Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Vegetable Feature: Fennel

By Andrea Yoder

     You’ll be able to identify fennel from other vegetables in your box this week by its unique appearance and distinct aroma.  Most of the fennel plant is edible, however the white bulb at the base of the plant is the most commonly used part. The soft, fine, feathery green portion extending off the stalks is called “fronds.”The fronds are also edible and can be used more as an herb, seasoning or garnish to add a bit of flavor to soups, salads, etc. The stalks are sometimes too fibrous to eat, however they have a lot of flavor and can be used to make vegetable stock or a soothing tea.   
     Fennel has the flavor of anise, or mild licorice, which some people love and others are still learning to like. The bulb is crisp, sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked. When eaten raw, I feel strongly that fennel should be cut very thinly. It helps to soften the fennel a little bit and makes for a more pleasant eating experience. If you are in the group of people who just really don’t care for the flavor of licorice, you may find fennel more enjoyable if you cook it. When sautéed, roasted or otherwise cooked, the oils in fennel that give it the distinct flavor volatilize which lessens the intensity of the flavor and develops the natural sugars. Caramelized fennel is featured in this week’s newsletter recipes and is a great way to incorporate fennel in your diet in more subtle ways.
     Fennel may be used in gratins, cream soups, seafood dishes, simple salads and antipasto platters.  It pairs well with a whole host of other foods including lemons, oranges, apples, honey, white wine, olives, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, fish, seafood, pork, cured meats, beans, cream, Parmesan cheese, feta cheese, cucumbers, dill and parsley. 
     Fennel is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C & A. The volatile oil I mentioned earlier, anethole, has been shown to reduce inflammation and help prevent some cancers.  It is also aids with digestion and freshens breath.
     Fennel should be stored in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in plastic.When you are ready to use it, you may need to peel off the outer layer of the bulb to wash away dirt that may be between the outermost layers. The outer layer is still usable after it is washed.  Cut the bulb in half and make a V-shaped cut into the core at the base of the fennel bulb.  Remove most of the core, then slice thinly or cut as desired.









   Caramelized Fennel & Beet Pizza
By Andrea Yoder

Yield:  3-4 servings

Pizza dough, homemade or premade, enough for a 12” pizza
2 tsp olive oil
1-2 fennel, bulbs with stalks and fronds intact
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
½ cup white wine
1 ½ tsp honey
1 egg
1 Tbsp heavy cream
7 oz fresh goat cheese
1 bunch beets
4 slices bacon, cooked and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 ½ Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp honey
2 ½ Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Black pepper, to taste.

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. 
  2. Prepare fennel by removing the outer portion of the bulb if necessary. Cut off the stalks just above the bulb. Cut the bulb into quarters and, using a V-cut, remove the core from each quarter of the bulb. Thinly slice the bulb and the lower portion of the stalk up to the point where the fronds start to form. You will need a total of 2 cups of sliced fennel. Set aside remaining stalks and fronds for later use.
  3. Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add sliced fennel and garlic and saute over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until the fennel has softened. Stir fennel periodically as it cooks. Once the fennel is softened, add ½ tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, white wine and honey. Bring mixture to a simmer. Simmer until all the liquid has evaporated, then remove from heat and cool slightly.
  4. Form the pizza dough into a 12” round. Lay it out on a pizza pan or baking stone. Parbake the crust for about 5-6 minutes in a preheated oven. Remove crust from the oven and set aside until you are ready to assemble the pizza. 
  5. Next, beat the egg in a medium bowl until it is pale yellow and frothy. Add the heavy cream and continue to beat until the cream and the egg are well-combined. Finally, add the fresh goat cheese and beat on high speed until the mixture is smooth. 
  6. Separate fennel fronds from the remaining stems and finely chop them. You will need 2 Tbsp plus ½ cup of finely chopped fronds. Fold 2 Tbsp of fronds into the goat cheese mixture. Set the mixture aside.
  7. Cut the beets off the stems. Scrub the exterior of the beet roots with a vegetable brush.  Depending upon the size of the beets, you will need 1-2 medium beets. Set the remaining beets aside for another use. Wash the beet greens carefully, pat or spin dry and set the greens aside.
  8. Very thinly slice the beets using either a knife or a mandolin. 
  9. Assemble the pizza. Spread the goat cheese mixture on the parbaked pizza crust. Spread the chopped bacon over the goat cheese layer. Lay the thinly sliced beets on top of the bacon.The beets will shrink a little bit during cooking, so place the slices of beets very close together and try to cover the majority of the pizza surface. 
  10. Next, spread caramelized fennel evenly on top of the beets. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the entire pizza. Put the pizza in the preheated oven and bake for 15-17 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  11. While the pizza is baking, thinly slice the beet greens and stems. You should have about 2 cups of greens.  Put the beet greens and stems in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
  12. In a small mixing bowl, combine lemon juice, zest, honey and olive oil.Whisk together to make a vinaigrette. Season with salt and black pepper.
  13. Once the pizza is fully baked, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. Just before serving, drizzle a little bit of the vinaigrette over the beet greens.  Use just enough to lightly coat all of the greens. Save the remainder for another use. Serve the pizza with lightly dressed beet greens spread on top. 



