Dudley's Dance and Queso Fresco

It’s always a cause for celebration when the farm comes out with new cheese options. When I first joined the CSA, the cheese they were making was delicious, but there were far fewer varieties than are available today. I’ve watched and delighted as smoked cheddar, smoked feta, clothbound cheddar, maasdam, mozzarella, gouda, and jalapeno cheddar have become fast favorites among Brookford fans. This variety helps customers source more food locally while increasing the options for what we can do in our kitchens. I didn’t really think it was possible to get even more excited about the cheeses that are available to me each week, and then the farm went and created a queso fresco and Dudley’s Dance. These two new cheeses are seriously delicious, and I’m immediately wondering how we ever survived without them. If you haven’t tried them yet, here’s what they’re all about:

Dudley's Dance

About: Dudley's Dance is a semi-hard cheese with the sweet taste of Swiss and the thick creaminess we have all come to love in Brookford cheeses. Named after Dudley, a well-known, 80 year old Contra dance caller and Brookford Farm Milker who has an unwavering love for Brookford Farm.

Flavor and texture profile: This is an incredibly smooth and velvety cheese. The heavenly texture can’t be overstated; it is irresistible. It is thick and creamy, with a well balanced sharpness in the finish.

How to enjoy: Dudley’s Dance is wonderful on it’s own or as part of a cheese platter. It pairs very nicely with sliced apples and pears, and is decadent melted on garlic toast. It’s a great match for white wine or any crisp beer.

 

Queso Fresco:

About: Queso Fresco is a fresh, bright cheese with a mild milky taste. Perfect over nachos or you can replace feta with Queso Fresco in your favorite recipes for a lighter, creamier texture.

Flavor and texture profile: This is an excellent and versatile cheese. It is wonderfully mild with a bright but gentle saltiness. The texture is delicate and light, with an unmistakable freshness.

How to enjoy: Queso fresco can be crumbled over enchiladas, used as stuffing for chile rellenos, or made into a decadent dipping sauce. The gentle nature of this cheese makes it an excellent counterpart for all spicy dishes.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is upon us. It doesn’t seem possible that an entire year has passed by since I last posted at Thanksgiving time. A lot has happened in just a year. 2016 seems to have been a fight for many of us. A fight against weather, dry and uncooperative; a fight between politicians and individuals and the very direction of our country. And yet, here we are.

I’ve always loved the CSA for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is how connected to my world I feel when I support the CSA and eat locally produced food. It feels like a daily way to acknowledge, “I am here. I am a citizen of this planet. I am conscious and intentional in my actions.” Sometimes we need to strip life down to the bare bones of it all. Let go of the big picture and see the forest for the trees. Perhaps we cannot all agree on the way forward, but I think we can all agree that we are here in this life wanting what we feel is best. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I think that ultimately, 99.9% of the world is coming from a place of love. Perhaps fear comes in, or anger at not being understood, or feelings of unfairness or heartbreak, but if we boil the human condition down to the purest of forms, I think we just find love. And love can cause us to do some crazy things. Sometimes we need to stop, and breathe, and recenter ourselves to remember what we’re really all about.

When I open my CSA box this week, I’ll see brussels sprouts, rutabagas, garlic, leeks and more. But the physical form of these vegetables is perhaps deceptive. A leek is never just a leek. These vegetables are an important and tangible reminder of the efforts of a ferociously dedicated group of people from around the world working tenaciously to feed their community. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.  

Our CSA order will be brought to my door by Adil, here from the Sudan, who chats with me and my children about life across the world as I check over the dairy order. Once he leaves,  I’ll unpack our beautiful vegetables and admire their robust vibrance, feeling gratitude for the many individuals who worked so hard to sew the seeds and tend the crops. Many of the harvest crew have traveled to our little state from Burundi, Senegal, Ethiopa, and the Sudan. I will next put away our dairy, and spend a moment thinking of Sadiqi from Ethiopia who helps bottle the milk, and Marie from Burundi who makes delicious cheese. As I transfer chickens to the cooler, I’ll think of Irena from Russia who has harvested them by hand, and then of her son Vladimir who, like Adil, goes door to door making sure that all of these labors of love arrive on time and in excellent shape. Finally, I’ll think of Luke and Catarina, who started Brookford Farm together after they met and fell in love while working at a biodynamic farm in Russia. I will never know all of the intricacies and stories of all of these intertwined lives, but each day when I cook for my family, I depend on their relentless dedication, and for this I have immeasurable gratitude. Their work is directly life sustaining; it is the very food that nourishes the bodies and souls of my children. It is love.

We may live in an imperfect world, but every moment still holds hope for love to prevail. Whether you spend Thanksgiving with friends, with family, in quiet solitude, or helping strangers, it is a day that provides us all with the opportunity to exercise gratitude for the love that sustains us. Whether love is huddled close around you in the form of family, or whether it makes its way into your life in the form of organic carrots and raw cream, it is there awaiting discovery. Our interconnected humanity is evidenced in virtually all elements of our lives, if we know how to look for it.

I’m no expert on the meaning of life, but I like to believe that the celebration of love is key to our existence. This week, as you open your CSA box, we invite you to join us in celebrating the love that produced its contents, just as we celebrate the love from our customers that allows us to continue in our work. Together, we sustain this farm. Together, we make a difference. Together, we change the world.

Thank you.

Breakfast

I recently read a very interesting article about breakfast in America. It was a quick and eye-opening read, and I highly suggest checking it out. However, if you don’t have time, here’s the important takeaway: most American breakfast has as much sugar as dessert, sometimes even more. This is a pretty big deal, not only because sugar is addictive and inflammatory for the body, but because those people who try to keep their sugar intake low may not even have breakfast on their radar.

The good news is that nourishing breakfasts that are low in sugar are really easy to come by, and can be made ahead for busy mornings or prepped on the spot. Here’s a list of my favorite low-sugar breakfasts using my Brookford ingredients:

 

Sliced hard-boiled eggs topped with fermented vegetables

A great source of choline and probiotics for a healthy gut! Easy to make in advance!

 

Eggs fried in cultured butter, topped with sauteed greens

Healthy fats, antioxidants, and iron!

 

Plain, whole fat yogurt with dried or fresh fruit stirred in

Fast, probiotic, filling, and a boost of calcium and healthy fat!

 

Soup of all varieties

Hearty, warming, and easy for a morning on the run...just warm it and transfer it to a travel mug!

 

Cold beets drizzled with olive oil and vinegar and sprinkled with feta and sunflower seeds

Nutrient packed, satisfying, zesty, and easy to grab and go if you prep in advance!

 

Toast slathered in cultured butter, topped with a fried egg, cheese, and fermented vegetables

There are hundreds of variations for this awesome open faced breakfast sandwich!

 

Egg muffins

Easy to make in advance to grab and go - full of protein and endless possibilities!

 

Kefir smoothies - my favorite is 1 cup kefir, 1 banana, 3 T peanut butter, 1 tsp vanilla, a handful of greens, and 3 medjool dates

Nutrient and probiotic packed, not to mention filling!

 

Bone broth with fermented veggies, egg, and sour cream

Try cracking an egg into very hot broth and stirring briskly. Once the broth has cooled a bit, stir in some fermented veggies and a dollop of sour cream

 

Bacon and eggs

Of course!

 

What’s your favorite Brookford breakfast?

