Friday, January 29, 2010

The urge to grow

I rejoiced two days ago when I noticed the arugula I planted in a pot in my home office window had sprouted. I’ve been so tired of not having fresh herbs that I decided to get some pots, soil and seeds and try to start herbs in the sunniest window in the house, with the hopes that I might be eating them within the month. Now the chives are peeking up and I can see one tiny thyme plant jumping up ahead of the rest.

What is this urge that some of us have to grow? I suppose it’s sort of like the desire to cook; some people love it and some people would be happy eating from restaurants their entire lives. The difference doesn’t seem to rely on upbringing, as far as my observations go, so perhaps it’s something innate we’re born with or not.

I do think some of us develop an interest in what might have been planted early on but abandoned because we find reasons we should want to do it. Although I liked planting with my dad when I was young, I can’t say it’s something I missed when I lived in New York City for four years. As soon as I left the city, though, for an apartment in Maryland, I planted a rose bush by my patio and buried compost around it. I don’t think it actually survived (I had no idea how to care for it and don’t remember studying the subject) but nonetheless, the urge was there. And when I came to Kentucky and found a place to garden, I dove in enthusiastically, asking everyone else who I spied carrying gardening tools or vegetables for advice.

So now I wait to return to the garden and try to occupy myself with small growing projects indoors. I also planted sprouts last week and have been eating them on sandwiches this week. I find they’re a good sandwich addition when I don’t have fresh lettuce.

The snow is supposed to be coming. Sounds like a weekend for soup and perusing the seed catalogs.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Then there was the Sweet Potato Salad

During the picnic days of summer we often think of making up a good potato salad to carry outside with us. In these chilly days of winter when I primarily go for warm food, I changed it up and tried a sweet potato salad. Much to Jim’s surprise, it made the taste buds dance!

Yes, even if you’re getting tired of the sweet potatoes you harvested and stored, there is yet another way to use them. This is another one of those gems of a recipe from Extending the Table . . . A World Community Cookbook. It was colorful and tempting to the eyes with the bits of green celery, white onion and red pepper nestled among the potatoes. The recipe has two choices for the dressing—honey-mustard or spicy chipotle. I made the honey-mustard. Jim, Leticia and I all enjoyed it. I don’t think Neal tried it; he’s not always big on trying something new and different. That left more for the rest of it.

As a leftover, the salad continues to hold its flavor. I’ve been thinking of adding in some black beans for a one bowl meal.

How do you use sweet potatoes? If you have a unique idea, please share it with us.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Using the tomatoes, potatoes and greens

This week’s Lexington Herald-Leader food page included a good article about making soup along with a few recipes. It emphasized the importance of sautéing some ingredients to begin the soup. It also pointed out the broth you use is crucial to the taste.

I decided to try the Potato Tomato Soup since we still have plenty of those ingredients, plus the frozen greens the recipe calls for. Those ingredients also make for a nicely rounded nutritional dish. When I was searching through the chickens and bags of veggies that still fill the freezer, I found the greens I needed and some turkey stock. So, being the improviser that I have learned to be in the kitchen, I decided to keep the soup truly homemade by using my own stock.

I think it was a mistake. Although the stock smelled good, it wasn’t very flavorful. Thus, I seasoned and seasoned, but I still wasn’t thrilled with the soup. The next time around, I’ll remember the advice to be sure your broth is extra-good.

Potato Tomato Soup ratings

Jim: 10 (He added red pepper to his soup which might have helped.)
Beth: 7

I will say that as is usually the case, the soup was more flavorful the next day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Make your home as healthy as your food

Get sick and one of the questions you’re likely to ask is, “why?” When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, I very quickly began to consider what toxins might be a part of my lifestyle. I first considered the foods I eat. That’s one reason why I rely primarily on food I’ve raised organically or purchased locally. Next I moved onto the body products I used, discovering that some of them contain chemicals that are classified as hormone disruptors. I began looking for more natural products to replace them.

My most recent investigations have been about the cleaning products I use in my home and how to make cleaners that don’t include toxins. I’ve been using water and vinegar for awhile, but that’s not always enough.

Last night I attended a wonderful workshop on this topic sponsored by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF). After a brief introduction about some of the chemicals commonly used in a variety of products that have been proven harmful (bisphenol A, phthalates, pesticides and lead are just four of them), we moved on to making some home cleaners to take with us and try. They rely on ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, borax, castile soap and alcohol. Another source I’ve used for recipes recommends adding essential oils to some cleaners. While some of these ingredients aren’t commonly familiar to most of us, they are available either at local stores or online.

KEF is willing to set up more local workshops where people are interested in learning about this topic. I’ll be hosting a workshop at my home sometime in the near future and will post the date when I have it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Preservation Lessons Round #1

A friend asked that I share some information about freezing greens and preserving tomatoes. Since we’re still eating from a big pot of vegetable soup and I won’t be cooking for a couple of days, I thought this might be a good time to address some of those questions.

I’ll start with the greens. Some people might still have greens growing undercover in their gardens, depending on the weather in your area. Ours gave up for the winter in December, but during those heady growing days a few months ago there were plenty to freeze. It does make me feel good to pull out my own bag of greens to put into a pot of soup rather than using a box from the store.

Freezing greens is one of the easiest things to do. I’ve done it two ways and both seemed to work.

