Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Preserving the Harvest
Siberian summers are very short. If lucky, they last about 10 weeks. Then comes a depressingly rainy fall season. This is followed by a seemingly endless freezing winter. After living through this bone-numbing cold, I never complain about the summer heat!
Having grown up in Communist Russia, I still vividly remember empty store shelves. So, gardening was not just fun and entertainment, it was survival.
I lived with my grandmother (Baba) in a tiny house on a very small piece of land. In late March, the seeds Baba planted in pots that were kept on the window awnings would start to sprout. The seedlings were then transplanted to our garden. We grew so many things in this small garden: tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, radishes, carrots, cabbage, beets, beans and peas, just to name a few.
How happy we were to see the first signs of summer! There were strawberries -sweet, juicy and scarlet red! Next came peas which were followed by cucumbers, then vegetable after ripe vegetable. I still remember the earthy smell and fresh taste of them.
Having a good harvest was not just important for summer meals but absolutely crucial for the excruciatingly long winters. My Baba was truly the Queen of pickling, fermenting, drying and freezing. During the summer, her house would be transformed into the “prep for winter” station. All the furniture would be covered with linen cloths where she would dry berries, spicy peppers, sliced apples and herbs. The deck would be decorated with hanging stockings of garlic and garlands of onions. Her kitchen would always be steamy and hot from sterilizing endless amount of jars for her "out of this world" jams, fruit spreads, pickles and compotes. Under the tables, in the closets and anywhere else she could find space, would live all sizes and shapes of jars with her homemade goodies. All of them, including burlap bags with root vegetables would later migrate to her root cellar to keep them nice and cool.
While I can get fresh fruit and vegetables year-round from overstocked store shelves, I still continue my Baba's tradition of preparing for the winter. Why? I want to have the same high quality Kimberton CSA organic/biodynamic produce all winter. It is like preserving the summer in a jar (or freezer bag!).
Even though canning was the biggest part of my Baba’s preservations, I don't do too much of it. I like to use the methods that don't require adding a lot of additional ingredients, like salt, sugar or vinegar. I prefer to keep the natural, clean flavors to celebrate the purity of the ingredient. Therefore, I mostly freeze and dehydrate. It is easy, takes little time and doesn't require any experience. Dehydrating is probably the oldest method of preserving food. Egyptian hieroglyphics show drawings of men, the sun and different foods. There is no nutritional loss caused by the heat of cooking, nor loss of water-soluble vitamins and minerals.
First, let's talk about the green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, swiss chard, mustard greens and spinach. The picking season for them is early summer when you will be able to pick many different varieties at the same time.
I must admit, I get bored after several weeks of eating braised, stewed and sautéed greens. So after I thoroughly wash spinach, I blanch it in lightly-salted boiling water, and then plunge it in an ice bath. This helps spinach, or any green vegetable, maintain its bright green color. I rinse it in cheese cloth, divide it in portions, place in a freezer plastic bag and flatten to remove excess air. Voila! Your fresh spinach is ready when you are! You just need to defrost it when you are craving Chicken Florentine or your favorite Hearty Spinach
Casserole! The same technique can be applied to any leafy vegetable. For larger leaves it’s a good idea to remove the tough stem and cut them first.
Did you know that dried collard greens make a fantastic snack? After dehydrating, the leaves become brittle and crunchy like a chip. A low-heat oven can be used, but if you do a lot of drying I recommend investing in a dehydrator. You can dry the collard greens out as-is or mist them slightly with raw organic apple cider vinegar and brush on a little bit of tahini paste. The combination of nuttines and acidity makes these bland-tasting greens very enjoyable.
|Then there are herbs. Those little glass bottles of seasonings in the store are fairly expensive and very perishable. Instead, I wash fresh herbs, remove the stems, chop and dry them. Another great way to preserve them is to make "Herbsicles.” Silicon mini muffin molds work best, but you may also use ice cube trays. Fill up with the chopped herbs (you can use a single herb or the mixture of herbs), then add water and freeze. Once frozen, remove the molds or cubes and place in a freezer bag. "Herbsicles" are great for making stock as they add fresh, vibrant flavor in soups and stews.|
You may also preserve herbs in its natural state by making Compound Butter. Chop the herbs and mix them with softened butter, wrap in plastic and roll into a cylinder shape. Compound Butter may be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer for up to three months. Some of my favorite Compound Butters are sun-dried tomato and basil, cilantro lime, lemon parsley, toasted almond and sage. Your imagination is the only limit!