One morning; four meals

When the days are short, cooking dinner can sometimes seem like an impossible feat. Day seems to morph into night without warning. The gentle buffer zone of twilight where we shed the day and slow ourselves down seems to be over before it’s really even begun. It is in the hush of this dark season where I find myself waking early on Saturdays to cook in batches, whole meals that will require no more than some gentle warming in the evening to nourish and comfort. Days and weeks where dinner is made before we’ve finished breakfast feel like gifts, and make a Saturday morning in the kitchen well worth it. Some music, comfy shoes, and a warm cup of tea, and I’m ready to go. This method not only makes the evenings more indulgent, but it helps me make sure I’m using up all my CSA produce, especially the stuff that takes a little longer to prepare and might be neglected on a weeknight. Here’s what I made ahead this week:

 

Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup with Naan

Shepard’s Pie

Roasted Vegetables with Orzo

Kale, Swiss Chard, and White Bean Soup with Beet Salad and Sourdough

 

My trick for batch cooking is to prep all of one kind of ingredient only once. Here’s the how I did it:

 

You will need:

1 lb of white beans

6 white potatoes

5 sweet potatoes

14 cloves of garlic

6 beets

6 onions

14 carrots

2 cups of chopped tomatoes (fresh, frozen, or canned)

6 cups of bell peppers

20 ounces of frozen (or fresh) peas and corn

½ lb swiss chard

½ lb kale

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork

1 tsp of dried thyme

1 lb butter

7 cups of bone broth

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp worcestershire sauce

½ cup of sherry

1 tsp fennel seeds

Salt and black pepper

1 cup of milk or cream

vinegar of your choosing

olive oil

1 bay leaf

1 tsp of herbs de provence

2 tsp coconut oil

3 tbsp of red curry paste

2 cans of organic, full fat coconut milk

lime juice

 

Add 1 lb of white beans to a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. When the water boils, turn off the heat, and allow the beans to sit, uncovered, for an hour. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, peel and cut into large chunks 6 white potatoes and 5 sweet potatoes. Peel 14 cloves of garlic. When the water boils, add the white potatoes and two cloves of garlic to the boiling water. Trim the root and stem ends from 6 beets and rinse well under water. Add the beets to a steamer filled with a few inches of water, cover, and turn on high.

Trim, peel, and chop 6 onions. Move 1/6 of the onions off to the side, and split the remaining onions into three equal groups. Finely chop the remaining 12 cloves of garlic. Trim, wash, and chop 14 carrots. Check the beets and white potatoes, and when they can be easily pierced through with a knife, remove from the heat and set aside. Empty the water from the potato pot, and set the pot aside.

In a large dutch oven, heat 2T butter until melted and sizzling. Add one of the three larger piles of onions to the pan, and saute for five minutes. Add 2 cups of the sliced carrots to the pan, and stir and cook for five minutes more. Add 1 lb ground beef and 1 lb ground pork to the pan, and stir and cook until browned. To this pan, add 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp of dried thyme, 2 cups of bone broth, 1 cup of canned tomatoes, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tsp worcestershire sauce,  and ½ cup of sherry. Simmer this mixture for 20 minutes.

While the shepard’s pie is simmering, trim and chop six cups of bell peppers. Add the bell peppers to a large bowl, and stir in one of the larger piles of onions, and add 1 cup of chopped tomatoes (fresh, frozen, or canned). In a small bowl, mix together ¼ cup of olive oil, ⅓ of the chopped garlic, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 2 tsps of salt, and 1 tsp black pepper. Pour the oil mixture over the vegetables, and toss to mix well. Move the oil and vegetable mixture into a freezer-safe container, and put it in the freezer. (These are the vegetables for your roasted vegetables with orzo).

Transfer the potatoes back into the pot they were cooked in, add ½ cup butter, 1 cup of milk or cream, and 2 tsp salt. Mash well.

Slip the skins off the beets and set the skins aside for compost. Slice the beets into bite sized pieces, and add them to the bowl where you mixed the vegetables and oil. Drizzle the beets with vinegar, olive oil, and salt to taste. Toss well, then cover and refrigerate. (These are for the beet salad)

Stir 20 ounces of frozen (or fresh) peas and corn into the meat mixture on the stove. Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the meat mixture, dot the potatoes with several pats of fresh butter, cover, and refrigerate. (This is your shepard’s pie)

Rinse and dry the pot used for the mashed potatoes, then add 2 tbsp butter and melt it over medium heat. Add the last large pile of onions to the pot, and cook, stirring often, until softened. Add half of the remaining chopped garlic to the pan, and stir for one minute. Add five cups of bone broth, 1 quart of water, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of herbs de provence, and 2 tsps salt. Drain and rinse the beans, and add them to the pot as well. Simmer for one hour or until beans are cooked through.

While the bean soup is simmering, use another of the now empty pots to melt 2 tsp coconut oil. Add the final and smallest pile of onions to the pan and cook gently over low heat for ten minutes, then add the last of the garlic and stir for one minute. Add ½ salt and ¼ tsp pepper along with 3 tbsp of red curry paste. Add the chopped sweet potatoes to the pan, stir well, and then stir in 2 cans of organic, full fat coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring now and again, for 25 minutes.

While the sweet potato soup is cooking, wash and finely chop ½ lb swiss chard and ½ lb kale. Add the greens to a container with a cover along with the remaining carrots, and move this into the refrigerator. (These veggies will be added to the white bean soup before serving) When the white beans are cooked through, remove the soup from the stove and allow to cool.

When the sweet potatoes are soft, use an immersion blender to puree the soup until it is smooth and silky. Add lime juice and salt to taste. Transfer both soups into fridge/freezer safe containers, and either freeze or refrigerate.

Now you find someone else to wash the dishes!

 

Ingredients You’ll Need for Serving:

All pre-prepped items

Fresh chopped parsley

Fresh torn basil

1 lb orzo

Feta cheese

Two loaves of crusty bread or 1 loaf bread and 1 batch of naan

 

Shepard’s Pie - preheat the oven to 425. Add the covered dutch oven to the warmed oven, and warm for 20 minutes. Remove the cover, sprinkle the potatoes with chopped parsley, and cook for 15-20 minutes longer until the mixture is bubbling and slightly golden. Serve and enjoy!

Kale, Swiss Chard, and White Bean Soup with Beet Salad- transfer the soup to a pot and bring to a simmer. Add the chopped carrots and greens that you’ve stored in your fridge. Simmer until the carrots are soft. Remove the beets from the fridge, toss them with some fresh chopped parsley and feta cheese. Serve the soup along with the beet salad and some crusty bread!

Roasted Vegetables and Orzo - the night before serving this, move the container of oil coated vegetables from the freezer and put it in the refrigerator. To serve, heat the oven to 400, spread the vegetables on a roasting pan, and cook for 25-35 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes. While the vegetables are roasting, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the orzo. In the last ten minutes of cooking, stir in some fresh torn basil into the roasted vegetables. When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the roasted vegetables to the cooked pasta, toss well, and top with some crumbled feta. Serve and enjoy!

Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup - warm gently in a large soup pot until heated through. Serve with crusty bread or naan and butter.

November

Well hello, November. Here you are. This weekend, we’ll set the clocks back and settle into days that get sleepy before we do. The fading daylight will be our cue to cozy up with a good book, a cup of tea, and a worn blanket. Where in summer I’d start thinking about what we should have for dinner in the pre-twilight hour of 8pm, these days I find myself prepping ingredients at 3pm, or if I’m running behind, maybe 4pm. I’m a nester, and these days beckon my nesting instinct in an almost spiritual way. This is what I love about seasonal eating in the fall. Having fully absorbed all of summer’s carefree ease and languid evenings, I feel ready to hunker down, sheltered from the increasing chill, and immerse myself in this new season of sunshine and sweet decay. We take lots of hikes to smell the earthy air and feel the bite of wind on our cheeks. We stretch our limbs in the out of doors knowing that we’ll soon be in more often than out. The brisk weather finds us back home in the evenings, ready for something warm and soothing.

This is where seasonal eating is about so much more than food. Seasonal eating is the bridge to a seasonal life. It’s what helps us to embrace each new season in a mindful celebration. It’s what slows us down, brings us back to the moment at hand, and what helps us to honor the world around us. I’m ready for fall because I loved every minute of summer. And when fall fades into the starkness of winter, I hope to embrace it knowing that we saturated our beings with every morsel of fresh air and savory indulgence that we could muster.

A few years ago, I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time. In a large family, hosting is an honor that one must fight for, and I wanted to do something special. It was our first year hosting a CSA site at our home, and I was inspired. I decided to make an “all local/all seasonal” dinner, sourcing our dairy and vegetables from the farm and buying a hand raised organic turkey from a friend. On top of the items we received in our share, I made a special order of vegetables from the farm. Squash, celeriac, potatoes, brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, carrots, turnips, beets...everything I wanted and would have bought from the store, I was able to buy directly from farmers I knew and trusted. I used Brookford cream to make homemade butter, and served a platter of Brookford cheeses. Using all local ingredients provided a beautiful opportunity to truly appreciate the goodness and bounty all around us. I was worried that my local Thanksgiving would cost a fortune, but given the environmental damage it would prevent, and the opportunity to support a local farm going into the challenging winter months, I was willing. My check to Brookford farm for that Thanksgiving was $70. Less than it would cost me to walk my cart through two aisles at Whole Foods.

