mastering the CSA

Celeriac

I know I often talk about my favorite vegetables, and this constant chatter of favorites is eventually going to betray the fact that I have at least a dozen *favorite* vegetables, and depending upon which season we’re in, I’m likely to proclaim that at least half a dozen of those are actually my “most favorite, favorite.” And I think it’s entirely possible to be both 100% honest AND to have several favorites. I just do.

A few weeks ago the weekly veggie list showed up with one of my *favorite* favorites on it: celeriac. Poor celeriac that never gets a fair shake. Also known as celery root, it looks a bit like a bizarre potato, nubby and brown, and completely nothing to write home about. A sniff of this humble vegetable, however, starts to reveal something of its magic. Earthy and nutty, it immediately makes me want to slice it in half and start warming some butter.

If I could be accused of professing my undying love for more than one or two vegetables, I can ALSO be accused of waxing poetic far too often about the beautiful versatility of more than a handful of old standbys and a few lesser known characters as well. But there’s just something so irresistibly satisfying to me about vegetables that like to shape shift in my kitchen.

Here are ten reasons why I was thrilled to find celeriac in my veggie box again this past week:

  1. Shaved celeriac salad. Try combining it with cubes of cold roasted winter squash, crumbled blue cheese, and shaved radishes. A drizzle of olive oil, a spritz of lemon juice, and a sprinkling of maldon salt on top….

  2. Celeriac chips. Slice thinly, toss with olive oil and salt, and roast at 350 until browned.

  3. Celeriac soup. Whether you mix it with potatoes, turnips, bacon, leeks, or all of the above, you will not be disappointed.

  4. Shaved celeriac, apples, and cheddar. Slice an apple, add a slice of Brookford cheddar (smoked, clothbound, or raw all go very well!), and add a few pieces of shaved celeriac on top.

  5. Root vegetable galette. You CAN make this without celeriac, but why would you want to?

  6. Braising. Try browning celeriac in butter, adding a few splashes of cooking sherry, the same amount of chicken stock, and salt to taste. Braise until softened.

  7. Fermented celeriac remoulade. You won’t be disappointed.

  8. Gratin. Earthy, rich, and indulgent. Something you definitely want to eat before “stick to your ribs” season is over.

  9. Celeriac and rutabaga mash. I’m pretty certain that it’s the swirled pool of melted butter shown in the picture that first convinced me to try this recipe, but it’s the nutty satisfaction of the smooth celeriac that keeps me in love with this recipe. I make it every Thanksgiving.  

  10. Eggs baked in celeriac puree. Whir cooked celeriac in the food processor along with cream, butter, and salt to taste. Transfer the celeriac to a greased oven proof dish. Make 4-6 indents in the celeriac, and gently crack an egg into each indent. Add a sprinkling of salt and small pat of butter over each egg, and cook in an oven preheated to 375 degrees until cooked through (about 15 minutes). Sunday morning, reinvented!

Batch Cooking Squash

Sometimes, with a winter CSA, things can get a little dicey in the squash department. One or two weeks without using your squash, and suddenly it seems that the butternuts are multiplying on their own in the pantry. I run into this at different times and with different vegetables. Some years it’s potatoes, some it’s parsnips. The cool thing about this is that it’s an easy problem to solve...especially with squash. Winter squash is surprisingly versatile and easy to process. Here’s how I keep up.

 

Step 1: Cook and cool the squash

Once per week, I batch cook all my squash at once. I heat the oven to 350 degrees, cut each squash in half, and put the squash cut side down in a pan. I don’t peel the squash or remove the seeds at this point. I add water to the pan (about half an inch) and then pop it in the oven. After about an hour, I begin checking on the squash every 15-20 minutes. When I can pierce it easily with a knife, it’s done. I remove the pans from the oven, let the squash cool, and then move on to the next step.

 

Step 2: Prep for storage and use

If I plan to make any salads during the week, I carefully remove the skin and seeds from one of the firmer squashes and cut it into bite sized pieces before putting it in the fridge to store. Now it’s ready and waiting when I am ready to make a recipe like one of these:

Kale salad with roasted butternut squash

Roasted butternut squash salad with warm cider vinaigrette

Roasted beet and squash salad with nuts

Simple roasted butternut squash salad

Tips:

You can always spread the cubed squash on an oiled pan and roast for a bit before using if you want to get some caramelized pieces in there.

Most winter squash can stand in easily for any other winter squash - don’t sweat it if the recipe calls for butternut and you only have kabocha. Use what’s on hand.

 

If I plan to make pretty much anything else with my squash, I’m going to puree it. I scoop the squash out of the cooled skin, carefully remove the seeds (though they’re edible, and since I’m pureeing, I don’t sweat it too much if a few are missed). I give it a whir in the blender or food processor, and then transfer it into a bowl to keep in the fridge until I’m ready to use it. Here are a few of the ways I am able to easily use it up:

Pasta sauce

Butternut mac and cheese

Squash muffins

Pancakes (sweet)

Pancakes (savory)

Butternut bisque

Smoky squash soup

Curried squash soup

Whipped winter squash

 

I could really go on and on listing options for incorporating winter squash into meals - if none of these speak to you, try imagining up your own squash creations. If you can dream it, chances are, google can too! (Need to see it to believe it? Try searching: squash brownies!)

(And remember...cooked and pureed squash freezes really well! If you can't use it all at once, freeze some for later!)

 

Cleansing Recipes

In my last post, I talked about using this time of year to reevaluate and renew our commitments to food. How do we choose to eat? And why do we make the choices that we do? If you haven’t ever been through this process of reflection before, it can be a fun and enlightening exercise.

