Category: Recipes

Simmer through Winter: Soup Suite

It is indeed deep winter here in the Northland. The snow is starting to come down out there as I write this, replenishing all the melted snow from our last 36ºF ‘heatwave’.  I’m also seeing a definite downward trend in temps coming up. Minnesota’s Winter Wonderland…

For our family that means comfort food cravings are in high gear; and that means soup. At least half our dinners are bowls of hearty, steaming soups. Which also means most of my lunches are soups too.  I know, I’m one lucky girl 😉

And the one thing all my soups have in common is a LOT of veggies.

The only other meals that come close to the daring amounts of vegetables in my soups are stir fry or salad. And soups are simply more satisfying when the snow is deep and the nights are long.

Even in Winter  I try to start with as many local ingredients as possible- the surest way to do this is by going to one of the many Winter Farmers Markets popping up- or grow surplus in teh Summer garden to freeze or can for Winter use.

*Kid Tip*
The way I sell even the most vegified soup to my kids?? Pairing it with homemade biscuits/breads/grains + cheese. They will slurp every last drop to get another toasted cheesy anything!

My quitclaim; I am pathetic at sticking to recipes. This is very possibly why I love making soup so much. It’s like I get to play chemist with flavor layers. In my kitchen, a soup is never really ‘done’. I often add a few extra ingredients to a soup while heating it up for leftovers the next day. Ohh, I see you there garbanzos, leftover broccoli or peas.

I wish I’d started my cooking education with soups… they are massively forgiving and as simple or complex as you make them. You can feel in control of the outcome and learn so much about flavors as they mix and mingle in that bog old pot.

In that vein of brewing up something good, I’m going to state loud and clear the following are RECIPE OUTLINES ONLY. Just like my vegetable garden plans (that I am knee deep in right about now) you might veer off course while you’re putting it together, but end up exactly where you were supposed to be when you dig in. Trust your soup gut. (that should be a thing)

Soup Starters…

Bloom your Soup
I’m going to share a little soup starting MAGIC: Sauté the onion/garlic/leek/scallion/scapes in plenty of fat (oil/butter/bacon fat etc.) then add dry herbs + spices to let them ‘bloom’ (I love that term for letting the spices come to their full potential) which deepens their flavors fast. Then add the other veggies, for a quick sizzle and spin with the oil and spices- then add your tomatoes and other liquids.  This is typically an Indian cooking technique (ohh curry, how I love you) that truly adds oomph to any dish you’re making.

But we’re making soup… so onto a common question:
Stock vs Broth
Are they the same thing?
The easy answer; kind of…

Broth has been made with meat, Stock with bones. Also, Broth is usually seasoned, salted etc more. If you’re buying from a store, I’d recommend stock because you can play with seasoning and sodium. But if you make your own you don’t have to play by the rules- just go for the most delicious liquid you can get from simmering whatever meat and veg scraps (like carrot, onion, celery) you have and call it whatever you’d like. Craving more stock/broth info? the Kitchn has all the info and a good ‘how to’ HERE.

Let’s start with the veggy best, a good old fashioned everything but the kitchen sink vegetable soup. This recipe uses so many garden veggies that are lingering in the deep freeze in mass quantities- yes I’m looking at you chopped and/or shredded zucchini. Frozen diced bell peppers, all manner of beans, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet corn, tomatoes and edamame are other usual suspects. Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and even rutabaga and parsnip (in small amounts) are all fabulous additions.

The trick to an over the top veggie soup is to get a variety of textures and sizes all done at about the same time, so remember that you can add in veggies at different times to keep them from mushing out on you, hence the handy dandy cheat sheet over there. Or you can just think of how long you’d cook each veggie to serve as a side dish and gauge by that instead.

Of course you’ll need a broth to add another layer of flavor, your choice-  broth or stock.

Very Veggie

I had some leftover Chicken that made it into this batch too!

Ingredients:
1-2 onions or leeks (white only for soups) diced
2-3 cloves garlic crushed
herbs- sage, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaf (or whatever)
2 ribs celery, chopped
½ -1 bell pepper, chopped
6-8 C veggies (see list above)
1-2 tsp salt (start with 1 and taste)

Directions:
Saute onions and garlic, and then use the “Bloom” method from above with your choice of dried herbs/spices. Sizzle any veggies that won’t get too overdone, add your broth/stock and tomatoes, potatoes and simmer for 20 minutes, then add remaining veggies (green beans broccoli etc) and simmer for 5- 10 minutes.

