The bounty of the harvest in the middle of winter.

sauerkraut, potatoe, sausage, mustard

sauerkraut, potato, sausage, mustard

Home made sauerkraut braised with potatoes and modest serving of Italian sweet sausage served with good mustard. That was supper last night. Delicious!

Sauerkraut was my cottage industry project last fall when the CSA sent me a humungeous green cabbage and my challenge now mid January is to find creative interesting ways to plate it.

Before the wonders of modern industrial production, most of us had no choice but to eat sauerkraut and potatoes and other good keepers. Being the obstreperous creatures we humans are, lots of people like me are looking past the present back to a simpler time. I plead guilty to occasional episodes of pastoral romanticism mostly because it’s fun and I have a little discretionary time to spend on my favorite pastime which is food. I’m also curious and love to study the science behind why things like sauerkraut work.

We have been working our way through the sauerkraut I make last Fall for the last three months. I never made my own sauerkraut before so I can’t say this is the best I’ve ever made, but I can say it’s the best sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted because the only sauerkraut I ever had before was off the shelf commercial. What a difference my artisan sauerkraut made on a simple and totally American hot dog!

So here we our in the middle of January and the sauerkraut still smells sweet and still tastes good. Amazing what can be done at home! Well you may be laughing but I really do think this process is wondrous. And even more relevant the process is considered safe.

What was once survival and necessity has become an activity for people like me privileged enough to have the discretionary time for experimentation. Fermentation has been part of human history and was vital in human survival in the days before refrigerators, freezers, and processed food. Fermentation allowed us to preserve food in a nutritional and safe way when there was no supermarket to provide it. Cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, olives, salami, jerky, even bread are examples of fermentation used for preservation.

I have made my own yogurt and bread, but don’t do it anymore because an off the shelf product will meet my quality standards and I choose to spend time experimenting in other ways.

Supper last night was a home run. Totally delicious.

Fermentation is marked to become one of the most important food trends of 2015. But because there is no off the shelf product as good as my cottage industry sauerkraut yet, there’s a good chance I will make up another batch next year.

 

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Who will be counting calories in 2015?

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We all know what happens when we eat too much. These mischievous little critters invade our closets, sabotage our New Years resolutions, undermine our best intentions, destroy our morale, and cause us to lose hope.

But getting rid of the creatures is not like dealing with bed bugs or termites.

Exterminating calories has proven to be more complex. With the best of intentions, our government decided to go on the offensive about twenty years ago. They reasoned that a public education campaign might help us exterminate the tiny creatures. Health care professionals and consumer activists both applauded the decision.

The plan required food manufacturers to count calories and post results on a Nutrition Facts Label. The rational was that informed consumers would make better food choices. Unfortunately, things did not work as planned. This first round of consumer education coincided with a population explosion of the tiny creatures evidenced by a significant average weight gain per person of about 20 pounds over the last twenty years. We call it the obesity epidemic.

Correlation is not causation and counting calories did not cause the obesity epidemic. Nor did it help. But the two events did co-exist within the same time frame.

Fast forward to 2015. So who will be counting this year?

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Certainly not the healthy eating crowd. As this image demonstrates, some of these folks like to count but most of them discount calories. At best, they tend to focus on whole, minimally processed foods. At worst, these folks tend to go for rigid regimes like paleo or gluten-free.

RDN’s like me who work in the field know counting calories is helpful to some and not helpful to others. We view calories as a useful food metric. Volume measures liquid. Weight measures mass. Calories measure heat.

We know that  eating too many calories tends to lead to weight gain while eating too few tends to lead to weight loss. We also acknowledge that knowing how to count offers no protection and have colleagues whose closets are full of tiny creatures.

Certain food activists will definitely be counting. These are the folks who excel at counting other people’s calories but always want us to know it’s not our fault. If tiny creatures live in our closets, it’s because our brains are wired to succumb and food manufacturers take full advantage by surrounding us at all times with foods that are tasty and irresistible. The logic continues that since we are powerless to keep tiny creatures out of our closets, the government needs to be even more proactive about extermination.

