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Showing posts with label farmers market. Show all posts
Showing posts with label farmers market. Show all posts

Monday, October 25, 2021

Spiced Rhubarb Pie

Yes, I said spiced. Rhubarb has got to be one of my absolute favorite perennial plants. It's incredibly hardy and can grow just about anywhere, even in Alaska. It's bright and sour and adds depth of flavor to just about anything. Yes, it's quite fibrous and can be a little difficult to prepare in the wrong hands - but it's so worth it to keep at least a couple of these beautiful mounding plants alive in your garden. Not only are they a wonderfully flavorful addition to countless dishes, but they look quite nice in the garden bed. I suggest planting them in a sunny spot where you don't mind an eventual big mound of beautiful rhubarb and where it will be for a long time. Perennials mean a permanent commitment!

For this recipe, I'll also be using spicebush berries, which are made from these gorgeous foraged berries native to the Americas. Don't fret, though, if you don't have these! I've got an excellent substitute down the line... You dry the berries for use, of course, and store them in jars or bags. When ready to use, simply grind them in a spice grinder to release the incredible oils and bright orange spice inside. The taste, to me, is like a pink peppercorn made love to a cinnamon stick, and then the spice that came from that union eloped with a big peel of juicy orange. It's truly a spectacular spice that I love to use in many of my baked goods.

This is a foraged spice which means it is not bought and sold commercially. As far as I can tell, the kind of spicebush that grows the berries hasn't been cultivated as of yet, so I couldn't simply tell you to go out and buy the plants. This is a shame since it's such a lovely and unique spice that I think everyone in the world should get to have. I can't tell you where to buy it, so I'll just refer you to Prairie Birthday Farm, which is how I get mine. I'm sure that they could ship to wherever you may be staying if you ask nicely. They're nice, warm-hearted people over there, and they've been kind enough to include me in the possibility of propagating and cultivating the bush in hopes that more and more Midwestern folk will fall in love with native plants and start planting them in their own yards. The transplants won't be ready until spring of 2022, of course, but you can bet that this gal will be awaiting their arrival to her garden with bated breath.

Spiced Rhubarb Pie 
yields one 

Flaky all-butter pie crust

  • 8 oz vegan butter, cold, chopped 
    • We all know I love Earth Balance and Miyoko's butter!
  • 14 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • Ice water, as needed
Rhubarb filling
  • 7 cups chopped rhubarb
    • Fresh is ideal, but frozen is just fine
  • 1 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp spicebush berries, ground in the spice grinder**
    • If you cannot get spicebush berries, simply use:
      • 1 tsp cinnamon
      • 3/4 tsp pink peppercorns, ground
      • Zest of 1 orange
      • A pinch of Chinese Five Spice powder
      • A pinch of turmeric
  • 1 tsp good vanilla extract
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 c cornstarch
  • 3/4 c orange juice
For the filling, mix - in a large bowl - the chopped rhubarb with the sugar, spices, vanilla, and salt so that everything is coated. Cover with clingfilm or a tea towel and set aside while you make the pie crust. Ideally, you're going to want to let this soak for an hour or more. 

For the crust, simply cut the butter into the flour and sugar with either a pastry cutter or two knives. If you have a food processor, feel free to use that instead. The idea is to get pea-sized chunks going on throughout the flour mixture before adding ice water. How much? Oh, just enough to barely get the dough to come together when mixed with a fork! It's quite dry where I am right now, so I think I used about 1/4 cup of water. Simply ball together and set in the fridge for an hour.

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350. While we're waiting for the oven to heat and the dough to cool, let's talk a bit about rhubarb!

Please don't be put off by the color!

As you can see, the rhubarb is green. As you may have noticed from the date on this blog, it's the middle of October. This may confuse you because many people are mostly familiar with rhubarb in the context of strawberry rhubarb pie, which is a late springtime and early summertime delight. The truth of the matter is that rhubarb doesn't just grow in the spring, but in the fall as well. This lovely plant grows in what I like to call the 'in-betweener seasons,' which means the transitional seasons between extreme heat and extreme cold, summer and winter. The stalks start green but turn red as they ripen with the warmth. You won't always see red rhubarb in the cooler months, but that shouldn't turn you off.

If you aren't familiar with rhubarb's flavor profile, I've asked my husband - who up until recently had never had a straight rhubarb pie - to describe it. His exact words were:

"Oh. Uh. I don't know... Kind of tart?"

I would describe it as sour and vegetal, which is oddly good. Maybe a super-sour celery with a hint of citrus fragrance? It's a truly unique flavor that's got a surprisingly high amount of vitamin C, potassium, and calcium so you can feel good about having more than one slice of this ultra-thick pie. It's got a very nice depth of flavor that is so unique...and also a vegetable! Would you ever think that you could make a sweet pie out of vegetables? It's so good, you can make any pie, cake filling, or jam from it and it'll go down a treat for anyone who tastes it. 

As I mentioned previously, rhubarb is a perennial plant, which means it comes back every year. Strawberries, which go excellent with rhubarb, is also a perennial. They are also a good cold weather plant which means that they can survive underground in the snow. This means they can grow in the same patch together and be just fine! To ensure their survival, a healthy amount of straw and mulch over the beds will do you a world of good. I have some large maple trees on my property that - of course -  shed their leaves when autumn comes. This is a natural mulch, but is so much more than that.