Basil grows in abundance during summer, so I like to take advantage of it. I make a lot of pesto and then freeze it using the same ice cube trays or the silicone mini muffin molds (LOVE those things!).
Berries! We love them but, gosh, they go bad so fast…too fast!!! I make them last a little longer by placing berries in ice cubes. This adds a fun twist to your iced tea, sparkling water or blackberry mojito!!! Puréed frozen berries make a refreshing snack and are WAY healthier then the store-bought version! Sometimes I add some yogurt into the puree…a guilt-free, delicious treat and more importantly, kids love it!!!!
Preserve your berries by making a raw berry spread. Puree them in the food processor to the desired consistency (I prefer it chunky), add sugar to taste and then strain the mixture to remove the excess juices. It is then ready to use! Keep the puree in the fridge for a few days or freeze. When you are ready to use it just leave in the refrigerator overnight. It makes a fabulous breakfast toast spread and is also great with pancakes or waffles!
There are so many ways to preserve your own harvest and enjoy a little piece of summer anytime. Even the darkest, coldest days of winter will be sunnier and warmer.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Beefsteak Tomato...Summer love!
There are so many kinds of tomatoes. To choose the right tomato for your dish is as crucial as choosing the right outfit for your event. Just look in your closet. You will find your designer jeans or a sexy cocktail dress which is perfect for sipping your favorite martini at the bar of a swanky restaurant. On the shelf is your comfortable, trusty pair of pants for a workout and your soft cashmere sweater to keep you warm when you are shoveling mountains of snow from your driveway (I truly hope this winter will not be as bad as the last one!!!). Maybe you even have an elegant evening gown, protected by plastic for that very special event. I have such a dress which I wore once and is now hanging in my closet…untouched for almost 10 years!
But imagine if you go swimming in a business suit or mountain biking wearing your fluffy bath robe. Pretty silly, huh? You could do it, but the outfits wouldn't be your best choices. The same logic applies to tomatoes. It’s imperative that you pick the proper tomatoes to dress your dishes.
Cherry tomatoes are perfect for a salad garnish or topping for bruschetta. Plum tomatoes are the only choice for tomato sauce and great for sun drying. Green tomatoes are shining brightest when they are fried. The list goes on and on. My true love is the Beefsteak Tomato….they are my cashmere sweater of the tomato family. Right now I am ready for romance because the end of July is the perfect time to find Beefsteak Tomatoes.
Beefsteaks are the largest of the tomatoes, some weighing one pound or more. According to Wikipedia, the Beefsteak tomato was originally invented & cultivated by Johann Heinrich Muster at his Marathon, NY farm. He was awarded an American flag by the President of the United States for his achievement. I owe Mr. Muster a big hug for my favorite tomato!
Due to their large size and very delicate skin, Beefsteaks are not grown commercially. So you need to look for them in the farmer's markets, local vegetable stands and, of course, at a CSA.
Beefsteak. The name says it all. They are meaty, dense, rich, flavorful. The best way to eat them is raw, chopped for a salad or thickly sliced for a sandwich. Beefsteak tomatoes are pricey even at the peak of the season. So, it is truly a waste of your money to cook them.
Here is a very simple recipe for a BLT sandwich. What makes it special? The Beefsteak Tomato, of course!!!! After tasting this sandwich you will never go back to their washed-out commercially-grown cousins. But, hurry! Their harvesting season is very short. Enjoy your summer romance with them while you can!