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2015 looks to be a very good year for counting. A new set of Dietary Guidelines is expected and restaurants, delis, supermarkets, vending machines, movie theaters will all need to start counting calories and posting results.

Will more counting help us get the tiny creatures out of our closets?

Probably not in and of itself. But I still like to believe it can’t hurt. Too many people still have no clue how to match up how much they eat to how much they weigh. But even someone like me who likes calories and believes they can help has to concede that it will take more than counting and posting to realize a successful extermination campaign.

As for me, I will be counting because that’s how I earn my living and calories are one of my favorite food metrics.

And just for the record, this RDN has had one serious infestation. It happened because I took a desk job, sat on my butt 10 hours a day, ate bigger lunches, and stopped shopping on foot. And yes, the tiny creatures invaded my closet. A change in behavior let the creatures in and a change in behavior got them out. I still love counting calories but know from both my own experience and my working with clients that lifestyle change is the only extermination method that actually works.

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Working my way through the CSA.

leek, potatoes, rutabaga, nutmeg

leek, potatoes, rutabaga, nutmeg

Picked up my last load from the CSA the day before Thanksgiving and am still working my way through. Over the six months of the season I got 270 pounds of vegetables. In other words, I picked up and brought home 10 to 20 pounds per week. Every week for 26 weeks. My goal was to eat or distribute everything and on that count I’ve done an outstanding job. So far. But I’m not finished yet.

Pictured above are some potatoes and a lovely bunch of leeks for my soup. Up in one corner is a rutabaga which I’m going to use with the potatoes and in the other corner a nutmeg which I will grate as the soup finishes cooking. An appreciation goes to James Beard for the suggestion of using nutmeg in leek and potato soup. I’m pretty creative in the kitchen, but I never would have thought of that one on my own.

I love leeks but they are sometimes a pain in the neck because they can be full of sand. These leeks were comparatively sand free so in no time I have them washed and sliced them.

Now I put a couple of tablespoons olive oil in the 4 liter soup pot, toss in the leeks, and let them braise. As the leeks soften and get aromatic, I scrub and cut up the potatoes leaving the skin on for extra fiber and nutrients. The rutabaga got added because I don’t know what else to do with it. It’s the same color as the potatoes and hopefully it will all just blend right in.

I add a liter of low sodium stock, chuck in the potatoes and the rutabaga, and let it all come to a boil. Then turn the heat down and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft.

My preference is low sodium stock not because I don’t want salt but because I want to add the salt to my taste. Also the presalted stocks do not taste as clean to my palate as the low sodium ones.

When the potatoes are soft enough to mash, I pull out the food mill. A wonderful kitchen devise that manually pulverized vegetables into chunks or purée pieces. The food mill is much gentler than the food processor. What is really cool about using the food mill is that the potatoes and leeks go in one end and out the other end comes soup. Back into the pot. Adjust the seasonings. Grate in some nutmeg. I used half the piece. Add more water or stock if the consistency is too thick. And as a final touch, I stir in a good sized piece of butter.

And there you have it, a nourishing late fall soup.

Best of all my leeks and the rutabaga are gone. And all I have left is 7 pounds of potatoes in my pantry. Hummmmmm …

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Thanksgiving is my day to eat dark meat and skin.

photo: Thanksgiving Turkey, Tim Sackton via flickr creative commons

photo: Thanksgiving Turkey, Tim Sackton via flickr creative commons

Butternut squash soup, roasted fall vegetables, cranberries, stuffing and potatoes, pumpkins pies … So much good food comes our way on this truly American day of celebration.

Conventional dietary advice for say the last 20 years or so has been to eat the white breast turkey meat without skin. Now this RDN has never been very conventional and she has continued to eat both skin and dark meat despite that advice.

