Tag Archives: easy

Cauliflower

Cauliflower: why I always ask for more (& 5 ways to sub it for carbs)

When I see cauliflower on my CSA’s chalkboard, I am filled with joy. It is one of those vegetables that does so much in place of a starch. Sub it for rice, pizza crust, mashed potatoes, tots (just heard about that one!). . . The list goes on. One of my favorite recipes is mashed cauliflower: a simple, elegant dish that my 16 year old niece always revisits for seconds.

Mashed cauliflower (or as we sometimes say, faux potatoes) can contain a basic three ingredients or get a bit more complicated (but not much. . .like add some garlic and Parmesan, or finish it with some truffle or rosemary salt).

Here’s what I did:

I had about two heads of cauliflower worth (they were smaller than that) of cheddar and regular cauliflower (just because that’s what I had). I chopped them up into flowerettes and put them in my large pot, with a steamer tray at the bottom. I poured in about a cup of water (enough to get a half inch of water in there) and steamed them until they were a little more than fork tender. You don’t want to over cook them, but you want them to be soft enough to mash well. Mine took about 10 minutes.

While they cook, if I have the oven going I might slip some garlic in to roast as well. And slip a few cloves of that in the food processor. Or saute some diced garlic.

Mashed Cauli

Once the cauliflower is cooked, take out your food processor (a hearty blender would probably work, too) and add the cauliflower to it. I had to do this in two or three shifts. I used a total of 1/3 cup olive oil, but poured some in each batch. And then a little extra at the end. . . Cause it’s so good. I added a 1/2 tsp of salt as well, distributed in each. And then another pinch at the end.

I let the food processor run for a good two to three minutes to really get the cauliflower into

a pureed mash.

And then I served it up.

You can use this to top a farmer’s/cottage/shepherd’s pie. You can serve it with steak. You can do so many things with this little side dish.

RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2-1 tsp salt (I like Redmond Salt — localish, filled with minerals)

2 heads (or the equivalent) of cauliflower

HOW TO

1. Chop the cauliflower into flourettes. No need to be pretty about it, these will eventually be mashed. But don’t hack them so badly that much of the cauliflower turns to crumbs.

2. Steam in a large pot (you can boil them too). Takes about 10 minutes. Cook them well, until they are very fork tender.

3. In batches that work for your food processor, add the cauliflower, some of the olive oil, and some of the salt. Stick your finger in to see if you like the taste. Add more salt or oil if you don’t! Here is when you would add a clove or two of roasted garlic, some rosemary salt or just rosemary, or other herb combination. This is a very flexible recipe.

4. Process the ingredients for 1-3 minutes, until smooth.

5. Add some finishing salt if you feel like it (I really liked truffle salt, took away some of the cauliflower flavor).

Here are a few other ideas that will make this little, sometimes smelly, nondescript, unassuming veggie something that will get your blood pumping as well:

Featured image is by Mike Mozart.

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Roasted veggies up close

Roasting Radishes: the best way to win over a radish hater

Radishes and Turnips
Some of the ingredients: salad turnips and chopped radishes.

This is the raddest radish recipe. Or should we call it a technique? Either way, roasting radishes is a fresh take on these spicy beauties.

Flavor sweetens: Roasting the radish takes some of the spice out of the radish, and some of the flavor that many radish haters hate fades. They become a little sweeter and don’t bite back as much.

Super quick: Roasting radishes takes maybe 10 – 15 minutes. So quick!

Beautiful: Mix these in with any of your favorites (last night I chose cauliflower, carrots, and salad turnips) and they will make your dish look fabulous.

The Recipe: Roasted Radishes

Roasted veggies
Just out of the oven! Gave them lots of room to crisp and cook quickly.

Ingredients:

1 bunch radishes (or more!)

Mix of other veggies, enough to fill two baking sheets (that way you have leftovers). I used 1 head of cauliflower, 5 carrots, and a bunch of salad turnips

2 tablespoons fat of your choice, I used duck fat. Make sure it is something that will cook at high heat (coconut oil, animal fat, BUTTER)

How to:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Chop your vegetables to equal sizes, about 1 – 2 inch chunks. Toss them together with melted oil, salt and pepper. Feel free to add in some spices or herbs or even a bit of lemon.

I roasted my veggies for around 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. I added the radishes and turnips in after the rest had been roasting for about 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

 

tomatoes

Tomato Pie: your savory savior for a quick fresh meal

Claire Vergobbi Clare Vergobbi is one of our apprentices this season, working at River Road Neighborhood Farm for the summer. She is an essential part of what we do there, each day, and in turn, we are teaching her many skills for her future. Simultaneously, she is studying at the University of Montana. Thanks to Missoula Federal Credit Union for making two of our apprenticeships possible. Here’s Clare on tomato pie:

There’s nothing quite like hand feeding a chicken, pulling up a handful of carrots you seeded, weeded, and hand-watered for two months, or watching the sun set over mountains while the farm is full of families picking up their vegetables for the week.

