, raisins, mushrooms.

Cream of winter squash soup  (This makes a big batch.  Freeze some for later if you wish.)

2 T. butter
1 c. chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic (fresh or roasted)
1/2 t. pepper, 1 t. salt
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup real maple syrup (or honey)
Juice and finely grated peel of one orange
2 cups low fat milk
3 pounds of squash (peeled and cooked)
Saute onions, garlic and ginger in butter about 10 minutes or until soft.  Add broth, salt and pepper and squash.  Cover and simmer about one hour.  Add syrup, orange juice and grated peel.  Cool slightly (you don't' want hot soup in a blender)   Puree, in batches, with milk in a blender or food processor.  Smooth texture is important in this dish.  Thin soup if desired with additional broth, orange juice or milk.  Gently reheat before serving.  Possible garnishes: toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds. creme fraiche, chopped apple, crumbled gingersnaps (just a little bit).

Richard Olney's Provencal Squash Gratin
Dice 2 pounds of peeled raw squash (such as butternut, kuri or hubbard)  into small pieces - no bigger than 1/4 inch.  Mix in a bowl until all pieces are well coated with 6 cloves of minced fresh garlic, 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley and  4 T. flour.  Spread squash into a well oiled 11 x 14 gratin (flat) baking dish.  Drizzle in a crisscross fashion with 1/3 cup good olive oil.    Bake at 350 degrees for about 2 hours.  A deep, rich brown crust should form.

Squash Biscuits  (adapted from Jane Brody's Good Food Gourmet)
2 cups cooked, mashed winter squash
4 T. (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/3 cup buttermilk or yogurt
2 T. sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (you could substitute 1/4 cup of corn meal for 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour)
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
Mix together wet ingredients  (including squash) and dry ingredients separately.  Then stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients.  Stir until just combined into a dough.  Knead a few times on a well floured surface - dough will be soft.  Pat dough into one piece about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into 12-15 squares with a knife and place on greased baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees until lightly browned - about 20 minutes.  (Note - you can also cut dough with a round biscuit cutter and re-roll scraps.  Squares are faster.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hands On - Tackling Winter Squash

Winter squash is a wonderful vegetable.  I suspect that many people are denying themselves the joys of squash due to fear of cutting it up.  There is no need to fear squash.   Respect it - yes.  Fear?  No need.

Today we are going to talk about confronting the squash challenge.  This post will be mostly pictures with a few comments.  I will be working with butternut and acorn squash.  Tomorrow's Focus post will be about winter squash, and will include some recipes. 

Speaking of recipes - I just added another recipe to my kohlrabi Focus post.  (search - kohlrabi)  Lovely salad with radishes.  Check it out if you are trying to use up your kohlrabi this week.

If you are going to cut up squash and not hurt yourself, you will need:  large, sturdy cutting board that will stay in one place, sharp chef's knife, sharp sturdy paring/utility knife - not too long, a rubber mallet (this comes in handy with particularly hard squashes, a sturdy spoon with a good grip for scooping out seeds and stringy flesh.  Scooping is all about strong wrist action.

Choice:  Should you pre bake the squash before de-seeding and stringing?  And should you leave it whole or cut in half?
One technique favored by some people - especially when dealing with large or very hard squash - is to bake the squash BEFORE scooping out the seeds.  It can be cut in half first or left whole.  (If whole, it is important to poke a hole or two so the steam can escape.) It needs to be placed in a baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet.  It is a good idea to put a little water on the bottom of the pan - especially if you are baking squash that has been cut in half.  You may need to add more water during baking. 350 degrees is a good baking temperature.  Time depends on size of squash.  Bake until a sharp knife inserted in the flesh meets no resistance.
See the pile of seeds  - there is a lot of good squash in there.

I tried this technique with the round bottom part of a butternut squash.  It worked ok, but when I scraped out the middle, some of the squash flesh came out along with the seeds and stringy part.  So my objection to this technique is that you might unnecessarily waste some otherwise good squash.  On the other hand, you don't have to worry about cutting up something that is hard and wants to roll around under your knife.  And the squash is nice and soft.  This method takes time - especially if you are working with a large whole squash.

Another technique that Margaret Marshall often uses is to microwave the whole squash just long enough to soften it - then you can cut it, scoop seeds and proceed as desired.

Cutting up a raw butternut squash - one step at a time
Wash and dry the squash.  Wash and DRY your hands.  You don't want slippery hands here.
Once the squash is cut up and the seeds are scooped out,  you can bake it and peel after baking.   Or you can peel it when raw to use in recipes that call for diced or sliced squash,  not pureed or mashed squash.  If you are going to roast squash in cubes or slices you need to peel and seed it when raw.  Some squashed can be roasted with the peel on - but they do have to be cut and seeded.

I like to bake the bottom half of a butternut and scrape out flesh after baking, because it is hard to peel when raw and hard.  The top part,  with its dense flesh and fairly straight shape, is pretty easy to peel and cut up when raw.

Here are the steps I use for butternut squash.
You need a strong long knife and firm confident grip

cut off stem end
Long knife - I am holding both ends while pressing down

dig in with vigor

I will bake these and then peel and use for soup

Using a mallet
I have never tried this before but I think it is a great and safe way to deal with hard squash.  In this case I used an acorn.  Insert tip of chef's knife into squash between ridges - insert as far as you can.  Then hit the top of the knife near the handle with the rubber mallet.  You will get the feel of it.  Your hands stay away from the business end of the knife and little by little it cuts the squash.  You can stop and adjust if you wish.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dig In - Food blogs

I have spent about 6 hours of the last 24 reading food blogs and websites and I did it all for you.  I now feel at least marginally qualified to share some observations with you about the food blogosphere -- and to make a few recommendations.  I probably need to put in at least another 40 hours before I can really know what I am talking about but I frankly don't have the stomach for that right now,  let alone the time.  I could read more blogs and we will eat frozen pizzas every night for a week or I can take a blog break and give my CSA vegetables the attention they deserve.  Plus I have to leave for the Caledonia drop site in 90 minutes and this needs to get done before I go.  And I have to eat lunch.  (stir fried greens and onions with brown basmati rice and pork from leftover pork chops.  Soy sauce, garlic and ginger of course.)