Yields: 2 servings
6 slices of apple-wood smoked bacon (preferably nitrites free)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 slices sour dough bread (I buy it freshly made from Wegman's)
2 lettuce leaves of your choice (Butter, Boston or Romaine work great)
1 Beefsteak Tomato, sliced thick (1/2 inch)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel. Pat off any excess fat and set aside.
In a small bowl stir together the mayonnaise and fresh herbs until well-blended.
Toast the bread until light golden brown. Spread the prepared mayo evenly on one side of each slice of bread.
For each sandwich: place on one slice of bread a lettuce leaf, a tomato slice seasoned with salt and freshly cracked pepper and two slices of bacon.
Top with the remaining bread slice, mayo side down. Slice in half and serve.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Who doesn't like summer? It is time for lounging on the beach with a gallon of watermelon mojitos, a great time to get together with your family for a bbq, or to have a romantic picnic after a long bike ride. For me, the best part of summer is abundance of fruit, vegetables and, of course, berries!!! I love berries! I love to use freshly picked berries to make sorbets. I keep them in the freezer so I am able to preserve a little piece of summer to brighten our long cold winter days. One of my warmest summer memories comes from my childhood when my grandmother used to mix freshly picked berries with homemade cheese. That cheese was very similar to ricotta: very mild, creamy and slightly sweet. It was the perfect balance to juicy, tart raspberries. My Baba (grandmom) would then drizzle a little honey on top for the final touch.
This summer’s perfect dessert is my interpretation of my Baba’s berries and cheese. It is silky, feather-light and creamy. The thin top of bruleed sugar adds a crunchy texture and a caramel taste. The jewel-like berries on the bottom add a colorful contrast and brighten up the dish.
Bruleed Ricotta Cheesecake with Raspberries
Yields: 6 ramekins
2 pt raspberries
4 Tbs Honey
8 oz cream Cheese
2/3 cup whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar for brulee (Raw or Turbinado Sugar works best)
6 small mint leaves (optional)
Preheat the oven to 300F.
Put the berries in a medium mixing bowl. Pick 12 of the best looking raspberries and reserve for later. Drizzle honey over the remaining raspberries. Gently mix to coat the berries. Put about 6 berries into each ramekin.
Place cream cheese, ricotta, sugar and the vanilla bean in the mixer with a paddle attachment and mix until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and ix on medium speed until thoroughly combined. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Pour the mixture over the raspberries. Fill a baking dish with about an inch of water. Gently place each ramekin in the baking dish and carefully place in the oven. Bake in the water bath until the centers of the custards are just set and are no longer sloshy, about 45 minutes.
Cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours.
Can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Uncover the ramekins and soak any collected condensation from the surface of the custard by gently dabbing with a paper towel. Spread just enough sugar on top to thinly coat the entire surface. Caramelize the sugar using a small blow torch (can be found in the baking section of most specialty cooking stores).
Garnish with reserved raspberries and mint leaves.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Kimberton CSA Strawberry Festival
On June 5th we attended Kimberton CSA’s Strawberry Festival. It was a great day to spend with family and friends and share farm fresh food. CSA members brought a variety of strawberry desserts which we enjoyed with the freshly made ice cream which was hand-cranked right in front of our eyes.
Strawberries are the very definition of summer: sweet, sensual, refreshing and revitalizing. But did you know that a strawberry is an anti-oxidant superhero? One little cup of strawberries provides 140 percent of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C! Strawberries also contain “flavonoids.” Research has shown that two of these flavonoids, “quercetin” and “kaempferol” help keep “bad” (LDL) cholesterol from oxidizing and damaging artery walls.
Strawberries also contain ellagic acid which is a natural compound found in many fruits and nuts. Ellagic acid has been reported to make cancer-causing chemicals inactive. It, allegedly, inhibits the ability of other chemicals to cause mutations in bacteria. In addition, it may prevent binding of carcinogens to DNA and reduce the incidence of cancer in cultured human cells exposed to carcinogens.
