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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Back in California, in the land of farmers markets, we don’t often go to them anymore.  As school and work and responsibilities crowd the schedule, we tend to cozy-in on weekend mornings and share family time together at home.  Between the weekly organic grocery delivery and the monthly meat CSA share, we have plenty of food options.  And nearby markets, even the very basic ones, have a wide range of ingredient choices hailing from all over the world.

But we spend our summers in Wisconsin.  Vilas County, Wisconsin to be exact.  Head north a mile or two across the lake and yer in da U.P. (that’s Upper Michigan for the uninitiated).  By we, I mean The Child, The Dog, and myself.  We leave The Spouse back in California for most of the summer, and come here, to the little 70’s shack where I spent my summers.  This is our third year, and so far the experiment seems to be working…  The Child has proven to be an outdoorsy kinda kid.  She is comfortable trading a busy schedule of activities and play-dates and friends, for solitary independence.  She can go outside and play, she can explore the woods and the shore and the yard.  She may be by herself.

Food shopping and cooking here in the Northwoods is very different than the options we have back in California.  The markets are extremely limited, and I am reminded of the Kwik-E-Mart challenge on Top Chef.  We make do with processed food and very few fresh ingredients.  Occasionally specialty local products are available at gift shops.  But our small town of Land O’ Lakes has a weekly farmers market on Thursday mornings.  It is small, often only one vegetable stand, one meat purveyor, and a few local folks selling cheese, honey, preserves, or foraged items.  Most of the booths are more reminiscent of a swap meet or garage sale than a market, but there are typically about a dozen tables selling goods.  In California, going to the farmers market has become an occasional and social destination, but here it is a necessary part of our weekly shopping.

Last year we discovered kohlrabi at the farmers market.  Mountains of them.  Most were green, but some were purple.  Most were softball sized, but some looked closer to soccer balls.  When I asked what they were and heard kohlrabi, I must have flinched a little, remembering not liking things like rutabaga and kohlrabi as a kid.  The woman working the stand made a point of assuring me that they were incredible, and that her favorite way to eat them was raw, sprinkled with salt, on a sandwich.  She deftly hacked into one and shared a slice, while quickly looking at the veggies I had selected and tossing in a few extra things for free, just so I could replicate her favorite sandwich when we got home.  We made a few sandwiches that afternoon, and she was right!  I was hooked!

It was, botanically speaking, incorrect of me to group rutabaga and kohlrabi together taxonomically.  They are both in the cabbage family (Brassicacea), but while rutabaga is its own species, Brassica napobrassica, kohlrabi shares a species designation with everything from cauliflower to brussels sprouts as they are all considered cultivars of wild cabbage, Brassica oleracea.  Thousands of years of specialized breeding have resulted in a multitude of cabbages which don’t look or taste anything like each other.  The next time you are eating your broccoli, take note that it is one of the ultimate GMOs mankind has ever produced.  There are so many cultivars of wild cabbage in fact, that they are classified in groups based on their developmental form.

•    Brassica oleracea Acephala Group – kale and collard greens
•    Brassica oleracea Alboglabra Group- Chinese broccoli
•    Brassica oleracea Botrytis Group – cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli and broccoflower
•    Brassica oleracea Capitata Group – cabbage
•    Brassica oleracea Gemmifera Group – brussels sprouts
•    Brassica oleracea Gongylodes Group – kohlrabi
•    Brassica oleracea Italica Group – broccoli

Very easy to grow, kohlrabi is generally disease free, it can take shallow soils, and is unaffected by most garden pests.  More than just frost-hardy, anecdotal reports online indicate it may stay quite happy in the ground until temperatures dip into the twenties and snow begins to fall.

Kohlrabi literally means ‘German Turnip’ and it is vastly more popular and traditional in Europe.  But monj (or munji?) is also a staple of Kashmiri cuisine where the round, swollen stems are cooked along with the edible greens.

Slicing kohlrabi first makes trimming off the peel very simple.

Raw

Raw kohlrabi was a revelation.  Just sliced up, woody skin trimmed off, sprinkled with some kosher salt, and YUM!  Served on a sandwich of toast, mayo, fresh tomato and a slice of cheese?  Double yum!!  So all year, I have been craving it.  Looking forward to that first Northwoods-summer farmers market when I could get some more.  And it did not disappoint.

The slices which did not make it onto sandwiches were chopped into chunky sticks and served with a side of salt for dipping.

Kohlrabi makes an excellent snack! (and yes... that's an old ashtray repurposed as a salt cellar)

Cooked

Last year, none of it ever made it past being crunched up raw or julienned into slaw.  This year I decided we were going to try cooking it.  Most of the recipes online indicated cooking times of about 15 minutes in a sauté pan on the stove.  A friend said she liked hers sautéed in bacon fat.  Fast cooking plus bacon?  I’m in!  The results were fabulous.  The Child enjoyed it enough to gush over her first helping.  She did not help herself to seconds, but later in the week enjoyed the nuked leftovers for lunch.  Frankly, I am surprised that there were any leftovers, since after dinner I was compulsively picking straight from the pan with my fork.

Last year raw.  This year cooked.  Next year?  I’m thinking pickled.

Braised Kohlrabi with Bacon

½ of a giant kohlrabi (~8” across) or an equivalent amount of the more widely available smaller specimens, skin trimmed, cut into small cubes
2 rashers bacon, cut small
Fresh cracked pepper

Chop kohlrabi into your preferred shape.  Some recipes use slices, or strips, or even grated.  I liked the little cubes.  Make sure it is uniformly cut for even cooking.

