Waste Not, Want Not: 5 Tricks for Cooking Not Tossing Bitter Foods

© 2010 by Kate on Flickr.com, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

My neighbor emailed me yesterday: “Mary, do you want a bunch of arugula?” Seems she had tried it in a salad and discovered that it is one bitter vegetable.

I could be called the dumping ground for all foods confounding, and strong-tasting bitter foods are definitely in that category. So it wasn’t surprising that my neighbor asked if I could take the remaining bunch off her hands.

I accepted, albeit a little reluctantly. Although it is a “highly nutritious food,” not to mention a very trendy one, arugula’s bitter taste would take some finessing to make it palatable.  In case you end up with produce on the bitter side, whether by “gift,” accident, or maybe in a CSA box, here are five tricks for taming rather than pitching it.

  1. Pay Attention to Seasons  Arugula is a cool weather crop, which means that it grows–and tastes–best in the cooler temperatures or spring and fall.
  2. Pay Attention to Maturity Just as with people, vegetables get rougher and more opinionated as they age. So for vegetables that are prone to harshness, buy the baby varieties. While I generally can’t stomach fresh arugula, I was surprised at the mildness of baby arugula used in a spring salad.
  3. Balance (a/k/a Dilute) the Flavor  Eating a whole serving of bitter food is sure to provoke a gag response. But that’s not the point. Bitter foods are meant to be used in small amounts to counterbalance too much sweetness, heat, saltiness, etc.  In this way, they add wonderful dimension and depth of flavor to a dish. In our New Kitchen classes, we teach about the six main flavors, including bitter, and how to balance them for intriguing flavor.
  4. Fresher Is Better This is true for any vegetable, since flavor and nutrients are at their peak when a vegetable is picked at its prime. For bitter vegetables in particular, allowing them to sit in the frig, gradually losing their moisture content and freshness might well concentrate their bitter flavor.
  5. Cook Them “Cooking tames” is a fundamental principle we share in our New Kitchen classes, where we learn about strong and bitter vegetables like turnips, radishes and arugula. Too much cooking, of course, and the food turns bland and mushy–kind of like the way a lot of us remember the vegetables our mothers’ made! But gentle, careful cooking can take down the high notes and blend everything together into a pleasing melody.

In the bowl is my version with scrambled eggs. My neighbor’s side dish is in a plastic container for easy transport to her house for a tasting.

Putting these principles to work, I went to work taming my neighbor’s arugula.  I started by sauteing an onion for a sweeter base. Red Anaheim peppers brought lovely color and mild heat.  Then I went two directions:

  • For my breakfast, I scrambled the arugula mixture with a couple eggs, which are also on the sweeter end of the spectrum.
  • For my neighbor, I added a pear for serious sweetness. Salt and a splash of red wine vinegar made for a fairly complete flavor combination.

The Verdict: The arugula was still bitter, my neighbor reported, but the pears definitely made it good enough to eat–and she’s right. A bitter vegetable will always be bitter, the best we can do is tone it down and balance it with other flavors for a dish that’s passable and even a little enjoyable–and so we avoid tossing it in the trash.

Anaheims are commonly harvested and sold when they are still green, so you may have never seen gorgeous red Anaheims. They turn red if not picked when green. I found their color irresistible so picked a few at our CSA’s Autumn Harvest Festival. Green and red can be used interchangeably.


Turnips, Kohlrabi, Radishes and Other Odd Vegetables

Picture of Kohlrabi

Strangely Beautiful Kohlrabi (photo courtesy of Vermont Food Bank)

The Key to Survival:  Odd Vegetables?

Last week, we got kohlrabi in our CSA boxes for a second time in a row. Chatting with a fellow CSA* member she complained, “Why did we get kohlrabi again? Can’t they just give us vegetables we know?”

Our personal vegetable kingdoms are frequently divided between “vegetables we know” and “everything else.” The former category includes perennial favorites like tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and peppers. The latter is a dumping ground for those vegetables we never buy or that don’t have instant taste appeal–like kohlrabi, collards, radishes, turnips, parsnips and celeriac.

Why go to the effort of growing, buying and cooking all these odd vegetables? If we can go to the store and buy easy things like carrots and spinach, why bother with produce that presents such preparation and palatability challenges? It’s a fair question, and I’ve often asked it of myself, especially since our classes frequently use vegetables from the “everything else” category.

The answer can be summed up in one word:  Diversity.

