Friday, October 26, 2012

The Great White Sweet Potato - October 26, 2012

We were at the farmer's market at the end of the season and I saw something I'd never seen before - white sweet potatoes.  I just had to try it especially since my wonderful brother-in-law has decided to start eating sweet potatoes versus Russets because they are better for him.  It turns out these might be a good choice for him.  They have the consistency of a sweet potato but are more starchy, less sweet than the traditional sweet potato.

Because Wilson had decided to eat them for their health features, I looked up sweet potatoes and it turns out, they are great for you.  A 4-ounce serving of sweet potato (about 1/2 cup) provides 390% of your daily need for vitamin A, 40% vitamin C, 18% of fiber and 13% of potassium.  It also has vitamin E, iron, and magnesium and beta carotene. 

They are also easy to put up for the winter months.  Cured potatoes will keep for four to six months.  Once you dig the potatoes (or get them at the farmer's market), store them in a warm humid room for five to ten days. The temperature in the room should be about 80 to 85 degrees and about 80 to 90 percent humidity.  An area near the furnace that is warm or a spot in a large bathroom with a warm temperature is ideal.  If you have an area that's moist but only 75 to 80 degrees, cure the potatoes eight to ten days.  For temperatures ranging At 70 degrees, you'll need to wait at least 25 to 30 days.  Don't cure too long, however, since it causes the potatoes to sprout.  Once you cure your potatoes, store them in a cool place with adequate humidity like a basement or cellar.  A refrigerator is too cold. 

It turns out, I actually prefer the regular sweet potato and rather than curing, I just bake the potatoes until soft at 350 degrees in the oven.  When they cool, I scoop out the warm meat, mash and freeze in plastic containers.  This can be kept for up to a year.  I just take one to lunch and add a little Splenda.  If you're smart enough to store in one cup sizes, you can pull out what you need for a particular recipe.  Here is a great healthy example to start your day:

Sweet Potato Whole Grain Muffins

2 ½ c. whole wheat flour
¾ c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¼ c. melted butter
¼ c. vegetable oil
1 c. cooked mashed sweet potato
1 beaten egg
½ c. buttermilk

Bake sweet potatoes until soft (about an hour).  Cool and scoop from skins and mash.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease 12 -16 muffin tins or fill with paper liners.  Combine dry ingredients.  Combine wet ingredients.  Mix the two only until fully combined.  Fill cups ¾ full and bake 20 -25 minutes.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Winter Squash Season – October 21, 2012

Autumn has finally arrived in Louisville.  I took a drive on Friday in Southern Indiana and the trees were awe inspiring.  Our closest farmer’s market is closed for the year, but there is still one open all year on Bardstown Road and we get a farmer’s box every other week.  Right now, it is full of local greens and squash and everywhere I drive I see the most beautiful and unusual winter squash.  There are many ways to use winter squash, but my favorite for ease and taste is this chicken and squash curry that makes a great one pot meal for cool evenings.

Winter Squash with Chicken

1 T. olive oil
1/3 lb. ground chicken
1 – 1 ½ c. boiled and mashed butternut squash
1 – 2 tsp. sweet curry powder
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. paprika
pinch red pepper flakes

Heat oil in pan and brown ground chicken, add squash and herbs and mix well.  Serve warm.  You can also make this without the chicken if using as a side dish.

Once you get tired of this recipe and all the great ways to roast and bake squash (plus make fabulous soups) you can move to desserts.  Winter squash makes a great pie (just like pumpkin) but I had to try these cheesecake squares when I saw the recipe at the Bardstown Road Farmer’s Market.  We took them to our community garden harvest festival.

Winter Squash Cheesecake Bars 

9 Graham Crackers  
1/2 c. Old Fashion Rolled Oats
2 T. plus 1/2 cup Sugar (Divided)
1/4 Cup plus 3 T. All Purpose Flour (Divided)
2 T. unsalted butter
3 T. Milk
8 Ounces Reduced Fat Cream Cheese - at room temperature
8 Ounces Nonfat Cream Cheese - at room temperature
1/2 cup Squash Puree
2 Large Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat 9 X 13 baking pan with cooking spray.  Process crackers, oats, 2 T. sugar, 1/4 cup flour and butter in food processor until finely ground.  Add milk, pulse until completely moistened. Transfer this mixture into prepared pan and evenly pat into bottom.  Bake 10 minutes.  Cool on wire rack 20 min.