I finished this bed two days before I gave birth!

In nature, autumn leaves aren't meant to be raked up. The leaves that fall are a natural blanket for the underlying vegetation an a cozy home for pollinating insects to lay their eggs until they can hatch in the next year's spring. This protects any plant life from hard frosts and blankets of snow in the winter months.  Nonmigratory birds also benefit from these leaves because worms feast on them and fat worms mean healthy birds. Fat worms also mean healthy soil and healthy soil means healthy biome. Do you see how it's all connected, and how you - in your own small way - can help your own tiny microcosm of plant and animal life? Just something to think about while you finish your pie...  

I don't even know what this is supposed to be. Maybe like a triceratops doing a cosplay of Jack Skellington?

Divide the dough in half and give your dough a good smack or two with a floured rolling pin to soften everything up while keeping the fat still cold. This is great therapy, especially if you have a newborn like me, and you are so sleep deprived and you just need some kind of safe release... It's ideal if you can roll all of this out on a marble surface, but whatever you're using is probably just fine. You can either roll out two discs on floured surfaces or you can sandwich your dough between two sheets of parchment paper that have been lubricated liberally with aerosol pan spray of some matter. I prefer this method, simply because it helps with cleanup and minimizes the chance of overworking the dough. If you're going to use a more intricate design on your pie crust top, however, it may benefit you to use flour and a bit of kneading, just to ensure the pie crust is strong enough to do fun things with. My design was fairly simple, so I kept my rolling method simple. 

Important note: No matter which method of rolling out you use, be sure to lay your pie crust in your pie dish of choice with plenty of overhang and allow it to rest in the dish for at least five minutes while you work on your top. It's imperative that you do this to minimize any shrinkage that would otherwise occur. You can let it rest on the counter, but I personally think it's better to let it rest in the fridge so the dough can get cold again before anything else. When the bottom is ready, give it a quick dust of semolina or equal parts sugar and flour. 

When you're ready, give the filling a good stir. You should have quite a bit of liquid that's come from your rhubarb! Drain that into a small saucepot and whisk in the cornstarch. Slowly bring to a boil over a medium flame and allow to thicken. It'll get quite thick so don't worry! When boiling, immediately remove from the heat and add the orange juice. Give it a good whisk to ensure there are absolutely no lumps and add it back to the rhubarb. Mix everything until it's all well incorporated and pour into your prepared bottom crust.  There will be quite a high rounded top on this, so please keep that in mind when designing your top crust. Make sure you have at least a few vent holes in your design.

Bake your pie at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the crust is golden-brown and there's slight bubbling of the filling that's showing. Remove and allow to cool for about an hour before cutting into it. This pie is sour, sweet, herbacious, and incredibly satisfying in the fall. The cornstarch helps it set so you can get clean slices, and the orange juice brings out the naturally citrus-like flavor of the rhubarb. The spices compliment the sour-bitter notes with aromatic fragrances that remind us of fall. 

I love this pie because it uses one of my favorite 'surprise fall' ingredients and gives me a break from pumpkin. Don't get me wrong - pumpkin and apple are life! But you do need a break from these two juggernauts of autumn flavors and I think that this pie is just the ticket. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. 

As always, I want to send out a special thank you to my good friends at KC Farm School at Gibbs Road for their tireless efforts in agricultural education and advocacy for the community, and for their help and generosity during my pregnancy and birth journey. The friends I have made during my time working with this farm and the community I have found during the pandemic because of this organization has meant more to me than I could ever write. Thank you.

I'd also like to take a moment to say thank you to the nursing students at Research Medical Center, who happened to be at the farmer's market at KC Farm School on Wednesday, October 13th, of 2021, that checked my blood pressure and alerted me to the fact that I had suddenly developed gestational hypertension. This is a condition that isn't serious in and of itself but it does have a 50/50 chance of developing into preeclampsia, which can be a life-threatening condition for both mother and baby. Because of them, I went immediately to the hospital after the market and was able to get induced and safely deliver my baby. Thank you. 

Actually, my entire birth story was awesome and it was all thanks to the incredible nurses and nursing students of Research Medical Center. If you're at all curious, you can find my birth story here on IGTV Live! It's a long one, so be forewarned. 

Finally, I'd like to thank you for joining me for a portion of your day. I know that reading food blogs aren't always the most exciting thing to do with your time, but the fact that even a tiny portion of your day was spent with me makes me feel special. I hope that I can provide education and insight to food and growing it for yourself. I also hope that I made you laugh. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Silky Smooth Tomato Eggplant Bisque

And - surprise - this version is vegan! 

Tomato soup has been one of my absolute favorites since childhood. When I was little, I had terrible separation anxiety so my dad would always bring me home for lunch during first, second, and third grade. This was a small enough gesture as a parent, considering that I only lived within walking distance of my elementary school, but I can tell you that it meant the world to me at the time. He wasn't much of a cook, but his special lunch that he would fix for me would be tomato soup and grilled cheese. 