As we quickly approach this day of gratitude, I encourage you to consider sourcing your food thoughtfully. Whether you choose to spring for an entirely local meal, or simply prepare the best local mashed potatoes you can, sourcing from the season and land around us is a gesture of gratitude and appreciation that enriches the local economy and offers nourishment in myriad ways.

To put in a special order of produce, meat, or dairy, contact Jodie at brookfordfarm.csa@gmail.com.

Prepping and Storing Fall and Winter Vegetables

The fall and winter CSA session is upon us! For those new to the CSA, welcome! This weekly blog is full of information to help you make the most of your CSA experience. It includes recipes, information about the food -- how to cook it, what to do with it, why you’ll love it -- and inspiration for developing a deep love for local and seasonal eating. For those new to the CSA, and as a reminder to those who have been with us a while, I thought I’d start this season with some helpful tips and tricks for making the most of those beautiful veggie boxes.

 

Unpacking

When you bring your vegetables home, try to put them away when you can carve out thirty minutes or so to do a little bit of prep. This will help you to have faster access to your ingredients as you cook throughout the week. When deciding how much advance prep to do, it’s helpful to consider the amount of time you’ll have available during the week for cooking. The more limited your weekly cooking time, the more advance prep will pay off. Prep can include washing and trimming as well as pre-chopping vegetables for snacks or meals. Save time and money by saving trimmings such as celery leaves and carrot ends for stock. I keep a “stock bag” in my freezer and add trimmings as they accumulate.

 

Meal planning

I find it’s easiest to plan how I’ll use each vegetable by taking notes as I unpack my veggie box. Some people plan using the vegetable list in the weekly newsletter, but I like to see, feel, and touch the vegetables to find my inspiration. Writing my ideas down on paper goes a long way in making sure nothing gets wasted. For me, mental lists often end up buried or forgotten until I find that the daikons I had planned to ferment are now molding at the bottom of my crisper. Keep your veggie list close to the refrigerator, and make notes/cross things off as you change plans or use items. In time, this habit will help make it much easier to plan and cook meals based on what’s available. For many people, meal planning in our society means first listing the dishes one plans to cook in a week, and then listing and procuring the ingredients. Eating seasonally and locally works best when using a system that first lists the available ingredients, and then considers what meals could take shape from those items. It’s a significantly helpful shift to make, and one that gets easier with practice.

 

Storing

Because CSA food doesn’t have to travel far distances or wait around on store shelves, it tends to last much longer than food bought in the grocery store. Knowing the proper way to store food will help ensure that it lasts even longer. Although each vegetable is unique, there are some general guidelines that are helpful to know.

Leafy greens - If your crisper space is limited, you’ll want to give a priority spot to lettuces, kale, chard, spinach, etc. These are the items that will wilt most easily in the regular refrigerator environment. If you wash and chop these items when you unpack your CSA box, you’ll want to plan to use them within a few days, as leafy greens will spoil more quickly once they’re no longer fully intact.

Onions and Potatoes - Onions and potatoes need to be stored in a cool, dry place moderately far away from each other. Air circulation is important to avoid early rotting, so never store these vegetables in plastic or a tightly enclosed space. Do not wash potatoes before storing, as the introduction of moisture will lead them to mold and rot more quickly.   

Root vegetables - Store items like carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips in the refrigerator, in the crisper drawer if space allows. If you have no crisper space available, enclose them in an airtight container lined with a paper towel until you free up some crisper space. The danger of storing root vegetables outside of the crisper is that they may become soft; if this happens, try cutting off one end and soaking them for several hours in a bowl of ice water placed in the refrigerator.

Squash - Store squash in a cool, dry place. The refrigerator environment is too moist for squash and will cause it to lose shelf-life.

    

 

On Seasonal Eating

It’s hard to believe the summer session is over. The beginning of each session feels like infinity and excitement - twenty whole weeks to savor and celebrate the season. In the past five months, we’ve weathered a severe drought, contentious politics, the start and end of summer, and most recently, that annual burst of colorful vibrancy on the trees,  never ceasing to awe and humble.

I find it soothing to think about the coming session, twenty weeks that will carry us through the last of autumn, into the holidays, through the bitter cold of winter, and into March, where hope and life begin to stir deep within the earth. I’m already planning the soups, stews, gratins, and roasts that will keep us warm as we cozy into the season.

Winter is the time when seasonal eating becomes more challenging for lots of New Englanders. We’ve become so accustomed to continuous supply of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and watermelon at the grocery store, it’s hard to believe that one hundred years ago, seasonal eating was what kept people alive. Embracing seasonal eating during the cold months can take practice and a certain level of unlearning, but it’s a journey that is so well worth it. Waiting to enjoy seasonal treasures while they’re naturally available means that your taste buds get to reawaken each time the season changes, welcoming back familiar tastes while discovering nuances that can get missed with repetitive exposure.

Whatever it is that draws one to eat seasonally, I always find it rewarding to explore the benefits that extend into our larger world. I recently happened upon this list, compiled by Vern Grubinger of The University of Vermont Extension, and thought it was worth sharing.

 

Ten Reasons to Buy Local Food

by Vern Grubinger

Vegetable and Berry Specialist

University of Vermont Extension

Adapted from 'Growing For Market' newsletter article.

Vermont has a wide variety of farms. While known for our dairy production, there also many farms that raise fruits and vegetables, flowers and herbs, and animal products of all kinds. Our farmers are dedicated to stewardship and committed to quality. And while they love what they do, they aren't doing it for entertainment. They need to make a living. Consumers that value fresh food and a working landscape should support local farmers by buying their products. Here are ten reasons why.

1)  Locally grown food tastes and looks better. The crops are picked at their peak, and farmstead products like cheeses and are hand-crafted for best flavor. Livestock products are processed in nearby facilities and typically the farmer has direct relationship with processors, overseeing quality - unlike animals processed in large industrial facilities.

2) Local food is better for you. The shorter the time between the farm and your table, the less likely it is that nutrients will be lost from fresh food. Food imported from far away is older and has traveled on trucks or planes, and sat in warehouses before it gets to you.

3) Local food preserves genetic diversity. In the modern agricultural system, plant varieties are chosen for their ability to ripen uniformly, withstand harvesting, survive packing and last a long time on the shelf, so there is limited genetic diversity in large-scale production. Smaller local farms, in contrast, often grow many different varieties of crops to provide a long harvest season, an array of colors, and the best flavors. Livestock diversity is also higher where there are many small farms rather than few large farms.

4) Local food is safe. There's a unique kind of assurance that comes from looking a farmer in the eye at farmers' market or driving by the fields where your food comes from. Local farmers aren't anonymous and they take their responsibility to the consumer seriously.

5) Local food supports local families. The wholesale prices that farmers get for their products are low, often near the cost of production. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers cut out the middleman and get full retail price for their food - which helps farm families stay on the land.

6) Local food builds community. When you buy direct from a farmer, you're engaging in a time-honored connection between eater and grower. Knowing farmers gives you insight into the seasons, the land, and your food. In many cases, it gives you access to a place where your children and grandchildren can go to learn about nature and agriculture.

7) Local food preserves open space. When farmers get paid more for their products by marketing locally, they're less likely to sell farmland for development. When you buy locally grown food, you're doing something proactive to preserve our working landscape. That landscape is an essential ingredient to other economic activity in the state, such as tourism and recreation.

8)  Local food keeps taxes down. According to several studies by the American Farmland Trust, farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services, whereas most development contributes less in taxes than the cost of required services. Cows don’t go to school, tomatoes don’t dial 911.

9) Local food benefits the environment and wildlife. Well-managed farms provide ecosystem services: they conserve fertile soil, protect water sources, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. The farm environment is a patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, ponds and buildings that provide habitat for wildlife in our communities.

10) Local food is an investment in the future. By supporting local farmers today, you are helping to ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow. That is a matter of importance for food security, especially in light of an uncertain energy future and our current reliance on fossil fuels to produce, package, distribute and store food.

