Posts Tagged VEGETABLES

The bounty of the harvest in the middle of winter.

sauerkraut, potatoe, sausage, mustard

sauerkraut, potato, sausage, mustard

Home made sauerkraut braised with potatoes and modest serving of Italian sweet sausage served with good mustard. That was supper last night. Delicious!

Sauerkraut was my cottage industry project last fall when the CSA sent me a humungeous green cabbage and my challenge now mid January is to find creative interesting ways to plate it.

Before the wonders of modern industrial production, most of us had no choice but to eat sauerkraut and potatoes and other good keepers. Being the obstreperous creatures we humans are, lots of people like me are looking past the present back to a simpler time. I plead guilty to occasional episodes of pastoral romanticism mostly because it’s fun and I have a little discretionary time to spend on my favorite pastime which is food. I’m also curious and love to study the science behind why things like sauerkraut work.

We have been working our way through the sauerkraut I make last Fall for the last three months. I never made my own sauerkraut before so I can’t say this is the best I’ve ever made, but I can say it’s the best sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted because the only sauerkraut I ever had before was off the shelf commercial. What a difference my artisan sauerkraut made on a simple and totally American hot dog!

So here we our in the middle of January and the sauerkraut still smells sweet and still tastes good. Amazing what can be done at home! Well you may be laughing but I really do think this process is wondrous. And even more relevant the process is considered safe.

What was once survival and necessity has become an activity for people like me privileged enough to have the discretionary time for experimentation. Fermentation has been part of human history and was vital in human survival in the days before refrigerators, freezers, and processed food. Fermentation allowed us to preserve food in a nutritional and safe way when there was no supermarket to provide it. Cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, olives, salami, jerky, even bread are examples of fermentation used for preservation.

I have made my own yogurt and bread, but don’t do it anymore because an off the shelf product will meet my quality standards and I choose to spend time experimenting in other ways.

Supper last night was a home run. Totally delicious.

Fermentation is marked to become one of the most important food trends of 2015. But because there is no off the shelf product as good as my cottage industry sauerkraut yet, there’s a good chance I will make up another batch next year.

 

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Working my way through the CSA.

leek, potatoes, rutabaga, nutmeg

leek, potatoes, rutabaga, nutmeg

Picked up my last load from the CSA the day before Thanksgiving and am still working my way through. Over the six months of the season I got 270 pounds of vegetables. In other words, I picked up and brought home 10 to 20 pounds per week. Every week for 26 weeks. My goal was to eat or distribute everything and on that count I’ve done an outstanding job. So far. But I’m not finished yet.

Pictured above are some potatoes and a lovely bunch of leeks for my soup. Up in one corner is a rutabaga which I’m going to use with the potatoes and in the other corner a nutmeg which I will grate as the soup finishes cooking. An appreciation goes to James Beard for the suggestion of using nutmeg in leek and potato soup. I’m pretty creative in the kitchen, but I never would have thought of that one on my own.

I love leeks but they are sometimes a pain in the neck because they can be full of sand. These leeks were comparatively sand free so in no time I have them washed and sliced them.

Now I put a couple of tablespoons olive oil in the 4 liter soup pot, toss in the leeks, and let them braise. As the leeks soften and get aromatic, I scrub and cut up the potatoes leaving the skin on for extra fiber and nutrients. The rutabaga got added because I don’t know what else to do with it. It’s the same color as the potatoes and hopefully it will all just blend right in.

I add a liter of low sodium stock, chuck in the potatoes and the rutabaga, and let it all come to a boil. Then turn the heat down and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft.

My preference is low sodium stock not because I don’t want salt but because I want to add the salt to my taste. Also the presalted stocks do not taste as clean to my palate as the low sodium ones.

When the potatoes are soft enough to mash, I pull out the food mill. A wonderful kitchen devise that manually pulverized vegetables into chunks or purée pieces. The food mill is much gentler than the food processor. What is really cool about using the food mill is that the potatoes and leeks go in one end and out the other end comes soup. Back into the pot. Adjust the seasonings. Grate in some nutmeg. I used half the piece. Add more water or stock if the consistency is too thick. And as a final touch, I stir in a good sized piece of butter.