Fast forward to my career as a chef and I get a job at this incredibly fancy country club - which shall remain nameless - and one of my first tasks is to produce a couple of gallons of their tomato eggplant bisque with Israeli couscous and saffron oil. I was a young sprig of a girl still and didn't realize exactly what I was making, but I followed the recipe to the letter and - when it was finished - I realized that I'd made tomato soup! This was not just my dad's tomato soup out of the can, though...this had depth and complexity like I didn't know it could have. While this here is not the exact recipe that I learned that day (which would be frankly unethical to share anyhow), this is my own version that I love to throw together when summer is turning to fall. After all, fall is soup season!

As always, thanks so much to KC Farm School at Gibbs Road for the veggies!

Tomato Eggplant Bisque

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed 
  • 2 medium eggplants, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 32 oz jar of chopped canned tomatoes
    • I made my own this year from the bounty of the summer. I don't have my canning recipe for that, but please check out my canning method and the recipe for Pickled Pears, if you're so inclined!
  • 1 14 oz can of full fat coconut cream
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, as needed
Add a generous glug of olive oil to the bottom of a thick-bottomed soup casserole...aka a dutch oven. Heat over a medium flame and add the onion and garlic. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper and cover to let sweat for about 15 minutes on low. Meanwhile, lay your eggplant slices out on a cutting board and season generously with kosher salt. You're going to be drawing out the bitterness!

When 15 minutes pass, blot the bitter moisture off of the eggplant with paper towels. Don't worry about any discoloration that might appear; it'll all be blended into the soup. When your eggplant slices are patted dry, run your knife through them one more time to chop them into chunks. It doesn't matter too much how pretty they are, just as long as they're small enough to all fit into the pot. Uncover the onions mixture, give it a good stir, and add in your eggplant. Add your tomatoes, too, and bring them up to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer and let cook for about 5 minutes. Add the can of coconut cream as well as one can-full of water from the tap to rinse out any little goodies you may have left in there. Bring everything up to a rolling boil and stir well. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for at least 30 minutes. 

It's at this point that you can actually pop this in the fridge and let the soup base hang out overnight in the fridge if you so choose. This, like many fall meals, is an excellent dish to make ahead. Even better, the flavors will meld and mesh the longer it sits. The absolute ideal is 24 hours, but I won't make you wait. You can also - if you really want to - ladle this soup base into quart freezer bags and freeze them for up to 3 months. To be honest, I'll likely be doing this at least once in preparation for my baby. 

When you're ready to have your soup, bring it up to a boil again and immediately remove from the heat. Add your soup base mixture to the pitcher of a blender and blend on low for 2 minutes, then medium for 45 seconds, then high for 1 minute. If you must do this in batches, that's a-okay. The goal is to create a silky-smooth bisque of a soup with a bright red color. If you're feeling fancy, make yourself a grilled cheese sandwich to go with it. 

You may garnish this with fresh herbs if you like, but to serve it I simply prefer a drizzle of good olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper. Some people like to have it with parmesan cheese, and I've even heard of a person or two using a dash of hot sauce and a crispy fried egg. Honestly, do whatever makes you happy. This is your soup when you make it. 

I love this dish because it's a gorgeous color, vibrantly healthy, filling enough to be lunch or dinner, and it reminds me that my dad loved me enough to try in the only way he knew how. I especially love dipping a grilled cheese sandwich into this soup, but I love it just as much while drinking it from a mug with a few crackers sprinkled on top.

I hope this end-of-summer dish has inspired you to use eggplants and tomatoes together. You may not think they work, but I assure you they do. Eggplants and tomatoes are both nightshades, you know! This means they are from the same family, but please don't eat the greens, lest you get sick. Oddly enough, though, any nightshade vegetable will give you the benefit of all of the gorgeous antioxidants they contain, which are vital in repairing cells that were damaged due to stress. I don't know about you, but I could use some stress relief in my life...

Thanks so much for spending a piece of your day with me. I hope I've inspired you to cook in your own kitchen today and to preserve the bounty of your garden through food prep, food stocking, or even just taking tons of pictures of the stuff before eating it. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Vegan Yellow and Purple Scalloped Potatoes


Like so many Americans children of a certain age, my first exposure to potatoes au gratin was the freeze-dried kind that you bought in a red box. I have many a vivid memory of the electric-yellow cheese powder that would come to life when poured out of that little white bag. It seemed like magic when it would to into the oven a weird-looking mess and come out as the height of sophistication in your 7-year-old mind. Fast forwarding to culinary school I hoped that they'd cover how to make it...but they never did. Oh, sure, there was the recipe in our big textbook, and sure they would say that you can "gratin" anything so long as it's sliced thin and baked in a sauce, usually finished under a broiler...but I digress. 

Potatoes au Gratin is just one of those dishes that ilicits a certain 'ooh!' because it is both familiar and fancy, accessible yet elevated....and this recipe you don't have to make from a box? This method is quite simple and you can replicate it with any root vegetable. Of course, if you want to make it with dairy products, who am I to tell you that you can't? Simply use dairy cheeses such as grated swiss cheese with a little bit of asiago and some full-fat milk instead of the coconut milk. However, if dairy makes your tummy hurt, keep reading.