 

But what if you’re just looking for a good January cleanse? A little post-holiday detoxing? You don’t have to go wild tracking down obscure ingredients from every corner of the earth. Your local, seasonal CSA offers plenty of nourishing, cleansing ingredients to work with. Try one of these three recipes for a quick boost!

 

Cleansing Kale and Apple Smoothie

⅓ cup water

⅓ cup raw milk

⅔ cup ice

1 ½ cups of chopped kale

1 stalk of chopped celery

1 tsp maple syrup

1 tbsp raw squash seeds (from any winter squash, or substitute sunflower or pumpkin seeds)

 

Blend until smooth and enjoy!

 

Detoxifying Curried Cabbage Stew

1 small head of cabbage, shredded

5 small carrots

3 cups of bone broth

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

2 T lard, bacon fat, or butter

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 T grated ginger

2 T curry powder

Salt and pepper, to taste

 

In a soup pot, melt the lard over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 7-8 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, ginger, and curry powder, and saute for another minute. Add the bone broth, cabbage, and carrots, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour until all veggies are softened. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

 

Cleansing Carrot Soup

1 T coconut oil

1 onion, diced

2 lbs of organic carrots, washed and chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 T minced ginger

½ t coriander

½ t nutmeg

7 cups bone broth

Sea salt, to taste


In a soup pot, heat the coconut oil over medium and saute the onions until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the carrots, garlic, and ginger, and cook for 15 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Add the bone broth and bring to a simmer. Cook for 25 minutes until the carrots are fully softened. Add the nutmeg and coriander, and then puree the soup using an immersion blender, food processor, or high speed blender. Taste for salt and adjust seasonings as needed before giving one final whir with the blender. Serve warm.

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.

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.

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

 

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.

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.

Throwing It All Away: Resisting the culture of food waste in America

Americans waste a lot of food. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, about 40% of American food is wasted every year. It’s not strictly an American problem. Globally, about one third of food produced ends up as waste - about 1.3 billion tons of food every year. Sadly, over 97% of wasted food ends up in landfills where it breaks down anaerobically and produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than CO2.

That’s a lot to take in.

Especially when we consider that in the US, 1 in every 7 people doesn’t have enough food to eat. Or that for children, it’s worse - 1 out of every 5 American children is experiencing hunger.

Food waste is expensive. In 2008, the EPA estimated that 1.3 billion dollars were spent simply disposing of wasted food. And then there’s the environmental cost. Annually, 817 million tons of food are shipped around the planet, with a staggering carbon footprint. On average, processed food travels 1,300 miles to reach its destination.

This is not sustainable. No matter how you look at it, we really can’t afford to be wasting all this food. Not from a monetary perspective, not from an environmental perspective, not from a humanitarian perspective.

Over the past several years, I’ve observed a refreshing return to the idea of wasting less, especially when it comes to animals used for food. The rising popularity of bone broth has inspired many to use ingredients that would otherwise be wasted - chicken feet and spent bones. Increasing awareness about healthy fats and the value of a traditional diet has helped ingredients like leaf lard, pig’s ears, and organ meats return to the kitchen. These practices aren’t necessarily mainstream, but it’s a start.

It strikes me that we don’t often apply the same logic to vegetables. How quickly we peel and trim and toss away. There’s the part of the vegetable that we aim to eat, and then there are “scraps.” Yet in that delicate process of transformation from seed to plant, there’s no “scrap” involved. The roots that draw in nourishment from the soil, the leaves that quietly convert the sun’s energy. Each variety of plant functioning in its own specialized and miraculous way - prickly vines and vibrant flowers and symbiosis with neighboring plants - a hard won evolutionary battle of endless refined sophistication. I think about the hours and energy that are poured into these plants. The careful preparation of soil. The pulling of weeds. The sunlight and rain, and the human efforts to correct for too much or too little. Harvesting. The dirt that cakes under fingernails, the sun that beats down on workers in fields, the calluses that form on hands. And yet it’s easy to look at a bunch of carrots with their feathery green tops and see only carrots.

We can resist what we’ve been taught. Because I think that’s what happens, whether it’s intentional or not, when we walk into a grocery store and see a beautiful display of carefully uniform carrots stacked neatly under those fluorescent lights: we’re taught - these are carrots. Removed from the farm, tops neatly trimmed away, every last speck of soil, power washed away. All that life evidence, surgically removed. We forget about the farm. The crumbly earth. The callused hands. The function of the greens. And while I’m sure this forgetfulness serves a purpose, it’s not a purpose I want to participate in. I want to resist this sanitized notion of food and return to the slow paced reality where carrots grow in soil and photosynthesis converts energy from the sun. I want to honor the cycle of life and the intermingling of human effort in the same way we honor an animal when striving to use all the parts. I want to be mindful of the true cost of food waste and “scraps” - the methane, the hunger, the question of sustainability.

Next week, I’ll be posting suggestions for maximizing each individual vegetable as fully as possible, with comprehensive ideas for making use of everything from kale stems to watermelon seeds to onion peels. In the meantime, I’m offering a broader list of ways to cut down on food waste (including food “scraps” because those count as waste too).

What methods will work at your house?

 

Actions to Cut Down on Food Waste

Compost - You can easily create a compost pile at home for next to no-cost. When done correctly, compost doesn’t smell or attract unwanted pests or animals. Check out these easy, low-cost DIY options, or search online for dozens more ideas. Another practical way to compost is using an indoor worm bin. I’ve had this one for ten years, and I love it. It sits quietly (and non-smelly) in my pantry, and a few times a year I harvest the compost for my garden.

