Mastering Perfect Spinach

When my friend Justin opened a restaurant in Maine, I fixated on his strategy to train kitchen staff: cooks would learn the best one or two ways to prepare each vegetable, so they’d be optimally equipped to deal on the fly with unpredictable supplies of local vegetables and a daily changing menu.

Let’s try this method together – and make perfect creamed spinach like skilled professionals.

Spinach can deserve its reputation, but it’s delicious when done right. Plus, it’s a nutritional powerhouse.

Why creamed spinach, specifically? Because it’s emerald green and perfect with a steak. And because like the names of our great-grandparents, food like this is coming into style again.

Thank you to the New York Times Cooking section for providing me the hankering and the recipe for creamed spinach. And to Justin for helping me make that original recipe more awesome and for taste testing.

–Bethany Fleishman,Vital Communities’ Transportation Program Assistant and former pastry chef, is contributing recipes this spring for our Valley Food & Farm program.

Creamed Spinach
Recipe adapted from The New York Times Cooking section

Ingredients

About 2 pounds spinach (from a local farm or garden – that’s the whole point!)Raw Spinach
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour (gluten free flour is fine as long as it has some thickening power)
1 cup milk (ideally whole, but use what you have)
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Bay leaf (OPTIONAL)
1 clove of garlic (OPTIONAL)
A healthy sprinkle of grated Parmesan or other sharp cheese (OPTIONAL)

Directions

1. Pick over the spinach to remove any debris, tough stems, and blemished leaves.

2. Rinse the spinach and shake dry.

3. Stuff the spinach into a saucepan with a quarter cup or so of water and cook on medium heat, stirring, until the spinach has wilted and turned bright green. You’re doing a combination sauté and steam here. (I like this method because it’s quick, and I have a completely unfounded suspicion that it preserves the most nutrients.)

4. Run the spinach under cold running water until chilled.

5. Grab the spinach by the handful and squeeze out the liquid. This is important to prevent watery creamed spinach.

6. Thoroughly blend the spinach in a food processor or blender. Set aside.Roux

7. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour, stirring with a whisk.

8. Add the milk, stirring rapidly with the whisk. For extra flavor, add a whole clove of garlic (or minced if you like a lot of garlic flavor) and a Bay leaf.

9. Add nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes until it thickens.

2Bowls10. If you used them, fish out the Bay leaf and garlic clove (unless you minced it), and add the cheese (if using).

11. Add the spinach. Stir to blend. Heat
and serve with more ground black pepper.

You’re building your skills: Did you know that the sauce you just made for the spinach is called Béchamel sauce, and is one of the five “mother sauces” in French cuisine? You can use this for the base for cheese sauce and so much more.

Sausage Bean Stew for the Spring Doldrums

This easy recipe was a crowd pleaser at Flavors of the Valley on April 10, 2016. Nancy made 20 batches in five Crock Pots to sample to about 1,000 attendees that day! (In case you missed it, we also served samples of quick kimchi. I (Bethany) made five gallons of it the day before!)

I didn’t snag a bite of the Sausage Bean Stew during the event, but fortunately had a bowlful when Nancy made a test batch earlier in the week. It’s delicious!

I find April a tough time of year in the Upper Valley for eating local and healthy. I always freeze and preserve food in the summer, but at this time of year, the freezer looks pretty lean. I’m antsy for new local vegetables, and already ate my week’s worth of farmers’ market spinach. Plus the weather’s weird, and Daylight Savings came too early. All this is to say that I’m not really in the mood to put a lot of energy into a meal.

That’s why Sausage Bean Stew is perfect for early spring doldrums – it’s hearty and warm, yet bright and fresh, and best of all, so easy! The recipe calls for canned fire-roasted tomatoes, but if you canned or froze your own tomatoes, use those up, since summer’s on its way. You can get the garlic, onion, sausage, and dried beans at the winter farmers’ markets.

NOTE: don’t use red kidney beans in this recipe, as I explain later.

