In the Living Kitchen

Musings, memories, meals in the making.

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Greens, Roots and Eating

I feel like starting off by saying, “I’m back folks”, although I think that would be silly and out of place.  I am back, from farming, from the 2010 season and from my other blog.  I have a ton of food posts I am dying to write, although some of them might be a bit out of season since I have been saving them up since June.  Oh well.  I always knew I’d be one of those “promising to write” bloggers.

Frosted Cold Frames

We did a stellar job making sure we have some good greens and roots this winter.  Three cold frames full of greens; 100 feet of kale, 25 feet of raab, and 10 feet of chard in the field; and some spinach, cabbage and mustard scattered about.  Not to mention the potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celeriac, radishes and parsnips.  There’s more, but you should just wait for the post titled “My Winter Pantry.”  I might not have made money this year, but I sure am going to eat well.

Sam is working two jobs now, and comes home at 8 every night.  I, on the other hand, work the total of half a job, and have been home all day.  So I have taken up the task of obsessing over dinner.

Here’s my stellar menu plan for this week:

Linguine with Vodka Sauce and Garlic Greens*

Mole Poblano Enchiladas (homegrown black beans!)

Cabbage Gratin with Potato Galette

Braised Tofu Soup with Buckwheat Soba and Seaweed Salad*

Leek Quiche with Potato Crust

Mushroom Stroganoff with Roasted Parsnips

(*already eaten)

I always make enough to serve for lunch the next day, which has made life considerably less stressful.  Sam and I both hate waking up in the morning and making lunch before heading off to work.  Sam will just eat bagel chips all day, which is a sin, and I will go hungry, so skimming lunch portions from dinner is really the best solution for everyone involved.

Since I have had a very tiring day of sleeping in, watching sleeping kitties, browsing seed catalogs and facebooking, I have only the energy to post a very simple parsnip recipe.  I won’t even put it in proper recipe form.  But oh my is it delicious.

Roasted Parsnips with Maple and Lemon

4 servings

Preheat oven to 375.  Peel and cut 2 pounds of parsnips into chunks.  Toss with 3 TBS grapeseed oil, juice of half a lemon, zest of half a lemon, 2 TBS maple syrup, salt and a dash of nutmeg.  Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until golden on the outside and creamy on the inside, about 30 minutes.  Turn them at least once during the roasting process and do not burn!





Kitchen Tools

I have been thinking a lot about kitchen gadgets lately.  I had a conversation with an elderly kitchen supply store owner in Nashville, TN, while Sam and I were visiting my sister.  He pointed out that there was a time when many people just wanted to buy the cheapest kitchen gadgets possible, and when those gadgets broke they just went out and bought another one.  (Sound familiar?) He said he has noticed a movement among younger people, mainly in a lower income bracket, to purchase the best kitchen tools possible.  This movement reminded him of growing up during and after the Depression, when every single item for the household was purchased out of necessity, and quality savored.  This conversation reminded me of my grandmother’s mantra, “I don’t need that.” While I don’t want to advocate buying the nicest possible kitchen anything, I do believe there are a few essential items to be had.   Most of the time, a discerning person can purchase items that will last a very long time.

I also believe that hand powered tools can last longer and have considerable benefits over the speediness of electric tools.  I left the electric ones for last.

Here’s my list of kitchen tools that I can’t live without.

A Few Good Knives and Cutting Boards. First and foremost a chopping knife is absolutely necessary, then a good, sharp pairing knife and then a bread knife.  (By good chopping knife, I mean you are going to shell out a hundred dollars or more.)  After that comes the fancy extras.  I still have not purchased the perfect knife for me, but we received have a pretty nice one as a gift, and it has really turned our kitchen around.

I use a few different cutting boards because who want to slice banana bread on a cutting board smelling of garlic?

Mortar and Pestle. The word pesto comes from the Latin root for pestle, meaning “pounder.”  A food processor chops, a pestle pounds.  I believe there is a huge difference in the way the flavors are released by these two methods.  When I read about pesto coming from pestle years ago, pre-food processor, I was so excited that I could make pesto with my own elbow grease.  I wouldn’t want to make pesto for a party with my mortar and pestle, but it is quite delicious and rustic when made this way.  If you have a small mortar and pestle, like I do, there is an art to the grinding for pesto.  First, the garlic, ground to a pulp.  Remove to a bowl.  Then the walnuts, into almost a paste.  Place in same bowl as the garlic.   Then the basil, after you have sliced or cut it into pieces, with the addition of flaked salt.  The salt allows a bit of grit, before it gets grounds by the pestle, to assist in breaking apart the basil.  Place the basil in the same bowl as the walnuts and the garlic, add olive oil and stir.