Salad Turnips

As Autumn’s chill settles in all around us, I find myself excited about all of the cruciferous vegetables coming our way. I adore the pungent sweetness of these cool weather varieties; cabbage, turnips, radishes, kale, bok choy, kohlrabi...I love them all. I love them because of their flavor, their high nutritional content, the crisp crunchiness they offer, and their incredible versatility in the kitchen.

Studies have shown that when eaten regularly, cruciferous vegetables help lower our risk of cancer by introducing anti-cancer phytochemicals into the body, and by helping rid the body of free radicals. Additionally, they help protect against heart disease, reduce inflammation within the body, and are abundant in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

It’s almost impossible for me to choose one particular favorite, but if I had to, salad turnips would be a top contender. Their arrival in our CSA box reliably initiates a heated debate over who gets first dibs, typically resulting in their being gobbled before we’ve even unpacked the rest of the box. My kids discovered a deep love for these sweet and crunchy turnips several years ago on a visit to the farm. One of the women working in the greenhouse offered one to each of them. They brushed off the dirt and ate them whole, like apples. To this day, we call them “apple turnips” in my house, and this is how they are most often devoured. If we can exercise enough restraint to actually add them to a dish, another favorite is to slice them thinly and add the crunchy pieces to salad. Our middle ground, between eating them like apples and adding them to salads, is to slice them into rounds, sprinkle with salt, and eat them after they’ve had a few minutes to sit and the salt has started to draw out the water. It’s a delectable, simple, indulgently delicious way to savor them. But that’s it. We don’t get fussy over our salad turnips around here, because they’re so GOOD we can’t bear to meddle.

However, not everyone is a crazed, raw-turnip loving enthusiast. Whether you’re an avid fan or feeling a bit tentative about these somewhat uncommon vegetables, rest assured that there are many wonderful things you can do with them.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Cook the greens - use them the same way you’d use chard or kale, they’re delicious!

Gently saute them in butter (this link will show that my house isn’t the only place likening these gems to apples, either!)

Make them into zesty quick pickles (no canning required!)

Ferment them….they are SO good this way!

Roast them into golden perfection

Use them in place of regular turnips in this delicate soup

Add them to stir fries, noodle/rice bowls, or fried rice (either diced and raw for a fantastic crunch, or cooked with the rest of the ingredients for a softer touch)

 

What will you be doing with yours?

 

 

Daikon and New Favorites

Are you familiar with daikon radishes? They’re the lovely, robust, carrot shaped white radishes that made their way into kitchens around the state a week or so back in Brookford CSA boxes. Is it just me, or are we New Englanders a bit skittish about our vegetables? I think we’re really comfortable with the staples we grew up eating. Squash, spinach, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, onions...you get the idea. But what about the lesser known beauties gracing farmers markets and CSA boxes? Fennel, daikon, celeriac, kohlrabi. Delicata, black radishes, watermelon radishes. These things that many have never before seen, let alone cooked with or eaten, tend to intimidate.

I think most CSA customers enjoy trying new vegetables and stepping outside of our culinary comfort zones, but I often think about how that translates back into our habits. If you make a supplemental run to the store, would you seek out those rare treasures you discovered through the CSA? When you’re thinking about what you’d like to cook, do you include newer-to-you vegetables in the running? I think that there’s a process to transitioning newly discovered vegetables from something we enjoy dabbling with to something we consider a serious and desireable option.

For me, this process is best completed when I work to learn lots of ways to use a vegetable. I have to think outside the box, challenge myself to try a different approach, and get creative. The payoff is a richer appreciation of those box contents, the ability to welcome back seasonal favorites like old friends, and to greet new arrivals as friends in the making. Over the next month or so, I’ll be highlighting some of the lesser known vegetables that arrive in the CSA boxes, with the hope of transitioning those sometimes intimidating, sometimes celebrated varieties into the realm of habit and tradition. New favorites await!

 

A few reasons to love daikon radishes:

A rich source of vitamins A, C, E, and B-6 as well as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron, daikons help detoxify the body by aiding kidney function and supporting healthy digestion. They have anti-viral, anti-cancer, and anti-bacterial properties.

 

Step out of your comfort zone! You can do a lot with daikon. Try:

Adding to fried rice and stir fries

Making daikon mochi cakes

Serving raw, with dip or peanut butter

Making radish chips

Using them in place of carrots in recipes

Making this soup

Using them in place of other radishes in recipes

Making them into noodles - super yummy!

Fermenting them for a healthy and delicious treat

Adding a quarter cup of sliced daikon to a fruit smoothie for a well-hidden vitamin C boost

Using them in a salad, (try this fresh and zesty recipe)

Roasting them

Shredding and using in place of cabbage in a cole slaw

Making them into these spicy fries

 

Autumn

It’s weird to think that just a few weeks ago, our daily temperatures called for shorts and short sleeves. Some years it feels as though fall creeps in so quietly; a clear day in the seventies calmly slipping in between the humid mid-eighties, a handful of sixty degree days peppered through weeks of the seventies. Before we know it, we’ve seamlessly slid into autumn. This year has felt different. Summer’s heat and humidity burned long and hard, well into this month of September, before finally shrugging its shoulders and turning to go home. One day the northeast awoke to temperatures that call for sweaters, soft kisses of frost on the ground, and September’s velvety green fading into soft oranges, reds, and yellows. Driving through the back roads of our sleepy little state, I see wood smoke curling out of chimneys, unfolding into the morning air.

 

As our earth gently pivots us further away from the sun, my senses drink it in greedily. The smell of leaves, a richly beautiful decomposition of the season, the unusual yet expected transition of leaves, jumping around the color wheel as though there’s no rhyme or reason, the rustling of trees against the wind, visually showing evidence of an invisible force. Crackling fires, the hum of groggy furnaces, kitchens that smell of cozy comfort foods, hot mugs of warmth cupped in cold hands, blankets and sleeping weather and the return of a favorite knitted hat. Suddenly we find ourselves sprinkling cinnamon on this and that, no need to excuse or explain ourselves.

 

It is in these increasingly shorter days where I find myself most longingly drawn into the kitchen. Pumpkin pancakes seem to appear out of thin air. Dishes of all things cheesy, gooey, savory and warming suddenly show up on our dinner table. With that same baited anticipation that has me craving green things in March and tomatoes in July, I find myself opening my CSA boxes with excited hopes of leeks, potatoes, turnips, and squash. Basil and cilantro are increasingly forgotten as my hands wrap themselves around little glass bottles of sage and rosemary.

 

As a mindful seasonal eater, I am grateful for the abundance of summer that has nourished us through the season. Salted tomatoes, crisp peppers, refreshing cucumbers. I’ll dutifully use the last of summer’s offerings, sprinkling in touches of fall, saying goodbye to one season as we welcome another. In this way, that seamless transition of seasons will take shape in my own kitchen, knitting us closer to the natural world around us, nourishing our bodies with the rhythm of space and time.

 

With just a handful of weeks left in summer session CSA, I invite you to join me in hungrily planning your fall and winter fare. There are still shares left - how will you embrace the nourishment this season offers?

 

Roasted Sauce for Pizza (and more)

 

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a fellow food loving friend how I was tediously slicing cherry tomatoes for drying in my dehydrator. I grow these tiny little cherry tomatoes that go crazy every summer, and always end up with a bumper crop that challenges my ability to keep up. Drying them was a fussy process of removing the stems, rinsing, slicing in half, and one by one placing cut side up on dehydrator trays. She mentioned that she’d recently processed her extra tomatoes by roasting them whole, pulsing them briefly in the food processor, and using this delicious concoction on pizza. I was immediately inspired. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been testing and roasting and seasoning and adjusting to come up with my own version of this delicious, sweetly tangy, flavor-rich sauce. The long roasting of the tomatoes adds a smoky, layered complexity and delicious velvety texture to this sauce, making it something special. When I opened my CSA box this week and discovered several lushly red tomatoes, I immediately knew I wanted to share this roasted tomato goodness here.

