Monday, February 28, 2011

Hands On - a bakery in your kitchen?

Do you like to eat muffins, scones, corn bread, pancakes, dumplings, tea breads (like banana bread) or biscuits? 

It is really easy to make quick breads at home.  It helps to have a system for organizing basic ingredients and equipment.  Once you are set up and get some practice and experience,  you can whip up pancakes or biscuits in minutes.  Baking at home is a great way to save money and ensure that you are eating food that is much fresher and healthier and tastes better than anything you can buy at a store or even a bakery.  (Note -- We can talk about yeast bread another day.  You can also easily make yeast breads at home and improve the quality of your meals exponentially.)

Here is a picture of the baking corner I have in my kitchen.  My kitchen has three corners.  I designed each corner to have a complete round lazy susan in the base cabinet.  Thus in the back of each corner I have a raised area where I can put frequently used items and not sacrifice working counter space.  You can't see the Kitchen Aid mixer just to the right of the vintage canisters.  That is one of my secret weapons.

If you want to bake quick breads the easy way, find a place in your kitchen where the following items are within easy reach:
flour (I like to keep whole wheat pastry flour and all purpose white flour on hand for quick breads), corn meal, white sugar, brown sugar, non stick spray for baking pans, kosher salt, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch.  Depending on the kinds of recipes you use often, you might also want rolled oats, wheat bran or whole wheat flour.  I keep small containers of sugar and cinnamon sugar when I need a quick shake of either.  Also vanilla. Cocoa would also be a good item to keep handy.

Here are other staples you might keep on hand:
In the pantry or cupboard:  honey, molasses, various dried fruits or nuts, special grain products like rye, barley or oat flour.  (Depending on how often you use nuts, you might want to store those in the freezer.)  Most cooking oils can be stored at room temperature.  I have been using a nice Minnesota cold pressed virgin sunflower oil lately - I keep it refrigerated because it is not highly refined.

In the refrigerator:  Buttermilk or plain yogurt, butter, eggs, real maple syrup, milk.  Maybe lard if you like it for pie crust.  I am practically never without buttermilk.  It keeps quite well and is crucial for many quick breads.  It also can be used in salad dressings and soups.  I use it as a starter for creme fraiche, too.

Basic equipment:
a few mixing bowls of different sizes (I really like my nesting stainless bowls - lightweight, unbreakable and easy to clean.), measuring cups and spoons, mixing spoons and a whisk, a few silicone scrapers, a pastry brush.  A spatula for lifting and flipping pancakes.  A rolling pin is nice for biscuits.  Or you can just pat the dough, too.

You also will need an area to work - I would say three feet of counter space at a minimum.

Here are a few common quick bread recipes to get you started.  You do not need Bisquick.  You do not need any mix.  Just use real food.

Buttermilk pancakes - makes 18 medium pancakes
1 cup flour (I use about 1/3 each: whole wheat pastry flour, all purpose flour and cornmeal.)
1 T. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 egg, beaten
1 cup (maybe a little more if batter seems too thick) buttermilk or plain yogurt thinned with a little milk or water)
3 T. melted butter or cooking oil or a combination

Mix together dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.  Combine - mix just until blended.  Don't overbeat.  Cook on a griddle.

Cornbread- one 8 x 8 pan or twelve muffins
I like this recipe because it is moist and not crumbly. Make sure you use good quality fresh stoneground cornmeal. 
Dry ingredients:
2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup wheat germ, ground flax seed or whole wheat pastry flour
1 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 T. brown sugar
Wet ingredients:
2 eggs, beaten
2 T. oil or melted butter or lard
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease an 8 x 8 baking pan.  (You can also use a 10 inch cast iron frying pan.) Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Mix wet ingredients in a larger bowl.  Whisk dry ingredients into the wet.   Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until firm in the middle and lightly browned on top.
(Note  - you can also make corn muffins - just use a greased muffin tin and bake 10-12 minutes.)