All of that power in a ripe, red strawberry!
Something much less appealing than strawberries which you see throughout the summer, whether at a local festival, fair or picnic, is garbage. Bins and bags filled with paper plates, plastic utensils, cups, napkins, bottles, and cans. This was not that case at the Strawberry Festival. I loved and appreciated the fact that every family brought their own reusable plates, flatware and napkins. Such a simple, easy way for all of us to cut down on our trail of garbage! Keep a set of basic tableware tucked away in your car and you will always be ready for that picnic or barbecue.
Strawberries were not the only stars at Kimberton…so was the pizza! Each family was given a ball of whole wheat pizza dough which was provided by Sweet Water Baking from Camphill Village in Kimberton. We then designed our own “signature” pizza. I brought fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and my homemade pesto. I made the pesto from the basil I picked that same morning from Kimberton CSA. Trust me, one taste of my fresh pesto and you will never go back to that green stuff in the plastic tubs sold in the grocery store.
|The trick to a successful homemade pizza was to put enough corn meal on the cardboard when you make the crust. This allows the pizza to slide onto the peel (a shovel-like tool used by bakers) and then into the 1,000 degree oven. This was the brave job of Erik Landowne.|
|Erik is fortunate to have an on-site wood-fired brick oven. The blistering hot oven is the key to baking a perfect pizza. What makes the oven so special is that it was his son’s third grade project. Erik, his son, his son’s classmates and their parents all worked together to make the brick oven. Now, the whole community gets to share this great gift. This is one of the many things that make Kimberton CSA such a fantastic place. We are reminded that eating is a whole and holistic experience. It’s a loving, communal experience that also benefits our individual bodies and minds.|
Monday, June 07, 2010
Seared Wild King Salmon and Tat Soi
Yield: 4 servings
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 inch sliced ginger
1 teaspoon palm sugar*
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 salmon fillets
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
4 small bunches tat soi
salt and pepper to taste
In the bowl mix 6 first ingredients to make a marinade for the fish. Place the salmon fillets in the plastic bag and pour marinade over. Place in the fridge for 15 min (don't keep longer because the protein in the fish will start to coagulate and fish will become rubbery) Remove salmon from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel.
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil the large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the salmon into the pan. Sear for 3 to 5 minutes, flip, and continue cooking another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm until ready to serve.
Wash the spinach well, dry it. Heat remaining oil in a saute pan. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2-3 min to release the fragrance. Add spinach and saute until it start wilting, another 2-3 min. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide the tat soi onto the plates. Place the salmon fillet on the top.
Sunday, June 06, 2010
|Organic, organic, organic, organic. That word has been stamped so many times on food products, in publications and on our brains that it’s easy to believe that organic=pure. When I see the word “100% Organic” stamped on a bag of potato chips or a package of cookies, I know that organic has been re-defined. Food processed in a manufacturing plant with additives and chemicals is about as organic as the plastic wrapper it’s been packaged in.|
Kimberton CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is helping to change all of that. Kimberton CSA is a biodynamic farm. I know that at first “biodynamic farm” may sound very complex and complicated, but trust me, it’s not. It’s simply a farm that uses natural, holistic gardening techniques.
|The biodynamic farm actually pre-dates organic farming and is not dependant upon synthetics, chemicals or other pollutants. That being said, the farming philosophy is not about what to avoid as much as about what to add to the earth. With its use of natural weed and pest control and herbal and mineral compost additives, the farm is helping the planet. The farmers also look up, past Earth and study the astrological and lunar cycles to guide the prepping, planting and harvesting of the crops.|
Kimberton CSA was formed in 1987 by Barbara and Kerry Sullivan and a community of people to create and support a biodynamic garden. Today, Birgit and Erik Landowne are Kimberton’s permanent full-time farmers.
