Pot Roast

The air is clear and crisp and the sun in shining on this first day of fall in Michigan. There’s a pot roast in the oven filling the house with the rich smell of roasting meat and vegetables. The change of seasons is upon us, and it feels wonderful.

Pot Roast

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 chuck roast (3-5 lbs)

1 teaspoon salt

2 onions

10 small potatoes

8-10 carrots

3 sprigs rosemary

5 sprigs thyme

5 leaves sage

Prepare vegetables. Chop onions into large wedges. Trim carrots. Wash and cut potatoes in half. Then, salt your meat. Heat a skillet with a little olive oil and brown all sides of your roast. Place the browned roast in a large oven safe pan. Layer vegetables around browned meat. Add 2 cups of liquid (water, stock, wine). Salt a little bit more. Sprinkle on herbs. Roast at 325 F for 3-4 hours until meat is tender. It should just fall apart.

Enjoy with people you love!

 

 

 

Gone Fishin’

It was about 9 last Monday morning, Labor Day. I was harvesting tomatoes in a hoop house at Stone Coop Farm when an eleven year old named Adam asked me if I liked fishing.

A few hours later, I was on my way over to his lake to go fishing for the first time in 13 years. We began our adventure with a walk down to the neighborhood hardware store where we purchased minnows, a filet knife, and two charleston chews.

Then, we walked back, baited our hooks and cast our reels. Our first fishing spot, on an abandoned raft, didn’t yield any fish so we hopped into the neighbor’s paddle boat.

Adam is a great teacher and before I knew it, we had caught six fish. We brought two back to the house where we filleted them, and then Adam’s mom fried them up in a little coconut oil. We sat on stools at the counter and ate our fish. It was delicious. Probably the most delicious fish I’ve ever eaten.

Our afternoon made me think of this poem by Mary Oliver.

I
held my breath
as we do
sometimes
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.

-Mary Oliver

Canning Tomatoes

Last week, I taught a tomato canning class at Stone Coop Farm. We made salsa, green tomato pickles, and really good tomato sauce. However, we didn’t just can plain old tomatoes. So that’s what this blog is about. Taking whole tomatoes and sealing them in a jar. 

Canned tomatoes are so pretty. Cheery really, and they can be transformed into so many things: chili, salsa, stews, sauce.

Tomatoes are native to the Americas….Mexico to be specific, and they belong to the plant family solanaceae. Same as potatoes, eggplant, and tobacco. When they first were introduced to Europe, they were grown as ornamentals before they were integrated into the cuisine. It’s amazing to think that Italians only started making tomato sauce about 500 years ago.

Tomatoes are a low acid fruit. This means that they are just acidic enough to can in a water bath although a pressure canner can be used as well. As soon as you start adding vegetables to tomatoes, however, the acidity goes down and so it becomes safer to process sauces and salsas in a pressure cooker.

So to put up tomatoes in jars, follow these directions.

First, obtain your tomatoes. Ripe, organic tomatoes are the best. You’ll also need quart size mason jars, 2 big pots of boiling water, salt, lemon juice or citric acid, a pair of tongs, and a canning rack.

Begin by washing and sterilizing your jars in a pot of boiling water. Then, peel your tomatoes. To peel your tomatoes, prepare another pot of boiling water and a bowl of ice water. Slice a skin deep x in a tomato and then dunk it in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds. You’ll see the skin begin to loosen. Remove the tomato from the water with a slotted spoon and drop it into the bowl of ice water. Then use your fingers, to peel off the skin. It should come right off.

Cut out the core of tomato and then put it in a jar. If it’s a big tomato, cut it into quarters or eights and put in a clean, sterilized jar. Fill the jar to about a quarter of an inch below the top of the jar. Continue until all the jars are filled.

Then, sprinkle salt over each jar and add a tablespoon of lemon juice.  Boil a pot of water and pour water over the tomatoes until they are covered in water and the water is no higher than 1/8 inch below the rim of the jar.

Wipe the rims clean with a wet cloth or paper towel. Place lids on jars and screw on rings. Place each jar into a canning rack and lower into a boiling water bath. Process for 20 minutes at a rolling boil.

Remove the canning rack and let the jars sit for 24 hours undisturbed.

Then, put them in the pantry to use in a pot of spicy chili in February. Plain old tomatoes preserved in jars.

 

 

Fermenteen or Torturing Teenagers with Fermented Foods

My sister’s two best friends, Tyler and Joey, have been offering for several weeks to be on this blog.

