Friday, November 21, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Collard Greens

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz
Collard greens in July

Collard greens are descendants of wild cabbage, and their existence has been traced back to prehistoric times. For this reason, researchers joke that collards count themselves among the dinosaurs of vegetables. Likely originating in Asia Minor, written and pictorial accounts have ancient Greek and Roman civilizations cultivating collards, and by 600 B.C., Celtic wanderers had begun spreading them far and wide throughout Europe. Towards the end of the 17th century, collards arrived in the U.S. but contrary to popular belief, they were not introduced by enslaved Africans.

Today, collard greens are integral in traditional southern American cuisine, though they are becoming more popular in other parts of the U.S.. Part of this rise in popularity is likely due to the fact that collards are nutritional powerhouses. Not only are they high in vitamins K, A and C, they’re also a good source of calcium, iron and fiber. Studies show steamed collards coming out ahead of steamed kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale when it comes to each vegetable’s ability to bind bile acids in the human digestive tract. What this means is that collards contribute rather significantly to the lowering of cholesterol levels. The cancer-preventive properties of collards are also high. Four specific glucosinolates help to lower cancer risk by supporting both detox and anti-inflammatory systems.

Collards, like kale, grow well into late fall in colder climates like ours. The collards in your box this week were actually cut from the top of the plant, thus the leaves are a bit smaller and more tender than fully matured leaves. Steaming collards for five minutes is the fastest way to get them onto your plate and into your stomach, but you can also try your hand at the more traditional way of preparing them. If you’re going for the latter, boil a ham hock and 3 cloves of garlic in 10-12 cups of water for two hours (with the pot partially covered). In the meantime, de-stem and cut collards into thick ribbons. Once two hours have passed, remove the ham hock and add the collards, cooking at a simmer for another 45 minutes to 2 hours (again with the pot partially covered). Sauté an onion in bacon fat or canola or veggie oil, and add the shredded ham hock meat. Add the cooked collards to this mix, top with salt and pepper, and you’re all set! Word to the wise—the cooking liquid in which you simmered your collards is full of nutrition and loaded with flavor, so consider using it in a stock. In advance of preparing your collards, store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, removing as much air as possible.

Wilted “Baby” Collards with Ginger & Shoyu
Recipe borrowed from Chef Andrea Reusing’s book, Cooking in the Moment.

Serves 2
¾-1 pound collard greens, (smaller leaves less than 9 inches long are ideal), cut into ½-inch wide strips
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp shoyu soy sauce, or less if substituting regular soy sauce
½ tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 scant Tbsp very thinly julienned fresh ginger
1 dried red chile, such as de Arbol, crumbled into small pieces
Kosher salt
⅓ cup chicken stock

  1. Blanch the collards for 30 seconds in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain, and then quickly transfer them to an ice bath. As soon as they are cold, drain again and gently squeeze them with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible. Transfer the collards to a medium bowl and toss with your fingers to separate, adding the shoyu and sesame oil and thoroughly distributing them.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the ginger and chiles. Saute for a minute, until the ginger is wilted and fragrant but has not colored. Raise the heat to medium and add the collards. Season with salt and toss to coat and incorporate the ginger and chiles. Add the chicken stock and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the greens are very hot. Season with additional salt if necessary.

Collards & Black-Eyed Pea Soup
Recipe borrowed from Lorna Sass’ Complete Vegetarian Kitchen.

Serves 6
6 cups water or vegetable stock
1 Tbsp oil
2 cups black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
1 small bunch collard greens
2 large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery or ½ medium celeriac, finely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
½ tsp dried thyme
Pinch cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes
Hot Sauce, optional
Salt, to taste

  1. Bring the water, oil, and peas to a boil in a medium stock pot. Meanwhile, wash the collards. Cut the thick stem from the middle of the leaf. Chop the remaining leaves and tender stems into 1-inch strips. Add the collards, onions, celery or celeriac, garlic, thyme, and cayenne to the pot.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the peas are tender, about 45 to 55 minutes.
  3. Stir in salt to taste. Serve piping hot with hot sauce if desired.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Winter is Here!

by Andrea Yoder
Winter sets in to the valley surrounding Harmony Valley Farm
The onset of winter came a bit early this year and I must say I’m still adjusting to this change of season. Before the cold set in, we scrambled to harvest what we could and managed to bring in tons of root vegetables (literally), as well as the last of our greens. We stretched the greens season as far as we could and the collards and baby bok choi in this week’s box will be the last of the fresh greens. It’s official…we have transitioned to our winter diet.