Vegan Yellow & Purple Scalloped Potatoes
serves 4-6

  • 10-12 small to medium yellow and purple potatoes, washed, sliced thin 
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced thin
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 14 oz can coconut milk
  • 1/2 c vegetable stock
  • 1 Tbsp vegan butter plus more for the dish
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Fresh herbs, such as parsley, chervil, etc
  • 1/2 c vegan parmesan shreds 
    • I like "Follow Your Heart" brand for parmesan
  • 1/4 c vegan chive soft cheese or cream cheese with lots of herbs
    • Miyoko's brand makes an excellent product!
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt and a few grinds of white pepper
  • Spices

Slice the potatoes and onions with your mandolin, and be sure to use your handguard with it!  Yes, even if you've been a chef for years. I was a chef for 12 years before I switched careers, and a huge portion of my worst kitchen injuries are not from the fire or the knife, but from the mothertrucking mandolin. It's a seriously incredible tool but you should absolutely practice safety with it. 

I'm going to quickly note that I did use the thicker setting on my mandolin because I like to have a little bit more texture than the average bear does with their scalloped potatoes, but this does mean I do need to cook it a little longer. Of course, this should be done to your preference. I do advise you to not have them sliced too thin because you do want them to be hearty enough to have a proper slice of your gratin. I believe my slices are about a quarter of an inch thick right now, so if you want to go for 1/8 of an inch, have at it! Again, use the hand guard and be careful. Mandolins can and will send you to the ER. 

Butter your chosen casserole dish generously and line the bottom with a small portion of your sliced onions. Arrange your potatoes in an attractive way, if you choose, but you can honestly just have them standing up so the sauce can run right between them when you pour it. Between the potatoes, make sure you sprinkle in your onions! For me, it took two layers of potatoes and onions to fill up my round casserole dish. I'm not exactly sure the quantity of this dish; it's one of the dishes my brilliant husband made for me. I think it's about 2-quart capacity!

You're now going to make a classic sauce mornay, or cheese sauce, which I learned how to make in culinary school! Melt the butter on a low flame in a saucepot and sprinkle in the flour. Cook gently, stirring constantly with a whisk for 5 minutes, until the roux is lightly browned and the flour is fully cooked. Add in your stock in a thin stream and whisk together until quite thick and hot. Shake your coconut milk and add to your sauce. Whisk constantly until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You've now made a bechamel!

Next, you're going to add your spices. In the classical French school, you'd grate in a little bit of nutmeg. I used a couple of spiceberries (a special indigenous American berry that's been dried) and a teaspoon of onion chive seeds, along with a few grates of Chinese Long Peppercorn. All of this was ground in my mortar and pestle and added to my sauce. I then folded in my cheese, a little at a time, on low heat until it was all melted together. Taste for seasoning and adjust to where it's just a little saltier than you might want it. No, really! Your potatoes will soak up all that salt like crazy so you might as well be generous now. 

Add in your minced garlic and any fresh herbs you'd like to fold in. Turn off the heat and turn on your oven to 350. Pour your sauce over the potatoes, a little bit at a time, spreading and moving any potatoes as needed to allow the sauce to get between the crevices. When you've filled up your casserole dish, you may or may not have a little sauce left over. That's okay! This sauce is great with roasted vegetables, so don't throw away what you have! Just pop it in a container; it'll keep for a week. 

When your casserole is ready, cover tight with aluminum foil and let sit until your oven preheats. I usually do this because my oven takes about 15 minutes to get hot and that 15 minutes helps you create just a little bit of thermo-help for your potatoes. Set your casserole in the middle of your oven and bake for 45 minutes. When that timer's up, remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are completely tender and you have a pretty brown color on top of your gratin. Garnish with herbs and serve immediately. 

I don't want to talk too much about potatoes this week, since I covered so much of it last week, but I do want to note that if you are a gardener, now is the time to plant potatoes for autumn harvest. You can plant potatoes in a variety of ways; I covered them briefly in my Victory Garden Guide. My only real tip is to really get all of them, otherwise they'll keep on growing and growing forever. They seem to grow best in well-aerated soil with lots of compost. I've got heavier clay so I don't always have the best luck. With all that being said, it shouldn't stop you from growing them during the summer. I love growing potatoes because the nightshade flowers that bloom from them are delicate and beautiful, as well as aromatic. Please don't eat them, though - the potato greens are poisonous. 

Before you ask: no, purple potatoes do not taste any different from yellow potatoes. These pretty potatoes taste just like the yellow kind only have that wonderful natural color to go with them. It's a general rule that blue foods are good for lowering blood pressure, preventing diabetes, and may even inhibit tumor formation. It is even said that blue foods naturally balance your Throat Chakra, which deals with your voice and your ability to either internalize or effectively communicate your emotions with others; some even say that the throat chakra is one of the most-common trauma areas out there, but I digress.

Do you want to have a varied diet? Eat the rainbow. Oh, and don't forget to shop at a local farmer's market. I know that the convenience of grocery stores are awesome for one-stop-shopping, but your body and your community will thank you in spades for supporting farmers directly.  As always, this post is sponsored by my dear friends at KC Farm School at Gibbs Road. KC Farm School at Gibbs Road is the ultimate teaching farm and epicenter of community growth from ages 9 to 90. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Easy Potato Latkes

You can practically hear the sizzle, can't you?
I go to the Brookside farmer's market every Saturday during market season and always get produce from my favorite vendors is Urbavore Urban Farms, run by Brooke Salvaggio, who has become a friend. In the early seasons she has plants as well as produce, but she always has something that I want to buy, usually the eggs from the heritage breed chickens. That being said, I'm a big fan of the later season, when potatoes come up.

