Posts Tagged 'seasonal eating'

for what it’s worth

Well, here we are. A solid week into daylight-saving time. A nice indicator of spring for sure, but other than that, it’s a practice I’m not fond of. The only foreseeable gain is that it keeps my 18 year old cat Hoops hoodwinked for a good week or two. Which means I get a reprieve from him standing on my head in the morning. For an old guy he keeps pretty good time He knows exactly when breakfast is.

I’m one of those people who needs all the help they can get in the morning. Just when I’ve thought I’ve made it through the worst of it, right when rolling out of bed starts getting bearable again, they go and take away the light. Moving this extra light to the end of the day only gets me into trouble. “I don’t need to start cooking yet,” I think “look how high the sun is in the sky!” Which inevitably leads to sitting down to a late dinner, missing my bedtime, and making the next dark morning all the more difficult. It’s a vicious cycle. Why can’t we just leave the light where it belongs?

There. That’s my rant.

sunshine

It seems like we’re on the fast track to spring though, which means we should talk about rutabagas. Because before we know it social norms will dictate putting away the wool and pressing our whites, shuffling the bourbon bottle to the back of the cabinet to make room for the gin, and rutabagas being forced to take a back seat. I know. Try to hold yourself together.

Here’s the thing to remember about rutabagas. They’re humble. They remind you exactly where you are. And food that is humble is food that lets you surrender—the meals that evoke a sigh and tell you it’s okay to give in. You know how certain foods keep you thankful and hopeful, all at the same time? A rutabaga can do this.

I know this because my winter Hermit Creek Farm share is keeping me well endowed with rutabagas—a vegetable that I might otherwise be accused of overlooking. But to my credit, I’m not alone in this. Turns out there is a lack of rutabaga recipes. I scoured the classics (The Joy has an excellent Winter Root Vegetable Braise) and rifled my collection of old church basement cookbooks (rutabaga puree with cream is the most popular), but overall, the pickings were pretty slim.

rutabagas

Recognizing there are only so many roads to go down with an unflappable root vegetable, I’ve been hell bent on being creative with my stash. And here’s what I’ve learned in my rutabaga trials. Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and cream are a rutabaga’s three best friends. You can pretty much do anything to a rutabaga, and as long as you add one (or more) of these players, things will go just fine.

The church ladies were indeed onto something. It’s hard to beat a plate of mashed rutabagas with a little cream and maple syrup folded in. Cube up a rutabaga, braise in a skillet with a bit of water, and when the cubes are tender and the water is evaporated, mash them up with a fork or hand blender, adding cream, maple, salt and pepper to taste. This will make any long day will feel better, I promise.

My most recent, and fanciest undertaking was rutabaga pancakes. Which is really just a riff on potato pancakes. Only I traded onions for apples and added a handful of Gruyère cheese. Heading my rule, I also made a simple maple mustard cream sauce.

If you need some prodding to actually seek out a rutabaga, this is it. There’s still time. We’re pushing it, but bringing roots into the kitchen is still proper etiquette. Either way it’s worth it. Worth it to watch this underdog of a vegetable knock it out of the park. Worth it to put such a simple food on the table. And worth it to be reminded of our very good luck, as tenuous as it can sometimes feel. 

rutabaga cakes

Rutabaga Pancakes

1 pound rutabagas, peeled and grated
1 small apple (or half of a large one), grated
1 teaspoon salt
few grinds of pepper
3 scallions, chopped
handful of grated cheese, Gruyère or other (about 2 ounces)
2 small eggs (or one jumbo), beaten
3 tablespoons potato starch
rounded 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil, for frying
scallions, for garnish

hot smoked paprika, for garnish

Maple Mustard Cream Sauce

3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Mix the grated rutabaga and apple together in a medium bowl. Add the salt and pepper, working it in with your fingers a bit to help release some juices. Stir in the scallions, cheese, potato starch, and baking powder. Fold in the eggs and mix well.

Pour a healthy slick of oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, use a large spoon or 1/4 cup measurer to drop batter in. Lightly press out the cakes with a spatula, and cook about 4-5 minutes on each side until golden and crisp. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Wipe out skillet between batched and repeat, placing a fresh paper towel on the stack of cakes.

For the sauce, bring the cream to a light boil in a heavy sauce pan, letting it cook down about 5 or so minutes until it is slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in Dijon and maple syrup.

Serve cakes warm, drizzled with sauce, scallions, and a pinch of hot paprika. Makes about 12 cakes.

