Food Adventures with Connie

Archive for the month “January, 2017”

Ode to Fried Cornmeal Mush


Oh fried cornmeal mush!
Your sunny color makes me smile.
I wait impatiently as you sizzle in the skillet,
Until you emerge, crispy on the outside,
Your center warm and welcoming me home.

Oh fried cornmeal mush!
Such powerful memories evoked through three simple ingredients.
You are just a tiny piece of my grandfather’s legacy.
I never got to say goodbye, but through you
I share his love and lessons with my children.

I woke up this morning thinking about my grandfather on my dad’s side.  He left this world in 2007 when I was 29 years old.  He’s not the first loved one I’ve lost but we had a special connection and I feel him watching over me.


You see, I was his oldest grandchild.  He taught me how to ride a horse and how to drive a pickup with a clutch.  Believe me, when you’re towing a broken down vehicle carrying your stern/serious/impatient/unforgiving grandfather you master the art of “easing” off the clutch very quickly.  I’m not sure how old I was at the time but I know I was still a pre-teen.  I know this because by the time I was 13 I was driving a tractor (with a clutch and a whole bunch of other gears and knobs to master – someday I’ll tell you about my hydraulic fluid shower) helping him raise alfalfa hay for himself and neighbors.  That was the summer my grandfather was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer and, as the oldest grandchild (and probably because my parents hoped it would curb my wild side), I got too stay with him and Grandma and accompany him to his treatments over an hour away.  To this day I can’t eat an old fashioned doughnut without thinking of him because we would stop and buy those donuts and something to drink at a gas station along the way.

I’ve made more than my share of mistakes but Grandpa never tried to tear me down or made me feel like he thought any less of me.  I miss him dearly and remain grateful for the time I got to spend with him.

Anyway, thinking of Grandpa puts me in the mood for cornmeal mush.  I can picture him standing in the kitchen, frying up slices.  They’re good plain or between two slices of buttered toast.

Cornmeal Mush

Recipe from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, (c) 1990.


  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 4 cups water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt


Butter a bread pan and line with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Mix the cornmeal with 1 cup cold water.  In a saucepan, bring 3 cups water and the salt to a boil.  Add the cornmeal mixture to the boiling water and cook, stirring often, over medium heat for 7 minutes or until thick.

Spread in buttered bread pan and refrigerate.


Using parchment paper makes it easier to remove the chilled mush from the pan for slicing.

When thoroughly chilled, cut into 3/8-inch slices.


You can use a knife or chopper like this to slice the mush. If the upper surface is too dry to achieve a clean cut, flip the “loaf” over and cut from the bottom.

Fry in bacon fat, butter, or oil until golden on both sides.


This is not a low-fat food. 🙂

Drain on paper towels and blot with paper towels to remove excess fat.


Serve warm.



Sweet Potatoes

Growing up my mom made sweet potatoes maybe once a year and if she did, they were for Thanksgiving and they came out of a can.  Fast forward 25+ years to a more health-conscious Connie with a BS in Nutrition and Food Management and you’ll see sweet potatoes on the family table on a regular basis.  They are a superfood, dontcha know?


Sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas, are not yams (Dioscorea species) and they are not related to the common Irish, white, russet, red-skinned, or gold potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) that take up half a produce aisle at the grocery store.  (They are actually in the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae.)  They tend to garner just a sliver of retail shelf space but they are there and you should buy some.

One medium sweet potato provides more than a day’s worth of vitamin A.  Vitamin A supports immune function and vision and may help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer (Source: Wardlaw’s Contemporary Nutrition).  It will also give you 35% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C.  It is a very good source of manganese, copper, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6 and a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and phosphorus.  In addition, sweet potatoes are a low glycemic index food (medium glycemic index if you don’t consume them with the skin), which means they don’t lead to fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels like other potatoes do.

Sweet potatoes are very versatile.  You can prepare them in sweet or savory dishes, consume them raw, boiled, sautéed, or roasted, or even puree them to sneak them into dishes so your kids don’t know they’re there (not that I’m admitting to that tactic).  Roasting them is my favorite, and you can switch up the spices to match your mood.

Braised Pork Roast and Moroccan Spiced Roasted Sweet Potatoes


This meal was borne from a need to use what we already had in the house.  I’m not saying you have to make these two dishes together, but they do complement each other nicely.  The pork recipe is adapted from a New York Times recipe.

Pork Roast Ingredients:


  • 3-4 pound bone-in pork shoulder roast
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon cumin

Pork Roast Directions:

Place the pork in a cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid.  Add the rest of the ingredients listed above.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 75-90 minutes, turning roast every 15 minutes.  While it’s cooking prepare the sweet potatoes (see below).


