Lacto-fermentation: Ginger Carrot Sticks

As I often do, I think about how people used to preserve the harvest before electricity. Drying, curing and fermenting are a few ways. While I’m interesting in all of the old fashioned ways of preserving, I have done the most experimenting with fermenting, lacto-fermentation to be exact.

Lacto-fermentation occurs when the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit are converted to lactic acid by friendly bacteria, called lactobacilli. Lactic acid is a naturally occurring preservative. The science of it all may be complex, but the practice of it is super easy. Basically, all you need to do is provide the right environment for the process to happen and then it does it all by itself.

Lacto-fermented foods are rich in probiotics. You may already know about probiotic rich foods like yogurt. Probiotics are often called “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria.” The Mayo Clinic’s website states that while more research is needed, there’s encouraging evidence that probiotics may help treat diarrhea, prevent infections, treat eczema, and reduce the severity of colds and flu.

While many ways of processing drops the food’s nutritional value, lacto-fermentation actually boosts it. In addition to helping digestion, fermentation increased the vitamin & mineral content of the food.

In “Nourishing Traditions”, Sally Fallon states that, “The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”

The great part about lacto-fermentation is that it is super easy and requires little equipment other than wide-mouth mason jars. Sure you can splurge on a $145 Harsch Gairtopf Fermenting Crock Pot (yes, this is a gift hint for anyone looking to spoil me with an expensive kitchen gadget) but I’ve done just fine with mason jars.

When picking out vegetables, go for organic or naturally grown, without pesticide. Pesticide residue can mess the whole thing up! It’s yet another on a long list of reasons to avoid chemicals on your food.

If you really want to get into fermenting, “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz is an excellent resource.

Recently I went a little crazy in the kitchen (nothing unusual). I naturally fermented carrots, beets, sauerkraut and kimchi. I don’t think I’m ready to stop. I’m going to have another fermenting session after my trip to the farmers market Saturday. So little time, so much to ferment!

Whey
Whey is often used to jump start the fermentation process. If you are a cheese maker, than you have plenty already. If you aren’t, It is super easy to make with yogurt.

Ingredients
8oz plain whole milk yogurt with live cultures (Around here RonnyBrook is a good choice and easy to find)

Method

  • Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth.
  • Set over a bowl and pour in yogurt into strainer.
  • The liquid collected is whey. You’ll get about 2-3 tablespoons from each 8oz yogurt. The left over yogurt will be nice and thick.

Lacto-Fermented Ginger Carrot Sticks
You can whip this up in a flash. I’m guessing it will take you less than 10 minutes; if you are quick with a knife, maybe less than five.

This is the easiest way to ease into lacto-fermentation. The tasty and tangy carrots make an easy and healthy snack. I always try to keep a jar on hand.

Ingredients
3-5 medium carrots, peeled
1 tablespoon whey (homemade if you don’t have any, use extra salt; do not use commercial whey or dried whey)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
Filtered water, enough to cover the carrots

Method

  • Cut carrots into sticks. Size them so that they fit in a pint size jar with about an inch of headspace at the top. Place the carrot sticks into the jar. Make sure they fit snuggly. They should be wedged in tightly enough so that none float when the water is added.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to cover the carrots. Leave about an inch of space at the top of the jar.
  • Put the lid on tightly and keep it at room temperature (72 degrees) for about three days. If it is cold, you may need to leave it out longer. You can taste to tell if they are done. If they aren’t as sour as you would like them, leave them out a little longer. The fermented carrots will last in your fridge for several months and will get better with age.

 

Turning Mad Apples into Baba Ganoush

babaI like eggplant. I like the taste and look of them. They come in all kinds of cartoon-like balloon shapes and sizes. They can be purple, elegantly striped or creamy white.

Historically, eggplants and other nightshade vegetables, have suffered from bad press.  Sometimes called “mala insana” or “mad apple,” it was thought that eggplants caused many ailments including fever, epilepsy and insanity. It’s no wonder that Northern Europeans mainly used them ornamentally until the 1600s.

The PR for eggplants in Spain was certainly more favorable. Prizing eggplants for aphrodisiac qualities, the Spaniards dubbed them, “Berengenas” or “The Apple of Love.” It’s all in the branding.