And, if you want to bulk up this soup even more, add in some barley, quinoa, brown rice or even noodles. Yummy in my tummy. I’ve gotten into making these GF Corn Muffins from Gluten Free on a Shoestring with my veggie soups, probably because they use frozen (or fresh) corn kernels and bake up moist and fluffy (I’ve substituted plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream and they still worked great!)

I don’t go there often, but I do love the Olive Garden for their Zuppa Toscana and salad combo. Back at home, I make mine with WAY more veggies, and WAY less cream- and I’m happy to report that making it healthier does not make it any less fabulous. Also, a great way to use up lots of that frozen kale that’s hiding in the back of your freezer.

I’ve also found my favorite pork sausage to use in this recipe, from Gilbertson’s Farm.  They’re over in Wisconsin- hormone and antibiotic  free. Bam that’s good!

Vegified Toscana

Ingredients:
16 oz pork sausage,
1 onion diced 4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 medium potatoes sliced thin
½-1 bell pepper chopped
1 C white beans (I had navy) par boiled/cooked
½ -1 zuchini chopped
1-2 C chopped tomatoes
1 big bunch of kale
24 oz stock or broth
1 C milk
Cream to drizzle into bowls
Parmesean to garnish
Salt + white pepper/red pepper flakes

Directions:
In a large pot sauté onion and sausage, adding minced or crushed garlic towards the end.
Remove and set aside onion and sausage draining most of the fat (I totally save this).
Add stock and boil potatoes until tender; 5-10 minutes. Add in remaining veggies and beans (use whatever veggies you have, still fabulous without all of them too) simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add in sausage/onion mix and kale- simmer for 5+ minutes. Add milk/cream as you want
I don’t need to add many spices to this one; a little salt + white pepper or red pepper flakes usually does it, to taste after cooking.

Crusty whole grain loaf and muenster please.

The Christmas Ham that made the soup. All homegrown veggies for our intimate meal.

This next soup is my family’s favorite way to make use of that Christmas ham bone. Simmer that sucker for a day and enjoy the hearty flavors. This can be a salty soup, depending on the saltiness of the ham so be sure to taste before adding any salt. This is a version of my Mother in Law’s family recipe- Hi Claudia! I’ve made this with both brown and red lentils. Did you know the red lentils are really brown lentils that they’ve removed the hull. That’s why red lentils tend to get mushy, they don’t have any skin to hold them together! You can feel free to use other beans and/or peas- just make sure to simmer them long enough to be past al dente.

Ham & Lentil:

Ingredients:
Ham Bone with some ham still on it
1 Diced Onion
3-4 Garlic cloves, sliced
2 Cups Dry Lentils, rinsed (brown or red)
2 Cups shredded zuchinni (frozen or fresh)
½ to 1 diced green pepper (frozen works too)
4-5 celery ribs sliced
1 Tbsp Mustard- (prepared yellow or dry mustard + vinegar- 1 Tbsp each)

Directions:
If there’s any good white fat on the ham, save a bit to sauté the onions and garlic later.

In a large stock pot, cover with water and simmer that ham bone as long as you can; MANY hours, like most of a day. Just give yourself time to let the meat left on it cool off before trying to pull off the bone (ask me how I know). I run the broth through a fine sieve to catch the unappealing bits. With the juice in a bowl and the ham on a plate waiting for me to pick it clean, I get the onions and garlic going.  Then the celery and green peppers for a quick sizzle, then I add in the rinsed lentils (it might just be me but I think frying these guys first adds a bit more depth) then add back in the broth and mustard.

This is killer with a rustic multi grain and swiss cheese!

And, because soups are my life right now, here are links to some of my other favorites:

Kowalski’s Turkey Wild Rice Soup

Oh, Kowalski’s White Bear Lake Market, you are so dangerously close to me that I have foregone making my own soups from time to time… and their Turkey Wild Rice is one of my family’s favorites. But of course I vegify it when I make my own 😉 I add at least quadruple the celery and carrots (and I chop the carrots, b/c shredded always get too mushy for me) and often throw in some frozen shredded zucchini, and use either all whole milk or some 2% milk and some cream or half and half.

