Friday, April 20, 2012

Parsnips, or How Can Something that is called "Parsnips" Taste Good?

We never had parsnips when we were kids. Nor rutabagas. And those two words are probably the funnest veggie words to say. So I'd say that I was deprived.

Not so much for rutabagas. When I did try them a few years ago, I decided I could take them or leave them. But parsnips were a real surprise. Roasted, they were surprisingly sweet. But it has been awhile, so I thought I'd try them again along with this vegetable variety I'm working through.

I got some ideas from a roasting recipe in my Cook's Illustrated, but since I didn't have all the ingredients, I just made something up with what I had. I tossed peeled and cut-up parsnips in some canola oil along with cut-up onions and celery. I seasoned it with salt and just a little something green; it might have been Italian seasoning or herbs de Provence. My idea was that I would toss in some hot chicken chunks after it was roasted to make a main dish out of it.

I've discovered the key to roasting vegetables in the oven is high, high heat, and a pre-heated cookie sheet. I love that sizzling sound when I strew the oily vegetables onto the 500 degree cookie sheet! Then I pop it back in the oven and cook it for about 20-25 minutes, without stirring.

Well, lo and behold, when I looked for those chicken pieces in the 'fridge, they weren't there any more! Thinking fast, I shredded up a wad of dill Havarti cheese, and when the vegetables came out of the oven, I put them in the serving bowl and piled the cheese on top. It melted down into the veggies ever so nicely, and I think the result was even better than it would have been with chicken!

One piece of 'nip that I ate seemed a little bitter, but the rest was fine. So maybe some parsnips turn out more bitter, just like some jalapenos are more fiery than their bin-mates. So if you ever do get a bitter piece of parsnip, don't let that turn you off this sweet and creamy root vegetable!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Celery Root, Mr. Ugly

Celery root is the big gnarly thing you see in the produce case, if your grocery carries a few of the more unusual fruits and vegetables. In my latest quest for some variety in my vegetables, I decided to get to know this guy.

It has the look of something that must be tamed by heat, but in looking through my Cook's Illustrated, I see that it is also salad material. Since I was low in the ingredient list for most of the other recipes in my book, I decided to try Celery Root and Apple Salad with(out) Parsley. I don't usually have parsley unless I have bought it on purpose for a recipe, so I had to go without. But I did put a pinch of Herbs de Provence in the dressing to try to make up for it.

First you cut off the tops of the root and then peel it. Peeling it isn't all that easy, because you have some grooves and crevices of ugly stuff that need to come off, but you don't want to take away too much of the good part, since you have paid a little bit more for this than you would have for a bundle of regular celery. You are left with a white ball that is about the size and shape and color of a baseball.

It called for one Granny Smith apple, but I don't buy those. In my opinion, they are all picked too soon and are too bitter. When I had a GS tree, I let them stay on for awhile and they developed a wonderful tangy sweetness, not getting soft or pithy for a long time after that. So I use Pink Ladies when they call for GS, unless it is for baking. I cut and quartered the apple and then cut the celery root up into chunks. Then I fed them into the food processor with the shredding blade. The mixture looked sort of like shredded potatoes with pink flecks.

The dressing was made with lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt, oil, pinch of sugar, and a little sour cream. I didn't have any sour cream, so I used half yogurt and half mayonnaise. I stirred it in and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

It was actually very nice. It would have been prettier with the parsley; it did look a little insipid. But the texture was tender/chewy, and it had a very light celery flavor. I would say it is a very good alternative to cole slaw.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

White Walnuts, the Holy Grail

Well, actually skinless walnuts.
I really like nuts. Almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, Brazil nuts, and even peanuts. I also really like walnuts, which have turned out to be one of the latest miracle foods for health. But I don't like what most other people don't like about them - the bitterness of the skins.
I also tend to like my nuts roasted. So I was quite excited about the article on new uses for microwaving that I saw in the latest Readers Digest.

All you have to do is lay out a single layer of nuts on a plate and nuke them for 3 minutes.