India, Pakistan, the Middle East and China have been enjoying eggplant forever or there abouts.

The real nutritional winner in eggplant is a phytonutrient found in the skin called nasunin. Nasunin is a potent antioxidant and has antiangiogenic properties, which are purported to inhibit cancer growth.

Baba Ganoush
Next time I’m making a double batch of this Middle Eastern dish. My husband and I ate it in two days and I was sad to see the empty bowl. Luckily, it’s a breeze to make so I plan to pick up more eggplant at the farmers market this week. I may even triple the recipe and pop the extra (if there is any) in the freezer.  I’d pick baba ganoush over humus for a dip any day, but it is also delicious on roasted chicken or as a sandwich spread.

Tahini is a lightly roasted sesame paste. It’s usually found with other nut butters or in the international section of grocery stores.

Ingredients
2 large eggplants (about 1 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup tahini
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400º F.
  • Trim the stem of eggplant.
  • Prick eggplant with a fork in several places and place on a baking sheet. Bake the eggplant until it is soft and deflated, about 45 minutes.
  • Let the eggplant cool. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. You can scoop out the pulp, but I prefer to just put the whole shabang in the food processor. That way you get all the nutrients in the skin.
  • Add tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt to food processor and process until smooth. You can also mash this with a potato masher
  • Stir in the parsley. Season with more salt, to taste.
  • Serve with homemade pita bread. Serves four to six.

Sesame Ginger Zucchini Salad

This is an easy no-cook summer salad.

Ingredients
2 cups zucchini, grated or cut into small match-stick sized pieces
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil
1/2-1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
salt and pepper to taste

Method
-Lightly salt the grated or cut zucchini and let drain for about 20 minutes
-Mix all ingredients (yes, it is that simple).
Enjoy!

Kale Salad…yes it IS delicious!

Last year, I bought kale seedlings for our garden. The kale that I was familiar with had large, medium green leaves with ruffled edges. The kale I was growing had very narrow, dark green leaves. I thought maybe I had mixed up my seedlings.

My friend Ellen tipped me off to the fact that I was growing the trendy Lacinato kale, also known as Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale or cavolo nero (black kale, since the leaves are such a dark green they are almost black). It’s slightly sweeter than curly leafed kale and has a more delicate flavor. It’s now my favorite type of kale.

I rarely see Lacinato at the grocery store, but often see it at farmers’ markets, so keep an eye out for it.

No question about it, kale is a nutritional superstar. One cup of cooked kale has almost 200 percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A 88 percent of your vitamin C and is off the charts with vitamin K (1,327.62 percent to be exact). Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting and building bones.

Kale also contains many phytonutrients, a fancy word for a class of nutrients, other than vitamins, that is obtained from eating plants. Carotenoids, flavonoids, sulfides and a bunch of other things of which I’ve never heard (saponins for one) are phytonutrients. They are much touted for their health benefits and kale contains a boatload of them. Its organosulfur compounds are of particular note, as they are purported to lessen the occurrence of a variety of cancers.

The spring and the fall are the best times to get kale. Its leaves are a little sweeter in cooler weather. Kale is ninth on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen,” which is a list of the most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables. So talk to your farmer about his/her pesticide practices or pick up an organic bunch.

Jan’s Kale Salad
This is adapted from my friend Jan’s recipe. And she got it from a friend. No telling where the friend got it, but I’m guessing each person adjusted it a bit.

Ingredients
1 small bunch of kale (lacinato preferred)
1 cup bread crumbs (to make your own, crumble a piece of very dry toast)
1/4 cup sliced almonds (Jan uses pine nuts)
1/4 chopped dried figs
1/2 cup or more crumbled feta cheese

Dressing:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons shallot, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Method

  • Wash kale and discard stems. (Toss them in your compost!)
  • Cut the kale into thin ribbons (chiffonade). Stack the leaves, roll them into a long tube, then slice into thin strips. If this sounds too fussy for you, just chop it.
  • For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, shallots, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  • In a large bowl, toss kale with dressing to coat. Add the feta, figs, bread crumbs and almonds and toss. Salt and pepper to taste.