Potato blight–not a pretty sight.

I recently attended Food: Our Global Kitchen, the Colorado History Museum’s current exhibit.**  Two juxtaposing displays really drove home the point of diversity.  The first described how, at the time of the tragic Irish Potato Famine, millions of Ireland’s population subsisted largely on just one crop, the potato. To make matters worse, they relied on just one variety of potato. So when the pathogen P. infestans (a/k/a potato blight) struck in 1845, it “spread alarmingly quickly, cutting yields from that year’s harvest in half. By the next year, harvest from potato farms had dropped to one quarter of its original size.” In the ensuing famine, over one million people died of starvation.***

Picture of Peruvian Potatoes

The wild diversity of Peruvian potatoes (courtesy of MikeJackson1948.wordpress.com)

The second display described a very different situation across the globe, where native populations in the Andean highlands had developed nearly 4000 potato varieties over thousands of years, each capable of withstanding different diseases, pests, water availability, soil conditions, etc.  So even though P. infestans is believed to have originated in Peru, the Andean region was spared its devastation.***

My great grandmother was a Potato Famine emigrant, so these displays really left me shaken.  Monoculture, the practice of planting acres and acres with a single variety of a single plant, leaves us so frighteningly vulnerable–just one disease from disaster. Sadly, we haven’t learned much. Not many years after the Irish Potato Famine, American farmers continued planting fields upon fields with just a few varieties of potatoes.   These became an “ocean of breakfast” for the next potato scourge: the Colorado potato beetle, which has been a continuing pest epidemic ever since, kept in check only by massive and multiple applications of pesticides.

At my CSA Farm, Monroe Organic Farms, over 100 produce varieties are planted on just 20 or so acres! Not only do the Monroes grow a huge number of produce items from asparagus to zucchini and carrots to watermelon. In addition, they juggle four different varieties of carrots, five kinds of zucchini, five of watermelon–did you even know there were five kinds of watermelon, all quite different? Here, 4th generation farmer Kyle Monroe sells asparagus and strawberries.

What’s to save us? Diversity. It’s the “technology” Nature has always deployed to keep disease and pests in check. Faced with a riotous mix of species and varieties, insects and pathogens can’t multiply and adapt to dangerous levels.

Which brings us back to turnips, kohlrabi and radishes. The more odd things on our farms, the less we are vulnerable to massive crop failures. And should pests or hail or a water shortage bring down one crop, there’s a good chance the damaging condition will have little or no affect on other crops or varieties.  Last year, for instance, our CSA farm was hit by fury of hail that sheared the tops off most crops–but all the root crops were safely buried in the ground. So we rued the loss of Monroe’s famous melons, but cheered at the bounty of carrots, potatoes, beets and celeriac.

Diversity yields benefits on a personal level, too. As we eat a greater variety of foods, our bodies benefit from a wider range of nutrients. In fact, Jacquie, our CSA farmer, says this is an important reason for including vegetables from the “everything else” category, i.e., so members get a chance to try and benefit from new foods.  And there’s nothing like a variety of tastes–from the sweetness of peaches to the earthiness of turnips–to create a dish with deep, well-rounded flavor.

Carrot Diversity

Diverse Varieties of Carrots:  Buying at Farmers’ Markets featuring locally grown foods from diversified farms is an excellent way to support an environmentally sound food system.

Finally, many “odd” produce varieties are what grow best in Colorado. While finicky tomatoes and cucumbers can only be grown in our hottest months, sturdy crops like kale, chard, and yes, radishes, kohlrabi and turnips, can be grown in our chilly, unpredictable springs and autumns as well. So while waiting for the hot weather crops to (finally) produce, several rounds of cold-weather crops can be harvested and eaten–and many can be stored through the winter months.

In a world where easy and familiar vegetables are shipped in to your grocery store no matter the month, it’s easy to ignore the odd vegetables. But perhaps you want to help transition us to an environmentally sound, resilient food system, where tomatoes aren’t shipped in from places 1000 miles away and we aren’t dependent on drought-ravaged California for 90% of our food supply. One of the best ways to contribute is also one of the easiest: simply buy, use and create demand for the odd vegetables.

And don’t worry about the taste. Over time, our taste buds grow and develop so that we come to treasure the “unique” flavors of each member of the vegetable kingdom. Our classes are a perfect way to gain some exposure, experiment and learn tricks and tips to make the odd vegetables a natural part of your diet.  And see the following posts on How to peel and cut a kohlrabi, quick ideas for using kohlrabi, and a recipe for Slow Cooker Kohlrabi Gratin.