There are lots of food blogs
I am a positive person and this is a positive blog.  So at this point  I can say this:  My goodness but there is a lot of creative energy out there in support of better meals for all.   News about urban agriculture, farmers markets and CSA's.  Reports on latest developments in federal food policies.  Opinions about how to strengthen local and regional food systems.  Data about the relationship between how we eat and our carbon footprints.  And recipes.  Thousands and thousands of recipes.  Gorgeous pictures of food - cooked and and in its natural state.  And personal stories.   Windows into an amazing array of food lifestyles and meal adventures.  Good writing.  Boring writing.  Self absorbed writing.  It is all there for you for free.  All you need is time and a computer or other device with an internet connection.

I have not found any other blogs like this one yet
Many of the bloggers are so earnest.  So focused.  So -- uh --  obsessed??   I particularly tried to find blogs and posts relating to people's CSA experiences.  It is not uncommon for people who are members of a CSA to have a food blog and to write about their experiences cooking with vegetables from their boxes.   Most include only a few posts.   So far I have not found anything sustained.  I do know that some Featherstone CSA members have some nice blogs, because I have checked out a few.  It would be fun to organize a blog roll including just food blogs from Featherstone members.  Or maybe a Google group?  Your thoughts are welcome.

My personal favorite comment from a CSA blogger was from someone who managed to post off and on for about three months:  "I find it's really easy to get my family to eat salad greens if they have bacon on them".  BINGO!  The bacon solution.  Used by restaurants everywhere, which is why pork belly futures are probably a good investment.

Anyway, it is kind of interesting to learn how some real people are approaching the everyday challenge of putting meals on the table using real food and getting their family to eat them.   And it is great that they want to share their experiences with others, if only their friends and family.

What is a blog anyway?
Good question.  It is a website that is updated frequently (hopefully) in a journal style.  Each update is called a "post".  The writing is less formal than you would find in a newspaper or magazine (print or online).  It can be the work product of one person or a group of people.  It can be one person's personal labor of love or it can be a highly commercial and expensive project involving many people and writers.   It is often incorporated into  a "host" website of a company or organization.  Blogs can be part of a complex network of related blogs and websites and links.  Part of the blog game is to get lots of other people to link to your blog.  So you can get more "pageviews".    We used to call this a popularity contest.

How do I find a good blog for me?
Finding a satisfying blog match is not exactly like choosing a life partner.   It is more like deciding who to date.  Just as you can date more than one person at a time, you can read more than one blog.  You can drop a blog and find another one that suits you better.  But your time is valuable.  After a while you might want the comfort of a blog commitment.  Somehow you need to narrow the choices or you will go crazy. 

How to narrow the choices?  
If you are reading this you have already made one choice - even for just one page view.  I hope you are here because you find this blog useful, inspirational or maybe just fun.  Those are good reasons to read a blog regularly.

What is your personal demographic?  What is your age? Where do you live?  What kind of food do you like or want to learn more about?  Do you want recipes using lots of vegetables?  Or are you wanting to learn more about baking bread?  Do you want to learn more about food policy or politics?  What blogs do your good friends love?  Once you know what you want - it is a lot easier to go blog shopping.  Blog shopping involves clicking around websites until you find something interesting.  I don't recommend doing this for more than one hour at a time.  Especially if you are at work.
Some things to consider
Once you have found a blog or two that seem fun or interesting to you, ask yourself a few questions. 
Is the subject matter of the blog interesting or important to me?  Is the information reliable or trustworthy?  Current?  Who writes for the blog?  Does anyone edit the blog?  Is the blogger a crazy person?  Do I like their writing style or does it annoy me? 

 Do I have time to read blogs?
This is a really good question.  I am having trouble reading the New Yorker every week and have let my subscription to the Smithsonian lapse.  I still do manage to check in to the New York Times and the Star Tribune.  I am just starting to figure out the new media and develop my own internet reading lifestyle.  I am guessing that if you are in your 20's or 30's you have a very different approach to information gathering than someone in their 50's or 60's.  I know a lot of people who still absolutely have to have a hard copy to read a newspaper or magazine.   They are not good candidates for reading blogs.
I think if you have time to read anything you have time to read a blog or two - IF you find it valuable or entertaining.  Since I pretty much don't read magazines any more, I am slowly assembling a list of reliable blogs and websites.  I have discovered the Google "reader" feature - and I use that to subscribe to blogs that I like.  I can read them in one place - it is like my personal magazine.  You can subscribe to cook out of the box too -- see the home page.

If you are not using up your vegetables every week or are not cooking much at home,  then maybe you don't have time to read blogs - except for this one of course.

Cook out of the box blog list
I have put links to a few favorite blogs on my blog home page.   Let me know what you think.  Is there a blog you think other Featherstone CSA members would like to read?  Tell me about it and I will check it out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Inspiration - Week # 17

In the Grande box this week: Winter squash (Butternut and Sugar Loaf - a Delicata type); Superior White potatoes; yellow cooking onions; Kohlrabi; Broccoli or Kale; Swiss Chard or Parsley; Garlic or Raspberries; Spinach; Salad mix; Peppers mix and tomatillos or tomatoes

In my Grande box today I got chard, spinach and salad mix.  I think tomorrow or the next day I will have a little green washing and drying session. Seems more efficient to me.  Just remember that once you wash the greens they are not going to keep quite as long.  I have the winter squash and onions sitting on a window sill at room temperature.  I refrigerated the tomatillos but I find that peppers do quite well at room temperature as long as it is not too warm. 

