Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hands On - Vegetable Broth

I did a post on broth and stock early this year - but my recipes included meat.  I have had some requests to talk about vegetable broth or stock - so here we go.

If you are a frugal cook, vegetable stock is for you.  It is a good way to wring flavor and nutrition out of practically every scrap of vegetable in your kitchen.

The main caveat that seems to come up whenever I read about vegetable stock is the brassica ban.  In general, you do not want to include strong, cabbage flavored items in stock - such as broccoli, caulflower, brussels sprouts, turnips or strong flavored greens.  I think a little bit of cabbage core or a few kohlrabi peelings or a bit of tough rutabaga bottom can't hurt, but you be the judge.  The point is that you want balance in a vegetable stock.  If one or two vegetables are too overpowering you will probably not be happy with the result.  If you are going to use the stock as a base for a beet borscht,  you would make different choices than you would if the stock is for a more delicate potato leek soup, for example.  Until you get experience, you might want to stick to more conventional choices like onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, potato peels or leeks.

I have read about French housewives who always keep a stockpot bubbling on the back of their stove.  If you are in that camp, then you can just add various peelings, ends or less than beautiful vegetables as they come your way.  If you are not, then you will need other strategies.  I just keep a plastic bag in my vegetable crisper and add items as I have them.  Or sometimes I will decide to clean out the drawer and make spontaneous stock. If you cook a lot with vegetables, you will soon develop your own strategy for saving ingredients for stock. 

This morning I decided to make a potato-leek-butternut squash gratin for dinner.  So now I have a stock simmering which contains:
2 cups peelings from a butternut squash
2 cups sliced leek tops (pale green - but dark green work too)
1 cup sliced carrot
1 cup chopped tomato (the last tired tomatoes from the garden that were picked green and kind of turned red)
1 cup potato peelings
1 large handful fresh parsley
1 large handful chopped fresh lovage (this is a great fresh herb to have around.  It has a pronounced celery taste which works well in vegetable stock.)
1/3 cup sliced dried shitake mushrooms (fresh or dried mushrooms are a lovely addition to vegetable stock.  This is a great use for mushroom stems or mushrooms that are a little past their prime but still not slimy)
1 t. black peppercorns
1 t. salt
8 cups water

The potato peelings are hiding under the lovage

Note - I made sure all vegetables were well scrubbed before I peeled or chopped them.  The carrots were just scrubbed - not necessary to peel.  If you have an old hard Parmesan rind around - that is a good item to add to a vegetable stock.

Once the vegetables and herbs are all added to the water, bring it to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.  This is a great project for a Saturday morning or other time when you will be around the house for awhile.  Bubbling stock smells so good.  A lot better than potpourri or candles in my book.  Simmer the stock gently about 2 hours.  Strain and cool.  Will keep in the refrigerator about a week and for months if frozen.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Inspiration - Week #22

Contents of last week's Grande Box (a bonus sized box): Salad greens, chard, mustard greens, red daikon radishes, acorn squash, pie pumpkin, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, garlic, red cabbage, leeks, cilantro, beets and beet greens.

This is part two of last week's Inspiration post.   I am getting pretty good at making short work of quantities of fresh vegetables - but even I have been having a little trouble using everything up lately.   So far I have only had to compost one little bunch of cilantro.  I still have some dill,  half a kohlrabi,  two leeks and several red daikon radishes in the crisper, waiting patiently for their turn.  Last night I had an extra few minutes in the kitchen, and a frying pan with a little bacon grease, so I quickly braised a mess of beet greens that needed attention.  We are going to eat those tomorrow night at room temperature as a salad - with a few diced pickled beets and some grated apple on top.

If you have extra fresh dill that is still in good shape, you can dry it.  Just put together a little bunch with a rubber band or string and hang it somewhere that is dry and well ventilated.  When the little leaves are completely dry, just crumble them into a jar and cover it up.    You will need some dried dill this winter when you are cooking with winter vegetables.

My friend, vinegar
Last weekend I made some pickled beets for the Saturday Tried and True post and I ended up with some extra pickling juice.  I looked at the red cabbage in my refrigerator and decided to see what would happen if I thinly sliced some and put it in the warm syrup that I used for the beets.  Turned out great - so now I have a little jar of pickled red cabbage in the refrigerator right next to the pickled beets.  Vinegar really is a wonderful invention.  I don't know how I would manage without at least five kinds on hand at all times.


Soup and salad, bread and pie - a harmonious quartet
Potato leek soup; cornbread; crunchy vegetable salad; pumpkin pie*

A recipe for potato leek soup is in last week's Inspiration post.  If you have some chives, try them with the soup.  Parley or dill would be nice too.  We had heavy cream around when I made this last week and I have to say the soup was fabulous with about half a cup of heavy cream standing in for half a cup of milk.

Depending on what you have on hand, you might also want to make some kind of salad with this meal.  Something simple like grated carrots or kohlrabi with a little oil and vinegar and a few sunflower seeds.  Or just some chopped apple and celery and raisins or grapes with a curry yogurt dressing.  Refreshing and crunchy and a nice counterpoint to the rich and smooth pie.

Somewhere over the rainbow
This meal has color:  magenta, deep green, dark red, orange, white, golden brown and dark brown:
Salad of braised beet greens and pickled or roasted beets; spaetzle with lightly browned onions and grated cheese; oven roasted diced carrots; braised red cabbage with a splash of vinegar; a pear and a piece of chocolate (Note - search the blog for the spaetzle recipe - in last week's Hands On post.)

Roast or pickle the beets and make the spaetzle ahead of time and this meal won't take much time at all to put together.  If you are in a hurry, you can also just peel raw beets and grate them.  They make a nice salad when dressed with some red wine vinegar, sugar, a little oil and some horseradish.

Asian night
Simple pickled daikon radish salad (use rice vinegar); chicken or pork or tofu stir fry with broccoli and carrots; rice.   I made stir fry for dinner last night and added some radishes - the smaller red globe kind.  They were great - added crunch just like water chestnuts. If you make some extra rice you can make rice pudding for another day.

Tribute to Barbara Billingsley
Did you read that Barbara Billingsley died recently?  She was Beaver Cleaver's mom on the 1957-63 sitcom Leave it to Beaver - one of my faves.  I imagine that she could have served a meal like this to Ward, Wally and the Beav on a Sunday in October.  She would have worn a shirtwaist dress, a string of pearls and high heels when serving dinner.  No one would have been texting during the meal.
Meat loaf*, Baked acorn squash, mashed potatoes, cole slaw made with red cabbage and grated carrots and a tangy vinegar-sugar-oil-celery seed dressing.  And a chocolate sundae.  Don't you think a single scoop of vanilla with some chocolate syrup would be just perfect with this comfort food meal?

Improv - you can do it
Vegetable soup; bread, rice pudding*
If you are a Featherstone Farm CSA shareholder, you are coming to the end of a 22 week season of cooking out of the box.  Congratulations.  Seems to me you are ready to make a vegetable soup without a recipe.  I did this a few days ago.  This is what I used:  half an onion, two carrots, three potatoes, about 10 stalks of chard - leaves and stems, a heaping cup of green beans (I had some in the freezer). a quart of canned whole tomatoes, a quart of simple vegetable broth, a few spoonfuls of basil pesto. a handful of chopped fresh parsley, two cups of cooked great northern beans and one medium sized zucchini, diced.   I simmered everything together until all the vegetables were tender.  (I added the chard leaves near to the end).   When I serve this soup tomorrow night, I might add a little more water and some cooked pasta.  And I will serve some grated Parmesan on the side. 

