Showing posts from August, 2011

Vegetarian Borscht

Another recipe from the Mama files today, to expand the existing collection of eggplant ikra and farmer's cheese.

Today, we take on the classic Russian dish: borscht. This thick, deep-red soup features beets as the primary ingredient. I'll let Mama take it from here:

Before I share the recipe, a few notes.  The quality of beets you use is very important. You want very fresh ones. The ones we used while I visited Anna in Madison were from Harmony Valley, and were really fresh, with the greens still on them.  We also had light, young, crunchy cabbage, which really makes the difference.

For vegetarian borscht, I like to add beans. Kidney or white beans are fine, but former is tastier. Sometimes I also use baby lima beans frozen.

I usually boil the beets separately first, but these were so small that I just threw them in. The more beets the better, as it makes the borscht rich and concentrated. And I didn’t peel the beets, just washed them well, because a lot of pigment is in the s…

What should we eat?

Friends: I need your help!

With the semester starting in full force next week, I'm in the middle of preparing for a 1-credit seminar I'll be teaching this fall, to a small group of undergrads who live in the GreenHouse environmental living community.

The class--in five two-hour sessions--will tackle the questions of "how do we decide what to eat?" and "what factors (environmental, sociological, personal) inform this choice?"

So, I'm trying to come up with two lists that will help frame the course. One will be a list of contrasts (eating at home vs. eating at restaurants, cooking from scratch vs. buying processed foods, eating meat vs. not eating meat, and so on). The other will be a list of values that some people consider when deciding what to eat (taste, cost, environmental impact, community, the status quo, etc.).

I'll try to take these lists and create some kind of coherent framework for leading 18- and 19-year olds through the thought processe…

Baked Penne Re-post

Check out my good friend's blog, The New Chef's Journal, to see a post about the Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables that he and I made while he visited us in Madison last week.

He does a great job of recounting the recipe and our preparation--along with some great photos of us making this easy and versatile dish!

Check it out!

Ultimate Summer Meal

About six months ago, I wrote about our ultimate winter meal, which was full of starchy vegetables and preserved foods. Although we found a way to eat well then, in a reasonably seasonal manner, even in the depth of winter, I am SO HAPPY that it's summer and we can have the color and juiciness and freshness that comes with my favorite season.

So, today, an ultimate summer meal, from a few weeks back. Most of the dishes were made with produce from Harmony Valley Farm, the place that makes it all possible!

Homemade croutons from Batch Bakehouse foccacia; a summer panzanella with those croutons, tomatoes, cucumbers, white beans, and basil; and fresh Sweet Sarah Cantaloupe:

A creamy dill sauce; a plate of pan-roasted potatoes with the dill sauce, fresh corn on the cob with dill sauce, and a pesto eggplant dish; the eggplant on its own:

And the second round of meals that came from these dishes included (1) a pesto-orzo-eggplant salad that I made by combining the pesto eggplant above …

Finding Fruit

After reading the urban foraging article I wrote about yesterday, I was thinking a lot about the joys of collecting fruit. And then, as is often the case, I discovered that one of my favorite bloggers, Sharon Astyk, had captured these joys as exuberantly and descriptively as I could ever hope to. Read her account here: The Fruit Olympiad

I love how Sharon describes each type of fruit-picking as having its own challenges, and a seasonal variation that ranges from simple (strawberry) to more challenging (cherries) to requiring endurance (blueberries) to being a true battle (fruit with thorns!) to the relatively easy late summer/fall fruits (peaches, apples, pears).

My dad is already finding wild pears and grapes in Atlanta, but we here in Madison have had a relatively fruit-less summer (at least in the literal sense). While last summer we were collecting strawberries and blueberries and raspberries (all cultivated) and foraged apples...

...this summer, all we've managed is some wild…

Urban Foraging

Because my family lives in Atlanta, I often think about what it would be like to live there or in the vicinity. And although my vision of it is usually peopled by corporate, SUV-driving types who spend hours in traffic and on their bluetooth devices, I like seeking out more positive representations of that city and its people.

So I was especially excited to see this NYT piece about urban foraging in Atlanta, and about how some folks are making use of the produce growing in the yards of abandoned, foreclosed homes.

Gardens no longer tended, fruit trees left unpicked--all are left hanging with fruit and vegetables, wasted if not for folks who seek to salvage this free and local bounty.