And there you have it, a nourishing late fall soup.

Best of all my leeks and the rutabaga are gone. And all I have left is 7 pounds of potatoes in my pantry. Hummmmmm …

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Just don’t do anything that will poison us!

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Those were Jeff’s words of encouragement when I told him I wanted to make a sauerkraut.

Why you may be asking did I want to make sauerkraut? Here’s why. My CSA had put a gigantic humongous incredibly heavy 5 1/2 pound cabbage in my box and, along with other 10 pounds of assorted vegetables, I had one week before the next delivery to figure out what to do with the lavish abundance. Besides I never made a sauerkraut before.

Now I am not a complete novice. I did ferment some cucumbers once. Granted it was way before I met Jeff, but I didn’t poison my self that time. And that was really before I had a clue what I was doing.

Just for the record, those fermented cucumbers were the best pickles I have ever eaten.

I still don’t really know what I’m doing now, but I’m a lot more knowledgeable today and even more important I know where to start looking. So with Jeff’s words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I began my search.

For do it yourself sauerkraut, the Internet really excels. So I did my due diligence reading up on the matter and determined that fermentation is one of the older forms of preservation practiced by us humans. As it is technically called, lacto-fermentation has been practiced for centuries as a method for preserving excess vegetable at the end of the growing season.

During the fermentation process, the vegetables are cut or shredded, and salt is added. The salt draws out the vegetable liquid and the vegetables ferment in their juices.

State Extension Services seem to have the more detailed technical information like percentage of salt solution and temperature ranges most favorable to promote the growth of the good guys i.e. lactic acid and discourage entry of the bad guys i.e. spoilage or food poisoning microorganisms otherwise know as the stuff that makes you sick.

I also checked a FaceBook group for people who love to ferment all kinds of weird stuff. I got a lot of moral support and realized there were lots of people out there who ferment cabbage into sauerkraut and have lived to talk about it.

I need to Follow directions. Need to be careful. It’s times like this I am glad I took microbiology.

Okay, if primitive illiterate humans can ferment a cabbage and live to tell about it, a well educated, intelligent, twenty-first century female should certainly be able to rise to the occasion.

So I gathered my references, pulled out my biggest bread bowl, washed and sliced my caggage, measured out my salt solution, and set it all to ferment at the appropriate temperature. And I checked it every day.

The fermentation process appears to be variable. As little as three days and as long as three months. Depends on which source you read and which person you talk to. However on day ten, here in New York we got hit with a cold spell so I decided it was time to close down the cottage industry. I packed the sauerkraut into to liter glass containers and moved them to the frig. We had pork chops on Sunday, so I served some kraut alongside with sweet potatoes.

Jeff’s responce “This tastes pretty good … It sure tastes like sauerkraut … “.

Next step is to build up enough courage to take a taste straight up. I tagged it safe. Now I need to follow through and taste it without heating the kraut up first.

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Surprise! Look what I found in my CSA box last week.

The Watermelon radish, also known as Rooseheart or Red Meat, is an heirloom Chinese Daikon radish.


Watermelon radish, also known as Rooseheart or Red Meat, is an heirloom Chinese Daikon radish.

When I pulled these two beauties out of the box last week, I was clueless. And since I am pretty knowledgeable about foods, clueless doesn’t happen to me very often.

The situation called for immediate investigation. One root got washed and cut in half. I was blown away by that gorgeous vibrant fuchsia color. Never would I have guessed that this mundane root could reveal such a photogenic interior!

Next question is how does it taste? So the root got peeled. What a pleasant surprise. A mild crisp slightly sharp taste reminiscent of turnips.