*These also reheat well in a warm oven. And, they’re even good cold. Like when you’re running out the door in the morning, late, and haven’t had time for a proper breakfast.

sprout junkie

Last winter, in the middle of March, my friend Kris came to dinner. I remember this, because the hostess gift she brought changed my life. After everyone made it in the door and the rigamarole of coats, boots, and cold hugs had subsided, Kris came into the kitchen and set down a plate. I pulled back the covering and was greeted with several perky shades of green. GREEN. IN MARCH. Kris had brought me, of all things, a plate of sprouts.

As an (almost) lifelong vegetarian, I’ve always thought I should be more of a sprout fanatic. I mean they are quintessential vegetarian food, right? Maybe. But in all honesty, a plastic carton of alfalfa sprouts does absolutely nothing for me. Nor a bag of yellowing mung bean sprouts. Too often their mineral taste and chalky texture overpowers everything else, leaving a disparaging taste in my mouth.

soaking

But right away I could tell there was something different about Kris’s sprouts. For starters, they were so GREEN. And so FRESH. Kris gave me a quick run down. There were pea shoots, mung beans like I’d never seen, a spring mix with broccoli and spicy radish, crunchy lentils, and glorious pile of sunflower sprouts. I sampled a pinch of each and knew right then and there that my winter kitchen was going to be a different place.

I do my best to eat with the seasons, which means there are several months (too many really) where succulent leafy greens are more or less absent from the scene. Sometimes out of desperation I’ll let loose and bring home a bag of arugula or spinach, but besides that, cabbage is my leafy green stand in. So to know that I could replicate these flavor packed, crunchy green sprouts all winter long was almost more than I could handle.

I ruthlessly started quizzing Kris. Where does she get her seeds? (a Canadian company called Mumm’s) Do I need any special equipment? (canning jars, a few pieces of fine screen mesh, and maybe a aluminum pie tin) How long does it take? (2-7 days depending on the seeds and your preferences) How much maintenance is involved? (after an initial 4 hour soak, a good rinse twice a day). How long do they keep? (a week or so in the fridge). I could do this, I thought. And I did.

Confident that this was a kitchen habit that would stick, I placed a sizable order (with so many choices, it was hard to resist). I store a small jar of each variety  in the pantry and restock from the freezer – where the seeds stay vaible for a good long time. I’ll put my sprouting supplies away for the summer months, but from November through June, look out. My kitchen counter comes to life!

spouted!

I have become a full on sprout junkie. I enjoy them all, but two that always make the rotation are sunflower spouts (which I have a tendency to gulp down by the handful,  often eating the entire tray before it even makes it into the fridge for storage) and mung beans. But unlike the long, slightly yellow, slightly slimy mung shoots I find at the grocery store, I now enjoy what seems like a completely different food – crunchy, petite, fresh, protein laden nuggets. The key with mung beans, I have learned, is to only sprout them for a few days, until just the start of a shoot appears. Lightly steaming at this stage unlocks a world of flavor and texture.

I eat sprouts plain with a pinch of crunchy salt whenever I’m in the mood for something raw and green. All winter long I deploy them as edible garnish on just about anything. I cook with them too – adding the larger beans to soups and pastas and reserving smaller leafier sprouts for sandwiches and omelets. And for a night of ultimate wintertime culinary fun, I toss as many varieties of sprouts as I can together for a crazy, crunchy, flavor-packed salad. Whoowhee!

But in keeping with my quiet Scandinavian stoic roots, I often take it down a notch and opt for a more subtle, steamed mung bean salad. The toppings vary, but the result is perfectly satiating. It is, hands down, one of my favorite winter salads.

stoic-steamed-salad

Mung Bean Salad for 2 (or 1 if it’s the dead of winter)

2 large handfuls of fresh mung bean sprouts, steamed in a small amount of water for just under a minute. They should be green and toothsome.

Drain and divide among 2 small plates.

Top with any or all of the following:
a dash of oil (olive and/or toasted sesame oil)
a dash of rice vinegar
a dash of soy sauce
(or mix all of the above together with some fresh garlic and ginger for a simple Asian inspired dressing)
fresh scallion
dried shallot
preserved lemon
toasted sesame seeds
crunchy, coarse salt

* A note on sunflower seed spouts – you can sprout them in a jar like all other seeds, but Kris turned me on to using a disposable pie tin with small holes poked throughout the bottom. The seed hulls fall away to the bottom of the tin and the sprouts grow more upright, making them easier to harvest.