As an avid fan of fermentation, my refrigerator is rather overfull with jars of fermenting foods. Kefir, sauerkraut, dilly beans, pickled mustard greens, pickled eggs, kombucha, spicy pickled carrots, pickled blueberries, and lactofermented corn are taking up some serious space.

So I decided to invite Joey and Tyler over to help consume some of these experiments. Since many of these foods were new to them, we decided blindfolds would help with the bravery factor. And lo and behold, they tried everything and liked most of it! Amazing!

kombucha

And just so everyone’s clear….kombucha is  a fermented tea.  A scoby (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast) munches on caffeinated tea and sugar to produce a lightly carbonated, sour drink which is mighty delicious.

Thanks again, Tyler and Joey….brave consumers of microbial magic.

 

 

 

 

St. Mary’s Organic Farm

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in a beautiful community garden called St. Mary’s Organic Farm in Monroe, Michigan. It is a community garden in the truest sense of the phrase. My guide for the morning was a warm, passionate woman named Sharon McNeil who serves as the ecology director and organizer for the garden.

She, with the help of parolees, judges, lawyers, Catholic nuns, schoolchildren, retirees, and everyone in between tends the two acre garden. Individuals and groups take responsibility for plots where they grow vegetables for themselves and those in need. There are also perennial gardens for the birds and butterflies.

The garden is a ministry of the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an order of Catholic nuns. Several hundred retired nuns live  adjacent to the garden in a old, beautiful convent.

One of my favorite stories from the morning was Sharon’s description of their annual “Festival of the Worms.” Each year, in the spring, Sharon acquires a whole lot of worms from a vermiculturist or a bait shop. With several hundred people gathered, they release the worms to nourish and bless the garden. Also during this festival, one of the retired nuns, who served in Alaska for many years, does a four direction eagle feather blessing.

The mission of the garden is caring for the land, building community and yesterday, when I was at the garden, a group of Detroit seniors came for their weekly visit. This group of 8-10 African American elders have a plot in the garden where they grow tomatoes, kale, and collards. As a special treat, one sang a thirty minute gospel concert for the nuns. Listen for a taste at the end of the video. It was wonderful.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me from this day was the undogmatic, welcoming, humble spirituality that was shared through this garden. There is a beautiful mural on the wall of the old barn behind the garden with the dying words of Sister Mary Fran Gilleran inscribed above it.  This sister, who was the president of the IHM, said as she passed over,  “I am having wonderful dreams…..wonderful images of God. God is a garden.”

I believe I agree.

 

 

 

 

Eat Your Weeds

In late June, I attended a conference put on by the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society. One of the most interesting talks was given by Bronwen Powell who just finished her doctorate research in Tanzania. She said that even in third world countries, like Tanzania, malnutrition is no longer just an issue of calories. Rather, it’s an issue of micronutrients.

In other words, there has been a huge push to feed the world with starchy grains and vegetables especially corn, rice, wheat, and root vegetables. However, in this push, nutrient dense vegetables and fruits have been largely left behind. This has resulted in huge increases in the diseases of the Western world namely diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Yet, even though these diseases are on the rise, people are still malnourished.

Traditionally, cultures around the world ate the wild vegetables that grew of their own volition on the edges of roads and in fallow fields and pretty much anywhere that there was sunlight and dirt. The good news is that these vegetables still grow, but many people have forgotten how to use them. Here, in America, most of us call these wild vegetables, weeds.

In my microbiome research, I have been learning that wild plants also harbor unique and diverse microorganisms that can contribute to a healthy gut ecology. They also are loaded with fiber which serves as a  “prebiotic” or food that will feed the microorganisms already existing in the gut.

As an added bonus, many weeds are tasty! My friend, Aube, author of the amazing blog Kitchen Vignettes, did a post a few weeks ago on one of the most common garden weeds of the United States: Lamb’s Quarter. Check it out here. 

This week’s video was made in a fifteen minute walk around my yard in Michigan. In these fifteen minutes, I identified 15 wild edible plants and there are certainly more that I don’t know.

People always ask me about the safety of eating wild edibles. In my view, there are several things to think about when you start eating weeds. First, you need to be sure that you’re identifying the weed correctly. There are poisonous wild plants, but learning to distinguish poisonous plants from edible ones is typically as straight forward as learning to tell the difference between a tomato and a pepper or spinach and arugula. And second, you need to make sure that your weeds are not covered in noxious pesticides. So, don’t pick weeds on a golf course, but you should be safe picking weeds from the edge of your garden.