Image from
I also liked the portrayal of the city itself, as one that has organizations like Concrete Jungle, which forages fruit that gets donated to food pantries, and which has built a database of untended fruit and nut trees on commercial an…

Video: Nut Milk!

You all remember that beautiful and sunny-as-a-summer's-day video about how to make quinoa from My New Roots?

Well, the mastermind behind that one is out with a new video, about how to make nut milk.

So easy! So fun to watch! So light and happy!

My New Roots - How to Make Nut Milk from My New Roots on Vimeo.
Makes me want to go make some nut milk. Right now. I'll report back...

Sungold Tomatoes! Delight!

You want to know the one food I look forward to when summer comes, more than any other?

Hands-down, no-contest: the sungold tomato!  The sugary, glowing, orb of happiness! May its glory live on forever and ever!

Popping these whole into my mouth, warm from the vine, is summer in one bite.

Juicy, compact, with a flavor like no other tomato you've every tasted, oh the sungold tomato!

Dilly Beans

I had never even really heard of "dilly beans" before I came to Madison, but the sour little green beans now seem to pop up all over the place.

So, when my old friend NB--who was visiting from out of town (and whose birthday is today!)--and I saw piles of green beans at the farmer's market, we felt the call of the canned dilly bean. We picked up four pounds of beans, along with a couple bunches of flowering dill heads.

As with my previous canning adventures, we followed the directions for dilled beans from the National Center for Home Food Preservation: see them here.
We made pickling liquid from salt, vinegar, water, and hot pepper flakes, saving the beautiful pickling spice pictured below for the cucumber pickles we made later in the day.
After sterilizing the jars, we put two dill heads and a couple cloves of garlic in each of the hot jars:
And then packed in the washed and trimmed green beans. We found it much easier to get the beans in the jars in an upright fashion whe…

Harvest Handouts

Although I've mentioned it a time or two, as one of my favorite parts of Madison summers F. H. King's Harvest Handouts deserves its own post.

I first discovered this joyous program in the summer of 2008, when I was hurriedly walking through the Library Mall on campus, on my way to teach a summer class, hungry and grumpy. But then, right there before my eyes, was a table full of beautiful vegetables with a sign that read "Free!" Free? I said. How could this be?  I didn't stop long to ask questions that time around, but grabbed a few carrots and cucumbers and went joyfully along my way, munching and chomping, happier than a bunny in springtime.

image from
Over the last few years, I've gotten to learn what this was all about, and to enjoy the fruits of F. H. King's labor every Friday, all summer long, from 1-3 (previously in Library Mall, this summer in East Campus Mall).

The F. H. King Student Farm, named after a Wisconsin agricultural sc…

Skillet Enchilada Chilaquiles

One of my summer-time cooking challenges is to use the oven as little as possible, since it heats up the house so much to preheat the oven and have it on for an hour, or however long is needed to bake a dish of this or that.

But because enchiladas are one of our favorite go-to dishes, I decided to try my hand at stove-top enchiladas. I did a bit of googling around, and find an inspirational post or two, like this one at Delectably Yours.

We were low on vegetables and ingredients, so I pulled some corn tortillas, pre-cooked kidney beans, and cooked greens out of the freezer. Then I sauteed up some onions, garlic, a jalapeno, and one big grated carrot. Once those had browned and I had added some cumin and chili powder, I threw in my freezer finds, and voila! Easy enchilada filling.

I warmed the corn tortillas slightly in the microwave, wrapped in a damp towel. I transferred the vegetable filling to a Pyrex dish, and then used the same pan to heat about half the sauce, whic…

Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto

What wonderful news!

"More than 270,000 organic farmers are taking on corporate agriculture giant Monsanto in a lawsuit filed March 30. Led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the family farmers are fighting for the right to keep a portion of the world food supply organic—and preemptively protecting themselves from accusations of stealing genetically modified seeds that drift on to their pristine crop fields."

The whole article here: Organic v. Monsanto

Celebrating Birthdays with Food

Last week, my husband JH marked the completion of another journey around the sun. But unfortunately, this year the birthday involved less celebration than is typical, because of a looming project deadline that has kept him almost chained to his desk for the last month.

But, I reasoned, a man's gotta eat. So, the meals of the day became the moments to pause and reflect and make him feel special through food. I think it worked.