White meat turkey is, in my opinion at least, an insipid tasteless excuse for protein. So filling up on skinless turkey breast is the last thing I have ever wanted to do. My granddaddy always said that the best part of the turkey was the drumstick and the skin. Roasted, succulent, flavorful, filling, and considering it is after all turkey actually good! My granddaddy knew what he was talking about and he was right.

Besides, eating only white meat and chucking dark meat and skin adds to solid waste. It’s also disrespectful to the bird.

2014 has been a good year for fats. And I am feeling vindicated that current research is finally demonstrating that fat is not a toxic substance. Maybe saturated fat is not a “health” food but that is not the same thing as saying this kind of fat has no place in a healthy diet or on a healthy plate.

So I will follow my granddad’s advice this year just like I have always done and go for the drumstick.

And because I’m a RDN who runs nutrition numbers, I am pleased to report that eating the whole bird means I’ll be getting more zinc and vitamin B-12. An added bonus for my decision to indulgence in dark meat and roasted skin.

So I say Happy Thanksgiving and let’s all enjoy our day! We are in the midst of a sea change in nutrition thinking. Can’t wait to see what plays out in 2015.

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Just don’t do anything that will poison us!

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Those were Jeff’s words of encouragement when I told him I wanted to make a sauerkraut.

Why you may be asking did I want to make sauerkraut? Here’s why. My CSA had put a gigantic humongous incredibly heavy 5 1/2 pound cabbage in my box and, along with other 10 pounds of assorted vegetables, I had one week before the next delivery to figure out what to do with the lavish abundance. Besides I never made a sauerkraut before.

Now I am not a complete novice. I did ferment some cucumbers once. Granted it was way before I met Jeff, but I didn’t poison my self that time. And that was really before I had a clue what I was doing.

Just for the record, those fermented cucumbers were the best pickles I have ever eaten.

I still don’t really know what I’m doing now, but I’m a lot more knowledgeable today and even more important I know where to start looking. So with Jeff’s words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I began my search.

For do it yourself sauerkraut, the Internet really excels. So I did my due diligence reading up on the matter and determined that fermentation is one of the older forms of preservation practiced by us humans. As it is technically called, lacto-fermentation has been practiced for centuries as a method for preserving excess vegetable at the end of the growing season.

During the fermentation process, the vegetables are cut or shredded, and salt is added. The salt draws out the vegetable liquid and the vegetables ferment in their juices.

State Extension Services seem to have the more detailed technical information like percentage of salt solution and temperature ranges most favorable to promote the growth of the good guys i.e. lactic acid and discourage entry of the bad guys i.e. spoilage or food poisoning microorganisms otherwise know as the stuff that makes you sick.

I also checked a FaceBook group for people who love to ferment all kinds of weird stuff. I got a lot of moral support and realized there were lots of people out there who ferment cabbage into sauerkraut and have lived to talk about it.

I need to Follow directions. Need to be careful. It’s times like this I am glad I took microbiology.

Okay, if primitive illiterate humans can ferment a cabbage and live to tell about it, a well educated, intelligent, twenty-first century female should certainly be able to rise to the occasion.

So I gathered my references, pulled out my biggest bread bowl, washed and sliced my caggage, measured out my salt solution, and set it all to ferment at the appropriate temperature. And I checked it every day.

The fermentation process appears to be variable. As little as three days and as long as three months. Depends on which source you read and which person you talk to. However on day ten, here in New York we got hit with a cold spell so I decided it was time to close down the cottage industry. I packed the sauerkraut into to liter glass containers and moved them to the frig. We had pork chops on Sunday, so I served some kraut alongside with sweet potatoes.

Jeff’s responce “This tastes pretty good … It sure tastes like sauerkraut … “.

Next step is to build up enough courage to take a taste straight up. I tagged it safe. Now I need to follow through and taste it without heating the kraut up first.

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Surprise! Look what I found in my CSA box last week.

The Watermelon radish, also known as Rooseheart or Red Meat, is an heirloom Chinese Daikon radish.


Watermelon radish, also known as Rooseheart or Red Meat, is an heirloom Chinese Daikon radish.