Cook cut bacon in large sauté pan until it starts to render a little fat (on my old electric stove this took a few minutes).  Add chopped kohrabi and sauté a bit before adding just enough water (or braising liquid of your choice) to keep it from burning.  Cover and let cook about 15 minutes, stirring regularly and checking for when it is just fork tender.  We enjoyed ours more al dente than mushy.  Generously add a few grinds of fresh pepper and serve hot.

Made 3-4 servings

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Apparently it’s Incredible Ingredient Wednesday!  Who knew?  The box of veggies from spud! arrived yesterday, and tonight for dinner The Child and I had Black Knight Carrots grown by Tutti Frutti Farms in Northern Santa Barbara County.  They were dark and dirty and merely different until I went to peel them, at which point they became jaw-droppingly beautiful.  The Child heard me *gasp* and came running to see these glorious things!!

So I just had to photograph them.

Then I came back in the kitchen to chop ‘em up for dinner.  And *gasp* squared!!  I soon had a pile of sliced, purple, polka-dot carrots.  Sheer awesome!

They taste pretty much like a regular carrot raw, but I wanted to see how they cooked up.  Typically I roast my carrots in the oven, but tonight I wanted to take advantage of the color.  So I rough chopped some onion and sauteed both with olive oil, Penzeys Garlic Salt, and fresh ground pepper.  Then I added a cup or so of homemade stock and slapped a cover on while it simmered away at medium heat for a bit.  When the carrots were nearly cooked, I took the cover off and let the sauce reduce down while I nuked some leftover water buffalo chuck roast from the weekend.  Voila!  Dinner is served in 20 minutes tops.  Ha!  And I was worried we would starve with The Spouse out of town.

Black Knight Carrots and Onions with leftover water buffalo chuck roast

The carrots typically found at most markets are orange, but they also come in red, yellow, white, and as I found out today…  purple.  And it turns out that this tasty taproot probably originated as red, yellow or purple wild varieties in Afghanistan, before the Dutch developed the first recorded orange carrot in the 17th Century.  We don’t have room for anything but container gardening at our condo, but if you are looking to add a little purple pizzazz to your garden this summer, why not get some Purple Dragons from Seeds of Change and report back on how easy or difficult they are to grow.

Every different color on the plate is a different package of micronutrients.  Sometimes, kids are more interested in sampling a familiar food in a different format.  The kid eats peas, so try crunching some sugar snap peas.  They like carrots, so here is a purple one.  You like purple food?  Maybe you’ll dig beets next week.  Advocating variety is easy to preach, but some families might need baby steps first.  There are families out there struggling with a limited number of ingredients which sidestep drama, especially veggies.  And carrots are often on the shortlist.

Obviously this recipe works for any variety of carrot, including the humble orange one at the grocery store.  But if you stumble across specimens at the farmer’s market or specialty market, it is worth taking the risk.  This was the best $3.27 I have spent in a long time, and The Child loved it.  Thank you spud!.  I just hope I’ll be able to order them again next week.

When you get carrots home, remove the tops to preserve their flavor longer.  I remember reading that carrot greens are inedible but cannot remember where, and when Kevin Gillespie prepared a well received dish using them on Top Chef it made me wonder.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one, and there is an excellent post about the various thoughts on the matter of carrot tops over at The Upstart Kitchen.

Sauteed Black Knight Carrots and Onions

One small bunch of Black Knight carrots, sliced into rounds
One large onion, rough chopped
Olive oil
Penzeys Garlic Salt
Fresh ground pepper
~1 cup homemade stock, wine, or water

Saute carrot slices and onion in olive oil.  Season with Penzeys Garlic Salt and pepper, or your personal spices of choice.  Once the onion has started to brown a bit, add about a cup of homemade stock.  Cover and simmer on medium heat.  When the carrots were nearly cooked (not quite fork tender), uncover reduce any remaining liquid until it gets syrupy.  Serve warm.

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I previously wrote about how growing anything, no matter how small the scale, can get a kid engaged with what they eat.  Some folks insist they have a black thumb.  Bah!  The trick is to take on a project certain to succeed because it assumes failure.  Consider how expensive fresh cut herbs are at the market.  Then take a look at how much a small little 2” x 2” herblette is at the nursery.  Often they are about the same.  Lower your expectations.  Recalibrate success to mean, “Will this last longer in the pot I bought it in than the cut herbs will last packaged in the fridge?”  The answer is yes, for even the blackest of thumbs.

No-Gardening Herb Garden

•    Pick a sunny spot, inside or out

•    Assume there will be an attempt #2

•    Take a trip to the nursery center and find a shallow pot.  Then head to the herb section and pick a few out, placing them in your pot to make sure they fit.  Then pick up a bag of moss.

•    Drive home knowing the plants will die, but you will get a few meals out of them.  Some of them may last only a week.  Some of them may last months.

•    The assembly is really difficult:
Put plastic pots in big pot
Make sure you have a saucer under it if you need to protect your surface.
Surround with moss to hide plastic pots.
Ta-DA! Pour a glass of celebratory wine after a hard day in the garden.

•    Most herbs like to be abused.  Let them go dry between watering and use a scissors or kitchen shears to cut what you need as you need it.

•    Some will die quickly, and others might survive a while. I find chives work very well, while cilantro always croaks the fastest on me and I never bother with it anymore. When a plant dies, just swap it out for a new one.  The nursery may take the old container back to reuse, or your local community college horticulture program might like it.

In any case, much like making sure you have decent spices, having herbs in your arsenal makes basic pantry staples taste better.  When we include The Child in the selection and harvest, she is more curious to try things.  And if it all fails miserably, there is always more wine.

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