Caramelized Fennel on Herbed Polenta
Serves 2

2 to 3 cups vegetable broth, as needed
½ cup polenta
Fine sea salt, to taste
1 large fennel bulb
Ghee or coconut oil
2 Tbsp raw fennel seeds
1 to 2 Tbsp maple syrup, to taste
¼ cup chopped mixed herbs, such as parsley, dill, and chives
¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)
Olive oil

  1. Heat the vegetable broth in a large saucepan until simmering. Slowly pour in the polenta in a steady stream, whisking all the while to prevent clumping. Add a few pinches of salt. Stir constantly for a couple minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring every 5 minutes or so for 30 – 45 minutes. If the polenta becomes too thick, add more broth or hot water and whisk until smooth. The polenta is cooked when you rub a small amount of it between your fingers and it is no longer gritty, but instead creamy and smooth.
  2. While the polenta is cooking, cut the fennel bulb into thin vertical slices (from the top to the base).
  3. Heat the ghee or coconut oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the fennel slices to the skillet, making sure that they all come into contact with the surface of the skillet (not overlapping-you may have to work with a few slices at a time). Sprinkle with sea salt. Do not stir or move the fennel until it is golden on the bottom, about 5 to 7 minutes. When all the pieces have browned, flip them onto the uncooked side. When the underside has also browned, add a sprinkling of fennel seeds and a ½ Tbsp of the maple syrup, and let cook for 1 minute. Toss to coat, transfer fennel to a plate, and repeat until all the fennel is cooked. Season with salt if desired.
  4. Add the chopped herbs and grated cheese to the polenta, and give it a final stir. Whisk in a little more broth or water to thin it if necessary.
  5. To serve, scoop a portion of polenta onto a plate, then arrange the caramelized fennel on top. Add a drizzle of olive oil.

Recipe borrowed from Sarah Britton’s book, My New Roots.



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Strawberry Day…We had so much fun!


by Andrea Yoder

This past weekend we hosted our annual Strawberry Day CSA event.  We had a gorgeous, sunny day for the party and were thrilled to have over 200 CSA members in attendance!  While we had many members who were enjoying their first visit to the farm, we also enjoyed seeing some of our longtime members and friends return to enjoy the day. We also had a group of happy campers enjoy a night under the stars in our valley! 
   

We started the party with a picnic potluck lunch, and let me tell you this was one of the best potluck
spreads I think we’ve ever seen!  We also enjoyed delicious iced maple latte made with Kickapoo Coffee’s cold-pressed coffee, Castle Rock Organic Dairy’s milk and Alvin Miller’s organic maple syrup.  The other cold beverage treat we enjoyed was a special batch of strawberry-basil kombucha made by NessAlla with HVF strawberries and basil!  Once we had all satisfied our mid-day hunger, we piled onto 5 wagons and ventured to the fields.  Our first stop was near the kale and collard field. Farmer Richard walked the field with some of the members on his wagon. Together they decided red curly kale was the first variety we should harvest for this week’s boxes. 

