Category Archives: All About Food

Fresh, or Not So Fresh?

It is February, the perfect time to discuss the fresh is better debate. Are hydroponic tomatoes and herbs really better than those properly preserved at the peak of the season in the summer? Been thinking about it all morning.

Then I made lunch.Homemade Winter Sauce from Spongetta

I love a fresh sauce. Inspired by  Eugenia Bone, I adapted items from our pantry and freezer to create a sauce to go over store bought ravioli. After defrosting an ice cube of basil and heating it with cured minced garlic, I added dried oregano and a jar of plain tomato sauce.  Everything was grown on our two properties and processed in our home kitchen last summer.

Homemade Winter Sauce over store bought ravioli from Spongetta

The flavors were absolutely bursting from these simple ingredients.

Homemade Winter Sauce Ingredients from Spongetta

It isn’t even magical anymore that I can drive 10 miles to a grocery store and pick out anything I want in the produce section. Of course there is a cost. There is always a cost. To make the sauce now, we would have to purchase tasteless paste tomatoes, hydroponic basil and oregano plus a bulb of soft neck garlic. There is nothing wrong with any of these ingredients. It can be done, but it would be expensive and taste like it came out of a jar.

By processing our crops at peak ripeness, not only do we save money, we maintain much of the wonderful flavors of summer. This sauce was made with produce we grew out at the farm and in our kitchen garden. What I love about it is the different persevering techniques used. The garlic was field cured then dried in the rafters of the barn.

Spongetta Garlic Drying in the Rafters of the Haybarn

The tomatoes are grown in the garden adjacent to the farmhouse, picked when perfectly ripe then pureed and reduced into a velvety sauce. Oregano is a prolific perennial that takes over the herb garden if I don’t trim it every few weeks. For best flavor, I cut it early in the morning then dry for several hours in our dehydrator.

Spongetta dehydrated oregano

Some herbs are just better frozen.  Basil is one of them.  We harvest, again in the morning, then chop in the food processor with olive oil.  This paste is put into ice cube trays, topped with more oil, frozen then stored in bags until needed.

That was a pretty cool lunch made perfectly from preserved produce in the middle of winter.

Something a Little Crunchy in the Winter

I work from home so every day I need to make myself eat a real lunch otherwise I would graze all afternoon. My goal this new year has been to double my vegetable intake during the winter. We also love Asian flavors, especially sesame. I discovered Vietnamese rice papers as a great way to fool myself into eating a salad for lunch.

Fun to make and easy to eat.

Summer Rolls

To go with them, I whisk together a ginger sesame sauce that has become my go to base for salad dressing, marinades and dipping sauces. The best part is that sesame oil packs such a flavor punch, a little bit does the job.

Summer Rolls
4 rice papers
2 inches of cucumber seeded and cut in strips
2 leaves romaine lettuce cut in strips
3 radishes diced
1 half carrot shredded

Dipping Sauce
Splash of sesame oil
Large pinch of ground ginger
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Prep all the veggies and make the sauce by whisking the dipping sauce ingredients together. Place a shallow bowl of warm water on counter with clean tea towel next to it. Take one rice paper at time, dip in the water then work in with palms until pliable. Place on the towel then add the veggies to the center and roll, tucking the ends in. Continue with the remaining papers and veggies. Dip and enjoy.

The variations are endless…

Apples with Thai Peanut Sauce

I use it as a salad dressing regularly and often over shredded cabbage for different take on coleslaw. It works great for the base of a stir fry. For marinades, I add garlic powder and a tablespoon of vegetable oil. To dip apples, I whisk in a couple tablespoons of peanut butter and some hot pepper flakes.

There are so many possibilities!

 

Compost Soup

Composting is a topic of great contention in our household.  Not because my husband is against the idea of it, but he objects to my composting practices. He calls it the outside garbage. The pile is too close to the house and within reach of the dog cables.  Kiki scavenges at night.  Her favorite items to rescue are eggshells, but for a dog who does not like toys, she gets lots of mileage from playing with potatoes on the lawn.  So really, it is spread everywhere which is why when I get lazy in the winter and pitch items towards it, I worry little about missing the fence since I will have to rake it all up anyway.  He unreasonably thinks this is just a mess.

Stock pot of vegetable scraps

Then I rediscovered the original Moosewood Cookbook and their concept of making vegetable stock from scraps.  The idea is simple, save the skins, innards and ends of certain vegetables and when there is enough to fill a pot, add a couple of quarts of water, simmer for a hour for a rich stock. Strain it to use for a recipe or store it in the freezer for up to 4 months.

Moosewood Cookbook Page 2

I tried keeping the scrap bag in the fridge as suggested, but it turned to mush pretty quickly.  So I relocated it to the door of the freezer and started again.

Bag of Soup Scraps in Freezer Door

To remind me what I can save, I stuck a copy of page 2 from the cookbook to the outside of the fridge.

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There is not a recipe so much as a formula.  First we start with the dos and don’ts.  Aromatic and starchy root vegetables are good.  So are tree fruits, legumes, squash and melons.  Greens add a wonderful flavor as do herb stems.  Eggplant makes it bitter.  Citrus and bananas are out too.  Anything cabbage family needs to be used with caution. I still do not have an opinion on peppers and tomatoes.

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The recommendation is that when the bag is full, throw it in the pot, cover it with water and simmer away.

Simmering Soup Stock from Vegetable Scraps

It works great if you love a surprise, but I have been exercising a bit more control over my mix.  At this point I have four separate bags in the door of the freezer, one for each of the major categories, so I can make a more balanced broth.  This has led my husband to referring to it as freezer garbage.  Ultimately everything still lands in, or near, the compost, it just takes a while longer getting there.

As you make a few batches, you will find your favorite combinations.  Also, the time of year will dictate the kind of scraps you have.  After Thanksgiving, I already had everything I needed to make the turkey stock.  Since we don’t eat celery outside of holiday meals, I froze the rest and used it with chicken legs later in the winter.

Chicken Stock with Scrap Vegetables

This process has also made me rethink how I purchase vegetables.  I am much more willing to buy heads of lettuce or bags of carrots rather than the processed ready to eat versions because there is now no waste.  I’m excited for summer now and have every intention of stockpiling bags of scraps from processing bushels of peas, beans, corn and apples for the freezer.  Don’t tell my husband.