Food Adventures with Connie

Archive for the category “vegetables”

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.

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.

What Is This Vegetable and What Do I Do with It?

Have you ever received a vegetable you didn’t recognize or know what to do with?  Have you purchased from Bountiful Baskets, belonged to a CSA, lived next door to a generous gardener, or like my oldest daughter, received a bag of random fruits and vegetables from your boss for Christmas?  If you’re like my daughter, you call your mom and ask what you should do with those beautiful turnips.

random fresh fruits and vegetables

I would love to receive this as a Christmas gift!

I enjoy the challenge of testing recipes for different produce items that aren’t at the top of my family’s list of favorites, yet.  Sometimes my ideas turn out great.  That’s when I make a lifelong Brussels sprouts fan out of a 10-year-old.  Other times not so much.  Luckily my chickens aren’t as picky as the family.

Six CSA box items

We receive more kohlrabi than zucchini in our CSA share. Do you have a favorite kohlrabi recipe?

So with that adventurous spirit, I’m going to write a series of blog posts about some less common produce items you may receive or choose to grow in 2017.

What should I start with?  What’s the most puzzling produce item you’ve ever received?  Let me know in the comments.

9 CSA box items

What do you do with fresh aronia berries?

New Food Safety Rules and How They May Impact Your Pantry

By now you may have heard that there are new food safety rules going into effect in the United States. But how will these new regulations impact the foods you feed your family?

selection of fresh fruits and vegetables

As stated on the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) webpage, “The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years, was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.” It includes regulations for fresh produce growers, food processors, and food importers and the foreign companies they work with.

The key components of FSMA are:

  1. Preventative Controls – food facilities are required to evaluate the hazards in their operations, implement and monitor effective measures to prevent contamination, and have a plan in place to take any corrective actions when necessary.
    Produce growers and food processors don’t want to make their customers sick and most are already taking food safety precautions. In addition, many growers already undergo third-party audits required by retail buyers that certify their compliance with food safety standards. Food processors usually employ quality assurance technicians that sample and monitor product and food contact surfaces every shift, testing for the presence of physical, chemical, and microbial hazards. The U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world.
  2. Inspection and Compliance – The industry will be held accountable for their responsibility to produce safe products through FDA inspection.
    It is unclear exactly what this will look like, how frequently facilities will be inspected, who will cover the costs, etc. but these inspections will be in addition to those third-party audits already required by many retail buyers, and produce growers and food processing facilities will likely have to shoulder the additional cost which may translate into higher prices in the market.
  3. Imported Food Safety – The FDA will work with food importers to ensure that foods coming into the U.S. are safe and requires certification, based on risk criteria, that the imports are in compliance with food safety regulations. The FDA has the authority to refuse admission of imported food if the foreign facility or country refuses to allow an FDA inspection.
    According to the FDA’s Food Safety Legislation Key Facts webpage, “An estimated 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood,” so this may affect availability of some products at your local market, though food safety risk is a valid reason to refuse product entry, as I’m sure you agree. Most foreign suppliers will comply in order to continue to sell to the U.S.

FSMA currently includes five rules (though more are proposed): 1) the Preventive Controls for Human Food Final Rule, 2) the Preventive Controls for Food for Animals Final Rule, 3) the Standards for Produce Safety Final Rule, 4) the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals Final Rule, and 5) the Accredited Third-Party Certification Final Rule. For more details, please refer to the Final Rules.

Overview of the Standards for Produce Safety Final Rule

In my role working with fruit and vegetable growers in Nebraska I am focused on understanding and teaching the Standards for Produce Safety. This final rule was released November 13, 2015 and is described on the FDA’s FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety webpage. It “establishes, for the first time, science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption” and contains six key components:

  1. Agricultural Water
  2. Biological Soil Amendments
  3. Sprouts
  4. Domesticated and Wild Animals
  5. Worker Training and Health and Hygiene
  6. Equipment, Tools and Buildings

It also contains details on operations that are exempt from the rule, such as those that only grow commodities rarely consumed raw (e.g., asparagus, winter squash). The FDA has created a flowchart to help growers determine if their farm may be eligible for exemption. Exempt growers must file for exemption, review their status annually, and maintain records. Non-exempt growers have from one to four years to come into compliance with the rule, depending on whether or not they grow sprouts and based on their annual gross produce sales (smaller operations are given more time to become compliant).

Q & A

I polled my friends and relatives to learn what questions they might have about the implications of this rule.

Q: Why do we need another regulation? Isn’t our food supply already safe?
A: Yes, our food supply is one of the safest in the world. This regulation allows the FDA to implement a mandatory inspection process for all non-exempt food producers to make sure they’re meeting food safety standards (shifting their focus to preventing foodborne illnesses rather than responding after contamination has made people sick) and gives the FDA the power to force a product recall where in the past a recall could be encouraged but was voluntary.

Q: How will I know if produce I’m buying is following the FDA guidelines? Will they be marked with a sticker or special packaging?
A: No, there will be no special packaging or product identifiers to let you know if the farm your food came from follows FDA’s FSMA rules or was inspected. My advice to you is to get to know your local growers and talk to them about how they grow and handle your fruits and vegetables. If you buy all your produce at the grocery store, talk to the produce manager to learn what they require of their growers; as mentioned above, most retailers already require third-party audits where an inspector will visit a farm and certify that they follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).