These are the simple lessons good soil, clean water, hard work, and fresh food can teach. I’ve spent the last two summers as an apprentice at River Road Neighborhood Farm, one of Garden City Harvest’s four farms, where I’ve been learning by doing. River Road grows food for over 80 households who are members of the farm, and helps stock the kitchen at the Poverello with food each week of the season.

That brings me to tomato season. At long last, it arrived—albeit about a month later than usual and much lighter than the motherlode that blessed gardens and farms around Missoula last year.

That brings me to tomato season.  At long last, it’s here—albeit a month later than usual and much lighter than the motherlode that blessed gardens and farms around Missoula last year.  I spent most of the winter and spring eating the tomato soup, sauce, salsa, and frozen fruits I preserved last fall, and most of the summer waiting for tomatoes to come back into season. Desperate for tomatoes, I  started making a list of everything I wanted to make out of them this year at the first hint of red on the vines at the beginning of August.

tomato

I work as an apprentice at River Road Neighborhood Farm. Working alongside Greg Price and

Unfortunately, it’s hard to outsmart the whims of nature and August and September have been colder and rainier than anyone would have liked—less than ideal weather for tomatoes.  Harvests of tomatoes, peppers, and other hot weather crops have been exercises in frustration at River Road for the past few months. However, harvests are finally topping out above 100 pounds and I have faith that we’ll all end up with enough tomatoes to have more than enough for preservation. The fleeting inconsistencies of this season reminded me that the best tomatoes are those enjoyed fresh off the vine, standing in the field with juice running down my fingers or starring as a primary flavor in a light dish.

sliced heirloomOne of the dishes on my tomato wish list this year is tomato pie, a recipe I came across in a few southern cooking websites last winter.  The version I made was also heavily inspired by an onion pie that my lovely coworker Samantha brought to work one day.  Tomato pie is an amazing way to showcase the deep flavors and beautiful colors of heirloom tomatoes—my favorites for this dish were Cherokee Purples and Golden Kings, but any large heirloom would be a good choice.  I opted for a slightly healthier version (minus the sour cream and mayonnaise) than the original recipes I came across; a combination of the onion pie recipe and a fantastic recipe for heirloom tomato pie I found on Dig This Chick, a local Missoula blog.

With a sunny week ahead of us, there’s still a chance to take advantage of the fresh tomatoes ripening in your gardens and on our farms.  Grab a bunch of romas for your soups and sauces and a few lumpy, beautiful heirlooms for this pie.

Heirloom Tomato Pie   tomato pie

Need:

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 3-4 sliced heirloom tomatoes
  • 4 cups shredded cheese—I liked parmesan, white cheddar, and gouda
  • 1 cup milk or plain yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, diced or sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • ¼ cup diced fresh basil (or 1 tablespoon dried basil)
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust, take a cup or so of breadcrumbs and mix with 3 tablespoons of melted butter, then press mixture firmly around the pie pan.

Caramelize onions and garlic.

Mix milk/yogurt, egg, cheese, garlic, onions, and herbs.  Pour mixture into pie crust.   Layer tomato slices to fill up remainder of pie pan, sprinkling with salt and pepper to taste as you go.

Bake for about an hour, or until the cheesy stuff is nice and bubbly and the tomatoes are juicy and squishy, but not dehydrated or burned.

When it comes out of the oven, it will still be pretty watery.  Let it sit for an hour at room temperature so it can set up, but it’ll probably taste just as good if you can’t wait that long.

Throw some extra fresh basil on top before eating to make it extra tasty.

Enjoy the remainder of glorious tomato season.  Who knows? If the frost holds off maybe we’ll have a fire sale after all.

 

We’ve Got the Beet (Recipe)

Dave enjoying a burger at the Farm PartyWe’ve gotten a lot of requests around here for the Farm Party recipes. And what I think that really means is GIVE US THE BEET RECIPE! It is clear from this photo that a Farm Party dinner makes a guy happy. I posted the Kamut® recipe a few weeks ago, another favorite at the party. Now, let me give you the beet.

I will also tell you the story of how our beet salad came to be.

First we got a group of about six or seven EVST Grad and undergrad students and two Youth Harvest teens who have spent their summer up at the PEAS Farm. These folks have seeded, planted, harvested and weeded and weeded (and did I mention weeding?) to bring food to the Missoula Food Bank, their faithful CSA members, and all of our Mobile Market patrons at (mostly) senior affordable housing around town. Farm Party is a way for these students to team up and show the community what they’ve been up to. It’s a proud moment.

Tuesday before the party, the interns and Youth Harvesters harvested the beets and onions (and many other ingredients). Wednesday, the Farm to School staffers whisked the beets and onions to the Missoula County Public School’s Central Kitchen, where they have fancy machines like the robot coupe that chop and slice the veggies REALLY FAST.

Then, to the UM Catering kitchen, where they are roasted in the oven to perfection.

Then, to the First Presbyterian Church commercial kitchen where they are cooled overnight (because you don’t want to melt the cheese) lovingly combined by the PEAS Farm students and Youth Harvest teens the morning of the Farm Party with a simple dressing and delicious Lifeline Farms Feta-U-Beta.