Birgit grew up on a horse farm in Germany where her family always had garden. She became a nurse but eventually was more interested by the preventative medicine from pure foods and biodynamic farming. She came to the States in 1992 and after a two year apprenticeship joined the Kimberton CSA team.
|Erik is also from Germany. Ever since he was a little boy he had a passion for farming. He came to States when he was 9 years old and was nurtured in his love for by the Kimberton Waldorf School farming, He became an apprentice in Angelic Organics in Illinois before coming to Kimberton CSA.|
With the help of a small staff, as well as interns, members and volunteers, Eric and Birgit not only grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, they also raise 150 free-roaming chickens. The chickens lay an average of 120 eggs a day! The chickens share the farm with 50 grass-fed organic lambs. The first lamb meat will be ready in June and the rest will be ready in late summer and sold in the Phoenixville Farmer’s Market.
|I encourage you to visit Kimberton CSA and its neighbor, the Seven Stars Farm which produces organic, biodynamic yogurt. The farm is not just a treat for the body but for the mind and spirit. You will feel the unity of yourself with the earth. Bring your children to play in the sandbox, look at the sweet bunnies and say “hi!” to the happy free-roaming pastured cows. The tranquil setting will make you feel calm and soothed. Whole. Which is what biodynamic farming is all about…the whole of us with the whole of the earth. Together.|
Friday, May 28, 2010
Here comes summer! Backyard barbecues, picnics in the park, lunches by the pool and outdoor potlucks with friends and family. This means egg dishes. Deviled eggs, egg salad, country potato salad, spinach salad and other creamy fillings that fit perfectly in the middle of a hard boiled egg.
I bet you hope for eggshells that just slide off and there aren’t any pesky bits to painstakingly pick out? But guess what…if you peel an egg and end up with an ugly mess—it’s fresh. You won’t find a whole lot of those in the grocery store. If you have never eaten a fresh, farm-raised egg, you have never eaten an egg.
The expression, “don’t put your eggs all in one basket” holds very true about the egg industry. Do you reach for the carton of “Free Range” eggs? By definition, that means that chickens have access to the out of doors. The “outdoors” might be a small patch of dirt outside of the chicken coop. “Free-Roaming” or “Cage Free” sounds like a home for happy hens…right? Wrong! It means the chickens may roam free inside of one big cage rather than individual wire cages. Not much of an improvement. “Vegetarian-Fed” or “Organic” hens are most likely raised in cages.
Imagine what these conditions do to the hen. Imagine what it does to the eggs. Imagine what it does to your body! Unfortunately, not every egg is a GOOD egg.
Let’s get back to those vegetarian chickens. How healthy! About as healthy as a vegetarian diet for a tiger or lion. Chickens need protein to make protein. They need worms and bugs along with grass and seeds. Being fed processed grain with artificial supplements does not meet the dietary requirements of a chicken. If their nutritional needs aren’t met, they aren’t producing good eggs and you aren’t eating good eggs.
But are eggs good? Or do you believe reports in the media that eggs are to be feared. You should run in the opposite direction of an egg with its high levels of fat and cholesterol. Or worse (gulp) eat eggs that are poured out from a carton. According to many nutritionists including a study that was reported in the October, 2007 issue of Mother Earth News, pastured eggs has 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta carotene.
My good friend Eric, a farmer from Kimberton CSA, moves a portable hen house regularly so chickens can enjoy wild plants, peck the worms and take dust baths in the sun. If you joined me on the farm you would see the world of difference in the eggs from these hens. The shells are much harder and are a vivid bright brown color. The yolk is a deep, rich orange color.But how does a pastured egg taste?
Trust me, you will never crack another supermarket egg again. Yes, a dozen pastured eggs costs a few dollars more. But those extra dollars help promote eco-friendly conditions for healthy hens laying good eggs that are much more nutritious and taste so much better.