*”CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Having a CSA is essentially like buying a one-season share in a local farm; in return, you get a box of the farm’s produce harvest each week.

** Food: Our Global Kitchen is open through September 1; well worth a trip to downtown Denver

*** Information drawn from Smithsonian.com, Scientists Finally Pintpoint the Pathoget that Caused the Irish Potato Famine, May 21, 2013;   http://cipotato.org/potato/  and  Smithsonian.com, How the Potato Changed the World, November, 2011.

CSAs: Sign Up Now for Great Produce, Good Meat

Farmer's Market Photo

Hard to believe, but summer really is coming. Think ahead now and join a CSA to enjoy great summer produce at very reasonable prices.

Now is the time to sign up for a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture.

What  Join a CSA and you rise from passive grocery store consumer to farm member and supporter.  Every week you get a great box of produce (or meat) at amazingly reasonable prices.  Super fresh and super tasty.

Why  By the single step of joining a CSA you do all this:

  • get the best-tasting produce
  • at the most reasonable prices
  • that does the best job of supporting your and your family’s good health
  • while supporting sustainable growing practices
  • which protects the environment and preserves farmland
  • supports local farmers and local economy
  • and builds a stronger community.  What else can you do that is so beneficial?!!

Also be sure to see the previous post on the importance of clean meat–the kind you get direct from a farmer

When  CSAs deliver produce weekly, as it’s grown, so in Colorado that’s generally June through October.

Where  CSAs usually deliver to nearby towns and cities; it’s nice to find one that delivers to a fairly close location.

How Much  Pricing varies, depending upon farm and size.  Regardless, in my experience, the per pound price of produce was always very reasonable.  See the listing below for exact pricing.  And remember to start small.  There’s always next year to buy a bigger share as you get accustomed to this new way of “shopping.”

CSA Listing
The Daily Camera just printed a convenient list of CSAs that deliver in the Boulder area
Here is another good online source  (but note that Grant Family Farms is no longer in business.)

CSA Fair  Come Meet the Farmers!
Saturday March 15, 9:00am – Noon at Impact Hub Boulder, 1877 Broadway, Suite 100
Co-hosted by Local Food Shift and Boulder County Farmers’ Markets.  Connects people face-to-face with farmers, discovering all the ways to directly support them, learn about food production and enjoy local food–and join a CSA!   RSVP here.


We’ve been “trained” to seek out produce that looks good on the outside; CSA produce may not be as pretty on the outside, but it is stellar on the inside.

Think Ahead”  That’s the key to reaping the benefits of a CSA.  Remember we live in an instant food culture.  Anytime you get hungry, somebody has something to fill you up.  But you get what you pay for.  Little effort = little value.  Sadly we see the consequences of little effort all around us.

Why not try a new paradigm:  Think ahead.  You will be hungry this summer and autumn, just like you are every day.  That won’t change.  What can change is thinking ahead now and ordering a CSA.  Each week, you’ll have a magnificent box of produce and clean meat.  Then, when you’re hungry, you’ll fill yourself up with real food that nourishes and nurtures, i.e., what you really want to be eating.

Full Disclosure  CSAs offer great benefits, but as a member-supporter of the farm, you also get to intimately know and share some of the risks of farming.  In this way, you get very connected to the world outside our homes and offices where real food is produced.

Our farmers work tremendously hard and are so ingenious, but there are a lot of factors outside their control (e.g., floods, drought, shearing hailstorms, to name just a few from the last couple years.)  The fees paid by as a CSA member give farmers a cushion of security in this very risky environment.

Most often, those fees are repaid tenfold in the health-giving, delicious produce members receive.  But now and then, members take a hit alongside their farmers (albeit it a much, much smaller hit!)  Last year, for instance, our farm suffered a freak hailstorm in July.  In one hour, half of their crops were destroyed.  Talk about a force of nature!  But even though our shares were smaller, they were still very adequate, and I never felt “deprived.”

Members also help farmers by accepting and using up the less-than-perfect produce that is part and parcel of every harvest.  I was dismayed when the produce from my first CSA wasn’t nearly as nice as what my farmer sold at the Market.  Think about it, though:  for every perfect 7″ carrot, there are several 4-6″ carrots which taste just as good.  They may take a little more work, but by accepting them, they don’t go to waste and our farmer is further supported.

