Food Adventures with Connie

Archive for the month “February, 2017”

Kohlrabi

Growing up in a rural Central Oregon community, I never saw kohlrabi until I moved to the valley for college.  And then it looked so foreign to me that I wasn’t brave enough to try it.  Fast forward to me as an adult, regularly receiving kohlrabi in my CSA shares and now that I know what it is and how versatile it is, I enjoy experimenting with kohlrabi in different hot and cold dishes.

kohlrabi-in-the-produce-aisle

Kohlrabi is one of the Brassica oleracea in the family Brassicaceae, or cruciferous vegetables.  Usually a plant gets its own species name but B. oleracea includes such diverse vegetables as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale as well as kohlrabi.  So in order to specify that we’re talking about kohlrabi we add var. gongylodes to make it Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes.

As shown in the image at https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/3395076/brassica-oleracea.0.jpg, the kohlrabi variation of Brassica oleracea was selected for its stem.

As with other cruciferous vegetables, kohlrabi is low in calories, high in vitamin C, and a good source of dietary fiber.  Eating cruciferous vegetables several times per week has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers such as colon and rectal cancer (Source: Have You Tried Kohlrabi?).  For more information about the relationship between consumption of cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk, check out Cruciferous Vegetables from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Knowing how cruciferous vegetables are complemented by cheddar cheese I wanted to make a sort of kohlrabi and cheddar casserole, like scalloped potatoes but with kohlrabi instead of potatoes and chicken broth instead of cream.  Here’s what I came up with.

Kohlrabi Gratin

Ingredients:

  • 3 kohlrabi (after peeling and slicing I had 1.629 pounds, about 4 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 ½ cups chicken broth
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (for sauce)
  • ½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (for topping)
  • Paprika

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a saucepan, sauté onions and garlic in butter until soft.  Stir in flour and cook for one minute.  Add broth, salt, and cayenne pepper and cook on medium heat until smooth, stirring often.  Stir in one cup shredded cheddar cheese and cook until melted.  Remove from heat.

In an eight by eleven inch baking dish, layer half of the kohlrabi slices, half the cheese sauce, the other half of the kohlrabi slices, and the last of the cheese sauce.  Top with the half cup of shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkle with paprika.

kohlrabi-gratin-before-baking

Bake uncovered for one hour or until easy to pierce with a fork.  Serve warm.

kohlrabi-gratin-after-baking

plated-kohlrabi-gratin

Look at all that cheesy goodness!

In the Garden

As with many of the other cruciferous vegetables, kohlrabi is a cool season crop that grows best at temperatures below 75°F.  It can be grown from seeds or transplants and planting in succession is recommended so it isn’t all ready to harvest at the same time (it’s delicious, but there’s only so much you can eat at a time and it only stores for a few weeks under refrigeration).

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

Sources:

Henneman, A. Have You Tried Kohlrabi – University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Higdon, J.  Cruciferous Vegetables.  Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute.  2005.  Accessed 20 Feb 2017.

Stromberg, J. Kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage are all varieties of a single magical plant species.  Vox.  10 Feb 2015.  Accessed 20 Feb 2017.

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9 Reasons to Bake Rather Than Buy

I was asked to speak to a 4-H club today on reasons you might want to bake from-scratch items at home rather than buy baked goods from a store.  It was fun to think about all the reasons I bake, so I decided I’d also share my list with you.

  1. Special Dietary Needs

Do you have a loved one who has diabetes, high blood pressure, or other health conditions that come with dietary restrictions?  If so, you can find delicious recipes that limit the amount of salt or sugar or make use of artificial sweeteners so they can still enjoy baked goods.  You can also often reduce fat content in baked goods by swapping out the butter or oil for applesauce or by using reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products in place of regular versions.

Americans commonly have low dietary fiber intakes.  You can increase the dietary fiber content of your baked goods by looking for recipes that call for whole wheat flour, rolled oats, wheat bran, or wheat germ.  In general you can substitute whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour called for in a recipe.

