Treats Can Be Healthy
December has a way of sneaking up on me. I get a few gifts, start planning our holiday schedule, and bam! Less than 3 weeks are left.
Although we try to steer away from a consumer-based holiday season, we still participate in the general merriment with our annual decorating of the twig and our homemade advent calendar for Maddie.
What's a homemade advent calendar consist of? Well I'm glad you asked.
It's a set of little boxes, artfully decorated by your very own farmers, and filled with things that will delight our 2-year old.
Organic (some of it local) dried fruit, a locally purchased handmade wooden christmas ornament, pinecones, and other little marvels that make our toddler go "ooooh".
And while it is important to allow our little ones to live in a world of wonder and amazement, it is just as important to treat us older folks too!
Since blenders have become all the rave, a multitude of recipes have become available, most of them featuring a healthy dose of greens.
Here are a few of my holiday cocktail favourites, which I tend to consume sans alcohol, but are really intended to contain a bit of holiday spirit:
In all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, one must remember to have fun!
Micronutrients are our friends
November is here, which is synonymous with more time indoors, and, incidentally, colds.
Colds will happen regardless of how diligent we are at exercising, washing our hands, getting the proper amount of sleep and the right nutrition, but there are things we can do to boost the immune system, thereby reducing the severity and length of a cold.
Micronutrients are all the rave lately, being talked about by the World Heart Organization and Harvard University. Essentially, they are nutrients that our body needs in small amounts to stay healthy.
This weeks' share contains a big bag of potatoes but remember to keep the peeler away from the spuds! Potatoes with the skin still on boasts an adequate amount of vitamin B6 to keep your body going.
And instead of taking a supplement, studies show that eating a varied diet is the key to keeping that immune system strong.
And with recipes like these extra crispy roasted potatoes and leftover mashed potato patties, it is easier than ever to take your (veggie) medicine!
Care for a Carrot?
There is nothing more special than a carrot that has been cared for.
This root has a way of telling us where and how it was grown, and how long ago it was picked.
We'd like to think that growing a good carrot is an art, and over the years, we've convinced more than one kid that carrots can be a treat.
Once in a while, I delight to see that a chef or popular magazine sharing my passion for a good carrot by highlighting this umbel, just as Food & Wine did in its latest edition.
Now I don't know about you, but my mouth waters at the prospect of a well-executed, basic roasted carrot.
Back when Chef Gibb from Pasta Kitchen & Bar was still around, I had the pleasure to taste his awe-inspiring carrot soup. Being the curious cat that I am, I had to ask for the recipe for this seemingly complex dish, and was floored by the fact that it had only 4 or so ingredients.
Turns out that what made the dish so special was that it was cooked in a pressure cooker and featured amazingly sweet carrots.
This tendency to keep a recipe simple, execute it using sheer culinary skill, all while highlighting a certain ingredient, is definitely a cooking mantra that I can be on board with.
And with Madeline's birthday fast approaching I can think of no greater homage to the humble storage crop than to feature it in a delicious cake.
Cold is coming
So, I've admittedly been firing up the oven despite the warm weather.
The leaves were falling, and the squash were ripe, so who can blame me?
But soon enough the weather will shift and we will actually be craving cold-season foods.
One recipe that I like to make a least once during the late fall is a potato leek soup. There is something about the potato that transforms a soup into a satisfying, hearty affair.
Leek is a nice, mellow allium, but the real star of the dish is the potato, which has the power of thickening up the soup and giving it a nice mouthfeel.
It seems like potatoes have taken over lately, being featured in a soup that is a play on the loaded baked potato, and taking the vegan culinary world by storm in a variety of creamy soup dishes.
As if adding creaminess wasn't enough, you can also add potatoes to your soup in gnocchi form.
Enjoy any of the above while wearing your favourite sweater and snuggling up to your favourite human, pet or pillow.
Vegetables make Thanksgiving better
Move over turkey, because, the real stars of Thanksgiving are vegetables.
What did you expect? I'm a vegetable farmer!
