Follow Your Food: Spring Latkes

Memorial Day is the unofficial marker of our transition from Spring into Summer. Now the sun rises early and sets late, giving plants longer hours of solar radiation for photosynthesis and metabolism. The increased photon energy provided by longer days allows for greater glucose sugar production. Naturally, as the plant makes more sugar, it must be allocated for storage. So, to keep up with energy production, the roots of certain species develop to accommodate the glut of glucose and store it as a carbohydrate. Over time this storage unit becomes a viable food crop, which we all enjoy in the form of a carrot or a beet. This trait to store increased energy is not ubiquitous among all species. Normally, it is either something represented in perennial plants, who must survive for a number of years or has been cultivated in annual plants from years of farming. Most plants would prefer to allocate available resources directly towards reproduction and setting a flower head. Eventually the fertilized flower develops into a fruiting body to provide life to a new generation, or to a hungry table. This requires an immense amount of energy, and if the plant has not met a critical mass of photosynthetic capacity, reproduction can stress a plant. So, it is critical that the season is right and the days are long to plant a fruiting crop. As Spring is to green, summer is to color; that color is derived by new growth in root and fruit crops. This week we saw an example the shape and color of early summer food with fresh Zucchini and Carrots.

Fortunately, for most, the introduction to summer is met with an extended weekend. I know how I will spend these long days ahead; sharing food and late afternoon memories with friends to grow our roots deeper.

This is an amended recipe to one I found online for some vegetable latkes (or fritters, whatever you prefer). I must say, this is an easy and delicious way to use seasonal produce, and nothing but seasonal produce. If you go online, there are a lot of iterations of this meal. I went with what worked best for the materials I had on hand. Find what works best for you. But here is a little kick to get you on your way…

Ingredients to serve 4 Latkes:

  • 2 small Zucchini, shredded (Groundwork Organics)
  • 3-4 medium Carrots, peeled and shredded (Organic Redneck)
  • 1 medium Potato, boiled and mashed (Rainshadow Organics)
  • 2 cloves of Garlic, minced (Groundwork Organics)
  • 1 Green Onion, chopped (Cinco Estrellas)
  • 1/4 tsp thyme (Sagestruck Herbary)
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (Rainshadow Organics)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika, or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or both!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Half & Half

Cooking instructions:

  1. Begin by prepping your zucchini and carrots by shredding with a large-holed cheese grader. If you are like me and lack this piece of equipment, this can be done with some dextrous knife work. Transfer veggies to a collander, add the salt and mix. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so.
  2. Add the potato to water and boil until soft all of the way through. This can be accomplished more quickly if the potato is quartered beforehand. Remove potato to a bowl, add the half & half and mash.
  3. Add the Flour and Baking powder to a separate bowl and mix.
  4. Squeeze the veggies dry, using either just your hands or a cheesecloth, and transfer to a bowl. Add the Garlic, Paprika, Cayenne and Thyme. Mix together. Now add the mashed up potato, mix. Lastly, add the flour/baking powder and mix.
  5. Once mixed, grab a medium sized handful and pack into a ball, repeat 3 times. Place the uncooked latkes on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes so that they hold form better while cooking.
  6. Heat up 2 Tbsp of oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add the packed latkes. Cook for 3-5 minutes and turn. They should be slightly charred and crisp when flipped. Cook for another 3-5 minutes. Fin!

I did not have the ingredients at my disposal to make an adequate sauce for serving, but these would be amazing served with a yogurt based side. Perhaps yogurt, cucumber and lemon.

This was so easy, so good, and almost 100% local, that it may just become a staple in my diet.

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Follow Your Food: Artichoke Soup

Artichokes in Oregon? That doesn’t sound right, but indeed it is. These artichokes are grown just outside of Eugene at Groundwork Organics, and represent a minority category of American artichokes grown outside of Southern California. The U.S is the world’s 9th largest global producer of artichokes, behind Mediterranean states like Spain, Northern Egypt, and Italy. Just about 100% of domestically grown commercial artichokes come from America’s own Chaparral climate in California’s agrarian basins. 80% of that yield is found solely in Monterey County, one of the southernmost regions in the state. So, finding regional varieties here in Oregon is a rarity, and it represents the nuanced capacity of diversified small farms.