Squash Blossoms

A few weeks ago my sister-in-law Tori wrote this on my facebook wall: “Kara, if you’ve never tried them before, gently fry up some zucchini flowers–absolutely amazing….” Since then, several people have echoed her sentiments. My first thought was, “What about the zucchini?” I thought that if you picked all the blossoms than you wouldn’t get any squash. It is true. If you pick all of the blossoms on your plants you won’t get any squash. The trick is to only pick the male ones and even then, don’t pick them all. It takes two to tango and the plant needs some male blossoms to pollinate the female blossoms.

It’s fairly easy to spot the male blossoms. They are slightly smaller than the female ones and grow on the longer thinner stems. The female blossoms will often have a little squash growing at the base. Pick them in the morning while they are open. Once they are closed the delicate flower is harder to open. Picking them when they are open also insures that there aren’t any critters hiding inside.

If you aren’t growing squash, you may be able to find blossoms at the farmers market.

Ingredients
Squash blossoms (however many you have will do)
3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup ice water
1 egg
salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons oil (I use coconut oil)

Method
-Cut stems off at the base and clip out stamens from the inside of the blossoms.
-Gently wash the squash blossoms and let dry.
-Mix egg, flour, water, salt and pepper until combined. The batter can be a little lumpy.
-Heat oil to just below the smoking point in a small sauté pan.
-Dip blossoms into batter and place in pan.
-Cook each side until crisp and lightly brown.
-Remove from pan, place on a paper-toweled lined plate and salt.
-Serve warm.

Note: you can also stuff the blossoms with cheese before frying. We recently used goat cheese.

Corn Maque Choux

My husband suggest that I try this Cajun dish (pronounced, “mock-shoe”). It’s delicious and is a great way to use extra corn if you get a little greedy like I did and over-buy at the farmers market!

Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup red or green bell peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon jalapeno, minced
4 cups corn (about 6 ears)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika (regular paprika will work, but won’t be as good!)
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Method

  • Melt the butter in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the corn, onions, garlic, bell peppers, jalapeno, and seasoning. Cook, stirring, until soft, for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium.
  • Whisk the milk and eggs together until frothy. Slowly add the mixture to skillet, stirring constantly. If you pour too fast, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. Cook for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and serve hot.

Serves 6.

Mexican Grilled Corn

This is one of my favorite ways to prepare grilled corn. The recipe is adapted from www.marthastewart.com.

Ingredients
4 ears of corn in husk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
2 ounces queso fresco (or feta cheese)

Method
– Soak corn, still in husks, in cold water for 10 minutes, turning once.
– Heat grill to high. Place corn on grill. Cover and cook until husks are charred. Turn to char all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
– Using a kitchen towel (the ears will be hot), pull back the husks; remove and discard corn silks. Keep the husks attached. They will work as a nice holder for your corn.
– Return corn to the grill. Make sure the husks aren’t on direct heat, as they tend to catch on fire. Turn and cook just until kernels are slightly charred, 5 minutes or less.
– Mix mayonnaise, lime juice, chili powder and salt and brush on cooked corn. Sprinkle with queso fresco. Serve hot.

Serves 4

Secret Ingredient Black Bean Chili

When the weather is cold and snowy, I find comfort in a big pot of bubbling chili and hot-out-of-the-oven cornbread with lots of butter. It almost makes the latest snowstorm tolerable … almost.

There are endless variations of and opinions on what goes or does not go into a good bowl of chili. Some think that there is no place for beans in chili. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is illegal to add beans to chili in the state of Texas. Others insist on using red kidney beans and nothing else will do. What I like about all the variations is the assortment of “secret” ingredients. Any chili chef worth his/her salt has a secret ingredient or two in their pot.

In the January/February issue of Cook’s Illustrated, the test kitchen looked into many chili secret weapons, including red wine, peanut butter, cola, prunes, coffee, cornmeal, beer, molasses, cocoa powder, anchovies and mushrooms. They gave the boot to all but beer, molasses, cocoa powder and cornmeal. While I was tempted to try them all (yes, all the winners and losers in the same pot), I refrained and only used a few.