Before I get to menu ideas - just a few reminders for ways you can use past posts to help you with some of the vegetables in this week's box.   If you are looking for kohlrabi recipes, see the post for June 17.   For guidance on how to make caramelized onions, see August 3.  And note that the blog has a search feature.  I have been trying to make good use of labels to help make it easier for you to find information that is buried in the blog.  For tomatillos, check out this recent article in the NY Times, which has several tomatillo recipes. There is an especially nice one for a green salsa using roasted tomatillos, serrano peppers, onions and cilantro.

Maybe it is just the time of year, but I got on kind of a soup kick this week.  Soup is good food.  I like a first course of soup - it adds a bit of elegance to an ordinary meal and I think it helps fill you up so you don't eat too much of everything else. 

Menu ideas:

Soup and salad
Raw grated or julienned kohlrabi salad with a mustardy herb vinaigrette (dill would be nice to add if you still have some around.  Parsley also would go well with kohlrabi); Potato soup with greens (chard, cabbage or kale) and bacon or smoked sausage* ;  good crusty bread and butter. 

Soup and squash
Garlic soup*; Butternut squash gratin*;  apple raspberry crisp
The gratin is a little more work than most recipes I give you - but worth it.  Not for a week night.

Energy efficient oven dinner
Mixed green salad; Stuffed baked delicata squash*; roast chicken, baked apple. (Note - as long as the oven is on -- bake extra squash.  Scoop out and save mashed or pureed squash for a side vegetable or an ingredient in soup, bread or desserts.)

Knife practice
Cream of broccoli or chard soup; Roasted potatoes, onions and butternut squash; meat loaf or other baked meat, poultry or fish.  (For soup - just steam or boil chopped vegetables in a small amount of water.  Save cooking water.  Add vegetables to a white sauce.  Add cooking water to adjust thickness -- See post for Sept. 2 - Bechamel/white sauce)  If you want very smooth soup - use blender or food processor or food mill.   Remember to cool soup first if you are using blender or processor.

Pinto beans three ways - plus a classic dessert with a nutritious twist
Make a pot of well-seasoned pinto beans (See June 5 post) and a pot of rice.  Serve with plenty of tomatillo or tomato salsa, caramelized onion, and chopped parsley or cilantro.  If you are feeling ambitious, end the meal with flan - and use some pureed butternut squash in the flan. This recipe is pretty simple.

Crunchy and creamy brunch or supper
Spinach waldorf salad*; Cheese Omelet (you might like this with tomatillo salsa or some caramelized onion as a condiment) ; rye toast or crusty whole wheat bread.

Potato soup with greens and smoked pork  (This is a staple in our house.)
6 cups water
1 t. salt
1 pound potatoes peeled if desired, cut into 1/2 inch dice
3/4 pound kale or chard (washed, with tough stems and ribs removed)- cut into 1/2 inch shreds
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
4 ounces smoked garlic sausage or smoked bacon, diced and fried until crisp
Bring salted water to a boil.  Add potatoes and cook until potatoes are falling apart.  Mash with a potato masher into a puree.  Add greens and garlic and olive oil.  Salt and pepper to taste (remember that meat is salty.)  Simmer about 10 minutes, until greens are tender.  Divide among 4 warmed bowls.  Top each bowl with some of the meat.

Garlic Soup (from Jane Brody's Good Food Gourmet) 
Serve with homemade croutons
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
12 cloves garlic, peeled
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
1 rib celery, quartered

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a cooking pot.  Turn down heat and simmer, covered, for 2 hours.  Check pot a few times and add water if necessary.  Cool soup and then puree in a blender or food processor.  Optional - add 1/4 cup dry sherry
(Note from Peggy:  I think a little soy sauce would be a good seasoning for this soup.  Jane Brody often leaves out salt in her recipes.  If desired, add a little salt or pepper.  A lot depends on how salty the broth is to start with.)

Butternut squash gratin  (Based on a recipe in Brenda Langton's Cafe Brenda Cookbook)
Olive oil
1 medium butternut squash
1 large or 2 medium onions
1 red bell pepper
6 cloves garlic
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (shitake are very nice if you can get them)
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (combination of parsley, sage and thyme would be nice.)
3/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
Sliced fresh tomatoes - about 1 1/2 pounds
2 cups grated monterey jack cheese
Peel and seed butternut squash and cut into 1/2 inch slices.  Roast slices on an oiled baking sheet at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until tender.
Thinly slice pepper, onion, garlic and saute until soft in olive oil. Set aside.
Saute mushrooms until lightly browned.
Layer in baking pan:  squash, mushrooms, sauteed vegetables, fresh herbs, pumpkin seeds, sliced tomatoes and cheese.
Bake covered at 350 degrees about 1/2 hour.  Bake uncovered about 10 minutes.

Stuffed baked delicata squash (for one squash.  Multiply recipe if desired.)
Cut squash in half vertically.  Scoop out seeds.  Make a stuffing: saute 1/4 cup onion and 1/4 cup red bell pepper or celery in butter or olive oil.  Add 1 cup coarse dry bread crumbs, 1/2 t. salt, 1/4 t. pepper and 2 T. chopped fresh parsley.  Moisten with a little water or broth.  Add 2 T. sunflower or pumpkin seeds if desired.  A few raisins or a little chopped apple are nice too.  Divide stuffing between two squash halves - pressing lightly.  Bake, covered for about 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Test with sharp knife to make sure squash is tender.  If baking dish seems too dry, add a little water during baking.