When I pulled these two beauties out of the box last week, I was clueless. And since I am pretty knowledgeable about foods, clueless doesn’t happen to me very often.

The situation called for immediate investigation. One root got washed and cut in half. I was blown away by that gorgeous vibrant fuchsia color. Never would I have guessed that this mundane root could reveal such a photogenic interior!

Next question is how does it taste? So the root got peeled. What a pleasant surprise. A mild crisp slightly sharp taste reminiscent of turnips.

Only then did it occur to me to figure out the name of what I just ate and that was when I started to learn about the watermelon radish. It’s a member of the Brassica (mustard) family along with arugula, broccoli and turnips according to the CSA website. An edible globular root attached to thin stems and wavy green leaves. The exterior is creamy white with pale green shoulders, a sign of the chlorophyll it received from exposure to the sun. Watermelon radish flesh is white closest to the exterior and becomes bright, circular striations of pink and magenta toward the center. Hence, the watermelon reference.

So what to do with this gorgeous root? The one reference provided by the CSA was a recipe from Whole Foods for cooked radishes. No way was I going to cook the root. Heat would just mute that crisp flavor and potentially destroy the vibrant color.

As I was musing how I would plate and present the root, I ended up eating quite a few pieces. One thing for sure. It’s a tasty root.

A Google search revealed that watermelon radishes have been available in the US for at least a couple of years and seem to be more often associated with the west coast as opposed to the east coast. I did find one outlier CSA in Idaho however proudly touting the beauty and virtues of watermelon radishes. Most recipes I found reflected my original take that the root is better presented raw in a salad than cooked as a side dish. It’s always nice to see one’s own culinary judgment supported by others.

That first root, or I should say what was left of it, went on top of a green salad. Color contrast was striking. Roots are good keepers, so I won’t use the other root until I’ve more time to think about presentation and pairings. I think combining the root with avocado might be a good way to go.

On the Healthy versus Healthy infograph, watermelon radishes are getting a phytonutrients tag. A root with that much pigment that is also a member of the brassica family has phytonutrition even if the research nutritionists have not given the pigment a name or measured the amount. Check the tag line for my other ratings.

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My romance with broccoli.

organic broccoli

organic broccoli

 

Pictured above is the broccoli that came in this week’s CSA box. Pristine, lovely, organic, and ready to use. And not a worm or an aberrant insect to be seen.

I love broccoli. We eat seasonal and local which here in the north east means mid-summer into late fall. Seasonal and local also means organic broccoli from a CSA or greenmarket.

My broccoli is usually braised in olive oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt. More than al dente but never over-cooked. I cut the flowered heads off from the stem, removing the tough fibrous skin from the stalks, and cut the stems into bite sized pieces. No need to get too fancy with broccoli because it tastes so good on its own.

We eat broccoli in season, but in the depths of a north east winter, that vibrant green California crop looks pretty good. So not being a purist, we also eat broccoli out of season. I’m okay with conventional during the winter when my local grocer has a good selection.

I used to get romantic about broccoli. Especially a broccoli that I picked myself right off the stalk. But I learned a harsh lesson during that first year I cooked in Garches. And I have looked at broccoli with a realistic eye ever since.

My friend Isabelle has a beautiful house and property in this little suburb half way between Paris and Versailles. She had an arrangement with a local gardener. He could grow whatever vegetable he wanted to and sell them in return for making the garden available to us. And we ate marvelously well from that garden!

I would just go out and pick whatever I wanted each day. Broccoli came in that fall and I was there to pick some for supper. But just once.

Being young and romantic I believed all that was natural was good. Now a farmer knows that when you grow broccoli, you have to deal with worms. Organic or conventional, worms love broccoli. However the farmer decides to farm it, worms are part of the calculation. But I grew up in the suburbs so how was I supposed to know?

Conventional farmers use conventional pesticides; organic farmers use USDA organically approved pesticides. I don’t think this guy used anything. The broccoli was completely natural and completely full of worms.