Sausage & Bean Stew
adapted from Food Network Kitchen

Ingredients

1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 ounces dried white beans (navy, cannellini, etc. picked over and rinsed)
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage links (2 links)
One 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth or stock
1/2 cup ditalini or other small pasta
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
grated Parmesan and crusty bread, for serving

 

Photo (62)

Directions:

Spread the onions over the bottom of a 6- to 7-quart slow cooker and top with the carrots, garlic, white beans, thyme bundle and sausage links. Mix the diced tomatoes with the broth and 3 cups water and pour over the sausages.

Cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours; the beans will be tender and begin to fall apart. Uncover the slow cooker, remove and discard the thyme bundle and transfer the sausage links to a cutting board. Stir the pasta into the stew and continue to cook, covered, until the pasta is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat. Cut the sausages into bite-size pieces and add back into the stew along with the parsley and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan on the side for sprinkling on top and crusty bread for soaking up the broth.

Notes:

Choose your beans wisely: all raw or under-cooked beans contain a small amount of a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin that causes gastrointestinal distress. Red kidney beans contain more of this toxin than other beans, and since many slow cookers don’t reach the temperature needed to break down the toxin, it’s best to keep red kidneys out of the slow cooker.

Boost flavor with Parmesan rind: If you have it, add a 4 ounce chunk of Parmesan rind to the pot in the beginning and discard with the herbs at the end.

Use up leftover pasta: Substitute leftover pasta (or rice!) for the uncooked pasta by reducing the water by 1 cup and adding 1 cup of cooked pasta with the sausages at the end.

Braised Pork + Cabbage: A One-Pot Late Winter Farmers Market Meal

Braised Pork & Cabbage: A One-Pot Late Winter Farmers Market Meal 

Magazines and radio shows are already gushing about springy greens recipes, but if you’re eating seasonally in the Upper Valley, winter food is still on the table. And with the gorgeous snow, that’s fine with me.

You can get the main ingredients for this one-pot locally grown dish at the winter farmers market as well as a local grocery. Get a bag of local spinach and make a salad to go alongside your braise if you’re feeling springy.

Your shopping list:

– Pack of four bone-in pork chops (bones make things tasty, keep us healthy, and you can save them for stock)
– A large yellow onion
– Bulb of garlic
– 4 carrots
– 1 small cabbage (any kind – green, red, Napa, Savoy)
– 4 medium-sized potatoes
– Cider vinegar

For the photos here (and supper with friends), I used loin chops from pigs raised by family friends who make cheese. (Cheese-making = leftover whey = pig food.)

This dish uses classic ingredients from northern and eastern Europe – pork, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and caraway seeds (these are the seeds in rye bread). My Danish great-grandmother’s version uses sauerkraut and prunes instead of cabbage, carrots, and caraway. Her recipe is tasty, but a little intense and only makes sense if you have extra sauerkraut sitting around. The version I’m sharing here uses fresh cabbage instead. Play around with different root vegetables and spices or try it with sauerkraut if you want.

Braised Pork & Cabbage

Adapted from Martha Stewart.com
Prep time: 20 mins          Total time: 1 hour           Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (or chicken fat, lard, etc.)
  • 4 bone-in rib pork chops, 8 ounces each
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • ½ medium cabbage or one small cabbage (4 cups total, cored and chopped)
  • 4 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4-5 medium potatoes (about a 1 lb.), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 T Dijon or whole-grain mustard
  • 1 ¼ cup water, stock, or wine from an open bottle that needs to be used up
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 t caraway seeds, optional
  • 1 bay leaf, optional
  • 1 t dried thyme, optional
  • Chopped parsley, optional (Try to use at least ONE of these herbs – ideally all.)

Don’t panic about this long list ingredients. You probably have almost all of them just gathering dust somewhere in the cupboard, right? No need to go buy any of them if you don’t have them.

Directions

  1. Prep the vegetables:

– Quarter the cabbage. Slice away the core/stem area.Chopped Cabbage (1) Slice thinly across the grain.
– I peeled the carrots because the skins looked a little weird – but I saved the skins for stock!
– Chop the onions and mince the garlic.
– Slice the potatoes.