                                                                                                                                                                   
 Next stop along the way was at our Hammel Farm.  At this stop we checked out the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage crops that will all be ready for harvest within the next few weeks.  We jumped back on the wagons and circled around the farm to get a good look at the peppers, tomatoes and tomatillos….all of which are looking great!!  Along the way we had the opportunity to answer a lot of excellent questions about the crops, the land, farming techniques, methods for controlling pests, how do we decide what to grow and how much and even a few equipment questions that I had to recruit some help from the crew members.  We were very impressed with the interest and thoughtful questions everyone asked this year!


After we left the Hammel Farm, we journeyed to our final stop along the tour….the strawberry field!!!  Everyone was anxious to start picking and eating the warm, juicy strawberries.  You could smell their aroma as we got close to the field and we were all in strawberry heaven!  After careful instructions from Farmer Richard, everyone got busy picking strawberries.  Farmer Richard, ever the teacher, created a lasting memory for the day when he had the opportunity to pick strawberries with a young CSA kiddo.  As Richard reflected on the day, he lamented that there were so many people and so little time, but this little guy “made my day.”  Richard taught this little guy how to pick strawberries.  Did you know that strawberries like to hide?  Well, they do and the trick to picking them is learning how to “find them.”  His student quickly caught on and filled his pint container in no time.  He handed it off to his mom and got started on another one!  If you can’t tell, Richard has a soft spot in his heart for children and I’m sure he’ll remember this strawberry day picking experience years from now after this youngster is grown up and moving on to college and beyond!


After strawberry picking we were all hot and ready to enjoy a bowl of refreshing strawberry ice cream.  I think it’s safe to say that EVERYONE loved the ice cream…Captain Jack was right, it is some of the best strawberry ice cream we’ve ever tasted!  A big thanks to the folks at Castle Rock Organic Dairy for making this special batch of ice cream just for us!    


 It takes many hands in the community to make this day a success.  Richard and I would like to thank all of our crew members who worked hard to get things ready for the day and many of them helped with the party as well.  A big thanks to our friends Bob & Carol who helped prepare food for the potluck. They were a joy for me to cook with and made the process of preparing hot dogs and chili sauce for over 200 people seem like no big deal.  We’d also like to thank Pam & Jim for their help with sharing Richard’s beautiful wood products at this party.  It was quite a display of unique, one-of-a kind products made from specially selected trees we’ve harvested.  We’ll have more things to share with you by the Harvest Party, just in time to start your Christmas shopping!
  

 All in all it was a great day.  We appreciate everyone who carved out time to come visit our farm and be part of the day with us.  We love getting to meet our members face to face and be able to share a little piece of our daily lives with all of you.  Your joy and appreciation for the work we do is what encourages us to continue doing what we do.  Thanks again!

Vegetable Feature: Green Top Beets

by Andrea Yoder



When customers at market ask me what a beet tastes like, my answer is often “sweet and earthy, but not the flavor of dirt.”  We grow three different colors of beets including the traditional red beets as well as golden beets and Chioggia beets (also known as candy-striped beets).  Red beets generally have the most intense beet flavor while golden and Chioggia beets are usually more mild in flavor, but equally sweet.  Early in the season we harvest beets with their tops still attached.  The tops are edible as well, so it’s like getting two vegetables in one!
   
Beets can be eaten raw, however they are usually cooked.  They can be roasted, boiled, baked, sautéed and grilled.  They should be cooked whole with the skin on and the root tail intact in order to retain all of the valuable water-soluble nutrients.  Once beets are cooked it is much easier to peel them.  The pigments found in beets that give them their characteristic colors are actually phytonutrients and antioxidants that have a whole host of health benefits.  Additionally, beets and their greens are packed with fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins A, C and K to name a few. If you usually discard the tops, I’d really encourage you to try finding a use for them this time. They can be lightly steamed, wilted or sautéed and served on their own or alongside the beet root as is done in the recipe below. Beet greens can also be incorporated into any dish or recipe that uses chard or spinach. Additionally, beet greens may be eaten raw in salads or enjoy them in a green smoothie to jump start your day.
 
Beets pair well with some bold ingredients such as horseradish, mustard and rich dairy products including yogurt, cream, sour cream and aged cheese.  They also play well with other vegetables including carrots, potatoes, fennel, onions and a variety of salad greens.  They are also delicious paired with fruits including apples, oranges, lemon, currants and pears.