 

You’ll need:

 

About 3 lbs of fresh tomatoes

1 medium onion

¼ cup olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Herbs, fresh or dried, of your choosing


Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut large tomatoes in half, leave small tomatoes whole. Slice onion thinly. Spread tomatoes and onion in a pan, and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on salt, pepper, and herbs to taste. Give everything a good stir, then place pan in oven. Every 20 minutes, check the tomatoes and stir everything around. The tops of the tomatoes should start to turn golden, crispy, and bubbly. Stir these cooked bits back in, and keep cooking (checking and stirring every twenty minutes) until the tomato juices become thickened and almost syrupy. This could take anywhere from an hour to two hours or more, depending on your oven and the tomatoes used. When the tomatoes have fully roasted and are nicely thickened, remove from oven and let cool slightly. Pour the mixture into a food processor (this is optional - if you’re happy with the consistency, you can skip this part) and pulse a few times until you reach a consistency you like. If you want to thin the sauce, add a few glugs of olive oil. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed. Slather on pizza, use as a marinara dipping sauce, serve over pasta, or freeze to use on a blustery January day!

Grilled Kale

 

The calendar, and some days, the weather, tell me that summer is fading. My kitchen reflects the teeter totter of seasons, with some days bringing soup and some days bringing salad, as I work to balance the lingering warmth with oncoming coolness. This time of year I always find it most difficult to part with our grilled meals, and really, I’m not sure we should. The crispy, smoky qualities of grilled food nestle quite cozily under autumn’s wing. Grilling fall vegetables helps keep things harmonious with the season; one worth trying right away is grilled kale. Similar to kale chips, but with a smoky edge, grilled kale makes a delicious side dish or salad base. Try topping it with a drizzle of apple cider vinegar, crumbled bacon, caramelized onions, sliced apples, niblets of feta, or dried cranberries.

Grilled Kale

1 bunch kale, washed and dried, tough stems removed

Maldon or other coarse salt

Pepper

1 clove minced garlic

¼ cup olive oil

Spices, as desired (try crushed red pepper flakes, cumin, or curry powder)

Optional add-ins (crumbled bacon, feta, dried cranberries or raisins, sliced apples, or caramelized onions)


Heat a grill to medium high heat. While the grill is heating, mix together olive oil, any optional spices, and garlic. Brush each kale leaf generously, flipping to coat both sides. Sprinkle the kale with salt and pepper, to taste. Using tongs, place each kale leaf on the grill, cover, and cook until crispy, about two minutes. Open the grill, flip kale leaves carefully, cover the grill once more, and cook for another minute. Use tongs to remove from heat. Serve as is, top with garnishes, or tear into large strips to use for salad.

 

On making it mindful...

Last week I wrote about being mindful in our relationship with food. I mentioned that there’s no one recipe for drawing out the magic - and that’s true - but capturing the minute details that make our food special is something that can be learned by anyone who is willing to take the time to observe.  A key foundation to this process is understanding that our food carries its stories, its humanity, its energetic fabric within - these quietly enchanted qualities are not something we have to create, rather, they are hidden in plain sight, awaiting our careful discovery. It is when we take care to notice and honor our food’s ability to awaken all five senses that we are able to unearth what’s been hidden in plain sight. A few ideas for getting started...

Sight - As you prepare your food, take time to notice its shape, its color, texture, size, contrasts of light and dark. As you chop, be mindful of the shape and size of the pieces. Notice the details contained within fruits and vegetables, and how they differ from the exterior. Watch the transformation of eggs as they are beaten or fried. Notice how ingredients swirl together as they are stirred, mixed, and folded. Be mindful of finishing touches; the way that freshly cracked pepper, a sprinkling of coarse salt, a glug of olive oil, a whirl of sour cream, or a small handful of chopped herbs can transform the visual appeal of a dish.

Smell - Allow smell to guide your cooking and eating as much as any other sense. Smell a fresh tomato, a ball of dough, the blossom end of a cantaloupe, and let what wafts up be your guide. Notice the smells that seep into the air as food is sliced open; the fresh clean scent of cucumber, the crisp biting zing of a pepper, the soft pungency of a turnip. Follow the transition of smell as food is heated on the stove; the intoxicating allure of garlic, sweetly beckoning onions, soul soothing cinnamon. Drink these smells hungrily and without rush, with eyes closed and heart open.

Hearing - The sounds of a kitchen seem to often be neglected by our attention. The sizzle of hot fat, the satisfactory slice of a sharp knife, the bubbling of soup, the scraping of spoon against bowl. Kitchens elicit a gentle buzz of life and energy, auditory reminders of food’s greater purpose. Equally important kitchen sounds are the intimate chatter of family and the actual music you cook, eat, and live to. Take the time to hear the harmonious cacophony of these many layered songs.

Taste - As the most obvious sense awakened by our food, it’s easy to assume that we fully experience taste. Closer inspection of this sense, however, might prove otherwise. A fun exercise is to eat a meal with intentional slowness, chewing each bite twice as long as you typically might, paying careful attention to the transformation of flavor as it develops in your mouth. Notice the contrast of flavors in a dish, a practice nicely assisted by the use of the right garnishes. Challenge yourself to experience flavor more fully than you thought possible.

Touch - Another sense that doesn’t always receive its fair acclaim in the kitchen. Mouth feel is perhaps the easiest place to start, but is certainly no end point. Being mindful of a tender bite of steak, the silky velvet of cheesecake, or the tender crispness of a fresh carrot is an important place to start, and offers exquisite joy. But equally important is noticing the weight of a tomato, the contrast of a smooth spoon and the textures it carries,  the delight of encountering a lactose crystal in a bite of aged cheese, or the softly worn patina of a well loved wooden spoon.

***

Paying more attention to even one of these senses can elevate a meal into the realm of spiritual. Learning to mind all five of these senses while cooking and eating has the power to entirely transform our relationship with food. Meals become slower, softer, more satisfying. Preparing food becomes a centering escape and a massage for the soul, rather than a mundane and critical task for completion. Suddenly, we are able to experience the aspects of our food that have patiently awaited our discovery for years. We can see the farmer, carefully selecting vegetable varieties. We can touch the seeds, so tiny, offering astounding abundance and the delicate balance of genetic material. We can feel the weather that nurtured the season, raindrops and wind gusts and saturating sunshine. We can hear the hushed music of nightfall over the fields and feel the glow of the moon over crops. We can smell all of this life intermingled, sweat and soil and thick August air. This is food. This is life. This is the magic.

 

 

Mindful Nosh

I’m a believer in things that are special. A home sparsely full of carefully chosen, delicately important belongings will always win my heart over a house overflowing with a casual abundance of items. I think tea is more soothing when sipped from a hand thrown mug with grit still in the clay and that meals taste better from a gracefully arranged plate. I don’t need things to be expensive or designer or trendy. I just want my things to be purposeful. Chosen with intent. Crafted for the moment. Life is sweeter when we honor each instant that we can, mindfully soaking up the feeling of a soft blanket, the smell of the forest, shoes that cradle our feet just so.

I especially covet this ritual of special-ness with food. Because food is special. It comforts, celebrates, nourishes, and sustains. I like to think it carries the energetic fingerprints of all the lives intermingled in its production - from the planting of seeds and tending of weeds to the harvesting and washing. Our food quietly carries the stories of so many lives, silently weaving together the threads of humanity. We don’t usually see or hear those stories, but we can acknowledge their existence by paying tribute to the fact that food in our kitchen is proof of love and loss and all that runs in between. Layered upon the humanity it carries, food also brings with it the reminder of our tender earth: the soothing reappearance of the sun each morning, the relevance of every droplet of water. If we listen carefully, our food is patiently waiting to remind us that we are not only alive but deeply connected to one another, and that this earth we inhabit is swarming with magic.

This understanding of food has the power to change how we nourish ourselves. We don’t need our food to be extravagant in order to be mindfully nourished by it. By taking care, thoughtfully measuring and folding in intention, and being mercilessly present, we can perhaps slow down enough to touch and feel and see and hear and taste all that our food carries with it.  

Developing a relationship with food that honors it fully is an individual and celebratory journey. Along this path we are able to discover our own artistry and creativity, a style and methodology that is uniquely individual. There is no recipe for this, and that makes it at once more accessible and more elusive. We must believe, at least to a tiny extent, in our own ability to capture magic in our hands.