I usually use my mortar and pestle for grinding dried herbs and freshly toasted spices.  For this use, my mortar and pestle is utterly indispensable.

I have a pretty turquoise mortar and pestle, but I think a granite one would be good for serious mortar and pestle aficionados.

Cast Iron and Enamel Cast Iron and A Big Stock Pot. I am sure the fancy All-Clad cookware is quite nice, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t own any.  I don’t need to.  I own three well seasoned (by me, of course) cast iron skillets and one lovely Le Cruset 5-quart enamel cast iron pot.  We also own a large stainless steel stock pot.  The only thing we are missing, in my opinion, is a large enamel cast iron pot, for large pots of, well, anything.  Whatever you do, don’t purchase inexpensive enamel cast iron.  There is a reason why Le Cruset cookware costs so much.  The enamel of the better brands is much higher quality and won’t chip off into your food if you treat it properly.  Never use metal utensils in your enamel cast iron.  The ideal, for me, would be to find a great used set of enamel cookery.  Seriously, this stuff lasts generations.

A well-tooled kitchen would not be complete with out a large, stainless steel stock pot.  We use ours for making beer, sterilizing jars and bottles, blanching big batches of vegetables when we are freezing them, making insane amounts of pasta, and more. A large stock pot can also be used for canning tomatoes, jams and fruits, if it is large enough to hold several jars.  You only need to purchase an insert for the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from breaking.

A Grater, A Juicer. I have a cheap box grater.  I hate it, I love it.  I think I would be better off with one of these and one of these, because all I use my box grater for is ginger and nutmeg.  Well, that’s a lie.  When I don’t feel like getting out the food processor, I also use it for grating all kinds of vegetables.  In spite of memories of grated knuckles, I keep coming back to my box grater time after time.  Why purchase something new when you don’t have to?   (That’s becoming my mantra.)

I also use my glass juicer quite a bit for lemons, limes and oranges.  Tart citrus is a welcome addition to many dressings, sauces and marinates, so I use them quite a bit.  I used to own a wooden hand held juicer, but I had to remove the seeds by hand as well.  With a juicer that sits on the counter, the seeds can easily be strained out with a fingertip while pouring the juice out.  A glass juicer is something I see often at thrift stores, and i highly recommend going that route.

Rolling Pin. A rolling pin is most often used for pie crusts and cookies, but I also use mine for making pasta.  While I do have a very fine antique cast iron pasta machine, handed down to me by my grandmother from my great-grandmother, I use the rolling pin more.  I have read that no self respecting Italian woman would ever use a machine, because rolling by hand is an art.  (No offense Nonna.)  In order to roll pasta, one needs a flat rolling pin, not one with handles.  In fact, the flat rolling pins are the best for everything because you really have control of where your strength gets applied on the dough.  I use a French tapered rolling pin, but for pasta, a cylindrical rolling pin is best.

Stoneware Crocks. New to me just in the past two years, stoneware crocks are now a necessary part of my daily existence.  We ferment vegetables at the farm and at our home.  As a thrifty spender and buyer, I bought a couple a stoneware crocks from an antique store.  We use them for Kombucha, fermenting kimchee, sauerkraut and all sorts of pickles, I am planning on using a small one for homemade miso and one for the beginning stages of making sake.  Recently, during one of my insomniac internet searches for Kombucha making tips, I learned that these old stoneware crocks could be chalk full of lead, and that using them with high acid foods allows the lead to leach out of the glaze quite well.  The threat isn’t imminent for adults, but I eat these fermented products everyday, and once I get back into the swing of Kombucha making, I drink Kombucha everyday.  To make it worse, all these fermented foods are highly acidic.  This news was quite heart breaking to me, especially when confirmed with a little word of mouth research.  I believe in reusing items from the past, decreasing new manufacture and production of items and lessening the human clutter of the Earth.  But some things can’t be avoided.  These are certified lead-free crocks, that I intend on purchasing for all my fermenting needs.  Really, if I take care of these crocks they will last more than my lifetime, without leaching harmful toxins into the bodies that consume my homemade goods.