Chopped Vegetables (1)

  1. In a Dutch oven (5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid), heat 1 tablespoon oil over Browned Chops (1)medium-high. Generously sprinkle pork with salt. Cook until well browned, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove pork.
  2. Add remaining tablespoon oil, onion, cabbage, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme; season with salt. Don’t worry about the brown pork bits stuck to the pot. They’ll release with the moisture of the vegetables and add to the flavor. Cook, stirring Browning Vegetables (1)frequently, until vegetables have browned somewhat, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add vinegar, caraway seeds, mustard, and 1 1/4 cups water/stock/wine; bring to a boil. Add potatoes, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover, and cook until cabbage and potatoes are almost tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Return pork to pot; cover, and continue cooking until pork is just cooked through and potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes more.
  5. Grind a generous amount of black pepper over braise, sprinkle with chopped parsley (if using) and serve.

This is tasty as leftovers.

If you’re inclined to be thrifty and nutritionally wise like a grandmother, save the gnawed-on bones for a stock – simmer the bones (plus any others you may have in the freezer) in 2-3 quarts of water for a few hours, adding more water if needed. In the last 30 minutes of cooking, add carrot peelings (from above), and any onion and celery scraps you have. Or add a small chopped onion, chopped stalk of celery, and a chopped carrot. Strain, cool, skim the fat, and use the broth in split pea soup, ramen, etc. (This morning I made my stock into a soup with local shiitake mushrooms, onion, ginger, spinach, and other veggies.)

Sufferin’ Succotash

My childhood memories of succotash are not good. I distinctly remember dumping my bowl of succotash in the bushes during an evening picnic when I was around six years old because the mushy tasteless succotash (likely canned) was standing between me and dessert. I discreetly dumped it in the bushes when no one was looking and innocently asked for dessert.

The dish that I couldn’t stomach way back when is a far cry from the hip and delicious take on succotash I served for dinner tonight. Succotash is Narragansett (an extinct Algonquian language) for “broken corn kernels” and is traditionally made with corn and lima beans. These days, creative chefs  have expanded the definition and have made a vegetable dish that is easy and versatile. Corn is still the star, but you can be really inventive by cooking corn with whatever vegetables you have in the freezer, in the refrigerator (great use of left over vegetable), or in the garden (we have a few more month for this to be an option). Tonight I pulled some garden corn and peas from the freezer when I got home from work, added some onions and herbs, and had an easy side dish in less than 20 minutes.

There is nothing like a sweet summer succotash made with corn just off the cob with it’s sweet sugar milk (this is a great use of leftover corn on the cob!) and an assortment of fresh veggies (zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, etc.). This is an easy, healthy, and light side. I long for the days of walking out to the garden and picking dinner, but on this snowy January night cooking up some frozen and stored veggies made for a taste of summer on this cold evening.

frozen ingredients

Sufferin’ Succotash
Guidelines only, go wild and be creative

Corn off the cob (fresh or freshly frozen)
Sweet peas, edamame, lima beans, fava beans (fresh or freshly frozen)
Onion/leeks/scallions, chopped
Other veggies: zucchini/summer squash/broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, yams, tomatoes…anything you can think of
Butter, (3 Tbsp+/-) because everything is better with butter
Thyme & sage, fresh or dried
Salt & pepper to taste.

Defrost any frozen veggies, steam/boil any fresh veggies. Melt the butter in a pan, cook onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add vegetables and herbs and cook for 5-10 minutes and serve.

cooking onions

winter succotash

Below is a photo of a summer succotash I made last summer with fresh from the garden corn (off the cob), shell peas, sweet onion, and fresh herbs… yum!

Photo credit Julia A Reed

Photo credit Julia A Reed

Curried Squash Apple Soup

This is the start of soup season at my house. Soups are comforting and can be super easy, like this amazingly delicious 3 ingredient soup (there are 3 main ingredients, but there are some spices and cider that you’ll need, too).

The original recipe is from Ina Garten, but I’ve made a few adjustments to reduce the spice level. A trick I use to make this a 15 minute soup is to pre-cook the squash. When I have too many squash rolling around the kitchen counter (CSA share back log, irresistible sale at the farm stand, garden abundance, etc.), I cook all the squash at once and then freeze what I don’t need. That way I can just pull the pre-cooked squash from the freezer and add it right into the soup.