Root Vegetable Slaw with Labneh


Yield:  6 servings                                                            

This recipe was borrowed and adapted from Jerusalem a Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.  Here’s how they introduce this recipe in their book.  “We make this salad in the winter or early spring, before any of the summer crops are around. The labneh can be substituted with Greek Yogurt, well-seasoned with some olive oil, crushed garlic, and salt and pepper.  It can also be left out altogether, if you prefer to keep it light and simple.”  

3-4 medium beets*
1 medium kohlrabi, peeled*
2 medium carrots*
½ celery root*
4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp superfine sugar
¾ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
¾ cup mint leaves, shredded
2/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
½ Tbsp grated lemon zest
Scant 1 cup labneh or Greek yogurt (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Peel all the vegetables and slice them thinly, about 1/16 inch thick. Stack a few slices at a time on top of one another and cut them into matchstick like strips. Alternatively, use a mandolin or a food processor with the appropriate attachment to cut the vegetables into thin strips or thick shreds. Set the vegetables aside while you make the dressing.
  2. Place the lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer and stir until the sugar and the salt have dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  3. Pour the hot dressing over the vegetables, mix well, and leave to cool. Place in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.
  4. When ready to serve, add the herbs, lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the salad. Toss well, taste, and add more salt if needed. Pile onto serving plates and serve with some labneh on the side (optional).

 *Note:  You can adapt this recipe according to the seasons. When you make this slaw early in the summer before carrots or celery root are available, just use a bit more of what you have.  I made this slaw using only beets and kohlrabi.  Just make sure you have a total of about 4 cups of vegetables overall.




        Balsamic Glazed Beets & Greens

Yield:  4 servings                                                            

This recipe was created by Peter Berley and was featured in Food52 Genius Recipes. Here’s what the Food52 editors had to say about this recipe in its introduction.  “I’m afraid we don’t understand beets as well as we could.  …This (recipe) allows us to cook beets faster, like all the other vegetables we know better. Then, as Berley writes, ‘The greens are placed on top of the roots, the manner in which they grew.’  They steam and wilt, then get stirred throughout the glaze…Yes, we get to use the whole beet in one pan-including the greens and the peel—so there’s no hanging onto the tops with some unidentified goal, only to forget and throw them away a week later.”  

1 medium red onion, cut into ¼ inch crescents (may substitute the bulb portion of 1 bunch of spring scallions, green tops reserved for another use)
4-5 fresh beets with tops (1 bunch), roots scrubbed, trimmed and cut into 4-6 wedges, greens & stems chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves finely chopped*
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. In a heavy pan wide enough to hold the vegetables in a snug single layer, combine the onion, beet roots, vinegar, butter, tarragon, and ½ tsp. salt. Pour in enough water to barely cover the vegetables and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered for 25 minutes or until the beets are nearly but not quite tender.
  2. Raise the heat and boil, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced to a syrup and the beets are fork-tender.
  3. Add the beet greens, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.
  4. Uncover and turn the greens over so they mix with the roots and onions. Add pepper and additional salt to taste. Simmer for 2 minutes more and serve. 


*Note:  If you do not have fresh tarragon, use another fresh herb in its place.  When I tested the recipe I used fresh savory and the dish was delicious.





Thursday, June 16, 2016

Featured Vegetable of the Week: Kohlrabi

by Andrea Yoder

The name for kohlrabi is derived from “khol” meaning stem or cabbage and “rabi” meaning turnip. While it is in the cabbage family and resembles a turnip, it grows differently than both. Many people mistake kohlrabi for being a root vegetable that grows under the ground, but it is actually an enlarged stem that grows above the soil level.  The stems and leaves shoot up from the bulbous part to give it, as many describe, an alien like appearance.  
 
We grow both green and purple kohlrabi, which are no different from each other once they are peeled. The bulb and the leaves are both edible. The fibrous peel should be removed from the bulb prior to eating. You can do this easily by cutting the kohlrabi into quarters and then peeling away the outer skin with a paring knife. The flesh is crisp yet tender and sweet with a hint of a mild cabbage flavor. It can be prepared in many different ways, both raw and cooked. The simplest way to eat it is to peel it and munch on slices plain or with just a touch of salt. It can also be shredded and used in slaws with a variety of dressings or sliced and added to sandwiches or salads. Despite many years of growing and eating kohlrabi, Farmer Richard’s eyes still twinkle every year when he says… “Can we have creamy kohlrabi slaw?” It’s by far his favorite way to enjoy kohlrabi. The leaves are edible as well, so don’t just discard them. Cook them in any way you would cook kale or collard greens.  
 