Pumpkin pie
Make your favorite pie crust and partially bake.  (This makes for a less soggy result.)  To partially bake, prick the bottom all over with a fork.  I like to put another light weight pie pan on top of the crust with a few dried beans on top to keep the crust from puffing up too much when it bakes.   You  can buy special pie weights made just for this purpose - they look like a long necklace of stainless steel beads.  I am going to have to get some of those one of these days. 

I'll tell you a secret.  You can make pumpkin pie without a crust.  Just call it pumpkin pudding.  Top with a little whipped cream and you can have the pumpkin pie experience with less effort and less calories.  Don't try this at Thanksgiving or you might have a rebellion on your hands.  (I know my family would protest.)

This is enough filling for a 9 inch pie.
2 cups pureed or mashed cooked pumpkin (or one 16 oz. can)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground cloves
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat until smooth.  Best to use an egg beater or mixer for this job.  Pour into prepared crust (or greased custard cups if making pudding).
For pie, place into pre-heated 425 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes. Then turn down heat to 350 degrees and bake about another 45 minutes, or until a sharp knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.  Cool at room temperature.  If desired,  chill before serving - about 4 hours.
If you are baking filling in custard cups, bake at 350 degrees until pumpkin mixture barely jiggles - custard will firm up as it cools.

Meat loaf
I haven't used a recipe to make meat loaf for years.   If I followed a recipe  - this would be it.  Try it and if you want adjust seasonings and flavors to your tastes.  You could even add a layer of cooked and chopped spinach in between two layers of meat when you are filling the loaf pan.  Meat loaf a la
Serves 6.  Make a double recipe and use the leftovers for sandwiches.
1 1/2 pounds ground beef, preferably grass fed
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups bread, torn into small pieces and soaked in 1 cup of milk
1 egg
1 t. worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. dry mustard
1 t. dried thyme or sage or combination of both
1/4 cup ketchup or chili sauce plus another 1/4 cup for the top of the meat loaf
Mix all ingredients well - using your hands or a sturdy wooden spoon or stand mixer.
Pack meat mixture into a loaf pan.  Spread ketchup or chili sauce on top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/4 hours.  Let sit about 10 minutes before slicing. 

Rice pudding
This is a simple baked rice pudding - adapted from my 1943 edition of Joy of Cooking.
1 1/2 cups milk
pinch of salt
3 T. sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 t. vanilla
1/2 cup raisins
1 t. fresh lemon juice
1 t. finely grated lemon zest
2 cups cooked rice
dash of nutmeg
Mix all the ingredients except the rice.  Then stir in rice.  Sprinkle some nutmeg on top.  Bake in one quart greased baking dish in a 325 degree oven "until it is set".  Marion Rombauer Becker figured we would know when.  I am thinking about 20-30 minutes.  Depends on the shape and size of the dish you are using. It is okay if it is still a little jiggly in the middle - it will firm up as it cools. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tried and True - Pickled Beets

I was talking to a friend yesterday about eating more fruits and vegetables for better health - one of my favorite subjects.  He has been thinking and reading about this a lot lately and seems pretty committed to making some changes in his day to day eating habits  He was wondering how in the heck he was going to manage ELEVEN one half cup servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which is the amount recommended for a moderately active man over age 31.  See this link for some great info on how to think about adding more fruits and veggies to your diet.

For most people,  eating a lot of vegetables is even a bigger challenge in the winter.   One way to meet the challenge would be to sign up for a winter CSA share.  Another way would be to eat more pickled vegetables and relishes - like pickled beets.  They are a great side dish for almost any kind of meal.  I like to dice them and use them as a garnish for all kinds of salads or cooked greens.   I also like to use them to make salads, like herring salad.  (recipe below)

As I perused my cookbook collection to prepare for today's post, I noticed quite a bit of variation in pickled beet recipes.  Proportions of water, vinegar and sugar were different.  Types and amounts of spices were different.  Some recipes called for onions and some not.

I have been using this recipe for some time and find it quite satisfactory.  It is meant for a small batch of pickles to be stored in the refrigerator.  If you want to can a large amount of beet pickles for long shelf storage, then I suggest you follow a recipe from the Ball canning folks or other "official" source so you are sure the recipe is safe.

BEET PICKLES - Makes one quart
1 1/2 pounds beets (should yield about 3 cups, thickly sliced)
1 cup sliced white onion, loosely packed (If you don't want to include onion, just cook and slice an extra 1 cup of beets)
1 cup sugar (white or brown or mixed)
1 cup vinegar (cider or white or mixed)
1/2 cup water
1 T. mixed pickling spice (or 1 cinnamon stick, broken;  1/2 t. whole cloves, 1/2 t. whole allspice, 1 t. mustard seed)
Trim beets - leave one inch of stems.  Scrub well and boil (water should cover the beets) until beets are done.  (A sharp fork should meet little resistance).  Peel beets under cold running water - the peels and stems should slip off easily.
If you have small beets you can pickle them whole.  You can also quarter or chunk beets of any size or slice them.  I like to slice them thick so I can dice them later if I want to.
Place cut cup beets in a clean jar along with sliced onions if you are using them.
While beets are cooking, combine sugar, vinegar, water and spices in a sauce pan and simmer about 15 minutes.
Pour vinegar mixture over the beets/onions in the jar.  Press or insert a long thin spoon or chopstick to remove any air spaces or bubbles.  Cover jar.  When it has cooled, refrigerate.  Let sit a few days before eating.  These pickles will keep in the refrigerator for months.

Here are some pictures of the pickling process:

all you need: cooked beets, sliced onions, vinegar, sugar, water and spices

Heat the vinegar and water and sugar and spices - simmer about 15 minutes

It's a little tricky to pack the jar - after you add some liquid you can rearrange things a little so you can get everything inside

Beet salad, Scandinavian style
3 cups diced cooked beets (pickled or unpickled)
2 cups diced boiled new potatoes
1/3 cup chopped sweet onion or sliced shallots
1/3 cup chopped dill pickle
1 cup diced tart apple
3 T white wine or cider vinegar
3 T. oil
1 t. salt, ½ t. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup finely chopped pickled herring or other pickled fish (optional)
1 T. chopped fresh parsley or dill- fresh dill is lovely if you have some
Dressing – make just before serving - often served on the side
1 cup sour cream or crème fraiche or plain yogurt
1 T fresh lemon juice
3 T beet juice

Friday, October 22, 2010

Focus: LEEKS (Allium Ampeloprasum var. Porrum)

Subtle, distinctive, refined yet sociable, delicate, elusive, mild, gentle, delicious, sweet, hardy, versatile, underutilized.

This is a pretty intriguing list of adjectives.  Would you have guessed that they have all been applied to leeks at one time or another by a wide variety of food and cookbook writers?  Thanks to these adjectives,  I am reconsidering my placement of leeks in the vegetable pantheon.  I think I need to move them higher up on the list.

I have cooked with leeks for a long time, though I certainly did not grow up with them.  I cannot recall my first encounter with a leek in the kitchen, so it must not have been too traumatic.  A few years ago my husband kind of went crazy with leeks in our garden and I had the pleasant problem of dealing with a leek glut.  It was nice to have a surplus - I could cook them in quantity  They are so expensive in the stores that I was accustomed to being parsimonious with them.  I liked not having to worry about leek frugality for once.   I made a lot of potato leek soup.  I sauteed them in olive oil and then layered them with polenta and parmesan in a lovely casserole.  I roasted them.  We even at them on their own, braised with a little butter, as a side dish.  Luxury. 

So when I started to write this post I thought I knew a lot about leeks.  That I understood leeks.   But I realized that I really don't.  Now that I have thought more about leeks, I am looking forward to deepening my relationship with them.  I am going to pay more attention to their subtleties. 

