Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Inspiration - Winter week #3

In this week's box:  broccoli, carrots, red fingerling potatoes, garlic, bagged spinach, butternut squash, sweet dumpling squash, savoy cabbage, red leaf lettuce

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving and are not too tired from cooking and cleaning up and all that family visiting.   That is one reason I like the CSA box -- it keeps coming whether we are tired or not. We all need a little structure to keep us on track and the CSA box is part of my personal regimen.  I can see the sweet dumpling squashes on the window sill as I write this.  They are calling to me and soon I will answer.

Before I share some recipe ideas permit me a digression.
Vegetables have been in the news lately and I feel a need to report to you - serious vegetable cooks and eaters.

Vegetables, you see, are newly and increasingly fashionable, at least among a certain segment of fine-dining, CSA-belonging, Michael Pollan–reading, rooftop-garden-crazed New Yorkers.

Did you know that New York magazine (not the literary New Yorker, but gushy New York magazine) has made it official:  vegetables are the new meat.  Sunchokes are sexy.  Broccoli is way cool.  Lacinato kale is hot.  Eataly has a "vegetable butcher" and people are STANDING IN LINE for vegetables.  http://nymag.com/restaurants/features/69369/

Who knew?  I am a fashionista and did not know it.  I could hold my own at a Manhattan cocktail party - discussing such things as the relative merits of potato varieties.  Or the best way to make babaghanouj.

I am not sure how I feel about this.  Glad that the much maligned vegetable kingdom is getting its due.  Worried that the East Coast foodie establishment is going to turn vegetable eating into some kind of competitive sport for status seekers.  I mean, if Iron Chef featured "Battle Broccoli" last August, can the reality shows be far behind?

I know!  How about a show about a select group of Midwestern CSA members with day jobs who cook seasonal organic vegetables IN THEIR OWN HOMES, day in and day out?  Peeling, chopping, steaming, composting, stir frying, blanching, draining.   The visuals will be so exciting.  The suspense will be terrific.  Who will fold first and order a pepperoni pizza?  Who will have a melt down because they just can't deal with a six pound Napa cabbage?  Who will cheat, use tons of butter on everything and call it good enough?  Are you in?  Let's call a producer and pitch this idea.

This is all food for thought as you and your family deal with your latest CSA box.  I know I am not thinking about the latest food trends when I am bagging my broccoli, peeling carrots or smashing a clove of garlic.  In fact I am more than a little suspicious of food fads.  I just want some tasty and healthy homemade meals that don't require tons of time.  I am pretty happy to sit down to a plate piled with simple roasted root vegetables and a piece of cheese and fruit for dessert.

So here are some ideas from my kitchen to yours.  I am sorry if you are still tired due to Thanksgiving culinary overexertion.  Too bad.  We still have to get up and do what needs to be done.  Take comfort in the fact that we ordinary Midwesterners are right in step with the New York trendsetters.  We are so cool. We are eating vegetables!

I am still a fan of broccoli in pasta casseroles. A few nights ago I cooked up a bunch of mostaccioli, blanched broccoli very briefly in the pasta water at the end of cooking time and drained the pasta and broccoli.  I mixed it together with leftover chopped turkey pieces and a bunch of turkey gravy and it was great.  If you have no turkey or gravy, there is always cheese sauce.  Or some pesto.  Or some sweet red pepper puree or even thinned hummus.

And there is nothing wrong with good old broccoli and dip. Maybe take some time to experiment with a new homemade dip.  I like the flavor of curry powder with raw vegetables.  Start work now and you can unveil your new dip creation on Super Bowl Sunday.

Even I have been having a little trouble keeping up with the robust supply of beautiful Featherstone carrots.  No worries.  They keep so well.

My strategies:
Soups and stews
Always use a little chopped carrot in soups and stews as part of the flavor base.  I put some in pea soup a few days ago and also used some in my turkey stock.

Grate or shred raw, fresh carrot and mix with a little vinaigrette for a quick salad.  Add raisins, sunflower seeds, cut up apple - you decide.

Cook up a bunch of carrots (peel and chunk) in boiling water until they are pretty soft and the water is almost gone (if you drain water keep it for soup).  Mash with a potato masher and a little oil or butter.  I did this at Thanksgiving and added some cumin and a little sauteed garlic and it was a great dip with homemade pita chips.
I think mashed carrots would make a great sandwich filling - especially with some fresh herbs and maybe a few chopped walnuts mixed in.

Diced roasted carrots make a great snack.  Put them in a bowl or jar on the counter and eat them like peanuts.  Very satisfying.

Have you mastered roasting garlic?  I confess I have not. But I am having better luck by following a few rules.  I have learned to be patient - garlic does not take well to high temperatures.  I also prefer breaking up the bulb into separate cloves - UNPEELED.  Make sure to coat the cloves lightly in olive oil before roasting.  Cook in a 350 degree oven  until the cloves are soft.  Squeeze out the roasted garlic.  Use right away (add to mashed potatoes or use on a pizza or toss with pasta) or save in a covered jar.  If you have this around you will find ways to use it.

Spinach and lettuce
Do you know how lucky we are to be eating locally grown organic salad greens in Minnesota in December?  No need to get fancy with these greens. Just wash and dry and serve with your favorite salad dressing.  This is such good spinach I don't think I would "waste" it by cooking.  At least this time of year.  Don't forget your beets.  A few roasted beets on a green salad are very nice.

Butternut squash
Cut this in half and roast it.  Scoop out the flesh and mash.
Or peel and steam and then mash.  Lately I have been mixing mashed squash with cooked polenta (about 1 part squash to 3 parts corn).  It is great for breakfast with maple syrup or supper with a little bacon, herbs or tomato sauce.  Squash puree is also great mixed into quick bread or muffin recipes or even simple buttermilk pancakes.

Sweet Dumpling squash
These little guys are great stuffed and baked.  Use your creativity when it comes to stuffing.  Mix grains like cooked rice or barley with some onion and nuts - like a pilaf.  Or add some sausage to bread crumbs.  Add herbs.  Moisten with a little stock or wine or beer.

