Holidays = Local + Healthy

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Well, at least it’s easy when it comes to getting local food and incorporating that into a healthy diet.

Now it is almost winter and the once abundant local offerings of dewy lettuces, ripe berries and fragrant tomatoes at the farmers’ markets have dwindled to practically nothing after the first frost. Add to that the challenge that the holidays can bring when you are trying to eat clean, healthy and whole foods and things begin to look dim indeed.

But never fear, we have strategies. And ideas. And a recipe. Okay, we have two recipes. Because it isn’t Everyday Chef without a recipe (or two)!

Chard

Eat Your Greens

Cabbages, collards, chard, kale and mustards are just a few local greens easy to find this time of year. Incredibly healthy, these greens are frost-hardy and often get a touch sweeter as the cold sets in. Although a bit toothsome for a raw salad, kale dressed with a favorite vinaigrette and allowed to mellow out in a bowl for an hour will be delicious and tender with crunchy, toasted seeds, thinly sliced red onion and chopped apples. Throw in some fresh goat cheese, feta or cheddar and you have a satisfying and beautiful side dish that is fit for the holiday table.

Another trick to bring out the amazingness of these cold loving greens, is to cook them. Cabbage cut in wedges, lightly browned in a tablespoon of olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then braised in liquid (stock, cider, etc), turns out a melt-in-your-mouth sweet dish that pairs beautifully with roasted meats and vegetables. Try caraway or fennel seeds for an added dimension of flavor. Collards are underappreciated, but when cooked until tender and dressed with onions, salt and pepper, they yield a buttery, tender mouthful that begs for slow cooked beans, a bit of bacon and a cold glass of cider – perfect for welcoming the New Year.

Parsnip

Get Back to Your Roots

By the time the colors on our trees are but a memory and stick season shoulders its way in before the snow, I am ready the quintessential group of winter vegetables in Vermont, root veggies. Root vegetables can be found from your local farmer throughout the winter and well into spring. They store beautifully and when all the fresh eating veggies are long gone under the drifts of snow, we can dig out beets, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, rutabaga, turnips and onions. At Thanksgiving, I like to offer a warm bowl of whipped turnips with sage, a less calorie laden alternative to our favorite mashed potatoes. A regular favorite in our house during the cold months is to chop a variety of root vegetables, toss with sliced onions, olive oil, salt and pepper and then roast on a sheet pan in an oven at 375F until the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with a bit of fresh parsley and you have a delicious and healthy side dish for roasted meats or to use leftover in salad or soups.

Color Me Squash…Winter Squash That Is

With their gorgeous colors and shapes, thick skins that equate to long storage and nutrient rich flesh, winter squashes are the stars of winter eating. Butternut, pumpkin, acorn, delicata, kabocha, and hubbard to name but a few, can be turned into mashed mounds of orange deliciousness, thick and creamy bisque-like soups, roasted for side dishes or stuffed with a million different things and turned out as a centerpiece on the holiday table. The key to cooking with squashes is to have a sharp and sturdy knife to cut through the tough skin and use a light hand with cream, butter and salt so that the various and unique flavors of the different varieties can really shine through.

Strategize Ahead and Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

The holidays are meant to be a celebration and food is often central to these gatherings. You may find yourself in a situation where your choices are being made for you and rather than get too caught up in the details, allow yourself to indulge and appreciate the bigger picture of being with others in a joyful way. In the meantime, strategize ahead when you can – eat a healthy meal ahead of your gathering, drink lots of water and keep your portion sizes in check.

And in honor of the recently past Halloween and my family’s ongoing fascination with the zombie apocalypse, remember don’t eat the locals, but DO eat local!

Stuffed Pumpkin

Roasted Pumpkin Stuffed with Many Good Things

Serves approximately 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish. Can double the recipe for a larger crowd!

Ingredients:

1 small pumpkin, about 3lbs

Salt and ground black pepper

1 ½ cups bulghur or brown rice, cooked

1 ½ cups chopped apples

¼ cup sharp cheddar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small onion, diced

1 tsp each dried rosemary and parsley (or 1 T each of fresh, chopped)

pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

4 T shredded parmesan, divided into two parts

⅓ cup of vegetable stock or milk

Directions:

Center the rack in an oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking dish large enough to hold the pumpkin(s) with parchment paper. Keep in mind that you may need a bit more room to maneuver a spatula in case you want to serve the pumpkin on a different dish.