Onions can be so, well, bossy and dominating.   Sometimes you just want an allium that is not so assertive.  One that "mingles amiably" with other foods, as the Stones write in The Essential Root Vegetable Cookbook.  I think I will be substituting them for onions more often.  If I can't convince Jack to put more of them in the CSA boxes, then we will just have to plant more in our garden. 

History of leeks
Leeks are such an old vegetable no one is sure of their origin.  It is said that leeks were among the rations given to laborers on the Pyramids.   And the Old Testament of the Bible mentions that “cucumbers, melons and leeks “ were the foods most missed by the Jews after their Exodus from Egypt.

Who appreciates leeks?
Leeks are a staple in France.  They are often called the "asparagus of the poor" as both asparagus and leeks are members of the lily family.  The French will saute or braise leeks like celery and use them in tarts and terrines.  And of course they are used with potatoes in soups. 

Leeks are much appreciated in the British Isles, where they were introduced by Caesar's legions.  They are popular especially in Scotland and Wales.  The leek is used in a signature Scots soup - cockaleekie soup.  This is a simple dish requiring one stewing chicken, lots of leeks, barley, carrot, potato, celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper and water.  Just cook it all together for hours and remove unwanted chicken bones and skin. 

The leek is the Welsh national emblem.  According to legend (and wikianswers), Saint David ordered his Welsh soldiers to identify themselves by wearing the vegetable on their helmets in an ancient battle against the Saxons that took place in a leek field. It is still worn March 1 each year - St. David's Day.

Cleaning leeks
When leeks are grown, soil is mounded up on each side to encourage blanching of the stalks and to keep them mild and tender.  That is why there is often lots of sand and grit hiding between the leaves.  It is not hard to remove this.  Trim off the tough outer leaves and the root end (just enough to remove the roots).  Slice the stalk lengthwise - but stop about 1 inch above the root end.  Soak in water about 10 minutes.  Spread the layers of leek under running water, rinsing off any remaining dirt or grit.  If your leeks are very young and thin, you may be able to leave them whole and wash them without have to slice them.

Storing leeks
Do not wash leeks until you are ready to use them.  You can trim off the large, tough flat leaves and upper part of the stalk before storing, however.   Compost them or wash and trim the outer leaves and freeze to use later for soup stock.  They will get mushy but they still are usable.  Keep the unwashed white part plus about 3 inches of light green,  including the root end,  in the vegetable crisper, loosely wrapped in a ventilated plastic bag.  The leeks should keep up to 3 weeks. 

Preparing leeks
Leeks can be substituted for onions in almost any dish.  Don't just relegate them to the soup pot- they have many other uses.  The edible part is the thick white stem and the light green portion of the leaves (about 2-3 inches).  Ideal size is from 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.  Leeks larger than 2 inches can be tough and fibrous.  Avoid leeks with a flaring bulbous root end.

One way to get maximum use from a leek stalk is to "reverse trim" it.  This means cutting off the outer leaves one layer at a time as you go up the stalk, so as to save the more tender inner part.  Try to end up with a stalk about 7 inches long - the white part, the light green part and some of the inner leaves above the light green part. 

Don’t overcook leeks.   You want them tender but they should still offer a little resistance to a sharp knife or fork.  (If you are cooking them in a soup, you can cook them longer.)  Mature leeks become tender after 15-20 minutes of boiling, steaming or braising.  This is a general rule - timing can vary depending on the size of the leeks you are working with.

Equivalents – 2 pounds = 1 pound cleaned–and trimmed =  4 c chopped =  2 c. cooked chopped
For eating whole, allow 2 med (1 inch diameter) leeks per person
Reverse trim - take advantage of tender inner layers

Slice off just the root end so leek layers hold together

Slice leek lengthwise

Rinse under running water to remove any grit still lingering in the leek

Many recipes call for sliced leeks - here's how


Vichyssoise (vish-ee-swahz)
This is one of the most famous uses for leeks.  It is a rich potato leek soup served by Chef Louis Diat at New York's Ritz Carlton hotel.  It is pureed and served cold.  I was going to give you the recipe from the New York Times Cookbook.  But even I - cream promoter that I am - hesitated at the excess of butterfat in that recipe.  So I found this version from The Classic Vegetable Cookbook by Ruth Spear.   (You can get this book on E-Bay for about $5-10.  I found mine at a used book store for $5.00.  I like it a lot.)  The moral of this story is that every recipe is not the same.  Even recipes for supposedly classic dishes can vary greatly.  This is why you need to have some trusting relationships with cookbook authors or food websites - or your favorite bloggers!

1 1/2 pounds leeks, white parts only -- washed and thinly sliced
4 T. butter
4 cups peeled and coarsely chopped raw potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 cups boiling water
 3 cups chicken broth
salt and white pepper
 1 cup heavy cream
chopped chives
Saute leeks in butter for about 5 minutes - do not brown.  Add potatoes, water, broth amd 1 t. salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, partly covered, about 30 minutes.  Potatoes and leeks should be tender.  Let vegetables cool.  Puree (food mill, food processor, blender)  Add the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Chill at least 8 hours.  Serve in chilled bowls, garnished with chopped fresh chives.  Serves 8.

Roasted leeks
Roasting concentrates flavor and accentuates sweetness.  Clean and trim and slice leek in half.  Brush lightly with oil or melted butter and  roast at 400 degrees in an oiled roasting pan for about 35 -45 minutes.   Baste a few times to prevent drying out.

Gratin of leeks and potatoes
Saute 2 cups of sliced leeks and 2 cups of thinly sliced potatoes in a little butter or oil until vegetables are tender. (You might need to cover the pan for a few minutes to let the vegetables steam a bit.)  Spread in a shallow pan.  Cover with a white sauce.  Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley, parmesan and buttered bread crumbs.  Bake at 375 degrees about 30 minutes, until cooked through and topping is brown and crunchy.  Variation - add some chopped ham to the potatoes.

Julienne of leeks
Cut washed leeks (white and 2 inches of green) lengthwise and then in 2 inch lengths.  Slice lengthwise into very fine julienne slices.  Melt butter in saute pan.  Add leeks and 2 t. water or white wine.  Cook over moderate heat about 5 minutes, until the leeks wilt. This is good as a garnish with poached or sauteed fish.

Soupe Bonne Femme
This is also a soup served by Chef Diat.  When he was a boy in France, his family sometimes started the day with a bowl of this soup.  Why not?  I have adapted this recipe from The Classic Vegetable Cookbook.
2 cups sliced leeks - white and light green parts
1/2 cup chopped onion or shallots
2 -3 T. butter
4 cups chopped, peeled potatoes
2 cups boiling water
2-3 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley or chives for garnish
Saute leeks and onions in butter for a few minutes.  Cook, covered, on medium heat a few more minutes.  Do not brown.  Add potatoes and boiling water and 1 t. salt.  Cover and cook about 25 minutes, until potatoes are soft.  Add milk to make soup desired thickness.   Serve hot, garnished with fresh herbs.  If you want, you can crush the potatoes with a potato masher for a smoother texture to the soup.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hands On - Spaetzle

This post is dedicated to my brother Marty, who has lived in Germany for over a quarter century and does not own a spaetzle maker, let alone make spaetzle at home.  Marty and Ellen - go get yourself a spaetzle maker and have some fun.  Ya!

Spaetzle (spay-tsul) are really just German pasta - little chewy dumplings that can be used in soup or just as you would pasta.  Add cheese sauce or simply toss with grated cheese and a little butter.  Or serve with a tomato sauce.  Or mix in sauteed shallots and blanched swiss chard and blue cheese like I did yesterday.  Or saute some cabbage and onion in a little bacon fat and add that to the spaetzle.  Or just serve plain, with a little butter, right next to some weiner schnitzel and red cabbage.  The possibilities are endless.