Share with chickens - If you have chickens, feeding them kitchen scraps is a great way to stretch your food further while cutting down on chicken feed. Be sure to learn what scraps are appropriate for chickens and what ones to avoid. If you have a neighbor with chickens (or pigs), see if they’d be interested in kitchen scraps to help offset their food costs.

Make stock - Whenever possible, save scraps for vegetable or bone broth. I keep a container in my freezer where I store onion and garlic peels, trimmings from most vegetables, corn cobs, etc. When I’m ready to make stock I have a constant ready supply, which means I don’t have to sacrifice things like whole fresh carrots and celery. Read this to learn more about what vegetables and trimmings to use, and which to avoid.

Eat the peels - Before reaching for your vegetable peeler, ask yourself if whatever you’re preparing really needs to be peeled. Whenever possible, I wash my vegetables well and keep the skins intact. Skins contain important fiber as well as vital nutrients that are lost when they are removed. Carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, parsnips, young beets and turnips, potatoes...all of these are vegetables with yummy, edible skins that you may want to think twice before removing.

Make your own veggie powder - If you have a food dehydrator and food processor, you can easily make your own vegetable powders from scraps. Make a homemade greens powder for adding to smoothies by dehydrating leftover kale, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, celery, chard, etc. and putting the dried bits through the food processor. Alternatively, you can make a veggie powder to use as a seasoning in soups, casseroles, etc. by saving onion, garlic, carrot, and celery scraps to dehydrate and pulverize.

Add more vegetables to your dishes - Whenever you’re cooking, consider whether a few more vegetables could be thrown in. Scrambled eggs, soups, stews, meatloaf, casseroles, rice and beans, tacos, burritos, and skillet meals can all easily accommodate the addition of either finely chopped or grated vegetables.

Freeze leftovers - If you find it hard to use leftovers in your refrigerator, try storing them in single serving containers in the freezer. Be sure to date and label them to increase the odds that you’ll actually end up eating them. Take these leftovers for lunches, use them on nights when you’re too tired to cook, or keep them as a backup for when somebody doesn’t like what’s for dinner.

Easily find recipes that use the ingredients you have on hand - Sometimes we just need a little help figuring out how to use what’s on hand. Supercook.com and Love Food Hate Waste both offer tools that allow you to input ingredients you have in the kitchen to find recipes that will use them up.

***

Recent estimates are that the average family can save over $500 per year by cutting down on food waste. Which methods will you try?  

 

 

I drew information from several great resources to put this post together. For those interested in reading more about food waste and its implications for our planet, here are my sources:

http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/

http://www.endfoodwastenow.org/index.php/resources/facts

http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Potatoes

As a family that works hard to eat seasonally, we tend to get pretty excited when summer vegetable season arrives. We can’t get enough leafy greens and things that crunch. Every spring, I am awed by the way that seasonal eating creates balance as we emerge from the days of root vegetables with tremendous appreciation and appetites for the fresh, crisp tastes and textures of summer. I am always amazed by the sheer number of vegetables that my family can go through in a week’s time - kids and grown ups alike. It’s anecdotal evidence, but in this house it seems seasonal eating increases our vegetable consumption by allowing us to fully appreciate the foods available during each fleeting season. People are often surprised to learn that our family has a full veggie share in addition to a large garden, and while we do give a lot of garden vegetables away to friends, family, and our local food pantry, we are also able to do a surprisingly good job of keeping up just through the meals and snacks that we eat.

 

I was thinking about this the other day when I stumbled upon an article that caught me by surprise. The article was looking at how the vegetable intake of Americans stacks up against the USDA’s recommendation of 2.5-3 vegetable servings per day.  Although I expected that many Americans may not be eating enough vegetables, I was surprised to learn that the vast majority - 87% of American adults - do not eat enough vegetables each day. On top of that startling statistic is the fact that almost 50% of the vegetables available in the United States are potatoes and tomatoes - most often consumed in the form of french fries, potato chips, ketchup, and pizza sauce. Not only are we not eating enough vegetables, we’re not eating enough of the right vegetables needed to help fight off cancer, heart disease, diabetes and myriad other ailments that vegetables help fight against.

 

The problem is further complicated by the fact that most vegetables, especially the ones we really need like leafy greens and orange peppers and variety in general,  aren’t subsidized by the government the same way that some crops, such as corn and potatoes, are. So prices for many of the good things we need are higher, which feeds into the fact that demand for these items are lower. It’s swiss chard competing against potato chips.

 

I very much recognize that the way my family eats is a privilege. It’s a privilege that we have access to a wonderful CSA and land for a garden. It’s a privilege that we can afford good food and gardening supplies and that we have time available to produce nourishing meals. It’s a privilege that my children are willing eaters who happily ask for “more greens please!” and not just at dinner, but often at breakfast and lunch too. And all of this privilege, while I’m immensely grateful, is a terribly sad reminder of all that is wrong with the food supply in our country, because I’m pretty sure the USDA guidelines were never meant to be a set of instructions for the privileged few.