Only then did it occur to me to figure out the name of what I just ate and that was when I started to learn about the watermelon radish. It’s a member of the Brassica (mustard) family along with arugula, broccoli and turnips according to the CSA website. An edible globular root attached to thin stems and wavy green leaves. The exterior is creamy white with pale green shoulders, a sign of the chlorophyll it received from exposure to the sun. Watermelon radish flesh is white closest to the exterior and becomes bright, circular striations of pink and magenta toward the center. Hence, the watermelon reference.

So what to do with this gorgeous root? The one reference provided by the CSA was a recipe from Whole Foods for cooked radishes. No way was I going to cook the root. Heat would just mute that crisp flavor and potentially destroy the vibrant color.

As I was musing how I would plate and present the root, I ended up eating quite a few pieces. One thing for sure. It’s a tasty root.

A Google search revealed that watermelon radishes have been available in the US for at least a couple of years and seem to be more often associated with the west coast as opposed to the east coast. I did find one outlier CSA in Idaho however proudly touting the beauty and virtues of watermelon radishes. Most recipes I found reflected my original take that the root is better presented raw in a salad than cooked as a side dish. It’s always nice to see one’s own culinary judgment supported by others.

That first root, or I should say what was left of it, went on top of a green salad. Color contrast was striking. Roots are good keepers, so I won’t use the other root until I’ve more time to think about presentation and pairings. I think combining the root with avocado might be a good way to go.

On the Healthy versus Healthy infograph, watermelon radishes are getting a phytonutrients tag. A root with that much pigment that is also a member of the brassica family has phytonutrition even if the research nutritionists have not given the pigment a name or measured the amount. Check the tag line for my other ratings.

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My romance with broccoli.

organic broccoli

organic broccoli

 

Pictured above is the broccoli that came in this week’s CSA box. Pristine, lovely, organic, and ready to use. And not a worm or an aberrant insect to be seen.

I love broccoli. We eat seasonal and local which here in the north east means mid-summer into late fall. Seasonal and local also means organic broccoli from a CSA or greenmarket.

My broccoli is usually braised in olive oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt. More than al dente but never over-cooked. I cut the flowered heads off from the stem, removing the tough fibrous skin from the stalks, and cut the stems into bite sized pieces. No need to get too fancy with broccoli because it tastes so good on its own.

We eat broccoli in season, but in the depths of a north east winter, that vibrant green California crop looks pretty good. So not being a purist, we also eat broccoli out of season. I’m okay with conventional during the winter when my local grocer has a good selection.

I used to get romantic about broccoli. Especially a broccoli that I picked myself right off the stalk. But I learned a harsh lesson during that first year I cooked in Garches. And I have looked at broccoli with a realistic eye ever since.

My friend Isabelle has a beautiful house and property in this little suburb half way between Paris and Versailles. She had an arrangement with a local gardener. He could grow whatever vegetable he wanted to and sell them in return for making the garden available to us. And we ate marvelously well from that garden!

I would just go out and pick whatever I wanted each day. Broccoli came in that fall and I was there to pick some for supper. But just once.

Being young and romantic I believed all that was natural was good. Now a farmer knows that when you grow broccoli, you have to deal with worms. Organic or conventional, worms love broccoli. However the farmer decides to farm it, worms are part of the calculation. But I grew up in the suburbs so how was I supposed to know?

Conventional farmers use conventional pesticides; organic farmers use USDA organically approved pesticides. I don’t think this guy used anything. The broccoli was completely natural and completely full of worms.

I put up a valiant battle. But the worms outnumbered and out gunned me. There were so many I gave up trying and ended up dumping everything back out somewhere behind a bush. I could not look at broccoli again for a long time.

My love of broccoli did return but I lost my romanticism, but I still find myself checking for little nasty critters. So God Bless whatever my organic farmer / conventional farmer needs to so I don’t have to deal with worms.

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What to do with too many vegetables soup.

vegetable soup

zucchini, collard, potato soup

I love soups. Especially as we move into fall and the days get shorter and the nights get colder. Warm, appetizing, aromatic, easy to make, and one of the best ways to use up vegetables when you have too many. Like when my CSA keeps sending me more vegetables than we can eat.