I always think of kohlrabi as an old-world European vegetable, which it is, but don’t forget that kohlrabi is also eaten in other parts of the world such as China and India. You can find some interesting ways to prepare kohlrabi in stir-fries and curries if you look to these parts of the world for recipe ideas.
 
To store kohlrabi, cut the stems and leaves off. Store both leaves and the bulbs in perforated plastic in the refrigerator. The leaves will keep for about 1 week, and the bulbs will last up to several weeks if stored properly.



Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup with Herbed Kohlrabi Yogurt

Yield:  6-8 servings
2 cups black beluga lentils (or green French lentils), picked over and rinsed
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3-5 scallions, lower portion minced and green tops sliced thinly (for garnish)
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
1—28 oz can crushed tomatoes
3 cups Swiss chard, leaves & stems sliced thinly
Herbed Kohlrabi Yogurt,  see recipe below


  1. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add the lentils and cook for about 20 minutes, or until tender.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the minced scallion, 1 tsp salt and ground cumin.  Sauté a few minutes or until the onion is tender and fragrant.  Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for about 8-10 minutes or until the tomato mixture has thickened a bit.  Add the swiss chard to the pan, cover and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes or until the chard is just barely wilted. 
  3. Add the lentils to the tomato mixture and stir to combine.  Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for just a few minutes longer.  Adjust the consistency of the soup to your liking by adding additional water to make it more thin or simmering a bit longer to thicken the soup. Remove from the heat and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve garnished with the thinly sliced green onion tops and a dollop of the Herbed Kohlrabi Yogurt.

Variations:

  • Serve it with a poached egg on top
  • Serve it over steamed rice or millet
  • Finish the soup with a few pinches of smoked paprika or red pepper flakes to add a little flare


NOTE:  This recipe is based on Heidi Swanson’s “Lively Up Yourself Lentil Soup Recipe” featured on her blog, 101 Cookbooks.  She encourages her readers to put their own twist on the soup with a variety of suggestions for how to adapt the recipe to your liking.  This is my version of her lentil soup recipe.—Chef Andrea Yoder 

Herbed Kohlrabi Yogurt 

Yield:  1 cup
1 cup Greek yogurt
½ cup finely grated kohlrabi
1 Tbsp lemon juice 
Lemon zest from the rind of one lemon
1 garlic scape, minced
1 Tbsp fresh herbs, minced (parsley, savory, thyme, mint, etc)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine yogurt, kohlrabi, lemon juice and zest, garlic scapes and fresh herbs of your choosing. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
  2. Refrigerate the yogurt for at least 30 minutes or overnight for the best flavor.

Serving suggestions:  Use this herbed kohlrabi yogurt as a topping for falafel, lentil dishes, or alongside scrambled eggs, sautéed greens or steamed rice.  

Bringing Back the Monarchs

By Andrea Yoder

Over the past few weeks we’ve been noticing a lot of activity in the air. The dragonflies are flitting around our farm again as are the Yellow Swallowtail butterflies and a whole host of butterflies, bees and other flying creatures. Yet, we still haven’t spotted any monarch butterflies this year. Over the past 20 years the overwintering monarch populations have dropped by 90%, bringing a sense of
urgency to the reality that this species may become extinct one day very soon if we do not rapidly change the course of events. Common Sense Pest Control Quarterly is a publication of The Bio-Integral Resource Center, a non-profit that provides practical information about the least toxic methods of pest management.  In their May 2016 publication, William Quarles, Ph.D., provided us with some very interesting information about the monarch butterflies.  We would like to share some of these facts with you that make this creature all that more amazing to us.