Picky eaters in your house?  Thankfully my kids like fruits and vegetables, but for those that don’t you can sneak fruit and vegetable purees and dried fruits into a variety of baked goods.

  1. Food Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities

Last week I attended a meeting where we were encouraged to bring a snack to share and were given a list of foods that people in the group were allergic to and therefore needed to be avoided.  One of the best ways to ensure that you’re avoiding food allergens is to bake items from scratch – then you know exactly what they contain.  Even if the donuts or cookies you want to buy don’t obviously contain nuts, for example, they may be made in a production facility that also handles nuts.

roll-allergen-statement

Example of an allergen statement from a package of slider buns at the grocery store.

True food allergies can cause anaphylaxis and even death, so you can’t be too careful.  (The most common food allergens must be declared on food labels: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy.  For more information check out Allergenic Foods and Their Allergens from UNL.)

Likewise, if you’re feeding someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you can avoid the gluten in wheat, rye, or barley by using recipes that call for alternative flours.

  1. Preservatives

Have you ever wondered why bread you bake at home molds within a few days while a loaf from the store can last one to two weeks?  There are additional ingredients added to that store-bought bread that are responsible for extending its shelf-life and maintaining its quality.  Those ingredients are called preservatives.

Don’t get me wrong, I love food science and the amazing things we can do with food ingredients.  But I recognize that many folks are concerned about food ingredients that they don’t understand, like preservatives.  If you bake your own bread, cakes, cookies, etc. you get to control which preservatives get added.  Yes, even salt and sugar are food preservatives.

  1. Freshness

Along those same lines, that bread you buy in the store is likely a day or two old when you purchase it.  Granted, it’s not as old as those eggs you’re buying at the store, but it’s not as fresh as homemade.

  1. Variety

By baking at home you have the flexibility to try out different flavors, textures, shapes, and sizes in your cakes and breads.

You can also use your creativity.  What’s your favorite dried fruit?  Have you ever tried it in oatmeal cookies?  One of my favorite combinations is roasted pecans and dried, sweetened cranberries (here’s my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe).

What are your favorite vegetables?  If you make your own pizza crust, and assemble and bake your pizza at home, you could come up with some exciting new combinations not available at your local pizza parlor.  Chicken, red pepper, and asparagus pizza?  Why not?

  1. Family Fun

Some of the best family time is that spent in the kitchen.  Even toddlers can help stir and cut and decorate cookies.

Plus, you can turn it into a science lesson.  Unlike cooking where you can throw in a little of this and a little of that, baking is about chemistry and chemical reactions; each recipe tweaked is a science experiment.

You can also use the experience to give your family greater appreciation for where your food comes from and what it takes to get it to your table.  Consider a field trip to a wheat growing area of the state, buy some wheat berries, and grind them into flour that you then use to make bread.  Or visit a you-pick apple orchard, harvest apples, and use them to make a pie.

  1. Aroma

Did you know that realtors used to encourage home sellers to bake cookies before an open house?  Why?  Well I think you would agree that the aroma of baking bread or cookies in your kitchen is unbeatable!  I can also attest to the fact that the aroma can lure teenagers away from their rooms and devices.

  1. Less Waste.

At a minimum, bread purchased at the store is going to come in a plastic bag.  Cakes and cookies are probably in a plastic clamshell container.  Do you re-use these when the product is gone or do you immediately dispose of them?  Here’s an opportunity to reduce the amount of packaging waste going to landfill and/or recycling center.  At home you can store your based goods in re-sealable dishes and avoid the waste.

Food at the grocery store has some sort of date label on it (“best by,” “sell by,” etc.).  What happens to that product if it isn’t sold or donated by that date?  Most likely it’s off to the landfill.  Some grocery stores will turn this over to a farmer to feed to livestock, but most won’t make the effort.  At home you can bake just the quantity that your family will eat right away.  Extra bread or cookie dough can be frozen and thawed as needed.