Once you have a pot of water boiling, you can make spaetzle just as fast as boxed mac and cheese.  Once I remove the cooked dumplings, I still have a pot of boiling water.  That is a good opportunity to blanch a few vegetables that you might have around.  You can use those with your spaetzle or save for another dish.  Energy saver.  I like that.

You can buy a perfectly fine spaetzle maker for about ten bucks.  Here is a link if you want to look online for one.

All you need is flour (I used a white whole wheat flour today), eggs, a little salt and a little milk.  I also like to add a pinch of nutmeg.  For two cups of spaetzle you will need:
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg (optional)
Beat eggs.  Add milk and salt and nutmeg if desired.  Stir in flour thoroughly.  Dough will be soft and wet.  Scrape into a spaetzle maker.  Cook spaetzle in gently boiling water.  They will rise to the top when done - I like to cook an extra minute or two afer they rise.  If you have a big pot you can cook this amount of dough at one time.  Scoop cooked dumplings out of the water with a slotted spoon or strainer.  Put spaetzle into a bowl or pan with just a teaspoon of butter or oil to prevent sticking.  Use right away or refrigerate until needed.

Here are pictures of the steps I follow:
You don't need much equipment to make spaetzle

Scraping wet dough into spaetzle maker,  It can rest on the top of the pot.

I'm only holding this high so you can see what magic happens underneath the spaetzle maker when you slide the little box back and forth

See how fast the dumplings rise to the top?

I added some blanched sliced chard leaves, sauteed shallots and some blue cheese.  This is going to be our lunch.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dig In - Barley

Barley is not just for making beer, feeding animals or making beef barley soup.   It is wonderful people food and has been for a very long time.  It was one of the first domesticated grains and was cultivated by the Egyptians between 6000 and 5000 B.C.   Somehow over the millenia barley has lost favor as a staple ingredient for breads, soups, cereals and more - at least in the United States.  (One reason may be that corn is much more productive.)  Today only 3 per cent of the U.S. barley crop is used for food products.  44% is used for malt (i.e. beer),  51% for animal feed and 3% as seed.

Minnesota is the eighth largest barley producer of the 27 mostly northern and western states that grow this important grain crop.  Barley is produced all over the world, too, because it is highly adaptable -- from north of the Arctic circle in Europe to near the equator in the mountains of Ethiopia.  It used to be the chief bread grain for the Hebrews, Greeks and Romans, until it was supplanted by wheat.  You know the Bible story of the loaves and the fishes?  That was barley bread.

I have resolved to use more barley in our house.  It is great cooked with all manner of vegetables and a broth -- prepare it just like rice in a risotto.    We also like it for breakfast as a porridge or hot cereal.   I am definitely going to grind up some whole barley into flour and experiment with unleavened barley bread.  The Finns call this rieska and it comes in many versions.  I think it would be great served with winter soups -- warm, with good butter or a little cheese.

One cup of cooked pearled barley contains 6 grams of protein (the same amount as in 6 ounces of milk), less than 1 gram of fat, practically no sodium and about 230 calories.  It contains significant amounts of niacin, thiamine and potassium.  Unpearled, or whole brown barley, contains B vitamins and more protein and is a better source of dietary fiber than pearled barley.

Forms of barley
Pearled - this is the most common form of barley sold for people food and is sometimes referred to as polished barley.  The inedible outer husks and a protein rich layer called the aleurone are removed, along with the germ. Even with the outer layer removed, pearled barley is an excellent source of fiber because it is contained in the entire grain. This version of whole barley is the one most people are familiar with.  The grains cook fairly quickly (about 25 minutes)  and have a chewy and creamy texture.

Whole hulled barley - this is the most nutritious and is brown in color.  Because just the outer hull is removed, it takes longer to cook - about 45 minutes to an hour.  Scotch barley, which is a bit more processed to remove outer layers,  is somewhere in between pearl and whole barley in terms of cooking time, nutrition and chewiness.

Grits - This is the whole grain toasted and cracked into pieces - kind of like steel cut oats or cracked wheat.  It is used as a cereal and will cook in about 15 minutes. You can toast whole barley yourself in the oven or in a heavy pan on top of the stove - be careful not to burn.  Grind in a grain mill or food processor (for small quantities.)

Rolled barley - this is just like rolled oats.  I use barley flakes just as I would oats - as cooked cereal or in granola with rolled wheat and oats or in breads or cookies.   Rolled barley flakes do not get as soft and mushy as rolled oats when cooked with water as a hot cereal - they stay separate and chewy.

Flour - the kind commercially available is almost always made with pearled barley.  


You can learn a lot about barley and find some recipes at this website.

Whole brown barley
To cook, add one cup to 4 cups boiling water or broth, lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pan tightly and cook for about 45 - 60 minutes.  Check pot after 30 minutes to see if more liquid is needed.

Pearled barley
Simmer barley in a covered pot for  20-30 minutes.  Ratio for cooking: 3 parts water to 1 part barley.  Yield is about 4 cups cooked barley for each cup raw barley grains.  Try cooking whole barley in fruit juice - such as apple or cranberry juice - and some honey.  This makes a great breakfast porridge served with milk or yogurt and maybe some dried fruit or nuts.

Whole barley pudding - the Finns call it Ohraryynipurro
According to Beatrice Ojakangas, in her classic  - The Finnish Cookbook - "This is the traditional dessert or supper main dish in the province of Satakunta in Western Finland, but you may prefer to serve it as a breakfast dish or in place of a starch dish in any menu.  Serve with butter."
This recipe is adapted from The Finnish Cookbook.
1/2 cup whole barley
1 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups milk
1 T. butter
1/2 t. salt
Cook the barley and water slowly for 30 minutes, preferable in a pot that can go from stovetop to oven.  Add milk, salt and butter and stir.  Cover and bake at 250 degrees for about 4 hours or until all liquid is absorbed.  Stir about once an hour (or not - if you have to leave the house it won't hurt this to bake undisturbed.)  Makes about six servings.

Unleavened barley bread - the Finns call it Rieska
This recipe is also from The Finnish Cookbook.  The Finns serve this bread with cold buttermilk.  Or in place of a hot bread for breakfast or with a hearty salad for lunch.  In some places the bread is baked on cabbage or rutabaga leaves for more flavor.  Or bits of bacon, ham or salt pork are stuck into the bread before baking.

I recommend this cookbook to any serious cook who lives in Minnesota.  Aside from the wealth of information about Finnish culture, there are recipes for foods that are easily grown or found in Minnesota - rye, barley, root vegetables, berries, mushrooms, dairy products, apples, prunes and all kinds of meat and fish.

I ground up some whole pearled barley and made this bread this morning.  Used 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup whole milk because we had no cream in the house.  I also used about 1 cup plus 2 T. flour and a 8 inch pan, not a 9 inch.   The bread is very flat - about 1/2 inch thick - and has a lovely sour taste and crunchy texture.

1/2 cup buttermilk, milk or water
1/2 cup cream
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. sugar
1 cup barley flour
1 T. melted butter
Mix together the first four ingredients.  Then stir in the flour and then the butter.  Beat until smooth.  Pour the batter into a well greased and floured 8 or 9 inch round baking pan. (9 inch results in thinner bread) Or spread the dough on raw cabbage leaves on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake in hot oven (450 degrees) about 30 minutes or until lightly browned.  Serve hot with butter.  4-6 servings. 