Monarch butterflies are actually a prehistoric creature thought to have evolved about 100 million years ago!  They are thought to have become migratory creatures about one million years ago. There
are now two populations of migrating monarchs, one population east of the Rocky Mountains and the other on the west side of the Rockies.  In order to survive, monarchs need water, nectar, milkweed and trees on which to overwinter.  The rapid decline in their populations is directly related to human behavior and specifically to the drastic increase in use of pesticides over the past two decades.  In
addition to causing death through direct contact with pesticides, the use of glyphosate and neonicotinoids has destroyed a significant amount of milkweed as well as causing death of monarch larvae and reductions in plants that provide nectar for the butterflies.  Milkweed is an important plant for monarch survival and is one of the main reasons monarchs migrate to the north during the spring and summer from their southern overwintering site in Mexico.  Milkweed contains steroids called cardenolides which monarchs ingest.  This component of milkweed protects monarchs from predators by giving them a bad taste as well as being toxic to vertebrates.  Milkweed is a food source for monarch caterpillars as well as serving as a nectar source for the adult monarch butterflies. Additionally, monarch females lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves.

The migratory pattern of the monarch population east of the Rocky Mountains takes the monarchs to northern climates in the spring and summer in search of milkweed.  Monarch larvae development stops at 52-54°F.  In addition to decreasing temperatures, their milkweed sources cease in the fall and winter thus they migrate to their overwintering site in Mexico to wait out the winter.  They start to migrate south about mid-September and move at a rate of about 20-25 miles/day.  During their migration they focus all of their energy on moving and stop mating and producing eggs.  They feed aggressively to gain fuel for the flight as well as build up fat deposits for overwintering.  Just where does a slim creature like a monarch deposit fat?  When they reach their overwintering spot in Mexico, they’ll huddle together in clusters in trees to stay warm until spring arrives.  In the spring they start their vigorous mating ritual, then fly north into Texas and the southern parts of the U.S. to lay their eggs on milkweed.  These eggs hatch a spring generation that then flies further north in order to get away from the heat of the southern summer.  Once they arrive in the north they produce 2 or 3 summer generations, the last of which will migrate south in the fall.  The generation that will overwinter has a lifespan of about 8-9 months while the spring and summer generations only last about 3-5 weeks.
 
So how can we help support the monarch populations and prevent further decline?  One way is to provide more milkweed for the monarchs.  One of the plants in our pollinator packs was Asclepias tuberosa, a type of milkweed commonly known as butterfly weed.  There are also efforts being made by various environmental groups to create Monarch Way Stations, plantings of milkweed in the migratory path of the monarchs.  Additionally, planting flowering plants to provide a source of nectar will help provide them with the fuel they need for their flight.  While these efforts are all positive, we must remember that their benefit is limited if there is still use of pesticides and herbicides on the
plants or in their vicinity where they will be affected by drift.   We have been planting native flowering plants and milkweed on our farm for many years.  We’re excited to see how many people chose to participate in planting the pollinator packs we delivered over the past several weeks.  Now many of you are creating your own Monarch Way Stations in the Twin Cities, Madison and our local area.  Please let us know how your gardens are growing and what critters they are attracting.

Dr. Quarles concludes his article with this statement: “Monarch butterflies survived the dinosaurs and have probably been migrating for a million years.  We should not let pesticide pollution and human activity destroy them. Working together, we can bring back the monarchs.”  Let’s all do our part.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Culinary 101 - Lesson #1: Keep it Simple!

by Andrea Yoder

As I write this article, I pause to consider the wide expanse of experience our CSA members bring to the table.  Some of our seasoned CSA veterans have been cooking “out of the box” for 15-20 years, while others in our membership may be in their first year of experiencing CSA….with the bunch of hon tsai tai from last week’s delivery pushed to the back of the refrigerator with a big question mark on it. "What am I supposed to do with this weird/unfamiliar food?”  Despite my training as a professional chef and a high level of comfort in the kitchen, I too face my own culinary challenges every day as I stand in the kitchen, tired, hungry and waiting for food to magically appear in front of me. Whether your challenge is limited time and energy or you just don’t have much experience cooking, we can all afford at some points during our lives to come back to the basics of cooking and turn to simple means of nourishing and feeding ourselves. Keeping things simple takes away the intimidation of cooking and empowers us to create meals that fit our own lifestyles and likes.