 

Breakfast (and lunch, and dinner) Bowls

Sometimes I get stuck in a food rut. It happens most often when I find myself happily overindulging in whatever culinary trend has caught my interest at the moment. Luckily, my CSA share seems to act like one of those fancy new cars that might as well drive themselves. Veering off the road? No worries, that sleek technology guides you safely back on track before you can blink. Forward progress continues unhindered. It is seasonal eating that means I'm no longer eating corn on the cob in December or whipped parsnips in August. The ship rights itself naturally. Balance.

I recently found myself heading for a bit of a breakfast/brunch rut. Our family loves big lazy brunches. We dance in the kitchen while we cook, listen to great music, drink tea, eat too much bacon... and we laugh. But my brunch menu had become predictable. Eggs and sauteed greens, bacon, and usually a Dutch baby for the kids. And it was yummy, if predictable.

This past weekend, we were out of bacon, but we did have ground breakfast sausage. Hmmmm. As I began sauteing the greens, innovation started to sprout in my mind. With greens and ground sausage, I began thinking that this meal would require a serving of soft grits on the side. As I stirred the grits, I began thinking about the adorable earthen crocks I recently purchased, and suddenly I knew I was making breakfast bowls. Into each bowl went a scoop of grits and a tumble of sausage. The sausage was drizzled with a little salsa verde before adding a tumble of sauteed vegetables - greens and summer squash and onions. On top of that went a shaving of fresh Brookford cheddar, a sprinkle of chives, and hot sauce.

So many beautiful things, all piled up and oozing together in that bowl. While each separate piece would have been yummy and satisfying on its own, together they harmonized into something just beyond divine. The layering of textures and flavors. Bursts of tangy and hot, mellow and biting. I immediately knew I had fallen into my next favorite food trend - and not just for breakfast either. History would suggest that this might lead me, eventually, into a bit of a rut of repetition while I fully vet the possibilities. It’s all right though. We’ll enjoy every scrumptious bite on our way there, safe in the knowledge that the nature of the seasons will eventually return us to balance.

 

Make Your Own Breakfast (or lunch, or dinner!) Bowls

Pick a base

You want something hearty and comforting, and with a mellow flavor that can mesh well with all the other yumminess you’ll be adding. Try:

  • Grits
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Udon noodles
  • Quinoa
  • Couscous
  • Savory oats
  • Buckwheat
  • Cooked barley
  • Home fried potatoes
  • Rice noodles

Choose your meat

(This option can definitely be skipped right over for a vegetarian version.) While bacon and sausage are obvious choices, there are so many things that can work here. Try:

  • Grilled chopped steak
  • Stewed beef
  • Leftover roast or grilled chicken
  • Braised pork ribs
  • Crumbled bacon
  • Sliced or crumbled sausage

Pick out some veg

This may be where things get most exciting, but perhaps that’s only for me and my passionate love of vegetables that show up at breakfast. It’s just hard not to get excited about so many options. Try:

  • Roasted root vegetables
  • Sauteed onions and peppers
  • Summer squash and zucchini
  • Sliced fresh tomatoes with minced jalapenos
  • Grilled eggplant
  • Stir fried broccoli and garlic
  • Wilted greens

Select a sauce (or two)

In our version, we layered some salsa verde over the grits and sausage and then later topped the whole thing off with hot sauce. It was indulgent and amazing. Try:

  • Salsa
  • Hot sauce
  • Aioli
  • Buttermilk dressing
  • Vinaigrette
  • BBQ sauce
  • Creamy avocado sauce
  • Balsamic
  • Liquid aminos or soy sauce
  • Brookford sour cream
  • Pesto

Cheese, too

The cheese on top is pretty crucial to the wow-factor of a really satisfying meal-in-a-bowl. You want to select something with just enough tang to stand out while highlighting the best of everything else. It’s a job with big expectations. Try:

  • Brookford blue cheese
  • Raw cheddar
  • Crumbled feta
  • Jalapeno cheddar
  • Smoked cheddar
  • Gouda
  • Fresh mozzarella

Don’t skip the garnish!

Like the cheese, a well-chosen garnish helps add excitement, a burst of flavor, and brings out nuances in other elements. Try:

  • Maldon salt
  • Chives
  • Chopped fresh herbs
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Chopped onion
  • Minced hot peppers

And feel free to add an egg

  • Although our version was egg-less, there are so many ways an egg can elevate all of this goodness even more. Try:
  • Hard boiled and chopped
  • Poached
  • Crispy and fried
  • Scrambled (this could even serve as your base)

***

I challenge you to walk on the wild side and risk getting stuck in this rut. A meal that can be made with almost any ingredient on hand, that can be reinvented a dozen different ways, and that works well morning, noon, or night? It’s the perfect formula for seasonal eating, and an utterly fine place to get stuck.

Kohlrabi (is your new favorite vegetable)

This is a selfish post. It is selfish, because it’s about kohlrabi, and because it is my full intention to convert every person who reads this kohlrabi-praising-post into an unrestrained lover of my favorite vegetable. You’ve been warned.

I love many, many vegetables. Voluptuous tomatoes, silky greens, jewel toned eggplant, pungent brassicas, crisp radishes...I have many loves of the vegetable variety. I even have many favorites. But one favorite rises above all other favorites for me, and that’s the bulbous, thickly skinned, alien looking kohlrabi.

Kohlrabi is not something you find in the average grocery store. Although it looks like it might possibly be a root vegetable, the round kohlrabi bulb is actually the plant’s delectable stem. Kohlrabi also grows lush green leaves from its stem, which, like turnip and beet greens, can be eaten and enjoyed (either raw or cooked). Kohlrabi tastes similar to broccoli, though it is less pungent, more sweet, and more tender-crisp.

I adore the flavor of kohlrabi. Peeled, I could eat an entire bulb raw like an apple. It is mild, satisfyingly crunchy, fresh tasting, and SO SO SO versatile. You can chop it up and serve it in a salad, make it into a really tasty slaw, mash it, use it to make fries, pickle it, ferment it, grill it, roast it, turn it into soup, make fritters, stir-fry it, make curry with it...honestly, it’s probably quicker to list the things you cannot do with kohlrabi.


When you see kohlrabi in your CSA box (it can be either green or purple, large or small), don’t be scared! The most difficult thing about kohlrabi is deciding how you’re going to use it, because there are so many delicious options to choose from! The best plan of action, of course, is to try them all, and fall fully and completely in love.

 

A summer beef stew

This weekend, we got a much needed reprieve from the hot, dry summer. Sunday brought a cool, humid rain, and for my family, an excuse to stay indoors and be lazy. Somehow this shift inside immediately awakened my desire to be in the kitchen, fussing over dinner. With some good music playing and a gray drizzle outside, I felt inspired to create a summer beef stew, using some of the stew beef from our most recent share. I wanted something savory and rich to balance the damp weather, but also something that would embody the vibrance and lively color of summer. This did the trick.

When I think about summer food, beef stew isn’t usually what comes to mind. But with lively tender crisp vegetables paired against the slowly braised beef, it works. Almost any summer vegetables can be used here, so get creative and make substitutions as desired.

Summer Beef Stew

3 strips of Brookford bacon

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 lb Brookford stewing beef

28 ounces canned tomatoes

2 cups dry red wine

1 TBSP anchovy paste

1 bay leaf

1 TBSP herbs de Provence

2 cups water or stock

1 cup chopped green beans, chopped into 1 inch pieces

1 zucchini, chopped into small bite size pieces

1 summer squash, chopped into small bite size pieces

2 carrots, sliced into ¼ inch rounds

3 small onions, sliced thinly

¼ cup sherry vinegar

Fresh herbs for garnish

Flaky sea salt

Set a large dutch oven on an unheated stove. Lay the bacon strips in the dutch oven and turn the heat to medium high. Cook, flipping once, until crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside to cool. Season the stewing beef well with salt and pepper, rubbing it in with your hands. Leaving the bacon fat in the pan, (add a glug of olive oil if the pan looks like it needs a little extra), add the stew beef to the hot fat. Sear, undisturbed, until well browned and a crust has developed, about five minutes. Carefully turn the beef and repeat until seared on all sides. (If your pan isn’t large, you will need to sear the beef in batches to maintain enough heat to get a good crust). Once all the beef is well crusted, add half the wine to the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits from the bottom. Finely chop the reserved bacon, and add half of it to the pan (reserve the other half) along with the anchovy paste, and stir frequently as the mixture cooks down. Once the liquid has thickened, (this will take about five minutes over medium high heat), add the rest of the wine, the bay leaf, the herbs de Provence, and the canned tomatoes. Stir well and cook over medium high heat for five more minutes, while preheating the oven to 250 degrees. At this point, you may want to add additional liquid (either water or stock), depending on how much is left in the pan. You want enough liquid to allow the beef to braise once in the oven, but not so much that the mixture turns soupy. Give it a stir, cover with a heavy lid, and put the entire pan in the oven. Allow the beef to braise for 4-6 hours, stirring every 45 minutes or so, and adding more liquid as needed to maintain a stew-like quality. During the last hour of braising the meat, heat olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the onions, and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about two minutes. Add the remaining vegetables, season well with salt, and saute until tender crisp, making sure to remove from the heat before they lose their bright color.