Baked curried chicken and barley (this is from the barleyfoods website - see link above)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 medium tart green apple, chopped
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
1 cup pearl barley
2-1/2 cups chicken broth
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
3 tablespoons orange marmalade or apricot jam

Heat oil in large skillet; sauté onion, bell peppers and garlic 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped apple and curry powder; sauté 4 minutes longer. Stir in barley and chicken broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Pour barley mixture into large baking dish or casserole. Arrange chicken breasts over barley and season with garlic salt. Cover and bake in 375º F oven for 45 minutes. Remove cover; brush chicken with marmalade. Continue to bake, uncovered, 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 431 calories, 34g protein, 8g fat, 59g carbohydrate, 68mg cholesterol, 9g fiber, 850mg sodium.

Barley apple salad
Cook one cup of pearled or brown barley until tender.  Mix with 2 apples, chopped; 1/2 cup fresh orange or apple juice, 1 T. honey; 1/3 cup raisins and 1/3 cup sliced celery (or sliced raw fennel if you have it.)  If desired, serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Inspiration - Week # 21

Contents of this week's Grande Box (a bonus sized box): Salad greens, chard, mustard greens, red daikon radishes, acorn squash, pie pumpkin, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, garlic, red cabbage, leeks, cilantro, beets and beet greens.

I hope you take just a minute to gaze at your vegetables when you unpack your box this week.  Just stop and look for a minute.  The shapes and colors are simply beautiful to behold.  If I was a painter I would paint a still life.  And I feel healthier just looking at this beautiful food.  Are you feeling healthier after eating so well for 21 weeks?  I know I feel better when I am eating more fresh vegetables in my diet.

This is the last box of the summer/fall Featherstone season.  I hope you had as much fun as I did figuring out how to use all the food in our CSA boxes.   And if sometimes you had to give something away or even compost it I hope you are not too down on yourself about that.  I hate waste too, but a little failure is always part of any worthwhile learning experience, don't you think?  I know some of you feel you have come a long way, culinarily speaking, since June.  I know this because you have told me.  It always makes me so happy to hear about your kitchen victories, large and small.

I hope you also have signed up for winter shares or at least are seriously thinking about it.  Deadline is coming right up.  Online signup on the Featherstone Farm website.

I  think winter vegetables are even more wonderful to cook and eat than summer vegetables.  Thanks to extensive cold storage and greenhouse infrastructure at Featherstone,  winter boxes will contain such things as spinach, salad greens, broccoli, rutabagas, squash, beets, parsnips, potatoes, turnips,  cabbage, kale, carrots, winter radishes, kohlrabi and more.  If you are not accustomed to cooking with these fabulous foods remember you can always check out this blog for tips.  I will continue blogging this winter - just not quite as often.   So there is no reason to let rutabaga anxiety keep you away from the great foods of winter. 

 MENUS  This is the first installment of menu ideas for this week's box.  Part 2 will come next week.  Most of the box contents store well, but I have chosen some of the more perishable items for this week's meal ideas.  Everything else will store just fine either at room temperature (potatoes, squash, pumpkin) or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  Items marked with a star mean recipe is below.

Greens and a grain
Mixed green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette and some sunflower seeds; barley pilaf with leeks, chard, mushrooms and bacon*; A great piece of cheese for dessert  - maybe with an oatcake or two

Don't worry.  Eat curry.
Carrot and potato curry with rice, yogurt, cilantro mint chutney (See Oct. 15 post for chutney recipe) and maybe some raisins and peanuts or cashews on the side; chappati bread; mango lassi* (Note - I like to add a cup or so of red lentils to vegetable curries.  More protein and flavor and substance.  The red lentils cook fast.  I also like to add a little coconut milk for extra richness. )

Meal in a bowl
Chinese noodle soup with greens - four generous servings.  Cook about 12 ounces of thin, long noodles, drain and divide among four large bowls.   Make or buy two quarts of rich chicken, beef or vegetable stock and bring to a boil in a large pot.   Wash and coarsely slice about 1/2 pound mustard greens and toss into simmering broth for a few minutes.  Ladle stock and greens over the noodles.  Serve with your favorite Asian condiments such as:  soy sauce, hoisin sauce or garlic chile paste or garnishes such as fried shallots, fresh bean sprouts or Asian herbs (e.g. cilantro, Thai basil, mint)

Hot dish or casserole?  Who cares as long as it is cheesy?
Broccoli-egg noodle-ham or chicken or both-cheese sauce casserole; pickled beets (see recipe in next Saturday's post); bread and butter; chocolate pudding  (Make plenty of white sauce and use sharp cheddar cheese for best flavor.  If you are adventurous, throw in some chopped fresh dill)

Another way to use mustard greens
Crispy crunchy winter vegetable salad*;  baked white beans and vegetables French style*; crusty French bread;  some sliced sausage;


Barley pilaf with leeks, bacon, chard and mushrooms - serves four
2 cups whole pearled barley
4 cups water or stock
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks (white part plus two inches of green part, washed well to remove all grit)
4 slices bacon
8 oz. mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cups sliced chard leaves, packed  (chop stems and reserve)
optional - add fresh chopped herbs at the very end of cooking - e.g. dill or parsley or both

Chop bacon and cook until crisp.  Remove bacon and set aside.  Saute leeks, chopped chard stems and mushrooms in bacon fat (add a little extra butter or oil if necessary).  After leeks are soft, add barley and saute 5-10 minutes more.  Deglaze the pan with about 1/2 cup white wine.  Add about one quart water or stock.  Cover and simmer until barley is tender, about 45 minutes.  Stir in sliced chard and cook for a few more minutes.  Serve, garnished with bacon pieces.

Mango lassi
For each serving, place in a blender: 1 cup mango puree (fresh, canned or frozen) and 1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt, 2 ice cubes.  Blend until smooth.  Garnish with a few mint sprigs if you have some.  Or sprinkle on a teeny pinch of freshly ground cardamom - a little goes a long way.

Crunchy winter vegetable salad
Coarsely grate or julienne some or all of the following: winter radish (peeled), kohlrabi (peeled), turnip (peeled) or carrot.  You could even try broccoli stems that are not too tough.
For four cups of vegetables add the following dressing:
4 T. red wine vinegar, 1 T. sugar, 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. pepper, 2 t. prepared full flavored mustard (coarse grain style would be nice); 1 T. salad oil or heavy cream.   Adjust seasonings to taste.
Optional seasonings:  snipped fresh dill, and/or 1-2 T. prepared horseradish instead of mustard
Play around with this concept.  Adjust acid, sugar, salt and oil as you like.  All you are doing is mixing crisp raw vegetables with a zingy dressing.

Baked beans and vegetables French style
This recipe is adapted from a recipe for vegetarian cassoulet in Molly Katzen's great cookbook, Vegetable Heaven.
6 cups cooked or canned beans (navy, Great Northern, cannellini or similar bean)
1 pound onion, shallots or leeks
3 T. olive oil
3 cups diced potatoes
2 cups carrots, cut in matchsticks
1 T. chopped fresh garlic
1 1/4 t. salt
Herbs:  sage, marjoram, thyme  (1 t. of each, dried.  More if using fresh herbs); handful chopped parsley
1/2 pound chopped fresh mustard greens or chard or a mixture of both
1 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cup flavorful stock (or water or tomato juice will do too.  Then add a bit more herbs)

Saute onions/leeks/shallots about 10 minutes.  Add potatoes and carrots and saute another 10 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT FOR mustard greens.  Bake, covered, about one hour at 350 degrees.  Remove from oven, stir in greens and return to oven, uncovered, for about 15 minutes more.  Add liquid if beans seem too dry.  If you like meat, tuck a few sausages, a lamb shank, a few chicken legs or a few slices of salt pork or pancetta into the beans prior to the first one hour of baking.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tried and True - Oat cakes

Oatcakes are easy to make

I made my first graham crackers about 32 years ago, for my oldest son who was then a baby.  That was probably the beginning of my lifelong interest in learning how to get off the processed industrial food train.  I didn't start because of any political agenda on my part.  I don't think the idea of organic food was even on my radar at the time.  I just liked how homemade food tasted.  I knew it was better because I knew what went into it.  And I liked the idea of saving money.

