Food Adventures with Connie

Archive for the category “recipes”

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.

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.

Ode to Fried Cornmeal Mush

cornmeal-mush-header

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.

grandpa-playing-guitar

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.

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

corn-meal-mush-in-pan

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.

slicing-cornmeal-mush

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.

frying-mush

This is not a low-fat food. 🙂

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

removing-excess-grease

Serve warm.

fried-mush

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-cover

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

plate-of-braised-pork-and-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:

pork-shoulder-roast

  • 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).

braised-pork-roast

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)
thyme-in-snow

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.

roasted-sweet-potato-ingredients

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

sweet-potatoes-and-onions-before-roasting

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-potatoes-and-onions-after-roasting

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.

Sources:

  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 http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/3651-braised-pork-roast-with-sweet-potatoes 1/28/2017.
  3. Hammond, V. Sweet Potatoes in Nebraska.  Acreage Insights.  Accessed at http://acreage.unl.edu/june-2011#SweetPotato 1/28/2017.
  4. Franzen-Castle, L. November: Sweet Potato Awareness Month.  Accessed at http://food.unl.edu/documents/November_Webletter_SweetPotato_10_29_14.pdf 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 http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/01/19/510436364/why-america-is-growing-the-most-sweet-potatoes-since-wwii 1/28/2017.
  2. Szalay, J. Sweet Potatoes: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts.   Accessed at http://www.livescience.com/46016-sweet-potato-nutrition.html 1/28/2017.

Jicama

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

Ingredients:

  • 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
preparing-produce-for-the-slaw

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

Directions:

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.

apple-jicama-coleslaw

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

Jicama chips before and after baking for 20 minutes.

In the Garden

Pachyrhizus-angulatus-plate

By Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.) – Flora de Filipinas […] Gran edicion […] [Atlas II]., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=977739

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.

Leeks!

leeks

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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.

cooking-leeks

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.

leek-and-bacon-pie-before-baking

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

leek-and-bacon-pie

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-discusses-market-gardening

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

celery-root

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: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/grow-your-own/vegetables/celeriac).

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: http://farrp.unl.edu/informallvegetables.  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: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2912?manu=&fgcd=&ds).

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.

celery-root-soup

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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).

pot-of-celery-root-soup-ingredients

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?

Turnips and Rutabagas

three-turnips-and-a-rutabaga

There isn’t much fresh, local produce available in Nebraska the last week of December, so I shopped at my local grocery store for this week’s food adventure.  I decided on turnips and rutabagas.  The choice also seemed fitting as my oldest daughter’s question about turnips prompted this series of blog posts (see What Is This Vegetable and What Do I Do with It? for more details).

Turnips, Brassica rapa var. rapa L., (or neeps; the word turnip is an old compound of tur- as in turned/rounded on a lathe and neep, derived from Latin napus) are high in vitamin C.  For more nutrition information check out this USDA fact sheet.  Turnip greens are especially nutrient dense, with a score of 62 out of 100 to turnip’s score of 11 (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2014/13_0390.htm).  I am looking forward to trying some turnip greens when they’re available.  The turnips and rutabagas available at the market now have been trimmed of their tops and bottoms and coated with wax to prevent dehydration and extend storage life.

turnips-and-rutabagas-at-grocery-store

Brassica napus var. napobrassica (a cross between Brassica rapa rapa and cabbage) is commonly known as rutabaga or yellow turnip in the United States and as swede (“Swedish turnip”) in Southern England.  Brassica rapa rapa, or turnip as it is called in the United States and Southern England, is known as swede in Ireland and Northern England (Source: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Turnip).  Are you confused yet?  I tell you all this because some recipes on the internet that call for turnips are actually referring to rutabagas.  If the recipe says something like “yellow turnips” they probably mean rutabagas.  The two are very similar in taste and texture, but rutabagas are sweeter and less pungent.

chopped-rutabagas-turnips

See the color difference? Rutabaga on the left, turnip on the right.

I asked my mom why she never cooked turnips for us growing up.  She responded that they’re “yucky” and that’s why she wouldn’t eat my grandma’s cooking for a long time.  She “couldn’t trust that [grandma] didn’t slip them in.”  Ha, ha.  Grandma is devious like that.

In researching this negative attitude regarding turnips I learned that my mom is not alone.  Turnips and rutabagas contain bitter cyanoglucosides.  Sensitivity to the bitterness of these compounds is controlled by a paired gene.  If you find these vegetables objectionably bitter, chances are that you have inherited two copies of the “sensitive” gene (Source: Sandell and Breslin.  2006.  Variability in a taste-receptor gene determines whether we taste toxins in food. Current Biology. 16 (18): R792-R794. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.08.049).

Knowing that, I chose a recipe with salty, sweet, and sour flavors and bacon fat to balance out the bitterness.  This recipe allowed me to use both turnips and rutabagas (and honestly, quite a few of their family members depending on what you have available to you).  I love recipes that allow flexibility in ingredients because I am anti-food waste and often make a meal with a bit of this and a few of those to clean out the refrigerator.

So here is what I made, adapted from the original that you can find here.

Smashed Turnips and Rutabagas with Bacon Vinaigrette

Smashed-Turnips-and-Rutabagas-with-Bacon-Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds turnips, peeled and cubed
  • 2 ¾ pounds rutabaga, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 6.8 ounces thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray 13 x 9 inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Steam cubed turnip and rutabaga until vegetables are very tender but not mushy, about 45 minutes.  (Boiling also works, but as vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin it would be discarded with the water, so steaming is a better choice.)  Drain water and return vegetables to the pot.  Coarsely smash with a potato masher.