You now have a homework assignment! Next time you are making deviled eggs for the family barbecue, purchase the eggs from hens raised on a pasture-fed farm. This means without antibiotics, uncaged, natural sunlight, eating untreated grass and worms. You may either do a search online or find the farms listed on eatwild.com. After you eat the eggs from pasture-fed hens, write back to me. Tell me the difference between the eggs you used to eat and the eggs you should eat. I will post some of your discoveries.
Go and enjoy a good egg!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
When I tell people that I am a chef I see their eyes light up with interest. “Tell me more!” “How exciting!” “Where did you learn to cook?” “Have you met any celebrities?” Professional chef sounds sexy. Personal chef sounds intriguing. When I say that I am originally from Siberia, again, people are amazed. “How exotic!” “What brought you to the States?” “Where did you learn to speak English?”
Yes, one would think I am the total life of a party. The person everyone wants to hang out with.
And then. Then I say the evil words. The words that clear a room. The words that have people tell me they need to go to the bathroom/make a phone call/have to suddenly be anywhere else. Organic foods & biodynamic farming. I am usually surprised when someone wants to learn more about organic foods. I describe how I am a member of Kimberton CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). How I use the fruits and vegetables from the CSA in my personal cooking because it is farmed biodynamically. Meaning, the farm avoids the use of toxic chemicals for fertility and pest control.
Wow…they’re STILL interested? Okay, so I keep explaining about the importance of pasture-fed chickens. We have been led to believe that free-range chickens are happy and healthy chickens. They are not. All it means is that a door might be open for a bit to allow the chickens to wander outside of their overpopulated cage. The chickens are so sick they rarely leave the cage. Pasture-fed chickens are given the freedom to live, eat and grow at a normal rate. They are raised on a farm that is free from hormones, toxins and other poisons.
Why would anyone want to put anything but fresh, chemically-free food in their body? This is important to me as a chef, the mother of my children, resident of my community and member of our planet.
That’s usually when people’s eyes start glazing over…are yours? I hope not because I want you to eat real food. Real food doesn’t need a label listing all of the fat, sodium and additives. Real food nourishes our body, mind, spirit. Real food feeds heals our bodies and the planet. Real food is delicious. Real food is loving. Real food is sexy.
Uh-oh…I’ve lost you again, haven’t I? Well, I’m not a preacher so I will stop preaching. I’m a chef and I want you to cook with me. These are some examples of the types of recipes that you will have fun creating, you and your friends and family will love eating….and, if it helps you live a longer, healthier life…don’t say I didn’t tell you!
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Garlic Greens and Potato Soup
Here is my Kimberton CSA inspired version of Vichyssoise. It has vibrant refreshing taste and very easy to make.
2 T butter
2 stalks garlic greens, sliced
2 medium potatoes
6 cup chicken stock (preferably home made)
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in 3 qt pot. Add the green garlic and sautee about 5-7 min. Add potato, cook another 2-3 min. Add chicken stock and cook until potatoes are very tender. Carefully transfer the mixture in the food processor and puree until smooth. Return soup to the pot. Add cream and bring to boil. Strain through a sieve if you prefer smoother consistency (and less fiber).
Serve hot or cold (depending on your mood or weather) with sourdough croûtons.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
1st pickup from Kimberton CSA
Today was my first pick up from Kimberton
CSA. When I arrived I found a chalk board with the list of
vegetables I was getting today. I felt like I was in Iron Chef with the
surprise ingredient just revealed.
1 Tat Soi
1 bunch mizuna
2 garlic greens
2 (HUUUGE!) heads of lettuce
1 3/4# spinach
1 bunch arugula
I love to cook and enjoy incorporating unusual ingredients so I was very excited to have fresh tat soi and lovage.