Spinach Waldorf Salad  (Note - all amounts are flexible - vary as desired)

Wash and dry fresh spinach leaves - about 2 loosely packed cups per serving.
For each serving, prepare 1/3 cup sliced or chopped fresh apple, 1 T. raisins, 2 T. sliced celery and 1 T toasted walnuts.  Optional - 1 T. blue or feta cheese or other favorite crumbling cheese. 
Dressing - enough for 4 servings.    Combine 1/2 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup mayonnaise.  Add 1 t. sugar and 1 t. lemon juice.  Add 1 T. fresh mint or parsley if available.  Finely chopped scallion or chives is also a good addition.
Combine spinach and vegetables with dressing.  Serve.  Not the best salad for storing, due to the presence of cut up apple.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tried and True - Split pea soup

We had a busy weekend at Featherstone Farm.  Thanks to all who bundled up and traveled to the Fall Harvest Party.  I very much enjoyed meeting some of you and hearing your comments and questions.  I think I will be using Facebook occasionally to answer some of the questions you asked.

Pea soup is a staple in our house almost year round.  Even when my kids decided they were not going to eat lentils or cooked carrots they would eat pea soup.  It is very easy to make, nourishing and - yes - comforting.

This recipe is based on the one in the 1986 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook.  It calls for ham.  You could omit the ham and use a smoked pork hock,  polish sausage or even hot dogs.  Even smoked turkey or chicken or some salt pork.   You can make the soup without meat - but then I would use a flavorful vegetable stock instead of water.

Pea soup ingredients
Split pea soup    Makes 8  1 and 1/2 cup servings

8 cups water
1 pound dried split peas (about 2 1/4 cups)
Smoked ham or other smoked meat.  (I used a piece of ham weighing about a pound.  If you have a ham bone around with a little meat left on it that is the best.  The recipe calls for 2 pounds of ham yielding 4 cups of ham pieces.  I think that is a lot more meat than necessary.   You decide what is right for you.)
1/2 cup chopped onion (about one medium)
1 t. salt, 1/4 t. pepper
Chopped carrots and celery - about 1 cup each.  I like pieces about 1/4 inch in size.  Larger is okay too.
1 bay leaf
Herbs and spices  - herbs are optional.  I had some fresh parsley and dill on hand so I added about 1/4 cup, chopped, of each.  The Swedes season their pea soup with marjoram and thyme.  Cloves -- used very judiciously -- also are good.  (I used 1/8 t. for this recipe.)  You could even add 1 or 2 wholes cloves with the bay leaf - just remember to fish them out before serving.

Add peas to water and bring to a boil  Boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat and let stand one hour.
Stir ham, onion, bay leaf, salt and pepper into peas.  Simmer for about an hour, or until peas are tender. 
Remove ham from soup.  Cut meat into pieces.  Add carrots and celery.  Bring soup back to a boil, then simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender - about 45 minutes.  This soups is even better served the day after it is made.  It freezes very well.

Variation:  If I want a heartier soup or need to "stretch" it -- I add  2 cups of diced potatoes along with the carrots and celery.  (Note - the potatoes do not freeze well.)

In Sweden, it once was and maybe still is traditional to serve thick pea soup and salt pork - made with yellow split peas - every Thursday night in the winter.   Also part of that traditional meal are Plattar -- Swedish pancakes, served with fruit preserves.  Maybe pea soup and pancakes could become a weekly tradition in your house this winter.  Filling, frugal and flavorful -- pretty good.  Could be worse.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Focus: RADISHES (Raphanus Sativus)

What is black, red, purple or white; crunchy; and is eaten by the French with breakfast, the Austrians with beer and the Japanese with everything??  You guessed it -- the radish!

A Featherstone Farm red daikon radish, cut in half
You might think of the radish as a spring thing, but for me radishes are most important in the fall and winter.  The season and growing conditions make a difference.  "Featherstone's fall table radishes tend to be much sweeter than its spring ones; the cool weather allows their sugars to develop slowly, giving them a sweet and mild flavor."  Tastes from Valley to Bluff: The Featherstone Farm Cookbook

You can get radishes - even in Minnesota - fresh all winter.  They make it possible to get through the winter without depending on salad greens from faraway places.  This is because radishes, grown well and prepared properly, can be juicy, crunchy, peppery and refreshing. If you sign up for a Featherstone winter CSA share, you will discover this first hand.

It is possible to have a very good quality of life and at the same time go for months without a leafy green salad.  I know this because I have done it.  One thing that helped at our house last winter was access to Featherstone Farm radishes.  Because even though we can do without leafy greens for awhile, we really can't do without something on the plate that is fresh and crunchy and sprightly and fibrous.  Pickled beets are fine and cole slaw is very satisfying.  But radishes can help get you through those long dark days when lettuce salad is but a dim memory.

History and geography
The Egyptians were eating radishes at least as early as 2,000 B.C.  (Can't you just imagine Antony and Cleopatra sharing a snack of little round ruby radishes?  Maybe while floating on a barge on the Nile.  How romantic.)  They also used radish seeds to make a prized and expensive oil.

The Japanese LOVE their radishes, especially daikon.  Fifteen percent of the total vegetable production in Japan consists of daikon radishes, which are eaten fresh, cooked or pickled.

Small, round and red radishes are traditional in Turkey and Iran and the Middle East in general.  Historically, white radishes were favored by Indians.  The Chinese preferred black.

Romanians, Poles, Germans and Russians love their radishes too.  In medieval and Renaissance times they relied on the large thick rooted winter kind.   My best radish memory is my visit to the Mulln Brewery in Salzburg, Austria back in the 70's.  (It is still there.)  They had a beer hall connected to the brewery.  You would get a liter sized pottery mug and line up to wait for your turn at the spigot.  And everyone had giant plates loaded with white radishes -  slices about 3 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick.  Beer, salt, radish slice - life was good.  I don't know the type of radish they were eating, but it is possible to find seeds for "beer radishes" if you want to try growing some.