While the vegetables are steaming, soften mustard seeds in ¼ cup of water in an unheated small saucepan for 20 minutes.  Add vinegar and simmer until seeds are soft enough to easily break with your teeth (about 10 minutes).  Drain, reserving seeds and cooking liquid separately.

In a large skillet cook diced bacon over medium heat until the fat starts to render.  Add diced onion, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion and bacon are browned and crisp.

Add reserved mustard seeds to the bacon-onion mixture and cook until seeds begin to pop (about 1 minute).  Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar and reserved mustard seed cooking liquid.

Stir vinaigrette into smashed vegetables and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Pour into baking pan and bake for 20 minutes until the top is lightly browned and any remaining moisture has evaporated.  Serve warm.

If you like hot German potato salad, this recipe is for you.  And its great reheated the next day!

History and Uses

Turnips have been a staple of the human diet since ancient times and were often considered food of “the poorer classes and country folk,” partly because they grow even in poor soil, are so easy and cheap to produce, and have great storage characteristics that they have been used for animal food (Source: The Cambridge World History of Food, 2000).  They are also useful as a cover crop and as part of a crop rotation, dating back to Frederick the Great in the 18th century, if not earlier (Source: Tannahill, Food in History, 1973).

For information on using turnips for cattle grazing, check out this information from Bruce Anderson, Extension Forage Specialist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

In the Garden

For tips on growing turnips and rutabagas for human consumption check out these Extension publications.  For best results, go by recommendations from a state with similar soils and climate to your own.  Harvest when less than five inches in diameter.  Their bitterness intensifies the bigger they are and the longer they’re held in storage.

Do you have a favorite recipe for turnips and/or rutabagas?  Share it in the comments.

My Oatmeal Secret

At the risk of being judged, I’m going to tell you a little secret. I roll my own oats. I know, I know. You’re thinking I’m one of THOSE people. No, I don’t buy everything organic. No, I don’t fear processed foods. For me it’s a matter of texture. I HATED oatmeal growing up. I used to watch Oliver Twist – remember the scene where they’re scooping gruel into the boys’ bowls? You know the one, “Please, sir, I want some more.” No thank you. I’d rather starve.

So here’s what changed me from an oatmeal-hater to an oatmeal-lover.  I’ve always loved to cook and one year for Christmas I received a Family Grain Mill and a Family Flaker Mill (I’m not being paid to endorse these items, I just love this oatmeal enough to want to share with you how I make it). I received both the KitchenAid® attachment (so the machine does the work) and the handcrank (so the kids do the work – they still think this is fun).

Here’s what oats look like:

oat-groats

I buy whole oat groats (groat is the word for raw grains like oats, buckwheat, or barley with their hulls removed) in 25 pound bags and then store them in an air-tight 5 gallon bucket with a Gamma Seal® lid (these lids spin on and off and are a must-have if you’re into food storage).

Here’s what oats look like after running them through the flaker mill:

rolled-oats

I usually process a gallon ziptop bag at a time and store them in the freezer so they’re ready to use whenever I need them. It’s important to store them in the freezer because after the kernel is crushed the oils inside come in contact with air and can turn rancid. Trust me, you don’t want that.

Here are my three favorite recipes for using oatmeal:

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins (I double the amount of topping.)

Blackberry Baked Oatmeal with Caramel Sauce (I use frozen blackberries. I love berries and buying them by the case, frozen within hours of harvest, is the most affordable way to eat high-quality berries all year long.)

Oatmeal Cookies (I make them with toasted pecans and sweetened dried cranberries.)

oatmeal-cookies

Now, I expect you to eat your oatmeal!

For information on the health benefits of eating oatmeal (it is a superfood, dontcha know?) check out this blog from K-State: What’s So Great About Oatmeal?

Goat and Barley with Cabbage

I know it’s not yet truly fall, but with the thunderstorms we’ve had the past few days I’ve been in the mood for soups and stews. With that in mind I started with a pound of goat stew meat and experimented to create tonight’s dinner.  I like barley and had three cabbages from the CSA still in the refrigerator, so that’s where inspiration took me.  The first hour of the preparation would be appropriate for any stew; then, instead of barley and cabbage, you could add potatoes and carrots and any other veggies you like and cook another half hour or until tender.

Enjoy!

IMG_3795

Goat and Barley with Cabbage

Yield: 8 servings

1 lb goat stew meat
½ c flour
1 T seasoning salt*
2 T vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
8 oz tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp garlic powder
4 beef bouillon cubes
4 c water
1 c barley
½ green cabbage, chopped (about 4 cups)

  1. Mix flour with seasoning salt in a zip-top bag. Add stew meat, seal, and shake to coat.
  2. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add meat and brown, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add onion and garlic and continue to cook until onions are translucent.
  4. Add Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, bay leaves, black pepper, oregano, garlic powder, bouillon, and water.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook, covered for one hour.
  6. Stir in barley. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.
  7. Stir in cabbage. Cover and cook an additional 30 minutes or until cabbage is tender.
  8. Salt and pepper to taste.

*You can use any seasoning salt you have on hand. I used this Traeger Veggie Shake.
seasoning salt

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