As far as I am concerned, I grow tomatoes for winter eating. In fact, this year, I am mostly growing paste tomatoes: Roma, Amish Paste, San Marzano, and Grandma Mary’s Paste
Tomatoes in summer? oh, sure, I like a good tomato sandwich as much as anyone (they are a summer staple lunch in fact). And roasted tomatoes, fast or slow, as well as tomato salad or gazpacho or the occasional tomato sorbet.
But in February nothing beats a lasagna redolent with garlicky and rosemary tomato sauce (unless it’s one with mushroom & bechamel) nor homemade pizza with thick red sauce. Or a piping hot tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwich. All perfect comfort food that’s warming and delicious. A pleasure to eat when it’s gray and cold. And that is why I bother and can tomatoes.
The soup is easy, comforting and delicious. Read more
I love parsnip. Don’t you?
I don’t grow parsnips (not that I have not meant too…): mostly it’s because I run out of garden-bed space when I would need to direct-seed it. And parsnip holds on its real estate for a long time as it requires a long growing season — so do I grow parsnips? or do I grow a crop of lettuce? followed by bean? followed again by fall & winter greens? oh, and did I mention voles?
So until I have a special parsnip growing box like Deirdre Armstrong ( who has a “parsnip palace” built out of corrugated metal, hog panels and a few feet of compost), I will buy parsnips. They are fairly easy to find, inexpensive and like carrots, keep well in the fridge. A creamed-colored sturdy and homey root, parsnips look like white carrots (to which they are related). Their natural sweetness makes them a favorite for roasting (chunks roasted by themselves or mixed with other root vegetables) or for cream dishes (slices layered in a potato gratin or mashed with potatoes).
Parsnip particularly shines in soup. I offer here the “rich” version with chicken broth and cream. Water can be used and cream omitted for a leaner (but still flavorful) soup (that then becomes vegetarian or vegan). The soup freezes beautifully, so don’t hesitate to make a big batch.
Parsnip Soup Read more
This recipe was originally published in the Seasonal Table Column that I write for Flavor Magazine (Oct-Nov 2011 issue).
As the weather cools off, spinach is happily growing for us again, a versatile green delicious raw or cooked. I love the earthy combination of spinach and mushrooms, in salads, stews or soups. And since cultivated mushrooms are available year long in the Mid-Atlantic, some foraged, some grown outdoors like shiitake on logs and others in mushroom houses, local mushrooms are fairly easy to find. You can use any mushroom for this soup, including white mushrooms or a combination of mushrooms. And for a splurge, go for shiitakes or oyster mushrooms or any other that strike your fancy.
Mushroom and Spinach Soup Read more
What is it about a snowy day that makes me reach for comfort food? It’s rather funny actually. We’ve had horrendous days this winter, cold and blustery, wind blowing at 50 miles an hour in 20 degree weather and no snow cover – terribly hard on animals and plants, and humans too. And no special yearning for comfort food. And then comes the much awaited much hoped for snow, finally. Finally, since the previous snow storms went either North, South or West of us, leaving us desperately parched, and feeling cursed. All in all, it was not that much, maybe 5 or 6 inches of wet snow. But I am grateful. And let’s face it: I like snow in winter.
And so maybe it’s a little celebration of sorts this need for comfort food? A sign that, after all, things are OK; Read more
A dish of oxtail soup is a thing to share with those you love. Or not. (depends how much you love them)
What’s not to like about oxtail?
It’s traditional farm fare, a simple country dish with robust complex favors – many parts of the world have perfectly succulent ways to use oxtail as a matter of fact. It’s a slow simmered dish, perfect for cold days. It’s a dish that can be made in advance and in quantity. Reheating it makes it even better.
Never had oxtail? If you like osso bocco, you are simply going to love oxtail. It might take a little looking to find them, although they are becoming more popular. It used to be a throwaway part of the animal – and used to be very inexpensive. But chefs in search of robust flavors obtained from slow traditional methods and the new-again emphasis on eating from nose-to-tail, is making oxtail almost trendy. So more expensive. It is one of the few cuts that I buy retail: there is after all only one tail in cattle, so when I buy a split beef half, I get – at most , if I am lucky – one tail. Hardly enough. The farmer I buy it from sells it for less than burger meat, typically the cheapest cut. So, still a pretty good deal.
Maybe oxtail is intimidating because people think of it as offal and are grossed out. Technically it is offal, but it is not an organ. Not that that would stop me from eating it if it were. Or maybe people are intimidated because they do not know how to cook it. It’s simple really, it should be cook slow. Very slow. A day in advance if possible so it has a chance to sit and mellow even more. Read more
2 feet of snow last week-end, temperatures in the lower teens (F/ about -12 C). I have not been in the hoophouse for about a week, and frankly I was not sure how it was going to be in there. Would I have mush? It after all, got cold quite suddenly after a long mild fall, and I was not sure the plants had a chance to harden off.
