Thursday, October 28, 2010

Help refine this recipe . . . win a book

Attending the food show on Sunday inspired me to draw on the knowledge I’ve been harvesting for years to create a new soup recipe. I bought three pounds of navy beans on sale several months ago and they were sitting on my counter tempting me to experiment with them. So I went to work, utilizing seasonal vegetables and freshly cut herbs from the garden.

The result? Jim and I both enjoyed it immensely. But, I’m guessing you could probably help me refine this recipe. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I challenge you to try this recipe and add your own twist. Send your addition to the recipe to me at I’ll publish your ideas and draw one name for a copy of A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors, in which I have an essay. Deadline to send in your suggestion is midnight on Wednesday, November 3.

Here’s my recipe. Now let me see yours.

Fall Navy Bean Soup
1 1/4 cup navy beans
½ yellow onion
½ red onion
1 carrot
3 medium beets
1 small butternut squash
salt, pepper, garlic powder
baking soda
1 sprig fresh majoram
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/3 cup chopped parsely
2 sage leaves, chopped
1 ½ TBSP vegetable bouillon

Soak beans in salt water a few hours to soften. Rinse. Put in soup pot, cover with water, sprinkle in salt and baking soda then bring to hard boil for 10 minutes. (I'm told this makes them less gaseous.)

While beans cook, peel and chop onions, carrots and beets. Drain beans through colander and rinse. Return to pot and cover with about 2 inches of water. Add vegetables and bouillon plus salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cover and bring to boil then simmer 1- 1 ½ hours until beans are soft. Add squash and cook until soft (10 – 20 minutes depending on their size). Remove 2 cups soup and puree in blender. Return puree to soup pot with fresh herbs. You can puree more if you want to make the soup thicker without cooking it down. Stir and cook without lid until you like the soup’s taste and consistency. Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Exploring the Incredible Food Show

I had so much fun yesterday! I spent the afternoon in a corner of culinary heaven. The second annual Incredible Food Show took place in Lexington offering more than 80 vendors and more cooking demonstrations that one person could attend. I learned, I sampled and I left with a bounty of information and happy tummy.

Vendors nearly all offered samples of their products. There was everything from beer cheese to five meat Tuscan pasta to cheesecake brownie cake. Yes, the portions were small but with so many items to try I couldn’t have stomached larger samples.

These Kentucky-based producers demonstrated that right in the Commonwealth there all sorts of local food creators to choose from. Kentucky chefs, using Kentucky products, were also featured in cooking demonstrations. One series, called Sunday Suppers, hosted a chef each hour of the afternoon making one course of Sunday supper. I made it to three of the four demonstrations and, just as when I watch a cooking show on television, I picked up tips to use at home. The difference was that this time I actually got to taste the dishes on the spot.

Here are three quick tips I picked up from the chefs.

Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville made a creamy butternut squash soup without cream or butter. How did he do it? He made a stock from vegetables, roasted the squash then pureed it and added stock to it until it was the correct consistency. It was smooth, velvety and delicious!
Chef Ouita Michel of Holly Hill Inn in Midway created the main course—stuffed veal with apples and squash. I liked the trick she used for coring the apples. The cut them in two then used a melon baller to remove the core. Her entire creation was definitely a feast for the eyes, reminding me of the importance of presentation.
Chef Brigitte Nguyen made apple desserts. She credits Cook’s Illustrated with the pie dough recipe she uses. She also explained that the best pie crust is made with butter and shortening—butter to make it flaky and shortening to make it tender. I believe she used 1/12 cups of butter to ½ cup shortening.
When the next Incredible Food Show rolls around, I plan to be right there again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The gift of gardening

Yesterday I lost an earring and found a pair of glasses. It reminded me of the balance of life—things come to us and go away. Sometimes what comes to us is totally unanticipated. It might be something we never would have put on an “I need” list yet when it arrives we discover joy in the richness it has added to our lives. We realize it’s a true gift from God.

Gardening is like that for me. It wasn’t something I had written on my “To do before I die” list. I hadn’t thought that much about how I had become a gardener until recently when I was asked to give a talk to a group of high school students about how I, as a writer, brought green spaces into my life. I called it “Writing as a gardener . . . gardening as a writer.”

As I prepared the talk, I remembered the disillusionment I felt after a few years in the work world—going into a building to work before 8:30 every morning and not leaving until 5:00 or later. It seemed so unnatural to be that disconnected with nature when God had given us so much beauty and goodness. Writing requires substantial time sitting at a desk and putting down the words, but it seemed there should be a better way than doing this in an office cubbyhole every day.

Yet there were also times when, as a journalist working on an assignment, I learned about the benefit of planting beans with corn in Central America. I later interviewed Fr. Al Fritsch at Appalachia Science the Public Interest about living simply and making organic gardening and edible landscaping part of that lifestyle. I toured farms in Appalachia, met with farmers in Honduras and began to ask questions about the food I ate. Over the course of several years, my work as a journalist unearthed my desire to integrate gardening and more outdoor time into my life.

So I am blessed with the lifestyle I now have that allows me to write, most days from my home, and get up from my desk for a walk around the yard, a weeding break or time for harvesting the vegetables. Tonight I’ll eat chili made with our own tomatoes and roasted vegetable—all from the back yard garden. I’ll also be thankful, once again, that God dropped this wonderful gift into my life.