While only 200 different varieties of the noble potato grows in Northern America(yes, I did say 'only'), over 4,000 different varieties grow in Bolivia. Potatoes, like tomatoes, pumpkins, avocados, coffee, and chocolate, are an American crop. Why? Because they originate in South/Central America!

Image result for hot tea
This tea is BOMB
Yes, yes, you hear about the miracle crop being tied to Ireland all the time, but a little digging in the world of culinary anthropology will tell you that potatoes originate right here in the Americas. Pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, coffee, and chocolate - yes, chocolate, are categorized under all-American treats. In fact, the only reason that Italy has tomatoes, and therefore marinara sauce, is because of its expeditions to the Americas.

I'm sure that there are some among us that would like to believe that America itself was cultivated from all over the world, but the truth is that they had their own culture and unique biodiversity before Europeans came to colonize and spread syphilis and smallpox and introduce slave labor to the indigenous peoples. But I digress, this blog is not about tea.

This is about potatoes, and specifically the brand/breed of potato called purple viking. Yes, potatoes have different breeds. We've established this, please keep up.

It kind of looks like a dinosaur egg, don't you think?
This is a purple viking potato. It can grow to be nice and large, and has a creamy white flesh. I love the color, of course, and am always a big fan of unusual things. Did you know that the best way to  be healthy is to have a diverse diet? This doesn't always mean entirely different things every day - sometimes it's just trying a different variety of a vegetable/root you already love! Do you love orange carrots? Try white ones, roasted. Try purple ones, steamed. Eat the entire rainbow without every changing around.

Generally, potatoes can be set into two categories: starchy and waxy. A starchy potato, such as a classic Idaho/baking potato, will have a thick skin and will go a sort of pinkish brown if peeled and left out. They're high in starch but quite low in moisture, and are rather fluffy when cooked.

The starchy potatoes are considered to be the best for making french fries and - by some schools - mashed potatoes. The trouble, though, is that from starch comes glue if over-agitated, which is why sometimes your mashed potatoes might go gloopy if you stir them too much. The skin on said starchy potatoes, as well, are best for doing twice-baked potatoes and, in general, being vessels for other things. They don't exactly hold their shape well, however, so it's best if you do not use them for gratins, casseroles, or potato salads. For some reason, however, they're considered to be a classic for latkes by many.

The waxy potato is it's thinned-skined brethren, which are very low in starch and generally hold their shape quite well when cooked. When it comes to nearly every application, I'll take a waxy over a starchy any day of the week. I think that they're much more versatile, and I can whip the ever-living bejeezus out of them when making mashed potatoes and they won't go gloopy unless I screw something up. They're suitable in gratins, fries, and - of course - latkes.

See? CREAMY white flesh!
There are many schools of thought when it comes to these classic Ashkenazi potato fritter, and some will swear that a starchy potato is the best. I assume that this is because it's the tradition, but I find that this isn't true.

When you grate the potatoes, you must soak and rinse them to get rid of as much starch as possible, otherwise the latke will go gloopy. Now, why in the world would I start with an already-starchy product that might not hold its shape so well were I to use a not-so-starchy product in its stead? I tell you, dear reader, that I wouldn't, especially because the purple viking potato only needs one good rinse to get rid of the starch versus the four or five that your standard Russett or Idaho might need.

Many say you can grate in lots of other flavors into the potato - and you can! You can grate in half an onion, some garlic, plenty of herbs, and more. This is your latke and you can decide what to do with it. Yes, it was created by the Ashkenazi peoples (or so I'm told) but everybody can agree that these are delicious and that deep-fried potatoes can and should be for everyone. I like to use a 2:1 ratio if I'm adding in white onion to the fritter. Say, I do two large purple viking potatoes and one medium white onion with just a touch of salt and pepper - delicious! But this is the basic recipe, so just do what you like after you've tried this one.

Nowadays, you would mostly eat this around Hanukkah and serve it with apple sauce and/or sour cream. I like them with breakfast, any day of the week. Sue me.

Easy Latkes
yields 6 fritters
  • 1 large Purple Viking potato
  • 1 egg
  • A touch of salt
  • Neutral oil to fry in, such as canola or grapeseed 
Grate the potatoes using the largest side of your box grater and pop them into a mesh strainer. Rinse them quite thoroughly until the water runs clear, and then ring out the water in small handfuls to get them as dry as you can. Pop these in a medium bowl and season generously. Crack in one fresh egg and mix well, breaking up the yolk and white and coating absolutely everything in that bowl. As mentioned previously, you can add fresh herbs to this - I like parsley and dill, personally, but that's me.

Heat a thick yet shallow skillet with about an inch of oil to medium-high heat. Test the heat by dropping in one or two shreds of the egg-potato mixture. If it floats and sizzles, you're good to go. 

Gently lay in heaping spoonfuls of the latke mixture into your oil and press gently down in the middle to create a flat pancake. Swirl it carefully to just make sure that it didn't stick to the bottom, and then add in another. I can fit up to three latkes at a time in my pan, but don't you overload your oil because it lowers the temperature. 

Protip: You want the oil to be rather hot because things only get greasy when the oil is too cold and the oil seeps in. If it's hot enough, the water on the inside of the item you're frying will turn to steam and create a barrier for the oil to not get into, kind of like it when the footballers of the sportsball team do that head-butt thing at the beginning of the plays. 