 

These are some sobering thoughts. When you look at the math, and I’ll round down since many families have young children (the dietary guidelines don’t hit 3 cups per day until the teen years), using a desired portion of just two cups of vegetables per day means that a family of four needs to purchase, prepare, and consume a whopping 56 cups of vegetables per week. While our society may have a long way to go, I try to use this information as a guidepost to help inform my own behavior as a consumer. I remember when I first started buying my own food in college. Organics were just becoming a thing that the mainstream knew about. I did most of my shopping in the tiny health food store not far from campus, and paid exorbitant prices for my food. Venturing into the big box grocery stores with their low prices and large selections, organics were nowhere to be found. I remember the first time I saw organic tomato sauce on the shelf at Hannaford. It was some major brand, maybe Hunts or Ragu. I was ecstatic. I felt powerful. My buying choices felt like they mattered. And while I’m aware that there are issues with major brands taking on organics and the way the organics trend has played out with processed foods etc., in that moment, seeing that jar of organic tomato sauce on the shelf at Hannaford, all I saw was progress and the power of consumer voice.

 

I may be an idealist, but I still believe in that power. Our consumer dollars hold influence. When we use them to buy potato chips at the grocery store, we influence the market. When we take our dollars away from the grocery store and buy organic swiss chard from a local farmer, we influence the market. I also believe in our children’s ability to help change and shape the world. Studies show that offering children a variety of fruits and vegetables early on in life makes a difference. It is why I put certain things on my children’s plate over and over again even if I know they may not actually eat that item. Repeated exposure takes the weirdness out. Sauerkraut goes from “that funny smelling stuff” to “what we eat with most meals.” This practice is why my daughter said to me yesterday, “I don’t want cereal for breakfast. I want cabbage.”

 

The CSA is a beautiful thing because it creates the convergence of family and farm. My children love going to visit the farm and talking about all that goes into producing our food. Just as we consumers influence the market with our buying choices and the food we feed our families, farms like Brookford are bravely swimming upstream to protect our food supply and go up against potato chips to make sure we also have swiss chard to eat. Farming in this way doesn’t make anybody rich. Farming in this way is a sacrifice of time and money that helps to shape our country's food supply, helps to bring us back into balance. It is long days and expensive equipment and patience and planning and work that is never finished. When I think about food privilege, I think about the privilege of having a farm that is out there very literally sowing the seeds of the future to make sure that we consumers have access to more than just potatoes and tomatoes. We are incredibly indebted to the sacrifices of our farmers. Whether we see it or think about it, we are as influenced by the dedication and perseverance of our farmers as we are by things like clean air and safe drinking water.

 

If you haven’t been out to the farm before, consider making the trip. Brookford welcomes visitors to tour the farm and see all that is happening there. We are in this together, farmer and consumer. Our choices, large and small, converge to shape our world and the future for our children. The things we do matter. It’s time to get out there, and eat those veggies. All 21 cups that the USDA says you should be eating this week.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The Cheese Guide!

If you've had a dairy share for a while, I know you can relate. It's time to enter your dairy order, and yet...gah! It's hard to narrow it down to just three selections. I've been there so many times, in fact, that now my family is a two-dairy-share family, and each week we get six credits to use. This helps. It means we can have milk for drinking, kefir for smoothie making, butter for everything, blue cheese to feed my addiction, cheddar for dinners, and yogurt for quick breakfasts. But it also means we still have to choose what to go without - because with all the good options out there, narrowing it down is somehow still tricky. And it's really the cheese that makes this so hard. Perhaps because each time I think I've figured out the perfect weekly order, it seems there is a new cheese offering that comes available and makes it all tricky once more. In light of all the fabulous new cheese offerings, I thought it was time for a Brookford cheese-guide. Covered here is a general description of each cheese, whether or not the kids will like it, and how well it will melt to cover your food in gooey goodness. Go forth and try them all!

 

Raw Cheddar - This is a cheddar that all cheddar-lovers must try. It is at once mild and rich, sweet and tangy, creamy and slightly dry. This is a classic that my family has loved for years. The texture is perfect for shaving over toast, stews, vegetables, or eggs, but it is also satisfying as a snack all on its own. It remains the staple cheese in my kitchen.

Will the kids eat it? Most will. This cheddar is approachable and not too sharp. It does have a nice depth of flavor, so picky eaters may resist.

Is it meltable? Yes. We eat it both ways, depending on what we’re cooking.

 

Smoked Cheddar - In my house, we call this bacon-cheese. There is no bacon in it, but it is smoked in sweet hickory at the Green Mountain Smokehouse, and to my kids, smoked = bacon. It’s definitely my children’s favorite of all the Brookford cheeses, but the grown ups around here love it too. It’s smoky, slightly salty, nutty, and a little bit sweet. It always disappears too quickly from the refrigerator.

Will the kids eat it? Yes. You may find yourself fighting them for it.

Is it meltable? Yes, and totally worth the trouble of delaying dinner by a few minutes to shred some of this onto...everything.

 

Gouda - Gouda is a Dutch yellow cheese named after the city of Gouda in the Netherlands where it was originally traded. Gouda has been in production since 1184, and for good reason. Brookford’s gouda is mild, with a slight fruity sweetness and balanced nuttiness.

Will the kids eat it? Most will. Its mild sweetness will appeal to most palates.

Is it meltable? Yes. It’s especially good melted.

 

Feta - Brookford’s feta is a standout amongst its kind. Made with cow’s milk, rather than the traditional sheep’s milk, Brookford feta maintains the variety’s traditional crumble while adding some extra creaminess and depth of flavor.

Will the kids eat it? You may want to save this one for the adults. The crumbly texture, paired with the tangy flavor profile, may not sit as well with younger palates.

Is it meltable? Not really, though it will soften when heated. It’s so delicious crumbled over salad, though, that it won’t stick around long enough for melting to ever enter your mind.