Remove the dutch oven from the oven and place it on the stove top. Remove the lid, stir it well, and add the sauteed vegetables and sherry vinegar to the pan, mixing carefully to incorporate everything. Taste for salt and pepper and season as needed.  Serve on its own, or over soft polenta or cooked rice. Garnish with a sprinkle of the reserved crumbled bacon, a few glugs of olive oil, a pinch of flaky sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a sprinkling of chives or other fresh herbs.

 

A seasonal eater's ode to the season

Every summer, there’s a week where the magic happens. At first the harvest unfolds slowly; leafy greens and alliums are joined by radishes and carrots, variety sprouting up as the weeks tumble by. By the time the cucumbers make their sturdy appearance on the vine, the harvest is no longer lazily unfurling, rather, it has become a veritable explosion of shape and color. For me, the magic week happens when the shift in pace is so palpable that simply opening the veggie box seems to discharge a trace of midsummer magic into the air. This week’s veggie box full of sweet corn (a full dozen!), cherry tomatoes (red and yellow!), humble zucchini and summer squash (always holding down the fort!), jalapenos and bell peppers and onions and cabbage (and more, oh my!)...had me cartwheeling across my kitchen (at least in my head). It’s the week where abundance is undeniable. It’s the week where my gratitude for seasonal eating swells to new heights, reminding me how grateful I am for what we go without so that I can fully absorb and appreciate the fleeting beauty of this season. It all tastes like summer. It all smells like summer. All so purely elemental - sunlight and rain and soil, the genetic intricacies so carefully enclosed within tiny seeds, the miraculous science and magic that conspire to coax carrot seeds into carrots and tomato seeds into tomatoes, and everything in between.

In the midst of a world that seems ever divided, with real issues that need to be solved, I find myself at once inspired to create change and inspired to embrace the little joys around me. These morsels of happiness are not trivial. They’re the lifeblood of a contented life. Of being whole. Of replenishing our hearts and souls so that we can move forward as positive forces within this world. Taking time for mindfulness, gratitude, and simple indulgences isn’t frivolous, it’s critically important. In that spirit, I share my summer eating bucket list. It is this seasonal eater’s ode to the season and vow to appreciate every last bite.

Before the wood smoke curls through the crisp night air of October, I will eat…

...a whole tomato like a tangy, coreless apple. I won’t hold back on the salt.

...delicate summer squash salad.

...bell peppers with skins blistered from the grill.

...cured and grilled cabbage served with Brookford blue cheese. I won’t want to share this.

...marinated and grilled eggplant.

...crunchy, zesty cucumber salad.

...sumptuous gazpacho. With crusty bread.

...salt potatoes. (Contented sigh.)

...tangy-sweet grilled onion steaks.

...an entire batch of homemade salsa. In one sitting.

...grilled pizza smothered in Brookford mozzarella, bacon, tomatoes (thinly!!! sliced) and grilled eggplant.

...silky marinated zucchini.

...corn grilled in the husk, smothered in Brookford butter.

...grilled, bacon wrapped jalapenos. With a cold beer.

 

...and by the time the mornings bring a soft haze of frost on the field, I hope to find my belly full, my heart basking in summer’s residual heat, and my palate satiated. We’re in the thick of summer’s magic. Let’s devour it.

Polenta and Savoring Summer

Something happens to time in the thick of summer. It simultaneously moves briskly and haltingly, landing us in September or October still decked out in our flip flops and sunglasses, cold drink in hand, wondering how we landed months ahead when just a moment ago we were laughing with friends around the grill. This incongruence of time hits me in the kitchen, especially at dinner time, when it is both late and early, the sun keeping us company well into those languid evening hours. I want to eat something that matches this divergence of time in this season - something that is at once simple and lavish, understated and exquisite. Although I tend to happen upon this impasse every year, my solution tends to vary ever summer. Some summers I’ve resorted to grilled pizza, others it’s been risotto. This year has been the season of polenta. Whether grilled, broiled, sauteed, or creamy, I can’t get enough of its versatility and willingness to host or be hosted by each and every pairing I’ve sent its way. If you’ve been finding yourself standing in a daze in a sun dappled kitchen, wondering what dinner should be, look no further. Here are my tips and tricks for mastering polenta and harnessing summer’s lazy, break-neck pace.  

To start, you need a good polenta recipe. I use organic, non-GMO dry polenta. If you know you’re going to grill, broil or saute it, you can also buy prepared polenta. It is more expensive (and in my opinion, less tasty) than dry polenta, but it’s great if you’re in a rush. That said, making homemade polenta isn’t difficult and is very cost effective.

 

You'll need:

4 cups of broth or stock (if you don’t have any, you can use water)

1 tablespoon cultured butter

1 ½ teaspoons salt (if your broth is salty, you’ll want to decrease the amount of salt)

1 cup of dry, organic polenta

½ cup freshly grated cheese

Bring the salt and broth to a boil over medium high heat in a large pot. Slowly add the polenta, whisking as you go to prevent lumps. Whisk continuously until the polenta begins to thicken, then reduce heat to low. Stir frequently using a wooden spoon and taking care to incorporate the polenta at the edges of the pot. Taste every ten minutes or so - the longer you cook it, the more the individual grains will soften. Some people prefer a grittier, firmer grain, some prefer the longer cooked softness. As the grains soften, the flavor will change and become more sweet. The polenta is finished when you like how it tastes and feels. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese.

If you are serving your polenta soft, as a bed for vegetables or meats, you are essentially done at this point. I like to top my polenta with a dollop of butter or sour cream, a sprinkle of maldon salt, and a little more grated cheese before adding other toppings.

If you are making polenta to grill, bake, broil, or saute, you’ll want to scoop it into a well greased container or pan (parchment paper is also your friend here) and pop it into the fridge to thicken. Within a few hours, the polenta will have solidified nicely and become easy to slice.

Now that you’ve made your polenta, what should you do with it?

If you’re serving it soft (which is my favorite, by the way. There’s something so comforting and downright indulgent about it), it can be a bed for grilled meats or vegetables (hot or cold - though you’ll want the polenta hot), or you can top it with a sauce made of fresh tomatoes (again, cold or hot). If you don’t mind standing over a hot stove for a minute, you can quickly saute (or even roast) a medley of vegetables to serve on top. Truly, any vegetable works here.

Try using soft polenta as a bed for:

Wilted greens with garlic and vinegar

Chopped tomatoes with fresh herbs

Grilled peppers and eggplant with feta cheese

Green beans sauteed with garlic (deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine - yum!)

Chilled roasted beets with garlic and dill quark

Grilled sausage, zucchini, and onions

Fresh tomato sauce and a drizzle of high quality olive oil

If you want to sear your polenta, slice it into pieces about ½ inch thick. Brush the slices with olive oil and then broil, pan sear, or grill about three minutes per side, until crisp and golden. Serve these crispy polenta slices with grilled or fresh vegetables and a drizzle of good olive oil. Top with a few shavings of cheese and some chopped herbs.

Alternatively, place sliced polenta in the bottom of an oiled baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees until beginning to crisp, about 15 minutes. Top this crust with any vegetables of your choosing: fresh sliced tomatoes, sauteed onions and summer squash, grilled eggplant and torn basil leaves...top with a generous layer of freshly grated cheese and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes longer, until bubbling and golden.