Flip them gently with a fork or a pair of chopsticks, taking care not to splash yourself wit hot oil, and cook on the other side. The entire process shouldn't take more than two minutes in total, and the finished latkes can hold in a warm oven while you cook the rest. 

Please also make sure that you save the fat in a jar or a metal can and allow to cool before disposing of. Please don't throw it outside as it's bad for your homestead/garden, and please don't dump it down the drain. You can strain it and reuse it once or twice, but you can just pitch it in your can safely in a garbage bag once it's all used up. 

Serve these with breakfast, lunch or dinner! Latkes are truly a diverse food item and I encourage you to try them using all potatoes. (Just maybe not all at once.) Please also be sure to make an effort to get down to the farmer's market! This is, of course, to get better food, but it's also to get to know your growers. I'm going to let you in on a little secret...

The people that are making an effort against big chain grocery stores and taking food back to basics are the people you want to have a conversation with. Ask them questions, have them tell you the story of that crop. Connection with your fellow human is what the world needs right now, and the fellowship over food is truly what can unite us, instead of divide us.

Here in America, we are dealing with political turmoil unlike any in recent memory. If I have any international readers, I want them to know that we all want this to end, and that we are not horrible bigots. We Americans are loving and welcoming and we believe that immigrants make America great. As someone who's worked in the culinary industry her entire professional life, you would be starving were it not for immigrants and migrant workers. They cook your food, they harvest your crops, they do all of the hard jobs that you don't want to do, often with a smile. I welcome the immigrants and I want them to know that I'm an ally. I am an American, and hatred has no home in my backyard.

Happy cooking and happy eating! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Braided Basil Bread

Baking bread at home is one of the most rewarding feelings a food-lover can have. Have you looked at what's in bread in the grocery store, lately? Here's what's in Nature's Own Honey 7 Grain Bread:

Ingredients: Whole wheat flour, water, enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), wheat gluten, brown sugar, honey, sunflower seed kernels, yeast, rolled oats, contains 2% or less of each of the following: salt,soybean oil, cultured wheat flour, vinegar, dough conditioners (may contain one or more of the following: sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium stearoyl-2-lactylatemono- and diglyceridescalcium peroxide, calcium iodate, DATEMethoxylated mono- and diglyceridesazodicarbonamide), wheat bran, rye flakes, barley flakes, soy flour, buckwheat flour, bulgur wheat, cracked wheat, triticale,yellow corn grits, millet, soy grits, ground flaxseed, brown rice flour, calcium sulfate, soy lecithin, wheat starch, enzymes.
What's a dough conditioner?

It's basically this thing that many professional bakeries use in their breads to keep it from going stale, or molding...a kind of preservative. It's why most commercially made breads are so soft and squishy! I couldn't tell you what some of the other stuff is, but I do know that soy lecithin is a kind of emulsifier. You can use lecithin to make foams, like this one!

That's fun! But not really necessary in bread, if you ask me.

The bottom line is that you can very easily make your own bread at home with a small amount of effort and a little patience. It's the original "set it and forget it" food. Here's how I made mine.

Braided Basil Bread
  • 500 grams flour(I used all-purpose, but bread flour is great, too!)
  • 6 grams of yeast
  • 300-ish grams of water at body temperature(about a cup...it's humid here, so I had to vary certain things)
  • 1 egg OR a big glug of canola/grapeseed oil(you'll want a little fat in this one)
  • 10 leaves of basil, chiffonade
  • 25 grams brown sugar
  • 1 fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 50 grams of flax seed**
Combine the flour and yeast in the bowl of your standing mixer, and mix for about 45 seconds with the dough hook. Add the sugar, mix for another 15 seconds, and add in your egg/oil. You use the oil in place of the egg to make this bread vegan, which I did for a friend. Yeast is vegan, so you're okay there! 

While all of this is mixing in, you gather your basil and begin to chiffonade. I had both Italian and Thai basil from the Overland Park Farmers' Market, which I had visited the day before. It was gathered in this gorgeous bouquet, and I took a few leaves from each. 

To chiffonade, simply gather the leaves and lay one on top of the other, and then sort of roll it all together to form a "cigar" of basil. Then slice thinly crosswise to create long ribbons. You can follow the video tutorial above if this description is too vague. Add your basil chiffonade to the flour-oil mixture as it's mixing.  You'll want any herbs you add to be chopped fine, but still big enough to be visible for the final product. You can use any herb you like in this recipe. In addition to basil, I used some chopped carrot greens, which were from my trip to the farmers' market. This is optional, of course, and you can use whatever you like in this recipe. You can also add in about four cloves of garlic, that have been crushed, and then roughly chopped to this recipe, if you like.  The idea is to create a flavor profile that the yeast will feed off of, and thus flavor your bread.

Yeast are single-celled organisms that lay dormant in their little prison of the fridge, or the packet. Here in the United States, we mostly use dry-instant yeast, that's activated by putting in warm water. Yeast dies at 114 degrees F, though, so you don't want it too hot! Actually, if you use cool water, the bread will proof at a slower rate, and thus create more flavor. I personally prefer water that's at body temperature, which just means that the water shouldn't feel warm, but shouldn't feel cool.