Tat Soi looks like fancy rosette of shiny dark green of spoon shaped leaves. It has a mild mustard greens taste with a texture of baby bock choi. After I ate it I was left with faint metallic edge in my mouth and steamed broccoli aftertaste. Tat Soi is popular greens in Asian Cuisine and has many names, including spoon cabbage or rosette bock choi. It's a member of the brassica family which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, and kale. It is low in calories and high minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Can be used in stir fries, stews and soups eaten raw in the salads.
|Lovage resembled celery with much stronger licorice taste and darker foliage. Lovage is a very old herb which is staple in South European cuisine. It's seeds, stalks and leaves are used to flavor soups and stews. It is a great addition to potato or tomato dishes. It can be used like celery or parsley but in lesser amounts due to the long lasting strong flavor. Lovage is best used fresh, but you can freeze the leaves and stems. Just blanch them for 1-2 min and refresh in the ice bath. Then towel dry and put in a plastic freezer bag.||
||Mizuna (other name include Japanese Greens, California Peppergrass) has been cultivated in Japan since ancient times. It has tenderloin shaped fringed tender leaves. It has slightly peppery, mild mustardy taste. It can be steamed, boiled, stir-fried or used in the salad along or mixed with other greens.|
It be totally honest I was less then exited about the turnips. Growing up in Siberia I had my fare share of turnips. I know how nutritious they are and all of that. I'm always a little turned off by a turnips unpleasant bitterness and fibrous texture. But this white Japanese turnips with the exotic name - Hakurei - are fabulous exception! I would even say they are my new favorite root vegetable! With glossy snow-white skin and luscious, delicate, almost creamy taste - OMG! I felt like it would be a sin to cook them. So I just washed them and ate the raw with skin on. They added wonderful texture to my salad. And the best thing about this vegetable that it is virtually waste-free: you can eat the bottom and the top. yes, the turnip greens are great in salads or sauteed. They are very high in vitamin C (in three times more then in the root), folic acid, calcium and magnesium.
I was also surprised to garlic greens on the list. I remember using it from my early childhood but here in US garlic primarily grown for it's bulb. The garlic greens are almost sweet with a pleasant heat at first which is followed by a moderately strong garlic flavor. The leaves are pretty tough and woody. So it is more suited to be cooked for a while. They are loaded with vitamins A, B, C and fiber.
|After I finished my "not-at-all-blind" tasting and online research I went to Wegmans and purchased a salad spinner. It is a great thing to have especially if you are planning on enjoying the green leafy vegetables all summer long. I separated lettuce leaves, washed them, tore into the pieces (cutting with the knife can easily bruise delicate leaves) and ran through the salad spinner. After that I portioned them and packed into the resealable plastic bags. Arugula, mizuna and turnip greens underwent the same process.||
1 and 3/4# of spinach doesn't sound a lot but it takes a lot of precious space in your fridge. So I cleaned it, spinned it, blanched it in slightly salted water, then "shocked" it in the icy water. Blanching does not actually cook the greens but softens their texture, while shocking them in cold water keeps their color vibrant and stops the cooking process (Popeye would be proud!). Drained in a fine mesh strainer, pressing with a large spoon to release as much water as possible. And voula!- it now fits into 2 qt container!
Monday, May 03, 2010
Community Supported Agriculture
Having grown up in Russia, one of my earliest and most vivid food memories comes from my early childhood. My family had a tiny garden in our backyard and my mother would collect and cut fresh cucumber as soon as they were ready. I can still remember how that irresistible fresh smell would quickly spread from one room to another, making us kids fidgety with anticipation for what was headed our way. Moments later, our favorite salad was ready: sliced cucumber, dill and a touch of sunflower oil with just a hint of salt and pepper for seasoning. It was a simply divine dish on a hot day and a sure sign summer was on its way. We would wait so impatiently for summer to arrive and we knew we had to act fast in these treasured moments because "hot" and "summer" doesn't last long in Southern Siberia.