Check temperature – you want it to be between 145 and 160°F.  Remove roast to platter to rest.

Reduce cooking liquid and drizzle over sliced roast when serving.

Sweet Potato Ingredients:

  • 4 sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 6 wedges, then cut in half
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh thyme
  • 1 ½ teaspoon Dry Harissa Moroccan Spice Blend (contains crushed red pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic, paprika, sumac and other spices)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil (olive oil would be good, but I’m all out)

This thyme plant is a champ – everything else in this patio pot has succumbed to the winter ice and snow.

Sweet Potato Directions:

Preheat oven to 450°F.


Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Spread on a half sheet pan (AKA a large cookie sheet).


Roast for 15 minutes, stir so browned sides of sweet potatoes are up, and roast for 15 more minutes or until they’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve warm.


Sweet Potato Resources from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

For information on growing sweet potatoes check out this Acreage Insights article Sweet Potatoes in Nebraska.

For information about how to select, store, and cook sweet potatoes check out this webletter November: Sweet Potato Awareness Month.


  1. Wardlaw, G., A. Smith, and A. Collene.   Nutrients Involved in Body Defenses, Chapter 10 in Wardlaw’s Contemporary Nutrition: A Functional Approach. p. 341-343.
  2. Pepin, J. Braised Pork with Sweet Potatoes.  Accessed at 1/28/2017.
  3. Hammond, V. Sweet Potatoes in Nebraska.  Acreage Insights.  Accessed at 1/28/2017.
  4. Franzen-Castle, L. November: Sweet Potato Awareness Month.  Accessed at 1/28/2017.

You’ll find tons of information about sweet potatoes online.  Here are a couple articles I enjoyed reading as I wrote this post:

  1. Husted, K. Why America Is Growing the Most Sweet Potatoes Since WWII. NPR’s The Salt.  Accessed at 1/28/2017.
  2. Szalay, J. Sweet Potatoes: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts.   Accessed at 1/28/2017.


At the prompting of my youngest, this week’s topic is jicama, Pachyrhizus erosus, also known as Mexican yam bean and Mexican turnip.

half-jicamaNative to Mexico, jicama was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish in the 17th century.  It has since spread throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands (Source: Origin, Evolution, and Early Dispersal of Root and Tuber Crops).

Jicama is about 90% water, with trace amounts of protein and lipids, and only 38 calories per 100 grams.  It is high in dietary fiber and a very good source of vitamin C (Source: USDA ARS National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28).  Its characteristic flavor, sometimes described as a savory apple, comes from the oligofructose inulin which is a prebiotic.

Jicama is most often served raw, though it does hold its shape when gently cooked and would work as a substitute for water chestnuts (similar texture and mild flavor).  It does not brown when exposed to air the way apples and potatoes do, so it’s a great addition to a veggie tray.

I decided to try jicama a couple of different ways.  That’s one of the great things about this vegetable, its versatility.  The first was an Apple Jicama Coleslaw (recipe here and video of its preparation here).

Apple Jicama Coleslaw


  • ½ small head green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • ½ jicama, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 Fuji apple, sliced into matchsticks
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • Sriracha sauce (add to taste – I used about ¾ teaspoon)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Slice the apple and jicama into matchsticks using a mandoline, as shown here.


Whisk the mayonnaise, pineapple juice, sugar, sriracha sauce, salt and pepper until smooth.  Toss with cabbage, jicama, and apple.  Chill for an hour.  Stir.  Add salt and pepper to taste.


Jicama Chips

Then I made jicama chips by slicing the other half of the peeled jicama with the mandoline.  (My mandoline didn’t slice the jicama as thin as I would have liked it to, which contributed to the chips being underdone in the center.  Next time I make them I will slice the chips using the slicing side of my box grater.)

Place the sliced jicama on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spray with cooking spray, sprinkle with house seasoning (1 cup sea salt, ¼ cup black pepper, and ¼ cup granulated garlic – keep in a sealed container in the spice cupboard), and bake at 400°F for 20 minutes.  You’ll want to start checking them at 15 minutes to make sure they’re not over-done as ovens vary.


Jicama chips before and after baking for 20 minutes.