With a sharp and sturdy knife, carefully cut the top ¼ or ⅓ off from your pumpkin, like you are making a jack-o-lantern. Set aside the top. Scoop out the seeds and pulp, leaving a cavity that can be filled. Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss together the next 8 ingredients, setting aside 2 T of parmesan. Pour half of the measured liquid on the mixture and toss to coat. Add more liquid as needed so that the stuffing is moist, but not swimming.

Spoon the stuffing into the pumpkin until filled to the top. Any leftover stuffing can be baked separately in a dish. Set the pumpkin in the parchment lined dish and sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top of the stuffing. Put the pumpkin top on and bake until the pumpkin is tender, about 2 hours. About 20 to 30 minutes before it is done, remove the pumpkin top so the stuffing can brown.

You can serve the pumpkin straight from the baking dish or for a more elegant presentation, using a steady hand and a sturdy spatula, transfer the whole pumpkin to a serving dish. Cut into wedges and serve!

Notes: Pumpkin seeds can be cleaned and roasted with a little olive oil. All the vegetable bits, including the pumpkin pulp, can be added to a pot with water, brought to a simmer for several minutes and strained for a delicious vegetable stock.

Cooking Variations:

  • Almost any winter squash can be used in place of the pumpkin, with roasting times varying. Smaller or elongated squashes (like delicata or butternut), can be sliced in half and the cavities filled.
  • Think of this recipe as a guideline and try variations. For example, in place of the bulghur or rice, try pieces of whole grain stale bread. Or dried cranberries or apricots for the apples. Try pairing sage with chevre or mix in feta, mozzarella and swiss. This stuffing also pairs well with cooked sausage or bacon if you would like to add meat and nuts are delicious for additional protein and healthy fats.

 

Whipped Turnips with Leeks and Sage
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

Ingredients:

4 large turnips, peeled and cubed

2 medium red potatoes, cubed with skin on

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 leek, white part only, sliced thinly, soaked to remove sand/grit and then chopped finely

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp of dried sage

¾ cup milk

kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Fill a large pot with the turnips and potatoes. Fill with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until tender and soft. About 20 to 25 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil and butter and melt over medium low heat. Once melted, add the leeks and sage, salt and pepper and saute until the leeks are tender and the sage is fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a simmer over low heat, infusing the milk with sage flavor.

Drain the turnips and potatoes, reserving about ½ cup of the liquid. Set that aside. Put the vegetables back into the pot they were cooked in, add the hot milk and using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. If needed, add small amounts of the cooking liquid to the vegetables until the puree is silky, but still thick. If you prefer a chunky texture, mash roughly until mixed. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot or cold.

 

by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL’s Everyday Chef

Simple Ideas Preserving Your Food

It is October, and as the days inch towards winter, there is a frantic rush to harvest what is left in our gardens and find a place in the cupboards, pantries, coolers and freezers. You see it at the markets too, with displays stocked full and overflowing with fresh eating produce, cabbages, greens, gourds, squashes and roots. It is delightful!

Elena apples

My favorite season for cooking is autumn. The heat of the kitchen seeps out into the rest of our house, staving off the morning and evening chills that punctuate this time of year, while I happily chop, stir, simmer and bake the hours away, not only putting food on the table, but putting food “by” for the cold days of winter.

Beginning in September, we are making apple cider, sauce and butter, picking herbs and hardy greens for the freezer, grabbing garden tomatoes for ripening, freezing whole or making chutney and looking forward to the fall berry season. By October, we are picking what is left in the garden for storage in our makeshift root cellar and the various drawers where we can tuck every onion, potato and squash we have harvested or bartered for. By November 1, with only a few hardy vegetables that like the cold, we are putting beds away for the winter and preserving what we can.

There are many ways to preserve food; some are simple and some are not, but most everyone can preserve a good portion of food and stock their larders. With a few simple tools, some supplies and a range, see below for some ideas of how to preserve our favorite vegetables.

