August 31, 2012


photo by Mette Nielsen


Nothing beats a good summer storm. Cracks of lightening, tantrums of thunder, pounding rain that ends with a rainbow, one that arches over roof tops and gardens. After our last storm, a full spectrum rainbow covered the big plot of rainbow chard next door to our house. Owned by Stone's Throw, an urban farming group, the lot is lush with glossy broad leaves on crayon-colored stems -- pink, yellow, pale green, deep rose. Chard is one of summer's mixed blessings -- there's just too much of it right now. When I'm overwhelmed with abundance, I'll arrange it into a flower bouquet and use it to garish a platter of salads, grilled meat, and roast chicken. 

In the kitchen, I cook the whole chard plant, stems and all. Most folks rely on the leaves, but the stems add color and snap to a dish. In this simple recipe, they're sauteed first to become tender, the leaves are added next and tossed quickly, so they don't over cook.

Stay with me as I relay a few of chard's health benefits -- it's loaded with antioxidants to help fight off cancer; cardioprotective flavonoids that support the immune system; and syringic acid to help regulate blood sugar (important as we transition into fall). But the main reason to eat chard is that it is quick, easy, and versatile, to cook. 

Here's a basic recipe. Take it and make it your own. Add a dash of curry powder and splash of coconut milk; or toss in chickpeas, olives and cherry tomatoes for a warm salad; or consider a sprinkle of dark sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Play with the rainbow of flavors -- cook chard.

serves 2 to 4

1 large bunch rainbow chard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 to 2 tablespoons white wine or water
Splash of red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
Generous pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Remove the chard stems and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Cut the leaves into 1/2 inch shreds. Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium. Add the garlic and toss for a few seconds, then add the shard stems. Reduce the heat, add the wine or water, cover and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the stems have softened. Add the leaves, toss, cover and cook another 3 minutes until the leaves are bright green and tender. Toss in the vinegar and red pepper flakes. Then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

August 20, 2012


Common Roots ... 
Simplest Slaw

Featherstone Farm, Rushford, MN
photo -- Mette Nielsen

When it comes to carrots, trust a kid to tell the difference between home grown and those shipped from far away. Years ago, when my boys were toddlers, they'd eat the fresh carrots right out of the CSA box as we headed home from the pick up site. It was a weekly gathering where I'd talk with our farmer, Meg Anderson, who knew how to pickle peppers or make a good corn stock. We'd hang out and chat as the kids tumbled on the lawn or chased each other into the back yard. On the way back, they'd reach into the box sometimes polishing off the raspberries before we got home. They loved those carrots, not even the sheen of dirt got kept then from crunching the, sweet roots -- a perfect summer snack. Loaded with Vitamin A, potassium, anti-aging and disease fighting phytnutrients, calcium and magnesium, carrots are low in calories. They're very pretty, too.  Just don't eat the shoots and leaves. (You may find a recipe for them on the web, but they are toxic.)

When this fresh, carrots are best shredded and splashed with a little lime or orange juice in a slaw. This simple recipe keeps several days in the refrigerator. The texture will become less crunchy, but the flavors will mellow. Make and enjoy it now ... serve it on top of a sandwich or burger tomorrow.

Simple Carrot Slaw
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound carrots, cleaned and shredded
1/4 cup shredded onion
1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup sunflower or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pinch of pepper flakes, to taste

In a medium bowl, toss together the shredded carrots, onion, cranberries or cherries. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange rind, orange juice, lime juice, honey. Whisk in the oil. Taste and add more lime juice as needed. Toss enough of this dressing in with the carrots to lightly coat. Season to taste with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Serve at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

August 8, 2012


Blueberry Lemon Conserve

"Blue on the big bay, blue in the sky,
blue is the color of time gone by..."
(from Autumn Fancy)

I didn't mean to pick so many blueberries (I always swear I won't) so my grandmother's blueberry lemon conserve is a yearly excuse. I was up at Blue Vista Farm, Bayfield WI, with the Wilderness Inquiry Taste of the Apostles, local food-kayaking trip. We'd feasted at a community farmer gathering on the menu of grilled sweet corn, pulled pork, salads, goat cheeses and blueberry tart with lavender raspberry ice cream. A fiddle and banjo picked out tunes, little girls in party dresses twirled on the lawn. Blueberry hedges drooped with fat blues, we wanted just a few ...

But one blue leads to another leads to a whole box. We grabbed handfuls, eating, picking, eating more. I swear I could taste the meadow and lake and the bee balm that drew swarms of humming birds in the lingering light. Greedy for more blues, for more summer, we filled the carton so that it took two to carry it to the check out stand.

What is it about picking? Once I start I follow the branches back into my childhood, to those timeless hours in the berry patch. Blueberries and raspberries grew not far from my grandmother's home at the New Jersey shore. On those bright mornings, right after breakfast, before heading to the beach, I'd strike off to find them, beach pail in hand. This gave summer a sense of purpose and independence; I could bring back the making of jam, cookies, blueberry pie.

Back in her kitchen, we'd sort out the best berries and chat about what to make. Maybe a conserve with lemon or should we steep in a cinnamon stick instead? Chair turned back to the stove, I'd stir, while she readied the jars, washing and drying them carefully. My grandmother never rushed any of this. She'd carefully scoop the steaming, fragrant preserves as though holding back the minutes ticking off on her big kitchen clock. I'd help, but that blue scented, spicy sauce would spatter and spill on the counter and of course on my shirt. "That will come out with bleach," she'd say, gently wiping it off.

Fresh Blueberry Lemon Creserve
Makes 6 to 7 ½-pints

Slather this on toast, pound cake, and spoon it into yogurt. Brush it over chicken or pork just as it comes from the grill.

2 quarts blueberries, rinsed and picked over
3 tablespoons grated lemon rind
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 cups sugar

            Put the blueberries, lemon rind, lemon juice and sugar into a large pot set over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring gently to dissolve the sugar. Continue boiling for 10 minutes until the juice has thickened. Watch, and stir gently, so the bottom of the pan doesn’t scorch. To test for readiness, put a teaspoon of the preserves on a cold plate, put the plate in the freezer for a few minutes, and if the preserves then seem firm to the touch, they are ready. The syrup should reach 221 degrees on an instant read thermometer.
            Ladle the preserves into the hot, sterilized jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Wipe the jar rims, center the lids on the jars, and screw on the bands until they are just finger tight. Process the jars for 10 minutes in enough water to cover the jars by 1 inch. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, and allow the jars to stand in the hot water for 5 minutes before removing them. Cool the jars for at least 12 hours before storing them in a cool dark place.