Finally, there is the dreaded, “What if I get 10 turnips” fear.  First, come to our healthy meal making classes with The New Kitchen Cooking School.  We learn systems for cooking a vegetable in multiple ways so you never feel over-dosed.  This summer we have three sessions all revolving around the summer vegetables you might receive in a CSA box.  Second, a CSA box always has plenty of variety to offset any vegetable you receive in plentitude.

Read more from Dan Moore’s volunteer website about why and how to join a CSA

Happy eating!

How a Good Food Goes Bad

Sweet Potato Fries--Do they deserve a healthy halo?

Sweet Potato Fries–Do they deserve a healthy halo?

Another good food gone bad.  It was bound to happen.

I’m not talking about some broccoli gone bad in the bottom drawer of the frig.  I’m talking about the industrialization of poor sweet potatoes.

You might remember five or so years ago, when roasting became popular.  In the midst of our roasting fun, someone discovered the joy of roasted sweet potatoes, a/k/a sweet potato fries when cut to resemble French fries.

Back in those good old days, we started with high quality sweet potatoes.  Consistent with healthy roasting technique, slices were tossed with a moderate amount of high quality olive oil (e.g. 1-2 Tablespoons for 2-3 potatoes.)  Next came a sprinkling of salt that could be very moderate because high-quality, unrefined salt was used, bolstered by freshly ground pepper and sometimes other herbs and spices.  Roasted at high temperatures, the outsides browned while the natural sweetness of the potato condensed and intensified.

Not only did these fries add marvelous flavor and delightful color to our plates, they provided us with increased nutritional variety.   They were also great for people who can’t tolerate regular potatoes very well.

Downfall of the Joyous Sweet Potato

Something so ideal was bound to catch the eye of the industrial feeding machine.  First, trading on their healthy reputation, restaurants began offering sweet potato fries made like regular French fries, i.e., drowned in a vat of fat and coated with half a day’s worth of sodium.  In some restaurants, sugar is even being added to complete the addictive fat-salt-sugar triad that is the hallmark of our addictive fast food industry. (1)

Now the sweet potato itself is being subjected to an “industrial transformation,” not unlike that of countless foods from hamburgers to burritos and noodle bowls to stir fry.  Once perfectly fine and healthful, they are now classic examples of junk food.  Evidentially, the same fate awaits the poor sweet potato.  With consumption rising 30% over the last decade, The Wall Street Journal reports that food behemoth ConAgra has launched its biggest bet in years:  “to reinvent the sweet potato for mass consumption, starting with its shape and sugar content.” (2)

What exactly does it look like when a food goes from edible fruit of the earth to industrial product?  Many of industrial ag’s products (note the use of “products” not “foods”) have been a part of the foodscape so long we don’t even notice them or their effects.  But the re-making of the sweet potato is happening right now, under our noses, providing insight into how our modern food system has been shaped and why it no longer serves us.

The Model  ConAgra hopes to make the sweet potato a modern-day equivalent of the russet potato, which in the mid-1940s was “elevated” by entrepreneur J. R. Simplot from kitchen staple to multibillion-dollar franchise.  Simplot’s “genius” lay in developing a standard-sized, brick-like potato that could be efficiently machine-processed then quickly and conveniently cooked for mass consumption.(3)

The Fallout  We have mass consumed alright–right into an obesity epidemic in fact, with French fries a leading contributor.  Besides shifting the national diet away from nutritional balance, Simplot’s profit-driven efforts lessened valuable plant diversity,(4) diminished potato flavor(5) and compromised small farmers in favor of large corporate farms and mono-culture production.(6)

The Process  20,000 sweet potato lines are evaluated annually, from which scientists breed just a few that have a certain amount of sweetness, consistent deep orange color, a brick-like shape instead of pointed ends, a denser weight and the ability to store for a year rather than six months.  (Side Note:  In a world plagued by hunger, isn’t it interesting that millions and millions are being spent to create a boutique sweet potato for unhealthy frying instead of just growing and distributing plain old sweet potatoes to starving consumers?)

The Motivation  Not to be confused as an avenue to boost consumer health, all of ConAgra’s work is dedicated to the production of deep-fried sweet potato products, driven by the hope “that new, improved sweet potatoes will fuel growth and profit in its $2.2 billion potato business.”  As even the Wall Street reporter acknowledged, although sweet potatoes “are widely perceived as healthier, . . . when fried it’s debatable whether they are healthier than regular potatoes.”