Elena chardFreezing: If you have plenty of freezer space, freezing your food is a fantastic way to preserve fresh food quickly, safely and with nutrition intact. Some foods require blanching or cooking, while others just need a quick rinse and an airtight seal.

 

  • Try freezing whole tomatoes, berries, apple slices, peeled cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped onions.
  • With a pot of boiling water and a colander, you can blanch (boil briefly) and drain greens like spinach, chard, kale as well as vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots before freezing in bags.
  • For herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil, process into a paste with olive oil and then freeze the resulting pesto/pistou into ice cube trays or roll into logs, wrap in parchment and plastic first.

Canning: There are two methods of canning and lots of great information on the interweb, magazine articles and in books to give you the details, but the main thing to remember is that high-acid foods (berries, citrus) can be canned using the water bath method and low-acid foods (most vegetables, meats) can be canned using the pressure cooker method. Check out this site for more information.

Dry Salting: Different from pickling, which uses a salt AND acid based brine, salting is an ancient and very simple way to preserve food. The salt brings out the moisture from food and makes it “inhospitable” to the microbes and bacteria that would normally cause spoilage. Lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, use a low salt concentration to not only protect against spoilage, but also to create an environment that welcomes gut-friendly bacteria. High salt methods of preserving create an inhospitable environment for ALL bacteria and is still used by some to preserve things like green beans.

  • Layer shredded carrots and zucchini, sliced onion, minced garlic with sea or kosher salt and pack tightly into canning jars with lids. “Burb” the jars everyday to prevent buildup of pressure. Refrigerate or store at 40F or less to stop fermentation and keep.
  • Make kimchi or sauerkraut out of cabbage, radishes, carrots and onions. Use a wet brine of salt and keep vegetables submerged and away from air.
  • Check out the site Home Preserving Bible for a great collection of tips, techniques and recipes on dry salting.

Elena canningSyrups and Shrubs: Both of these old fashioned methods work especially well for berries and other fruit, but I have had equal luck with tomatoes, herbs and spices too. Use them in beverages, dressings and marinades!

  • For syrups, mix together two cups of berries, one cup of water and one cup of granulated sugar in a pot. Bring to a slow boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour the syrup, solids and all, into a wide mouth canning jar and cap. Let cool completely before refrigerating.
  • For the old fashioned shrubs, make an infused vinegar then turn that into a syrup. Check out detailed, but simple, instructions at The Kitchn.

HerbsButters: An often overlooked way of preserving some herbs and fruits is by making compound butters. With sharp knife, you can make quick work of herbs and fruits, mixing and mashing them into softened butter. When done, roll logs of butter into parchment and freeze or put into ice cube trays and pop the frozen chunks into a freezer bag for easier storage.

  • Herb butter of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Call it Scarbo-butter Faire, just for fun.
  • Fruit butter of blueberry, cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt
  • Basil or cilantro butter mixed with garlic
  • Hot pepper butter with lemon rind

 

 

by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL‘s Everyday Chef

Zucchini Chard Cakes

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve shared this zucchini chard cake recipe with folks this summer. I was sure that as soon as I mentioned zucchini I would be greeted with a sigh and eyeroll.

“No more zucchini!” they’d say. “We’ve had enough!”

 

Because, let’s be honest, each summer we all have more than enough of the ubiquitous green squash. Even if we don’t, we probably know someone looking to give away a few dozen or so. But to my surprise, as I traveled around making zucchini cake after zucchini cake, I didn’t get one complaint. In fact, people were enthusiastic to find another way to put it to use.

I’m always happy to be proven wrong. Really. That’s why this became my go to dish (along with a complementary tomato basil chutney) for my cooking demos and local food tastings. Apparently we haven’t reached peak zucchini. Word is still out on kale, though.

rainbow swiss chard keene fm  by SC, 2008

 

These cakes use the classic technique of vegetable hiding. Zucchini doesn’t have a strong flavor all on its own and when you mix it into what is more or less a standard pancake recipe, you hardly can tell it’s there at all. So much so, that you can also get away with chopping up even more healthy green stuff – chard and parsley – and mixing it in as well. Simply avoid those fruitless debates with the picky eaters in your life (note: none of mine happen to be kids) and just go ahead and serve these anyway. Before they can tell you how much they don’t like these vegetables, they’ll be happily and unknowingly eating them anyway. Call me cruel, but this is one of my great pleasures in life.