In her book, In the Green Kitchen, Alice Waters makes this statement: “At home in their own kitchens, even the most renowned chefs do not consider themselves to be chefs;  there, they are simply cooks, preparing the simple, uncomplicated food they like best. Preparing food like that does not have to be hard work. On the contrary, the whole process—thinking about food, deciding what you want to eat, shopping for ingredients, and, finally, cooking and eating –is the purest pleasure, and too much fun to be reserved exclusively for ‘foodies.’ Cooking creates a sense of well-being for
yourself and the people you love and brings beauty and meaning to everyday life. And all it requires is common sense—the common sense to eat seasonally, to know where your food comes from, to support and buy from local farmers and producers who are good stewards of our natural resources, and to apply the same principles of conservation to your own kitchen.” 

So by default we’ve all conquered the first hurdle of cooking which is choosing high-quality, delicious ingredients. The reason Richard and I get up every morning is to do our job of producing high-quality, delicious vegetables for you and your family. If you start with high quality ingredients in the height of their season, you often don’t need anything more than a simple preparation with a little salt, pepper and maybe a splash of oil or vinegar or a squeeze of lemon. That’s something we can all do!

I’d like to introduce another cookbook author with some unique perspectives on how to approach cooking. Alana Chernila’s book, The Homemade Kitchen, is all about laying out the basics, and making food and cooking approachable for everyone by simply relying on learning the basics. The first section of her book is entitled:  “Start Where You Are.” In her introduction she asks a simple question.  “So why do I cook? To eat, of course. But there’s more to it. And that’s where this book comes in. I cook because feeding myself is the one basic, essential, daily requirement that I can do entirely in my own way….Not only do I get to eat what I’ve made, I also get to delight in my ability to create it.” Throughout Alana’s book, she provides a roadmap for maneuvering the basics of cooking. For example, there are two pages that clearly and simply outline the basic procedures for how to cook an egg. Once you learn how to prepare this simple food, you can branch off and do all kinds of things with eggs! They can make a simple lunch accompanied by a fresh green salad. You can eat them for breakfast scrambled with seasonal vegetables, or you can turn them into a quiche to
serve for dinner. “But I don’t know how to make pie crust!” Don’t worry, Alana guides you through the simple steps for how to make a basic pie crust. And with that basic knowledge you can make not only quiche, but you can create a squash pie to serve at Thanksgiving dinner, make a delicious rhubarb pie in the spring, or enjoy peach cobbler in the summer! As Alice Waters states in her book, this is what all good cooks have in common “…a set of basic techniques that free cooks from an overdependence on recipes and a fear of improvisation.” She goes on to say “The value of learning a foundation of basic techniques is that once these skills become instinctive, you can cook comfortably and confidently without recipes, inspired by the ingredients you have.  …..There is enormous pleasure in cooking good food simply and in sharing the cooking and the eating with friends and family. I think it is the best antidote to our overstressed modern lives. And there is nothing better than putting a plate of delicious food on the table for the people you love.”       

So I encourage you to outfit yourself with a few simple tools and get into the kitchen. Keep it simple and have fun. When you are limited with time or creative ideas, just keep it simple. Roast a potato, steam some broccoli, make a simple green salad with a basic vinaigrette. We all deserve to eat good, healthy, nutritious food and preparing food doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple, eat well and most importantly take time to enjoy the foods that nourish you.
 
If you’re looking for a basic resource to help you learn some basic cooking concepts, I’d highly recommend either of the books I cited above.  

In the Green Kitchen by Alice Waters 
The Homemade Kitchen by Alana Chernila 

Featured Vegetable of the Week: Baby Bok Choi

by Andrea Yoder





We added baby bok choi to our repertoire of vegetables several years ago and it quickly became one of our “staple” crops that we now plant every week for as many as 20 weeks during our growing season. It is a mild-flavored Asian green that is related to some of our other favorites such as tat soi and hon tsai tai. We like the versatility of baby bok choi as it is tender enough to be eaten both raw in salads and cooked.  It is one of nature’s fast foods as it only takes a few minutes at most to stir-fry, saute or steam it. I usually slice the stems of baby bok choi separate from the leaves. If cooking, I give them a few additional minutes of cooking time before adding the leaves.
 