Anyway, I have come a long way when it comes to do it yourself food.  We make our own ketchup, mustard, pickles, horseradish, jam, sausage, pancetta, chutney, yogurt, salad dressing and creme fraiche.  And crackers.  I hardly ever buy store bought crackers anymore.  It is so easy to make them at home and they really do taste better.

I have tried many cracker recipes and I keep coming back to oatcakes. These are ubiquitous in Scotland and come in different sizes and shapes and thicknesses.  I have to admit I have never eaten a true Scottish oatcake.   I have never been to Scotland.  I did feed my oatcakes to Phil Cunningham (a wonderful Scottish musician - famous in Scotland at least) when he stayed with us one time.  He pronounced them good.  So these oatcakes have the Phil Cunningham seal of approval.

This recipe is adapted from the Time-Life Cookbooks of the World British Isles cookbook.  It makes 32 wedges.  You can eat them plain, with butter, peanut butter, jam, honey or cheese.  You can eat them for breakfast or a snack.  You can eat them with soup for lunch or a salad for dinner.   If these become a staple in your house,  just think of all the money you will save because you don't have to buy crackers.  Then you will be able to afford expensive cheese.  (Ritz crackers with Velveeta cheese are part of my past and might even occasionally be part of my future.  But I believe in diversity in all things.  So oatcakes and Stilton are part of my life too.)

Oatcakes - see below for step by step pictures.  These are very quick and easy once you get the hang of it.
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats  (plus some extra oats for rolling)
1 t. salt
1 T. walnut oil or melted butter or lard
3/4 cup water, room temperature

Process the oats in a food processor until they look like coarse flour.  Add the remaining ingredients and process until a dough is formed.  This is the only tricky part.  You want the dough damp enough to stick together but not overly sticky.  With a little practice you will get this right.
Gather the dough together in a ball.  Cut into four pieces and form each piece into a flat round.  Roll each piece about 1/8 inch thick, using whole oats to keep it from sticking.  Cut each piece into 8 pieces with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.  Place wedges on a baking sheet (ungreased) - parchment paper is optional.  Bake in a 375 degree oven 15-18 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Store in a covered container.  These can be frozen if you will not be using them within a week or so.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Focus: TURNIPS (Brassica Rapa)

If I had to pick the most underdog vegetable - the vegetable most maligned and least understood or appreciated -  I would have to choose the turnip root.  (Turnip greens, a beautiful food, can be a topic for another day.)  Maybe it is the way the word sounds.  Stolid.  Curt.  Akin to a frog croak.  Anglo Saxon all the way.  But until Madison Ave. takes on a turnip rebranding project, we need to work with what we have. 

And what we have is a very nutritious, practical and resilient food.  A turnip is not a prima donna.  A turnip is not a fad.  A turnip is not high maintenance.  A turnip is a work horse. A turnip is a friend when you need one.  Turnips are not going away any time soon.  So we might as well learn how to  enjoy them.

Some turnip history
Turnips have been nourishing people for a very long time - even before the advent of agriculture.  Over five thousand years ago women - who were doing the foraging while the guys were out killing large mammals with clubs and projectile points- were digging up turnip roots and roasting them.  They knew a good thing when they saw it.  Maybe they though of turnips as a plan B to mastodon or woolly mammoth.  Or simply a side dish.    "What's for dinner honey?  Giant beaver and turnips AGAIN?"   (Giant mammals did once roam in Minnesota.  You can read all about it here.

Turnip nutrition
Turnip roots are a fine source of potassium and other vitamins and minerals.  There are 36 calories in a cup of cubed, cooked roots.

Turnip storage
Place in well ventilated plastic bag and refrigerate - should keep for weeks in the refrigerator.  If you have an even colder place that is not too dry, the turnips, loosely wrapped in plastic, can keep for many weeks and even several months.

Turnip preparation
Fall and winter turnips, which are larger than spring turnips, must be peeled.  They take well to roasting, braising, mashing or pureeing, glazing or grating.  They can be eaten cooked or raw.  They are excellent added to some soups and stews if you are thoughtful about the flavor combinations.  They have a fairly mild and cabbagelike taste and are slightly sweet.  They combine well with the flavors of carrots, rutabagas, potatoes or leeks.  Herbs to use with turnips include parsley, dill or thyme.   You can substitute turnips for almost any recipe calling for rutabagas.  In French cuisine turnips are a classic accompaniment to roast duck.

If you have not yet become accustomed to the flavor of turnips, combine with other more familiar vegetables like potatoes, carrots or kohlrabi.  Some day you will be able to eat them "straight".

Recipes using turnips

Peppery Turnip Treat (adapted from Jane Brody's Good Food Book) (even Jane Brody understands the role of a little sugar and fat to help the vegetables go down.)

1 T. butter
2 T. honey or real maple syrup
1 pound turnips, peeled, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
1/4 t. pepper
1 T. minced fresh parsley (optional)
Melt butter and honey in a saucepan.  Add turnips and pepper.  Cover and cook turnips about 10 minutes - until tender.  They should brown lightly.  Serve sprinkled with parsley.
Variation -- substitute half the turnips with diced carrots or diced kohlrabi.

Turnip Gratin with Potatoes and Dill (serves 4-6)
1 pound turnips, peeled and coarsely grated
3/4 pound potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated (boiling type)
2 T. butter
2 T. fresh chopped dill
salt and pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
3/4 cup bread crumbs

Saute turnips and potatoes in butter for about 10 minutes.  Mix with dill, salt and pepper and place into shallow greased gratin dish.  Mix together cream and stock and pour over vegetables.  Sprinkle with bread crumbs.  Bake in the middle of a 425 degree oven about 25 minutes or until top is golden brown.

You could add some diced ham and cheese to the vegetables before you bake this and it would be a full meal.  Serve with a crunchy turnip and radish salad (see below) for a turnip double feature. 

Turnip and potato soup
For a puree - follow the same directions but use about one cup of broth and just mash vegetables with a potato masher.
1 pound turnips, peeled and cut up
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and cut up - same size as turnips
1 medium onion or a leek
2 T. butter or bacon fat or - if you are lucky enough to have it - duck fat
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Saute onion or leek in butter or other fat about 5 minutes.  Add cut up potato and turnip and saute a few minutes more.  Add stock and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer, partially covered, about 15 more minutes or until vegetables are tender.   Puree with an immersion blender or let cool and put in a blender.  Add salt or pepper if desired.  Serve with chopped parsley or even a little fresh thyme.

This is my new favorite salad
Turnip and daikon salad with Russian dressing  (Adapted from the Root Vegetable Cookbook by Sally and Martin Stone.)
This is a wonderful salad.  The acid of the pickles and capers, the bite of the horseradish and the crunch of the raw turnip and radish make for a perfect foil to winter food that can sometimes be heavy or bland.  If you can enjoy turnip and radish salad, who needs lettuce?  I think peeled and julienned kohlrabi would also work in this dish.
Vegetables:  One pound total of turnips, daikon radish (I used red daikon).  Equal parts of each, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch julienne or matchsticks.  Plus about 1/3 cup thinly sliced onion (I used red).  Shallots would be nice too.