Americans like their radishes too.  According to one of my sources, we eat about 400 million pounds a year.  

Types of radishes
Radishes belong to the crucifer family of vegetables, like mustard greens, watercress and horseradish.  They come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, flavors and colors.  The basic types are red (round, crisp, mostly hot); white (longish, sweeter and more bland) and black (dense and dry texture, earthy flavor, black on the outside and white on the inside).  You can't always tell how a radish will taste based on the variety.   Sometimes they are mild and sometimes hot.  Some of that depends on growing conditions and the weather.

Radishes are 94% water. They contain vitamin C, folate, riboflavin, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese and fiber.  They are extremely low in calories - 20 calories in one cup.

Radishes will store better if the leaves are removed.  Store globe radishes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about two weeks.  Daikons, unwrapped but refrigerated, will keep for even longer.  Black radishes are known for their long shelf life.  They can remain fresh tasting for months, as long as the leaves and root end are removed before storing.

Preparation  -- Half a pound of radishes is equal to about 1 2/3 cup sliced radishes.
I think radishes are best appreciated raw.  But they can be cooked like turnips or stir fried in combination with other vegetables.  Generally different kinds of radishes are interchangeable in recipes.

There is generally no need to peel the red kind of radishes.  If the skins are tough, might be a good idea to peel large white or black radishes.   The enzyme that gives radishes their spicy bite is found mostly in the skin - if you want to make a radish more mild, peel it.  Or cook it.

You can eat radish greens.  If they are young and tender they are great fresh in salads.  If they have gotten tough or prickly, you can use them for long braising like turnip or mustard greens.

Radish salad with Asian dressing
The vegetables may be coarsely grated, thinly sliced or julienned (1/8" matchsticks)
This is enough dressing for about 6 cups of vegetables.  You can use all radishes, or part carrots and part radishes.  A small amount of scallions or onions or thinly sliced sweet peppers may be added.
2 T. rice vinegar
2 T. asian toasted sesame oil
1 T. sake or dry sherry
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
(any of these items can be adjusted after you taste the dressing if you prefer a little more or less acid, salt, sugar or soy)
Optional additions:  toasted sesame seeds, minced fresh chile peppers or red pepper flakes
Mix dressing well with whisk or with a blender.  Toss with vegetables.  Best if marinated at least an hour or before serving.

Radish sandwich
Thinly slice and butter bread - black bread is very nice for this.  Filling: thinly sliced radishes, a sprinkle of salt and very thinly sliced onion.  I think a dab of wasabi mayonnaise would be kind of fun on a radish sandwich. 

Radish canapes
Peel and slice daikon radishes about 1/4 inch thick
Spread each slice with cream cheese.  Place a piece of your favorite smoked or pickled fish on the slice.  If you have some fresh chives or parsley, garnish with some chopped herbs.  A sprinkle of a good smoked paprika would be good too.

Beet and radish slaw
Coarsely grate equal amounts of peeled, raw beet and raw radish (peeled if necessary) - about 1 1/2 cups each.  Mix with the following dressing:
1 T. red wine vinegar
2 t. honey or sugar
2 T. walnut or olive oil
1 t. dijon mustard
1/2 t. salt
Optional - 1 T fresh dill weed

Namasu (marinated daikon and carrots) - serves 4
This is from a nice book I have had for years - Japanese Home Style Cooking, published by Better Home Japan. 
3/4 pound daikon, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks (julienne)
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks (julienne)
Sprinkle vegetables evenly with a pinch of salt and let stand in a colander or strainer for 10-15 minutes.  Squeeze to remove water.
Mix: 3 T. rice vinegar, 1 T. dashi*, 1 T mirin* and 2 t. sugar.  Add a pinch of salt.  Add vegetables and marinate a day for best flavor.
Dashi - this is a fish stock made with dried bonito flakes.  The flakes can be found in asian markets, co-ops or some large markets.  Follow directions on the package.
Mirin - this can be found in many types of food stores these days.  It is a liquid seasoning made from
sweet glutinous rice.  Its sugar and alcohol content give it a distinctive flavor and a sweetness that sugar alone cannot produce.

Radishes and Scallions with Raspberry Vinegar Glaze (from The Essential Root Vegetable Cookbook)
This is a recipe for cooked radishes
2 1/2 T. sugar
1/3 cup raspberry vinegar
1 T. unsalted butter
1/2 t. salt, or to taste
1/4 t. pepper or to taste
1/2 cup water
1 pound round red type radishes, trimmed and cut into uniform pieces if they are not the same size
2 T. minced scallion greens
In a skillet large enough to hold the radishes in one layer, heat all ingredients except the scallions.  Bring to a boil, covered, then turn down and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes.  Uncover and simmer 5-10 minutes more or until they are just tender. Remove radishes with a slotted spoon and keep warm.  Raise the heat in the pan and boil until the glaze is reduced to about 1/4 cup.  Return radishes to pan to coat with glaze.  Adjust seasonings.  Sprinkle with scallions.  Serve.

Other serving ideas
Add chopped radishes to your favorite salsa.
Add chopped or sliced radishes to potato, tuna or egg salad.
Eat radishes for breakfast with bread and sweet butter and salt.  Any type of radish will work - but you could try to find some french breakfast radishes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hands On - Roasted Red Peppers


(Note to faithful readers - My husband Frank (videographer in training) and I are learning how to make videos.  We may not be ready for prime time but I think you will find this tutorial useful.  Just remember, Paul and Julia Child were beginners once too.  Share with a friend.  Maybe it will go viral?)
If you have roasted sweet red peppers on hand in your kitchen it is like having a great dancing partner in a ballroom.  With roasted red peppers, you can add dips, leaps, swirls and twirls to everyday dishes.  You will feel just like Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire.