That’s my soup pictured above. Those very dark green pieces are collards. The softer light green pieces are zucchini. Potatoes blend in to add consistency and softness. And the orange pieces are carrots from the soffritto.

Because the CSA keeps sending me vegetables we don’t usually eat, like zucchini or collards or potatoes, my creative cooking skills have been getting challenged on a weekly basis. But nothing can go to waste, so here’s how I handled the overload from the last couple of weeks.

Every soup gets started the same way. I pull out my AllClad 4 liter soup pot and start the soffritto. Put some olive oil, a chopped onion, some chopped carrot and celery in the pot and let it all slowly sauté until the onion starts to turn color.Soggriggere is the Italian word for sauté and my soups always start with a soffritto.

Now comes the fun part. Open the frig.

First I found those two remaining zucchini from I think two weeks ago. One was big enough to have seeds inside so I had to scrape them out. The other one was smaller and was good to go. Washed, trimmed, and chopped the zucchini goes into the pot. I let the zucchini pieces start to brown in the olive oil. Thank goodness it’s the end of the season because I am running out of zucchini ideas. Could anyone imagine a vegetable more devoid of character or taste than a zucchini?

Then I found the bag of the collard leaves. Collards are an incredibly healthy phytonutrient rich vegetable, but my preference is kale or rapini or chard. Collards are, however, good in soups because they hold both shape and color during cooking. So I washed the leaves, removed the thick spine, chopped then up in small pieces, and put them in the pot.

Can’t forget potatoes! I have eaten more potatoes this fall than I’ve eaten over the last couple of years combined. The potato skin needs good scrubbing but no need to remove it. Just cut them up in pieces and into the pot they go.

Then I add a liter box of chicken stock (low sodium) to the pot along with some dry herbes de province. Fresh herbs work better, but I didn’t have any on hand. And finally 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Everything gets to slowly simmer together for about 40 minutes.

Once all the vegetables soften and start to blend, I run the pieces through my food mill and soup comes out the other end. I prefer the rough cut version you see in the picture so I use the largest grate of the food mill. It’s just that easy to make 2 liters of vegetable soup. Any greens you have on hand should work just fine.

To see how the soup scores on my Healthy versus Healthy infograph, check the tags.

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When healthy makes you gag!

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Fall is the season for so many good healthy vegetables. Brassica like kale, rapini, cauliflower, sprouts. Celeriac. Onions. Late season storage carrots. And squashes like butternut, spaghetti, pumpkin, and acorn.

My CSA Keeps sending me squashes and I have a problem. Acorn squash and speghetti squash make me gag.

All vegetables are healthy but some vegetables are more healthy. Pigment color is the marker for certain phytonutrients. Red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetable are rich in carotinoids. And winter squash is nothing if not deep orange. That deep vibrant color marks heavy concentrations. So I have tried on many occasions and failed. Acorn squash just makes me gag.

Besides there is no point in signing up for a CSA and then not eating what arrives each week. Or at the very least giving it away.

Pictured above are two acorn and one sweet dumpling. And I anticipate more squash next week. It’s squash season.

So last week I put on my creative cooking cap and came up with the following solution. Every Thanksgiving I make pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is a squash in the same family as acorn so what would happen is if I just substituted the same amount of steamed acorn for canned pumpkin?

And my good idea worked beautifully. Acorn squash makes an excellent pumpkin pie. We can’t say my pie is as healthy as a serving of the vegetable because the squash comes along with added sugar and more refined carbohydrate which dilute the phytonutrition. However it’s fresh, local, and delicious. I can eat it without gagging and not a single squash will go to waste. Each of my acorn squash pies makes 6 servings so at 340 calories per piece, we are going to need to keep our eye on portion size and frequency.