 

 

 

Avoiding Food Waste: A Vegetable Guide

Last week, I posted about food waste in America, and the myriad problems that result from this waste. While it’s true that much food waste comes from restaurants and other food services, actions at home add up in a major way. Because food that ends up in landfills produces enormous quantities of methane as it breaks down, it’s important to try and avoid having food go into the trashcan whenever possible. In my last post, I listed ways that households can avoid food waste on a larger scale through methods like composting and freezing leftovers. Today, I’m breaking it down, vegetable by vegetable, in a quick guide designed to help you make the most of each vegetable while eliminating waste. For each vegetable, I’ve listed useage ideas to help make sure nothing gets stranded in the crisper drawer. You’ll find links for recipes to help inspire you, and hopefully some ideas that are fresh and new. There is also an “avoid waste” section for each listing, which addresses ways to use the parts of vegetables that most often end up in the trash, and gives ideas for using large quantities for situations when you have more than you know what to do with. Four options that come up frequently in the “avoid waste” sections are: regrow in water, make homemade greens powder, save for stock, and dehydrate. I haven’t added the links each time, but added them here for easy referencing. Enjoy!


Arugula

Use fresh or cooked: in salads, great for pizza, pasta, polenta, risotto, eggs, soups.

Avoid waste: make homemade greens powder or cook when starting to wilt.

 

Asian Greens

Use fresh or cooked: great for stir fries, sauteed with garlic, soups, eggs, polenta, etc.

Avoid waste: ferment, use in smoothies, greens powder, or cook when starting to wilt. Some (like bok choy) can be regrown in water.

 

Basil

Use fresh or cooked: pesto, pasta, casseroles, soups, eggs, for seasoning dishes.

Avoid waste: freeze in white wine or olive oil in trays for use in cooking later, make basil vinegar or oil.


Beets

Use raw or cooked: raw beets are great shredded on salads, juiced and in smoothies. Cooked, beets are delicious roasted and then served warm or cold, in soups, and alongside other root vegetables. Beet greens are also delicious; use them as you would spinach or chard.

Avoid waste: use the greens! Pickle the beet roots, ferment them, freeze them, or make nutritious beet kvass. Add trimmings to veggie stock. Beets also bake well in a variety of recipes, like this cake.


Cabbage

Use raw or cooked: in soups, salads, stir fries, braised, stewed, roasted, or even grilled.

Avoid waste: use the core, too. Cabbage cores can be thinly sliced or julienned before adding to stir fries, casseroles, or soups. Dehydrate wilted cabbage and add it to homemade greens powder. Ferment fresh cabbage to make kimchi or sauerkraut. Regrow in water.

 

Carrots

 Use raw or cooked: salads, baked goods,  soup, stir fries, casseroles, and roasted.

Avoid waste: use the tops to make pesto or soup. Add tops and trimmings to stock. Add small carrots to smoothies, make juice, or slice and dehydrate for later use. And don’t forget to make these delicious fermented ginger carrots. Carrot tops can be regrown in water.


Collards

Use raw or cooked: while collards are probably too tough for most salads, they work very well as a sturdy wrap for sandwiches or burritos when used raw or steamed. Collards can be braised, steamed, or sauteed. They’re excellent cooked on their own, with soups, paired with pork, or with eggs.

Avoid waste: most people don’t know it, but you can eat collard stems. Try braising them, fermenting them, or use the stems to make stock.


Corn

Use raw or cooked: in salads, on the cob, in sautes, chili, soup, chowder, burritos, fritters, and casseroles.

Avoid waste: make relish (try this fermented version, too!), and use the cobs and husks in stock! Corn cobs, especially, are exceptional in all kinds of stock. Don’t throw away the husks, either. They’re excellent for making tamales or using as a wrapper for a delicious grilled meal. Corn husks can also be used for arts and crafts and a variety of odd jobs around the house - check out these ideas!


Cucumbers

Use raw: in salads, pickled, in place of bread for sandwiches, and as soup (this is a great way to use up a lot of cucumbers at once).

Avoid waste: leave the peels intact and eat them whenever possible. If you must peel them, save the peels for stock, use them to make infused water, or chop the peels and add to salads or use as a garnish.


Eggplant

Use cooked: in casseroles, grilled, roasted, salad, and in soup.

Avoid waste: do not peel unless needed for your recipe. Use the peels and ends in stock. Eggplant is also an easy vegetable to freeze for later use.


Fennel

Use raw or cooked: in salads, soup, roasted, in stir fries, stewed, sauteed, or try them on a homemade white pizza.

Avoid waste: fennel fronds can be added to salads or used as a garnish for a variety of dishes. The stalks are great for juicing, steaming alongside fish, and in stock. Try fermenting fennel for a crisp and fresh garnish. Can be regrown in water.


Green Beans

Use raw or cooked: for snacking (try making green bean “french fries!”), sauteed, grilled, in casseroles, and as the base for a tasty salad.

Avoid waste: save the trimmings for stock. A surplus of green beans can easily be fermented, pickled, or frozen.


Kale

Use raw or cooked: in salad (try this kale caesar salad, this shredded kale salad, or this lovely massaged kale salad), in soup, sauteed, with eggs, in smoothies, roasted, and yes, grilled.

Avoid waste: kale freezes easily, can be juiced, added to smoothies, or dehydrated to make greens powder. Don’t throw away the stems - use them for stock, cook them to eat, or pickle them.


Leeks

Use cooked: in gratin, as a side dish, in soups and stews, roasted with other vegetables, in place of or in addition to onions in most recipes.

Avoid waste: leek trimmings are gold for stocks of all kinds - save them save them save them! Also, regrow in water.


Lettuce

Use raw: salads! Also, lettuce works great in place of bread for sandwiches, wraps, burgers, and more.

Avoid waste: add the bottoms to stock, regrow in water. Extra lettuce can be used up easily by making soup, adding to smoothies, or juicing.


Onions

Use raw or cooked: literally in everything.

Avoid waste: onion trimmings and peels make great stock. Keep in mind that the peels will add color (in addition to delicious flavor) to your stock, so if you’re feeling picky about that, you may want to omit them.


Peas

Use raw or cooked: in salads, soups, stir fries, as a snack.

Avoid waste: freeze them, pickle them, add a handful to a green smoothie, juice them, and add the trimmings to stock.

 

Peppers

Use raw or cooked: in salads, soups, stir fries, casseroles, burritos, on pizza, roasted, stuffed, as a breakfast bowl, as crudites...endless possibilities!

Avoid waste: add the trimmings, seeds, stem, etc. to stock. Dehydrate them or freeze them for later.


Potatoes

Use cooked: mashed, fried, sauteed, in soups, casseroles, gratins, as a gluten free crust for quiche, in bread, as chips...what CAN’T potatoes do?

Avoid waste: only peel them when needed, and when you do peel them, save the peels to make these delicious chips. Alternatively, add the peels to vegetable stock.


Radishes

Use raw or cooked: salads, with butter (on a sandwich or dipped), in stir fries, on tacos, in soup.

Avoid waste: add the trimmings to stock - and DON’T throw away the greens! Radish greens are delicious! Use them to make pesto, soup, salad, or braise them as you would any other hearty green (think bacon fat and salt).


Summer Squash (and zucchini)

Use raw or cooked: in salad, sauteed, stuffed, as a pizza crust, in casseroles, as chips, fritters, soup, with eggs, battered, grilled, and roasted.

Avoid waste: save the ends for stock. Large quantities of zucchini and summer squash can be made into “noodles” for quick eating (it’s faster and easier to make them with a “zoodle” maker, but you can make them by hand as well). Remember that zucchini bakes well - try making bread or these brownies. Try making pickles or fermenting them.


Swiss Chard (and spinach)

Use fresh or cooked: in salad, lasagna, soup, burritos, with eggs, sauteed with garlic, over pasta.

Avoid waste: use the stems. They can be chopped and cooked, requiring a little more cooking time than the leaves. Swiss chard and spinach both dehydrate well for homemade greens powder. Any trimmings can be added to stock.


Tomatoes

Use fresh or cooked: everywhere! Soup, salad, on sandwiches, in homemade salsa, sliced and sprinkled with salt, in sauce, stuffed.

Avoid waste: tomatoes can be preserved in a multitude of ways. Make them into sauce and can them, make fermented salsa, dehydrate them, even freeze them. Making soup uses a large quantity at once - try gazpacho for a refreshing and cooling option.