Roasted red (or yellow) peppers can be purchased bottled, canned or fresh in the deli case.  You can also make them at home in minutes.  Once you get the hang of this, you will wonder why you ever bought them.  This is the time of year to take on this project - red sweet peppers are in season.  They are in CSA boxes and at farmers markets.  This year my husband grew some Carmen peppers and I have been quite pleased with them, especially for roasting.  I made a little batch yesterday and am looking forward to adding some peppers to a white bean salad today.  Roasted peppers seem to have an affinity for almost any dish containing corn, squash or beans.  Add a handful or two of diced peppers to jazz up corn chowder, a squash gratin or a bean stew.  Or add some peppers the next time you make polenta or risotto or pasta sauce.  This is what restaurants do.  Pay attention - they add a little roasted pepper for color and flavor and then you are happy to pay an extra five dollars for what is really a very simple dish.

Broiler or gas burner
To roast peppers at home, all you need is a baking pan or dish, a broiler, a knife, some tongs or a fork and a board.  Some people advise roasting peppers over the flame of a gas burner instead of under a broiler.   I have tried roasting peppers this way and have decided I prefer the broiler method.   You can roast more peppers in the same amount of time and I think the charring is less spotty.  You may have a better gas burner set up than me - or maybe even a gas grill.  By all means give that method a try if you want.  Or use a charcoal grill.  The main thing to remember is that you want a nice black charring over as much of the pepper as possible.

Char the peppers
Put whole peppers that have been washed and dried in a heavy baking dish about two inches below the heat of a broiler.  Check every few minutes to see how they are doing.  Once one side is pretty well blackened, turn peppers over with tongs and broil the other side.  In this picture, the two peppers in the back were broiled whole.  In the front are two halves from a pepper that I cut and de-seeded before putting under the broiler.

Steam the peppers
Place the charred peppers in a covered dish to steam until cooled.  Many recipes suggest using a brown paper bag for this step.  I think a covered dish works as well and does not waste a bag.  Plus I can capture any little juices that run out of the cooked peppers.

De-seed the peppers
Carefully slice open the charred pepper and remove the seeds and any "ribs" of the pepper.  This is a little tricky because the seeds are kind of slippery and sticky.  You will be tempted to just rinse off the seeds.  Don't give in to that.  You don't want to wash away all that nice roasted flavor in the pepper juices.

Optional approach - de-seed before roasting
Sometimes I cut peppers in half and remove the seeds BEFORE roasting.  I put the deseeded halves skin side up on the pan and then char and peel as I would for whole peppers.  I haven't decided yet if I think this cutting in half approach is best overall - but it sure makes de-seeding easier.  You would not be able to use the gas flame for charring if you cut the peppers before roasting. This only works if you broil the peppers.

Peel the peppers
Lay the de-seeded pepper flat on a board or plate, skin side up.  Using your fingers, gently push and pull the skin away from the flesh.  If you have done a good job at the charring and the steaming, this part should be pretty quick and easy.  Don't worry if a little of the skin stays on the pepper.  If you are having trouble using your fingers,  use a little paring knife to help scrape the skin off.  Again, do not be tempted to rinse the peppers with water.

Store the peppers
You can keep the peppers in a covered container in the refrigerator about a week.  For longer storage, freeze in freezer containers or bags.  Consider dicing or slicing before freezing for ease of use.

Cook with the peppers

Roasted red pepper hummus
This hummus recipe would be great as a dip or sandwich filling or just plain with some rice, plain yogurt and a cucumber or green salad on the side.  A sandwich made with a slice or two of plain roasted eggplant and some of this hummus would be quite fine.


About 2 cups home cooked or canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1/3 cup tahini (sesame seed paste - available in Middle Eastern grocery, food co-ops or many large supermarkets)
3-4 T. fresh lemon juice (the juice from one large juicy lemon)
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed (save time and peel after smashing each clove. The peel will come right off.)
half to three quarters cup of roasted red peppers
optional - red pepper flakes or a little fresh chile pepper. Don't overdo.
Fresh parsley for garnish  (Or add 1/2 cup loosely packed parsley to the hummus before processing,)

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and maybe a little drizzle of extra olive oil.

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta sauce
Here is a link to a pasta sauce recipe.  I chose this one because it gives you another way to use some of your Featherstone Farm broccoli, garlic and fresh tomatoes.  Note that the recipe tells you to rinse the roasted peppers under running water to remove skins.  Please ignore that part.  But the rest of the recipe looks pretty good to me.  (I would probably add a tablespoon or two of olive oil for sauteeing the garlic instead of cooking spray but that is just me.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dig In - Catfish

I like to eat fish, but I don't do it very often.  First, I live in a small rural Midwestern town and we have limited access to fresh fish and seafood.  We have excellent trout in local streams and some pan fish in the town pond, but I am not a fisherperson.  Plus the season is limited and there are a lot of rules about what you can keep and what you have to release.

And then there is the real problem, which is that I am a confused and worried fish consumer.  I have read too many articles about the dire state of the world's oceans and unsustainable fishing practices.  I don't want to support irresponsible fishing, and I have not been sure what fish is okay to eat, so I usually take a pass on fish altogether.  This is not a good state of affairs - since fish is a great source of protein and nutrients.  Now I can offer hope for my fellow reluctant fish eaters - Seafood Watch.  This worthy project of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is designed to make it easy for all of us to support ocean-friendly seafood. Check out their handy pocket guides here.  You can even get current guidelines sent to your mobile phone.