I pulled out a handful of walnuts from my jar, spread them out, and did just that. I sort of rearranged them after each minute, but it really didn't turn out to be necessary. My only disclaimer is that we have a rather low wattage oven, so if you have a more powerful one, you might try it for 2 minutes instead.

When I took them out and handled them, an unexpected benefit appeared. The brown skins just flaked off! Wonderful!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fennel Bulb - New Vegetables

I like vegetables. I like meat. I LOVE bread! But I'm trying to eat less bread carbohydrates. (none, practically speaking) I do love variety, and so I'm trying to see what is out there besides broccoli, salad greens, tomatoes, zucchini and butternut squash.

Meet Fennel. One of those strange things I've seen in the produce section, but never ran across either growing up, in a restaurant, on a plate or even from a personal reference. So I decided to make my acquaintance.

I found several recipes in my Cook's Illustrated, and picked a likely prospect. Apparently you can eat this stuff raw or cooked. Since I have an abundance of young tender radishes in my garden, I decided to try this one: Roasted Fennel and Mushroom Salad with Radishes.

This is the gist of the recipe: Toss the cut and cored fennel and halved mushrooms with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Throw them on a pre-heated cookie sheet at 500 degrees (yes!) for about 20 minutes. Don't turn them or stir them around. Mix up a bit more oil, a splash of lemon juice, a dab of Dijon mustard, more salt and pepper in the bowl you tossed the veggies in. Slice the radishes thin, chop up some of the feathery fennel fronds and set aside. Pull out the roasted veggies and toss them with the dressing. Let cool to warmish, then toss in the radishes and fronds. Enjoy lukewarm.

If you want the detailed recipe, let me know. I found this to be quite nice. Not a dramatic dish in terms of taste, but nice. I think that good radishes make the recipe. The fennel is very mild, and the anise flavor mostly comes from the bits of frond.

Fennel isn't cheap, but it is a nice addition to make to my veggie list. I'm going to look into maybe growing it myself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Have You Eaten These? (first 30)

How many of these have YOU eaten/drunk? (My response to a facebook app.) It's not easy to come up with a bunch of things you have eaten but suspect many others might have not! I'm trying to make it to 100.

1 Absinthe
2 Bananas Foster
3 Barbequed Oysters
4 Brains
5 Canned Dog Food
6 Chitlains
7 Chocolate gravy and biscuits
8 Dirt "Chocolate"
9 Dog Kibbles
10 Eel
11 Fried Apples
12 Fried Green Tomatoes
13 Fried Liver
14 Fried Okra
15 Goat cheese
16 Homemade Beer
17 Johnny Cakes
18 Kefir
19 Mountain lion
20 Pheasant
21 Quinoa
22 Rabbit
23 Raw Hamburger
24 Raw Milk
25 Roast Duck
26 Squirrel
27 Sushi (the raw fish kind)
28 Sweet COB
29 Sweetbreads
30 Watercress

Monday, April 9, 2012

Talkers, Whew!

How is it that some people don't know when to just stop talking? So a stranger comes over to your table in Starbucks and politely asks about a computer; he might want to get one but knows nothing about them. He has a few simple questions and is very appreciative of your basic, friendly answers. And then, Zing! all of a sudden he is talking about how he is moving up north because the air in the valley is so bad, and there are molds that they used to know nothing about, and everyone is using inhalers, and it is like a petri dish here because of the inversion layer, and for some reason there is not much heavy fog anymore, and it's probably because of the bad air, and all he wants to be able to do is get movies from Netflix, however that works... (Me) "uhh, the other Internet connection is DSL and then there is wireless, like what I'm using here at Starbucks..." (He wasn't finished with his last thought) ... uhh, my mother, yeah, she has emphysema and has to use an inhaler, and even my sister, and the yeasts! I don't eat bread anymore because of the yeasts, and the candida sets up in your body and makes you crave sugar, and really, I just want to be able to get Netflix, maybe the library computers? (Me) Yes! Library computers! Good! (Him) The problem is "They" are taking away our choices. They make you have to have a computer to do anything.