I put up a valiant battle. But the worms outnumbered and out gunned me. There were so many I gave up trying and ended up dumping everything back out somewhere behind a bush. I could not look at broccoli again for a long time.

My love of broccoli did return but I lost my romanticism, but I still find myself checking for little nasty critters. So God Bless whatever my organic farmer / conventional farmer needs to so I don’t have to deal with worms.

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What to do with too many vegetables soup.

vegetable soup

zucchini, collard, potato soup

I love soups. Especially as we move into fall and the days get shorter and the nights get colder. Warm, appetizing, aromatic, easy to make, and one of the best ways to use up vegetables when you have too many. Like when my CSA keeps sending me more vegetables than we can eat.

That’s my soup pictured above. Those very dark green pieces are collards. The softer light green pieces are zucchini. Potatoes blend in to add consistency and softness. And the orange pieces are carrots from the soffritto.

Because the CSA keeps sending me vegetables we don’t usually eat, like zucchini or collards or potatoes, my creative cooking skills have been getting challenged on a weekly basis. But nothing can go to waste, so here’s how I handled the overload from the last couple of weeks.

Every soup gets started the same way. I pull out my AllClad 4 liter soup pot and start the soffritto. Put some olive oil, a chopped onion, some chopped carrot and celery in the pot and let it all slowly sauté until the onion starts to turn color.Soggriggere is the Italian word for sauté and my soups always start with a soffritto.

Now comes the fun part. Open the frig.

First I found those two remaining zucchini from I think two weeks ago. One was big enough to have seeds inside so I had to scrape them out. The other one was smaller and was good to go. Washed, trimmed, and chopped the zucchini goes into the pot. I let the zucchini pieces start to brown in the olive oil. Thank goodness it’s the end of the season because I am running out of zucchini ideas. Could anyone imagine a vegetable more devoid of character or taste than a zucchini?

Then I found the bag of the collard leaves. Collards are an incredibly healthy phytonutrient rich vegetable, but my preference is kale or rapini or chard. Collards are, however, good in soups because they hold both shape and color during cooking. So I washed the leaves, removed the thick spine, chopped then up in small pieces, and put them in the pot.

Can’t forget potatoes! I have eaten more potatoes this fall than I’ve eaten over the last couple of years combined. The potato skin needs good scrubbing but no need to remove it. Just cut them up in pieces and into the pot they go.

Then I add a liter box of chicken stock (low sodium) to the pot along with some dry herbes de province. Fresh herbs work better, but I didn’t have any on hand. And finally 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Everything gets to slowly simmer together for about 40 minutes.

Once all the vegetables soften and start to blend, I run the pieces through my food mill and soup comes out the other end. I prefer the rough cut version you see in the picture so I use the largest grate of the food mill. It’s just that easy to make 2 liters of vegetable soup. Any greens you have on hand should work just fine.

To see how the soup scores on my Healthy versus Healthy infograph, check the tags.

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When healthy makes you gag!

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Fall is the season for so many good healthy vegetables. Brassica like kale, rapini, cauliflower, sprouts. Celeriac. Onions. Late season storage carrots. And squashes like butternut, spaghetti, pumpkin, and acorn.

My CSA Keeps sending me squashes and I have a problem. Acorn squash and speghetti squash make me gag.

All vegetables are healthy but some vegetables are more healthy. Pigment color is the marker for certain phytonutrients. Red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetable are rich in carotinoids. And winter squash is nothing if not deep orange. That deep vibrant color marks heavy concentrations. So I have tried on many occasions and failed. Acorn squash just makes me gag.

Besides there is no point in signing up for a CSA and then not eating what arrives each week. Or at the very least giving it away.

Pictured above are two acorn and one sweet dumpling. And I anticipate more squash next week. It’s squash season.

So last week I put on my creative cooking cap and came up with the following solution. Every Thanksgiving I make pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is a squash in the same family as acorn so what would happen is if I just substituted the same amount of steamed acorn for canned pumpkin?