 

Brie - I am a lover of brie, my husband is not...and yet we both enjoy Brookford’s brie. Brookford brie is milder than many, and while it is very creamy, it holds its shape well enough to be sliced and enjoyed on its own.

Will the kids eat it? Many will - and probably far more willingly than other, “stinkier” bries.

Is it meltable? Yes, while it won’t form strings like some melted cheeses, it will become softer and gooier - and even more delicious - with heating.

 

Camembert - This is Brookford’s one dairy selection that calls for two dairy credits, due to its more intensive production process. Brookford’s camembert is made in smaller rounds than the brie and offers a fuller, more complex flavor profile.

Will the kids eat it? Similar to the brie, here. Many will like it. It’s a great mild cheese for aspiring foodies.

Is it meltable? Once again, like the Brie, it will get softer and gooier with heating. We love to wrap this in puff pastry before popping it into the oven.

 

Cottage Cheese - If you’re a cottage cheese fan and haven’t tried this yet, you’re missing out. Other cottage cheese will taste salty and watery compared to Brookford’s creamy, milky, perfectly tangy offering. This is a personal favorite of mine that I try to hide in the back of the fridge. I love a scoop of it on my salad plate.

Will the kids eat it? If they like cottage cheese, yes.

Is it meltable? Most folks don’t melt their cottage cheese, but yes, it will soften if you heat it, and yes, it is delicious. I like to use cottage cheese in place of ricotta in lasagna. (Shhhh! Don’t tell the purists!).

 

Quark - For those who aren’t familiar, quark is a fresh farmer’s cheese. Similar to ricotta or cream cheese, quark is a lot of fun to cook with. It is also delicious spread on toast, bagels, sandwiches, and crackers. Brookford offers three varieties: plain, horseradish, and garlic and dill.

Will the kids eat it? Absolutely, if you prepare it in the right way. Because it is SO versatile for cooking, quark can be used to make everything from dessert to quiche. Many kids will also enjoy it “as-is,” spread on crackers or toast.

Is it meltable? Not in the traditional sense, but once again, it will soften when melted, and is very adaptable to a variety of recipes.

 

Shades of Blue - Brookford’s blue cheese is my absolute favorite. Where many blue cheeses are so crumbly that they cannot be sliced, Brookford’s Shades of Blue has a creamy, sliceable texture. It melts beautifully, has a very well balanced flavor profile, and comes in nice big wedges that disappear far more quickly than I would ever imagine possible. It is both tangy and nutty, without going so far as to become sharp. If you even remotely like blue cheese, you must try this one. I melt a slab of it onto everything I can remotely justify melting it on. My current favorite way to enjoy it, though, is tossed into a bowl of sauteed cabbage. A little Maldon salt sprinkled on top and a drizzle of olive oil, some tiny bits of bacon, and a more perfect bowl has never existed.

Will the kids eat it? This one’s probably for a more mature palate, although mine will eat it in small quantities mixed with or melted on other food. But honestly, I try not to share this with my kids. ;)

Is it meltable? Totally. Ooey, gooey, melty and perfect.

 

Maasdam - I had never heard of Maasdam before the farm started offering it. Maasdam is a Swiss-style Dutch cheese that forms internal holes during the ripening process. Brookford’s Maasdam is a mild cheese with a sweet, slightly pungent, nutty flavor. It is similar to other swiss cheeses and could be used in any recipe calling for swiss, keeping in mind it is less sharp than many swiss options. I really enjoy it sliced on its own, alongside a glass of white wine and some fruit, but it’s equally delicious melted.

Will the kids eat it? Likely, especially if it’s melted. Kiddos who prefer their food bland may find this too sharp.

Is it meltable? Definitely.

 

Clothbound Cheddar - This is a really exciting addition to the Brookford cheese lineup. It is a traditionally aged cheddar that has been swaddled in cheesecloth and aged for over six months. It has a wonderfully dry texture and rich, complex flavor. My favorite thing about the clothbound cheddar is that it has those delicious little calcium lactate crystals that sometimes form in nicely aged cheese. I love the satisfying juxtaposition of a gentle gritty crunch amid the creamy and crumbly texture. It is a delicious addition to any cheese platter.

Will the kids eat it? Yes, if they like cheddar and sharp flavors. Mine like it...though perhaps not as much as my cat. True story. And no, I didn’t share this delicious option willingly - our cat is rather persistent.

Is it meltable? Probably, but why would you mess with perfection? This is a cheese to enjoy as-is. Unless you’re shaving it over lobster mac and cheese.

 

Raw Jalepeno Cheddar - Made with organic peppers, this is a really fun and fresh option among the newer offerings. This cheese doesn’t lose the rich cheddary flavor when the peppers are mixed in. While it’s not overly spicy, the flavor of the peppers is full and lively. It’s great on its own or for cooking. Try it melted on eggs with a little salsa on the side.

Will the kids eat it? Probably. The pepper flavor, while not spicy, may be too intense for young palates - but when melted, it’s a whole different ballgame.

Is it meltable? Yes. I do love this cheese either way, but melted is my preference.

 

CSA in the Workplace - An Interview with Molly McKean

The partner distributor program offered through Brookford Farm is undoubtedly one of the coolest CSA formats I've seen. I love the organic nature of CSA sites - ranging from private homes to Crossfit gyms to farmers markets to places of business. It's a brilliant and efficient way to synergistically help local food reach more people. But there's one CSA situation that's especially noteworthy: the town of Salem, NH, where a portion of their employee wellness benefit is used to purchase fresh vegetables for employees. I recently had the opportunity to interview Molly McKean, Human Resources Director for the Town of Salem, and learn more about their program.