  1. Price

Home-baked items are definitely cheaper than their store-bought counterparts.  Take rolls for example.  Here is a bag of 12 wheat slider buns for $2.99.  That’s $0.249 each.

wheat-rolls-at-the-store

Compare that to rolls made at home (recipe below).  I estimate that my recipe’s ingredients come to $2.39 (estimated using http://www.pricingbakedgoods.com).  That’s $0.10 each.  (And my rolls are so much better than anything the store has to offer – see 4, 5, and 7 above.)

hot-buttered-rolls

Something Else to Consider

Okay, those are all reasons for baking at home.  But I’m a realist and a busy mom. I DO NOT bake all my family’s baked goods.  Flavor-wise there are some things that I make time to bake, like cookies and birthday cakes and rolls for holiday dinners.

Do you know the four main factors that Americans consistently identify as important in food choice?  They are taste, texture, cost, and convenience (Source: Insel et al., 2010).  Baking at home is the way to go for best taste, texture, and price.  But that brings me to the number one reason for buying baked goods at the store: convenience.  Don’t feel guilty about buying sandwich bread from the store.  If you take into consideration your time, which is valuable and finite, that $3 loaf of bread doesn’t look so bad.  And it just makes your home-baked goods all that more special.

Share in the comments a link to the one recipe you insist on baking rather than buying.  I’ll go first.  Here’s my favorite recipe for dinner rolls.

Best Ever Dinner Rolls

Ingredients

  • ½ cup milk
  • 5 tablespoon butter, divided
  • warm water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast (that’s 4 ½ teaspoons if you buy yeast in bulk)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 4 to 4½ cups bread flour

Place milk and 4 tablespoons butter in a 2-cup glass measuring cup.  Microwave on HIGH for 1½ minutes.  Add enough warm water to measure 2 cups.

Combine sugar, egg, and salt in a large bowl; mix well.  Add milk mixture; mix well.  Stir in yeast; let stand 2 minutes.

Add 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups bread flour.  Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until smooth and elastic.  Add 2 cups of bread flour.  Mix dough with hook or stir in by hand until smooth.  Stir in enough of the remaining flour by hand to make dough easy to handle.  Turn out on lightly floured counter-top and kneed for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

Place dough into bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size (about 45 minutes).  (Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.)

doubled-dough-with-indentation

This dough has doubled in size and you can see the indentation in the top left.

Punch down dough; divide in half, then half again, then half again, so you have eight dough portions of equal size.  Now divide each of those portions by three so you have 24 rolls.  Using lightly floured hand, shape each roll and place onto a buttered half-sheet pan (or two cookie sheets).  Let rise until double in size (about 1 hour).

Heat oven to 375°F.  Bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and rub tops with butter.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

fresh-buttered-rolls

I wish you could smell the fresh roll aroma!

Makes 24 rolls.

References

Allergenic Foods and Their Sources – University of Nebraska Lincoln

Insel, P., D Ross, K McMahon, and M Bernstein.  2010.  Chapter 1.  Discovering Nutrition, 4th edition.  Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Promise in a Bud

If you take time to look, you will find beauty in every season.  Take a dormant apple spur for example.  Oh, I know this short, wrinkled shoot is not much to look at, but with a little imagination you can picture the leaves and fruit it will soon bear.  Spring will be here before we know it.

Carl-Sagan-quote-over-apple-spur

Did you know that apple trees bear mixed buds meaning that they contain both flowers and leaves?  Most mixed buds are found at the terminal end of spurs on two-year or older wood, so that is where the fruit will develop.  These spurs may continue to bear fruit for ten years or more so we need to be careful not to damage them during annual pruning.  Smaller buds elsewhere in the canopy are usually vegetative but still important as their photosynthesis sustains the tree and the developing fruit.

Fruit Tree Pruning Resources:

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