You can also use food-grade plastic to ferment foods and beverages in.  Indeed, we use five gallon tubs to make loads of pickles with our CSA members, and Sam uses them to make beer.  I prefer using non-plastic items in general, but often food grade buckets land on our door step, so to speak, so we might as well use them.  They do, however, have a tendency to absorb flavors over time.

A Baking Stone and Baking Sheets. Aside from building and using a wood fired oven, which would be ideal, and which I hope to do someday, the best tool you can own for baking crusty loaves of bread is a baking stone.  I would really love to purchase a nice baking stone, because mine isn’t exactly ideal, but it does the job, so I won’t get a new one.  I have read that granite is nice, but I own a stoneware version and know that there are much higher quality stoneware ones that exists.  (A testament to the idea that we should only buy things that are of truly high quality and that will last a lifetime.)

I own two-commercial quality half-sheet baking sheets.  They are the type the bakeries I have worked in have had, and so I bought a couple for myself.  They are a heavier weight than the run of the mill household baking sheet, and therefore prevent burning and conduct heat better.

These two baking items are used most in our household.  The other lesser necessitated, much appreciated items are cake pans, tart pans, muffin pans, glass pie pans, a spring form pan, and bread loaf pans.  We also use our cast iron skillets for broiling and baking casseroles and such.

A Mixer, A Food Processor, and A Blender. Let me just say, I lived a very long time without these items, and I do feel like I can live without them.  Which is why they come last on the list.  At first, I lived for long time with a blender and no mixer or food processor.  This lead me to the conclusion that blenders are worthless, because I couldn’t use my blender for certain foods that I wanted to make all the time, such as pesto, humus, bread dough, pie crust, the list goes on.  Now that I have a standing mixer and a food processor and my blender died (I got it for free), I want my blender back.  The food processor is best for drier ingredients, the blender is best for liquid (read: pureed soup!).  The food processor really comes in handy for fermenting large crocks of vegetables and sauerkraut, due to the 2mm slicing blade.  There are some really great products out there many of them well more than what I can spend.  I own a standing Kitchen Aid Mixer, a 14-cup capacity Cuisinart food processor (with the manual switches) and as long as I am not too rough with them, they should last a while.

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Kale Many Ways

I have not been writing as much about beer as I thought I would.  I think I overestimated my enthusiasm.  That is not to say that I am not enjoying a few sips of beer here and there, only that I really can’t drink too much of it too often.  I still have some very exciting beers to try, and a new recipe that involves a bottle of a (very expensive) beer that I didn’t enjoy drinking.  My goal is to write about beer once a week, and to do several posts throughout the week as well.

Today I am writing about kale.  I could write an entire ode to kale, but I will limit myself in this case.  I have found that many people are surprised by their love of kale and many lovers of kale are wonderfully enthusiastic about kale.  I am one of those enthusiastic kale lovers.  Kale really is good.

As I have mentioned previously, I have a stash of (frozen) kale in the field at the farm.  At this point, the kale is an entirely different creature from what kale is in the spring and in the fall.  It is sturdy.  I would say tough, but tough has such negative connotations, and I cannot bring myself to say anything bad about kale.  It is very sweet and actually bitter at this point.  But, it is still one of my favorite vegetables, and the only fresh green I have around, so I eat it.  A lot.

I have gotten into a great rhythm of preparing kale.  I mainly use one method of cooking it, blanching, and then I dress it. Sometimes when I am really hungry I sauté it with a lot of oil and garlic.  I also enjoy cooking it in a hearty stew or soup.  Kale can also be eaten raw.  If you are going to eat raw kale, I suggest choosing a curly variety and eating it in early spring or fall, when the kale is young and bright.   It certainly won’t be as sweet as in late fall or winter, but it will lack bitterness and tough texture.

The following preparation and dressing ideas are my weeknight mainstays.  Kale can be prepared many more ways than what I outline here.  However, I find it very satisfying to sit down with a big bowl of kale and gobble it down, opposed to eating kale in a dish.