AP(That's me): Tell me about the CSA program for your town. How did it get started? How did the idea come to be?

MM (Molly McKean): The CSA program started in Salem when Jane Lang, of the Salem Farmers Market, asked me if employees might be interested in buying CSA shares.  We thought it was a cool idea, and ended up talking about it with our health insurer, Cigna. They offered to let us use funds set aside for employee wellness to purchase shares to provide to employees and we decided to run with it.

AP: So how exactly does the wellness benefit work? Is it a benefit that most employers have, and something that other employers could easily implement in the same way? I'm curious how other companies might be putting their wellness benefit to use, or if it is something that tends to be underutilized?

MM: Our Wellness benefit is a specific amount of money set aside by Cigna for Wellness initiatives.  We partner with them to decide what to do over the course of a year. Examples of initiatives include the CSA (of course!) and onsite Biometric Screening Clinics, seminars, employee incentives and educational programs.

AP: How many vegetable shares do you purchase with the benefit? How many employees do the shares provide food for?

MM: We started out with 6, and we spread them around to different departments.  The only complaint was that there wasn’t enough, so now we are up to 12 shares.  We have over 200 employees, so employees are not generally getting a huge amount of food, but they are able to sample and try new things, or take home enough to serve with dinner that night.

AP: How are the shares split up among employees? Has it taken trial and error to find a system that works?  

MM: I’ve been pleasantly surprised that we haven’t had any veggie fights yet!  We distribute the boxes to different departments (Police, Fire, Water, Library, Highway, Senior Center and Town Hall), and employees come take what they want.  Our Fire Department cooks meals onsite, so most of their three boxes get used during that week.  In other departments, employees take things home. People are good about not taking too much, and also good about checking back at the end of the day to make sure there are no “straggler” vegetables left behind.  If we end up with extra, we usually take it over to the Fire Department – there are some good cooks over there, and they make smoothies with leftover kale.

AP: How have employees reacted to the program?

MM: They really like it. It is a fun thing to see what is in the boxes, but it doesn’t take a lot of time away from work, and they get to try things they might not buy for themselves. Sometimes we spend some time trying to figure out what things are.  The ramps and kohlrabi provided some entertainment.  The most popular items are strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and basil.

AP: Have there been any unexpected results from implementing this program?  

MM: One of our Selectmen, Everett McBride, shared his Kale Salad recipe, and it got a lot of rave reviews! (See below for recipe)

AP: I host a CSA pickup site at my house, and always enjoy talking to people about the new foods they discover through the CSA. Has this program prompted people to try new foods, share recipes, become more interested in eating locally/seasonally, etc?  

MM: Definitely.  Many employees live locally, and so they go to the Salem Farmers Market to buy things from the farm there.  People talk about what they did with last week’s veggies, and when tomatoes are in season, everyone is in a really great mood!

AP: Anything else you'd like to share about the program?  

MM: I love this program.  It has been a lot of fun to provide a little perk to employees that can positively impact their health.  I like that it engages us with our community and with supporting a New Hampshire farm.  We are really happy with it, and I’d recommend it to any workplace as a fun and healthy morale booster.

***

If you are an employer that would like to offer a similar program at your place of work, please let the farm know! And if you're an employee who wishes your employer would bring in some fresh, local food for employees, share this post with them!

 

 

 

 

 

Customizing Your Share

As the years have passed, Brookford has worked to carefully listen and respond to customer feedback. As I was signing up for my own summer share recently, I was thinking about how cool it is that families can pick and choose from such a huge variety of options to develop a local and seasonal eating plan that fits their lifestyle. In hosting a pickup site over the past few years, I’ve found that customers don’t take advantage of this option as much as I would expect, so I thought it might be helpful to spend a minute breaking it down.

 

 

The way it works is this: each customer must choose at least one base share. You are not limited to one base share, you simply need to order a minimum of one base share in order to participate in the CSA.

 

Available base shares are:

 

Whole Diet Base Share: Every week (for the five months of the session) you will receive 3 dairy items of your choosing, 1 dozen eggs, 1 loaf of bread, and a large box of organic vegetables. Each month (for the five months of the session) you will receive approximately 6 pounds of pork, 6 pounds of beef, and 2 broilers.

 

Meat Base Share: Every month for five months, you will receive approximately 6 pounds of pork, 6 pounds of beef, and 2 broilers.

 

Vegetable Base Share: Every week for five months, you will receive a large box (full veggie base share) or 1 small box (half veggie base share) of organic vegetables.

 

After choosing at least one base share, you have the option of adding on as many add-on shares as you would like. This is optional. You can pick and choose what you want to include.

 

Available add-on shares are:

 

Beef - approx. 6lbs/month for 5 months

Pork - approx. 6lbs/month for 5 months

Eggs - one dozen per week

Bread - one loaf per week

Peak season veggies - A half-veggie share for the last twelve weeks of the session

Artisanal cheese - Two artisanal cheese offerings each week, for either 12 or 20 weeks (you choose)

Dairy - three dairy choices per week for 5 months

Maple syrup - 1 quart per month for 5 months

Broilers - 2 broilers per month for 5 months

 

Let’s take a look at the wide variety of shares that various customers might order, as a way of highlighting how easy it is to adapt the CSA to your particular eating habits.