Before using the bok choi you will need to take a moment to clean it. Fill a sink with cold water and trim the base of the bok choi to allow the leaves to separate from the main stem. Swish the leaves in the water, and then check the base of each leaf. You may need to wash a little dirt off the base of the stem. If you are cooking the bok choi, remove the greens from the water and shake off excess water. If you are going to use the bok choi in a salad, you’ll want to dry them a little more in a salad spinner or put them in a kitchen towel and carefully shake them to remove excess moisture.
   
Bok choi may be added to seasonal stir-fries, lightly steamed or sautéed and eaten alongside steamed rice and fish, or even cut in half and lightly cooked on a hot grill. If you’d prefer to eat bok choi raw in a salad, simply dress the greens with a light vinaigrette.





Bok Choi Salad with Sesame-Almond Crunch
Yield:  4-5 servings

Sesame-Almond Crunch
1 cup slivered almonds
2 Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup sesame seeds, toasted

Dressing
3 Tbsp sugar
¼ cup grapeseed oil (may substitute sunflower oil)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4-6   green onions, thinly sliced
1½ pounds baby bok choi, washed and dried


1.    Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread slivered almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside.
2.     Sprinkle 2 Tbsp sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a saucepan set over medium heat. The moment the sugar is completely liquefied, add almonds, stirring briskly to coat, then add sesame seeds, stirring until evenly distributed. Do this quickly, so that the mixture does not burn.  Immediately transfer nut mixture to a plate and let cool. 
3.     In the same saucepan, bring the dressing ingredients to a boil: sugar, oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Add sliced green onions and remove from heat. Dressing can be used while warm or cool.
4.     Meanwhile, slice the bok choi crosswise into ½-inch pieces. Just before serving, place bok choi in a large bowl and toss with dressing. Add the nut mixture and toss well.

Note from the HVF Test Kitchen:  This original recipe calls for 1 ½ pounds of bok choi, however you only received about 1 pound in your box this week. I would recommend mixing only the portion of salad you are going to eat at a given time with the dressing and sesame-almond crunch. Save any extra dressing and sesame-almond crunch to use with other greens such as hon tsai tai, turnip greens, or salad mix. 


**Recipe borrowed from www.alexandracooks.com.  



Spicy Ginger Pork Noodles with Bok Choi

Yield:  4 servings

12-16 oz baby bok choi
1-inch piece fresh ginger
Kosher salt, to taste
8 oz rice noodles, not too thin
2-3 Tbsp peanut oil or sunflower oil
1 pound ground pork
¼ cup plus 1 ½ Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 ½ cups sliced fresh mushrooms (shiitake, cremini, oyster, etc)
½ cup thinly sliced scallions
3 garlic scapes, finely chopped
1 fresh or dried thai chili (may substitute red pepper flakes)
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 ½ tsp sesame oil, more for drizzling
Cilantro, coarsely chopped, for serving
Basil, thinly sliced, for serving

1.     Trim bok choi and separate the green tops from the stems; leave the tops whole and thinly slice  the stems.  Peel the ginger and finely chop it. Set bok choi and ginger aside.
2.     Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add noodles and cook according to package instructions. Drain and run under cool water;  drain again. Set aside.
3.     Heat 1 Tbsp peanut or sunflower oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook, breaking up with a fork, until golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, 1 ½ Tbsp soy sauce and ½ Tbsp rice wine vinegar. Use a slotted spoon to transfer meat to a bowl.
4.     Add remaining 1-2 Tbsp oil to skillet. Add the mushrooms and ginger. Saute several minutes or until the mushrooms are softened. Add garlic scapes, scallions, and chile. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add bok choi stems and a pinch of salt. Cook until bok choi is almost tender, about 1-2 minutes. Toss in leaves and return pork to skillet.
5.     Toss cooked noodles, remaining ¼ cup soy sauce and 1 ½ Tbsp rice vinegar in the pan. Cook until just warmed through.
6.     Add sesame seeds, sesame oil and stir to combine.
7.     Serve with fresh herbs as a garnish and an additional drizzle of toasted sesame oil as desired.

This recipe was adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark which was featured on New York Times cooking (cooking.nytimes.com).