The Misfortune  Nature has given us a joyously sweet edible.  Why do we demand more, to begin with, and when we demand more, what careful natural wisdom are we upsetting?  Contrary to modern industrial thought, we can’t have it all.  Just look at the tomato.  Clever engineering made it ripen more evenly for easier harvesting, but oops, that engineering also “contributed to making tomatoes less sweet.” Breeding for a redder tomato had similar unfortunate consequences.(7)  So what tradeoffs will be required to make sweet potatoes sweeter, or more uniform in color or able to store for an entire year?

The Solution   Easy.  No need to engage in civil disobedience, donate all your money to an environmental group or even write a letter.  Just be smart, be wise, be mindful of what you buy–and start making different choices.

Remember the Every Day Good Eating Motto   You can’t buy good nutrition in a box–or a package or at most restaurants.  So go home and make your own roasted sweet potatoes with real, nature-produced sweet potatoes, minimal amounts of fat and salt and NO added sugar!  They are easy.  You’ll love them.  And it will feel so rewarding to make your own, nutritious food.   Here is the recipe.


While this isn’t meant to be a scholarly research paper, many authors have carefully researched and documented the industrialized food system.  Here are some citations that might be of interest as you begin understanding what has happened to our food system:

(1)  Fries or Sweet Fries?  Should you be eating either?  Bonnie Liebman, December 28, 2013, Nutrition Action

(2), (3)  “ConAgra Pushes Sweet Potato to Straighten Up and Fry Right,” Ilan Brat, The Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2010

(4)  “Consider that in the Andean highlands, a single farm may host as many as 40 distinct varieties of potato. . . , each having slightly different optimal soil, water, light, and temperature regimes. . . . (In comparison, in the United States, just four closely related varieties account for about 99 percent of all the potatoes produced.)”  Eat Here, Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a global Supermarket, Brian Halweil, W.W. Norton & Company, 2004, p. 71  (As climate change takes hold, we may find ourselves wishing we had more potato varieties with different tolerances.)

(5)  “About 90 percent of the money that Americans spend on food is used to buy processed food.  But the canning, freezing, and degydrating techniques used to process food destroy most of its flavor.  Since the end of World War II, a vast industry has arisen in the United States to make processed food palatable.  Without this flavor industry, today’s fast food industry could not exist.”  (Leads one to wonder whether the loss of a food’s natural flavor coincides with a loss of naturally-occurring nutrients as well.)  Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser, Perennial, 2002, p. 120.

(6)  “Over the past twenty-five years, Idaho has lost about half of its potato farmers. . . .  Family farms are giving way to corporate farms that stretch for thousands of acres.”  Schlosser, p. 118.  Sadly, Brat reports that Louisiana sweet potato farmers are eager to see ConAgra’s entry into the market, believing that the company’s new, $155 million sweet-potato processing plant as a key to their survival.

(7)  “Why Your Tomato Has No Flavor,” Jie Jenny Zou, The Wall Street Journal; “Bring Back Those Tasty Tomatoes,” The Los Angeles Times in The Daily Camera, “Monsanto Digs Into Seeds,” Ian Berry, The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2012, p. B9:  “For years, seed companies have emphasized shelf-life and durability in shipping at the expense of taste, Consuelo Madere, vice president of Monsant’s vegetable-seed division, said in an interview.”

Eating Well–Without Trying So Hard or Worrying So Much

“Healthy eating:”  Two words with the power to spark enormous stress.  Those two words can easily send our minds swirling with confusion–and likely as not, a good measure of guilt as well.  “Am I doing enough?  Am I eating too many carbs?  Should I be juicing more?  Are eggs on the good list or bad?”

Suspended Judgment:  There’s a secret for happy and healthful eating, but can you first even imagine that eating well is a lot easier than you think?  Could you believe that it doesn’t have to be really hard, guilt-laden or worrisome?


Autumn Bounty

Seasonal Bounty. Limiting our produce choices to what’s in season has the curious consequence of making it easier to cook meals that are healthy and delicious.

Seasonal Eating:  The key to eating well, happily and easily, without worry or guilt.  Let me make the case, beginning with a definition of “seasonal eating.”  Seasonal eating is really place-based eating, i.e., for the place where you find yourself, eating what the earth provides, when the earth provides it, in the amounts provided by the earth.