FarmParty_2014_Will Klaczynski (14)
The beet salad in action at the Farm Party!

So, without further ado, here’s the recipe!

Farm Party Beet Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 4 medium sized beets (should be around 1.5 lbs or 4 cups cubed beets)
  • 1/2 a medium Walla Walla onion
  • 1/4 cup safflower oil (or any oil you enjoy, at home I would use olive, but Safflower is definitely more local, if more refined)
  • 4 oz feta (we used Feta-U-Beta from Lifeline Farms to keep it local and organic — whoop whoop!)
  • Salt to taste

How to

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash the beets and remove tops if still attached (and feel free to use for another dish!). Peel and chop beets into bite sized pieces. Chop coarsely, about the same size as the beets.

Place beets and onions on a large cooking sheet (or two, best not to crowd the veggies). Cook until fork tender, approximately 20 – 30 minutes.

Let the beets and onions cool enough so that they won’t melt the cheese when you toss it all together.

While the beets are cooling, combine the crumbled cheese, safflower oil, and salt.

Once cooled, combine all ingredients together and serve!

 

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How to Prevent the Zucchini Apocalypse, Part 1

It is that time of year when the vegetable stars align to give us an abundance of possibilities.

zucchini apocalypse
Beware the zucchini apocalypse! Graphic by Ken Lockwood.

It is also the time of year when desperate gardeners start slipping zucchinis into unlocked cars. If you find yourself at either end of this situation, I’ve got a great recipe for you. It will take care of 4 – 6 zucchinis, and a few other things that are just coming into season right now.

Want more zucchini ideas to ward of that sense of impending doom? We’ve got a collection just for you.

Now, you can use a regular peeler for this recipe, but I would recommend either springing for a spiralizer (takes up a bit more space in your kitchen, so its a bit more of a commitment) or a julienne peeler. I recommend either the Swissmar or Kuhn peelers if you purchase online. The only place I could find that sold them locally was the Good Food Store.

In the summer, we eat a lot of zucchini pasta at my house. It is is my #1 defense against the zucchini apocalypse. And a great way to replace a grain with a vegetable. And trick my unsupsecting child and husband. They’ve figured it out by now, but I can blend pasta and z-pasta together and they are pretty darn happy.

This salad is so simple and so good. I am always surprised at how delicious raw zucchini and carrots taste with a bit of garlic,salt, and olive oil on them.

This is great on its own. You can add a few things to it if you are trying to purge your fridge. I added scallions to it cause I had such fresh, lovely ones today. I made it at the office, and decided it would be my lunch. I put some sliced turkey and ham on the side (and a plopped a little mayo on the side too, because I am a mayo freak). Great meal!

Other additions include mozzerella, tomatoes, chunks of bread. . . Sides of toast! I’m guessing a little spiralized kohlrabi wouldn’t be bad, either. Maybe olives? But I haven’t tried those yet.

Caprese SaladSummer Squash Caprese Noodle Salad

adapted from Diane Sanfilippo’s book, Practical Paleo

Ingredients:

Dressing:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil (I’ve used dried in a pinch, just reduce by a 1/3rd (4 teaspoons)
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper to taste (I used white pepper, but black pepper is great too)
Salad:
  • around 5 cups spiralized or julienned zucchini or summer squash – I used 3 medium squash plus two of the patty pan
  • 1 medium carrot, julienned, peeled or spiralized (when tomatoes come into season, you can use those instead)
  • 1 scallion (optional)

How to:

I peeled my zucchini, the noodles just work better that way. But you certainly don’t have to. Spiralize or julienne peel your squashes. I spiralized mine, using the larger noodle setting. Set aside. If you want to get a bit of the water out of the zucchini beforehand, salt the zucchini noodles before you set them aside.

spiralized squash

Combine dressing ingredients in a large bowl.

dressing

Peel the carrots right into the bowl with dressing.

Carrots

If you opted to salt the squash, now’s the time to take a clean rag, towel, or paper towel and squeeze some of the water out into the sink. (I didn’t do this – I just don’t care enough about the slightly watery situation.)

Add the squash and toss with your hands. Grind a little fresh pepper on top. I added a few scallions here, too. Tastes great either way.

Eat right away, or stick in the fridge to let the flavors combine.

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Perfect Summer Dish for (Almost) Everyone & (Almost) Any Vegetable

FriendsI’m having a few friends over for the fourth of July. The group has some diverse food restrictions, between my gluten allergy, a few vegetarians, a dairy allergy and a mess of kids. Plus, I want to show off my amazing River Road veggies. These limitations can actually be helpful, since the internet is infinite and time is short.

I’ve found a good solution. Inspired by Sarah Britton’s Best Lentil Salad, Ever, I’ll be making a beluga lentil salad along with my grilled tri-tip roast (mine’s from Jamie’s Naturally Raised Grassfed Beef — tri-tip roasts, as opposed to steaks, are amazing and somewhat hard to find. You can special order at a meat counter, or ask for them at the Farmers’ Market). A great source of protein, it’s also gluten free. It’s cold — who wants a hot dish on a day like today?  And it has lots of room for vegetable additions — I love when recipes, like Sarah’s, include optional extras to add to a dish. I’m pretty sure that my 4 year old will even eat this, or at least she’ll negotiate to just “take four bites ’cause I’m four,” rather than flat out, tight-lipped refusal.