In the Garden


By Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.) – Flora de Filipinas […] Gran edicion […] [Atlas II]., Public Domain,

You won’t find locally grown jicama at your farmers’ market and even though nurseries will sell you plants, you probably won’t find much success producing the tubers in your garden (unless you live in Florida, maybe – Source: NRCS Plant Profile: Pachyrhizus erosus), and there’s a reason.  It is a tropical legume that does best in the climate of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America.  Trials in California have concluded that a long, warm growing season under relatively short day length is required to initiate good quality fleshy root development.  Otherwise, you’ll get luxurious vine growth with prolific flowering and pod production but with low quality fibrous taproots (Source: UC Small Farm Program).  It could be an interesting addition to your landscape though as the vine grows up to 15 feet in a season and therefore could be used to cover an arbor.  The leaves, flowers, vines, mature pods and seeds are poisonous (one of the sources of rotenone) so keep them away from pets and small children.

Hop Acreage is Growing in Nebraska


Each hop plant can weigh 30-40 pounds.

If you’ve driven north of Plattsmouth on Highway 75 recently you’ve probably wondered about the 18-foot trellises off on the east side of the road.  Those are hop trellises.  The hop plant (Humulus lupulus) is an herbaceous perennial, usually grown for its strobiles or cones. Hop cones contain different oils, such as lupulin, a yellowish, waxy substance, that provides flavor and aroma to food products like beer.

During the growing season, an individual hop plant can weigh 30 to 40 pounds.  So at one thousand plants per acre that trellis has to be strong enough to support 30 to 40 thousand pounds of bines, leaves, and cones.

In 2016 Nebraska had around 24 acres of hops harvested.  There were additional acres not yet in production and there are plans for more acres to be planted in 2017 and 2018.


Hops produce bines, not vines, that are trained to grow clockwise around twine attached to the top trellis wire. The entire bine is harvested at the end of the season.

So why hops in Nebraska and why now?  That has a lot to do with changing purchase habits of Americans – interest is shifting to craft beers over mass-produced beers and more and more folks are making an effort to buy local.  Nebraska has the appropriate climate and day length to produce quality hops and our growing conditions give the product a certain terroir (yes, just like with wine, the soils that produce hops have a huge impact on their character) that intrigues and excites brewers.

So there is demand for Nebraska-grown hops, especially from Nebraska craft breweries.  This was evident at the inaugural Nebraska Grower and Brewer Conference held January 5-6, 2017 on the Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln.  More than 180 attendees came to hear from university specialists and experienced growers and brewers from Nebraska and other states in the Midwest.  There is already buzz about next year’s conference – stay tuned for details.

Are hops for you?  Maybe you own or manage property and are thinking about growing hops.  The first thing to consider is distance from a processor.  Most hops are sold to brewers after they’ve been dried and pelletized, so you need to do your homework in that regard BEFORE you invest.  If you work with a company like Midwest Hop Producers out of Plattsmouth they can share what they know about hop production and pest management, the varieties local brewers prefer, and quality parameters.

Not ready to plant, but you’d like to support the cause?  The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a hop breeding program.  Dr. Keenan Amundsen is eager to produce a Nebraska hop and he needs our help.  If you have wild hops growing on your property, please let him know so he can come out and collect plant material to potentially use in breeding projects.  During the summer, when you can easily see the cones, is a great time to mark the locations of female hop plants.


Presence of cones means that this is a female plant. Commercial hop yards are made entirely of female plants.



Leeks are a member of the onion family with a mild onion-like flavor.  They are rarely consumed raw but can be used in many recipes that call for onions, shallots, or green onions.  Like other members of the allium vegetable family, leeks contain organosulfur compounds that are known to offer health benefits, especially for the cardiovascular system and in the prevention of cancer (Source: Allium Vegetables and Organosulfur Compounds: Do They Help Prevent Cancer?).

This unassuming vegetable is actually one of the national symbols of Wales and appears on a UK one-pound coin.  If you enjoy food history you may want to check out this BBC blog post on leeks.

The Celery Lovers’ Celery Root Soup that I made last week used half a leek, but you can’t just buy half a leek, so I had two and a half leeks sitting in my refrigerator.  I didn’t grow up eating leeks so I don’t have any go-to recipes that call for them.  I’ve purchased them maybe half a dozen times in my entire adult life, and then only if I was testing a recipe that called for them.  So in the spirit of this blog series I set out to find a recipe that would let the leeks shine.

I found a leek pie recipe (original here) that would use up my week-old leeks and tweaked it a little so I could use up a few other ingredients I had on hand, like bacon.

Leek and Bacon Pie


  • Pie crust for 9 inch pie
  • ~1/3 pound bacon, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ½ leeks (if you have 3 whole leeks, use them), sliced (if the leeks have soil trapped between their leaves you’ll want to rinse and drain them after slicing)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 ¼ cups shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream


Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Make your pie crust.  I use the recipe in the Fanny Farmer Cookbook (2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2/3 cups shortening, 1/3 cup water; I make extra so I can use the leftovers to make a batch of pie crust cinnamon rolls).  Set aside.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and cook bacon until crispy.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon.  Add the sliced leeks to the bacon fat in the pan and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.