Cream biscuits - makes one dozen small biscuits
This recipe is super quick and easy because you do not need to cut butter or lard into the flour.  Just use a light touch and don't overmix.
2  cups all purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 T. (same as 3 t.) baking powder
2 t. sugar
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend with a fork.  Slowly add 1 cup cream, while stirring.  The dough should start holding together.  If it doesn't and there is still a lot of dry flour, add a bit more cream until double holds together.  You don't want dough too wet or sticky - just enough cream so dough is not falling apart.  Knead dough on a lightly floured surface briefly - no more than a minute - until dough is smooth.  Pat into a square and cut into 12 pieces.  Dip each piece into melted butter and place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

This is the famous Cafe Latte buttermilk scone recipe.  I clipped it out of the Star Tribune about 20 years ago - when people still clipped recipes.  You can add your favorite fruits or nuts or even chopped crystallized ginger.   Add just currants for a scone classic.  This recipe makes 18 good sized scones and they freeze well.  And they cost a lot less than $1.89 each or whatever scones are selling for these days.  You will need a large mixing bowl.

4 cups all purpose flour (you could use half whole wheat pastry flour)
2 T. sugar
4 1/2 teaspooons baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2/3 cup cold butter, cut into bits
About  1 1/2 cup buttermilk
one egg beaten with a tablespoon or two of milk for glaze - called an egg wash

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, two knives or even your fingertips.  You want little pea sized clumps.  Work fast and don't overmix.
Add buttermilk and mix.  If dough seems too dry add a little bit more buttermilk.  Scoop dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until it is smooth.  This is the stage where you can add some chopped dried fruit or nuts or even chocolate chips or fresh herbs if you want.
Divide dough into three pieces and pat each into a round.  Cut each round into six wedges.  Brush each scone with a little of the egg wash and then place on an ungreased baking sheet (if you have parchment paper you can line the sheet with that.) The egg wash is optional but I think it makes the scones look much nicer.  You can even sprinkle a little raw sugar on top to gild the lily.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Zucchini or carrot bread
See this past post for this recipe.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Potluck: Let's go to New York City

The last Featherstone Farm 2010-11 CSA winter share box has been delivered.  Last Saturday we had a nice party in one of the greenhouses for winter share members and farm staff. Evan grilled some venison and chicken and we sampled some fabulous vegetable stews and soups.  Frank and I brought a pot of homegrown and home ground polenta.

Sign up for the 2011 summer season has begun in earnest -- Jack, Margaret or Evan will be attending CSA fairs and other events - signing up new and returning members.  Check out the new payment options -- it will be easier than ever to spread out your payments if you want to do that.  To sign up online for 2011 go here: 

Even though our CSA boxes have stopped for now, our need to eat - and cook -  does not end.  So our cooking conversation will continue as we use up the last of our cabbage, carrots and potatoes and more and look forward to the first box of the spring.  I will be posting at least once a week until June.  Frank and I will be working on more videos, too. 

This week's post is about kitchen design.  This matters.  If you like your kitchen you are more apt to like cooking in it.  If you like to cook, you and your family will eat more home cooked meals, made from scratch.  If you eat more home cooking you will be happier and healthier -- and wealthier.

I would love for you to be happy, healthy and wealthy so I am going to devote some posts to the topic of kitchens and kitchen design.  This is not about spending thousands of dollars on a dream kitchen.  This is about being more thoughtful about the space and resources you have. Are there ways you can re-organize or customize your space to make it more convenient and user friendly?

Which brings us - at last - to New York City.  NYC is the home of MoMA - the Museum of Modern Art - and one of its current exhibitions:  
"Counter space: design + the modern kitchen".  It will run until May 2, 2011.  If you can't visit in person, the extensive and detailed web site is the next best thing. 

If you go to this link and scroll down, you will see a collection of videos.  I especially encourage you to click on the one called "A Step-saving Kitchen" - a USDA video made in 1949 for rural families.