All you need is lentils + a good basic vinaigrette + roasted/grilled veggies to get an amazing salad.

Let’s start with roasted/grilled veggies

roasted veggies
This is pretty, but don’t put your veggies this close together when roasting/grilling. Use two baking sheets or two shifts in the grill basket!

Who doesn’t love a roasted vegetable? You can roast almost any vegetable, save the greens, following these guidelines. Great roasting veggies are ripening up right about now — carrots, radishes, garlic scapes, zucchini, maybe even scallions. Plus, you can do almost the same thing (and I would argue it tastes even better) when you grill your veggies. If you want step by step grilling instructions, check out my grilled carrots post. I use a grill basket, but skewers are great, too.

Putting it all together

beluga lentilsWhile you’re roasting or grilling your veggies, cook the lentils. (Or, make it a grain salad instead by cooking gluten free millet, rice, or quinoa, the latter of which has a complete protein — bonus for vegetarians! For a gluten-full grain salad, use kamut, farro, or macaroni. . . whatever floats your boat.) Cool the veggies and lentils (or grains) in the fridge until they are just slightly warm, then mix them together and add the vinaigrette. Save any delicate ingredients — like herbs, greens, or cheese — to add right before you serve. Serve cold!

Sarah Britton’s vinaigrette has a pretty long list of ingredients. If you’d rather try something basic, go with Nora Ephron’s 3-ingredient vinaigrette. I just finished reading the honest and laugh out loud funny Heartburn by Ephron for the third time. It is filled with good food, including this vinaigrette, which is so good it factors into her divorce negotiations.  I’m guessing Ephron’s vinaigrette is what I will use for my lentil salad — I love cooking, but I love spending time with my friends more. Keep it simple, and leave time for wine on the back porch while the kids shriek their way in and out of the sprinkler.

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My friend Ali at a lazy Sunday dinner. She’s raising the roof for yummy food!

Updates coming soon on how these plans turn out!

How did you eat your way through the fourth? Share your favorite recipes and suggestions below — think of this blog as a way to exchange recipes with your CSA friends and interweb neighbors!

 

 

The Chicory Project

This week, we have a bonus post from guest writer Ari LeVaux, writer of Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column that’s appeared in more than 50 newspapers in 25 states. Flash in the Pan also regularly appears in The Atlantic.com, Alternet, Slate, Civil Eats, and other online publications. Ari lives in Montana and New Mexico.  

Taste chicory at the PEAS Farm with ARI LeVaux!

Ari will be offering tastings and recipes for chicory during PEAS Farm CSA pickup, Thursday 6/30 and Tuesday 7/5 between 4:30 – 6:30 pm. Anyone is welcome to join in the fun!

Here’s Ari. . .

chicory at the PEAS Farm, photo by Ari LeVaux
Chicory at the PEAS Farm, photo by Ari LeVaux

At an airport salad bar in Rome, recently, I filled a plate with leaves. It was a basic cafeteria salad bar, one that in the U.S. would probably be dominated by a large bin of iceberg lettuce laced with carrot shavings. But instead of lettuce, the leaves were chopped escarole and radicchio. Dressed with oil and vinegar, they were crisp and watery. And they were bitter, a taste I have been coming to appreciate.

By this point in my travels I was well aware that the Italians are ahead of the curve when it comes to eating chicory, the family of bitter-leafed plants that also includes endive and dandelion. At various stores and markets along the way, I had picked up several seed packets of different chicories, like the stately, thick-stemmed Catalogna that looks like a dandelion on steroids, or the Rossa di Treviso, a leafy radicchio shaped more like romaine than the typical tight radicchio head. These and several other equally interesting varieties would become the basis, when I returned home, of the chicory project.

The chicory project, which also includes Italian chicories ordered from GourmetSeeds.com, is now fully underway at an area farm. We are investigating which varieties do well in our climate, while playing with different ways of serving it that might appeal to the locals.

This last part is kind of a tall order, as we are programmed to reject bitterness from an early age. Newborns will scowl at the taste, and for good reason: most toxic substances are bitter. Our default status, thus, is to avoid them all until we learn otherwise. Like, say, when we learn about beer, or mixed drinks that contain bitters. Or coffee. Or chocolate. Or something charred on the grill.

The American palate is catching on to the dark flavor of bitter. Dark chocolate is increasingly popular. Dark roasted coffee is all the rage. But how dark is too dark? Everyone has their own comfort zone. I personally think dark roasted coffee tastes burnt, and so I always order the lightest roast. Similarly, I don’t like my food blackened on the grill.

Many bitter flavors from plants come from the presence of glucosinolates, and other plant defense compounds, that are toxic to insects and worms and other hungry critters. But at the levels we humans consume, these molecules are not dangerous, and are showing promise in actually preventing a variety of diseases.