Why yes, those are roasted beets next to squash soup- they went surprisingly well with the meal!

Sublime Squash Soup

The folks over at Serious Eats know their way around a soup bowl. Roasting the squash and carrots makes this so much more flavorful (I’ve roasted it in quarters before to avoid all that peeling and it was still amazing) – I’ve also roasted cauliflower along with the squash and carrots and tossed it into the mix (only about ¼ of the amount of squash) which lightened up the color but was pretty undetectable in taste. The spiced cream make it feel so fancy!

Roasted Acorn Perfection!

On my list to make by the weekend, squash and pear puree, and roasted beet and garlic soup.

I hope you try a new soup or two, or maybe try a twist on one of your favorites! If you find a new soup favorite, pass it along… I love trying new soups!

Can’t wait to Dig In (but with spoons not forks) to my next hearty bowl of soup.

Michelle

Holiday Market Meals!

Some of my stash from the Market!

Holy Holiday Market Haul!

In case you missed it, White Bear Lake was host to a winter farmers market last weekend, and it was a huge hit! So much real, whole, local food under one roof. It was a blast to see everyone getting excited about local foods – thanks so much for making it a great success: for the farmers, vendors, White Bear Area Food Shelf, Tamarack Nature Center and BearPower. What a vibrant community to be a part of!

If you’re like some of the over 500 people who shopped local at the recent Winter Farmers Market, you may have an abundance of lovely late season/storage/root crop produce hanging around staring at you… I’ve been cooking up a storm ever since and have narrowed this blog post down to two must try recipes.

One for a quick healthy family friendly dinner; Warm Salad: Roasted Squash & Crisped Kale.

One fancy enough to impress at a Holiday Meal; Winter Veg Lasagna. Continue reading

An Apple A Day

One of my favorite things about Fall in Minnesota is the ALL THE APPLES! So many different flavors and crunch levels- so many ways to enjoy your “apple a day.”

Pine Tree Apple Orchard, the  orchard nearest us, has  some of my favorite varieties available right now! Apples in season include Sweet Tango, Honeycrisp, Haralson, Cortland, Red Delicious, Fireside and Regent.

Me, looking a little too excited about all the apples.

Pick a Peck ( or 7)
I got lucky this year! I found a friend (through the magic of a Facebook post) who had three beautiful trees that they weren’t going to be able to thoroughly use, and she let me come and pick my fill. I’m humbled by their generosity.😊

In farming and food rescue terms this is called “gleaning”. Regardless of what you call it, this was a win-win. I bet if you wanted, you too could end up with more apples than you know what to do with… but you’ll never know if you don’t ask!

These apples were organic perfection; a little apple scab here, some worm holes there, even a bird nest up in the branches. When other wild animals want my food, I see that as a really good sign that the food is good for me. No bugs around means they’ve all been killed, or would die from eating the food growing there (some food for thought). Also, it was as idyllic spot and array of trees. The previous owners knew what they were doing and planted complimentary varieties; Cortland, Honeycrisp, and Fireside. I got roughly a five gallon bucket full of each variety. 64 pounds in all (I had posted 54 pounds earlier on- but forgot about the bags I left in the garage to keep cool- oops!) 

So what does one do with all those apples??
I thought you’d never ask …

Apple a la Skin
I’m a big fan of eating apples old school- wash and eat. I even know a few (slightly crazy) people who eat the core, seeds and all. That’s not my cup of cider… but since nature provides us with a BOUNTY of apples all at once, our homesteading ancestors figured out so many amazing ways to make good use of all the parts of all those apples! Continue reading

Crunchiest Granola Recipe

Granola is a staple in our home. I bought box after box for years- but for the last few years I’ve been making our own, and loving every crunchy bite.