Method #1

1. Wash and chop greens.
2. Heat olive oil in appropriate-sized pan.
3. Saute until just wilted.
4. Remove from pan and allow to cool.
5. Put greens into labeled freezer bags.

Method #2

1. Wash and chop greens.
2. Heat water to boiling.
3. Blanche greens for two minutes
4. Remove from pan into ice water.
5. When cool, squeeze out excess water.
6. Put greens into labeled freezer bags.

I want to emphasize, chop the greens. There were a couple of times when I lazily skipped that step. When I pulled them out of the freezer to use, I didn’t realize until they were unthawed that they still needed to be chopped. It’s much easier to do that when they’re fresh. And when do you ever cook with greens that haven’t been chopped?!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A hot pie for a cold night

Chicken pot pie is sort of like soup—you can throw in lots of vegetables that you’ve preserved to make a warm meal for a cold night. That’s what I did last night. Using carrots we had canned, peas and corn we had frozen, our sweet potato and the remains of a locally grown chicken that I had roasted earlier in the week, this dish came together in about 30 minutes. You’ll also notice that I didn’t use a canned, creamed soup for the broth, as many recipes call for. You can easily substitute brother and milk and end up with far less sodium.

Although I like to make my own pie dough, I cheated last night and used the puff pastry dough from the grocery freezer section. It did taste good. I didn’t even ask Jim for a rating, but he gave it a totally unsolicited 10.

Chicken Pot Pie

1 TBSP unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 C chopped carrots (fresh, home canned or frozen)
1 ½ C corn (fresh or frozen)
1 C sweet potato, diced
¼ C flour
1 C low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups chicken
1 C whole milk
1 ½ C frozen green peas
Sprinkle of oregano and parsley
Salt and pepper
1 TBSP white vinegar
Pie dough or frozen puff pastry, unthawed

Melt butter in large, deep skillet. Sauté onion until soft, about five minutes. Add chopped garlic, carrots, corn and sweet potato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper then sauté a few more minutes. Sprinkle flour over vegetables, pour in broth and stir until all is well incorporated. Add chicken and milk. Stir and continue cooking until broth slightly thickens. Add peas, oregano and parsley. Stir and taste to determine if you need more salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar.

Place six ramekins on a cookie sheet. Fill each with the pot pie filling. Cut dough to cover the top of each ramekin and place dough. Cut a slit in each top. Bake approximately 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Am I turning orange yet?

I feel like I’ve been eating orange vegetables for months. Our butternut squash, pumpkin and sweet potato harvests were so plentiful that we’re still eating all of it. I can’t complain about the taste. I just made a butternut squash and pumpkin risotto over the weekend that was easy and fabulous, but please, give me some green! I think this week I need to pull some broccoli out of the freezer.

On the news last night we saw a story about the freeze in Florida killing some of the vegetables that the rest of the U.S. depends on in their off-growing season. Jim’s comment was, “That’s why people need to can.” One of the beautiful things about the orange vegetables we’ve been eating is that they don’t require canning. They will stay good and maintain their nutrition when stored properly. For information about curing and storage, check out I actually store my veggies at a slightly higher temperature because that’s what’s easily available to me, but I hope to work something else out in the near future. We did have a box of beets to rot because they weren’t stored at the proper temperature and humidity. Maybe this year we’ll work out some underground storage for our harvest.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cooking made easy with Ellie Krieger

I so enjoy cooking nearly everything we eat from scratch that I sometimes forget how quickly a meal can be put together. One of my Christmas gifts was a new cookbook—So Easy by Ellie Krieger. Krieger is one of my favorite Food Network cooks because she’s also a nutritionist who pays attention to healthy food. This cookbook includes, healthy, easy recipes that don’t take an enormous amount of time or effort to prepare.

Last night I tried two recipes—prosciutto-wrapped cod and pesto potatoes and green beans. Although the potatoes took longer to steam than the recipe called for, the results, paired with our home canned green beans, were spectacular. I’m not a huge fish fan but Jim is and he was thrilled that I prepared a fish other than salmon. I was thrilled to find a way to prepare fish without frying that he actually liked.

Here are our ratings for the recipes.

Jim: 8.5
Beth: 8

Potatoes and beans
Jim: 9.5
Beth: 10

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Eat Fish

It was back to the grocery store for me yesterday after more than a week away. We traveled to see my family in Indiana then took a trip to Helena, Montana for a friend’s wedding. It was cold out there but the snow and mountains made a beautiful scene. We also ate some good food.

I was surprised at some of what I tasted because a portion of the wedding party is vegan. I’ve never given much thought to being vegan since I’m a cheese-lover and have no problem with animal products, as long as the animals are treated humanely. But the muffins were so fluffy and light that I am now curious to learn more about vegan cooking. Maybe that will be a lesson for later this year.

Yesterday, however, the task was to restock the refrigerator with supplies for some healthy meals. I spent more time than usual in the seafood section of the grocery because Jim has been asking for something other than the wild-caught Alaskan salmon that I enjoy. I have a list of fish that is good for specific health concerns but I’ve heard much concern recently about toxins in fish and over-fishing. So I went to a respected source to discover what fish is best to eat—The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. It lists the best and next best fish to consume.

So tonight I’ll be trying a recipe for cod with potatoes and green beans. Yes, we still have plenty of potatoes and beans, although I think I’ve used all of my pesto, which is the recommended seasoning for the veggies. Excuse me while I go search through the freezer to see if I can find one last container.