Q: Will this affect Americans differently depending on where they live?
A: No, the rules apply to all non-exempt U.S. food producers and importers so it will affect the food you buy to feed your family, regardless of which part of the country you call home.

Q: Will the produce be coated with any substance that will require me to wash it more than I already do before eating it?
A: No, FSMA does not mandate produce coatings. Fruit and vegetable coatings are primarily used to maintain quality during storage, not to affect food safety.

Q: Do farmers’ market growers have to follow the same guidelines or are they exempt because they are on a much smaller distribution scale?
A: Farms that have less than $25,000 in annual gross produce sales are NOT covered by this rule, though the farmers’ market may require that they understand and implement food safety precautions on the farm. When in doubt, talk to the growers and the market manager about the steps they take to provide you with safe food.

Guidance for Growers

If you are a fruit or vegetable grower, save or print a copy of the FDA’s Key Requirements: Final Rule on Produce Safety as a reference.  MSU Extension also has a series of fact sheets that may be useful as you try to understand exactly what the Produce Safety Rule means to your operation:

Stay tuned as Nebraska Extension will be offering food safety trainings for growers later this year.

Nitrates in Your Well Water? Effects on humans, crops, and animals

running water in sink

If you’re buying property with a well you’ve probably been advised to have the well water tested for nitrates (among other things). Why do you need to be concerned about nitrates? What effect will high nitrates in the water have on your family, irrigated fruits and vegetables, and livestock you plan to raise for personal use or sale into the local food system? Here’s a list of online resources to help you evaluate the risk.

  • The acute health hazard associated with drinking water with nitrate occurs when bacteria in the digestive system transform nitrate to nitrite. The nitrite reacts with iron in the hemoglobin of red blood cells to form methemoglobin, which lacks the oxygen-carrying ability of hemoglobin. This creates the condition known as methemoglobinemia (sometimes referred to as “blue baby syndrome”), in which blood lacks the ability to carry sufficient oxygen to the individual body cells. Infants under one year of age have the highest risk of developing methemoglobinemia, followed by older persons who have a gastrointestinal system disorder resulting in increased bacteria growth. (NebGuide: Drinking Water: Nitrate-Nitrogen)
  • Testing for nitrate should occur any time a pregnant woman, woman anticipating pregnancy or infant under 6 months old becomes a water user. (NebGuide: Drinking Water: Testing for Quality)
  • If testing reveals high nitrate levels in well water, you may want to switch to a public or municipal water source for your home or invest in a reverse osmosis water treatment system. Reverse osmosis is effective at reducing several ions and metals, including nitrate. (NebGuide: Drinking Water Treatment: Reverse Osmosis)
  • Water with greater than 10 mg/L (10 ppm) of nitrate-nitrogen should not be used for drinking, but can be used for washing and rinsing produce. (http://safety.cfans.umn.edu/files/2013/03/Water-Testing.pdf)
  • Fruits, grains, and dairy products contribute almost no nitrate to people’s diets. (http://psep.cce.cornell.edu/facts-slides-self/facts/nit-heef-grw85.aspx)
  • Nitrate-nitrogen commonly occurs in well water, and by knowing the amount present, it can be accounted for, thus potentially reducing fertilizer input costs. (http://water.unl.edu/wells/testing)

well water hydrant

  • Nitrogen in the irrigation water has much the same effect as soil-applied fertilizer nitrogen; an excess will cause problems, just as too much fertilizer would (over-stimulation of growth, delayed maturity or poor quality). Since nitrogen is present in many water supplies, it is recommended that the nitrogen content of all irrigation water be monitored and the nitrogen present included as an integral part of the planned fertilization program. Sensitive crops may be affected by nitrogen concentrations above 5 mg/L. For example, grapes are sensitive and may continue to grow late into the season at the expense of fruit production; yields are often reduced and grapes may be late in maturing and have lower sugar content. In many grain crops, excessive vegetative growth produces weak stalks that cannot support the grain weight, resulting in severe lodging and difficulties for machine harvesting. (http://www.fao.org/DOCReP/003/T0234e/T0234E06.htm)
drip irrigation for grapes

With high nitrate levels in irrigation water perennial fruit trees and vines may continue to grow vegetatively late in the season reducing fruit yields, delaying maturity, lowering sugar content, and making plants more susceptible to cold damage.

  • High nitrogen water can be used as a fertilizer early in the season. However, as the nitrogen needs of the crop diminish later in the growing season, the nitrogen applied to the crop must be substantially reduced. Blending or changing supplies during the later more critical growth stages should be helpful. Another option is to plant a less sensitive crop, such as corn, which can utilize the nitrogen from the irrigation water more effectively. For crops irrigated with water containing nitrogen, the rates of nitrogen fertilizer supplied to the crop can be reduced by an amount very nearly equal to that available from the water supply. (http://www.fao.org/DOCReP/003/T0234e/T0234E06.htm)
drip irrigation on pumpkins

Test irrigation water for nitrates and subtract the amount provided from your nitrogen fertilizer application.

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