Even with the ‘healthy’ and organic store bought varieties there were always things that didn’t need to be in my breakfast bowl… So, I decided to make my own. It didn’t take me long to realize there are a million different ways to make granola, with some swearing by this ingredient or method. I  value recipes with a little leeway far above the strict and staunch varieties. Besides, I never make it the same twice- but I will  give you the basics to a pretty healthy granola recipe that tastes decadent, and you make it your own from here.

All granola recipes start with something wet, to help bind the dry ingredients. I start with apple sauce and maple syrup. We make our own of both and I think the hint of apple + maple flavor takes this over the top- but I’ve used honey during syrup shortages without my kids noticing. I add a little fat in the form of coconut oil or butter (or some of both) and throw in the salt and cinnamon. If I want an extra warming batch I’ll add in some ginger (but powdered works better than grated here which is an almost never in my kitchen), nutmeg and maybe even cardamom.

This is where you can spice it up and add your own favorite flavors. Sometimes I’m on a vanilla kick and scrape a whole bean into the mix.

Then comes my only “no substitutions allowed” for this recipe: Coconut flakes. Not the limp, sugary kind, but the REAL DEAL – Bob’s Red Mill has consistently been the best for us. I may be a granola snob, but eating granola without those little toasted coconut flakes is like eating pie without filling (nothing against a good crust).

I like my breakfast to get me ‘moving’ if you know what I mean… So I pack these crunchy clusters with LOTS of fiber. I usually use both flaxseed meal and chia seeds – because together they add two different layers of crispiness, and once again fiber. I also love Oat Bran to both add more fiber and lighten up  the mix while helping it bind together.

Then I’ll add whatever nuts I have around- pecans are a favorite for how they toast up light and (you guessed it) crunchy- but almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts have all made it in before.

Last I’ll add the oats- plain, old fashioned, rolled oats.  I love elevating simple foods to another level by combining them with other simple, wholesome ingredients. Can you tell I love my granola yet? Continue reading

Crispy Crunchy Dilly Beans

You had me at Crispy.

This recipe is why I fell in love with canning. I was a veggie virgin when it came to home preserving, only having canned jams and jellies before. I fell hard for these crispy pods packed with flavor that make you pucker up and smile at the same time.

This was a recipe that I first found online years ago and have played with it and made it my own, but there are probably tons of recipes similar or exactly like this already out there.

I add more of certain spices; dill, garlic or pepper flakes to different jars as I go along knowing that certain family and friends who get jars have certain taste preferences… like my parents, who like them heavy on the dill- or my boys who like the garlic kicked up a few notches. This is one of the reasons I LOVE home canning; you need to follow the recipe’s basic vinegar to produce ratios and processing times- but there is so much room for playing with spices and crafting something specifically for someone :-)!

One thing I have learned the hard way year after year is one of the keys to this recipe is NOT boiling the jars to process- but a steady simmer for 10 minutes. If you get them going with a hard boil (like most hot water canning calls for) you’ll end up with tasty dilly beans- but they won’t hold their crispness. And crunching into a crispy green bean in winter that tastes like it was picked yesterday is a big part of why I make these.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is getting all those beans to fit into the jars. I use a combo of tall jelly jars, wide mouth pint jars and big old quart jars, just make sure the boiling water bath is at least 2 inches above the tallest jar when processing and you’re good to go.

Dilly Beans

Ingredients:

2-3 pounds of FRESH green beans 

4 Cups White Vinegar

4 Cups Water

½ Cup Canning Salt

Garlic Cloves: 1 clove (or more) for each jar plus at least one for the brine to boil)

Dill: enough for a few sprigs of leaves and one head in each jar (or more)

Red pepper flakes: Use as desired, a little goes a long way!

Directions:

Sterilize 6 (1/2 pint) jars with rings and lids. Trim green beans to 1/4 inch shorter than your jars. Add 1 clove of garlic, sprig of dill and sprinkle of red pepper flakes to each jar. Pack green beans into the jars as tight as possible standing on their ends. (this is the tedious part)

In a large saucepan, stir together the vinegar, water and salt and one clove of garlic and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Ladle the boiling brine into the jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the tops. Discard boiled garlic. Seal jars with lids and rings. Place in a hot water bath so they are covered by 1 inch of water. Simmer but do not boil for 10 minutes to process. If using Quart sized of jars, please add 3 minutes to the processing time. Cool to room temperature. Test jars for a good seal by pressing on the center of the lid. It should not move. Refrigerate any jars that do not seal properly, those will last for 2-3 months if kept refrigerated. Let pickles hang out for 2 to 3 weeks before eating to absorb the brine.