Here are the proportions I used:

1 2/3 cup purée (pumpkin, acorn squash)/ 400 grams
2 eggs
3/4 cup turbinado sugar / 150 grams
2/3 cup milk / 150 ml
1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 tablespoons butter / 30 grams
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 prepared 9 inch graham cracker crust

Steam acorn squash or open the canned pumpkin. Melt butter. Assemble ingredients. Combine squash or pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, flour, butter, vanilla, spices, salt in mixing bowl. Whisk just enough to blend thoroughly. Pour into 9 inch graham cracker crust. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350F and bake addition 40 minutes. Remove and cool at least 2 hours before serving.

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How do I feel about GMO labeling?

shrimp,tomato,arugula,radicchio, scallion | photo gourmet metrics

shrimp,tomato,arugula,radicchio, scallion | photo gourmet metrics

Labeling has been getting lots of buzz lately and there are a couple of really hot issues out there. Natural. Organic. Sustainable. But far and away the hottest and most fiercely contested is GMO.

Last April I attended my state dietetic association meeting and had occasion to talk to a nice lady from Monsanto. I opened by telling her I choose not to eat GMO foods but had come to learn more about the issue. She was informative, engaging and knowledgeable. Surprisingly, not many of my colleagues shared my curiosity so the nice lady and I chatted uninterrupted for a good 40 minutes. She made the case against mandatory labeling but we both agreed voluntary labeling was a good thing.

Now I like labels as much as anyone out there. My reason for studying nutrition in the first place was to learn how to run numbers and make nutrition labels.

Sometimes I use food labels, but I have never looked to the label as my only source of information. So my conversation with the nice lady got me to thinking. How do feel about GMO labels? And what I have come to appreciate is that neither voluntary or mandatory labeling makes much difference to me. Let me explain.

Pictured above is a shrimp salad I put together at the beginning of the summer. I took the picture because the salad presented well on the plate and I selected it at random for this post to explain why a label often doesn’t tell me things I don’t already know?

The shrimp are wild caught from North Carolina purchased from my favorite greenmarket fishmonger told me the origin when I bought them because I asked. The shrimp looked fresh, smelled of the sea, and cost a lot of money. Many places sell shrimp a lot cheaper but I don’t want to eat those shrimp. With or without a label. So I pay more to eat less of an excellent protein.

Those scallions, arugula, radicchio, and cucumber all came from California. No labels because they were fresh and hand selected. Industrial production yes, so not organic or heirloom or local, but carefully selected just the same.

Those tomatoes are hydroponic and they did come in a package with useful information like country of origin so I know they are from Ontario. I use a lot of hydroponic tomatoes because they do the job until local or heirloom tomatoes become available at the end of the summer.

As for the dressing, I make vinaigrette with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Now these labels have value to me because they tell me things I don’t already know. The olive oil label tells me where in California my oil was pressed and even more important the pressing date. The vinegar label tells me the percentage acidity. The salt label tells me the salt is flake and not table. All critically useful information to an obsessive eater like me.

So you see my style of sourcing and eating takes me out of the GMO marketplace. I prefer cooking to opening packages and most of the food I buy has no label because it’s fresh or local.

So what would a GMO or a nonGMO label tell me that I don’t already know? Not much.

As for the larger issues, I am not concerned per se about health risk and GMO. I’ve done enough research over the last few months to determine to my satisfaction that seeds modified in a laboratory are probably as safe as any other seed breeding technique.

As long as the food is safe, I am okay with honoring choice. Some people want food cheap. Some people want food convenient. Some people want food certified and labeled. I am okay with as much diversity and choice as the market wants to offer.

This issues of genetic modification has aroused more passion that any other I can remember. But for now, I don’t need to get into the fight because in terms of how I choose to eat it’s just not going to make much difference.

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OMG Just picked up 8 pounds of tomatoes!

8 pounds do tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics

10 enormous tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics

I had planned to start putting down some preliminary thoughts on a controversial issue GMO and then my CSA box arrived with 8 pounds of tomatoes. OMG!

One weighty issue immediately replaced by another weighty issue. They were big ones 13 – 14 ounces / 370 grams each. We can’t eat that many tomatoes in one week so now what to do?