Russian dressing (should be enough for one pound of vegetables.  Can be doubled if you wish)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (or 1/4 c mayo and 1/4 cup yogurt or sour cream)
2 T. ketchup
1 T. grated prepared horseradish (see my post on horseradish if you want to try making your own.)
1/4 c. diced sweet gherkin pickles
1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. drained small capers, whole or chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare vegetables.  Prepare dressing.  Stir together.  Serve.  Enjoy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hands On - Polenta

Polenta with gorgonzola.  Happiness in a bowl.

Almost all the corn grown in America (other than sweet corn) feeds either livestock, ethanol plants or some kind of manufacturing facility (e.g. corn oil, corn syrup, corn starch, etc.)  Since I am kind of a contrarian I like the idea of feeding corn directly to myself and those for whom I cook.  How quaint.  Eating corn without an intermediary other than some kind of grinding apparatus.

One way to enjoy corn is in the form of polenta.  Polenta was once the name in Italy for all manner of cereal grains cooked and eaten either as soft porridges or stiff "cakes".  But nowadays - even in Italy - it refers to a dish made with corn.  Corn was accepted as a good food by the Italians by the mid 1500's and eventually became a staple, especially in northern Italy.  (It actually became too much of a good thing.  Many peasants who ate virtually nothing other than corn suffered from pellagra, a type of disease caused by a niacin deficiency.)

Polenta is extremely easy to cook, very affordable, tasty and versatile.  We have it around all the time and eat it for breakfast with a little honey and fruit or nuts or for dinner with all manner of sauces, stir-ins or toppings.  It is lovely just plain with a drizzle of olive oil or grating of parmesan.  Or it takes well to complex tomato, meat or vegetable sauces.  Greens cooked in olive oil with garlic are great chopped and stirred into polenta.  Or try this sometime:  prepare a simple soft polenta.  Serve in heated individual bowls.  Add a perfectly poached egg to each bowl.  Salt and pepper as desired.  Maybe add a little parmesan.  Eat.  You will feel nourished in so many ways.

Kinds of polenta corn
We grow and grind our own special kind of corn that is famous for making good polenta.  It is called Roy's Calais - an open pollinated heirloom flint corn originally cultivated by the Abenaki people in Vermont.

You might note little red flecks in the pictures of polenta in this post.  That is because this variety of corn has both red and yellow ears.   It is not at all necessary for you to run around and find a special kind of corn, however.  You can find perfectly fine polenta at any co-op (usually sold in bulk) or at most large grocery stores.  Bob's Red Mill brand is widely available.  For the two or three readers out there who want to take this to a higher level, just e mail me at and I will be happy to relay more esoteric information about polenta corn varieties.

Soft or firm
The recipe below is for a fairly soft polenta.  If you want it firmer, just use a little less water.  One thing you can do with the cooked polenta is pour it into a loaf pan (rinse with water and empty the pan first. The little bit of residual water helps prevent sticking) and chill overnight.  It firms up quite a bit and then you can slice and fry or broil or bake it and serve plain or with toppings.  Make a double batch. 
Serve half soft and chill the other half for slicing later.

Milk or water
I almost always use water to cook polenta.  But if you want it richer or more nutritious, by all means use milk to cook it.

Wooden spoons work best for stirri
Some people are afraid to cook polenta because they think they are going to have to stir it constantly for hours.  Not true.  If you were cooking a huge batch in an Italian farmhouse in a copper pot over an open fire yes - you would have to stand there for an hour or more laboring with your wooden paddle.  But for a small batch using 1-2 cups of polenta and 4-8 cups water?  No.  Just use a heavy pot, stir steadily the first five minutes and after that stir a few times every 5-10 minutes and you should be fine.  Cook polenta when you are in the kitchen doing something else and it is no big deal to stir it every so often.

Coarse or fine
In Italy it is not unusual to see polenta sold in very fine form as well as coarse.  Finely ground polenta will cook faster and have a smoother texture.  I personally like a coarser texture in my polenta.  Most ground corn sold as polenta in this country is fairly coarse.  If you want a finer product, there is nothing wrong with buying good old stone ground corn meal and cooking it up with water and salt.  Corn meal mush.  Polenta.  It is the same thing.

Classic polenta
You should cook this in a heavy pot. 
8 cups water  (or milk or part water and part milk)
2 cups polenta
1 1/2 t. salt (or more to taste)
(optional) 1-2  T. butter or olive oil

Bring water to a boil.  Add salt.  Add polenta about 1/4 cup at a time while stirring.  After all polenta is added, stir fairly constantly for about five minutes.  Set heat so polenta continues to bubble and simmer but does not bubble so much that corn meal explodes all over your stove.  Stir a few times every 5-10 minutes.  If you are using typical coarse polenta, it should take about 45 minutes to cook.  If it is too thick, add a little more milk or water.

Serves 6-8.  Spoon from the pot onto heated plates or bowls.

Cleaning the pot
Scrape out as much polenta as you can.  Soak the pan overnight in cold water.  It should clean easily the next day. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dig In - Horseradish (an estimable condiment)

The winter vegetable season is ahead and I for one am looking forward to it.   Months of potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, rutabagas, turnips, cabbage, beets, squash, parsnips, kale, collards, brussels sprouts, daikon radishes, spinach, celeriac and more.  I personally find the winter vegetable line up even more interesting and satisfying than the summer choices. (If only  I could have homegrown tomatoes and a little basil in the winter, life would be perfect.  As it is home canned tomatoes and pesto are not a bad consolation prize.) 

If you are daunted by the idea of cooking and eating without "summer vegetables" like fresh tomatoes or green beans - let alone leaf lettuce - then I bring a word of hope and encouragement:


We have been mostly following the seasonal local food road - with occasional detours -  in our house for at least six years now and have developed many strategies for eating our way through late fall, winter and even early spring with no dependence on foreign vegetables.  No lettuce for months.  No imported tomatoes.  No hothouse cucumbers (well maybe a few).  No Chinese grown garlic. 

What is our secret?  CONDIMENTS.  These are the little spicy, vinegary, peppery, crunchy, pungent, sometimes sweet food items that bring zing to the plate.  Things like chutney, salsa, pickles, relishes, ketchups, mustards and horseradish.   Condiments add color, flavor and nutrition to a meal.  I even think they are kind of exciting. (Hey - to each his own, okay?)
Horseradish root in situ

A horseradish plant from our garden, nestled in a little creeping Charlie
Today we are going to learn about horseradish, which is one of my favorite condiments.  I just love the way it clears my sinuses.  Those glycoside sinigrins really pump me up.  They can make me cry, too, if I'm not careful.  The sting to the eyes of grated fresh horseradish root is much worse than onions.  But thanks to the modern food processor, the task of grating fresh horseradish is no longer an extreme kitchen sport. 

According to the Essential Root Vegetable Cookbook by Sally and Martin Stone, horseradish is an "ugly duckling"  and a member of the mustard family.   This is a picture of the horseradish that Frank dug from our garden yesterday morning.  I guess it is kind of ugly, even for a root vegetable.  But it has a great personality and is good to have as a friend.  Lots of people agree.
A freshly dug washed and trimmed horseradish root
 Horseradish was being eaten by Germans at least 400 years ago as a condiment with fish and meat dishes.  Some people say it was in England before the Romans got there.  It is used today in many kinds of sauces and dishes by the Scandinavians, British (they love it with roast beef), Germans, Poles, Russians and French.  Grated and mixed with vinegar, it is served at table with things like fish, roast beef, raw oysters, smoked meats or sausages.  When I was growing up it was an essential part of the pot roast experience.