Despite my preconceptions, I just learned that artichokes are, in fact, incredibly healthy. They are packed with plant compounds that contribute to a number of medicinal benefits. First, they are very high in antioxidants, more than most any other plant. This is thanks to the presence of bioacive compounds lutolin and apigenin, which help prevent cellular oxidation from free radical molecules. It is good that artichokes are difficult to eat raw, because the bioavailability of these compounds actually increases as the plant tissue softens from cooking. A journal of medicine, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, published a reseach study that concluded that steaming artichokes increased the antioxidant capacity 15-fold, boiling increasing up to 8-fold. Now, I don’t know about you, but I want to eat something that gets better through cooking. Aside from antioxidants, artichokes are high in phenolic compounds, which are known to help lower bad cholesterol and help fight cancerous cell mutation. Its cultivation from wild thistle to a staple food crop was a project of the Greeks, Romans and Spanish Moors. Maybe this is why some of history’s grandest empires arose from the Mediterranean coast. All hail the Ceasar of superfood!

For those who have not roasted, baked or stewed their artichokes from this past week, here is a recipe to get you jump started. It has been a grey, rainy day, reminiscent of late fall. So, to combine the feeling of Fall with the palate of Spring, here is a recipe for a hearty Artichoke soup. This was pulled from an online food blog called Shutterbean, so I make not claim to be the originator, but I certainly did enjoy it! I will say, this recipe combined perfectly with some roasted carrots from Radicle Roots.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. artichoke hearts,  roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1⁄3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges
  • chopped parsley, for serving
  • warm sourdough bread, for serving

Cooking Instructions:

Working in batches, purée 2 cups artichoke hearts with 2 cups water in a blender. Transfer puréed artichokes to a 6-qt. pot with the butter, chicken broth, garlic, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

In a small jar or bowl, whisk together cornstarch with 1⁄2 cup cold water. Vigorously whisk cornstarch mixture and heavy cream into soup. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, whisking frequently, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Strain soup through a mesh strainer into a clean pot over low heat; discard solids. Ladle soup into 6 bowls, garnish with parsley, and squeeze a lemon wedge over each. Serve with warm sourdough bread.

The recipe for the carrots is Moroccan Roasted Carrots with a Dukkah spice and yogurt sauce. The Moroccan Carrots require more complex ingredients than I traditionally aim for, so I pieced my Dukkah together with what I had available. Cook what works for you!

Ingredients

  • 8 Large Carrots, scrubbed (Radicle Roots)
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed (Groundwork Organics)
  • 1 ½ tsp. sweet paprika
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ¼ tsp. hot paprika
  • ½ tsp salt

For the Dukkah

  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • 2 Tbsp. sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp. sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp. mixed peppercorns (or just black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. fennel seeds
  • ¾ tsp coarse salt or Maldon salt

For the Yogurt Sauce

  • 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt, or plain whole milk yogurt (Flying Cow Dairy)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped mint (Sagestruck herbary)
  • 1 ½ tsp. chopped dill
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 3-5 tsp. water (for consistency

For the carrots:

1. Pre-heat oven to 400˚ F

2. Place carrots, olive oil, garlic, spices, and salt in a roasting pan and toss until the carrots are coated well.

3. Roast for 45 minutes until soft in the middle and caramelized on the outside. Turn carrots halfway through roasting time.

For the dukkah:

1. Toast almonds on a sheet pan for 3-4 minutes. You can do this in the oven while the carrots are roasting. Keep an eye on them so that they don’t burn.

2. In a small pan over medium heat, toast the sunflower seeds for 1-2 minutes and set aside.

3. In that same pan over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds and peppercorns for about 30-45 seconds until fragrant. Set aside.

4. Do the same with the sesame seeds for 45 seconds. Set aside.

5. Using a pestle and mortar, first crush the fennel seeds and peppercorns. Add the almonds and crush into small pieces. Then add the sunflower seeds and crush again. Lastly mix in the salt and sesame seeds. This can be made ahead and stored in an air-tight container for up to 3 weeks.

For the yogurt sauce:

1. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. The sauce should be runny but not too watery. Add more water if too thick or more yogurt if too thin. Taste for seasoning.

Assembly:

You can keep the carrots in the roasting dish for a rustic look, or plate them on a serving dish. Drizzle the yogurt sauce over top, sprinkle with sumac (optional), and garnish with a good amount of dukkah. You can serve the extra yogurt sauce on the side.

I do feel like I have slighted you by not using my own pictures for this blog, as the images above are from the blog writers of “Shutterbean”, for the soup, and “I Will not East Oysters” for the carrots. Kudos to their hard work! I will try to get my own shots up later.

