November Soup

I’m a big fan of soup.  I serve it year round, from hearty stews in the dead of winter to a cooling gazpacho or an avocado bisque in the heat of July.  When chillier winds start to blow in November, soup is definitely on the menu.  It’s cozy warmth really help to bring the family together around the table when the darkness comes early.  And they smell so good too! 

Tonight’s soup is a perfect dish for early fall, as the ingredients are what is naturally on hand.  Parsnips from the garden and apples from the orchard make this soup a creamy delight.  Non-dairy, and not too sweet, it’s scented with cumin and coriander.  Perfect as an accompaniment to a roast or stuffed chops,  or serve it on it’s own, with a hearty bread like sourdough or cheddar biscuits and a green salad.  With only a couple of ingredients it’s super simple to make and can be made ahead.  It will keep in the fridge for a few days, too.

For a nicer flavor, roast the parsnips in the oven for about 40 minutes on 350.  You can peel them first or just leave them as they are.  It will slightly caramelize the sugars and make for a richer soup.  Any variety of apples will do, but my favorites are good old Mackintosh or Gala.

Parsnip and Apple Soup

2 tbs good Olive Oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 firm apples, peeled and chopped

8 to 15 parsnips, depending on the size. (more for 1″ or less at the crown)

3 1/2 cups (or more depending on desired consistency) of chicken or vegetable broth

Sprinkle of cumin

Sprinkle of coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the olive oil until tender.  Add the apples and a dash of salt and and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft.  Add the parsnips and the broth and cook for 20 minutes if you roasted the parsnips first, 40 minutes if not.  Allow to cool and puree the mixture in a blender, or use a hand blender right in the pot.  Sprinkle with the spices and stir.  Serve alone or with finely chopped parsley or a dollop of yogurt. Enjoy!

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The Season of Bounty

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It’s that time of the year when a quick evening browse around the garden with a cocktail yields a colorful basket of produce.  For a little while this early summer, I could get away with gathering into my upturned shirt, but with the warmer days and rainy afternoons, the harvest has begun in earnest, and I try to remember to bring out a basket along with my drink.  Garlic and green onions, early tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries, carrots, early beets, peas and peppers are all coming in by the handful.  I always try to balance my desire for fresh produce with the realization that if I leave it a while longer, it will grow bigger, but there is nothing like the taste of sweet baby carrots and tender beets steamed with a bat of butter on a steamy summer evening.  My favorite dish of the early summer is, of course, a simple salad of fresh newly picked veggies.  The thinly sliced Peruvian white habanero adds a super kick to this tasty dinner.Image

I am surprised to see the blueberries ripen so early this year, as I usually think of late July as blueberry season, but I predicted this to be the year of the berry, and it seems I have called it right.  Even the tangy and delectable wild black raspberries in the hedgerow are beginning to ripen early, and I got a sticky purple handful this morning for my trouble.  Unfortunately, as they grown amongst the nettles, I also got a prickly wrist.

On another note, for those of you who read “the Doctor is in”  I’m happy to report that my pepper plants are all thriving.  Many of them lost all their dark green foliage to the cold snap we had in May, but the smaller, lighter green leaves are beginning to thicken out the plants, and on many there are the first blooms.  Some did better than others and are already fruiting, hence the spicy salad, but most peppers like the heat, and will produce best from late July into early September.  During this pepper heyday, you will find me in the kitchen, gloves on, chopping peppers for hot sauces and salsas as fast as I can.

Kitchen Essentials and Venison Sausage

Eating locally and seasonally in Connecticut is a hard task unless you plan ahead.  Making things and storing them for future times is essential to a happy cook and a well-stocked kitchen.  In order to put up produce and meat, sauces and fruits, I have some essentials in my kitchen that I could not live without.  Below you will find a list of must-haves for preparing for leaner times. 