One of my favorite ways to use horseradish is to make a sauce of prepared horseradish mixed with creme fraiche or sour cream.   A plate of roasted mixed winter root vegetables, drizzled with horseradish/creme fraiche sauce makes a fine meal all by itself.  And if you are not eating meat at this meal, you can afford to eat some fat calories from the creme fraiche.  If you are really watching calories, use a lowfat sour cream or even yogurt to make your sauce.  You could also make a white sauce (bechamel) with lowfat milk and add a big dollop of horseradish to that.

Horseradish loses its flavor quickly when exposed to heat.  The heat drives off the volatile oils and hence the unique flavor.  If you want to use horseradish in a cooked food, add it toward the end of cooking time and at low heat.

If you can find some good quality fresh horseradish root, it is worth it to grate it yourself. An uncut piece of root, if it is fresh when you buy it, will keep for many weeks wrapped in a ventilated bag in your refrigerator.  If it gets limp and soft then you must compost it because the bite is gone.  You can  make your own prepared horseradish.  All you need is a knife and a board, a peeler, a food processor, a bowl and spoon and some vinegar and a pinch of sugar and salt.  Here is how we do it at our house.
Scrub and peel root

Cut into one inch chunks, drop into a food processor, add just enough vinegar to help hold everything together and process until it is as smooth as you want it.    (Watch out for the volatile oils when you take off the cover!) You can use white, white wine, rice wine or even cider vinegar.

Add a pinch of salt and sugar to the horseradish mixture.  It should be smooth but not totally pulverized.

Place in clean glass jar, cover and refrigerate.  Horseradish will become somewhat milder over time.  It will keep for weeks but is best - and most potent - fresh. 
Proceed with caution.  This is powerful stuff.
Note:  I hope you have decided to sign up for an exciting Featherstone winter share.  If you have, you might consider purchasing this cookbook.  I have found it quite useful in developing my winter kitchen chops.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Inspiration - Week #20

Contents of this week's Grande box:  Purple and red potatoes, butternut squash, sweet dumpling squash, bunched dill, bunched Sugar Snax carrots, bunched spinach, bunched arugula, purple top turnips, kohlrabi and mixed peppers.

When I went to pick up my box at the farm yestserday afternoon, I had to go into Rushford for a few errands.  The bank clock on the corner said it was 80 degrees!  But the nights are cool, so it is still good cooking and eating weather.   The bunch of dill in my box is magnificent.  If your box contains a big bunch of dill, one thing you could do is make gravlax - salmon cured with dill.  Search the blog for my earlier post about gravlax.

You will notice a lot of dill in this week's menus.  Because you have beautiful dill.  And we need to make do with what we have.  If you end up with more than you can use,  just bunch it and hang it up somewhere that is dry and well ventilated - maybe a sunny window.  I did that about a week ago with some extra dill and it has dried up quite nicely.  As soon as I am sure it is bone dry I will crumble the leaf part into a jar for winter use.

Menus (recipes below for items marked with an asterisk)

Something in the oven
Roasted Chicken or other meat, fish or fowl; roasted carrots and turnips*; polenta or a baked barley pilaf, baked apple.  (Note - Thursday's post will be all about polenta)

Cheesy, crunchy and creamy plus chocolate
Raw slices or sticks of carrot, bell pepper and kohlrabi and dip (make your own dill dip with some yogurt and cream cheese and onion and dill and maybe a squirt of fresh lemon juice) ; Southwestern pizza*; something chocolate

Es schmeckt gut
Creamed Kohlrabi and dill*; Potatoes steamed with polish sausage and diced carrots;  caraway beer bread*

Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie)*, crusty bread, dumpling squash cut in half, seeds scooped out and baked with butter, honey and cinnamon (This could be almost like dessert.  Add a few chopped dates and almonds or walnuts and it will really be like dessert.)

Soup and salad
Simple salad of arugula with a balsamic vinaigrette; Butternut squash soup with carrots, potatoes, leek or onion and red bell pepper, whole wheat bread, sharp cheddar cheese and a fresh pear, apple or grapes.  You don't need a recipe for this soup -- just peel and chop vegetables and saute in some olive or vegetable oil for ten minutes or so to develop flavor.  Add vegetable or chicken broth or even water and simmer until everything is tender and kind of falling apart.  Season with salt, pepper and some parsley and thyme. (or curry powder) Add a little cream or yogurt if you want extra richness.  If you want more substance, add some cooked white beans to the soup.  Or a little cooked grain like barley or wheat berries.  Or some corn kernels.

Beans and greens
Crunchy salad with kohlrabi, radish and/or carrot - grated and dressed with vinegar, sugar, a little oil, dill, salt and pepper; White beans and arugula*; crusty bread; ice cream  (remember my rule.  If you eat kale you can eat ice cream.  I think arugula can qualify for the kale-ice cream rule.)


Roasted carrots and turnips
Peel vegetables and cut into similar sized pieces - about 1 inch in size.  Plan on about 1 cup vegetables per  person.  Place raw vegetables in a bowl with about 2 T oil for 4 cups vegetables.  Salt and pepper to taste.  If desired, add 1 T of honey or maple syrup to the oil for a little extra sweetness.  Roast on a baking sheet or other baking pan in one layer at 400 degrees about 30 minutes or until lightly browned and vegetables are tender.  Check after 20 minutes and move the vegetables around on the sheet for more even browning. 

This recipe is very similar to the recipe I usually use.  You could use all dill and no parsley.  You could make do with less spinach if you don't have two pounds.  Or add some arugula to the spinach.  Or buy more spinach to supplement the spinach in your box.  I know there is a lot of butter in this recipe -- but you don't eat this every day.,1918,158162-253192,00.html
You could even skip the phyllo dough and butter and cook the filling in a baking dish by itself. 

Caraway beer bread
3 1/2 cups flour (some or all whole wheat pastry flour if you have it; optional - substitute rye flour for one cup of the flour)
1 T brown sugar or honey
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 T. chopped fresh dill
1 T. caraway seeds
1 T. oil or melted butter or lard
1 12 ounce can or bottle of beer
Mix together dry ingredients well.  Add oil and beer.  Stir to blend - don't overwork the dough.  Turn into a greased round 8 or 9 inch cake pan.  Don't worry if dough is not smooth - this is a rustic loaf. Bake at 375 degrees about 50 minutes - until sharp knife or tester comes out clean when inserted in the middle.  Serve warm.

Creamed kohlrabi and dill
Peel and grate or julienne the kohlrabi - you will want about 3-4 cups to serve 6.  Blanch in a large pot of boiling salted water for 3 minutes.  Drain and press out moisture.
Melt 4 T. (one half stick) butter in a large pot.  Add kohlrabi and toss well.  Add 1/2 cup cream, blend well and turn up heat slightly.  Cook, stirring, a few minutes until kohlrabi is well coated with cream.  Season with salt, a little lemon juice and 1- 2 T. fresh chopped dill.

Southwestern Pizza
For each pizza:
Place one large flour or corn tortilla on a baking sheet.  Cover with grated cheddar or monterey jack or co-jack cheese.  Place thin strips of fresh peppers on top of the cheese.  Bake at 425 degrees until peppers are cooked and cheese is bubbling.

White beans and arugula 
4 cups canned or cooked white beans
1/4 cup olive oil
2 t. finely chopped garlic
1 t. fresh sage, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped or one 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
3/4 t. salt, red or black pepper to taste
4 cups chopped fresh arugula
1 T. wine vinegar

Saute garlic in oil for a few minutes, add sage and saute a few minutes more.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Cover and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  Stir in wine vinegar and serve in a heated bowl with good crusty bread and extra olive oil.
If desired - this could be mixed with cooked pasta for a filling one dish meal.