Red fingerling potatoes
Try this easy recipe for potato pizza.  I might add a little bacon or chopped ham to the basic potato mixture.  This is also a great way to use up some fresh garlic.

Savoy cabbage
This is considered the king of cabbages by some.  Here is an Italian recipe (this is a variety commonly found in Italy) for soup.  It calls for one cup of chopped ramps (wild leeks).  They grow all over the woods of Southeast Minnesota in the spring.  This time of year I would substitute regular leeks or use some extra garlic or onion or even scallions.

6 T. good olive oil
1 large onion, minced
1 medium head Savoy cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped
1/2 t. salt
1 cup wild leeks(ramps) or other leeks
1 quart vegetable or chicken or ham broth
2 T. chopped fresh parsley (preferably Italian type)
8 3/4 inch slices day old peasant bread
4 garlic cloves, cut in half
Saute the onion and leeks in the olive oil about 5 minutes over low heat until soft.  Add cabbage and sprinkle with salt.  Cover and cook over medium heat until cabbage wilts - about 7 minutes.  Bring broth to boil in large soup pot and add cabbage and onion mixture to broth.  Simmer on low heat about 20 minutes.  Add parsley and take off heat.
Toast bread and immediately rub with garlic.  Put two slices in each soup plate or bowl.  Pour soup over bread and serve immediately with salt and pepper on the side.
Serves 4.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Radishes

Thanksgiving 2010 has come and gone and so has Black Friday.  As I write this I have the turkey carcass and bones simmering in a big pot on the stove with some onion, leek, carrot and herbs.  Turkey broth is happening and I am happy about that.  I have some leftover gravy too, and that will get combined with some of the leftover turkey meat (we had a 25 pound bird) and probably served on toast with some cranberry sauce on the side.  I hope you have some leftover turkey too.  I put some of our leftover baked winter squash into our morning cornmeal mush -- that is one of my favorite things to do with leftover squash.  More leftover turkey is going into a salad with romaine lettuce, toasted black walnuts, chopped apple and dried cranberries - with a simple olive oil vinaigrette.

We had 18 at our table on Thursday from ages 3 to 94.  Some of them came on Monday and Tuesday so I have been working overtime in the kitchen for about a week now.  This is good - always takes care of any lingering fantasies I may occasionally entertain about opening a restaurant.

My family includes one vegan, one lactose intolerant person, one peanut allergy, and one gluten abstainer.  This is my family and I love them, so I rose to the challenge.  One thing about having a vegan at the table - no butter automatically added to vegetables. Did us all a favor.  And our vegan make some pretty good chocolate cake with butternut squash.

Not much going on at our house today - it is a good day to take a refrigerator inventory.  I need to use up a few things before the next winter box arrives.  Like the big black radish.  I never do Black Friday.  But I do do Black Radishes.

I am learning more about radishes in general and black radishes in particular.  (For an intro to radishes, see my previous Focus post.) http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2010/09/focus-radishes-raphanus-sativus.html

Margaret asked me especially to talk about these spicy crunchy guys, since they do not appear to be the most popular among the Featherstone vegetable line up.  If there are any readers out there who open their box and say "Oh goody -- black radishes.  I can hardly wait to eat them!" -- please e mail me right away.  We need to talk.

So this morning I got a black radish out of the back of the crisper drawer and peeled it.  I thinly sliced and then julienned some.  And I grated some.  (note - if you leave the stem on, it provides a convenient little handle when you are grating or slicing.)

I know that the Japanese use lots of winter radishes so I thought I would make a simple dressing with a Japanese twist.  These are basically radish refrigerator pickles.  I keep them on hand for whenever I want some extra crunch or freshness in a dish.  Add these julienned radishes to salads or use as a garnish on Asian noodle soups or other soups.  Use as a side dish if you are having a simple meal of rice, vegetables and broiled meat.
What the heck - have some for breakfast with a poached egg and toast.

Simple dressing for julienned black or daikon radishes
To prepare radishes:  peel, thinly slice.  Stack slices and cut into strips of desired thickness.
Dressing  (easily multiplied)
1 T. EACH :  rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, sherry
plus 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Whisk together ingredients and pour over prepared radishes.  This dressing is enough for 1-2 cups vegetables.
Variation - add julienned carrots to the radishes

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tried and True - Stuffing

Homemade stuffing is a lot of work but worth it.  There are zillions of stuffing recipes out there using all manner of ingredients - sausage, oysters, various kinds of bread or crumbs or rice or other grains.  I read one the other day using figs.  The combination sounded excellent to me but if I tried to make that for my family on Thanksgiving there would be hell to pay.

I don't know about your family, but in mine we like to stick to the familiar when it comes to Thanksgiving.  There is a time for risk taking and a time for caution.  Thanksgiving, culinarily speaking, is a time for caution.  (There are exceptions to this rule.  Like when you are expecting both a vegan and a gluten avoider at your table.  Which is why I have some curried pumpkin and chickpea soup in my refrigerator.  And why tomorrow I am going to make a second stuffing with wild rice and pecans and no butter.)

If you are a Thanksgiving risk taker looking for new stuffing possibilities - you could try Marilyn Monroe's stuffing recipe.  It is pretty involved. but if you have the time and like the idea of including Marilyn in your celebration, then give it a try.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/diningT

This article recipe has engendered quite a vigorous online discussion.  I liked the comments of one writer for the Boston Globe, who agrees with me that Thanksgiving is not a time for menu experimentation.

So today we are going to learn about basic bread stuffing with celery and onions and a few herbs.  This is not my grandmother's stuffing but it is pretty close.   I have already consulted with three of my special kitchen friends - Marion Cunningham (Fannie Farmer cookbook), Marion Rombauer (The Joy of Cooking) and Beatrice Ojakangas (more cookbooks than I can name.)  None of their recipes were quite on target - so this one is my version.  You of course can vary it to please yourself and your family.