One thing my pocket guide told me is that catfish (U.S. farmed) is a "best choice".  Wild caught Mississippi channel or flathead catfish was not even mentioned as an option -- probably because it is rarely commercially available.  (Only about 2,500 pounds were harvested commercially in Minnesota in 2005.) But I knew that it would also be a good choice.

That is why I was looking forward to eating some catfish during our recent visit to Prairie du Chien Wisconsin and McGregor, Iowa.  Both towns are right on the Mississippi River - surrounded by wildlife refuges, state parks, marinas and a thriving sport fishing industry.  We did eat some good catfish and even brought home some smoked catfish.  But mostly what I have learned is that wild Mississippi River channel catfish - like lots of traditional local foods all over the country -- has practically disappeared as a commercially available food.  

There was a time when you could get catfish at restaurants and supper clubs and diners up and down the river.  Like at the White Springs Supper Club just south of McGregor.  White Springs closed about five years ago.  It is for sale.   The only reason a traveler even knows that catfish was ever served there is that the old sign remains, somewhat the worse for wear.   Looking at the old run down sign and road house made me feel kind of sad. 

Once we found out that the White Springs was closed, we decided we were going to have to ask around to find a restaurant that served catfish.   We had not seen any signs advertising catfish for sale on the Iowa side of the river.

But we knew that just over the Highway 18 bridge in Prairie du Chein there was a unique store that sold catfish and other wild "river food".  So we headed over to Valley Fish and Cheese, which is a pretty amazing place.

If something is edible and comes from the Mississippi River, chances are that Valley Fish and Cheese can sell some to you.  Frog legs, white perch, channel or flathead catfish, bullheads, snapping turtle meat, bluegill filets - it's all there in various forms.  You can even get catfish bologna, which did not end up in our cooler.  A couple of pounds of smoked catfish did, though.

So we had found some local catfish for sale, but we still were looking for a restaurant that served catfish.  Agnes, who is the mother of the owner of Valley Fish, was very helpful and directed us to the Hungry House Cafe - on Hwy 35 in Prairie du Chien.  She told us that there was one local fisherman who she thought still provided local catfish to commercial accounts in the area.  And sure enough - we found a catfish dinner at the Hungry House.  The generous serving of fried catfish was excellent.  (One word of advice - order baked potatoes - not mashed.)  Yes there are bones, but they are easy to deal with.  The fish was very meaty, with good texture and mild flavor.

If you decide to try catfish, I encourage you to seek out the real thing -- local, wild caught Mississippi channel or flathead catfish.  If you can't find that, then look for U.S. farmed catfish.  Big catfish "wars" have been raging for about 8 years now between the U.S. catfish industry (located mostly in the South) and aquaculture operations in both China and Vietnam.  All I will say is this -- as is the case with many other food items, Asian imports are threatening U.S. producers.  This is largely because they have much lower labor costs and often do not observe the same production practices as U.S. producers.  U.S. farmed catfish is the most commercially successful farmed fish in the country - but the industry still faces major challenges from foreign competitors.  Here is a link to the U.S.Catfish Institute, which includes lots of recipes and other info.

The U.S. catfish industry successfully lobbied for protections which mostly has kept Vietnamese "catfish"  - known as "tra" or "panga" out of American markets.  That is because only channel catfish can be called "catfish" - so "tra" can't be marketed as catfish.  But now the Chinese are starting to raise North American channel catfish in ponds in China - circumventing the existing rules.  For more details on the catfish wars, see this excellent New York Times article from 2008.

Bottom line is this -- if you are purchasing farmed catfish, ask where and how it was raised so you can make an informed choice.  And if you want to try some good old Mississippi River catfish, best to head on down to Prairie du Chien some time soon with your cooler.  It would be a shame if the Mississippi catfish business totally went the way of the dodo bird.  It just doesn't seem right that we should be buying North American channel catfish from Chinese aquaculture ponds when we could be getting it from commercial fishermen right here in the good old U.S.A.

One more thing -- if this topic intrigues you -- here is one more link I just had to add.  An interesting article about Minnesota catfish fishing from a 2007 edition of Minnesota Volunteer - the DNR magazine.  Makes me think I might just have to take up fishing for catfish - especially flatheads.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Inspiration - Week # 16

In this week's Grande box:  broccoli, bunched dill, red potatoes, sweet and red onions, sweet and hot peppers, radishes, heirloom tomatoes (there might be one more week for tomatoes after this), braising greens (with Asian and mustard greens and spinach), raspberries (some boxes this week and some next), acorn and snow dumpling squash

As I write this I am looking out at the Mississippi River on my left as it flows by McGregor, Iowa.   Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin's second oldest city (1673) is just across the river.  On my right a long freight train squeals and scrapes as it rumbles by.  As soon as I finish this post, we are going out for a catfish dinner.  (Tomorrow I am going to tell you all about my search for Mississippi River catfish.)  So I am not going to mess around.  Let's talk about some meals you can cook this week -- out of your CSA box.  There are a lot of broccoli ideas - because I think you are going to have a lot of broccoli.  Jack says Featherstone's broccoli crop is wonderful this year.  Note that I have not included winter squash in menus or recipes for this week.  That is because Jack recommends that the squash have a little more time to develop their flavor while living at your house.  Put in a warm (room temp) and dry place for another 2 to 3 weeks.  Jack says maybe the top of your refrigerator. It will be worth the wait.

If you see an asterisk after a menu idea- there is a recipe at the end of the post.

Pretend you are in a trattoria
Italian sausage with sweet or hot peppers and onions.  You can saute the peppers and onions and sausage all together.  Or you can roast the meat and vegetables together in the oven.  Use olive oil and your sweet Alisa Craig onions for this dish.; polenta or boiled potatoes; heirloom tomato salad*; good bread for sopping up all the juices.  Have a juicy fresh peach (if you can find one) or pear for dessert.  Or a few dried figs and a small orange or tangerine.