It is a little over 13 minutes long, so watching it is a commitment.  This is not fast paced.  I found it fascinating and quite relevant to today's cooks - even those who do not live on a farm.  It might help you think about your own cooking and eating style and how you might re-arrange your kitchen to make food preparation, clean up and even preservation more convenient.  One of my favorite features of the "model" kitchen was a little hole in the counter for food waste. The USDA seemed to assume that the household would know what to do with the scraps.  The word compost was not mentioned.  There seemed to be an assumption that there was a pig somewhere nearby.  Or at least a garden.

If you have extra time and would enjoy a few laughs - I also recommend one of the other videos - "A Word to the Wives".  This one, also about 13 minutes, is pure cultural anthropology and Madison Ave. psychology.  While you watch you might think about ways that advertisers today mess with our minds and attitudes about food and cooking.  This has been going on for a long time.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Inspiration - Winter Box #8

In this week's box:  White and red daikon radish, green cabbage, mixed potatoes, carrots, beets, purple top turnips

I was a little anxious yesterday afternoon as I drove to the farm to get my box.  Worrying about whether you are getting tired of borscht and cole slaw and potato soup.  Wondering if I would be able to come up with some new ideas to help us all get through February.  Hoping that my husband was having fun back in our kitchen - making a Valentine's Day dinner for us.  Guess what - we had roasted root vegetables (parsnips, potatoes, carrots and squash), fresh salad greens from a neighbor's greenhouse, liver pancakes and boiled pork tongue.  (I know, I know.  You are horrified.  Perhaps curious.  Why aren't we eating grilled salmon or steak or chicken breasts at a restaurant like everyone else?  Because we are still finishing off the huge half pig we butchered a year ago, that's why.  The liver pancakes are more like patties - it is a Finnish recipe.  If you like liver pate you would like liver pancakes.  We had them with cranberry sauce since we don't have lingonberries.)

So are you getting tired of cole slaw?  Potato cabbage soup?  I'm not.  When you get down to it, most people really have very little diversity in their diets so it shouldn't be a big deal if you eat borscht 5 or 6 times in a winter month.  How many times a month - year round -  do a lot of people eat pizza or tacos or burgers or heaven forfend chicken nuggets?  Ten?  Nobody thinks that is a hardship.  So why do we get impatient with our February turnips and cabbage?  Why do we wish for the fresh green beans we can't have (at least not locally) when we have beautiful orange carrots beckoning?

Since I am a cook and not a psychologist I will not attempt to answer these rhetorical questions.  What I will do is set forth some ideas for how to turn winter vegetables into satisfying meals.

Regular readers of this blog know I am bullish on soup.  Here are a few really simple recipes - healthful and filling. Soup and sandwich still is a great combo.

Karelian Borsch (This is adapted from Beatrice Ojakangas' classic Finnish Cookbook.)
Vegetables: 2 cups beets, peeled and grated; 2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped or grated; 6 cups red or green or mixed cabbage, shredded or thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
2 T. red wine or cider vinegar
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
2 T. butter or lard or sunflower oil
4 T. flour
8 cups meat broth
1/2 pound Polish or similar sausages, sliced
Sour cream or creme fraiche
Thinly sliced lemons, optional
Saute beets and carrots in fat about 5 minutes in a large pot.  Add salt, flour and vinegar and mix.  Add all other ingredients except sausage, sour cream and lemons.  Before you serve the soup, add the sliced sausages and heat.  Pass sour cream and lemon slices with the soup.

Beet Root Soup
Chop into small pieces:  one onion (peeled), 1 turnip (peeled), a few cups of chopped cabbage, a little celery if you have it, about 1 heaping cup cooked beet.  Boil all together with 3 cups milk and water mixed.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  When vegetables are soft, puree in a blender (cool a bit first) or rub through a sieve.  Add a few tablespoons of butter or cream before serving.  A pinch of cloves would be a nice addition.