Stuffing principles
While there are many stuffing recipes and ingredients - there are key elements that must be present for a dish to be a "stuffing":
1.  The carbs -- usually this is some kind of bread but it can also be rice or other grains like barley.
2.  The  aromatics -- Most stuffing includes onion and celery or the equivalent.  You could use shallots or leeks or celeriac or even fennel.  The idea is to include a few highly flavored vegetables as a flavor and texture accent.
3.  The fat -- Oh yes.  You need some fat.  Butter, oil, chicken or duck or goose fat -- something to add flavor and moisture and richness.  You don't need huge amounts - but you do need some.
4.  The herbs and spices -- The most common stuffing herbs are sage, parsley and thyme.  Spices are basic salt and pepper.  You can vary these - but put some thought into this before you start opening jars.  Less is more.  I could imagine a rice based stuffing with mint, dill and parsley, for example.  Or a corn bread stuffing with cumin and chili powder and cilantro.
5.  The liquid -- I don't like stuffing too wet or too dry.  I like it "just right".  You will need some kind of poultry or vegetable stock or white wine or water or a combination thereof.

Stuffing policy decisions
In or out?
So if a dish is called "stuffing" you would think that means it is prepared inside of something else, right?  How could something be a stuffing if it is not stuffed?
Well, this is just one of those things that does not make any sense.  You can bake stuffing outside of a bird.  I do it all the time.  It saves time (bird cooks faster, less hassle to get stuffing in and out) and you don't have to worry about getting little pieces of bread out from between a turkey rib cage.  You still want some of the poultry juices in the stuffing, for flavor.  I just use a baster to draw up some of the cooking juices and squirt them into the stuffing casserole dish during its final baking.
On the other hand, the flavor of a stuffing cooked in a bird is the best and if you have the time, definitely try it this way.

Homemade bread v. store cubes?
If you want first class stuffing, either make the bread yourself or purchase the best homemade type bread you can find.  Day old is best.  It is pretty easy to stack up bread slices and cut them into little cubes.  (Let the bread sit out for a few hours or bake slices in the oven at a low temp for a short while so it dries out a bit.)

If you must purchase pre-made cubes, please get them plain and not pre-seasoned.  It is easy to add your own herbs and spices and then you avoid that strange fake flavor that storebought industrial croutons all seem to have.

Smooth or chunky?
I love texture in stuffing and if it was up to me I would chop the celery and onion coarsely and add dried fruit and nuts besides.  However, I am cooking for 18 people next Thursday and I know several of them WILL NOT EAT stuffing if they can discern even the slightest nugget of celery.  So I chop onions and celery in the food processor to the point of mushiness.  The flavor is still there and everyone is happy.

Fruit and nuts
The recipe in this post does include some chopped fresh apple.  I like the flavor, moisture and nutrition it adds to stuffing.  Apples are a safe choice if you want to go at least one step beyond basic bread stuffing.  Otherwise, it is up to you.  Raisins, pecans, walnuts, pears - all can be very good in a stuffing.

Other stuff in the stuffing
Oysters, sausage and mushrooms often show up in stuffing recipes.  So do olives, capers and a host of other items.  My advice - use caution.  Now is not the time to use the kitchen sink approach to cooking.  On the other hand, there is Marilyn Monroe's recipe to consider.  Sometimes more is more.

Grandma Peggy's stuffing for a Thanksgiving turkey (about 15 servings)
2 cups chopped celery AND 2 cups chopped onion (If you want to finely chop in a food processor you will end up with about 1 1/2 cups of each)
1/2 cup (1 stick butter) or a bit more (I added a few tablespoons of chicken fat I had from making stock)
18 cups of bread, cut into 1/2 cubes or torn into small pieces (note - three slices of bread equals about 2 heaping cups cubes)
1/4 cup dried sage (you might want a bit less.  I like sage.  If you use fresh sage you can use more because the flavor is not as concentrated. )
2 t. dried thyme (more if using fresh)
1 t. dried rosemary (optional)
2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 cup loosely packed parsley - chopped
2 cups chopped apples (no need to peel)
1-2 cups chicken broth or other flavorful stock.  You can add a little white wine if you want.)
Use good bread.  It helps to have a good bread knife.  I use crusts - why not?

Three slices of bread equals about 2 heaping cups of cubes

You will need a great big bowl if you are working with 18 cups of bread cubes.  Once you add the broth, the amount will shrink down.  You have lots of nice fresh sage in your CSA box - this is a great way to use some of it.

Saute celery and onion in butter on medium heat about 7 minutes - until it is softened.  While that cooks, prepare the bread cubes.  I stack about 4 slices and slice strips and then cut those into cubes.  It goes pretty fast. 
Stir together all ingredients except the broth in a large bowl.  Then add broth in desired amount.  At this point you can refrigerate the stuffing for up to a few days until you are ready to bake it.  Bake at 325 degrees, covered, for about 30 minutes.  If you have pan juices, add them during baking.  Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes more. 
If desired, you can also put this stuffing into the bird.  Don't pack in too tight - leave some room for expansion.  Always take all the stuffing out of the bird before you refrigerate the leftover carcass.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Inspiration -Winter Week #2

In this week's box:  cilantro, parsley, sage, bunched broccoli, cauliflower, bunched tat soi (type of Asian mustard green); carrots; red potatoes, black Spanish radishes, garlic, beets, bagged spinach, butternut squash, acorn squash

Are you getting into the rhythm of winter boxes?  It is kind of nice to be dealing with hardier crops that can hang around for awhile and still be in top form.  Less worry about looming decay.  Less pressure.  Two whole weeks to relax with your vegetables.  I am certainly feeling a bit more mellow now that I am not posting five times a week.

I feel like a party host when the party has moved into the perfect second stage.  You know - when most of the guests have gone home, the eating is pretty much over and you finally have time to sit down with a glass of wine and the plate of food you hid on top of the refrigerator until you had time to eat it.  Time to enjoy some quality time with some of your favorite people.  Less noise,  more laughing and longer stories.  Winter CSA boxes are kind of like that last part of the party.  Take your shoes off.  Simmer down.  Cook like it matters.  Which it does.