There are many books about wild edibles, and many people leading wild edible plant walks. Find a walk in your neighborhood.

If you’d like to do any more research on any of the plants in this video. Here are their common names and their Latin names in case you live somewhere where different common names are used. Happy Foraging!

Garlic Mustard. Allaria petiolata.

Wood Sorrel. Oxalis (montana or acetosella)

Motherwort. Leonurus cardiaca.

Lemon Balm.  Melissa officianalis

Sassafras. Sassafras albidum

Comfrey. Symphytum officianale.

Chickweed. Stellaria pubera

Plantain. Plantago major

Queen Anne’s Lace. Daucus carota. Note: This plant looks somewhat similar to Poison Hemlock. Be sure of your identification before you start nibbling on the roots.

Raspberry Leaf. Rubus occidentalis

Oak. Quercus (many species names)

White Pine. Pinus strobus

Lamb’s Quarter. Chenopodium (berlandeiri or album)

Dandelion. Taraxacum officianale.

Mint. Mentha (many species names)

 

 

 

 

 

Upside Down with Al

A few weeks ago, my youngest sister, Molly, returned from a trip to Palestine and Israel. Molly was the last of the four children in my family to undertake this adventure. And like the rest of us, her experience was mighty transformative.

Despite incredible hardship, the people that we met on our trips were so generous. They invited us into our homes, fed us delicious food, and gave freely of their time and energy.

For my other sister, Alicia, this trip was so transformative that she decided to study International Studies and Arabic in college so that she might be able to do work that assists in these kind of tough situations.

The man that made this all possible is our wonderful friend, Al. Al is a terrific cook and in the spirit of his homeland, he invited us all over last Friday to cook and eat and share stories.

We made a Palestinian dish called Makloubeh or Upside Down. It’s a great dish for a party because it’s beautiful, quite affordable, and very delicious. We made a vegetarian version of makloubeh, but you can also make it with chicken or lamb. Here’s how you do it.

Makloubeh or Upside Down

1 head of cauliflower or 2 medium eggplant or 10 carrots (Or a combination of each)

1 1/2 lbs stewed lamb meat or roasted chicken (optional)

1 large onion

2 cups rice

1/2 tsp allspice (optional)

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp salt

2 tbs butter

Olive oil

3 1/2 cups water or meat stock

1/8 tsp saffron (optional)

4 tbs almonds

Begin by cutting your chosen vegetables into 1-2 inch pieces. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the vegetables in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until soft and brown. It will take different amounts of time for each vegetables. Somewhere between 20 and 50 minutes. Another way to prepare the vegetables is to fry them in olive oil. Then, pat them dry.

After the vegetables are roasted, put them on a platter and set aside.

In a large pot, saute onion in a tablespoon of butter and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add a sprinkling of salt.  Saute until onion is yellow and beginning to carmelize. Add cooked meat if you choose. Then, cover cooked meat with a layer of the roasted vegetables. Then, cover with rice. Shake the pot a few times to make sure that the rice is evenly dispersed. Add broth or water and then bring it up to a boil. If using already salted broth, you probably don’t need to salt a lot. But if using water, add more salt now (a teaspoon or less).

Reduce heat, and simmer rice with the pot covered for 40 minutes or until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat. Let cool for 1/2 an hour. Place a plate on top of the pot, and  turn the pot upside down onto the large plate on the counter. Leave the pot on the rice for another 10 or so minutes. While the pot is cooling, roast some sliced almonds on the stove. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a small pan. Cast iron is a good choice. Then, add almonds and sprinkle on a little salt and stir often to brown and caramelize.

When the time is up, take the pot off the rice, sprinkle with almonds and dig in.

We ate our upside down with yogurt and cucumber salad. It can also be eaten with just plain yogurt.

This can be whipped up easily by

Combining 2 cups of plain yogurt with 2 cloves of minced garlic. Squeeze in some lemon juice, add a bit of salt and pepper, and fresh mint. Cut up a few cucumbers into thin half moons. Whether you want to peel them or not is up to you. Mix the yogurt with the cucumbers, and sprinkle on some dried mint for garnish.

 

I hope you make makloubeh. It’s more than a delicious dish. While we were eating it, I realized it also imparts a sense of warmth and connection which reflects the spirit of its people.