Freezer

I can’t say enough about investing in a good chest freezer.  The simplest way to store meat, vegetables, and fruit is to freeze them as soon as possible after picking or harvesting.  It maintains the vitamins and nutrients far better than canning or other methods, and in most cases keeps the food safe for months or even years.  It is the easiest and fastest way to put up a harvest at its freshest, and to store produce for the winter months.  I have a deep chest freezer that I bought new from Sears for about 350.00, and I store thousands of dollars’ worth of fresh meat and vegetables in it every fall to last through the winter months.  If you don’t have one, don’t want to incur the cost of a new one, there are several online sites where you might shop for a used one for much less.  So much of the excess produce from my kitchen garden goes into the freezer right after picking, and it is such a delight to browse the shelves for a cooking idea knowing that my choices are ripe, delicious, healthful, and clean.    

                Canning pot or Pressure cooker.

A canning pot is a lovely thing to have, and very useful for storing jellies, sauces, broth, fish, and some veggies.  Not all veggies are suitable for canning fresh, so we can mainly prepared foods, like chili and tomato sauces, sweet butters and jellies and cooked vegetables like sauerkraut.  We use ours most often during the fall months when we make and can sweets and sauces to give as gifts during the holidays.  We also jar hot sauces and pickles of all sorts, chilies, beans, corn and tomatoes.  If you lack a proper canning pot, take some time to look for one at your local thrift or consignment store, where they can often be picked up for a few dollars.  Without one, you can still make many canning recipes in a regular sturdy pot.

                Juicer

I love my juicer.  It was given to me by a dear friend who lived off the grid.  He had a generator for electricity, but every time he tried to juice he would blow a fuse.  When he parted with the juicer, he made me promise to make him juice anytime he came to visit, and even though he still lives at about 10,000 feet, deep in the mountains of Colorado, with no phone,  I’m still waiting to make good on my promise.  The juicer is a Champion, and very old and outdated.  It is essentially a big motor connected to a shaft that drives a shredder and some plastic implements to strain the juice, but it will juice anything.  I could put a potato in and get potato juice.  I use it for fresh fruit and veggie juice during the summer months, (carrot beet apple is my favorite) and in the fall I juice leftover kale and spinach, freeze the juice and add it to soups and stews during the winter to add flavor and green nutrients. 

                Dehydrator

Anyone can use their oven for a dehydrator, but it’s just so quick and easy to use one made for the purpose that this is on my list as well.  With the dehydrator there is no need to turn the produce, as it gets evenly dry in a much shorter time than using the oven.   We use ours to dry fruit for snacks, beef jerky, dried fish to be used in soups, and most especially mushrooms.  Dried and then frozen, mushrooms can be stored for years in the freezer, but they never make it that long.  Wild mushrooms are a treasure and  we hoard them in season and use them sparingly for the rest of the year.  I’m learning more and more about the wild world of fungi and I’m excited for a season of mushrooming this summer and fall. 

                Grinder/sausage maker

When you hunt or gather the majority of your own protein, having a grinder is a blessing.  Meatloaf, hamburgers, hash, and meatballs all require the meat to be finely ground.  The added benefit is, with a small attachment, ground meat can be stuffed into casing to make delicious sausage!  I love venison sausage, and many of our friends and family have come to love it as well.  It’s one of the things we give as gifts during the holidays and it is always well received.  My husband makes a garlic cheddar sausage that is mouth-wateringly good.  The recipe follows.

                Cheddar Garlic Venison Sausage

4 Lbs. Venison, ground fine

1 ¼ Lb. Pork fat, ground fine

8-10 cloves garlic, chopped fine

½   Lb. Cheddar cheese

2+ Tbsp. Crushed red pepper, depending on your spice tolerance

½ cup white wine

2 Tsp. Sugar

1+ Tbsp. coarse ground Black pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

5 feet medium sausage casing (you can get this from a butcher).

 Mix the fat and meat together and then mix in the remaining ingredients.  Mix by hand until everything is uniform.  Stuff the casings with the mixture into 4 to 5 inch lengths.  Allow to settle in the fridge for a day or two, to allow the flavors to blend.   Cook in water or stock, on a grill or pan fry over medium low heat.  These can be used like any sausage, served alone or with pasta, in a salad, or on sandwiches.  They freeze remarkably well.   Try substituting any game meat.  We made them with caribou once and they were just as delicious.