During the regular box season I always included menu ideas in each week's Inspiration post.  I think for winter shares I will mostly just give you some ideas for how to use each item in your box.  I bet you can take it from there.  If you are a winter share member by definition you are adventurous, creative and brave.  Who else would sign up for peeling, chopping, grating and otherwise preparing large quantities of cabbage, winter radishes, root vegetables and sometimes unfamiliar greens?  You hardy souls are probably ready to start creating your own menus with hardly any help from me at all.

TIP - make sure you have onions and celery around the house.  You will need them.  

Long live cilantro
How have you been doing with all the cilantro we have been getting?  I have been using a lot with Asian noodle soups as well as Mexican and Indian dishes.  Just search this blog for lots of cilantro ideas.   My fresh cilantro has been lasting a really long time with very little deterioration.  I have not been putting the stems in a jar of water in the refrigerator - I have just been putting it in one of these cool zip loc bags.  Nobody is paying me to say this - these bags are great for storing all kinds of produce.  Give them a try - especially with fresh herbs or leaf lettuce. The product name is Hefty Fresh Extend One Zip bags.

The bunch in my box was perky and cute - but not huge.  I am going to save it for making Thanksgiving stuffing.  Just wrap and refrigerate - it should last for a couple of weeks.  Great in soups and as a garnish for eggs, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.

Sage is lovely with winter squash and with poultry.  I will use mine for stuffing and also with some squash dishes.  If you want you can hang your sage in a warm and well ventilated place and dry it.

Bunched Broccoli
My kids always loved raw broccoli with dill dip.  There is nothing wrong with serving broccoli this tried and true way.  Good for those hours before Thanksgiving dinner is ready and everybody needs a snack.

Instead of going shopping the day after Thanksgiving - why not hang around the house and have a nice brunch?  Make a baked egg dish using blanched chopped broccoli, cheese, ham or sausage or mushrooms,  bread cubes, some melted butter and milk and eggs (about 1 egg to every 1/2 cup milk).  Make sure the bread is well soaked with egg mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.  Maybe some dill or parsley or both.  Bake in a greased dish at 350 degrees until lightly browned and set.

I got three cute little cauliflowers in my box.  I am going to break them up into florets and make some curry.  Chopped onion, carrot, maybe a few diced red bell peppers from the freezer, and some potatoes.  I am getting better at curry improv.  Start with some oil and lightly saute curry powder.  I like to add some mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, chile pepper and fresh ginger to the curry powder.  After the spices have "popped" a bit - add the vegetables and saute a few more minutes.  Add water or broth to desired soupiness.  I love to add a cup or so of red lentils - they add a lot of flavor and texture and protein to curry and they cook really fast.   I also like to add some coconut milk - just enough to round out and enrich the flavor.  Go easy with coconut milk - lots of fat there.  A few handfuls of fresh spinach or chard added at the end of cooking also add great flavor and nutrition.  Cook vegetables until tender and serve over rice with desired chutneys or Indian style pickles.  Yogurt is also nice on the side.

If you don't want to make a curry there is always the tried and true cauliflower with cheese sauce.  Blanch cauliflower.  Mix with homemade cheese sauce - which is just a white sauce with cheese melted into it.  Maybe add some dry mustard powder to the sauce.   Put into a greased shallow baking dish.  Add buttered bread crumbs on the top.  Bake until heated through.  A gratin of cauliflower.  How elegant. 

Tat soi - Asian mustard greens
You can simply wash, dry and stir fry these in some oil with some ginger, garlic and soy sauce.  Serve on the side with any kind of meat, poultry or fish.
I also like to add these greens to boiling chicken or beef stock.  Cook for just a few minutes and pour over cooked rice noodles in a warmed bowl.  Condiments/additions:   fresh herbs like cilantro, basil or mint; lime juice; fish sauce or soy sauce; hoisin sauce; chile sauce or chile paste or hot peppers; bean sprouts, grated winter radish or carrot.  Add a bit of meat or tofu if you want some protein.  I still can't compete with a good bowl of Pho from a Vietnamese restaurant - but I am getting there, with practice.

You can't go wrong if you simply roast peeled and diced carrots with a bit of olive oil and salt.  Roast along with potatoes and beets for a great combo.  We will often make a whole meal of roasted vegetables, with maybe a piece of bread and cheese on the side.

Don't forget carrots make a great curry.  They are also indispensable added to all kinds of soups like beef barley, pea or bean.  I like them grated raw with raisins and a simple vinaigrette made with maple syrup and a little orange juice.

Essential for so many dishes. 
Simplest pasta
Don't forget the simple pleasure of gently sauteing plenty of chopped garlic slowly in a generous amount of  butter and olive oil.  Serve tossed with thin pasta such as vermicelli or angel hair.  Add salt and fresh pepper and some fresh grated Parmesan.  Quick, easy, cheap and wonderful.  If you are starving and tired you do not need to order pepperoni pizza.  Just start boiling water and sauteing garlic.  The garlic aroma will immediately have a restorative effect.  Before you know it you will have a plate of steaming flavorful pasta before you.  It might heal you to the point where you can manage to make yourself a spinach salad too.

If you are having a lot of company for Thanksgiving,  then just go wild and make a great big pot of mashed potatoes.  Need some instructions?  Check out my post for September 11.  If you have leftovers, great.  Just saute a little onion and garlic  and maybe diced celery and add the potatoes along with some milk and maybe a little broth.  Voila!  Potato soup.  Or add some cooked bacon and corn.  Chowder. 
You might want to save out a potato or two to use with the cauliflower for curry.

Black Spanish Radishes
I will come back to these later this week.  I hope you appreciate winter radishes for their crunch and bite.  I am finding uses for them in many salads and in cooked dishes.  Mix together equal parts of rice vinegar and sugar.  Add a dash of salt and a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil.  Peel and grate radish and marinate in the vinegar sugar mixture.  I am quite fond of this as a simple first course salad.  Add grated carrots for extra color and nutrition.  Serve on a bed of spinach or lettuce if desired.