And my good idea worked beautifully. Acorn squash makes an excellent pumpkin pie. We can’t say my pie is as healthy as a serving of the vegetable because the squash comes along with added sugar and more refined carbohydrate which dilute the phytonutrition. However it’s fresh, local, and delicious. I can eat it without gagging and not a single squash will go to waste. Each of my acorn squash pies makes 6 servings so at 340 calories per piece, we are going to need to keep our eye on portion size and frequency.

Here are the proportions I used:

1 2/3 cup purée (pumpkin, acorn squash)/ 400 grams
2 eggs
3/4 cup turbinado sugar / 150 grams
2/3 cup milk / 150 ml
1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 tablespoons butter / 30 grams
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 prepared 9 inch graham cracker crust

Steam acorn squash or open the canned pumpkin. Melt butter. Assemble ingredients. Combine squash or pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, flour, butter, vanilla, spices, salt in mixing bowl. Whisk just enough to blend thoroughly. Pour into 9 inch graham cracker crust. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350F and bake addition 40 minutes. Remove and cool at least 2 hours before serving.

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The brutal business of steaming clams.

Long Island little neck clams

Long Island little neck clams

I have a lot of culinary respect for Chef Dan Barber. Never been to the restaurant, but I have read his recent book The Third Plate. It’s a good read.

Earlier this summer, Dan Barber did an interview with Eater New York

“Why Farm-to-Table King Dan Barber Believes Meat Is Hyper-Seasonal”. Here is the response to a question posed by the interviewer: “Do you believe people who eat meat should see an animal being slaughtered at least once to gain appreciation for what’s on their plate? If so, why?”

Intuitively I subscribe to that, but I don’t know that you need to see the sacrifice to be worthy of eating meat. There’s a part of me that believes that all cooks should, which is what we do here at Blue Hill. We make them part of slaughter because they’re working with these animals, with a ton of meat throughout the course of a week. I feel that it’s pretty important that they get that kind of side.

If you’re eating meat and you’re knowing the farmer and you’re supporting the right kind of ecology I think that’s enough. Or I’ll put it to you another way, if I were to demand everyone who eats meat thoughtfully should also slaughter or be a part of a slaughter of meat I would say the same thing about the harvest of a plant of kale or the harvesting of a tomato. You need to be there for the harvest.

Now you may be asking what in the world does a carniferous celebrity chef have to do with me learning how to steam clams? Let me explain.

I have always believed that people who eat meat should be prepared to slaughter and butcher the animal. Or the chicken. Or the fish. So to find someone of Dan Barber’s statue actually saying this out loud is notable. To me at least.

Would I actually be able to do it? Slaughter and eat an animal? I don’t know. I’ve never had a chance to try. But that is the connection with clams and this is the rest of the story.

Linguine and clam sauce is a truly delectable dish. One of the first restaurant meals I had after arriving in New York and it was love at first bite.

Being a California girl, the only clams I had ever heard of before moving to Long Island were Pismo clams. Pismos grew big up to seven inches and I think folks made chowder with them. I had never seen a small delicate clam before I arrived in New York.

We all tend to feel comfortable doing the things we are used to. So the first time I saw a native Long Islander dig up a clam, break it open, and eat it raw, my stomach wretched. It was way out of my comfort zone. Still can’t do it to this day.

But love is a powerful motivator and I really love linguine and clam sauce. So a couple of years ago, I took action. My analytic left brain knew if I ate clams someone had to get them from the shell onto the plate and logic demanded either I forgo the pleasure or I be prepared to do the job myself. Mind over matter is easier said then done. So for almost a year I just looked. Then one beautiful summer day I took the plunge and purchased a dozen little neck clams.

And yes the linguine and clam sauce was delicious. Been making variations ever since.

So I say thank you Casey, my greenmarket fishmonger, for picking out the smallest ones just for me. And I say thank you Dan Barber for giving me the courage to say out loud something I have felt in my heart but have been reluctant to say before.

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