But it all looks good when I went in today to harvest a big bouquet of cilantro and leaf celery for a Vietnamese-inspired rice and goose. In winter, I often do a version of my basic “Chicken Soup with a Twist” varying the vegetable and the meat.
Since we had a roasted goose for Christmas (I needed after all to replenish my store of goose-fat), I simmered the carcass and the bones with some aromatics for a dark rich fragrant broth. Sautéed some carrots, shallots, lots of ginger. Added a handful of already cooked rice, some chopped goose meat, a little fish sauce, and some braised cabbage to the pot. Covered with goose broth, simmered for 15 minutes, added handful of chopped cilantro and leaf celery, some hot sauce, and voila, a very tasty and warming lunch!
Hot. Muggy. Summer in Virginia. Finally. Sigh…
I can’t really complain, July having been relatively cool, but now it’s hot. It’s time for cold lemonade, lots of ice teas, dishes that do not heat up the kitchen (it’s being heated enough with canning)… like cold soups. You know, either the ones to which you never have to apply heat (think Gazpacho) or the ones that you can throw together from precooked ingredients, especially from left over, and a few garden fresh things – like my Sorrel Vichyssoise.
Many people are not familiar with sorrel in the United States. A shame really, because it is one of the few perennial vegetables for temperate climates, very easy to grow, and pretty much care free. Yes, it can look a little raggedy in the summer, but it’ll perk up in the fall providing nice tender leaves for salads again. In summer, the leaves get a little tougher faster than in cool weather, but are still eminently usable, especially when pureed for sauces or soup. I often use it in my cooking workshops, introducing a new taste to students, and every body opens big eyes at the taste, loving it. Read more
My frugal peasant instincts won’t let me throw out (OK, compost) perfectly good to eat radish leaves. Of course, there is somebody in the house (who shall rename nameless) who does not think that radish leaves are perfectly good to eat.
I still, sometime, manage to sneak them in soup and stir fries, when the leaves are young. There are a lot more difficult to sneak in if the leaves are mature, because they can be… mmm… fibrous.
But I like cream of radish leaf soup. It tastes good, it’s thrifty. And it’s nutritious: lots of Vitamin A, B1, B2, C & Iron. Bottom line: Don’t discard the leaves, that’d be a waste. If the leaves are stringy, pass the puréed soup through a fine-meshed sieve (or a “chinois” if you’ve got one of those) to ensure it’s smooth.
Cream of Radish Leaf Soup is a recipe I submitted to Flavor Magazine for the Seasonal Table of their April 2009 issue, along with Radish Tartines and Homemade Fresh Farm Cheese. Scroll to page 2 for my recipes. But they are other nifty recipes there that I encourage you to look at, including Caramelized Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake with Strawberries & Whipped Cream from Heidi Morf of Twenty Four Crow (Heidi used to own Four & Twenty Blackbirds) , Morel Mushroom Risotto with Rosemary Cream and Chive Oil from David Scales of the Inn at Meander Plantation – a recipe I really should try if more morels deign to be hunted this year… and a few other early spring recipes. I am in good company.
Pictures? How about farm cheese in the making?
Fresh cheese in the making: curds & whey
There are indubitable signs of springs out there (besides the 2 minutes of additional daily daytime we are getting now).
For once, the snowdrops are nodding their tiny white bells in the still blustery gusts of wind and then, then!, yellow IS swelling the buds of the early daffodils. But for the ever hopeful kitchen gardener, a much surer sign that spring is coming is what’s budding, swelling, germinating, pushing up or otherwise showing signs of life in the vegetable garden.
Is there something fresh I can sink my teeth in – or at least wake up my taste buds (pun intended) with? Something green? With a little bite? Something… live? I have talked about reliable mache growing outside in winter, but a few other denizens that grow happily enough in a cold frame provide fresh taste at this time of the year: spinach, cutting celery, parsley, arugula, and sorrel are among them. They do not need a cold frame per se, but the protection provided by a cold frame allows them to send forth new leaves much earlier than their unprotected brethren, left totally outside in what is otherwise a generally bleak landscape at this time of the year.
Sorrel might be less well known on the list, so let’s talk about it, a little, shall we? Read more
So what do you do with that almost, but not quite forgotten vegetable, Jerusalem Artichokes or Sunchokes, freshly dug from the garden?
I have read that you can eat it raw, but have not tried that yet – except for a sliver to taste: it’s crunchy and mildly sweet , like a good young turnip, not as crunchy as a a water chestnut, and with a taste of its own, vaguely nutty. El mentioned that she has eaten it in a gratin (and although she likes it, it does not like her), Colleen turns it into a creamy sunchocke soup, and Hank pickles it to avoid the noisy side effects (See Note) that sunchokes have on some people. While the pickle recipe looks tempting, reminding me of the Indian-style pickles “Zachards” that I was eating when growing up, it takes more time to make than the soup (especially as you must let it age two weeks). So soup it was I made. Many sources suggest sunchokes be used like potatoes, so I decided to adapt my leek & potato soup to become Leek and Sunchoke Soup.