I’ve done canning in the past but it’s a hassle and I can’t even remember who my canning equipment got donated to. So I pulled out the iPad and went to work. Pulled up a Household USDA Food Facts Sheet on fresh tomatoes.

• Tomatoes should be stored in a cool, dry place. Do not store in a plastic bag. Store in a single layer, as stacking tomatoes may cause them to become mushy.

• Fresh tomatoes may be frozen whole, chopped, or sliced. Wash tomatoes and remove the stem, store in a tightly closed plastic bag, then freeze up to 8 month

That’s it. I’ll freeze them. Minimal labor, easy, quick, and I have some extra freezer space. All I need is some fresh basil, my trusty tomato knife, a good scrubbing brush, ziplock bags, and some discretionary time.

First step was to wash and scrub well. Remove the core and outside blemishes. Need to work quickly to preserve freshness. Each day they sit on the counter increases risk of further deterioration.

The whole process took me about 40 minutes. Two chopped tomatoes plus a handful of basil per bag. Push out the extra air, zip it up, weight it, and put it in freezer. I ended up with five bags 700 grams / 1.5 pounds each. Cheaper and better than a brick pack and did it myself.

Tomatoes come in with a vengeance this time of year, but those bags are going to look pretty good over the next couple of months. Do I need to count them as processed food? Yes, technically that’s exactly what they are. I’ll settle on minimally processed.

Now for that other weighty matter. Tomatoes got me to thinking about availability. With a seasonal crop that only comes in once per year, cooks need to make adjustments. During the winter when tomatoes are out of season here in the North East I fall back on hydroponic tomatoes usually from Canada. Then I got to wondering. Do you suppose anyone has ever tried to genetically modify a hydroponic tomato for increased flavor?

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End of August means ratatouille.

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My end of August tradition is a ratatouille. The vegetables are ripe and ready to go in incredible abundance and we love the way it tastes. But trying to write out “my” recipe is really hopeless because I just can’t seem to make the dish the same way each time.

My proportions are usually roughly the same. One big beautiful eggplant will weight about 1 pound / 500 grams. Then I look for an equivalent weight of zucchini and peppers. Green or yellow are both good. As for the peppers, different colors contribute rich beautiful colors. Olive oil, some onion, garlic, basil, or other herb de province and that’s that. And salt. Don’t forget about the salt.

Some recommend cooking it all in the same pot. Others strictly detail the step by step procedure for cooking each vegetable separately before combining them into the final presentation. Most recipes specify stovetop braising, but I though to myself today while I was washing and trimming “I wonder if anyone has ever slow braised a ratatouille in the oven?” And sure enough you can do it that way too. There are celebrity chef versions and regular folk versions. Just in my own collection of books I have several English versions plus at least two French versions.

I have experimented at one time or another with them all and my google search brought up a momentous amount of data which suggests that ratatouille is still trending.

Each year I seem to end up doing something new. So we’ll call this my 2014 version.

I used the two step method of browning in one pot then transferring to bigger pot. Eggplant is a thirsty vegetable so I added extra oil and cut back a little from the zucchini and peppers. After each browsing, I deglazed my pan with white vermouth so as to have a clean start for the next in line. Never tried that one before but it’s a keeper.

To save some chopping time, I tried chopping the onions in the Cuisinart. Ended up with onion mush. I salvaged some of the mush and hand chopped my last yellow onion. Will never make that mistake again.

And instead on braising on top on the stove, I baked my ratatouille uncovered in a slow oven 275 degrees Fahrenheit / 135 degrees Celsius. The ratatouille slowly released its moisture over about 2 1/2 hours. This is easier that watching a pan in the stove so this one is a keeper too.

Since my preference is not too much excess liquid, I usually do a final reduction after the vegetables have are cooked. Just remove the vegetables and boil the remaining juice down to a thick sauce. Makes for a better presentation.

Tonight I will have vegetables for dinner garnished with some grated parmigianno. The ratatouille always tastes better the day after and we will indulge tomorrow with an appropriate protein accompaniment.

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