Depending on how tender the kale is, you can either cool the kale in ice water or let it cool in the air.  If you cool it in ice water, it will stop cooking immediately.  If you let it cool in the air, it will continue to cook and become slightly more tender, if your kale is tough like it is in the winter.

I usually make enough kale with dressing to have 2 servings of leftovers for Sam and myself for lunch the next day.

To prepare the kale:

Rinse and remove the stems of as much kale as you want to prepare.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Place kale into pot.  Remove after the kale has become bright green in color, about 30-45 seconds.  Place in colander and rinse with cold water, if desired.  You might boil the kale in batches, depending on how much kale you are preparing.

Alternately, if your kale is tender, you can prepare a cold water bath before putting the kale in the boiling water.  Simply put ice water in a large bowl.  Place the kale directly into the ice water from the boiling water, then drain.

After the kale has cooled enough to the touch, squeeze the liquid out.  Chop to the desired thickness. and place it in a bowl. I usually slice it pretty thin, and then fluff it with my fingers.

Ideas for dressing:

A drizzle of sesame oil, sprinkling of salt, and chopped crystalized ginger (my favorite).

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing with a chopped nut on top.

Dressing of lemon, olive oil and avocado, topped with raisins, cashews and raw onion.  Also good on raw kale.

Saute slivers of garlic in oil, with crushed red peppers and cumin seeds.  Add blanched, chopped kale to this mixture until warm.  Drizzle with sesame oil and red wine vinegar.

A dressing of tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and minced garlic.  Goes well with cooked potatoes.

A dressing of grated ginger, garlic, orange juice, tamari and sesame oil.  Top with sesame seeds.

Toss the blanched kale with pesto and lemon juice.

Of course, the possibilities are endless.  Or rather, the possibilities end only with the supply of kale.

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Full Preservation Disclosure

The liquid actually has some flavor and sweetness to it. It can be used in place of water or stock to thin soups or sauces.

Full disclosure here: food preservation takes time.  As a grower, my responsibilities in the spring, summer and fall fully out-weigh my need to preserve.  There couldn’t be enough hours in the day to get everything done.  Yet, the farming life cannot be sustainable for me if I do not preserve food for the winter.  After all, much of my salary is measured in how many vegetables I get to eat in the off season.  So, I preserve food anyway, taking shortcuts where ever I can squeeze them in.   Usually  Sam is right by my side, helping out and coaxing me to bed.  Sam likes to get to bed far more than he likes to finish projects, whereas I could stay up until 2 am waiting for the last batch of sauce to come out of the canner.  We balance each other out.

One of the shortcuts we discovered this summer was freezing tomatoes instead of canning them.  The benefit of canned tomatoes is that they can sit on a shelf in the pantry and need no extra energy to keep them shelf stable.  Frozen tomatoes, on the other hand, need to stay in the freezer until used.  One freezer fills up quickly, and before you know it, you’ve got three freezers full of food, all using energy to keep the food preserved.  On the flip side, canning takes up time.  Once you start the process, you have to follow through without stopping.  (Six quarts of moldy tomato sauce that we forgot about in the fridge taught us that lesson.)  After the tomatoes are prepared and boiling, yo have to sterilize jars, put in the tomatoes and then place them in the canner for 45 minutes per 8-quart batch.  That 45 minute wait can be excruciating.

We froze some tomatoes.  The process of freezing is so much easier.  The tomatoes can either got in the freezer raw or cooked.  Most of the time we either roasted a pan of tomatoes and peeled them or chopped up raw ones, then portioned them in quart sized bags and threw the bags in the freezer.  A few times, late at night, we skipped the peeling and portioning steps, and hurriedly dumped roasted tomatoes in gallon sized bags, put them in the freezer and forgot about them, in the interest of sleep, of course.

I found one bag of said roasted tomatoes yesterday when I wanted to start a pot of chili.  One solid gallon brick of frozen roasted tomatoes.  There is no way I can use one gallon of tomatoes for one pot of chili, or even fit a solid gallon brick of tomatoes in my pot, so I had to defrost the entire bag over night.   Once defrosted, the skins slipped off easily and I just threw the tomatoes in the pot.

Roasted and frozen San Marzano paste tomatoes are a gem in the winter. They are much better preserved than fresh.

The tomatoes themselves are amazing.  After I slipped off the skins, the actual tomato flesh was more like paste because all the liquid leaked out of the bag.  So, the fuss is worth it, but I feel like the fuss of peeling and portioning them in the summer is worth it too.