Fall Roasted Vegetables

Peel and cut into uniform pieces butternut squash, onions, peppers and potatoes. Cut beets into slightly smaller pieces because they take longer to roast. If you have okra to add, cut off the ends and leave this in slightly larger pieces. Experiment with the vegetable mixture you like.

Toss everything with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Put on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in 400 degree oven for 30 – 45 minutes, stirring every 10 – 15 minutes. The length of time the vegetables take to cook will depend on the size you cut them. Enjoy vegetables alone or mixed with rice.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Creating breakfast paninis

First thing this morning I was in the kitchen chopping onions and peppers to put into a frittata. I promised to cook breakfast paninis on Saturday at the Farmer’s Market before the Farm and Garden Tour so I thought I should try out my ideas. I experimented with an apple chutney and cream cheese panini a few weeks ago. (I love the recipe for pear or apple chutney in Simply in Season published by the Mennnonite Central Committee.) That’s a definite must as it’s a wonderful and healthy sweet treat for the person who likes sugar to start the day.

I need a savory version, also. Since I have to make a number of sandwiches, I decided cooking frittatas in advance would be the best approach.

Frittatas are simply oven omelets. You sauté the vegetables on top of the stove in an oven-proof skillet, mix the eggs with some milk, salt and pepper, then pour them into the skillet. You can also add cheese or meat if you like. When the eggs are done on the bottom but still a little runny on top, put the skillet in the oven under the broiler to finish cooking.

I tried it this morning making two versions—one sandwich I dressed with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes to go with the eggs. On the other, I put Dijon mustard and a sliced tomato. Voila, breakfast in a sandwich that I hope surpasses anything you might get at a drive through.

The Farm and Garden Tour begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Garrard County Farmers’ Market, 302 Stanford St. Participants will receive a goodie bag with samples of local products, a breakfast sandwich made with local produce and a guide to the farms and gardens that will be open for visitors. For more information, contact Maria Turner at 859-792-8923 or

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Fall Trifecta

I saw something in the Lexington newspaper about the unusual convergence of so many sporting events in the city at once this weekend. In my household, today’s trifecta has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with food.

This morning my prayer group came here for brunch. This afternoon I’ll be preparing treats for tomorrow morning’s coffee and donuts at church. This evening we’ll be having a guest for supper. It’s a good thing the garden is still handing over its gifts!

The brunch menu looked like this:
Stuffed roasted tomatoes
Corn and basil tart
Fruit salad
Cinnamon pecan rolls

I garnished the tomatoes with fresh parsley and the fruit salad with fresh mint. At this time of year when I’m very aware that a frost could mean the end of my herbs, I seem to more often remember to actually use them than during the rest of the year.

It certainly looked and smelled good when it was all ready. The only problem was with the stuffed tomatoes. At this time of year since we’ve had so little rain, the Roma and San Marzano tomatoes are less than plump. Nonetheless, I followed the recipe by cutting them in half, scooping out the seeds, marinating and roasting before stuffing. When I pulled them out of the oven, I saw that was a mistake. The tomatoes had flattened. I stuffed them, put them under the broiler and tasted. Everyone around the table agreed that even though they didn’t look beautiful, they definitely made the taste buds cheer. I’ll try them again for supper but I won’t roast them in advance.

Everything else was a hit so the group members more or less agreed on their rating. (Deb suggested upping the score simply because cinnamon rolls were on the menu.)

Deb, Martha and Patti’s rating: 9

I’ll take it!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reminders for the change of season

It’s seasonal acupuncture treatment time which means I got a “tune up” yesterday to deal with fall allergies along with a pep talk about diet from Doug McLaren, the acupuncturist. Although I eat a healthy diet I can always use a reminder from a professional about what I should and shouldn’t be putting into my body.

Today’s topic: caffeine and sugar. I’m not a huge consumer of caffeine. I like a cup of black or green tea when the mornings are chilly, as they’ve been recently. Sometimes I go for a second, or a glass of iced tea, in the afternoon for a little boost. Doug reminded me that caffeine can have a negative influence on the body. Allergies go along with inflammation. Caffeine, because it stresses the body, can exacerbate that inflammation.

Then there’s sugar. I learned a number of years ago that refined sugar can suppress the immune system, which also isn’t good if you’re fighting inflammation. Of course, knowing that and acting on it are not the same thing! I don’t have chocolate growing in my garden (if only!) but my chat with Doug reminded me that I do have butternut squash, which is wonderfully sweet, and it’s time to get to the orchard for some good apples.

The other reminder I heard today—it’s time to begin to slow down. Summer is a time of long, light-filled days and lots of energy. When fall begins to re-introduce itself, that’s a signal that we should be shifting our energies along with the season. All I need to do is look at my garden to see a reminder of that. Not much is growing anymore—tomatoes, peppers and greens. There are a few scraggly potato plants and the raspberries will continue until frost if we get some rain. That means I don’t have to spend as much time harvesting or preserving. What will I do instead? I think I’ll cut some herbs from the garden, make them into a nice cup of caffeine-free tea and, if I must have a sweet treat, I’ll try to make an apple my first choice.