Try this classic salad with a simple meat and potato meal or as a light lunch with bread and cheese.
Salade Russe
Prepare relatively equal amounts of cooked diced potatoes, carrots and beets.  Add some diced fresh onion, lightly cooked peas and a little sweet pickle.  Mix with good mayonnaise - preferably homemade.  Add a little fresh or dried dill to the mayonnaise if desired.
Save some of your beets.  When you get some cabbage in your box we will talk about borscht.

Bagged Spinach
Wash and dry well and store in a ventilated bag.  (Maybe one of those Hefty Fresh Extends?) This time of year it is nice to use spinach in salads.  Try mixing the spinach with a mustardy vinaigrette and serving with some chopped apple, walnuts and blue or swiss cheese.  A little diced or sliced roasted or pickled beets would be a nice addition - on the side of the salad.
If you have some extra spinach - try adding some to a vegetable curry.

Butternut Squash
In a pizza rut?  Try winter squash pizza!
Bake or boil squash and make a puree of the flesh.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Try this on a partly baked pizza crust instead of a tomato sauce.  Top squash pizza with some caramelized onions, some chopped fresh sage and parsley and maybe a little dried thyme,  some chopped cooked chard or spinach and grated cheese of choice.  (Gruyere would be nice.)   If you have some roasted peppers around a few of those would be nice.  Or fresh mushrooms.  Bake in hot oven until crust is done and top is light brown and bubbling. 

Squash and white bean soup
You also could add diced peeled raw squash pieces to cooked white beans and broth for a lovely squash and white bean soup.  Sage and thyme would be a good seasoning, as would rosemary.  Salt and pepper of course.  And start with some sauteed garlic, onion, leeks or shallots.  Maybe a little finely diced carrot and celery for some extra flavor.

Everyday squash

Sunshine in a bowl
I like to add some cooked mashed squash to polenta when I am cooking it.  Cook until thick and serve as a breakfast porridge with some dried cranberries (or even leftover cranberry sauce), maple syrup and a little milk, cream or butter or even yogurt.  If you have some toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds sprinkle a few of those on top too.

Acorn Squash
Make your favorite stuffing.  Partly bake acorn halves.  Add stuffing and bake until squash is done.  A full meal, along with a salad.

I hope you are looking forward to a great Thanksgiving holiday.  On Thursday I will tell you what's going on in our house.  And give a shout out to black radishes, what the heck.

One last mini rant.  Since when did "pan seared" become the word for "fried"?  Keep your eyes peeled for inflated menu-speak.  It is everywhere.  As a defender of the English language I say be careful of these new phrases that come from marketing people.  I am going to start looking for examples and will warn you when I can.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tried and True - Turkey Gravy

I have roasted many Thanksgiving turkeys.  Like a first love, one of those turkeys has a special place in my heart.  My husband and I were young, poor students living far from home.  It was our first Thanksgiving as a married couple and we were only two at the table.  We bought our 18 pound bird at the local Grand Union supermarket for about 29 cents a pound and barely made a dent of course. Thanks to the freezer, we eventually ate it all.  It was good, cheap food.  I don't remember the gravy, but I am sure I made some.

Not that I don't have gravy memories.  I remember often not making enough.  But I think I have finally figured out that part and want to share my secrets with you.  Making gravy is not the same as invading Normandy.  But you do need a plan.  (Note - today I am talking about only the gravy plan.  That is different from the big T-DAY plan.  One step at a time.)

Step 1 - Equipment inventory  
Do this as soon as possible.  Don't wait until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
You will need:
One roasting pan, preferably with a rack (This keeps the bird up off the bottom of the pan.)

One bulb baster (This is the easiest way I know to get at the lovely turkey juices - especially during the roasting process.  Mine is plastic.  Some day I am going to get one of the metal ones.  Either should work fine.)

One whisk (This is for making the roux and the gravy.  Lumps begone.)
The fat rises.  You pour the broth out of the bottom.
One fat separator (You could do without this but it is a very nice tool to have around any kitchen.)
I just love the curvy profile of this gravy boat
One gravy boat (This is also optional.  But I believe in good presentation and Thanksgiving turkey gravy deserves its own showboat, as it were.  It will become an icon to your family over the years.  It will stand for the soothing balm of homemade gravy. This is important.  Because Thanksgiving is not just about the food.  It is about the feelings.)

The official Hanson family roaster
This is my speckled enamel turkey roaster.  I got it 32 years ago at Ayers 5 and 10 cent store in the Westover neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia.  It is a sacred vessel to me and I hope someday to pass it on to someone who will appreciate its charms and benefit from its good juju.  Please do not roast your turkey in a disposable aluminum foil type pan unless you absolutely have to.  For one thing, I think they are dangerous.  They can crumble and fold.  Especially if the contents are too heavy.  Better to borrow a roaster.  Or get one at a second hand store.  Or buy one at a hardware store.  You can still get the kind I have.  They are very affordable and perfectly adequate.   It is good if you get a rack to set the turkey on, too.  I do not think you need to spend $149.95 on a roaster.  (If you are planning on using it for half a century or so, it probably would be a good investment.  But not necessary.)

Step 2  About 4 days before Thanksgiving
Bring your turkey home from wherever you are getting it.  Thaw in refrigerator if it is frozen.  Remove the giblets - the neck, gizzard, heart and liver and keep cold in a separate container.  Make sure you have some onion, celery, parsley, bay leaf and carrot in the house.  Salt and pepper too of course.  And you might need a stick of butter depending on how much fat is or is not in your turkey.

Step 3 Two days before Thanksgiving
Yes you can buy broth and that is ok if you need to.  But it is very expensive and just not as good as what you can make yourself.  And if you don't make broth, what will you do with all the giblets?  One side benefit of making broth is that it will make your house smell good.  Who needs potpourri if you have broth on the back burner?