When choosing to support local food systems and eat locally, by default you also choose to eat seasonally. With four distinct seasons to eat through, seasonal eating in the Midwest keeps things interesting and can be a lot of fun. As the seasons change, our bodies crave the foods it needs to nourish it at that time of year. On the flip side, nature provides us with what we need at that time as well. In the spring we can’t get enough of the early season fresh greens and other light, cleansing foods to bring our bodies out of winter mode. During the summer we eat light, refreshing foods to cool our bodies...cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, etc. Fall is the time of bounty when summer and winter vegetables collide and we have a window of time when both summer and winter crops are available. Peppers make it into dishes alongside winter squash. Greens that were once topped with summer veggies are now served with apples and pears. Finally, winter sets in and we transition completely to a diet based on storage crops. We work very hard to grow and harvest winter squash, cabbage, root vegetables, onions, garlic, and other crops to put into storage. These foods are meant to be stored and will last throughout the winter. They are rich in nutrients and will nourish us during a time when we aren’t able to harvest vegetables from our fields. These foods, along with anything that was preserved during the summer, frozen meat, dried beans, etc will sustain us until spring breaks through. Each season brings its own set of ingredients and an abundance of opportunities to explore endless ways to prepare them.

Storage vegetables offer seasonal cooking options through the winter
For those who may not have as much experience with seasonal cooking & eating during the winter, a box of storage vegetables might be a bit intimidating. “What am I supposed to do with all of this food? I’ll never be able to eat all of this!” Don’t worry…you’ll be able to eat it all, but you aren’t supposed to eat it all in one week. Most of the items in your box this week and the ones we’ll be delivering in December and January are meant to be stored and eaten over time. If stored properly, you should be able to get the full value out of the vegetables in your share. Refer to the storage tips in the back of your CSA calendar, as well as the information we include in our weekly newsletters, to help you determine how to store each vegetable.

“How will I prepare all of these vegetables?” First of all, don’t ever let a vegetable intimidate you…it’s just a vegetable! Most storage vegetables can be cooked in a variety of ways and in today’s world of technology there are endless resources to guide you along the way. If you’re worried about getting bored with eating roots, cabbages, squash and sweet potatoes for the next several months, I would encourage you to approach this time of year with a different set of eyes. People all around the world eat some of the same vegetables we’re eating. Take a little time and look to some other cultures for recipe ideas to keep cooking interesting and fun. For example, there are some great curry dishes that include squash, sweet potatoes, and root vegetables. Stir-fry is a dish that can be made any time of year based on the vegetables you have available. Choose your favorite stir-fry sauce and meat if you wish. Stir-fry carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, beauty heart radishes, cabbage and even turnips. Put the veggies, meat and sauce together and you have dinner!

Roasted root vegetables, soups, stews and gratins are also warm favorites for this time of year. You can keep these dishes varied and exciting by experimenting with different spice combinations and different ingredients as garnishes. For example, treat yourself to a nice bottle of flavored nut oil, such as hazelnut or walnut. Add just a drizzle to a bowl of butternut squash soup or roasted root vegetables to add something a little different. Aged cheeses, toasted nuts and seeds, flavored vinegar, dried mushrooms, dried fruit and dried chiles are just a few things you can experiment with as garnishes to finish a dish and add an element of interest.

Finally, if you get stuck and can’t think of anything to make for dinner, use your resources. Fairshare CSA coalition’s cookbook,  Farm-Fresh and Fast is a great resource to guide you through a Midwestern winter. Don’t forget about Local Thyme, an online menu planning service for CSA. As a Harmony Valley Farm CSA member, you have free access to the Local Thyme website. You can search for recipes, get further information about specific vegetables and create your own menu plan with a shopping list. There is more information about this resource in this week’s “What’s In the Box” email. Finally, use your community. There are other people in your neighborhood who may have some of the same vegetables in their refrigerator as well. Have a potluck and inspire each other! Every December there is a group of Madison CSA members that get together to celebrate root vegetables with their annual Root Party. It’s a lot of fun, the food is always great, and it gives you ideas of other ways to use your vegetables.Our online recipe database can give you ideas for using some of those root veggies lurking in the back of your refrigerator.

We are grateful for the opportunity to have grown vegetables for you this year. We hope your Thanksgiving tables reflect the bounty of our fall harvest next week and your winter is full of nourishing, warm meals to share with family and friends.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Brussels Sprouts

By Andrea Yoder

“Brussels sprouts are the only vegetable I cannot eat unless the weather is cold. No frost, no sprouts. I am not alone…Frost makes the sprout...Eaten at the wrong time of year, cooked too long or served with too much else on the plate, the sprout is hard going.” –Nigel Slater in Tender
Brussels sprouts full of sweet flavor in cold weather!
Sprouts spiral up stalk shaded by tuft of leaves
Brussels sprouts are a highlight of fall and its transition to winter in the Midwest. They grow on a tall, thick, sturdy stalk. The sprouts spiral up the stalk and are shaded by a tuft of leaves at the top, but also down the stem. Chef Deborah Madison describes them like this: “There is something so silly and Dr. Seuss-like about a stalk of Brussels sprouts with its little hat of leaves that it makes you smile and want to eat the sprouts.”