I usually make chili with ground beef. My husband recently made a delicious pot with sirloin steak (coffee is his secret ingredient). Since I had lots of beans in my cupboard, I decided to go the veggie route. I always use dried beans. They do take time, but don’t require much effort.

I use dried beans for several reasons.

-They are more flavorful than canned beans.
-I have fewer cans to recycle.
-They are cheaper. Canned beans are pretty cheap, but organic beans can be around $2 a can. The dried, organic equivalent is about 60 cents.

A big reason I go for dried beans is that I try to avoid cans in general. Most cans are lined with Bisphenol A (BPA). The FDA assures us that it is safe, but I’ve read enough studies to think this endocrine disrupter isn’t anything I want touching my food.

Luckily, if you are in a hurry, there are a couple of options for beans. Eden Foods beans are packed in Bisphenol A (BPA) free cans. Amy’s Kitchen is going to start rolling out BPA free cans this year.

Unfortunately, canned tomatoes are the worst offenders because their acidic nature causes more of the BPA to leach into the food. I have yet to find canned tomatoes free of BPA. Don’t be fooled by thinking that organic canned tomatoes are BPA free, most, if not all are not (I’ve called and asked). Supposedly Muir Glen (owned by General Mills) has BPA free cans of tomatoes on the shelves, but they are being a bit cagey about it. If you buy a can today, it may or may not be BPA lined and there is no way to tell by the date canned. I’m assuming when all of their cans are BPA free, they will send the all-clear signal. Until then, I use home-canned tomatoes in glass, store-bought tomatoes in glass or those packed in aseptic packaging (the waxy-looking box).

My favorite part of chili is all the fixings. Sour cream or plain yogurt, cheddar cheese and raw chopped onions are a must for me. I also like to throw in avocado and cilantro if I have them hanging around.

And, of course, probably the best garnish for chili is a cold mug of beer!

Stay warm!


Black Bean Chili

This is a vegetarian recipe but, if you fancy, by all means, add some meat!

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons molasses
1 large box (26 ounces) chopped tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups vegetable stock
4 cups cooked black beans
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper (more to taste)

For garnish:
Cilantro, chopped
Cheddar cheese, grated
Sour cream or plain yogurt
Onions, chopped
Avocado, chopped

Method:

  • In a large pot, add olive oil and onions, sauté over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Add peppers and garlic and sauté another minute.
  • Add spices, cocoa powder, tomatoes, vinegar and stock; bring to a boil. Add black beans and corn.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle a hefty serving into each bowl and top with garnishes.

How to cook dried beans:

  • Decide on the amount you want to cook. One cup of dried beans equals 2.5 cooked. While you are cooking beans, you might as well make extra. You can freeze the leftovers and grab them when you want a quick meal.
  • Sort through the beans, rinse and pick out any little pebbles. Most of the time I don’t find any, but that time or two that I do, my teeth are happy I took the extra step.
  • There is a big culinary debate about whether to soak or not to soak beans. Apparently it is a toss up on whether you save time and reduce the bean’s gas-producing properties. I always soak unless I forget, then I just cook them.
  • To soak, place beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with cold water. If any beans float to the top, remove them (they are too old). Soak for at least six hours, but preferably overnight. I keep them out on the counter.
  • Drain the beans and discard the liquid.
  • Place the beans in a heavy-bottomed pot and cover them with water. Add enough so that there are a couple inches of water above the beans. Bring to a boil, cover and turn the heat to low. Add more water if the water level dips below the beans. Stir occasionally. Cook until bite-tender. This will take one to two hours, depending on the beans.
  • Drain and use now or freeze.

Slow-Cooking variation: Place beans in slow cooker, cover with water and soak overnight. Drain; add fresh water to cover with two additional inches. Cover and cook on low for eight hours.

This post is part of  The Nourishing Gourmet’s Pennywise Platter Thursday and Fight Back Fridays and The Healthy Home Economist Monday Mania.

The Best Collard Greens, Ever

I am certain that my husband makes the best collard greens in the state of New York, if not the world. He was sweet enough to share his recipe. Keep in mind that the word recipe is used lightly here. Collard greens are one of those things that most Southern cooks don’t use a recipe to make. You get the basic concept and improvise. I’ve never seen him use a measuring spoon when making greens.