Recipes for CSA Share: 10-22-14

The bounty of fall is here and it’s so colorful! Each one of this week’s items has its own unique flavor that can be paired wonderfully together to celebrate the start of the season. The below recipes utilize all of this week’s share items and some other basic ingredients you probably already have on hand. Some of the other linked ingredients below are available to add to your weekly order!

Roasted Root Veggies (beets, sunchokes and sweet potatoes)

A great alternative for those already tiring of fall squash, this recipe is wonderful on its own as a vegetarian dinner, or paired with a hearty oven-roasted (or slow cooker) beef brisket. You can cut your veggies to any size you prefer – just be sure that they’re all relatively the same size to cook evenly.

Ingredients

½ lb. beets (trimmed, peeled)
½ lb. sunchokes (about 6, scrubbed, no need to peel!)
½ lb. potatoes (peeled)
2 medium sized carrots (peeled)
1 ½ Tblsp. Dried rosemary
3 Tblsp. Olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Cut all veggies in to same desired size, about 1 in. diameter
  • Toss all ingredients together to evenly coat
  • Lay mixture out in one even layer on a baking sheet
  • Roast 40-45 minutes (mixing around halfway through) or until beets and carrots are fork tender

Optional: You can add in peeled, whole cloves of garlic halfway through for a delicious flavor boost. Just make sure you add them before you toss the veggies at the halfway point so they get a light oil coating.

Fava Bean Burgers with an Asian Daikon Radish and Carrot Slaw

Adding Asian flavors to seasonal fall produce is a great way to inject some new, fresh flavor on a dark fall evening. The burgers can be eaten the day of or pre-made and frozen for a quick weeknight dinner later in the week. Experiment with condiments like wasabi mayonnaise, sriracha, sweet chili sauce, peanut sauce and more!

Ingredients

Fava Bean Burger Patties

2 cups shelled fava beans
3 cups fresh spinach
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. curry powder (or paste)
1 clove garlic, minced finely
¼ cup cilantro leaves
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 egg
½ cup canola oil (spike with some sesame or chili oil if you have it)

Daikon Radish and Carrot Slaw

½ cup rice vinegar
2 tsp. agave (or white sugar)
¼ tsp. salt (or celery salt if you have it)
¼ tsp. mustard powder
3 Tblsp. sesame oil (or canola oil)
1 medium daikon radish, sliced in to thin strips (or grated on sturdy cheese grater)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced in to thin strips (or grated on cheese grater)
½ cup chopped scallions

Method

  • Blanch the fava beans in boiling water for about a minute then immediately run under cold water in a colander. Drain thoroughly.
  • While the beans cool, wilt the spinach in a hot pan with 1 Tblsp. of the oil over medium heat and set aside.
  • With your fingernails peel the skins of the fava beans. Discard the skins and add the beans to a large mixing bowl.
  • Add spinach, rice, spices, garlic, and the remaining oil. Mash with a potato masher until you have a crumbly mixture that is well blended. This will be the consistency of the patties so mash to your preference. The finer the mash the better the burgers will hold together.
  • Add the spinach, cilantro and breadcrumbs. Taste the mixture and adjust if necessary. Add the egg and mix well.
  • Shape the mixture in to 1 inch thick patties, 2 – 2 ½ inches in diameter, all uniform in size. Place them on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 30-40 minutes. If you’re freezing any of the patties for later use, now is the time. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
  • As your burgers chill, prepare your slaw. Combine vinegar, agave and spices in a medium sized bowl. Whisk in oil. Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix well. (This slaw is even better if prepared the day before and left in the fridge to incorporate the flavors overnight)
  • When ready to cook the patties, heat the remaining oil in a cast iron (or other deep non-stick frying pan) over high heat. Once a couple of drops of water in the pan pop, the oil is ready. Add the burgers a couple at a time and fry until golden brown. This will take about 5 minutes per side. Drain cooked patties on a paper towel.
  • Serve the burgers topped with the slaw and any Asian condiment that sounds good and enjoy!

Pear and Basil Collins

This twist on a classic cocktail is a refreshing, seasonal sip to pair with the fava bean burgers or to simply enjoy for a homemade happy hour after work. This recipe uses tonic water but you can easily substitute soda water or diet tonic water to cut calories. You can also mix in more sweetener to the finished cocktail if you’d like it sweeter.