How to make turkey broth - you will need about 6 cups when you are done
7 cups water
turkey giblets (save the liver for sauteeing separately - a special treat for the cook and a friend while everyone else is watching football)
one cup EACH coarsely chopped onion, carrot and celery.  If you have some leek tops use those too.
7-8 peppercorns
1 cup loosely packed parsley sprigs
3 bay leaves
2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
Put all ingredients in a pot big enough to hold everything comfortably.  Bring to a boil.  Turn down and simmer, partly covered, for 2-3 hours.  Remove the giblets and put in a dish to cool.  After the broth has cooled a bit, pour through a strainer into a large bowl.  Remove meat from the neck and chop.  Finely cut up the heart and gizzard.  (I usually trim the gristly part from the gizzard.)  Reserve and refrigerate the meat in a covered dish.  Refrigerate the broth.

Step 4 Thanksgiving day -- it's SHOWTIME
I will assume that you have figured out how to roast the turkey and that it is cooking away in your oven and you are basting it occasionally.  About half an hour before you think the turkey will be done, pull off some turkey juices with your baster and put them in the fat separator.  You want about 1/2 cup of fat as well as some rich broth. If you don't have at least 1/2 cup of the turkey drippings, then melt some butter so you have a total of 1/2 cup fat.
Make a roux in a large pan with the 1/2 cup fat and 1/2 cup of white flour.  Stir with a whisk about 10 minutes - the mixture should be smooth.  Heat  turkey broth while the roux is cooking.  (You will need about 7 cups total of broth.)  Add hot broth to roux mixture, 1 cup at a time, whisking all the while.  Also add broth from the turkey roaster which you have hopefully extracted with the turkey baster. If gravy is too thick and you don't have any more broth, you can add a little milk or cream to the gravy.Taste for seasoning.  If you have it, add a little chopped fresh parsley.  Just before you are ready to serve the turkey and the trimmings, put HOT gravy in the gravy boat and serve.  Keep reserve gravy hot because you will need to refill the gravy boat several times.

Good luck and may your gravy be smooth.

If you didn't catch this link on Featherstone's FACEBOOK page - check it out.  Root vegetables roasted. Basic skills.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Focus: CRANBERRIES (Vaccinium Macrocarpon)

Cranberries are not vegetables and they are not a fruit grown at Featherstone Farm -- so why I am writing about them?  First,  cranberries are in season.  They are very affordable this time of year.  It is almost Thanksgiving and I think there is a law that some kind of cranberry dish has to be on the table. 

Second, Featherstone Farm is located in the Driftless Region, which includes SE Minnesota and SW Wisconsin.  Our neighbors to the east grow cranberries, big time.  Wisconsin produces more cranberries than any other state - a little over half the national crop. (The next biggest cranberry growing state is Massachusetts at 28% of the national crop.  Michigan, Minnesota and Maine also have significant commercial cranberry production)  Cranberries are also the Wisconsin state fruit.  Read all about Wisconsin cranberries here.  http://www.wiscran.org/about_cranberries_0002/

Third, we can't live on vegetables alone.  (Well, maybe we could but who would want to?  Even vegans consume fruits, nuts, grains and legumes)  Vegetables need buddies, companions, and friends.   Humans need variety.  Cranberries provide extra color, flavor and nutrition to the plate.  A hearty winter vegetable stew with carrots and potatoes and onions is a good thing.  But a little pool of cranberry apple chutney on the side can transform good into perfect. 

Growing cranberries
Cranberries grow on low creeping shrubs or vines in acidic boggy or marshy areas with cool climates.  In Wisconsin and other places, the cranberry bogs are flooded during the fall harvest so the fruit floats. It is then easier to mechanically harvest.  95% of the fruit is used for juice, sauce or drying.  Only 5% is sold fresh.  Much of the fresh crop is dry harvested by hand, to ensure better quality.

Fresh cranberries freeze well.  Just put in freezer bags and store in freezer.  They will keep a year or even longer if well wrapped.  Use them right out of the freezer for baking or other recipes. You can also use cranberries to make juice, jelly or sauce which can be canned or frozen.

Cranberries are marketed these days as "functional foods" or a "superfruit" because various scientific studies show that the fruit is high in antioxidants and cancer preventing properties.  The fruit is also high in vitamin C, A and K and fiber.  There are 46 calories in 100 grams (that's before any sugar is added!)

The Ocean Spray web site has several recipes combining cranberries and vegetables  http://www.oceanspray.com/recipes/  such as: 
Roasted pumpkin (or squash) risotto with cranberry brown butter sauce
Brussels sprouts salad with pancetta and cranberries
Cranberry carrot saute

Cranberries also combine surprisingly well with onions or leeks.  This is a wonderful recipeadapted from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland by Lucia Watson and  Beth Dooley.     

Cranberry Leek Compote - makes 5-6 cups
Serve at room temperature.  Will keep in refrigerator about 5 days or freeze.
1/2 cups currants or dried cranberries
1 cup apple cider
4 cups cranberries, rinsed and sorted
3/4 cup sugar
6 T. butter (you could cut this back a bit and not hurt the results.  Or use part olive oil)
2 1/2 pounds leeks, sliced (white and light green parts)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Soak dried fruit in cider in a sauce pan about half an hour.  Add fresh cranberries. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes - until berries begin to pop.  Stir in sugar and set aside. 
Saute leeks in butter over low heat about 25 minutes.  Stir frequently.  Add cranberries and liquid and cook another 3-5 minutes.  Cool and salt and pepper to taste.

Here is a similar recipe with a wonderful name - from Jane Brody's Good Food Gourmet.  She suggests baking this dish not more than 8 hours before serving for best results.  Use an ovenproof skillet to avoid extra dishwashing
Pearls and Rubies
1 1/2 pounds pearl onions (peel by dropping into boiling water for 2 minutes to soften skins.  Slice off root ends and skins will slip off)
1 T. butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup cranberries
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cook onions in butter in skillet until they are lightly browned.  Turn occasionally to prevent sticking.  Add sugar, salt, pepper, cranberries and broth.  Place skillet in the oven, uncovered and bake for about 30 minutes.
Cranberry condiments

Traditional whole cranberry sauce
Boil 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar for about 5 minutes.  Add one 12 ounce bag (about 3 cups) cranberries and simmer another 10 minutes - until the berries pop.  Cool.  Store in refrigerator for up to a week.
Try this with acorn or sweet dumpling or other smaller squash.  Just cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, add about 1/3 cup whole cranberry sauce mixed with 1 t. port into the cavity.  Place in baking dish, cover and bake at 350 degrees until squash is tender.