Ingredients:
1 large bunch of collard greens (Well washed. My Aunt Georgia once washed a particularly dirty bunch in her washing machine.)
6 slices of thick-slab peppered bacon
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
Cayenne pepper and hot sauce to taste


Method:

  • Fry bacon in a large soup pot, remove and set aside, leaving bacon fat in the pot.
  • Add onions and garlic and sauté over medium heat until onions are tender.
  • Chop collard greens and cook until wilted.
  • Add vinegar, sugar and salt.
  • Add chicken stock and bacon, cover and simmer for at least 1 hour. My husband, like a true Southerner, cooks it for at least three, since the flavor deepens with time. Stir greens occasionally, adding water if needed (you don’t want the greens to stick to the bottom of the pot). Season to taste.

Hoppin’ John

I love the name of this dish. There are many differing accounts of where the name came from. My favorite is that a man named John came “a-hoppin” when his wife took the dish from the stove.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried black-eyed peas
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 hog jowl sliced (or a few strips of bacon or a ham hock)
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup long- grain white rice
Salt and black pepper to taste

Method:

  • Wash and sort the peas, making sure to remove any small pebbles.
  • Place in large bowl, cover with water and soak overnight. (If you want to skip this step, you will need to increase the cooking time.)
  • Place onions and garlic in small sauté pan and cook until onions are tender.
  • Place peas in the large soup pot, add water or broth. Bring to a gentle boil .
  • Add onions, garlic, red pepper and hog jowl.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until peas are tender, about an hour (two if you didn’t soak them).
  • Add the rice, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Serves four to six.

Roasted Smashed Potatoes

This recipe is adapted from this month’s issue of Cooks Illustrated. They call for roasting the potatoes at 500ºF. They must (a.) have a powerful exhaust system and (b.) have a very clean oven. Two things I do not have. Any thing much above 425ºF and I have to take the batteries out of our smoke detector.

When these potatoes are done correctly, the insides taste like creamy mash potatoes and the outside like crispy fries. What’s better than that?

Ingredients
-1 1/2 –2 inch-sized potatoes (medium to low starch). Three potatoes per person should do it, though I could easily eat five.
-Olive oil
-Butter (optional)
-Sea salt and pepper

Method

  • Add well-washed, unpeeled potatoes in a single layer to a pot with a lid. Barely cover them with salted water. The water shouldn’t be higher than largest potato. You want to steam them more than boil them.
  • Bring the water to boil, cover and continue to cook over medium-high to high heat for 10-15 minutes. Check it occasionally to make sure all of the water hasn’t evaporated.
  • Heat oven to 400ºF.
  • Drain and let cool slightly, they smash better when cooled.
  • Transfer potatoes to a baking sheet. Roll potatoes in a couple tablespoons of olive oil to coat.
  • Use a potato masher to squash each potato flat.
  • Drizzle each smashed potato with olive oil then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Bake the potatoes for 25-30 minutes until crisp and golden. During the last ten minutes of cooking, I like to add a little butter to each potato. I use grass-fed butter, which is full of all kinds of good nutrients like omega 3 and CLAs (conjugated linoleic acid), so I don’t feel a smidgen of guilt in doing so!

Serve hot.

Vampires Beware, we’ve been eating garlic!

Vampires cross the street when they walk by our house, especially since our visit to Virginia Ambrose from Scarecrow Farm. We met her at the Hudson Farmers Market last weekend. And we’re glad we did.

If you have a question about garlic, ask Virginia. She knows her garlic. They grow more hardneck varieties than softneck. Apparently hardneck is the garlic connoisseur’s choice. The flavor is said to be more complex. The cloves are larger, but fewer. They are easier to peel but don’t store as well as the softnecks. Softneck garlic is the type you most often see in the supermarket, though I doubt our local supermarkets carry either the Korean Red or Mediterranean Soft neck that Scarecrow Farms grows.

Scarecrow Farm has many types of garlic, each with their own characteristics. Virginia will mark each bulb with the name so you can go home and have your very own garlic tasting, which is exactly what we did.