Ingredients (Makes 2 cocktails)

1 medium ripe pear, peeled, cored and cubed
2 shots of fresh lemon juice
2 shots of simple syrup (recipe below)
5-6 basil leaves
Gin (or vodka)
Ice in tall Collins glass (or pint glass)
Tonic Water

  • In a food processor or blender, combine the first three ingredients and puree until smooth. Set aside.
  • Divide the ice evenly between two glasses (enough to fill halfway). Muddle the basil on the ice with a muddler or the back of a metal spoon.
  • Add 1-2 shots of gin to each glass, however much you prefer
  • Divide the pear mixture evenly between each glass. You may have a little leftover. Don’t forget to leave space for the bubbles!
  • Top with tonic water and stir.

Happy Accident

I know it’s been a while since I posted anything, and you can blame it on the end-of-winter-waiting-for-days-to-be-longer hibernation. But last night I cooked a dinner that just has to be shared. It was part design, part accident. As it turns out, you can’t go wrong with good mushrooms, good Parmesan, good pasta, and a good veggie-roasting routine.

Now, I don’t cook  with recipes often. They take too much time and planning for me. So what I’m about to share comes with the caveat that I probably couldn’t recreate it exactly if I tried tonight.

I started with almost a whole pound of sliced Shiitake mushrooms. I sauteed with butter and olive oil (butter for flavor, olive oil to raise the burning temperature). The mushrooms were sauteed with a little crushed red pepper, tarragon, and garlic for probably 10 minutes. I then added a medium pinch of flour to thicken, a splash of veggie broth for flavor, and about a cup-and-a-half of milk. Meanwhile, I cooked the whole wheat pasta.

Once the sauce started to boil and thicken I added some Parmesan. Well, a lot of Parmesan. I stirred that in and got a creamy, but not too thick, mushroom sauce. Then I drained the pasta, tossed a bit more Parmesan (the rest of the container I had…) into the noodles, then let them fall into their creamy fate for a final minute of cooking.

On the side I served roasted carrots and parsnips (cut into chunks, toss liberally with olive oil, salt, and pepper, put on baking dish in single layer, and bake in 400-degree oven for 15 minutes).

With a little parsley on top of the pasta, and the still-slightly-crunchy-in-the-middle veggies, I got what turned out to be my new favorite meal. It was full-flavored yet totally simple and comforting. Lots of protein and vitamins, yet delightfully meat-free. Umami, spice, texture, and indulgence all wrapped up in one tidy meal.

Ingredients from Ag Connect: Shiitake mushrooms, Italian parsley, Parmesan, carrots, and parsnips.

A Model of Versatility

Acorn squash is one of those amazing food items that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. If you roast it and scoop out the flesh, it can be used in squash pancakes or waffles, which are delicious with walnuts, maple syrup, and bacon (if you’re me, you toast the walnuts and cook the bacon to crispy deliciousness then put both right inside the batter). The squash is also delicious as a hash, with any and all of your favorite hash ingredients.

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However, my all-time favorite way to cook this winter treat is to stuff it.

I cut mine in half and roast it until it’s almost cooked through. I then add a mixture of already-cooked wild rice and sauteed goodies. This could include MANY different ingredients, and I often use it as a way to use whatever I have in my pantry or fridge. Some of my favorite ingredients include shredded carrots, dried cherries or cranberries, celery, toasted walnuts, apple, yellow onion, chopped up kale or chard, garlic, and maybe even shredded beets or parsnips. Almost any combination of these ingredients is sure to result in a flavor-packed, textural, hearty dish.

Once I’ve stuffed the squash, I put it back in the oven to finish cooking and get everything nice and hot. Depending on your preference, this can be served as a main course or side. Either way, it will warm you up from the inside out, and make excellent use of winter-time ingredients.

 So, if you’re looking to experiment with some new applications for this gorgeous gourd, try any of these ideas and enjoy!

 Ingredients from Ag Connect: Acorn squash, carrots, apples, beets, garlic, kale, chard, yellow onion, parsnips, bacon, flour and eggs for pancakes.

Chicken Marsala with Crimini Mushrooms

For as long as I can remember, chicken Marsala has been one of my favorite dishes. I even named one of my hens Marsala (Marci, for short…and they’re all named after some type of chicken, not just her), but then she turned out to be a rooster and was subsequently renamed.