(Easy tip for cooking winter squash and pumpkins: Cut whole squash in half, scrape out the seeds and place cut side down on a baking sheet (lined with foil if you want to make clean up really easy). Add a little water to the pan and cook in pre-heated 350 degree oven until tender. Scoop flesh from the skin and freeze in pre-portioned amounts.)

curried squash apple soup


Curried Squash and Apple Soup
courtesy of Ina Garten, The Food Network

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp each butter & olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large butternut squash, peeled, cleaned, and cubed
2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 -1 tsp curry powder (adds heat & flavor)
1 1/2 tsp Garam masala
1 tsp salt
1 cup apple cider, juice, or water

(Garam masala is a traditional Indian blend of spices including clove, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, and cardamon.  You can find it in most grocery stores or co-ops.)

Squash apples
Directions:
Heat butter, olive oil, onion, and curry powder in a soup pot on low heat for 10-15 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally.

Add squash, apple, salt, Garam masala, cider or water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook over low heat for 20-30 minutes or until very tender.

Remove from heat. Puree with blender, food processor, or immersion blender. Return to heat and thin with cider to desired thickness. Serve and enjoy!

 

Kale, Potato & Fennel Hash

Vermont Harvest of the Month (HOM) for November is kale! By now most people know how nutritious the ubiquitous cold season green is and how everybody should eat more of it. There are lots of great recipes for including kale in your everyday cooking – including a bunch of kid-friendly recipes HOM developed for Farm-to-School programs.

HOM Nov Kale

I love this recipe (that I found at RealSimple.com) for several reasons:

  • easy – with only 3 ingredient and one pan it doesn’t get any simpler.
  • great fall and early winter recipe I can make with all locally grown food!
  • can be a main dish for a lighter meal or a satisfying side dish.
  • this is really good!

 

Potato, Kale, and Fennel Hash
courtesy of Real Simple.com

Ingredients

  1. 1 medium bunch kale, thick stems removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces (about 10 cups)
  2. 3/4 pound red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  3. large bulb fennel, chopped
  4. tablespoons canola oil
  5. kosher salt and black pepper

FennelRed potatoes

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and fennel, season with ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper, and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden and tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Add the kale and cook, tossing occasionally, until wilted, 8 to 10 minutes more. Serve with the hot sauce (optional).

Kale Potato Fennel Hash2 credit Julia A Reed

 

Quick Kimchi

Photo Julia A Reed

Photo Julia A Reed.

Cabbage, cabbage, everywhere – this is the time of year for the versatile Brassica. Napa cabbage (also called celery cabbage and Chinese cabbage) grows well in our region and is often found in fall CSA shares, at farmers’ markets, and farmstands so here is an easy recipe for this crunchy vegetable.

napa cabbage

Napa is a leafy vegetable that is low in calories, but high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C & K, and folic acid  – that’s a lot of bang for the buck! And, it happens to be versatile and delicious.

Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented vegetable condiment. This unfermented take on kimchi is quick, easy, delicious and a great way to enjoy the bounty of napa cabbage available this time of year. I found this recipe on sheknows.com and it takes just a few minutes to prepare and can last in the refrigerator for several weeks.

kimchi ingredients

The heat comes from the sambal oelek which is a Southeast Asian hot chili pepper sauce that you can find in many stores in the International aisle. You can adjust the amount of chili paste you add to the kimchi to make it more to less spicy.

kimchi chopped napa

Quick Kimchi
adapted from she knows.com

1 head napa cabbage, rough chopped
8-12 cloves garlic, sliced
3 Tbsp sambal oelek chili paste
1/2 cup rice vinegar
salt to taste

mixing ingredients

Directions

Rough chop cabbage and mix with vinegar, chili paste, salt, and sliced garlic. Store in glass jar and refrigerate overnight.

ready for fridge

Photo Julia A Reed

Photo Julia A Reed

Grilled Cauliflower “Steaks”

I visited Sonnax Industries last month to give a cooking demonstration during their lunch hour. I grilled cauliflower “steaks” and they were such  hit, I just had to share it with Everyday Chef.