Add in your water, now, and continue to mix. If you're using flax seed, go ahead and add it now. You don't have to add flax seed, but I like the extra little bit of fiber that it gives me. You can also use sunflower seeds, or any combination of chopped nuts, so long as it's a small amount. You may have to add more water, or more flour, depending on how humid your environment is, but it should form a round ball that climbs your dough hook with ease. Take your time to scrape down the dough hook every few minutes or so.
Thank you, TheFreshLoaf.com!

When the bread feels ready, take a tiny ball of it and roll it in your hands, then stretch it with your fingers and hold it up to the light. This is called the windowpane test, and it tells you when glutens have formed. You're looking for spider-y veins and glumps in your dough, and it shouldn't tear when stretched. If there are tears, keep kneading.

Gluten is your friend in this endeavor. Gluten is this wonderful protein web that traps in all of that gas that the yeast is forming by eating your flour, your sugar, your herbs and garlic and whatnot. The reason you want to flavor your bread now, while the yeast is still dormant, is that you want them to wake up and snack on that lovely basil. When it eats your flavoring agents(be they veggies or flour alone), it'll burp and fart and all of that gas it creates will be flavored with whatever you put it in, and thus perfume your entire loaf with yummy goodness!

Once your dough is ready, oil up a clean bowl(or just re-use your standing mixer bowl, just lube it up) with your fat of choice, set your nice ball of dough inside, all slathered with fat, and set in a warm place. I heat my oven to 250-300 degrees and just set it on the stove top, and cover it with a clean tea towel. You can use plastic wrap if you don't have a tea towel, of course.

This next bit is called proofing, and it'll take about an hour, depending on how warm or cool your environment is. If you house is warm, you can set it by a window and go grocery shopping. I've even been known to set a ball of dough out on the balcony when I was living in my apartment for heat. Either way, when the dough has doubled in size, now is the time for punching and shaping.

Remove your dough and set on a clean work surface. I used my linoleum counter tops, which didn't require flouring because of how much fat was on my dough. I braided mine into a four-strand loaf braid, but you can do a three strand, or just simply roll into a single loaf. The one thing you must do, no matter what, is punch down the dough so that the air bubbles pop. This is to create an even rise, and to create even more flavor. The little yeast-ies will keep on eating, keep on belching...after all, you've given them quite a bit to chew on! Whatever shape you decide on for your bread, make sure that it's set on your baking sheet tray with plenty of oil/panspray/whatever smack dab in the middle, so it has room to rise and double. Yes, you're doubling it again.

Here's an image tutorial that I snagged from PopSugar.com on how to braid a 4-strand challah loaf.

And here's a gorgeous pic from JournalsofaFrenchFoodie.com on how to do a 6-strand braid!

You can spend all day on google finding bread shapes, or just punch it down, roll it into a ball, and let it go to town. I preferred the 4-strand braid, as it's the shape I learned when I was in Culinary School. If you do choose a braid, make sure you pinch the ends together nice and hard, and then tuck under, nice and tight, so it won't come undone once proofed.

Cover your loaf with plastic(or your tea towel again) and let it set for another hour in that same warm place..or just until it's doubled. It'll be quite clear when it's ready to go into the oven, because it'll look like it's about to pop.

Is that a 4-strand braided loaf or are you just happy to see me...?
It's at this point you can choose to brush your loaf with oil, with egg wash, etc., for an extra something. You can brush with olive oil and set cracked black pepper and kosher salt on top, or more chopped herbs. I left mine plain so you could see what it looks like, just plain baked. Put in your oven at 400 degrees F, and let bake until the crust is golden-brown and it sounds hollow when knocked on. Mine took about 30 minutes, but yours might take more or less. Just check it in 20 minutes and see where you are.
Nobody likes a soggy bottom...

Protip: If you don't have a cooling rack(like I don't), flip your loaf over so that the bottom can cool without steam forming. This way, you prevent a soggy-bottomed bread!

If you do have a cooling rack, just use that. The idea is to get air flowing all round your bread, so that your crust cools nicely!

Let cool completely before cutting. I know that the temptation is horrifically great, but you must resist! Resist until it's, at least, room temperature. The bubbles that your yeast worked so hard to form are setting now, and if you cut while too hot, the bubbles will collapse and you'll have squishy, tragically soggy, no-good-for-spreading-butter-on bread. I ended up setting mine on my kitchen table, upside down, for about 20 minutes before I cracked.

Check out that gorgeous-ness! That's a beautiful, fine-bubble! You'll want those fine bubbles in that bread, as a sign that you've done your right job in your first initial punching. The bubbles that rise first are big and uneven, and when  you've punched them down for the second proofing, they'll become more small and uniform. You see these small, uniform bubbles in cakes, too!

This bread is delicious on its own, just with  butter, or as toast spread with some delicious rose petal jam. You can use this bread for anything, really, that you would use normal store-bought bread. Sandwiches? Sure. Toast? Of course. A light snack? Absolutely!

I cannot stress enough that eating healthy is not about starving yourself, but about having full control as to whatever it is that goes into your body. What went into your body when you ate this bread? Well, let's see...basil, flour, salt, a little yeast, and that's essentially it. You didn't add lecithins or poly-sorbinates or whatever-the-fuck goes into commercially-made bread. You made this. You did. You're amazing. Go, you! Now share this with your kids! Or with  your friends! Or use it to make a grilled cheese sandwich! Or hollow it out and fill it with chili! I won't judge.