Three reds and a green with lots of fresh dill
Radish salad*;  Salmon (wild Alaskan if you can find it) - poached, baked, broiled or grilled; boiled red potatoes with melted butter and fresh dill  - put some on the fish too; broccoli vinaigrette salad*
(Note - if you don't want to take the time to make broccoli salad, just steam some broccoli, nestle it right next to the potatoes and throw some dill butter on it, too.)  If you want to save your broccoli for other recipes this week, then use any other vegetables that need to be eaten - maybe your green or yellow beans?  Or bok choy?  Or edamame?

Peanut butter - not just for sandwiches
Broccoli with spicy peanut sauce* served over thin egg or rice noodles or rice.  Add some cubed tofu to the broccoli if you want.  A simple baked egg custard would be a comforting end to this meal.

Asian braise
Braised greens Asian style*; Rice; roasted or baked chicken or BBQ pork; ice cream or sorbet

Broccoli for brunch or lunch or even supper
Broccoli souffle*; roasted red potatoes; radish, dill and butter sandwiches*; fresh raspberry parfait*


Heirloom tomato salad (1 1/4 pounds should serve about 4)

Slice tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick and arrange on individual salad plates.  Drizzle about 2 t. oil over each serving.  If you have some pesto - stir some in with the oil and drizzle that.  Sprinkle just a pinch of good salt over each plate.  Serve at room temperature, NOT cold.  If you have fresh basil, chiffonade some leaves and sprinkle those on the salads.  (Don't use pesto if you have fresh leaves.) To chiffonade:  stack about 8 leaves on top of each other.  Roll up the long way.  Using a sharp knife or scissors, cut into thin strips.

Radish salad - serves 4
one cup radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup cucumbers, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sweet onions, chopped or thinly sliced
(If you don't have cucumbers, use extra radishes.  You could also use thinly sliced sweet peppers in this salad)

3 T chopped fresh dill
Juice and zest from one lemon (about 3 T juice)
1 cup plain yogurt (you can drain in a fine strainer for a few hours if you want a thicker product)
2 t. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Place vegetables in large bowl.  Mix dressing in smaller bowl.  Add dressing to vegetables.  Chill at least 30 minutes before serving.

Broccoli Vinaigrette Salad
Trim the bottom tough ends off broccoli stalks.  Peel the stalks if desired. 
Separate the head into florets and slice the stalks.  Cook in boiling salted water about 4 minutes.  Drain in a colander and spread on towels to cool and dry.
Meanwhile, make dressing.  Whisk together or blend in a food processor or blender: 2 T. red wine vinegar, 3 T. dijon mustard, 2 T. fresh chopped dill, 1 cup oil (half olive and half vegetable), salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Place broccoli in a shallow serving dish.  Pour vinaigrette over broccoli.  Marinate at least an hour.  Serve at room temperature.
Variation:  add strips of raw or roasted red sweet pepper; add thinly sliced red onion

Broccoli with peanut sauce
Prepare broccoli the same way you would for the salad -- see preceding recipe.  You want the broccoli just tender-crisp.
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. 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.

Braised greens Asian style
Wash greens and shake or spin dry.  It is okay if some water still clings to the leaves.  Slice or chop greens into large pieces.   Heat 1-2 T oil in pan until hot.  Add chopped fresh garlic to taste and then add greens.  (work fast to avoid burning the garlic) Add a few tablespoons of soy sauce, cover and turn down heat.  Braise a few minutes until greens are tender.  Optional -- add chopped hot peppers when you add the garlic.

Broccoli souffle - serves three to four

4 whole eggs plus one egg white
3 T. butter
1 T. finely chopped shallots or onion
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked broccoli
3 T. flour
1 1/2 c. milk, warmed
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste

Separate eggs.  Place egg whites from four eggs in large clean dry bowl.  Set aside the three yolks.
Grease a 1 1/2 quart baking dish well and sprinkle in about 1 T of cheese evenly in the dish.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and adjust oven rack to center position.

Make a bechamel sauce with the butter, shallots, flour and milk.  (See post from  Sept. 2 for a detailed guide to bechamel sauce)  Whisk in egg yolks.  (add a little sauce to the yolks first - then slowly add the warmed yolk mixture back to the bechamel sauce, to avoid curdling.  Add a pinch or two of nutmeg if you like that flavor)  Add the broccoli to the sauce.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Gently stir about 1/4 of the egg whites into the sauce to lighten it.  Then fold the broccoli and sauce mixture into the rest of the egg white, taking care to lose as little air as possible.  It is all right if some streaks or patches of white remain.  Pour the egg mixture into the prepared baking dish, using a rubber scraper to scrape the bowl.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Put dish into oven and immediately turn down to 375 degrees.  Bake about 30 minutes, or until the souffle is puffed and golden brown.  Serve immediately.  (You can hold in a turned off oven about 5 minutes.)

Fresh radish sandwiches - for each sandwich:
Thinly slice radishes.  Mix softened butter with fresh dill.  Spread two slices whole wheat bread with dill butter.  Add a thin layer of sliced radishes.  Place another slice of buttered bread on top.  Cut into wedges.  You can also do this with thinly sliced cucumbers.  Or heirloom tomatoes (slice fairly thin and drain a bit first so they are not too wet.)

Fresh raspberry parfait - per serving
Use old fashioned sundae dishes if you have them - or stemmed wineglasses.  Layer the following in a glass:  1 T berries, 1/4 cup yogurt (use plain yogurt and sweeten yourself to taste.  Drizzling with honey is a nice touch), 1/4 cup cookie crumbs or granola or toasted oats and almonds.  Or what the heck - a few chocolate chips.  Make two or three layers, ending with a dollop of yogurt and a berry.  Refrigerate at least an hour and up to overnight before serving.