 

Household 1:

This is a family of six with no dietary restrictions. They eat a lot of vegetables, do not have a garden, and prefer to source as much food as possible from local sources. They decide to purchase:

    1 base whole diet share

    1 add-on dairy share

    1 add-on bread share

    1 add-on pork share

 

Household 2:

This is a two adult household with no children that follows a paleo diet. They decide to purchase:

1 base half veggie share

1 base meat share

1 add-on egg shares

 

Household 3:

This is a vegetarian family of four that consumes eggs and dairy. They decide to purchase:

1 base full veggie share

2 add-on egg shares

1 add-on dairy share

1 add-on bread share


Whether your household is big or small, vegetarian, paleo, just big eaters in general, vegan, gourmet, or gluten-free, there is a share combination that can make it easy (and delicious!) to feed your family local, seasonal food. Have fun mixing and matching to come up with the perfect fit for your lifestyle! The summer session starts June 6th - be sure to sign up soon: http://www.brookfordfarm.com/register/.

Don't Be Afraid of Your Kitchen: Adapting Recipes

I love recipes. I read and re-read cookbooks more often than I do my favorite novels, which is saying something. I’ve probably read Wuthering Heights five times...and Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors somewhere near fifty five times. Reading recipes has value far beyond meal making. Sure, you can read a recipe and create it in your kitchen. But reading recipes also helps home cooks to get new ideas about herb and spice combinations, vegetable pairings, and methods for handling ingredients. Perhaps most importantly, reading recipes can help you to develop a signature cooking style, and then branch out when the time comes for more growth. I often flip through my cookbooks (or Google) simply to get new ideas for using the ingredients I have on hand. 

Here’s the thing about recipes, though. If you meal plan using recipes, and especially if you use a wide variety of recipes, your shopping list can get really long really, really quickly. It seems the more foodie-ish a recipe is, the more likely it is to call for ingredients that aren’t pantry staples for most home chefs. The ingredient list can sometimes turn recipe hunting into a tedious chore rather than an enjoyable pastime, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With Brookford’s large variety of products available, it’s actually quite easy to apply a little know-how and adapt most recipes for ingredients you can get through your CSA share. In that spirit, I’ve put together a cheat sheet for adapting recipes to work with ingredients you can easily source from Brookford’s offerings. I may do this again at some point, because there are SO many ways to adapt recipes. For today, I’m covering fat, dairy, and vegetable swap outs.

FATS

Not all fats are interchangeable. For example, if you’re making a salad dressing and the recipe calls for olive oil, you will not have success using lard in its place. That said, if you’re cooking the fat, you have far more options for substituting ingredients. There are five fats that you can source from your CSA share: lard, butter, bacon fat, tallow, chicken fat. (The easiest way to prepare chicken fat or beef fat for use in recipes is to make stock, let it cool, and then remove the solidified fat from the top of the container).

DAIRY

There are SO many ways to swap out dairy products, and certainly more than I can concisely mention here. I’ve included substitutes for some ingredients that Brookford does produce because there are times when you may not have that particular item on hand, and where another Brookford product could work really well instead. This list serves as a starting point to help you get started.

VEGETABLES

Like dairy, this list is only a small representation of the versatile nature of vegetables and how they can be swapped out in recipes. Honestly, almost any vegetable can stand in for any other vegetable in most recipes. Many of the vegetables listed are produced by Brookford farm, but since they aren’t all available in all seasons, I thought it might be helpful to show how other seasonal varieties can stand in when needed. Use what is local and available, and be adventurous.

A few final thoughts. I often find and use recipes that call for ingredients that are listed based on outdated nutrition advice and/or the factory farmed quality of the typical American diet. I don’t shy away from using these recipes, rather, I have a few basic substitutions that I make nearly 100% of the time. To make all of your cooking healthier for you (and for the planet), you may want to adopt the following general rules in your kitchen:

Also helpful to know is that most nuts can replace each other pretty easily, same goes for seeds. The same principle applies to most beans, and many herbs. That being said, swapping out ingredients WILL change a recipe. That’s okay. There’s a difference between changing a recipe to fit what you have on hand and ruining a recipe. Knowing how to substitute ingredients means that the recipes you find become foundations to build from rather than rigid blueprints. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. For me, this skillset takes the stress out of cooking and makes it a more enjoyable and creative process. You cannot live without food. Might as well make it fun!

 

How to Cook a Stewing Hen (and why you should!)

The first time I ever cooked a stewing hen, I grabbed it out of the freezer thinking it was a broiler. I prepped it in my usual way and tucked it into the oven. When dinnertime came, I was confused and disappointed. Our typical tender, juicy chicken was nowhere to be found. Instead, we had a sad looking bird, covered in tough, dry meat that was reminiscent of rubbery cardboard. Once I realized what had happened, it all made sense.

 

 

Treating a stewing hen the same as you would a broiler will almost always lead to disastrous results - yet it can seem like a tempting option if you’ve never experienced the end product. Stewing hens are far less expensive than their younger counterparts, and they don’t look all that different to the untrained eye. For novice cooks especially, it’s easy to convince oneself that with just the right touch, a roasted stewing hen just might work. Let me be clear: it won’t. It really, really won’t.

 

The thing is, stewing hens are an amazing ingredient to work with, and they deserve their own rightful spotlight fully separated from the accolades of their roasting pan-worthy counterparts. It’s a matter of knowing what you’re working with, why it’s important, and how to treat one. Let’s take a look.

 

The WHAT: A stewing hen is a retired egg layer. Stewing hens are an important component for honoring the life cycle of a farm. After several happy years eating grass and bugs, a hen’s egg laying ability naturally slows down, and she’s no longer a productive member of the flock. In order to keep up with the demand for eggs, farms must cull these older hens in order to make space for new layers. Butchering and selling these hens provides a revenue source for farms and allows the hen to continue to provide nourishment, this time in the form of high quality, pastured meat.