The breakfast ingredients: basil and cherry tomatoes picked from our small garden moments before preparation; and eggs from our friend MH and her chickens Phoneix and Big Red.

The resulting breakfast, served on a tray, breakfast-in-bed style: omelets with sauteed onions, basil, and tomato; fresh-baked baguette and focaccia and a bite of salty caramel brownie, all from Batch Bakehouse; and juice and water and the ever-present sriracha.

After a lunch of taco salad and a dinner of Vientiane, our Madison nearest and dearest joined us in a little park off State …

Sweet Potato Fries

Did you guys read about that new nutrition study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June? Jane Brody offered a good summary of it in the New York Times. The findings weren't all that surprising, but reinforced many of my thoughts on nutrition: the kinds of foods you eat matter more than the sheer number of calories, not all fats are bad for you, exercise is important but not enough on its own, etc.

The study also offered an analysis of specific foods that contribute the most to weight gain: "French fries led the list: Increased consumption of this food alone was linked to an average weight gain of 3.4 pounds in each four-year period."  Whoa. French fries are no good for you.

So, can I still admit that fries, and especially sweet potato fries, are one of my very favorite bad-for-me indulgence foods? Mmmm...the crispy fried outside with the soft warm sweet inside gets me every time.

And my favorite incarnation of all are the sweet potato fries at Alchemy, …

Happiest Moment

One of my favorite short short stories:

“If you ask her what is a favorite story she has written, she will hesitate for a long time and then say it may be this story that she read in a book once: an English language teacher in China asked his Chinese student to say what was the happiest moment in his life. The student hesitated for a long time. At last he smiled with embarrassment and said that his wife had once gone to Beijing and eaten duck there, and she often told him about it, and he would have to say the happiest moment of his life was her trip, and the eating of the duck.”
"Happiest Moment" from Lydia Davis's Samuel Johnson is Indignant
I share this piece of fiction today in honor of Justin's birthday. Thank you, JH, for giving me my happiest moments--they are the ones that you share with me (except not usually when eating duck).

Sometimes all I want to eat...

Image this:

Especially in the summer, little appeals as much as fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden, accompanied by a cucumber and carrot all sliced up straight from the F. H. King student farm on campus, a piece of toasted bread with cheese, a juicy orange, and some fatty walnuts to round it off.

Summer on a plate (or at least one version of it).

Refrigerator Pickles

Yesterday, I shared my methods for canning pickles, which is relatively easy and yields a delicious, crunchy pickle. But should you not have a good canning set-up, or just don't want to go to the trouble, and you think you'll eat all your pickles within about a month's time, you can just go with a batch of refrigerator pickles instead. No canning needed!

Here I'll share my parents' method of making pickles, but in Megan's comment on yesterday's post, she also referred to the brined pickles she had made from Wild Fermentation. I've heard great things about this book by Sandor Ellix Katz, and encourage you to check it out (I know Megan even found a recipe for homemade cherry ginger soda in this book!)

My mom's method for pickles is super easy:
Collect cucumbers (hers this year came straight from their super-abundant garden)--any size will do, but you'll want to cut them down to uniform size. Wash the cucumbers, and remove any bitter ends. Find a co…

Making Pickles, Canning*

Pickles are one of those things that I grew up thinking of as a treat--a sour, salty, cool snack to gnaw on at the public swimming pool (where they were usually served soggy out of a sealed plastic package), or in front of the TV on a summer day.

Only recently, when I started to read more about the history of food preservation did it occur to me how functional and necessary pickles (and all their pickled brethren) might be. In earlier times, when there was no refrigeration, the only way to have green and crunchy things in the winter, alongside all those starchy storage vegetables that could last through the cold season--was to pack vegetables and fruits in as much salt or sugar or vinegar as possible, to keep the spoilage at bay.

So pickles weren't always the frivolous treat I once imagined them to be. They served a crucial function--seasonally, nutritionally, culinarily. And these days, when we're trying to eat more locally, home-canned pickles (and pickled corn relish!) serv…

Fresh Corn Salad

Part IV of "What to do with your CSA box?"

Summer corn!

Although the standard treatment for summer corn is to throw it on the grill, I actually most want to eat it cool and juicy and crunchy, straight from the cob, with no cooking at all.