Bil hana wa ash shifa. May you have your meal with gladness and health.

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby Red Sauerkraut

This week, I launched an indiegogo campaign to pursue an area of food and life that is absolutely fascinating. This, of course, is fermentation. If you haven’t seen my campaign yet, please check it out and donate! Every little bit helps so much!

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fermented/x/1975757

If you’re a novice fermenter, sauerkraut is a great place to begin. Sauerkraut is a lacto ferment meaning that lactobacillus among other bacteria are produced during the transformation from cabbage to kraut. Lactobacillus is found in many fermented products such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kosher pickles, and is freeze dried to put in probiotic supplements. A byproduct of lactofermentation is acetic acid which acidifies the kraut and gives it the tangy, sourness that makes it so delicious.

This acetic acid also keep harmful bacteria from growing. Sandor Katz, in his book The Art of Fermentation, discusses the safety of vegetable fermentation with Fred Breidt,a microbiologist for the USDA. Breidt is quoted as saying, “As far as I know, there has never been a documented case of food borne illness from fermented vegetables. Risky is not a word that I would use to describe vegetable fermentation. It is one of the oldest safest technologies we have.”

This being said, sometimes you will get some strange growth on the top of your vegetable ferment. Usually, this happens when vegetables aren’t completely submerged in a briny liquid. Don’t eat the strangeness. Instead, just skim it off and usually the layer of kraut below will be just fine. If it looks good and smells good, eat it. If it looks moldy or slimy or smells bad, then don’t eat it. Trust your senses.

Ruby Red Sauerkraut

Makes approximately 1 quart

1/2 shredded green cabbage

1/2 shredded red cabbage

1 beet, cut into small strips

1 teaspoon salt

Chop or shred vegetables. Put the bunch in a large bowl. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt (or more or less). Massage or beat with some sort of wooden implement. If you make a lot of kraut, you may be interested in investing in a kraut pounder. Yes, they actually make these! Massage until the cell walls begin to release liquid and when you squeeze a handful of cabbage, liquid emerges. Then, stuff the cabbage into a clean, quart size mason jar. Put a layer in and smush it to the bottom. Continue doing this until the jar is a tightly packed as possible. Hopefully,  at the end of this process they’ll be enough liquid in the jar that the top layer of vegetables in submerged. If there is not, add a few tablespoons of saltwater to submerge the vegetables. Then, put a lid on your jar and set in on the counter. After three days, begin tasting your kraut. Some people like it young and some people like it after 7-10 days or even a few weeks or months. If it’s hot outside, the kraut will ferment faster. If it’s cold, it will ferment slower. Usually, kraut that is fermented for several months is made during cool seasons like fall or winter. When you like the taste of your kraut, start eating it and move the jar to the refrigerator. The cool temperature of the refrigerator will help slow fermentation down to a crawl. Fermented vegetables will keep for several months in the fridge.

Fermenting is fun. It’s  like growing a microbial garden on your kitchen counter. Or as I used to tell the kids I taught to make sauerkraut at camp, we’re making bug traps. Catch em, grow em, and eat em!

Day Lily Frittata

When I was a child in northern Michigan, we would walk almost daily down the road to Interlochen State Park where we would buy 5 cent laffy taffy and other such treats. On our way, we would pass a yard full of day lillies, and we would always pull off a few blossoms and munch on their tender leaves as a preamble to our candy purchases.

It’s been some years since I’ve had a laffy taffy, but just today I ate a few day lily blossoms. They’re a beautiful flower. Big and vibrant. The buds are also delicious, especially sauteed. For this reason, I made them the star of this mid-summer frittata.

Frittata is one of my favorite things to cook because it is so adaptable and so delicious. My friend, Lizzie, taught me to make frittata while we were cooking together at a retreat center for activists.

You can put almost anything in a frittata. I always start by softly sauteing an onion or two and maybe some garlic or leeks. If it’s the main course, I like to add parboiled potatoes or pumpkin or squash to give the frittata some substance.  Then, I add leafy greens: kale, arugala, chard, mizuna, or beet greens are all wonderful additions.  Eggs and sometimes some farm fresh delicious cheese round the dish off and paired with some salad and crusty bread make a truly satisfying meal.

Day Lily Frittata

1 tablespoon butter

1 onion, diced

1 small zucchini, cut into half moons

2 cups kale, ripped

Handful of day lily blossoms

6 eggs

Dash of milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: Sprinkle fresh herbs. Parley, chives, thyme, oregano, or basil are all good options.