This incredibly simple dish will catapult cauliflower from the ho-hum “boring” vegetable group into the star of any meal. And, the best part is that it cooks in less than 15 minutes AND doesn’t leave you with a mess in the kitchen.

Cauliflower heads

Cauliflower comes in lots of colors. I found your traditional white heads along with purple heads and a beautiful light orange-colored head that is called “cheddar”. This recipe works with any color – so go wild.

Cauliflower is in season now – and it’s never too cold to grill. So, find some local cauliflower and start cooking!

Grilling cauliflower steaks

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks

1 head local cauliflower
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp honey
3 Tbsp Emeril’s Essence seasoning (or any other spice concoction you like)
1 tsp salt

Trim stem and leaves from cauliflower head. Slice head in half and then cut 1/2″-1″ “steaks” from the inside of each half. There will be some crumbles of cauliflower, especially as you get closer to the outside of the head. Use a grill basket for the pieces that are too small for your grill grate.

Mix the olive oil, garlic and honey together and brush on both sides of the “steaks”. Then sprinkle both sides of each piece with the seasoning and salt. I often take the easy way out and use Emeril’s Essence, a pre-mixed spice bland, but you can season with chili or cayenne to make it spicy, or go Indian with a little curry powder.

Place on pre-heated grill and sear each side of the cauliflower then lower the heat, close lid and cook until tender. Serve as the main course or as a side dish.

Summer Squash Salad

I’m making the most of the summer vegetable supply before the first frost shows up – which could be any day now – which is why this light, delicious summer squash salad is a perfect addition to any meal.

This recipe comes to us from the Norwich Inn‘s chef Luis Luna. The Inn served this on the summer menu and Luis was nice enough to share the recipe with Everyday Chef. Luis juliennes the squash with a mandolin –  which makes perfect shoestrings from the summer squash.  I don’t have a mondoline, so, I used a spiralizer – which can make vegetable “noodles” from almost any vegetable. My version wasn’t quite as professional looking, but it still tasted great.

summer squash salad ingredients

summer squash spiralizing400x250

Simply blanch the julienned squash and red peppers for 1 minute, drain and cool.

Mix together the lime juice, honey, water, sweet Thai chili sauce, and chives. combine the blanched vegetables with the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.

dressing ingredients400x250

Summer Squash Salad

4 summer squash, julienne
1 red pepper, julienne
juice from 3 limes
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water
1 cup chives, chopped to 2″
1 cup sweet Thai chili sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Summer squash salad photo Julia A Reed250x400

It’s that simple! I love this great new way to enjoy one of my favorite summer vegetables, that is light, easy, a so quick to make!

 

Easy Ways to Preserve the Harvest

When the garden is over producing, and the CSA share is overflowing, finding quick ways to store the harvest for the winter is handy. Here are a few tricks I use to save the overwhelming September abundance for winter.

Freezing kale

Freezing kale

We are lucky that kale grows so well in New England, but sometimes there is just too much kale! Freezing is an easy way to store the endless CSA bouquets of this wonderful super-food. I wash the leaves, spin them dry, rip up the leaves and lay them out on a cookie sheet. Pop the pan in the freezer for about an hour and then transfer the frozen kale to freezer bags for easy storage.

I mostly use frozen kale for smoothies – just add a handful to the mix. It’s an easy way to add a healthy punch to any blender concoction. Kale is also a great addition to soups and stews.

 

Dehydrated Cherry Tomatoes

Dried tomatoes

An easy way to preserve these candy-like orbs is to dry them. Cut them in half, arrange them cut-side up on a baking dish, sprinkle with salt, pepper, fresh herbs (optional), and liberally drizzle with olive oil. Dehydrate in a 200 degree oven for 5-7 hours. I put my dried tomatoes in a canning jar, adding enough olive oil to cover the tomatoes (while leaving an inch of head-space), and storing them in the freezer. In February a  jar of tomatoes in oil and a baguette are the perfect antidote to the winter blues.

cherry tomatoes with herbs Photo

 

 

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