“Place” is a critical to seasonal eating.  The term is otherwise meaningless since at any one point in time, a produce item is “in season” somewhere in the world and can be found in the produce aisle of your local grocery store.  Only when eating is tied to place do we reap the many benefits of a true seasonal approach.  In an interesting paradox, it is the limiting aspects of place-based eating that are the source of its many advantages.

Read on to discover the many benefits–health and otherwise–of seasonal eating. . . .  I’ve discovered at least a dozen.

In the meantime, if you’re ready to start the seasonal eating journey, join us for one of our Healthy, Seasonal Meal Making Classes.

Recipe: Sauteed Beet Greens composed with Toasted Walnuts, Bacon Bits, & Chopped Egg

Sauteed Beet GreensThis unusual–but very tasty and super nutritious–dish makes a nice light supper, or breakfast or lunch, especially if you play around with some of the options in the notes below.

Sauteed Beet Greens composed with Toasted Walnuts, Bacon Bits, & Chopped Egg

  • 1-2 slices bacon

Cook Bacon  Lay bacon in a medium-sized, heavy bottomed skillet, turn heat to medium and cook until bacon is browned on both sides.  Remove to a cutting board, gently shaking off excess fat into pan, and cut into ½” dice.  Reserve.

  • 1 med. onion, diced to ¼”
  • 1-2 tsp. freshly grated, loosely packed ginger, to taste

Saute Onion and Ginger  Pour off all but 1 Tbsp. bacon fat (reserving excess in a jar for another use), then reheat over medium heat until fairly hot but not smoking.  Add onion and saute about 5-7 minutes until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.  Add ginger and continue cooking and stirring occasionally, just 1-2 more minutes.

  • 4 cups loosely packed beet greens, chopped into roughly 1-2” squares
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Saute Beet Greens   Stir beet greens into onions along with any water clinging to leaves from washing.  Cook over medium heat until wilted and tender, stirring occasionally, about 5-8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

  • 2 large eggs, softly hard-boiled, diced to roughly ½”
  • ¼ cup walnut pieces, toasted

Compose Dish   Arrange beet greens in the bottom of a wide bottomed bowl.  Arrange walnuts in a ring around the outside of greens and eggs in a ring nearer the middle.  Sprinkle with bacon bits.    Serve immediately.   Serves 2


  1. Instead of using hard-boiled eggs, hollow out two “nests” in the sauteed beet greens while they are still in the pan.  Crack an egg into each nest, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until egg sets.  For this version, which is very nice for breakfast, you may prefer to nix the walnuts.
  2. For a savory dish, substitute Herbes de Provence (or Savory Spices’ Cantanzaro Herbs) for the ginger. Substitute crumbled goat chevre for the eggs.
  3. Make this dish vegetarian by using vegetarian bacon, but add 1 Tbsp. safflower oil to saute the onion.  The same goes if using turkey bacon instead of pork.

The Beauty of Relishes

Want a Good Way to Save Time, Money and Stress?  Relishes Make for Easy Meals and Great Taste

I’ve been wanting to experiment with relishes ever since reading A Thousand Acres, a novel profiling the lives of  several Iowa farm familyies.  While the novel itself was pretty unsettling (although masterfully so), the summer harvest always brings to mind its description of Iowa food preservation rituals.  It puts my paltry canning efforts completely to shame.  The novel’s women didn’t settle for putting up a few jars of plain old tomatoes and peaches.  They preserved almost everything from their gardens–much of it in the form of interesting sauces and relishes.

I remember thinking that seemed like a ridiculous lot of work!  But as the months and years passed, I realized those Iowa gals may well have something on us.  Sure they worked hard for a couple of months each summer, but think of the benefits their investments yielded:

  • Mealtime Speed  Need dinner in a hurry?  Fry up pork chops and top with a flavorful relish.  With the relish providing the pizzazz, side dishes can be super simple.  Get a totally satisfying meal together in practically no time.
  • Stress-Relief  No need to worry all day about what to make for dinner.  Just pull a relish from the shelf, mix ‘n match with different meats, sandwiches, wraps, salads, etc.
  • Affordability  We all know that seasonal produce is the best in terms of taste–but its also very reasonably priced.  So preserve those savings for year-round enjoyment.

It took a couple years, but this summer I dug up some of the relish recipes I’ve been saving and took the plunge, making a gingery beet relish.  I feel like I struck gold!  Beets are so plentiful and cheap right now.  Make up a batch and it stores for a couple months.  Pull it out and use with abandon on meats, sandwiches, salads, rice dishes–you name it.  Get not only color and flavor but a valuable nutritional boost.