Fermenting Carrots


Root crops are amazing.  Not only are they delicious, nutritious and fun,  they remind me that sustainable living is possible all year-round.  Think of it, they are large packets of energy, and, if left in the ground, they can survive the harshest winter only to have enough energy to grow a new set of foliage and eventually flower and seed.  Long story short, you don’t need much energy to keep root vegetables over the winter, especially not two thousand miles of driving to and from warmer climates, wasting fossil fuels and the health of our planet!

Apart from simply leaving root crops in the ground (which you can certainly do!) there are several more methods to storing these wonderful vegetables.  My favorite is keeping them dirty and placing them in a cool dark place, where you can also water them down from time to time.  For example, we packed 40 pounds of beets in styrofoam boxes (that were salvaged from a dumpster, never ever purchased) in sand.  We will keep them in our basement, and water them, just like you would a houseplant, because, after all, the beet roots are still alive and if allowed to dry out they will shrivel and die.   In order to store roots this way, each root has to be perfect: not too small, greens trimmed to 1/2 inch, and absolutely no blemishes or cracks.  If the roots are not perfect, they will rot.  And who wants forty pounds of rotten beets? The best part is that stored this way they are kept alive, with all of their nutritional content, sweetness and crispness in tact.

If you are a stocker-upper, you may, of course, can or freeze any vegetable, including root crops.  We use these two methods a lot actually, for tomatoes, greens, broth, applesauce, pumpkin and jam, but the nutritional content of the food is compromised with both these methods.   A “local” winter diet needs of balance of these “processed” foods along with highly nutritional, fresh items, such as stored root crops and lacto-fermented vegetables.

Two weeks ago I helped pack a ton of carrots in sand, situated snuggly in apple boxes.  But as I pointed out previously, carrots with cracks or blemishes cannot be stored this way.  Out of a ton of carrots, there is always a significant amount of imperfections.  So, as my bonus, I took home a 5-gallon bucket of imperfect carrots.  They have been sitting in said bucket ever since.  Happily, since carrots are so amazing they were still in tact this morning, two weeks later.  Granted, they lasted two weeks, but they won’t last all winter in this state.  So I set about to lacto-ferment the carrots, which will last as long as I can keep them in the house.  Fermented vegetables maintain all the original nutrients, plus the added bonus of beneficial bacilli.

Here’s the method.  This method works for any amount.

Rinse (if dirty) firm carrots.  Peel and rinse again.  Chop off the tops and any rotten spots.  Slice into thin, even slices.  I used my awesome 14-cup capacity food processor, but you may prefer thicker slices, which can be cut by hand.  The thicker the slices, the longer the fermentation process will take.

Pack sliced carrots into jars, or a ceramic crock.

You may make plain carrots, or add seasonings.  If you prefer, alternate the seasonings between layers of carrots, or just put them in at any point of the packing process.  My two preferred seasonings are chopped ginger root,  and garlic and dill.  Luckily, I had some dill plants that went to seed and are sprouting right now, so I have access to fresh dill.  You can also try peppercorns, chili, or any other herb.

I used a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped, in one-1/2 gallon ball jar.

I used 5 cloves of garlic and 3 sprigs of dill in one 1/2-gallon ball jar.

After you have packed the carrots, make a salt water brine.  I use 1-1/2 TBS of SEA SALT per QUART of water.  Mix until the water is clear and pour over the carrots until they are covered.  You may need more or less than a quart of brine depending on how may carrots you have and how big the slices are.

Place a weight on top of the carrots so the brine covers them completely.  Mold will most likely form on the top.  If the brine covers the surface of the carrots, the mold will not grow on the carrots.  Place the jars or the crock of carrots in the corner of your kitchen in the winter, or in a cool place, such as a cellar, in the summer.

Check the carrots every few days.  Scrape off any mold that has formed on the surface and taste them.  I usually let vegetables ferment for 5-10 days or so.  They will develop a pleasant, sour-pickle flavor, but should also maintain some crispness.  When they taste delicious, cap them off, if in jars, or ladle them into jars if using a crock and move them into the refrigerator.  They will continue to ferment at a slower rate, so don’t be alarmed if they soften after a month or so.  Enjoy in moderation.