Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tasting Summer in January

One of the beauties of preserving garden produce is that you have the opportunity to enjoy a bite of the season gone by even when your garden is resting. That’s what we did last night with a group of friends.

I decided it was time to start digging into the freezer to see what I had preserved to add some summer sunshine to a winter day. I found frozen yellow squash and pawpaw puree that I wanted to use. I also pulled a jar of our canned tomatoes from the shelf, garden carrots from the fridge, sweet potatoes from the basket and fresh parsley from under the grow light and went to work. Here’s the menu I came up with.

Italian Squash Soup
European Peasant Bread
French Lentil Salad
Sweet Potato Fries with Avocado Dip
Panko Crusted Salmon
Pawpaw Sour Cream Pie

I prepared the pie the night before so it could sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours before serving. The bread, which mixed white, whole wheat and rye flours, I put together during my Friday lunch break. Everything else I began preparing 2 ½ hours before I expected our guests.
The result? The smiles around the table and the requests for seconds told me the meal was a hit. Here are two of the recipes you can try.

Italian Squash Soup (adapted from Neal Brown’s recipe)
2-3 cloves fresh garlic
1 lb. cubed, frozen squash that is thawed
1 lb. cubed potato
1 small sliced carrot
1 jar tomatoes, crushed
16 oz. vegetable broth
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried parsley

Prepare potato and carrot. Heat olive oil. Add potato and carrot and sauté 5-10 minutes, until they begin to soften. Chop garlic and add to oil for one minute. Add remaining ingredients, cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Pawpaw Sour Cream Pie (adapted from Moosewood Cookbook, 1977)
Note: Most pawpaws are quite sweet so when cooking with them it’s important to taste them then decide if you should lessen the amount of sugar you add. This recipe has less sugar than the original. In addition, this pie is similar to cheesecake but not as firm; it’s very creamy.)

1/3 lb. (1 package) crushed graham crackers
8 Tbs. melted butter
¾ tsp. cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
½ cup chopped, slivered almonds
Combine all ingredients and press into pie pan.

¾ cup pawpaw pulp puree
12 oz. softened cream cheese
1/3 cup loosely packed brown sugar
t2 TBS fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup sour cream

Beat together well. Pour into crust. Cover and chill overnight.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Don’t forget your beans!

I oftentimes remember what one of my Latin American friends said about the beans and rice so common in the Latin diet—they make the perfect protein.

As someone who isn’t a big meat-eater, I’ve long explored the use of beans in my diet for their protein. They’re also tasty. So far this year, I’ve tried making and eating white bean and rosemary spread and white bean and turkey chili. Both were successful recipes. This week, Jim made his traditional pinto beans and I prepared the cornbread we must have to accompany that. A co-worker of mine said pinto beans and cornbread is one of his favorite meals so I ladled the beans into a jar, wrapped the cornbread in foil and presented them to him the next day. He was so excited about his meal that he polished it off before noon.

So beans were on my mind when I picked up the food section of the Lexington newspaper on Thursday and found an article about beans and their nutritional value. Their nutrition goes far beyond protein. Rather than write more about that, I’ll just refer you to the article.

If the information convinces you that this is your year to begin growing beans, I want to encourage you to include them in this year’s seed order. My experience tells me they are just about problem-free to plant and grow. If they are climbers, put up your trellis, plant, weed and let them grow. Check them as they grow in case you need to guide them up the trellis. Plant them early enough and you can get two crops from your beans. Let them dry on the vine before you pick them.

It takes a while to hull the beans but once you do you can store them in glass jars on your counter. Grow black, red, white and pintos and they’ll add some color to your kitchen. You’ll be surprised at how much more you enjoy eating your home-grown beans than what you buy in the store. They tend to be fresher so they don’t take quite as long to cook and the flavor will make you smile.
Get out that recipe book or that seed catalog and make your choices.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Turnips keep us thankful for the garden

Until recently when winter finally came to Kentucky, we were still pulling fresh turnips and greens from the garden. My appreciation of this humble vegetable has deepened this winter as I’ve explored different ways to enjoy this gift from the garden.

As a child, I ate turnips raw with salt on them. That’s how my dad still prefers them. The bitterness that turns some people away from turnips is in the skin, so just peel that away and enjoy.

I now have lots of other favorite ways to prepare turnips: roasted with sweet potatoes and garlic, braised and paired with potatoes in turnip soup. I still want to try a turnip mash, which I’ve been told is fabulous.

I’ve also added turnip greens to my long list of favorite greens to sauté and serve with caramelized onions. I’ve even acquired a taste for the boiled greens my husband likes to make.

Besides tasting good, turnips also help to fulfill that important need for cruciferous vegetables in our diet. These are some of the best cancer-fighting vegetables and also add significant fiber and vitamins to a meal. For more information on cruciferous vegetables, read the article at World’s Healthiest Foods.

What are your favorite winter vegetables and how are you cooking them?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mother Wind does me a favor

One of the joys of having a greenhouse during winter is stepping inside to be enveloped by sun and warmth as I check on whatever is growing. I planted lettuce in two containers to grow this winter and dug up my flat leaf Italian parsley to repot and continue harvesting. My watering visits to the greenhouse were a highlight of a sunny afternoon.

Were. No longer. Yes, you read right. New Year’s Day brought 40 mile per hour winds that knocked down the green house and blew at the plastic, tearing holes in it. As you can imagine, my lettuce containers also toppled from the shelves, spreading black soil and baby plants all over the fallen greenhouse.

When I returned from church and saw the disaster, I quickly changed clothes and made my way out there to see what I could salvage. The wind continued to whip the fallen plastic around me as I scooped up soil and plants to carry inside. Somehow the parsley plant remained intact so I had to merely carry it indoors.

As for the lettuce, my goddaughter and I spent some of the afternoon carefully repotting it from the one oblong and one round container to three round containers that would fit on the counter under my grow light. Yes, you heard me right. I received a grow light from Santa this year. Since I had been planning to bring in one container of lettuce to grow in the heat and light of the kitchen, Mother Wind did me a little favor by pushing me to repot. The long, oblong container that I had photographed in the greenhouse earlier in the week wouldn’t fit under the two-foot light anyway.

I no longer have a test pot in the greenhouse to see how long it could stand up to the sheltered cold. However, I do have lettuce plants that have decided they want to continue growing. They aren’t quite as beautiful as they were all snug in the greenhouse, but they’re getting there. Perhaps in another month we’ll have fresh salad. In the meantime, I need to look into replacing or repairing the greenhouse cover so it will be ready for my spring seedlings.