I’m excited to share the many joys of relish with you–and to relish some as well.  Join us for one of our Farmers’ Market classes this week to, cook, learn, taste and chat relishes.

Best Practice Secrets of Good Every Day Cooks

What Good Everyday Cooks Know that Struggling Cooks Don’t

Picking Up Barbeque Sauce from Honeysuckle

Exploring the Louisville Farmers’ Market at our first Market Morning.  Here, Kristen Hall talks about  she is reformulating all her sauces to use real ingredients–like what you’d have in our own pantry.

For a recent magazine article, Martha Stewart was asked how often she orders take out.  Her response was something like a couple times over the last 15 years.

How many people are in the “0-5” range for takeout during the last 15 years?  Initially, Martha’s response made me wonder whether she is some kind of freak.  But then it struck me:  I haven’t ordered takeout more than a couple times in the last 15 years either!

Fact is, there are people “out there” who make healthy, good-tasting meals night after night like it’s no big deal.  What do they know that most people don’t?

Here’s one big secret:  They know the difference between healthy and unhealthy convenience foods, and they know how to use healthy convenience to make good meals manageable.  Case in point:  The Honeysuckle Gourmet’s Black Jack Barbecue Sauce we discovered at our first Market Morning in Louisville.

Barbecue Sauce

Kristen’s Black Jack Natural uses her homemade ketchup to avoid unhealthful ingredients.

How did we know it was healthy?  At our Market tour, we got to chat with Honeysuckle’s Kristen Hall.  She explained how she is painstakingly reformulating each of her sauces to use all “real” ingredients, i.e., the same stuff you’d find in your own pantry.  If you could replicate a sauce yourself, you’ve got a healthy time saver.  You’re just paying to have someone else mix all the ingredients.

What about the cost?  At $7.00 a jar, it’s tempting to write off the sauce as “too expensive.”  But as FORK owner and class participant Christine pointed out, our group of 8 used only a quarter of the jar!  That means I’ve got at least 4 to 6 more meals in that jar for my husband and I.  Which brings us to the third point:

How do I use the rest of the sauce to make great meals, manageably?  This is the key to making condiments cost effective, i.e., finding ways to use them rather than having them waste away on the refrigerator door.  In addition to using the sauce to top sautéed chicken breasts at our class, I’ve found two other easy ideas:

Fast Recipe 1–Slow Cooker Chicken Legs  In need of a fast meal that could be prepared in advance, I skinned a couple chicken thighs and legs and plopped them into the slow cooker with 1/2 cup of sauce.  Eight hours later, I had melt-in-your mouth pulled chicken and sauce that went perfectly over warmed up leftover rice and broccoli.  Fast food couldn’t be faster!

Fast Recipe 2–Barbeque Chicken Soup  A couple days later, the leftover chicken and sauce became the flavor base for a quick, light summer soup with leftover broccoli, potatoes, new carrots from the garden and onion and garlic, of course.  I used another 1/4 cup of sauce + a little hot sauce for flavor.  Again, faster than fast food–and I still have half a jar of sauce.

So that’s how good every day cooks make good meals manageable–and delicious.  Learn more:  Join one of the everyday meal making classes with The New Kitchen Cooking School.

The Special Beauty of Old Things

Turning hard grain kernels into soft baking flour

Farmer John's Grain Mill

Farmer John’s Grain Mill

I have a fondness for things that have withstood the test of time–like Farmer John’s grain mill.  Manufactured in the 1940s and having traveled across three states before landing in Colorado, the mill is still in fine working order.  No planned obsolescence here!

Grain poured in the top funnel drops between two vertical stone disks in the center chamber.  There, one disk grinding against the other transforms kernel to soft stone-ground flour.

Amazingly, even the grinding disks have barely suffered from years of grain grinding.  In fact, the mill’s elegantly functional design is still used in grain mills manufactured today–with the exception of a plastic, rather than metal funnel.

As long as it’s not raining, Farmer John trundles his mill to the Boulder Farmers’ Market each week so shoppers can enjoy freshly ground flour.  See our video about the benefits of freshly ground grain.