Optional: 1/4 cup of any good cheese.  Chevre or freshly grated Parmesan are always good.

In a 8-10 inch cast iron skillet, saute onions in tablespoon of butter. Salt lightly and cook on low until translucent. Turn the heat up a bit and add zucchini. Cook for 3 minutes and add kale and day lily blossoms. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the eggs. Crack eggs into a bowl, whisk with a tad of milk and a bit of salt and pepper.

Pour egg mixture over vegetables. If using cheese, crumble or grate over the eggs.  If using herbs, sprinkle over eggs. Cook on medium heat for 3-5 minutes until the edges of the frittata begin to set. Then, carefully transfer frittata into the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the center has set and the frittata is puffed and golden brown.

Remove from the oven and cut into large slices. Add a green salad and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gnocchi with Sylvia

A few years ago, in the town where my parents live, a little Italian restaurant opened at the far end of Main Street. The food is quite good, but there is something else that quickly made it my family’s favorite spot in town. This something else is the delightful couple who run the restaurant. Sylvia and Sal are both first generation Italian Americans for which food has been their business since they were children. When you come into their restaurant, Sal greets you at the door. Sylvia is usually in the kitchen but you can count on her stopping by the table to chat at least once during the meal. Sal and Sylvia make you feel welcome, nourished, and appreciated.

Generously, Sylvia took an hour out of a busy Tuesday afternoon a few weeks ago to teach me how to make gnocchi. As I mention in the video, I’ve made gnocchi several times before. Previously, it has seemed quite a time consuming task but under Sylvia’s nimble tutelage, we had little gnocchi ready to go into the pot in under twenty minutes.

Here’s how you do it.

You’ll need a potato ricer, a pot for boiling water, and a pot for cooking the potatoes. A gnocchi board is also useful.

Gnocchi for 4

2 potatoes, peeled

2 cups all purpose flower

Dash of salt

An egg

Boil the potatoes until soft in salted water. You can peel them before or after. When you take your potatoes off the stove, put on a large pot of salted water for the gnocchi to begin heating.

Then, place two cups of flour on a clean surface and create a ring with the flour. In the center of the ring, use the ricer to turn the two cooked potatoes into light fluffy riced potato and add an egg. Sprinkle on a little bit more salt.

Incorporate most of the flour with the egg and potato with a circular movement with your hands. Leave a bit of flour (1/2 cup) aside to integrate as you knead. When the dough begins to form, begin to knead, sprinkling more flour anytime the dough begins to stick to your hands or your kneading surface. Knead by using the palm of your hand to press into the dough making sure to turn the dough so that all sides are evenly kneaded. Knead for approximately 5 minutes until the dough is soft and springy.

Then, form your dough into a nice log and using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough into 7 chunks. Roll each of the chunks out into a 1/2 inch wide and about 6-8 inch long snake. Roll, by beginning with both hands on the chunk and rolling it against the counter. Use both hands to roll out in each direction. This will give your roll an even width.

When each chunk of dough has been rolled out, line all the dough snakes up and using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough into 1 inch long gnocchi. Toss the little gnocchi with flour so they don’t stick together.

Now comes the fun part of shaping the gnocchi. If you have a gnocchi board, it’s really quite easy. Take a piece of dough and roll it across the board with one finger. Sylvia and I used our pointer finger. She was doing it so fast though, I couldn’t get a good picture so here is a link to a video of someone else making gnocchi with their thumbs. If you don’t have a gnocchi board, Sylvia said that you could just press the dough with your finger against the counter creating a little shell shape without the grooves. This will also be delicious just not quite as pretty.

Then, check on the water that you started at the beginning of the process. The water should be at a rolling boil before you put the gnocchi in. When it’s boiling, put the gnocchi in the water and as they cook, they will pop up to the surface like little fish coming to say hello. When they all have popped up, they are done. Drain them in a strainer and toss with your favorite sauce.

We ate ours with Sylvia’s homemade marinara and parmesan cheese, but next time I’m going to try mine with fresh pesto.

A last note, gnocchi needs to be cooked immediately after it’s made or it can be frozen. But it will get chewy and hard if you leave it on the counter for a few hours so if you don’t plan on cooking it immediately, freeze the gnocchi for future use.

That is all. Enjoy!