Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Inspiration - Winter Week #5

In this week's box:  Butternut squash, red cabbage, yellow potato, carrots, black Spanish radish, Beauty Heart radish, beets, garlic (final week)

I hope you all had a joyous holiday season and that you enjoyed cooking and eating beautiful vegetables with any special meals you may have shared with friends and family.

I have been traveling since Dec. 23 and now am in Atlanta visiting my son and his family.  I'm going to cook out of their CSA box tomorrow -- but I can still write about YOUR Featherstone CSA box, thanks to Margaret Marshall telling me what you are getting. 

Before I talk about recipes - I would like to tell you about a book I just started reading.  It is called The Lost Art of Real Cooking - Rediscovering the Pleasures of Traditional Food One Recipe at a Time, by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger.  This is a humble little book - only 233 pages including the index.  No color pictures and just a few line drawings.  It was published by the Penguin Group in 2010.

I like this book because it extols the virtues of cooking real food at home, from scratch.  The authors make the case that convenience and speed are overrated and admit to being "obstinately old-fashioned".  These folks are singing my song.  A brief excerpt:
"Cooking slowly with patience is inherently entertaining, and the food it yields tastes better, costs less, and connects you with the people you feed in a way that a prefabricated meal can never hope to do.  There is, it cannot be denied, unspeakable pleasure in providing sustenance for others with the labor of one's own hands."  Food for thought.

Speaking of unspeakable pleasure,  let's talk about the vegetables in your box.  This week I am focusing especially on salad ideas - since January is a time when local and seasonal eaters can be challenged to think of alternatives to the omnipresent green "tossed salad".   I hope these recipes get you started on developing your own winter salad favorites. 

Butternut Squash
On my trip I have seen butternut squash being used in salads on many menus. This is what I have come up with:

Squash salad
Peel, seed and dice (1/2 to 1 inch pieces) butternut squash and steam or boil until just barely tender - you don't want the squash to fall apart.  
Ingredients (about six servings)
(Note  - you can vary amounts according to your own taste.  If you want to add a cup or two of cooked beans - garbanzos or cannelini or even black beans would be nice - this would be a full meal.)
3 cups cooked, diced squash
2 cups cooked barley
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup chopped onion (red?) or shallots
1 cup raw winter radishes or carrots - cut into matchsticks - for crunch
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Your favorite vinaigrette - I think making it with some fresh orange juice would be nice.  A little honey or maple syrup would complement the sweetness in the squash.

Red Cabbage
I am getting to be a big fan of raw red cabbage.  Again, in winter when salad greens are scarce, it is nice to have alternatives for raw and crunchy foods.  
I love the Vietnamese salads that combine rice noodles, various raw or pickled vegetables and herbs and some kind of protein.  This recipe is my invention - let's call it 
Russian salad (with a nod to Vietnamese noodle salad)
Soba (Buckwheat) noodles - cooked and drained - about 3 ounces per serving (You could also substitute cooked buckwheat groats)
Thinly sliced red cabbage - about 1 cup per serving
Grated or julienned winter radish - about 1/3 cup per serving
Grated raw carrot - about 1/3 cup per serving
A few sliced cooked beets (pickled would be nice)
Dressing(this should be enough for at least 4 servings):  
1/2 c. sunflower oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 T. sugar or honey
season to taste: salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, dill weed, maybe a little grated horseradish root or prepared whole grain mustard
Protein - sliced roast pork or beef or marinated or sauteed tofu or a few canned sardines or salmon or a few slices of cooked sausage such as summer sausage or polish sausage.
Assembly - for each individual serving:
place soba noodles (room temp or a little warm) in a large bowl.  Arrange on top the sliced and grated vegetables in an attractive fashion.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche and a spoonful of toasted sunflower seeds.  Serve dressing on the side.

Yellow Potato
Don't forget about potato soup.  In the winter we eat it at our house at least once a week.  You can add greens, some carrots or some frozen or canned corn.  Use it a base for seafood chowder or for a hearty stew with sausage and kale or other greens.  Or keep it simple - just onion, potato, water, salt and pepper and a little milk and butter at the end.  Maybe some chopped fresh parsley.  
Or make potato salad - which is not just for summer picnics.

Winter potato salad - about 4 servings

Boil one pound potatoes until just tender.  Cool slightly, peel and cut into cubes.  Sprinkle about 1/4 cup white wine vinegar on the potatoes and let it soak in.
Thinly slice some onion or shallot - about 1/4 cup.  Thinly slice about 1 cup raw fennel or celery or radish or a combination.  Mix with potatoes.  Add some chopped dill pickle or hard boiled egg if desired. 
Dress with a mustardy vinaigrette.  Good served at room temperature with sliced cold meats, some rye bread and beer or ale.

Winter Radishes 
Don't forget that you can just peel and thinly slice winter radishes and eat them in sandwiches with your favorite fillings. 

Or you can get more ambitious. I ate at a popular and trendy restaurant in Durham, North Carolina a few days ago.  I ordered  flounder with radishes because I am working on de-mystifying the winter radish.  (The fresh flounder was a great treat.  Especially because I knew it was caught sustainably.)

So -- here is how they did it at the Piedmont Restaurant:  Filet of flounder floured and fried so it was just lightly crispy and hot.  This was served atop the raw radish salad so as to gently warm and wilt the salad.  The salad was simple - very thinly sliced daikon radish mixed with thinly sliced celery and red onion.  The radish had been marinated in a little cider vinegar, sugar and salt so it was slightly pickled tasting.  That was it.  The contrast between the tart radish and the buttery fried fish was lovely.  You could do this at home with walleye or other fish.

Here is a link to the current regular menu for Piedmont.  Note the absence of tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, eggplant, corn etc.  Note the presence of turnip, kale, radish, mustard greens, leek, cabbage, beets and pickled vegetables.  More evidence - neither home cooks or restaurants need to depend on California and South America to eat or serve vegetables year round - in North Carolina or in Minnesota. 

Beets and Carrots

So I need to know - are you having trouble using up beets or carrots?   If you still have an excess of carrots - dice them and roast up a bunch - they are great to eat just as a snack by the handful.  Or boil and puree with the cooking water.  Freeze and use later in a cream of carrot soup.
As for beets, if all else fails just pickle them.  They complement many winter dishes.  They make a nice side dish with mac and cheese.  Or eat on a hamburger instead of lettuce and tomato.  Here's how to pickle beets:   http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2010/10/tried-and-true-pickled-beets.html

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