Grain Mill from Back to Basics

Grain Mill from Back to Basics

If you can’t make it to the market for Farmer John’s flour but still want the benefits of freshly ground wheat, check out the little Back to Basics mill that has served us well for many years.  It’s hand operated–good for a quick boost of the metabolism or an engaging activity for over-energetic kids.  Use the mill for almost any grain and adjust the coarseness for anything from flour to breakfast cereal.  You’ll be surprised at how wonderful freshly milled cereal tastes in the morning.

Recipe: Beef and Onion Saute with Rhubarb Gratin

Discover the Savory Side of Rhubarb

Rhubarb Gratin Picture

Accustomed to seeing rhubarb in fruit desserts, it may come as a surprise to learn that it is actually a vegetable.  This is good news, however, as it presents a whole raft of additional uses for this exotically red food that is so abundant in spring when the foodscape is dominated by simple leafy greens.  In this dish, for instance, rhubarb is lightly sauteed with breadcrumbs and a bit of agave nectar to make a crunchy, tart-sweet topping for tender beef and onions.

In spring, it’s always handy to have a stash of “betwixt and between” dishes for spring days that bounce between warm and cool.  This dish fills that bill, with the warmth and heartiness of a cool-weather stew combined with the  vibrant flavors of fresh herbs and lime, topped off with the unmistakably spring flavor of tart rhubarb.

In a further nod to seasonality, note that rhubarb, parsley and mint are all in their prime in the spring garden, as mentioned in the previous post on the joys of seasonal eating.

Beef and Onion Saute with Rhubarb Gratin

Step 1  Make Mushroom Broth (in the Morning)

  • 1/3 cup dried shitake mushrooms (or a combination of shitake and other wild mushrooms)
  • 2 cups water

Combine mushrooms and water in a small saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes, while browning beef.  Remove mushrooms with a slotted spoon (keep for another use), then use broth as directed below.

Step 2  Brown Beef and Slow Cook (in the Morning)

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. high quality, lean stew meat cut into small, 1” square cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed saute pan until hot but not smoking.  While oil heats, gently squeeze blood from beef cubes, if any, then spread cubes across a plate, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  When oil is hot, carefully lay beef cubes across pan in a single layer.  With heat on medium high, brown sides of cubes quickly, turning with a fork to brown two or three sides of each.  As soon as a cube is browned, drop into slow cooker, before it has a chance to cook much further than the surface level.
Use 1 ½ cups of mushroom broth to deglaze browning pan, then pour into slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low 7 to 9 hours, until tender.

Step 3  Saute Onions (at Dinnertime) 

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 med.  or 2 lrg. yellow onions, diced into large pieces, about 1” square
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste

In a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-proof saute pan, heat oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Add onions and saute about 10-15 minutes until browned and sweet tasting.   Add turmeric and saute another 2 minutes, stirring a couple times.  Add tomato paste and stewed meat from slow cooker, stirring until everything is well-combined.  Reduce heat to low and simmer while preparing the rest of dish, stirring occasionally and allowing most of liquid to evaporate.

Step 4  Make Fresh Herb Sauce

  • 4 cups loosely packed fresh parsley
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

Place parsley and mint in food processor, removing any very large stems.  Add lime and remaining ½ cup mushroom broth and process until fairly smooth but with some texture remaining.  Stir into onion-meat mixture, then cover pan and remove from heat.

Step 5  Make Rhubarb Gratin 

  • 2 cups rhubarb, cut in ¼ to ½” dice (about ½ to ¾ lb. stems)
  • ½ Tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ cup whole grain (not plain white) breadcrumbs, preferably made from a crusty bread
  • 1 Tbsp. agave nectar (or 2 tsp. sugar)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450 (F).  In a second, large, heavy-bottomed saute pan, heat oil over medium heat until quite warm.  Add rhubarb and saute just 2 to 4 minutes, until it softens slightly.  Stir in nutmeg, then breadcrumbs and saute another 1-2 minutes.  Stir in agave nectar, then season to taste with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle mixture evenly over onion-beef mixture, then place in oven and bake about 10 minutes, until gratin begins to brown slightly.  Remove and allow to sit for 5 or 10 minutes, if possible, before serving.

Accompaniments:  For a light dinner, serve with just a simple salad of spring greens and carrots.  For a heartier meal, serve with brown rice –or buckwheat for something even more adventurous.

Time Saver:  Substitute ready made mushroom or beef broth for the homemade mushroom broth

No Ovenproof Saute Pan?  Pour the beef saute into an oiled casserole dish just before topping with gratin.

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