Raw corn kernels go especially well with...hmm, what have we got in the fridge?  Some leftover basmati rice? A little cilantro on the verge of wilting? Some pre-cooked kidney beans in the freezer? Perfect!

Fresh Corn Salad
4 cobs corn, kernels cut off with a sharp knife 1.5 cups cooked kidney beans 1 bunch cilantro, chopped roughly 3/4 cup cooked [basmati] rice 1/2 small onion, minced 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar 2 Tbsp light olive oil 2 Tbsp hot sauce or salsa salt to taste
Combine all ingredients (in whatever proportions you have--these amounts are just guidelines) in a salad bowl, mix, and season to taste. That's it!

Italian Eggplant Salad

Part III of "What to do with my CSA box?"

I've found that eggplant is one of those vegetables that can be either outstanding or lackluster, depending on its preparation (and especially how long it's cooked).

As I wrote about before, my favorite eggplant dish (and the only eggplant dish I was familiar with) growing up, with my Mama's Eggplant Ikra, which blended eggplant up into a creamy spread with tomatoes, sauteed onions, and other goodies.

So, when I saw a beautiful, shiny purple eggplant in the CSA box this week, I wanted to do something similar, but Italian-style, so that I could make use of the rich harvest of basil in our garden these days.

Because the Enchanted Broccoli Forest had been such a win when it came to the Pickled Potato Salad, I once again turned to Mollie Katzen's wisdom to see what she had to offer.

And what did I find, but an Italian Eggplant Salad!

I made a few modifications, but mostly stuck with her guidelines, which produced a rich…

Pickled Potato Salad

Part II of "What to do with your CSA box?"

Beautiful round new potatoes in summer time make me think of potato salad.

But lately, the kind of potato salad I've been craving leans more toward fresh herbs and bright acidic accents than towards the usual heavy mayo treatment.

And so, I decided to try out a version of Mollie Katzen's Dill Pickle Potatoes from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, one of my favorite cookbooks. She pairs potatoes with pickles and lots of pickle juice, which first seems like it'll be overkill or too liquidy, but ends up being just right. And because we still have a couple jars of home-canned pickles(and pickle juice!) from last summer that we were looking to use up before making more pickles from this summer's cucumbers, this salad was perfect for us.

Pickled Potato Salad adapted from Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest
  10 small new potatoes 1 cup diced onions
2 large cloves garlic, minced 1 large carrot, peeled and cut in thi…

Freezing Greens

Part I of "What to do with your CSA box?"

Every summer, there is an overwhelming load of greens all around. I feel crowded in on all sides by the collards and kale and spinach and swiss chard...

But then the winter comes, and all I see is a wasteland of starchy root vegetables with nothing green in sight. (except for Snug Haven's delicious, but pricy, overwintered spinach).

So, my solution?

Use the magic of food preservation to store those extra greens until winter.

But because I don't have a pressure canner, and because--no matter what Popeye says--canned spinach doesn't sound all that appetizing to me,* freezing is my food preservation method of choice for greens.

So, this particular go-round, I prepped my collards and amaranth and mustard greens (and beet greens, which aren't pictured) for freezing. In this case, I guess I should be discussing "freezing greens and purples," since I was treating the beautiful magenta amaranth leaves as a kind of …

What to do with CSA box?

We got a helluva CSA box from Harmony Valley this week.

A box overflowing with:

Green Top Carrots! Garlic! Cucumbers! Patty Pan Squash and Zucchini! Broccoli! Amaranth! Fennel! Gold Potatoes! Sweet Spanish Onions! Green Top Beets! Sweet Corn! Eggplant! Green Bell Pepper! Thai Basil! Green Beans!
In addition to all that, I got more (free!) vegetables--collard greens, kale, mustard greens, salad greens, more cucumbers, yellow string beans, a hot pepper, cabbage-- from the student farm stand on campus.*

So what was I to do with all this bounty?

I'll give you a sneak peek of what I did end up doing:

This week, I'll be detailing what I did with a first round of cooking and eating my way through this overflowing goodness. So, be sure to stop back by to learn about processing and freezing greens, making pickled potato salad, Italian eggplant salad, and fresh corn salad.  And let me know if you have any questions!

* If you're in Madison this summer, be sure to check out F. H. King's Harvest …