Meanwhile, fiber. One hundred grams of escarole only contains 17 calories, but has nearly 10 percent of your daily fiber requirement. The bitter leaves tend to be stacked with other nutrients as well, like folate, and various antioxidants, and readily accessible forms of minerals.

There are ways to remove, hide and blend away the bitterness of chicory. You can soak the leaves in ice water, balance the bitterness with fruit or a sweet dressing, or combine it with other bitter foods, like mustard, to create a smooth continuum of bitter flavors. You can braise chicory leaves in butter or melt the stems into a fatty sauce.  But the best way to deal with these and other bitter foods is to embrace them, head on, and celebrate them for what they are.

I don’t know anyone with more of a chicory habit than my wife. And those tight burgundy radicchio heads, dreadlocked frisse and grand Batavian leafed escarole aren’t cheap. Which, admittedly, is a big part of my interest in the chicory project.

Like the Italians, she equates a strong bouquet of bitterness with complex flavor, while mild lettuces no longer hold her interest. She has two primary ways of using chicory. They are both exceedingly simple, and instructive to those bitter-curious who may be interested in embarking on this path.

One method is to use leaves like tongs, to grab and encase food en-route to one’s mouth. The food that is grabbed could be anything. A bit of crumbled hamburger patty, some onions, tomato and mustard, and a radicchio burger bite is ready to go down the hatch. A leaf-grab of ratatouille, or a bitter leaf-bite of some other salad. Some people bring their own plates to potluck dinners. My baby, she brings heads of radicchio.

The other way she eats chicory is via what I call the “chip and salsa” technique. She makes a salad dressing of two parts olive oil to one part vinegar, with the vinegar portion split equally between cider vinegar, balsamic and white balsamic. Then she adds soy sauce to taste.

She then dips prepped leaves into the dressing like a chip into salsa, and chomps them down. How the leaves are prepped depends on the type of chicory, her mood, and how much time she has. The only requirement is that they be cleaned.

Freshly gathered dandelion greens are eaten whole, two or three at a time, and folded in half, with the fold dunked in the dressing. This shape holds the dressing for the potentially messy journey to your mouth. With radicchio, my wife will sometimes cut the head into wedges, which also hold dressing very well too, having oozed between the leafy layers.

One enjoyable combination of both of these methods is to wrap a thick chunk of bacon or other meat in the leaf, and then dip in dressing.

If she has the time, my chicarista’s all-time favorite way of eating chicory is in a big salad tossed with this dressing:

In a blender (or other processor) whizz ½ cup olive oil with a few cloves of garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt. When smooth, blend in the juice and some zest of a lemon or lime and a tablespoon of white vinegar. Adjust salt and vinegar to taste.

There are all kinds of interesting recipes out there for braised radicchio, wilted escarole, endive torte, and many others.  Enthusiasts of cooked chicory praise how it mellows the flavor, and how it adds to sauces. But after adapting my palate to the crisp texture of the raw stuff, I have no interest in soggy chicory. And I don’t want to mellow the flavor anyway, because I’m into bitter. I’ve acquired the taste, and I can go there by myself without training wheels. I’m a chicory grown up.

 

To Share or Not To Share, Is that the Question?

Molly Bradford This week we have a guest blog from Molly Bradford – a grubshed winter share member at River Road Farm and a master food preserver.  This woman knows how to keep eating locally all winter long. She also is the co-owner of GatherBoard, one of the makers of MissoulaEvents.net and Missoula Indoor Ads. She is a connector of people, products and ideas and a self-taught marketer who finds inspiration where art and business intersect. In her spare time, Molly is an avid yet amateur gardener, cook, skier, and hunter. Oh, yeah… add: busy mom and wife.

This summer is my first CSA.  For those of you who know me, this might seem unbelievable.

The fact is, I’ve had a winter share, or Grubshed, at Garden City Harvest’s River Road Farm since our oldest was an infant.  However, this summer is indeed my first weekly summer CSA.  As with our Grubshed, we share our share with another family. Both this sharing of shares, and the amount of food preservation I’ve learned over the past 9-years has made this a fairly fun summer CSA.

I’ll admit it, though, there have been times this summer where I have been intimidated by the amount of food I was getting on my “on” weeks.  And sometimes I’ve shared my share of the share with a neighbor or used it as an excuse to invite friends for dinner.  Mostly we’ve had more mornings of the best green smoothies ever, my kids (now 2 and 9) have eaten more vegetables both hidden and obvious than ever before, and my toddler’s garden variety identification and vocabulary are certainly voracious.

By looking at my Summer Share with Grubshed glasses, things quickly became less intimidating and more manageable.  Last week Genevieve shared about soup, stew, bone broth, aromatics, and mirepoix.  She must have had Grubshed lenses in her onion glasses when she told you about cooking up a bunch of mirepoix, letting it cool to room temp and freezing in ice cube trays for later. This is where you and I are going – preserving summer’s share for winter.  Get out your vacuum sealers, clear some space in your freezer and start your stove top.  What follows are the most common things I do to freeze summer.