Garden Planning

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If you live in the North East, it’s that time of year to begin planning out your garden.  Unless, like me, you have been planning since December.   That is when the John Scheeper’s and Burpee’s catalogues start to arrive in the post.  This is not to say that I have a plan.  I don’t   It’s just a plan in process.  The plan won’t actually be finished until about November, when I pull everything up.  Then I get a month of respite before I start my seeds for next year.

How you plan your garden says volumes about who you are as a person.  Here is an example.  I started 12 kinds of peppers in my bathtub this January.  I carefully marked each container so I could tell the difference between the Aji Jamaica and the Aji Major after they came up.  I watered them and kept the lights on them religiously, never really noticing that my painstakingly crafted markers were disintegrating in the constant moisture.   Truthfully, I kind of knew what was happening, but forgot to do anything about it as soon as I left the bathroom.  Some might say that that’s just lazy, and they’d be partly right, but the fact is I secretly don’t care that I can’t identify them anymore.  Now it’s a big mystery what might evolve from my luscious leafy pepper bushes, and I’m delighted to watch it unfold as the peppers bloom and grow.  That’s just who I am.  I try to be orderly, but the mystery and randomness of life pleases me too much to try very hard.  I would tell you that a garden is a microcosm of the larger world, and in that I’d be right.  I would tell you that the mystery and randomness one finds while gardening is how the world operates, but as it turns out, that’s just true for me.

Here is how I know.  Some years ago I helped some very wonderful people to start their vegetable garden.  They had bought a house with an existing garden that still held the remnants of summer, and they were inspired to plant again the following year.  The challenge was that the garden was hideously overgrown and they had never gardened vegetables before.  It was an interesting exercise for me in more ways than one.  I took it on as a personal challenge and began to plan…my way.   What I found over time was that my way was not necessarily their way, and in the end I admiringly backed out of having much of a hand in their garden.  My way leaves much to the whims of nature and admits that nothing is truly within my control.  For them, it was just a bit unstructured and random.  They wanted a more orderly and precise garden.  Well planned, I should say.  They chose vegetable types and locations in advance of whimsy and availability.  They chose to plant in marked rows that had been laid out in advance.  It was all slightly shocking to me.  In the end I admit that I learned quite a bit from their gardening practices, and continue to consider myself divinely fortunate to know them. 

Some people crave order.  Some people thrive on chaos.  I may be little of both.  I tell myself it is the sign of a flexible mind.  Which kind are you?  

Cilantro Sea Scallops

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Scallops are a treasure from the sea, but due to over harvesting, were in declining populations until recently.  Federal regulations that started going into effect in the late 1990s have helped scallops make a huge comeback.  But inshore there are still far fewer sea scallops than there used to be, and so farmed sea scallops are now being harvested in the Northeastern Atlantic and Pacific.   Seafood watchdog groups list them as a good choice for people who eat seafood, as they can be harvested without damage to habitat and have low levels of mercury.  When you purchase scallops, ask your grocer where they came from, as some farmed scallops are imported from Japan!

Here is a super easy recipe for cooking sea scallops that is as healthful as it is delicious.  It should be served with Black rice, which takes longer to cook than white or brown, but is worth the wait, as it is more flavorful and better for you then either of the others.  Lundberg makes a Black Japonica rice that is an heirloom variety, which means it has not been genetically altered.  It is grown in an eco-friendly manner that conserves water, maintains soil integrity and supports a healthy ecosystem.

Cilantro Sea Scallops

3 Tbs Butter

1.5 lbs Fresh Sea Scallops

3 Tbs White wine

3 Tbs fresh chopped cilantro

Sprinkle of salt

Lemon wedges

Brown the butter over high heat in a large saute pan. Add the scallops and allow to brown,  don’t move them around.  When they are cooked about halfway through, maybe 3-4 minutes, flip them over and brown the other side.  After 3 more minutes add the white wine, de-glazing the pan.  Add the cilantro and the salt and toss to coat.  Serve these delectable morsels with black rice and wedges of lemon.

Enjoy!