Zucchini Chard Cakes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: about 10 – 4 inch pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb zucchini
  • 1/2 onion
  • small bunch of Swiss chard leaves
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • splash of milk
  • 2 Tbsp oil + some for the pan

 

We’re going to need to shred the zucchini. You can do this quite easily with a box grater, or if you’re intending to shred a large quantity, I’d opt for the food processor like I did here. If not using all of the zucchini at once, it does freeze nicely.

Next, grate the onion. I prefer to grate the onion instead of chop it, as it will blend better into the pancakes.

 

Remove the stems from the chard and save for another purpose. Chopped and tossed into a stir fry, perhaps? Then chop the leaves.

Combine the egg, salt, and flour in a bowl. Add in the zucchini, chard, onion, garlic and parsley and stir to form a thick batter. Add just a splash of milk and the oil to form a more workable, pourable batter.

 

Heat your skillet and lightly coat it with oil when hot. Preheat the oven to 200F. Pour 1/4 cup spoonfuls of batter onto the hot skillet and cook 2-3 minutes per side, until browned. Flip and cook another 2 minutes. Transfer the cakes to the oven to keep warm while you cook the remainder of the pancakes.

Serve as a side, topped with tomato chutney, or as a light summer dinner with a side of greens.

Chard, Beet & Orange Salad

I’m a big fan of salads that aren’t just plain old salads. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, of course. But salads don’t all have to be a big bowl of lettuce. Maybe you can already figure that out from some of the other recipes I’ve posted. Raw or cooked. Hot or cold. Really, a salad can be whatever you throw together and toss with dressing.

chardbeets

Future Chefs Challenge second-place winner Izabela Woolf with her White and Green Goodness salad. (Albert J. Marro / photo)

Earlier this spring, I was a judge in Sodexo’s Future Chef Challenge where Rutland fourth and fifth graders competed with their favorite salad recipes. With tasty combinations like tortellini salad, southwestern salad, Greek salad and Thanksgiving salad, those talented kids proved the point I’m trying to make. You can find an article I wrote about the event about the event in The Rutland Reader.

The combination of grated raw beets, lightly cooked rainbow chard, bright, juicy oranges and tangy balsamic dressing in this salad is refreshing and simple. It’s a good way to get beet detractors to give the vegetable another try. They’ve probably never had them like this – crunchy and raw, so they might be surprised this time around. At least, that was my experience when I served this for my sister – who actually wanted to keep the leftovers after dinner. And at a recent demo at GE, attendees quickly finished up the entire bowl I made for them and I didn’t hear one beet complaint. Woohoo!

On the other hand, the quick cooking down of the chard takes away some of the bitterness people often encounter when trying the green raw. Yet that aspect is no longer an issue here. All around, this salad will change your preconceptions. Give it a try at your next picnic.

  Sauteed Chard and Raw Beet Salad

  • 3-4 medium-sized beets with the leaves
  • 1 large bunch rainbow chard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • 1 medium orange, peeled and segmented

For the dressing:

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Peel the beets and either grate them on a box grater or in a food processor. If you’d rather not have your hands stained purple, handle the beets with paper towels or wear gloves. You should have about 2-3 cups grated beets in the end.

Wash the chard. Shake to remove excess water, but no need to dry. Separate the stems and ribs from the leaves either carefully with a knife or by simply tearing by hand. Give the ribs a rough chop. Stack the leaves on top of each other and slice them crosswise into thick ribbons.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stems and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the leaves of the chard and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leaves have wilted and taste tender. If the leaves still taste bitter, season with additional salt. Transfer the chard to a large bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes.

To make the dressing, combine ingredients in a small jar and shake until thoroughly mixed.

Combine the greens and the shredded beets, and toss with the vinaigrette. Serve, topping each plate with goat cheese, if using, and orange pieces.

This salad will keep refrigerated for up to one week, but wait to dress and top with goat cheese until just before serving.

Adapted from Elizabeth Passarella at The Kitchn