I methodically set up for the tasting. First I labeled plates with each type of garlic.

The line-up was:
Two porcelain hardnecks: Carpathian and Romanian Red
One purple stripe hardneck: Siberian
One soft neck: Mediterranean.

Then I heated up bread with a little butter and placed the raw, minced garlic on each piece. I’m sure you could also conduct this taste test with cooked garlic, but I felt we would catch more subtleties eating it raw. Plus vampires hate raw garlic.

We sampled each one, noting their bouquet, start and finish. We cleansed our pallet between each sample, which with raw garlic is no small feat.

I had hoped to be able to pick out the nuances of each variety and write something that mimicked a wine review, but my pallet just isn’t trained that way. The only thing I got was hot and hotter. The Carpathian was by far the hottest.

My husband claimed that after our dog got a whiff of his garlic breath, she hopped off the couch, something she usually only does with great reluctance and a dirty look.

I’ve always used a lot of garlic in my cooking— going through at least a head a week, if not more. Conventional wisdom says that I’m doing my body a favor. Garlic is purported to have a host of medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antibacterial and antiviral benefits. I do believe it can ward off a cold, which may or may not be the result of its lingering aroma. In my experience, other people are the main cause of colds, so I feel garlic is pretty effective at keeping them at arm’s length. They don’t call it “the stinking rose” for nothing.

All food prices have increased in the last year but the price of garlic has skyrocketed. Last year I found that much of the garlic that you find in the supermarket comes from China. Apparently there has been a bit of speculation in the China garlic market and people have been pouring money into it. I read stories of farmers hoarding their garlic crop and of businessmen investing in fields of garlic rather than real estate. Is there irrational exuberance in the China garlic market?

I don’t know what the price of garlic in China has to do with our local crop, but the prices have risen here also. Last year I paid 50¢ a head, this year it is double that.

But I buy it anyway. Maybe if I hold on to it, I can sell it and double my money next year. Yes, I’m giving out investment advice in a food column!

Roasted Garlic
While I will eat garlic raw, I love the mellow taste of roasted garlic. Roasting garlic caramelized the cloves and creates a delicious, creamy paste. Spread it on bread or toss it into mashed potatoes.

Ingredients
Whole heads of garlic
Olive oil

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  • Peel away any loose outer skin of the garlic bulb. Using a knife, or kitchen shears, cut off about 1/4 inch of the top of bulb, exposing the individual cloves.
  • Place the garlic in a baking dish, I use a small ramekin for each head, but they can all be in the same dish. Drizzle each with olive oil.
  • Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cloves feel soft when pressed.
  • Allow the garlic to cool. You can either use a fork to gently pull each clove out or squeeze the garlic clove directly into your mouth, I mean directly on a piece of nice, crusty French bread.

Roasted garlic may be stored in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for several days.

————

Shared on The Nourishing Gourmet.

Beet Humus

I modified this from the blog Simply Recipes. Even if I were a beet hater, I would make this dip just to look at it. My husband says it is a deep maroon color, I say it’s a dead ringer for Pantone 249.

Ingredients
1 pound beets (about 6 medium sized beets), trimmed, scrubbed clean, cooked (roasted, steamed or boiled), peeled, and cubed
1/3 cup tahini sesame seed paste
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1-2 clove garlic, chopped
Zest from one lemon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Method

  • Place all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until smooth.
  • Chill for an hour to let flavors meld.
  • Serve with pita chips, vegetables or use as a sandwich spread. Store for up to a week in a refrigerator.

This post is a part of The Nourishing Gourmet’s Pennywise Platter.

Beware, picky eaters…

The world is divided into two camps-those who love beets and those who hate them. I’m firmly in the first camp, though I wasn’t always. It took my friend Jan and her perfectly roasted beets to change my mind. I think the problem was that I had never had beets prepared properly. In fact, I believe, correctly or not, that proper preparation is the key for anyone to like any food. And I often feel the need to prove it.