Nothing like a grilled cheese sandwich and some Sun Tea to make a great lunch...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Trip to Overland Park Farmer's Market, and How to Shop Locally

Howdy, class!

Today, we're going to learn about shopping at your local farmer's markets. Although the closest one to me is City Market in Downtown Kansas City, I have Wednesdays off so that means I can have a trip to the Overland Park Farmers' Market, which is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. (Special tips will be highlighted in bold.)

It's hot and humid...but, hey, it's summer! Now where's
that stall with the fruit smoothies...?
The trick to the Farmers' Market is that you should seldom go with an idea of what to buy in mind. Treat it like the grocery store; just wander aimlessly and figure out what you need on the way. 

(For those of you who actually go to the grocery store with lists in mind can throw them away. This ruins the idea of the Farmers' Market in my mind.)

When  I'm shopping for food, I try very hard to not go shopping hungry, because I end up buying a lot of what I don't actually need. When shopping, I highly recommend eating a protein bar beforehand, or stopping at a drive-thru to get an iced coffee. A health teacher told me once that if you're feeling peckish, have a glass of water before you reach for a snack; often, you were more thirsty than you were hungry, and you'll have stopped yourself from overeating by getting hydrated. There are many ways to curb overeating, and staying hydrated is one of them!

Also, bring your own bag. Although the farmers' market vendors will often have bags of their own, you should still bring your own. I have this neat treated canvas bag that I take with me when shopping; it also adds to the ambiance of the place. Plus, it's an excuse to color-coordinate an extra something with your totally cute farmers market outfit. You know what I'm talking about. *wink*

Always make a first pass, up and down, before deciding what you need. Take in absolutely everything. Farmers' markets should be savored; a lot of hard work went into making this delicious food for you, and you'll see those smiling faces of the happy vendors with their glorious produce shine. You should want to take in everything, listen to the buzz of the crowd, and really feel that humming energy. Things are alive around you; and the produce here is fresher than you'll ever get in the grocery store.

I remember that I had some sweet corn, freshly picked and grilled, at a Farmer's market in California once. It was so sweet, and so unbelievably delicious; when I asked what seasonings the man put on the corn, he said he didn't put anything on it. It was just the corn and some sweet cream butter from the dairy farm that was next to his(this was years ago, way before the California drought). Corn, he said, loses sugar in increments from the moment that it's picked. The sweeter it is, the more-recently it was picked. I've never forgotten that.

Oh, and let's remember, class: corn isn't a vegetable, it's a grain. You can use this as your starch for your meal, but pick something else for your vegetable.

Eating healthy is about getting variety in  your diet. Don't just eat the same thing over and over again, but eat a wide range of different fruits, vegetables, meats...etc. If you have children that are picky eaters, and they see you enjoying something new and different, they'll be more opt to try it. If you have kids, be that presence in their lives that shows them that food is nothing to be afraid of. I cannot stress this enough. Even if you don't know how to cook it, ask the vendors what they would do. Seriously, these people know their produce inside and out, so of course they'd have an idea or two of what to do with all of this gorgeous produce.

Another cool thing about my farmers' market(and many farmers' markets now) is that they sell meats from local vendors. You'll sometimes have to get there early in the day, but it'll be worth it. Many places will allow you to call ahead, too, and set aside certain items for you so long as you ask. I can't tell you the difference between fresh farmers' meats and the ones at the local grocers. It's seriously otherworldly, and I can only tell you to try it for yourself. Many farmers out here also run dairies, so they'll sell goats' cheese and whatnot.

See that? That's your non-side-effect-having-allergy relief right there...
The apiaries out here can't be beat, and they'll always have delicious honey for you to sample and buy. Buying and consuming local honey is an excellent and natural way to combat allergies during the summer. The bees in the local area gather pollen from local plants, flowers, trees, etc, and make it into honey. By administering yourself with local honey, it will help to combat your aversion to local plant life; but you don't have to take my word for it.

See what I'm pointing to? That's produce. Behind me are squash, heirloom tomatoes the size of your head, gorgeous cucumbers and wax beans, basically all of the summer bounty that you could be putting into your body but aren't. See how hot and sweaty I am? Of course you do. But is it worth it? Of course it is. If you don't want to get hot and sweaty shopping, consider that these hard-working women and men do every day to give you this bountiful harvest. Consider the beauty in their hard work, their toil, all so you can have some fresh and beautiful meat, vegetables, cheese, all on your plate tonight. Sure, the supermarket is air-conditioned, but you'll be supporting factories, poorly-paid laborers, a crap-ton of antibiotics. Consider organic; if nothing else, it tastes better.

There's a slight chance I went overboard...
And another thing; don't throw away your beet and carrot greens. Those greens are delicious, good for you, and create another dimension to your meal. I love beet greens sauteed with butter and salt, or braised in a stew. Carrot greens can be steamed, roasted, all while left on the carrot. You can butter the peeled carrots and just bake them with some potatoes. By leaving the carrots whole, you minimize prep time for yourself, and who doesn't like that?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with these beets. And basil. And garlic. And carrots. Okay, so it's less like a date and more like an orgy. Sue me.