In most cases I find a recipe I like, and then I start substituting with items from my CSA or Grubshed that seem similar, sound good, or just have to get used up STAT.

BLANCHING

I really like blanching.  It’s not nearly as time or resource consuming as canning.  And it tends to start happening when the days are a bit cooler and shorter, so having a pot of boiling water going for a while doesn’t seem oppressive. Don’t get me wrong, this mama likes to can and pickle like a mad-woman. But sometimes I prefer a quicker option for food preservation with what I have on hand.

The basic concept of blanching is to plunge fresh vegetables into boiling water, scalding them for a short period of time, then shock them in a bath of ice water until cool. It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.  The length of time is key – under-blanching doesn’t stop the enzyme.  Over-blanching causes loss of color, flavor and texture.  A simple internet search for “vegetable blanching chart” will bring up many great sites from home food preservation to extension services.   (NOTE: as I’ve learned about putting up mass quantities of food for winter, I always read two or three sites through to determine consistency of message and technique before I begin.  And to make sure I have all the equipment on hand.)

Before you begin, make sure you have at least a few big bags of cubed ice – you’re going to need it. (Thankfully this can be attained at nearly any hour from a gas station.) Also, some sort of blanching set up is preferred to scooping veggies from boiling water with a slotted spoon or wire basket spoon.  For water blanching I do large batches with my pasta insert in my stock pot. For steam blanching I go with smaller batches with a metal colander balanced over my stock pot.

Here are the basics:

Chop stuff up into manageable pieces. (Corn is the exception, I keep it on the cob.)  I normally err on the side of mid-chunky, assuming I’ll be cooking them into stew, soup, potpie, pizza topping, pureeing, quiche, etc… later in winter.

Get water boiling.  Follow the blanching chart from above.  Blanch.  Ice bath.  Spin dry in a salad spinner or roll in an absorbent towel (wet veggies = freezer burn).

After they are dry enough, I like to seal my veggies with the vacuum sealer in 2 to 4-serving sized pouches.  Too small, waste of plastic.  Too big, won’t use them after I thaw them, what a waste.

Veggies I like to water blanch and freeze:

  • Corn on the cob
  • Beans – like string, wax, green
  • Greens – hearty types like kale, chard, collards
  • Peas – in edible pods

BUTTER BLANCHING

I’m not sure if this is even a real term… basically, it’s the same technique Genevieve used with the mirepoix. (After a quick internet search for “butter blanching,” I could not find anything of the sort. I learned this term and technique from an old foodie friend, Chef Boy Ari.)

The goal is the same as water blanching: stop the enzymatic process of breaking down the food so it will last longer – and preserve some color and texture in the process – but with butter! (I’m sure you could substitute an oil of your choice that stands up to sauteing – canola, olive, coconut.)

Here are the basics: chop up the stuff you want to butter blanch into bite sized pieces.  Melt some butter in a pan until the foaming subsides.  Add in some onion and saute at least until translucent — I like a deeper flavor and go for golden and starting to caramelize. Add in the things you want to preserve.  Saute until al dente – not mushy, a little under cooked.

Transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet to cool more quickly.

Then freeze in one of these options:

  • ice cube trays – pop frozen cubes in a ziplock – suck the air out before finishing sealing;
  • little reusable plastic baggies – suck the air out before sealing; make tiny vacuum sealed pouches;
  • I like to freeze on the cookie sheet – break or cut into cubes – put in ziplock – suck air out.

When you’re ready to make soup or quiche or pizza or stew, pull out a few cubes, let stand on the counter to thaw or throw in the pan to thaw, and go!  No chopping and sauteing needed.

Foods I like to butter blanch:

  • Morel mushrooms with onion, garlic and sage
  • Mushroom mixes w/ herbs, onion, garlic
  • Mixed bell peppers
  • Mirepoix Caramelized onions
  • Shredded potatoes (potato pancakes- yum!)

FREEZER PESTO

One of the easiest and most satisfying things to do with excessive greens is make pesto or a pesto alternative. The basic pesto recipe calls for basil, olive oil, salt & pepper, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese.

The substitution possibilities here are endless.  Want a smear for sandwiches, substitute butter for oil.  Looking for more of a spicy, green herb type sauce, think chimichurri.  Not sure about pine nuts? Try toasted walnuts, pecans or cashews.  Allergic to nuts? Go with seeds like sunflower or pumpkin, or skip it.  Same for cheese – Parm, Asiago, and Romano are the Italian trio but any hard cheese will do.  Experiment with oils, herbs, seasonings.

My mother-in-law recommended adding a little lemon juice and grated lemon peel to classic pesto to preserve the green color and fresh flavor.  Since I like to freeze mine in blocks, this was an especially great step.

Just tonight our toddler and I picked the leaves from 2-huge basil bushes from our Grubshed. Right now the leaves are plumping in a bath of cold water over night.  Tomorrow, after I dry the leaves, we’ll make pesto.  We have about 8-cups of leaves, so I expect to have about 10-cups of pesto when it’s all said and done.