But it is a fact that the idea of having a celebrated meal consisting of potatoes, parsnips and turkey was cooked up by a certain Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the popular women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, in the early 1800s, nearly 200 years after the infamous first thanksgiving in 1621. Unfortunately, Hale didn't think to commemorate First Nations people along with her trendy spread, but I digress.
When you actually think about it, trends aside, the importance of Thanksgiving is to lead "guests anone Unto the kitchen room, ne spared for niceness none." (Spenser)
So we fuss, hopefully not because we fear judgment, but rather because we mean to provide our guests with a lovely meal.
We wish to let the feast speak for us, to say, I love you, my kin, and the effort I have placed into this meal is for you.
This is exactly what we feel when we grow the vegetables you are about to prepare. Similarly, it is also our way to say that we love you, and that this love is what fuels our work.
This is the trend that I want to bring home. The trend of caring for an ingredient so that it might translate in the care for a person, or a group of people.
With that in mind, here are some meal ideas that, for me, evoke love and caring.
So regardless of whether you opt to serve a kale gratin, or the latest fresh alternatives to Thanksgiving, one must remember that it is, above all, a celebration for the ones we care about.
I don't watch TV.
I just can't be bothered to flip through 900 channels to try to find one that might be of interest to me.
But I do have a secret obsession with any cooking show that features Jamie Oliver.
There is something about the rustic appeal, preparing a meal over an open fire, or outdoor in the garden, plucking fresh herbs as needed, with glimpses of golden-hour light and the local fauna and flora.
Even his set design features items that I've seen at my grand-parents' hunting camp (who, by the way, would laugh if I told them that their chipping-enamel white colander from the 1940's is featured on a popular UK cooking show).
I am not alone and the culinary world as a whole seems to try to recreate a sort of rustic homeliness that our clean, sterile meals of the early 2000s sorely lacked.
Nowadays, you would do well to serve a posh pot pie to Sunday dinner guests, especially if it is paired with a crusty, rustic bread.
Even pickles seem to have made a resurgence on the backs of the probiotic movement.
I, for one, embrace the rustic. It is a chance to bring back and polish some of our ancestral recipes.
From ragout to baked beans, and ratatouille to french onion soup, there are plenty of opportunities to make the old new again.
In some cases, a mere adaptation does well. Instead of pie crust, one can use puff pastry or philo for the pot pie.
Fresh home-cooked pumpkin instead of the canned stuff, and local honey instead of the sugar. Coconut oil in pie crust. I can attest that all of these are fine substitutes for pumpkin pie.
And however tempted you may be to do so, it is never wise to brag to your elders that you've improved upon a family recipe.
Keep your gloating, and new recipes, for your friends and colleagues.
Squash The Late Summer
It's no coincidence that your first winter squash of the season will arrive on the first week of autumn.
There is no greater pairing than that of cool fall weather and dinnertime meals featuring the cornucopia of the produce world.
Each type of squash seems to offer something different, and while they register similarly on the palate, their outward appearance are as varied as they come.
Growing up on the farm, fall was always such a magical time of the year.
The hustle and bustle of canning.
The feeling of a job well done as the last of the hay was put away for the winter.
Pumpkin pie spice.
Ok, that last one wasn't actually a part of my childhood, but it has become a staple and will surely be a part of our little one's recollection of the season :)
Around here, winter squash is the type of thing we appreciate. Unlike certain vegetables that have been coming in steadily for the past 4 months, this special cucurbit makes us wait until the very last minute, culminating in one large harvest.
Come December my eyes might start glazing over the squash safely stowed away in our cold storage, but for now, they light up at the endless list of possibilities.
Delicata squash alone has done wonders to bend the limits of convention, being featured in lieu of onion rings by one, an accoutrement to a kale salad by another, and, a dessert pudding by the last (vegan version, which features a basic pumpkin pie spice, here).
The possibilities are so vast, but you know what the best thing about winter squash is?
They taste sublime just as they are, cut in half, and roasted in the oven with some type of heat-resistant oil (think coconut) and a pinch of salt. Scoop out the seeds, grab a spoon, and dig in.