Dilly Beans Two Ways: Left = Vinegar/processed/shelf stable Right = Fermented/Sour/Refrigerator

As for my new passion with fermented foods, I am making more of the Fermented version of Dilly beans this summer too. I followed (as much as I ever follow recipes) the Cultures for Health Recipe found HERE . This website has so many awesome looking recipes it will take me a few seasons to make them all, but I love a good challenge!

Here’s an earlier recipe post on Sweet Zucchini Relish,   and one on Fermented pickles  you know just in case you’ve gone crazy like me.

Do you have another favorite pickling recipe? I love to try new things , actually I’m quite addicted to this pickling thing, so spread the word my way for the love of the pickle.

Dig in & Crunch away!

Michelle

 

 

How To Relish Zucchini Season

Anyone with a garden- or a neighbor who gardens- or a co-worker who gardens probably knows that zucchinis basically bombard your garden in late July. One day your looking at these stunning flowers, Male (Left) Female (Right)

and the next you’ve got baseball bat sized fruits (yes, fruits). Botanically, zucchinis are fruits, a type of botanical berry called a “pepo”,  the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower.

Everyone grows zucchini because it is so easy to grow, and they’re truly versatile and a great addition to many of my healthy recipes…

I love grilling it (with onions, peppers, olive oil and Italian spices), shredding and freezing for adding it to pretty much anything) making zucchini fritters (best GF recipe HERE) or baking the beloved loaf of zucchini bread. I also have neighbors who gladly take a few- at first…

But no matter how creative I get, its tough to keep ahead of the zucchini harvest.

I know, I did it to myself; not only do I plant too many of the huge plants, I can’t help but help nature along and hand pollinate when I see flowers, which makes a huge difference for how much they produce… Just think lots of zucchini, lots and lots of zucchini…


Relish the Fields

So, when I found a recipe a few years back for zucchini sweet relish I was more than intrigued. When I read that it used 12 cups of shredded zucchini at once, I was sold. I made my first batch and, YOU GUYS- it was amazing! And I have to say after years of tweaking it is down right zen.

Sweet Relish is not really something most people get all jazzed about, I get it- but there is something magical about taking the lowly zucchini and making it shape shift into this tangy/sweet/saucy condiment.

My Hombre Zucchini Freshness chart; starting with a same day pick in front. Lighter green, shiny but not waxed skins means fresher when you shop.

The best part is the recipe works just as well with those stealth zucchini (the ones that hide on you and become ginormous overnight) as with regular size. Just be sure to remove the seeds and you are good to go.

Canning Curious?

Yes this is a Boiling Water Canning recipe. If you are new to canning; you can SO do this! Just pretend I’m there holding your hand. And also – READ THIS, I wish I would have known a few of those things before I dove into canning and wasted a good amount of time and produce.

And, if you really Can’t Can (see what I did there) go ahead and keep the relish in the fridge without processing it- it will keep for at least 3 months.

Since I have more zucchini waiting for me to shred I’ll get right down to it:

Zucchini Sweet Relish

12 Cups Shredded zucchini (seeded but not peeled)
4 Cups finely chopped onion
4 T Canning Salt

 

1 ½ C Chopped Peppers (colorful variety of bell or sweet minis)
3 ½ C White Sugar (I tried raw sugar and honey and it did not work!)
2 ½ C White Vinegar 1 T Cornstarch
½ t Nutmeg
2t Turmeric
2t Celery Seed ½ t Black pepper

 

Directions:

Mix first 3 ingredients with hands into a large glass bowl, hopefully with a tight fitting lid (so the onion smell is contained) and let sit in refrigerator at least 6 hours or overnight.

Later:
Sterilize 8 -10 pint sized canning jars

Drain zucchini/onion mixture and rinse with water to wash away some of the salt.

Chop peppers and add the rest of the ingredients into a large stock pot, then add drained and squeezed zucchini. Really squeeze the juice out of shreds! I make monster size zucchini balls (its the little things).