There are several points that are very important when it comes to Brussels sprouts. First, as stated in the opening quote from Nigel Slater, frost and cold temperatures contribute significantly to the eating quality of Brussels sprouts. After a frost, the flavor of the sprouts is sweet, slightly nutty and pleasant. California is a major Brussels sprouts producer for the United States. While Brussels sprouts do grow well there, there are many who are of the opinion that the mild California coastal climate just isn’t quite cold enough for Brussels sprouts. Thus, consider yourself lucky that you live in Wisconsin & Minnesota where we can grow some delicious, sweet sprouts! In fact, this week’s sprouts survived our first hard frost of about 20˚F!

The second point of importance is DO NOT OVERCOOK THEM! When the color fades from bright green to a dark olive color, the flavor fades too. Overcooked Brussels sprouts go from crisp & tender to soft and mushy in texture and their sweetness is traded for a strong, unpleasant flavor with a pungent smell to accompany it. Larger sprouts should be cut in half or parcooked if left whole. Smaller sprouts may be left whole or cut in half. When you are ready to use them, simply trim the end and remove any spotty leaves. Rinse and then you are ready to use them. They can also be shredded by cutting them in half and putting the cut side down and slicing them thinly with a knife. Brussels sprouts may be sautéed, roasted, or lightly steamed just until the color is bright and they are tender to slightly al dente. While most frequently eaten cooked, Brussels sprouts may also be eaten raw. One pound of Brussels sprouts is equal to about 4 cups halved or 7-8 cups shredded.

Brussels sprouts pair well with smoky and salty foods including bacon, ham, aged or sharp cheese and blue cheese. Additionally, preparations often include mustard, walnuts, pecans, lemon juice, onions and garlic.

They are definitely worth eating from a nutrition standpoint. They are high in fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, C and K and are packed full of powerful, cancer-preventing properties as well. Store your Brussels sprouts in the fridge in the bag we packed them in. You should open the bag a bit though and let them breathe.

Brussels Sprouts with Mustard-Cream Vinaigrette
Recipe borrowed from Deborah Madison’s book, Vegetable Literacy.

Serves 4
Mustard-Cream Vinaigrette
1 clove garlic
Sea salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp aged sherry vinegar
1 shallot, finely diced
5 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp sour cream
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Pound the garlic with ¼ tsp salt in a mortar (or on a cutting board) until creamy.

2. Put the garlic in a bowl and stir in the mustard, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for 10 minutes, then vigorously whisk in the oil and sour cream to bring everything together. Taste to make sure the proportion is right, adjusting as needed with more mustard, vinegar or oil. Season with pepper. You may need to rewhisk just before serving.

Brussels Sprouts
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 Tbsp olive oil 
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Halve the Brussels sprouts lengthwise, or quarter them if they are particularly large. Drizzle with the oil, season with salt and pepper then spread them in a single layer in a large baking dish. 

3. Roast about 20 minutes if the sprouts are small, somewhat longer if they are very large. They should be tender, not mushy, and the cut sides browned.

4. Pile the sprouts into a bowl, toss with several tablespoons of the mustard-cream vinaigrette to moisten well, and serve.

Keralan-Style Brussels Sprouts
This recipe is Laura A. Russell’s version of a vegetable dish typically made with cabbage in the state of Kerala in India. This is one of many creative and simple recipes featured in her recently published book, Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables. This is a cookbook worth adding to your collection, especially as a CSA member. She includes recipes for many vegetables in the brassicas family including kale, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Asian greens and root vegetables including radishes, kohlrabi and turnips.

Serves 4
6 Tbsp shredded, unsweetened dried coconut
2 Tbsp water
1 pound Brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
1 tsp brown or black mustard seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp red pepper flakes

1. In a small bowl, combine the coconut and water and set the bowl aside.

2. Trim the ends off the Brussels sprouts. Halve the sprouts through the stem end, turn each flat side down, and cut the halves into shreds. You should have about 8 cups.

3. In a large (12-inches or wider), deep frying pan or a wok, heat the oil with the mustards seeds over medium-high heat. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the seeds start to sizzle. Stir in the Brussels sprouts, cumin, salt, turmeric and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the sprouts wilt. 