Pesto kids -- these are my two kiddos after last year's pesto making extraveganza.
Pesto kids — these are my two kiddos after last year’s pesto making extravaganza.

For large batches I go with tried and true recipes like the one I linked to above, plus the aforementioned lemon addition.  After it’s done I’ll line a brownie pan with parchment in both directions and pour in all the pesto.  Set it in the freezer overnight with another sheet pressed on top. The next day, pull out the parchment sling or flip over the pan.  If you let it sit a moment the oil on the sides will loosen up and it slides out.  Moving quickly, cut this big slab into small cubes – about 2” by 2” by the height of your slab.  Put all the cubes in a ziplock freezer bag, seal 90% of the way, suck out the air and finish sealing.  Making pasta, pizza, soup, quiche, sandwiches, dip, etc… pull out a cube per 2-servings.  Yum.

SALSAS, SLAWS & KRAUT

Have just a few too many tomatoes, tomatillos and jimmy nardello peppers? Or what about that third head of cabbage, those huge carrots and another round of brightly colored cauliflower? Bottom line on salsa: it can be with tomatoes, tomatillos, fruits, beans, corn, onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers sweet and spicy, citrus, zucchini, cucumber, etc… And slaw is great with cabbage, kale, chard, leeks, shredded carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers sweet and spicy, citrus, apples, pear, onion, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cucumber, etc…

Wait just a second – most of the items on both lists are the same – how can that be?  It’s all in the sauce.  Find a recipe you like, get the basics of the seasonings/sauce down, and then completely mix it up with the fruits and veggies. But for me, the finale is the sauerkraut, or in my case, it’s more of a süβkraut – a sweet apple cider braised cabbage.  This time of year I make a huge batch from this recipe my mom gave me a decade ago.  I expand it enough to accommodate 3-5 heads of cabbage, and I use green and purple for color.

After braising all afternoon, we put some in a separate put to enjoy with delicious sausages — the recipe calls for Knockwurst.  The rest I put in sterilized jars and give a 15-min water bath.  Your mouth will say Danke all winter long.

———

By thinking ahead just a bit, trial and error, and a little bit of reckless abandon corralled with a recipe here and there for good measure, managing the weekly CSA and/or a Grubshed are not just doable, they are edible all winter long.  Freezing tomatoes, braiding onions, packing root vegetables in damp sawdust… I’ll get to that another time.  For now – pick a few things that taste so much better now than they do in January and prepare them for a revival in winter. Then share.

Refrigerator Stews & Soups: their love don’t cost a thing

Stews and soups are a flexible dish, and a great place to start to play with ingredients.  Start with your fridge: what’s in there?  For me last night around 9 pm, it was onions, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, and some stew meat.  Stew time!

I got out the slow cooker and got to chopping.

Beef Stew

I modified this recipe for my stew. I didn’t have celery or frozen peas.  But when do I ever have every single ingredient? I used the called for carrots (more than what the author suggested), a big ol’ onion, extra garlic (cause I love it, and so does my 3 year old), and mushrooms.

Chopping veggies

I also added some cauliflower and roasted tomatoes to make up for the lack of celery and peas. All this I chopped the night before.

Onion goggles
That’s me, in my onion goggles. A present from my husband, bless him. If you don’t have a pair, you can always use ski goggles to keep the tears at bay.

This morning, I browned a bit of stew meat (Oxbow stew meat is on sale at the Good Food Store right now, $1 off — perfect!)

After browning the meat, I added it and the herbs (I used fresh parsley and everything else was dried), broth and tomato paste.  I used chicken broth instead of beef — it’s what I had in the fridge and I needed to get rid of it. And set it on low, cooking it for 10 hours.

When we cracked open the slow cooker at dinner time, the meat was tender and veggies perfectly soft but not falling apart.  Yum!

Cracking open the stew pot
The stew cooking.

Substitutions

Soups and stews are some of the most versatile things on the planet — they beg you to SUBSTITUTE and play!  That sweet stew of mine, as long as I had the stew meat, I could have put almost any veggie in there.  Potatoes, kale, broccoli, winter squash. . . So many of these vegetables soak up flavor and will withstand being slow cooked.

Soup is even more versatile. Here is a great universal recipe for how to make soup from almost any vegetable.  The lesson here: as long as you like the vegetable, you can make soup from it. If you are cooking a soup on the stove, then the main consideration is cook time, and adding the vegetables at the right time so they cook long enough to release their flavors and short enough to not be squishy.

Here’s another great primer on creamy vegetable soup from almost any vegetable.

Aromatics are key in making soup — and easily grown here in Montana and stored for the winter. Onions and garlic in your basement.  Parsley dried and stored in an airtight container. Carrots in your fridge. These are the base to almost any soup or stew.  Saute your aromatics first, until they are fragrant, then add the broth.

You can saute this and freeze it in ice cube trays to start most any soup easily, and you can feel French while you are at it — you’ve made a Mirepoix! Then, you’ve got your base ready to (as my 3 year old would say) rock and roll.