 

The WHY: At Brookford Farm, the diets of egg laying hens are supplemented with organic, soy-free food. This food, paired with the green pasture grasses and insects that the hens naturally forage on, creates a bird that has lived a full life of optimum nutrition. Unlike broilers that are raised for meat and fattened relatively quickly, stewing hens have the opportunity to develop very strong bones, and strong, lean muscles. These bones are incredibly mineral rich, and the fat from these hens is full of fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients. Because of their rich nutritional content, stewing hens make excellent stock. A stewing hen’s lean meat contains a high level of connective tissue, which works wonderfully for slow cooked dishes such as stew, soup, and chicken and dumplings.

 

The HOW: Stewing hens are very lean and contain a lot of connective tissue which must be broken down through low, slow cooking. You can cook a stewing hen on the stovetop in a large pot of simmering water for several hours, or, as many cooks prefer, you can use the crockpot. The main difference between methods is that the stovetop will create a more concentrated stock, as the water evaporates out during cooking. The crockpot will typically create a large batch of less concentrated stock. Because it is easier to control the temperature and maintain a low simmer in a crockpot, many cooks prefer that option. It also provides a safer option for cooking your stewing hen for extended periods of time, such as overnight, or times when you may be out of the house during the day.

 

For either method, you begin by placing the stewing hen in the pot along with vegetables and herbs of your choosing. Whenever possible, I use vegetable scraps for this, rather than vegetables I might otherwise want to eat (they will be discarded at the end). Good vegetable scraps to use are carrot tops and peelings, celery leaves and trimmings, onion, leek, scallion, or garlic trimmings, parsley leaves and stems - really the sky's the limit. For herbs and spices, I like to add two bay leaves, several peppercorns, and a little thyme. Add about two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and fill the pot with water. (The vinegar helps to release the minerals from the bones.) Turn the heat to low and slowly bring to a simmer. Maintain the simmer for as long as needed. After a while, the meat will tenderize and begin to fall off the bones. Generally, 4 hours is the minimum simmer time, and 24 hours is the max.

 

Remove the chicken carcass and attached meat from the pot and set it in a bowl to cool. Strain the broth into a bowl or other container(s) for storage. (It’s typically easier to do this once it has had some time to cool). If you’ve simmered your hen for a very long time, you will likely have a good deal of meat in the strainer - pick that out and save it to use. Once the carcass has cooled, remove all of the meat for use in stews, soups, tacos, casseroles, chicken salad...really anything that you would use cooked and shredded chicken for. Some people save the carcass to add to their next batch of stock. You can keep recycling bones in this way until they crumble; you will have better results with this if you always add some “new” bones along with the old. Note that the cooled broth will likely develop a layer of bright yellow fat on top. This will solidify when refrigerated. Don’t throw this fat away! As a solid layer over the broth, it will help it to keep for longer in the fridge. It is also full of healthy vitamins and nutrients that you want to eat. You can choose to mix it into the broth when eating it, or scoop it off to use in the same way you would use any other cooking oil or fat.


It’s really a very easy and rewarding process, and one that is definitely worth learning. While stewing hens are decidedly NOT for roasting, they are a wonderful way to honor the life of an animal by using the whole body: the meat, the broth, the fat, and the bones.

DIPS!

A couple weeks ago, I posted some ideas for snacking using ingredients from your CSA share. This week, I wanted to continue on that thread by focusing on the ever versatile dip. Many of the dairy choices offered by Brookford Farm make fantastic bases for dips both sweet and savory: kefir, yogurt, Greek yogurt, and sour cream will all work. Dips are a great way to get kids to eat vegetables they might otherwise shy away from. Toddlers, in particular, often love dippers and might surprise you by their willingness to eat all things crunchy when given the opportunity.

There are lots of recipes out there for all kinds of dairy based dips. Here, I’ll share some general guidelines to help you become a pro.

 

  • Generally speaking, Greek yogurt and sour cream can be used “as is.” Kefir and regular yogurt benefit from thickening before use in dips. This is really very easy. It requires a fine mesh strainer and a coffee filter or thin piece of fabric. Place the strainer over a bowl, and place the coffee filter or fabric in the strainer. Pour the kefir or yogurt into the lined strainer, and place the bowl (with strainer inside) into the fridge. The whey will drip into the bowl, leaving you with a thicker product in the strainer. Leave the bowl in the fridge as long as it takes to reach the desired consistency (typically anywhere from 3-12 hours).
  • For most dip recipes, yogurt, greek yogurt, and kefir can be used interchangeably. It’s the add in ingredients that will determine the flavor of your final product, so it’s okay to use what’s on hand.

  • Get creative with dippers. Raw fruit and veggies are great for dipping. Crackers, meat cubes, breadsticks, chips, homemade veggie chips, and toast also work really well.

  • Feel free to be adventurous with add-ins. Beans, herbs, many fruits and vegetables, and several cheeses are very, very happy to mix with yogurt (or kefir, or sour cream) and become dip. A few recipes to get you started: this yogurt and chickpea dip, and this avocado and cumin dip.

  • Remember that herbs and spices are the ticket to versatility. Try cumin and chili powder, sauteed garlic with dill, cinnamon and nutmeg, or lemon and oregano. (For starters).

  • Know that you CAN make your favorites. Don’t believe me? Try this onion dip, this ranch dip, or this horseradish dip, and then we’ll talk! ;)