Cranberry chutney
This is wonderful with any kind of meat or poultry.  It also would be a good complement to pasta or rice dishes made with squash, potatoes, beets, cabbage or carrots.  This will keep in a covered jar in the refrigerator for many weeks.
2 cups chopped apples (Haralson would be good)
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup sweet red pepper, chopped
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup cider or white vinegar
1/2 cup golden or dark raisins
1 t. minced fresh garlic
1 T fresh grated ginger
hot red pepper flakes to taste
Simmer all ingredients in a non reactive pot about half an hour - until apples are tender.  Refrigerate at least a day before eating.

Cranberry salsa
Add the following to 2 cups of whole cranberry sauce:  1 T chopped fresh hot peppers, 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro, 1 t. cumin, 1 T fresh lime juice, 1 clove minced fresh garlic, 1/2 cup chopped red onion

Cranberry sauce for cooked beets
Mix 1 cup cranberry juice, 1 T cornstarch and 1 T. sugar in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and stir until thickened.  Add 1 t. grated orange zest.  Mix with sliced or chopped cooked beets.
(Try adding some extra sugar and using this as a topping for pancakes or gingerbread)

Cranberry vinaigrette
This can be used on salad greens or with blanched vegetables as a marinade.  I think it would be good with as a salad with cooked carrots or brussels sprouts.  You might try it with finely sliced red and green cabbage as a slaw.  Add a few dried cranberries for a double cranberry treat.
1/2 cup olive or walnut oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup whole cranberry sauce
2 t. Dijon type mustard
1 T. real maple syrup or honey or sugar
1/2 t. salt  (Or more to taste)
1/8 t. pepper
Mix until smooth in a blender or food processor.

Baking with fresh cranberries

Dried cranberries can be used just like raisins in zillions of recipes for cookies, muffins, quickbreads and granolas.  I like to use fresh cranberries in baking - the flavor has more zing.
This recipe won a prize at the 2010 Wisconsin State Fair
Cranberry walnut banana bread

2 medium bananas, mashed
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 t. grated orange zest
2 c. flour (whole wheat pastry flour is nice to use)
1/4 cup ground flax seed
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, cut in half (I know, I know, this is a pain.  But it is better than chopping in a food processor)
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
Cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs and orange zest.  Stir in mashed bananas.  Stir in dry ingredients.  Add cranberries and nuts, stirring to mix well.  Put batter into two greased 9 x 5 pans and bake 60-70 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Inspiration - Winter week #1

In this week's winter box:  Salad  mix, 2 heads of red leaf lettuce, broccoli, cilantro, arugula, napa cabbage, carrots, red potatoes, white daikon radish, garlic, leeks, green Kabocha squash, sweet dumpling squash

Well - the American people have spoken and now we are going to see some change for sure.  For better or for worse?  That remains to be seen.  Politics is kind of like cooking.  You need to do the best with what you have.  And sometimes what you think might be a strange combination turns out really great.  Sometimes we find that we acquire a taste for a new thing we thought we hated.  Like liver.  It is good for me.  My mother made me eat it.  I used to hate liver.  Now I like it.  Is there a lesson for me there?  Something to ponder today while I listen to MPR.

And the work never goes away.  Every morning you need to get up and do what needs to be done.  In my case today I am going to make a pot of soup with some Great Northern beans.  Maybe I should look up the famous U.S. Senate bean soup recipe and make that.  In honor of that august body. And in honor of Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.  I hope somebody is cooking some good healthy food for them every day.  They will need it.

Public servants who lost their jobs last night might be kind of depressed.   Maybe they are thinking about the next holiday to get their mind off their troubles. There are only 22 shopping and cooking days left until Thanksgiving.  If you are a Thanksgiving host, it is not too soon to start thinking about your menu.  Or if you have promised to bring a dish or two to someone else's house - do you know what you will bring?  Maybe this is the year to try something besides the green beans with cream of mushroom soup and canned french fried onion rings?  Just saying.

How many people will be at your table?  Maybe you want to stash some of your CSA squash or carrots or leeks in preparation for some special dish?  Next week I will give you a few recipes that are a little more special or labor intensive than usual - get you thinking about the big November feast.

Meanwhile, there are everyday meals to make.  Because even in the middle of a political tsunami, life goes on.  Maybe especially in the middle of a political tsunami it is important to pay attention to the important daily details of life - like cooking and eating decent meals.  Maybe you know someone who just lost their job (either due to the election results or just the economy in general).  Why don't you ask them to dinner?  Maybe even invite them for Thanksgiving?  It would be the right thing to do.


Grated carrot - daikon radish salad with asian vinaigrette - on a bed of red leaf lettuce; Chinese cabbage and noodle soup*; fresh tangerine (prices are good this time of year)

Salad of mixed greens with a mustardy vinaigrette; White beans with arugula and pork*; roasted carrots; braised napa cabbage (the napa cabbage in your boxes this week is so huge I am including lots of ideas on how to use it.  But before you get too intimidated by the godzilla napa - remember that it cooks down quite a bit.  If you have some pickled beets on hand or want to make some, I think they would be a nice addition to this meal.

Winter vegetable soup*; bread and cheese; apple crisp

Simple meat and vegetable stew*; cole slaw made with napa cabbage, carrots and a little julienned or grated daikon; rye crackers; baked squash with honey or maple syrup and cinnamon and nutmeg - maybe a little butter too.  Almost like a dessert.