A note on kale: is a wonderful soup ingredient.  It gets milder in flavor, and holds up well.  And, of course, is full of nutrients.  Plus — kale the cooler nights add a sweetness to kale.

Two Words: Bone Broth

Bone broth is one of the easiest, cheapest healthy things you can make. Yes, this is your grandmother’s stock — it is really good for you. Read more about some of the health benefits here. It is true, chicken soup is a healing food. No, I’m not going to tell you it will make your bones stronger, but it does have a lot of good stuff for your gut and your body in it.

Use your vegetable scraps and left over bones.  I have a bone bag in my freezer — the fact that it says “bone bag” on it in florescent duct tape grosses my husband out. Or maybe it is the fact that there’s a bag of bones, literally, in our freezer.

In any case, I put chicken carcasses in there, pork chop bones, whatever scraps I can come by. In the winter, every other weekend I fire up the slow cooker and make broth.  I add some carrots and celery if I have it, or scraps of veggies — especially aromatic ones, to give it some flavor.  Definitely some garlic. And a little apple cider vinegar.  This recipe is a great base.  I don’t cook my broth more than 24 hours as this recipe suggests you might, the vegetables can get pretty bitter if you keep cooking them — I usually stick to between 12 and 24.  24 is great because I do it at night when I have a few calm moments, and don’t have to mess with it until the next night, after our 3 year old is asleep, and I have another calm moment.

I hope you will share a few tips and tricks you have for your soups and stews.  Next week, we will have guest blogger Molly Bradford to tell you about how she puts up her winter share. Until then, eat well!

UPDATE:  I just got a question about making vegetarian stews, and how to best do them in a slow cooker — great question.  I had to research, and found that sauteing the base (onions, garlic, potatoes, etc.) and then adding it all to the slow cooker is the key.  Here are two recipes that sound delicious — one for the stove top and one for the slow cooker.  Both sound hearty and delish.

Falling for Autumn

Rachel Mockler 2015This week we have a treat (both literally and figuratively) in store. Rachel Mockler is a home chef who creates masterpieces to feast your eyes on (she takes a lot of photos of her food) and those lucky enough to share her table get to feast with their mouths, too. While getting her Masters’ from U of M’s Environmental Studies Program, she worked at the Buttercup Market and Cafe, creating seasonal fare for Missoula. She also interned a summer at the PEAS Farm, and wrote many a blog post for the Real Dirt in her grad days as well. Plus, she is punny. Really really punny. Enjoy, friends.  I’ll be back next week with more on the upcoming fall vegetables. . . A weighty and wonderful time of year.

There is a little dusting of snow on the mountains surrounding Missoula and there is a crispness in the air heralding the approach of fall…But, there is also a warmth in the breeze reminding us that summer is still here at least until September 20th…

There is also a mix of produce at the farmers market, in your CSA, or (and?) in your garden, marking the final days of hot weather crops such as peppers, cucumbers, melons, and basil.  Yes, apples, winter squash, potatoes, are creeping into the mix, and making us think of the days ahead — I’m trying to get into the idea of of making a hearty soup and bundling up indoors. However,  I myself am a true summer lover — my friends will tell you, I crave warmth and sun.  So I’m paying tribute to this summer bounty with this easy recipe. It’s been an incredibly productive summer.  This recipe makes use of the remaining Dixon melons, heirloom tomatoes, and basil, before we have to wait an entire year for this taste of summer.

Watermelon Gazpacho

Watermelon Gazpacho

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

  • 1 small sugar baby watermelon (or 5 c. watermelon puree)
  • 3 medium heirloom tomatoes (or 4 c. tomato puree)
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 c. loosely packed basil
  • 1 c. lime juice
  • 1 onion
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper, to taste

How to:

1. Roughly chop the watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and basil and add to blender.

2. Add lime juice to fruits and vegetables in blender and whir to desired consistency.

3. Garnish with fresh cracked pepper, to taste.

4. Enjoy the last taste of summer!

Even though I am not looking forward to winter, I am quite excited about the excellent fruit year we are having in this cool weather — all of it that is available right now.  One of my favorite cakes to bake is this not-so-terrible sweet lemon almond cake. What takes it to the next level is a garnishing of juicy pears baked atop of it.  Although almonds are perhaps not the best nut to be eating right now because of California’s drought crisis, this recipe only uses a few almonds.  This cake is best served warm, perhaps with a scoop of ice cream, a dusting of powdered sugar, or a lemony glaze, if you so desire.

RachelMockler_AlmondCake (6)

Lemon Almond Cake with Pears

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ c flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ c soy milk or other milk alternative
  • 2 Tbsp flax meal
  • ¾ c oil
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp almond extract
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
  • 1-2 pears, sliced
  • Sliced almonds (optional)

How to:

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2) Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  Set aside.

3) In another large bowl, mix together soy milk, apple cider vinegar, and flax meal.  Mix well.  Add oil, sugar, vanilla, almond extract, lemon zest.

4) Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined.

5) Pour batter into a greased and floured 9” round cake pan.

6) Garnish with sliced pears and almonds.

7) Bake cake for approximately 35 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

8) Enjoy!