Meant To Be
One of my all-time favourite culinary sayings is "What grows together goes together."
This may refer to the idea of terroir, where, for instance, a certain regional wine may successfully be paired with a cheese produced nearby.
It also applies to two different things which like to grow in the same climate, such as tomatoes and basil.
Far from being an unbreakable rule, I believe that this sort of advice lends itself nicely to cooking by inspiration.
Another fantastic way to create meals off-the-cuff is to pair produce of the same family.
All one needs is a basic knowledge on the plant families of certain vegetables.
For instance, have you ever wondered why parsnips and carrots pair so beautifully in a roasted vegetable dish? Or why dill and parsley seem to enhance the greatness of a carrot? It just so happens that they are from the umbelliferae family.
Bell peppers and tomatoes, which seem like they were made for each other in dishes like this Peperonata, are both solanaceae.
And who can forget the classic liliaceae duo of onions and garlic?
By following this logic, you might come up with plenty of tasty combinations, including spinach and beets, which will both be featured in your share this week.
Our household makes this classic beet salad every year from September until snow falls since it is a great way to make these two peas in a (cheno)pod shine. Vegan friends may try this delectable recipe instead.
And while one doesn't necessarily need to learn how to pronounce the latin group names, one may choose to see it as a fun bonus.
Breaking The Rules
Have you ever noticed how engrained certain culinary notions are?
Ideas about the right way to prepare a certain ingredient run deep, forcing us to dismiss a recipe outright, possibly fuelled by the imagined notion of how terrible the dish may be.
I used to be like that with lettuce soup, or as Ricardo likes to call it, Potage Choisy (french recipe only). Then I made said soup, and promptly ate my words.
Fish sauce was another ingredient that I refused to use. The pungent aroma is to be used sparingly, to be sure, but it can quite literally transform a dish so that it is more well-rounded on the palate.
And while I don't suggest you go out and buy fish sauce, I do think that there is an opportunity to make something totally different, and equally delectable, to break those ingredient biases.
Just the other day I was reminded that, as a distant relative to the tomato, ground cherries can be a sweet addition to a savoury dish. One of my favourites is a fresh ground cherry salsa, which would pair beautifully with tomatoes, peppers, and the ancho hot pepper you will receive again next week.
I've also heard of eating it as part of a hearty salad with a healthy, ancient grain like farro in the mix.
So while we can take the savoury route with ground cherries, we can also take the sweet route with tomatoes, which are a fruit, after all.
This Tomato Cake with Tomato Glaze is sure to please, especially if you let your guest take the first bite before revealing the secret ingredient (further erasing the above-mentioned bias). For my vegan friends out there, I have heard good things about these Tomato Cupcakes with Balsamic frosting.
My all-time favourite twist of ingredients, however, has to be the Chocolate Beet Cake I made for our little M's first birthday last November. I swapped the sugar for a little over a cup of honey and not only was it enjoyed by the adult folk in the group, but it passed the test on a 1 year old and 4 year old with flying colours!
Breaking the rules has never tasted so good.
Be Your Own Chef
We all lead such busy lives.
Drive the kids to soccer practice, help plan granny's birthday, and be the everyday superhero cleaning the mess the toddler left behind.
Just last week, Ryan and I finally put our house up for sale, which means that staging is a regular task added to our already hectic summer schedule, but it is all worth it because we are buying the farm!!!!!!
(I'd add more exlamation marks, but you get the point).
Over the last little while, meal delivery kits have gained a lot of momentum, quickly becoming a trend in the US and, some suggest it won't be long until Canada follows suit.
Coming in at around $10.95 per person per meal, this isn't a cheap option, and hard to afford for most. But these sorts of services capitalize on the types of lives we are now leading, and I have to wonder, has cooking a regular meal at home fallen out of fashion?
And if you can't fight them, join them, so this week, I am giving you the gift of a delicious and quick recipe that utilizes a number of items in your CSA share. Plus, you get to try out your skills at french-cutting snap beans.