Simmer for 30 minutes.

Pack relish into jars, fill to top.
(try to do this part pretty quickly so the relish stays hot).

Carefully lower jars into a large stock pot of boiling water, trying to keep 2 inches between them, and make sure water is at least 2 inches above the lids- process (boil) for 30 minutes.

Carefully remove and place onto a surface that take some serious heat, and leave to cool 24 hours.

There is nothing better than hearing that ping of the canning lid popping into place so you know that it sealed properly!

The results. The two white topped jars are for the fridge, they will be gone soon enough 😉

What we don’t eat here, I give away to family and friends, they make easy holiday and hostess gifts too.

This stuff tastes amazing, it goes on the obvious brat and hamburger, brings a ham sammy to another level, and kicks up tuna salad. I’ve used it as a ‘dip’ for cucumbers, carrots and pita chips too…

Harness the power of the prolific zucchini and preserve its awesomeness for next spring’s first burger on the grill.

Go ahead and Dig Into Canning!

Michelle

 

 

Celebrating Strawberry Season!

Don’t you wish this time of year could go on forever; the long, sun-shiny days, the kids still excited about summer break, gardens just starting to burst!  To save that fleeting, sweet taste of summer we’re turning it over to Megan Baumler who, having her doctorate in nutrition and being a registered dietitian, knows a few more things than me about why buying local, fresh produce to preserve for later is so valueable- in so many ways. Take it away Megan!

Shiny, bright red, studded with seeds, and warmed by the sun: gently grab by the stem, twist and pull, and place into your mouth. There is nothing like the taste of a freshly picked strawberry. Locally grown berries are sweeter, smaller, more nutritious, and more dense than berries that have traveled cross country to be showcased in the grocery store. Most of the berries come from California, where the strawberry season is much longer and thus more land can be devoted to them.

Here in Minnesota, locally grown berries are a specialty item: a delicacy with a fleeting cameo. Strawberries make an appearance for about 2-4 weeks every year, from mid June to early July. This should give you just enough time to be able find a couple hours to get to a farm and pick your own (PYO in berry lingo) or to buy the pre-picked treasures. The local berries are so much better- in flavor and nutrition. Continue reading

Superfoods Assemble!

Move over Goji.
Watch out Acai.
Aronia has arrived.

Elderberry in bloom at the Oakdale Nature Center

This superfood might already secretly be growing in your backyard. Aronia even comes with its own super-powered sounding scientific name…it is also commonly known as Black Chokeberry, but I’m sticking with aronia 😉 And let’s not forget about another native super food,  elderberry.

The purple-black berries of both aronia and elderberries pretty much blow away other commonly revered superfoods with their antioxidant levels.

Antioxidant levels in food are measured by Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). ORAC measures the overall antioxidant power of a food or supplement. USDA research shows Aronia berries has one of the highest antioxidant content of any fruits,” from the Aronia Berry Services of Northeast Iowa.

With all these local “super” fruits, you didn’t even miss Acai berries, did you?

Just saying.

Considering the list of berries that DO grow in our Midwest region, we don’t need to fly food halfway across the world to eat SUPER healthy.

Aronia, Elderberry, Wild Blueberry, Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cherry. All grow local. All Superfoods. All things my kids will eat. Especially if I can keep this super hero theme going with them.

Both aronia berries and elderberries require some sweetening, in my sweet tooth opinion. Supposedly if you freeze them some of the starch turns to sugar and increases the sugar content enough for eating. This might also be why birds seem to save these berries until later winter. I’d rather add them to a smoothie, (yum!) muffins or cook up some jelly or syrup.

Gerry checking on an Aronia Berry Bush at the Oakdale Recreation Discovery Center

Which leads me to how I found out about these tart-n-tasty little health bombs…

Meet local superhero in disguise, Gerry Parenteau of Bearwoods Sugarbush.