When people tell me that they don’t like a particular food I’m usually a little incredulous. I try to be tolerant, but often feel it is my duty to prove picky eaters wrong. Case in point, my friend Sydney despises eggs. She will steer clear of anything with the slightness whiff of egg. She doesn’t eat her father’s pancakes because they are too eggy. Once when she was visiting, I made a delicious custard-based (a.k.a egg-based) ginger ice cream and served it for dessert. I waited for her to taste it and I asked how she liked it. When she said, “Yum, delicious!” and took another bite. I jumped up and yelled, “Ha! Got you. There are six egg yolks in that ice cream!”

I never said I was the most congenial hostess, but don’t worry, if you are allergic to shellfish, I won’t sneak in any shrimp. If you are a vegetarian, I’ll use vegetable stock rather than my normal chicken stock. But if you tell me that you hate mushrooms, I just might chop them into teeny, tiny pieces and serve them to you hidden in a meatloaf. Fair warning, you picky eaters, you.

Thankfully, my husband is an excellent eater. The only thing I will occasionally find pushed to the side of his plate is raw green peppers. I guess I’m not hiding them well enough.

We both are beet lovers and fall is a great time to get them. This past weekend I went to the Hudson Farmers market. Red Oak Farm had beautiful red and golden beets. I picked up a bunch of each, roasted them, sliced them and served them with a roasted chicken. The two beet colors were quite pretty together. My husband and I ate them all. I meant saved some so that I could try a new recipe, but didn’t set any aside.

Earlier this week, with a deadline looming and a preference for local produce, I got on the phone and called some farms. I called Fog and Thistle to see if their road-side stand was open and if they had beets. It wasn’t open but a nice person offered to go out, in the rain no less, and pull some beets for me. Got to love that!

Red Oak
and Fog and Thistle have become my favorite farms. Of course anyone who helps me out of a beet crisis gets points in my book, but I like both farms for two reasons. One, they are organic and two, they are reasonably priced, satisfying both my frugal nature and my quest for healthy food. They give me hope that you can eat pesticide free produce on a budget!


Roasted Beets

If you have particularly large beets, or just want to speed up the cooking time, half or quarter them before roasting.

Beet juice can stain your skin, so wear kitchen gloves if you don’t want pink fingertips. I also like to peel them in the sink to contain any beet juice splatter.

Ingredients
2 pounds medium beets
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Rinse the beets and trim off any leafy tops, cut any large beets into smaller pieces.
  • Place beets in a deep-sided pan, add water and cover with foil.
  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until beets can be pierced with a fork and the skin comes off easily.
  • Peel and slice the beets. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve warm.

Serves 4-6

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays at The Food Renegade!

Pear Risotto with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese

It is hard to go wrong with pears and blue cheese. In fact, when making this dish, keep some sliced pears and blue cheese handy. You’ll want a snack between all the stirring.

Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio rice are traditionally used in risotto. They have a high starch content, which gives the dish a beautiful creamy consistency. You may substitute other types of rice but you won’t get the same degree of creaminess. Since we only have white rice in the house when my husband smuggles it in, I use short-grain brown rice. It’s not quite as creamy, but the blue cheese makes up for it. I could easily double the amount of blue cheese, but then that wouldn’t leave me enough for snacking.

Ingredients

5 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (homemade preferably)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of mushrooms sliced (any fresh type will do)
2 cups rice (short grained, like Arborio)
4-5 medium-sized pears, chopped (peeling or not is your choice)
5 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Fresh parsley, chopped for garnish
Salt/pepper to taste

Method

  • Using a large frying pan, sauté onions and mushrooms in butter for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat.
  • Add 2 cup of rice to the frying pan; toast the rice over medium-high heat for a few minutes.
  • Keep a pot/bowl of warm chicken/vegetable stock close by. Add a ladleful of stock to the pan with rice. Stir to keep the rice from sticking. Reduce heat to medium. Once the stock has been absorbed, add another ladleful. Keep repeating with the remainder of stock. The rice should be tender but not mushy. If the rice is not tender, you can continue to add small amounts of water until the dish has a nice creamy consistency.
  • Add pears and blue cheese and stir well until cheese is melted.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve risotto warm. Add a salad for a meal, or serve a smaller portion as a side dish.
Serves 4 as main course.

Part of Fight Back Friday.