Add the bacon and season with salt and pepper.

Spread ½ the leek and bacon mixture in the pie plate.  Cover with half the shredded Gruyere.  Repeat with the other half of the leeks and bacon and the other half of the cheese.  Pour the cream gently over the top of the pie and bake for 30 minutes.


The cheese on top will turn a nice golden brown.  Allow to set for 10-15 minutes before slicing.


This pie was a big hit at my house – my husband ate half the pie before it even got cold!

In the Garden

I attended a presentation yesterday by Jean-Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener, where he relayed a story about leek production.


Jean-Martin Fortier discussing market gardening at the 2017 Great Plains Growers Conference in St. Joseph, MO January 13.

When Jean-Martin and his wife started growing leeks, too much of the plant was green to meet the expectations of a particular French customer at the farmers’ market.  We’re used to the bottom half of a leek being white, but they only look like that if you protect that part of the plant from sunlight.  This can be accomplished by planting leek starts in 8-inch deep holes created by a dibbler in a raised bed.  You can hear about this tip and others from JM in this Profitable Market Gardening on 1.5 Acres podcast by Permaculture Voices (leek story starts around 38:35 minutes) and see the slides here (the slide about planting leaks is #47 of 84).

For more information about growing leeks, check out these Extension resources.  For best results, go by recommendations from a state with similar soils and climate to your own.

  • Leeks – Cornell University
  • Leeks – Oregon State University
  • Leeks – University of Minnesota

Celery Root or Celeriac


For this week’s food adventure I chose celery root (Apium graveolens var. rapaceum; also called celeriac).  Celery root is not the root of an old celery plant.  In fact, it’s not even the same plant as common celery (Apium graveolens).  It is a celery variety grown for its underground tuber versus its green leafy stalks.  Although you can see dark green leafy stalks in my photo above, these are not the mild, juicy stalks of common celery and are often trimmed off before they reach the market.  It’s much more common in Europe than the United States, but from a very unscientific poll of my culinary friends I learned that aspiring chefs are often introduced to it in US culinary schools.  Hardier and more disease resistant than its relative, celery, it has a similar flavor and aroma (Source:

There are no vegetables on the Big 8 food allergies list (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans), but some people are allergic to one vegetable or another and I was surprised to learn that celery, and celery root specifically, are particularly problematic.  You can read more about celery allergy and the EU labeling directive regarding it on this University of Nebraska-Lincoln webpage:  For some sufferers allergy symptoms are reduced by cooking the vegetable.

It’s not a super-star as far as vitamins and minerals go, but celery root is only 66 calories per cup, and for that amount provides 2.8 g of dietary fiber, making it a good source.  It is also a good source of phosphorus, potassium, and vitamin B6 and an excellent source of vitamins C and K (Source:

There are many recipes online for celery root slaw or salad, but it’s January, and I’ve been cold for weeks, so I decided to try out a soup recipe instead (original here).

Celery Lovers’ Celery Root Soup

Let me preface this by saying that I love celery.  For a milder flavor (and lighter color), reduce the amount of stems and leaves of the celery root, or omit them altogether.



  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup thinly sliced leek
  • ~1 pound celery root with stems and leaves – rinse and finely chop stems and leaves; peel and cube root
  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cubed (mine was 5.9 ounces)
  • ½ Granny Smith apple, peeled and cubed (I used about 1.86 ounces)
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 cup less sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Pinch of pepper


Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add leek and cook, stirring occasionally for several minutes, until softened.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  (You may need to add additional water or broth depending on your amount of vegetables.  You want them to just barely be covered with liquid).


Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer until all vegetables are tender, about 20-25 minutes.  Drain vegetables, reserving liquid.

In a blender, puree vegetables in batches using as much liquid as necessary to make the puree smooth (I used about a cup).  You’ll want to remove the insert from the center of the blender lid to allow the steam to escape.  Cover with a towel while blending.

Serve warm with a crusty piece of bread.  Makes about three servings.

In the Garden

This vegetable requires a long growing season (about 120 days) so may need to be started indoors and/or grown in a hoophouse depending on your location.  It prefers full sun and soil that is rich in organic matter, and it will not tolerate drought.  Harvest is after the first frost.  While it sounds rather picky, it’s still easier to grow than common celery and people (those who are familiar with it anyway) expect it to look rather funky.  It would be a great conversation starter at a winter CSA or farmers’ market booth.

For tips on growing celeriac check out these Extension pages.  For best results, go by recommendations from a state with similar soils and climate to your own.

Have you ever grown or cooked with celery root/celeriac?

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