Winter Minestrone
This recipe is based on a version by Alice Waters in The Art of Simple Food.  She shows how you can vary basic minestrone according to the season.
Finely chop 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery and one onion.  Saute in 1/4 cup olive oil about 15 minutes, until rich golden brown.  Add four cloves chopped garlic, 5 thyme sprigs, 2 t. salt and one bay leaf and cook another five minutes.  (If you don't have thyme, I think crumbled dried sage would be nice.)  Then add 3 cups boiling water.
Meanwhile, cut half a head of cabbage into bite sized pieces and cook until tender in a small amount of boiling salted water.
Add the following to the carrot, onion, celery pot:  1 pound turnips and 1/2 pound potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces. Cook for another 15 minutes.  Then add 3 cups of cooked cannellini or borlotti beans with one cup of their cooking water and also the cabbage and cooking water.  If the soup is too thick, add more bean cooking liquid.
Serve drizzled with more olive oil and pass grated Parmesan cheese.
Fresh ground pepper would be good, too.

Beet and carrot sandwich
Butter slices of good quality rye bread.  Grate raw peeled beets and carrots and put a little pile of each on each slice of bread - beet on one side and carrot on the other.  If you have good quality eggs, serve with a raw egg yolk on top of each slice along with a few lemon wedges.  Or top with a poached egg.  Or a dollop of good mayonnaise or creme fraiche.  Fresh dill would be excellent with this dish.


Cabbage Casserole
(from Make it Minnesotan, Minnesota's Sesquicentenntial cookbook.  This recipe is from Jill Schafer, Ottertail County.  She says it is like stuffed cabbage, but without the extra work.)  I would probably add some dill or caraway or both and maybe double the rice.  If I had some chopped canned tomatoes around I would add a cup of those.
1 pound ground beef or pork
1 cup onion, chopped
2 cups tomato juice
1 3/4 pounds chopped cabbage
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1/2 t. salt
3 cloves chopped garlic
2 cups beef broth
2 cups sauerkraut, partially drained
4-5 strips bacon
Brown beef and onions, drain off any extra fat.  Mix all ingredients except bacon together and place into a deep heavy casserole.  Place bacon strips on top.  Bake covered at 350 degrees one hour.  Uncover.  Remove bacon and stir.  Replace bacon.  Bake uncovered an additional half hour.

Cabbage Hotpot
This is from an old English cookbook I inherited from my Aunt Evelyn.  It is wonderfully simple and humble.  I might add a few carrots along with the potatoes.  Apple pie and some cheddar cheese would round out this meal.
1 cabbage - sliced and braised in water or broth until partly cooked
 2 large onions - chopped and cooked in butter until soft
1 pound potatoes -peeled and sliced
4 T. butter (1/2  a stick)
salt and pepper to taste
Butter a large baking dish with a cover.  Layer - first cabbage, then onion, then potatoes.  Cover and bake in a moderate oven until potatoes are tender.  Bake uncovered a little while to brown potatoes if desired.

Potato and tomato stew with pancetta
1/4 pound pancetta or lean bacon
1 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups roma type tomatoes with liquid
2  pounds all purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup pesto or a little more to taste. (or half a cup of fresh basil if you have some)

Saute pancetta until golden in a large heavy skillet.   Remove and drain on paper towels.  Add 1 T. olive oil to pan and cook onion and garlic about 5 minutes - taking care not to burn garlic.  Add other ingredients and cook about 20-25 minutes, until potatoes are tender.  Add a little water, wine, stock or tomato juice if stew gets too dry.  Serve sprinkled with the cooked pancetta and some good bread to sop up the juices.

Turnip and carrot gratin
Peel and shred 3/4 pounds each of turnip and carrot.  Mix with 3 T. chopped fresh parsley and 1/2 cup sliced scallion greens.  Place in a shallow buttered dish.
Make a white sauce with 2 T. butter, 2 T. flour and 2 cups warm milk.  Enrich with one beaten egg if desired.  (Remember to add a bit of warm sauce to the egg before adding it to the sauce, to avoid curdling.)  Salt and pepper to taste.
Pour sauce over vegetables.
Sprinkle the top with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and dot with butter.  Bake at 375 degrees about 45 minutes - or until it is bubbling hot and lightly browned.