Meanwhile, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Beat both cream cheeses and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until creamy, scraping bowl often.  Beat in the squash puree.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Finally, beat in the vanilla, cinnamon, salt and remaining 3 T. flour.  Scrape the filling into pan, spreading evenly over crust.

Bake until set and the edges are light brown, about 35 minutes.  Let cool completely on wire rack.  Refrigerate one hour before cutting into bars.

These were good, but not quite sweet enough for me.  We served them dusted with power sugar.  They’d be great with cherry filling on top although you’d lose the subtle squash taste.  You could probably also just add another ½ cup sugar to the filling.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green (Tomatoes) – October 13, 2012

It is that time of year.  Fall is in the air and I am rooting for the last of the tomatoes.  We had a fabulous tomato year with many cans put away for winter cooking, but I always hate to know it will be many cold months before I’ll taste another vine ripe tomato. 

The most important thing to do this time of year is to make sure you saved one of the best, ripest, biggest, sweetest tomatoes from this year’s crop to save the seeds for next year.  Just scrape out the seeds into a zip lock bag and fill with water.  You can still use the rest of the tomato to eat.  Let the bag sit several days until it gets a bit funky (this bacteria helps the seed to germinate for next year).  Then drain the liquid and place the seeds on a white piece of copy paper to dry.  Store the dried seeds in an envelope in your fridge or another cool dry place.

 Now, you can begin, like us, to worry about all your green tomatoes that could freeze any day.  We have several huge Vincen Watts tomatoes that we have left in hopes that they will turn red.  We picked many of the smaller ones and put them in a brown paper bag to turn. 

If you like fried green tomatoes or green tomato pie, now is the time to take advantage of these beautiful green beauties before they freeze.  Instead, I use all the small green tomatoes with no chance to turn for making green tomato relish.  This recipe that I make yearly and use in soup beans, stuffed meatless peppers, chicken and other salads makes 6 quart and 7 half quart jars.

 Green Tomato Relish

12 bell peppers
10 onions
4 quarts green tomatoes
1/2 c. salt
6 ¾ c. sugar
2 T. celery seed
2 T. mustard seed
4 c. cider vinegar

Grind vegetables with salt (in blender or food processor).  Let sit overnight and drain out liquid.  Mix vegetables with remaining ingredients and boil over medium heat in heavy pan for 20 minutes.  Pour into sterilized jars leaving ½ inch on top.  Place lids on each jar and cover in boiling water for 10 minutes to seal.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Cheese Rinds and Wax – October 5, 2012

I was in Lotsa Pasta a great local specialty foods store last week and was ordering at the deli counter.  While waiting, I noticed they had a basket that said free, please only two per person.  I looked to see that it was big chunks of Parmesan cheese rinds that they had cut off when cutting the cheese into smaller sections to sell.  I had often heard of saving these rinds to make soup, so I thought this was a great way to give something new a try and use up my own cheese rinds in the future.  I decided to make a minestrone and I started with a recipe from Food Network but adapted to my tastes.  The cheese really thickened things up, actually to the point that this might be classified more as a stew than a soup.  Either way, it was quite yummy.

Minestrone Stew

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, chopped
2 ounces pancetta or prosciutto, coarsely chopped (you could leave out and add a bit more oil)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 russet potato, peeled, cubed
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth
1 ounce piece Parmesan cheese rind
2/3 lb. ground chicken, browned (you could leave this out)
1 c. macaroni, cooked
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, ham and garlic.  Saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the potato; saute for 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and seasoning.  Simmer until the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend 3/4 cup of the beans with 1/4 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth.  Add the pureed bean mixture, remaining broth, and Parmesan cheese rind to the vegetable mixture.  Simmer until the potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the whole beans, pasta, chicken and parsley. Simmer until the beans are heated through and the soup is thick, about 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Discard Parmesan rind.  Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

I found many other soup recipes using the rind, so I’ll have to give them a try as well next time I’m in the store.  Leek and potato sounded especially good.

While it is a different type of cheese rind, if you go back to my blog about mushroom growing, you’ll see that I also found a use for the food grade wax on some cheeses like cheddar.  You can melt it and use to cover your mushroom holes or any other place you need food grade wax.