Squash and lentil dal* with rice; cilantro chutney; a dish of sliced bananas with yogurt and a little honey

Lettuce/mixed greens salad; pasta (e.g. penne, fusilli, rotelle) with broccoli and pesto*; bread; ice cream or sorbet


Chinese cabbage and noodle soup - Serves 4
2-3 pounds Napa cabbage - washed and sliced in about one inch strips - separate the harder stalk sections from the leafy parts.
1 T. cooking oil
4 cloves fresh garlic, smashed
8 dried Chinese black mushrooms, softened in hot water, drained, stems removed, caps sliced (save strained mushrom soaking liquid for broth)
1/2 cup Chinese rice wine or sake
one ten ounce package rice stick noodles
1 t. salt, or to taste
4 - 5 cups chicken broth (simmer with 2 T. chopped fresh ginger and strain before using in soup)

Heat oil in a large pot.  Add stalk sections of cabbage, garlic and sliced mushrooms and stir fry about one minute.  Add one cup of broth and rice wine, cover and simmer about 5 minutes on medium heat.  Uncover, add remaining broth and salt and bring to a boil.  Then turn down to simmer and cook another 15 minutes.
While broth is simmering, put the rice stick noodles in a pan and pour boiling water over them so they will soften.
Strain noodles.  Add them and the leafy sections of the cabbage to the broth.  Cook and stir about 2 minutes - until the cabbage wilts and the noodles are tender. Serve in large bowls.  Garnish with fresh cilantro if desired.  Serve with soy sauce or hot pepper sauce if desired.  

Winter vegetable soup
There are infinite versions of this kind of soup cooked every day on the planet.  This version makes good use of the vegetables you have in your box.  Feel free to vary according to your own tastes and the ingredients you happen to have on hand in your kitchen.  I am a believer in the value of a little smoked or cured pork or other meat in this type of soup.  If you are not a meat eater, then I encourage you to prepare or purchase a good vegetable stock for flavor.  Maybe a spoonful of miso would be a good idea.  The meat adds a lot of flavor and you will need to come up with good substitutes.  If you want more protein in this soup - whether or not you use meat - you can add a few cups of cooked beans.  Then you will want to add more stock or water, too.
3 T. butter, lard or bacon fat or olive oil
2 cups sliced leeks  (white and light green parts - save the dark green tops for vegetable stock) Onions can be substituted for the leeks
2 cups sliced or diced carrots
4 cups shredded cabbage (about one pound)
2 cloves minced garlic

2 cups diced potatoes
About 1/2 pound of smoked sausage, pancetta, a ham bone with some meat on it, or other flavorful
smoked or cured meat such as a smoked pork hock.
6 cups of water or stock
1 t. salt, 1/2 t. pepper - more to taste
other possible seasonings:  fresh dill and caraway; bay leaf and thyme; parsley and paprika
Saute all the vegetables in the fat for about 10 minutes - this helps develop flavor.  Add water or stock and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered,  for about 1 1/2 hours.

Meat and potato stew - Serves six.  Based on an old Finnish recipe.
1 - 2 pounds meat (stew beef, chunks of pork, pieces of chicken)
1 T. fat - bacon drippings, lard, butter or oil
2 t. salt
4 cups boiling water
5 whole allspice
2 cups coarsely chopped onions or sliced leeks
2-3 cups carrots, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
2-3 cups potatoes, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
Brown meat in the fat.   Add the salt, boiling water and allspice and simmer about one hour or until meat is tender.  Add vegetables and cook on low heat until vegetables are tender.  Add more water if necessary.
Note - this very simple stew has a thin broth rather than a thick gravy.  If you want, serve the broth separately in a cup.  You also could make some simple dumplings (make a batch of dough as if you were making baking powder biscuits, but use a little less flour so the dough is not too dry and steam them in the stew the last 20 minutes of cooking.)  A handful of fresh parsley and dill would be great added at the last minute.

Pasta with broccoli and pesto
1 bunch fresh broccoli - washed and trimmed into bite size pieces
1 pound pasta
5 T. olive oil
2-3 fresh garlic cloves, smashed
1/3 cup basil pesto  (aren't you glad that you made some pesto last summer when the basil was around?)
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan for garnish - optional
Blanch the broccoli for about 4 minutes and drain.  Save the cooking water.  Add more water to the cooking water and cook pasta according to package directions.  While the pasta is cooking, saute garlic in oil in a large pan.  Then add and saute the broccoli a few minutes.  Drain pasta (save about 1 cup of cooking water)   and add it to the vegetables in the pan along with about one cup of cooking water.  Stir in the pesto - correct seasoning - and serve in warmed bowls or on warm plates.  (Warming dishes is a nice touch - especially in the winter)

Squash and lentil dal - serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups red split lentils
3 1/4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 t. ground turmeric
2 t. cumin seeds, crushed
1 1/4 pounds firm and fairly dry winter squash such as kuri or kabocha or buttercup cut into 1/2 inch cubes
(you could also substitute carrots for some or all of the squash)

Wash lentils and place in a pot.  Add stock, onions and seasonings and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes or until lentils begin to soften.   Add squash and cook another 5-8 minutes, or until squash is tender and lentils are thickened.  Serve with rice and desired condiments such as cilantro chutney.  (search this blog for Oct 11 post - cilantro sauce and cilantro mint chutney - for recipes using fresh cilantro)

White beans with arugula
1 cup dried beans (or 3 cups canned or cooked)
Soak beans overnight.  (you can use cannellini, great Northern, navy or other white bean)  Drain the next day and cook, covered with 2 inches of water.  Simmer gently - should take about one hour depending on the beans.  Season beans with salt.
1/4 cup good olive oil
4 chopped cloves of garlic
1 t. fresh herb - such as rosemary or sage.
1 bunch of arugula, washed well and chopped
Saute garlic in olive oil (gently - don't brown or burn).  Add herbs.  Stir in beans. Add arugula and cook just a few minutes - until arugula is wilted. Serve with extra olive oil and/or grated parmesan.  If you have some sun dried tomatoes around I think a few of those chopped and stirred in would be nice. Same with olives.