4. Add the coconut mixture and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the Brussels sprouts are just tender. Taste and add additional salt if needed. Serve hot or at room temperature. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Film Review: GMO OMG

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz
Doesn’t a movie review sound like a fun feature? We thought so too! This week, we’re shining the light on a documentary film called GMO OMG. In this 2014 film, filmmaker Jeremy Seifert sets out to examine an issue that has no doubt been on many of our minds over the last decade or so: Who controls the future of our food? In considering this question, Seifert explores the pervasiveness of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply, the lack of transparency surrounding the use of GMOs, and the environmental impacts of GMOs and conventional agriculture—two factors that, at times, seem almost synonymous. While this issue has certainly seen its fair share of exposure, Seifert’s approach is a creative one—in asking these big questions, he does so with his family in tow, road-trip style. 
The father of three young children, Seifert connects the emergence of his and his wife’s concerns over the presence of GMOs in America’s food system to parenthood. Being responsible for feeding small human beings, they quickly began to realize that, once they took a closer look, everything seemed to contain GMOs. The question then became: Who else knew about this? Based on the reactions of various pedestrians Seifert petitioned in one of the film’s opening scenes, the answer seemed to be: Not very many. And so, without further ado, Seifert and his family file into the family’s van and take off—destined for the offices of Pioneer-Hybrid and Monsanto, the Rodale Institute, Seed Savers Exchange, and even Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault. 
It’s clear from the beginning that Seifert is highly skeptical of GMOs and their corporate and, he makes the argument, governmental bedfellows. Due to and perhaps in spite of his unapologetically critical view of GMOs, Seifert reaches out to the corporate executives, seed distributors, and conventional farmers who make up this GMO conveyor belt. Of his many interactions, one in particular stood out to me. During a stop in Iowa, Seifert speaks with a conventional farmer about the use of GMOs in agriculture. Despite his belief that organic farming is a good thing, this farmer insists that the associated low yields makes pursuing this type of production system nearly impossible. “One billion people are living on less than US$1 per day, so if we all cut our production, what are you going to tell these people? You can’t eat?” 
This conversation illuminates two key points—that growing GMOs does not make someone a bad person, and that the corporate “feed the world” argument has largely succeeded in justifying the use of GMO crops. Speaking to the first point, Seifert seems to reflect this in his interactions with and portrayals of conventional farmers. What could have added additional depth to his discussion, however, is a deeper, more realistic consideration for the degree to which conventional farmers are embedded in this mainstream system. Without the skills, knowledge, and government subsidies, farmers likely feel overwhelmed at the thought of transitioning from a conventional to an organic production system—especially if they’ve been operating the same way for a long period of time. If the power balance is ever to tilt in favor of the organic producer, this is one conversation that must be had. In stopping off at the Rodale Institute, Seifert sheds light on the second point. Over the last three decades, Rodale’s researchers and farmers have called into question the argument that organic equates to low yields and instead have demonstrated that organic methods can match and even exceed those yields produced conventionally. If organic production can produce in excess of conventional methods, then why is the majority of corporate and governmental support directed towards conventional producers? 
MONEY! That, in short, is Seifert’s explanation. He draws connections between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Monsantos of the world, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—all of which appear to share mutual interests in the expansion and proliferation of GMO technology. One of the more powerful illustrations Seifert draws revolves around the great and rather expensive lengths to which Monsanto has gone to defeat legislation requiring GMO labeling in various states. For example, Monsanto spent US$45 million in California alone to defeat their GMO labeling ballot initiative! GMOs are so pervasive in our food system right now that if you choose not to consume them, you’re basically shutting yourself off from the majority of the food found in the average supermarket. As Seifert says: “Opting out of GMOs today means opting out of culture and tradition.” 
In considering genetic diversity, the use of GMOs constitutes further cause for pushback. For example, in the U.S. 93 percent of crop varieties have been lost over the last century. The mainstream system we are faced with today, Seifert argues, is one that exalts a corporate-run monoculture at the expense of diversity, seed saving and sharing, and farmers themselves. Intellectual property battles, soil degradation and toxic runoff, Roundup resistant weeds and pests—these, Seifert says, are the consequences of such a system. Fortunately, visits to Seed Savers Exchange and Svalbard introduce a note of hope, as Seifert outlines the actions being taken to preserve the genetic diversity that is, essentially, the essence of life. 
In GMO OMG Seifert has, I think, done a decent job in exploring his concerns surrounding the rise and permeation of GMOs. Apart from a few scenes that struck me as overly theatrical, the questions he asks are significant, the corporate-government connections he highlights are concerning, and the perspectives he elicits are thought provoking. That said, I would encourage you to sit down and watch GMO OMG and treat it as a point of departure off of which to further develop your views on this matter. Look to your local library or Amazon for copies, or, if you have Netflix, you can watch it instantly!

Visit the film's website for more information at