Upon my relocation to the United States, I was surprised by the quantity and diversity of produce available year round. As my curiosity urged me to find out how that was possible, I was also surprised to learn our fruits and veggies are shipped from all over the world and, in order to comply with consumer demand, are unfortunately saturated with massive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. Now as I look at these perfectly formed cucumbers, I am saddened as I realize in their individual growth, they are trapped in plastic wrap. When I slice and bite into the seemingly "perfect" vegetable, I miss the obviously absent taste and smell I remember so fondly from my youth. As both a consumer and the mother of two small children, I wanted to learn more about the food I was purchasing. As a concerned citizen and professional chef, I want to share cutting edge food philosophies with my clients.
It's no secret that the current state of our food supply and demand is, well, demanding. Today's growers are faced with the ever increasing need to be even more productive, in an already strained system, with one, single goal - more crop. In so doing, seeds are genetically modified to produce high yields of thick-skinned fruits and vegetables resulting in fields covered in loads of nitrogen fertilizer. In an effort to minimize wasted crop, the final product is one of watery or diluted composition with, quite frankly, minimized taste. Since industrial farmers no longer use the older, more labor intensive models of agriculture, they are also no longer rotating the crops in their fields. This practice further interrupts the natural growth process of our produce, in turn opening the crop to the vulnerability of insects and disease. To combat this, even more pesticides, heavy metals and solvents are used. Some of these treatments are known carcinogens, while others have been linked, in humans, to cellular membrane damage, decreased immune systems and depleted nerve function. The overwhelming amounts of pesticides used is quite staggering. In conventionally grown apples alone, over 100 different pesticides are employed. The point being, we are unwittingly being sold something we weren't exactly shopping for.
To prevent bruising and damage, produce is then transported well before it has properly ripened. On average, our produce travels over 1,400 miles from the farm to our table. Upon arrival at the grocery store, the produce is then pumped full of ethylene gas to speed up the ripening process. While the produce looks pleasing enough, it is no longer recognizable in terms of taste, as it does when picked at the peak of its flavor. In essence, they just aren't the cucumbers mom used to grow.
Our packaging plants are also full of innovative practices as they apply to preserving shelf life and the fresh "look" of our produce. One of those such practices called "Irradiation" is a popular method used today. This is a process in which electron-beam radiation is smashed into the food, destroying both the bacteria as well as the produce's natural vitamins and minerals; essentially creating an entirely new chemical compound altogether with an exorbitant collection of free radicals.
Another popular packaging process known as MAP or "Modified Atmosphere Packaging" is one that deflates the produce in order to replenish its mass with carbon dioxide. Obviously, the oxygen level is reduced, inhibiting aerobic microbial growth. All of this is to say, while the item may still "look" fresh, it is actually well past its prime. The old adage still rings true, as we know looks can be deceiving.
So all of this is to say, that yes, by virtue of dollars and cents, buying organic local produce can be more expensive initially. However, when we as consumers buy organic items, we are promoting not only healthier bodies and more sustainable agriculture, but also protecting our children's environment from the toxic chemicals widely distributed in today's industrial farming practices. I personally like to think of our bodies as 401K accounts that we are investing in now for a healthy return in the future.
For these reasons, to benefit my family as well as my clients, I prefer to shop at places like Whole Foods and the local farmer's market when possible. This year, On Call Gourmet, is proud to announce we have joined Kimberton Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) which employs farming methods beyond what is typically known as "organic". Kimberton CSA farms biodynamically.
Biodynamic agriculture conceives of the farm as a self-contained living organism with its own individuality. Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling nutrients, and maintaining the health of the crops and animals without the external input of toxic chemicals. This practice ensures the purest product and restores the soil in a natural way; Pure proof resulting in pure taste.
As both a chef and a mom, I embrace the idea of healthy cooking and mindful eating, while supporting our community's local organic farmers to simultaneously enjoy high quality and better tasting ingredients. Organic farming, as I have come to appreciate, has numerous benefits to my clients including healthier minds and bodies. In addition to these philosophies, On Call Gourmet further contributes to sustainability by using only glass, stainless steel or cast iron containers and cook ware, consistent recycling practices, and uses only safe, non-toxic cleaning products. It is our little way of encouraging and promoting well-being well beyond the plate.