Crunchy radish salad
Raw grated beet, black radish and white daikon

We are really getting to like winter radishes in our house  - even the infamous Black Radish.  They benefit greatly from being shredded or julienned.
I was cleaning out my refrigerator a few nights ago and made a lovely salad with one raw beet, one black radish and one 8 inch piece of white daikon.  All were peeled and then coarsely grated.  I mixed the radishes in a bowl and added about 3 T. each of rice vinegar and mirin. (you could use 2 T. of sugar) Also a dash of salt.  No oil but a little sesame oil would be fine.  As would a bit of grated ginger.  This made  a tasty and colorful side dish.  I would say this salad is magenta, wouldn't you?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Choucroute garnie

There are many ways to prepare sauerkraut, but one of the best and most famous is choucroute garnie.  There are many versions - but all contain various cuts of pork, copious amounts of sauerkraut and white wine.  Potatoes are almost always served on the side.

As you will see in the recipes, this dish is not for vegetarians.  A good choucroute garnie contains serious amounts of pork.  I wouldn't encourage you to eat this every week.  It is a great winter party dish to share with 6-8 friends.

If you have not gotten around to making your own homemade sauerkraut yet,  you can find good commercial versions in the refrigerator case at your favorite coop or grocery store. Some jarred brands are good, too.  Canned sauerkraut is my least favorite.

Here are some links to some good choucroute garnie recipes:

Or this one from Epicurious (I would not use Delicious apples and I might use a little less sausage - but this recipe is still worth checking out.)

Or this from Saveur - see the article accompanying it as well.

If these recipes are too overwhelming, there is nothing wrong with a simple dinner of sausage, sauerkraut and vegetables.  I like to brown sausages first, then add rinsed sauerkraut, some chopped onions and apples and white wine (about 1/4 cup per sausage).  You can add boiling potatoes (cut into chunks if they are large) right into the baking dish.  Some chunks of turnip or carrots are good too.  I like a high ratio of vegetables to meat in this dish.  Cover and bake at 325 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours - until everything is tender and flavors have melded -  and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Inspiration - Winter week #7

In this week's box: Heart of gold squash, green cabbage, mixed potatoes, Sugar Snax and Bolero carrots, parsnips, Dried hot red peppers

Have you read the publicity this week about the U.S. government's new dietary guidelines?  There was some big news buried in the usual advice to lower consumption of salt, saturated fat and sugar. (For a copy of the whole report for all you wonks out there, as well as summaries and other details, go to

First, we are all encouraged to EAT LESS!  Who knew?  In a nation of all-you-can-eat buffets, gargantuan restaurant portions and ubiquitous vending machines and fast food places, this is not always so easy.  For years food manufacturers have lobbied strongly against adding these two words to the dietary guidelines.  They like to talk about "food choices" instead.  That is because they are in the business of selling us calories.   A message telling us to eat less means less sales for the food industry.  Since Americans as a group already have available to us way more calories than we need, eating less means less food company revenues, plain and simple.  Or it could mean more food waste, which would be a shame.  Or we could ignore this advice and keep buying food we don't need and getting fatter, which would be a shame too.

The next piece of big news is that we are advised that fruits and vegetables should take up HALF OUR PLATES.  Previous guidelines have just told us to eat more fruits and vegetables.  Now the amount is quantified for us - half our plates!  This would require a pretty big behavioral change for most people.

CSA members are way ahead of the curve in this vegetable/fruit eating challenge.  But I know many dedicated CSA members who still find it difficult to add more fruits and vegetables to their daily meals.  Cook more meals at home from scratch and some of this will take care of itself.