This guy just keeps going! He’s fueled by passions like taking caring of and foraging for berries and educating the public about their benefits. I met him at the Oakdale Indoor Farmer’s Market earlier this year, when my own frozen berry supply was running low. We bought some of his elderberry syrup in a Flash (ha). That syrup has amped up the flavor of smoothies and kept my yogurt and granola breakfast routine more local for months. The best $9.00 I’ve spent in forever. He was also sampling his new Aronia Berry syrup, another winner. Continue reading

Ode to Asparagus

Delicious spears

I’ll admit it, I’ve been obsessing over asparagus. One of the first veggies to appear in Minnesota each year, these delicacies have a unique flavor that stand alone + plays well with others. These beauties are also packed with powerful nutrition and their season is short, so let’s get right down to business.

Buy or Grow?

The cute little bundles of asparagus hanging out in their wading pools of water in the supermarkets can be hit or miss when it comes to taste and texture.

Tip: Always look for tight buds at the top; once the flowers start unfurling, a chemical to strengthen the plants gets released and makes for woody stalks.

 

It Comes from Where?

Recently there’s been a big shift in supermarket asparagus, so it more than likely comes from outside the U.S., namely Mexico and Peru. Between NAFTA and the California drought, it has been tough for U.S. growers. (I am not wading into political waters, just sharing what I’ve been reading.) “It is, you see, a uniquely labor-intensive crop to grow,” according to Cherie Watte, executive director of the California Asparagus Commission, in this interesting article, “75 percent of the production cost of asparagus derives from labor.”

A few days too far gone.

These tender little treats are 5X more perishable than lettuces, making timing important when you’re adding in shipping around the globe.

Add that asparagus really does rocket out of the ground, from under the dirt to full-grown in one day during peak growing conditions. That means skilled pickers have to be constantly picking asparagus stalks for the 6-8 week season. (I wonder what those skilled laborers do the other 44 to 46 weeks of the year?)

The spears are then sorted by size; Swiss folks like the fattest stalks (they know their stuff!) with lessening sizes sorted for different countries. Americans prefer the slimmest stalks. We only see the uniform skinniest spears of the harvest. Which makes me feel so much better about my asparagus patch. I get all shapes and sizes there, all tender and delicious. Wondering what was wrong with my asparagus because of its variations in size is like wondering what’s wrong with ourselves if we don’t all look like the models in magazine…but I digress.

Large scale growers who export internationally require expensive automated machinery to make it profitable, right down to a huge cutter that gets them all the same length for shipping and according to this article, “The boxes are then loaded into a hydrocooler, which bathes them for five minutes in cold, chlorinated water containing food-grade citric acid. This is done to kill any pathogens the asparagus may have picked up in the field or during handling.” Well, hmmm, I’d rather just wash them at home thank you very much. Then those boxes put on THOUSANDS of miles in an airplane. There must be a simpler way, like… Continue reading

Finding Treasure in Foraged Food

Finally! Fingers crossed, we are done with the snow. After a MN winter that decided to move back in, we deserve to have our senses overwhelmed with Spring in all its glory.  At the same time, people are getting more into local food. Sounds like a recipe for an explosion in foraging for food.

In case you’re not quite there, hang with me for a minute. Ramps, mushrooms, fiddleheads (the still unfurled fern) and the elusive wild asparagus are all Spring favorites of the Minnesota forager. Berry season is another bountiful blessing. If you want to look at some beautiful ‘found’ eats check out this Pinterest page! Now, that’s the kind of page I could get lost on.

Ground Rules of foraging: respect private land, find out if the public land you’re on allows foraging, sustainable harvesting and to find out what if any chemicals have been sprayed.

For our cozy little time together let’s tackle the savory, short lived ramp; AKA ramsons or wild leek. You know you’re cool when you have three names.

I’ve known about the patch of ramps in my parent’s woods for years, I remember I dug one up decades ago and was utterly confused because they looked like an onion but smelled like garlic and were not so great raw. Turns out they’re the trendy hipster cousin to the onion now in high demand. I usually steer clear of trends (I’ve finally learned my lesson, thank you 1980’s) but these potent little pearls have me jumping on the spring foraging bandwagon. These alliums are taking over the foodie world again this Spring and my kitchen will smell like ramps for the foreseeable future.

What exactly are we talking about here? They are in the allium family, meaning onion. And what they lack in size, they make up for in smell. You can sometimes locate them by smell just as well as sight, but they are some of the earliest greenery popping up from forest floors each Spring. Continue reading

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