 

Chicken Marsala – the dish, not the hen – is earthy and fragrant, and to this day is one of the best comfort foods I can think of, so I came up with my own version. It’s a dish with few ingredients but loads of flavor.  It uses less chicken, for two reasons. First, I don’t like to eat a lot of meat. Second, even organic, free-range chicken breasts seem to be getting larger, and two is PLENTY for this recipe. I rarely use recipes to cook, so the one I’m providing is based on how I cooked it last night. Everything about it can be altered to the way you like things.  It could even be vegetarian. I like mine peppery to balance out the richness, so I add lots of black pepper at every step.

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The real stars of my chicken marsala are the crimini mushrooms. They’ve got umami for days, and bring a wonderful texture to this dish. I’ve even read that criminis are a great food-source for Vitamin D, so that’s an added bonus.

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Part of what makes my rendition so comforting is the pasta. It’s also why I make mine saucier than others, because it turns into a pasta sauce. For this, I like Orecchietti, the aptly named pasta shaped like little ears. They’re thick enough that they remain toothsome, which I love; they hold sauce like a little cup; and their shape causes some of them stick together and create delightfully chewy, saucy bites.  Anymore, I only use 100% whole-wheat pasta. Every brand does it a little different, so find the one that works for you. Whole-wheat pasta not only brings a nutty aspect to any dish, but its lower glycemic index means it’s better for our bodies than white pasta.

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When I cooked this dish last night, the produce I had on hand to make a vegetable dish turned into a wonderfully sweet and tart carrot salad. I’m not going to write out the recipe, but the basics are that I used my handy-dandy Cuisinart to shred some carrots and radishes, added some julienned raw chard and chopped parsley, and dressed it simply with honey, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It was bright, and light, and the perfect pair with the richer pasta dish.

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Here’s the pasta dish. It could easily serve four. We’re only two, but I still make the whole recipe and save leftovers for work lunches.

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced ¼-inch thick

1 pound crimini mushrooms, cleaned, halved, and sliced ¼-inch thick

1 tablespoon flour, slightly rounded

½ cup Marsala wine

½ cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

½ pound 100% whole-wheat pasta

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped, fresh parsley (optional)

1. Get all the chicken & mushroom slicing done, and set the mushrooms off to the side. Get a large pot of water working toward boiling. Tip: Chicken is easier to cut if it’s really cold, so sometimes I put mine in the freezer for 5ish minutes before I slice it. Lay the chicken pieces out in one layer on the cutting board. Uniformity is not necessary here, because they don’t finish cooking until later so it’s okay if they don’t get all the way cooked now. Liberally season both sides with salt and pepper. Get a large skillet going and coat the whole bottom with olive oil, it needs to be good and hot. Have two plates ready to go nearby, the same size as each other. Place as many chicken pieces as will fit in one layer in the hot oil. Usually, by the time I’m done putting them down, I wait about 15 seconds and go back the first one and start flipping. If little bits stick to the pan, it’s okay, they’ll just add flavor to the sauce. After the second side has cooked an equal time, place the chicken onto one of the plates. Remember, it’s okay if the chicken is a little pink inside. Repeat this process until all the chicken is browned on both sides, then use the 2nd plate to cover the chicken and set aside while you do other steps.

2. If your pan is too dry, add a little more olive oil. Add all the mushrooms in, and season them with salt and pepper. Stir as needed until the mushrooms start to get some color, scraping any chicken bits off the bottom. The salt will release some moisture in the mushrooms so you may have to wait for it to cook off before they start to brown, about 6-7 minutes on a pretty high heat. About halfway through cooking mushrooms, put a large handful of salt in your boiling water, and add the pasta. Tip: According to Italians, from whom I’ve taken cooking lessons, pasta should be cooked in water that tastes like the sea. Cook pasta according to the directions on the box for al dente cooking. It will cook a little more in the sauce.

3. When the mushrooms are ready, add the flour and stir to coat. Add the wine & broth to the mushrooms, stir, then add the chicken. Bring the sauce to a boil and boil it for about 4 minutes while it thickens, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta to the sauce, stir, and allow to cook a few minutes longer for the pasta to absorb the flavor, stirring occasionally. Tip: If your sauce is too thick, use a slotted spoon to move the pasta straight from the pasta water into the sauce. The little extra pasta water will thin the sauce without making it watery. If your pasta is too thin, strain the pasta and then add to the sauce.

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There you have it. Once you’ve done this once you’ll find that it’s really simple enough to do as often as you want, depending on when you need a little comfort food.

 

Ingredients that came from Ag Connect: Crimini mushrooms, chard, carrots, honey, and parsley.