Here are a few tricks that help me:

1.  Add vegetables to tried and true basics.  For example, I add winter squash puree to our breakfast polenta and chopped spinach to spaghetti sauce.  Sometimes I put grated carrots in mac and cheese or extra onions and peppers in sloppy joes.  Caramelized onions or even cooked sliced potatoes make great pizza topping.  I use cole slaw or sliced radishes to add crunch to sandwiches.  Put more vegetables in the tuna or hamburger hot dish.  For breakfast, make a frittata with lots of vegetables instead of plain scrambled eggs.  The possibilities are endless.

2.  Soup.  Eat a hearty soup featuring vegetables at least once a week. Minestrone can be adapted to make good use of many types of vegetables.  If you include some cooked dry beans and pasta, you have a full meal.  Here is a July post with a minestrone recipe:

3.  Take meat out of the middle of the plate.  Don't be afraid to have all vegetable meals once in a while.  Last night we had a little pickled herring with crackers as an appetizer for protein.  Dinner was baked ratatouille (frozen from last summer) on polenta, with some grated parmesan on top.   Tonight dinner was spinach souffle, red cabbage slaw and some winter squash gnocchi with sage butter.  There were a few eggs in the souffle and the gnocchi - I didn't worry at all about enough protein.  (Besides, tomorrow we are having pork chops for dinner.)

Here are some ideas for ways to use the veggies in your CSA box this week:

Salad -- Grate or shred carrots, by hand or in a food processor.  Now you can make all kinds of salads, such as:
Carrot apple -- add grated apple to carrots, along with a handful of raisins and some chopped peanuts.  Dress with a little orange or lemon juice and honey.  Add some plain yogurt if desired.

North African carrot salad - add this dressing to shredded carrots:  mix equal parts olive oil and lemon juice - about 3 T each.  Add 1 clove minced fresh garlic, 1 t. sugar, 1/2 t. cumin seed, crushed, 1/2 t. crushed dried mint leave, salt and pepper to taste.  If desired, add some crushed dried red pepper flakes.

Vietnamese rolls
Moisten rice paper rounds according to package directions.  Fill with shredded carrots (radish too if you have some),  bean sprouts, chopped tofu, peanuts, cilantro and mint.  Roll up and serve with your favorite peanut-chile dipping sauce

Root veggie hash
Cut carrots, parsnips and potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes.  Heat heavy frying pan, add olive oil.  When oil is hot, add cubed vegetables.  Cook until browned on one side and then turn.  Add chopped onion or shallots when vegetables are almost tender.  Serve when vegetables are browned and tender.  Add fresh chopped parsley if you have some.  Good served with a fried egg on top.  Variation:  Add a little ground pork or sausage to the vegetables when they are cooking.

Mashed - These are simple and good.  Just peel parsnips and cook in salted water until tender.  Drain.  Mash parsnips with some milk and butter, season to taste with salt and pepper.  You could also mix the mashed parsnips with some egg and a little flour.  Fry in some butter and voila - pancakes.  These would be good on a bed of sauteed cabbage.

Parsnips with dark beer glaze
This recipe is from From Asparagus to Zucchini - the cookbook from the Madison area CSA coalition.
1 pound parsnips, cut into small chunks
1 cup sweet flavored stout or brown ale
1/4 t. cinnamon, 1/8 t. cloves
2 t. butter
salt and pepper
1-2 T maple syrup
Simmer parsnips, stout and spices in a heavy covered pan about 8-10 minutes, or until tender.  Remove cover and raise heat so that liquid evaporates and reduces to a glaze.  Stir in butter and optional syrup.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I really encourage you to try making some sauerkraut.  You can watch me do it right here:
Next week I will give you some ideas for cooking with sauerkraut (even though it won't be ready for about 3-4 weeks)

Potatoes and squash
Make a simple meal of baked potatoes and baked squash halves.  Add some chopped apple and a little butter and honey inside the squash halves.  Have some cabbage slaw as a first court and splurge on a nice piece of cheese for dessert, just like the French do.