Now you may think that I was doing my usual polite attentive thing that I am so good at. But no! I had reverted to the "read my body language Now! I'm bored and want you to go away!" But he wasn't noticing.

(Me) Netflix is easy. Sign up and get DVDs sent to you in the mail. Or streaming.
(Him) Oh no! I don't want streaming. All those electromagnetic waves! I get sick in front of that if I stay at it awhile.

As I sensed another lecture on the way. I interrupted: I have to get back to my stuff here so I can get done and get on my way.

So he slowly backed away, finishing his thought, thanking me, adding a postscript, backing away some more and then drifted back to his table.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Great Chicken Round-up

Being in the process of paring down for a move in the near future, I had given a cold, hard look at my chickens. I had a rooster and three laying hens, all Americanas. Pot Pie is he of the 6-inch spurs (too long because he never sharpens them on anybody. I'm not sure he knows what they are for except to prove his masculinity and to trip over.), the yellow hen is Jack, the gray hen is Bunny, and the black hen is Petrolla. Since I hadn't gotten any eggs in quite a few months, and I knew they were getting elderly, I figured that menopause had come and gone, and their egg-laying days were over. One more reason not to figure them in on the move. Thankfully I did not have to consider their fate at my hands, since they received an ivitation to the Yokohl Chicken Retirement Home at my sister's.

So this trip down seemed like a good opportunity to gather them up and take them down. As if in a last-ditch effort to stay in Northern California, the hens began a desperate program of egg-laying, but it was no use; my mind was made up. I had the second half of the plan all figured out. I would carve a spot out in the back of my truck amidst all the other crap, er, goods that I was foisting off on relatives, and I would tuck the chickens in two plastic pet carriers. A blue tarp would protect my nice carpet bedliner and camper shell from flying chicken manure that might escape from the bars of the cage windows.

I figured that part one of the plan would work itself out on the morning I had to leave.

Finally it was Wednesday morning and I had to put part one into action, which was to get my two kids to go out to the chicken pen and help me stare at it to figure out how to get the chickens into the pet carriers.

You may ask, why did she not put them in the carriers during the night when they might have been submissive? It was going to be a long trip, and I didn't know how long one could humanely leave them in there, and there is a limit to how many layers of newspaper you can put on the bottom of the carrier. There were two sections to the chicken pen: a house, and an outdoor run. The outdoor run was fashioned by leaning two livestock panels up like a teepee against the house opening, and blocking the end off with a short panel. The original idea was to let them out on the property for few hours in the evening to eat bugs and grass, and then hop back in the house for the night. But they stubbornly refused to accept the new location of their house (I'd hoped that moving them nearer to the horse manure pile would give them a hint of what I expected from them) and insisted upon roosting on top of the dog house and various trees. So I kept them shut up with their house and run-nette.

After staring at the chicken house, we all agreed that no one could crawl inside to grab chickens; it was too small. So we then stared at the run for awhile. Someone would have to crawl into it.

The run was on a 2ft by 5ft piece of ground that had been rained on for a week, and four chickens had been pooping on for several months. I thought about offering my son five dollars to crawl inside and grab chickens, but suspected that might have worked better on a kid who didn't have a real job. I knew I'd have to do it myself.

The plan was to lay an old blue tarp in the run, get them down to the end of it; I'd pull the whole run loose from the house, crawl inside and with a small plywood board, sort of squeeze them towards the end, where my daughter would be waiting with the end panel slightly ajar. When each chicken would be peacefully driven down to that end, saw the small hole, stuck her body through, she would grab it and stuff it into the carrier while my son manned the "gate."

So I got the tarp into position. I threw a handful of dry cat food, their favorite, onto the tarp to lure them onto it. By now, they were feelin' the tension and wouldn't come out of the house. So I went to the back door and persuaded them by poking them with a little stick. They went out, but I'd forgotten that they could go under the house in a crawlspace, which they did. So I got a board to slide across the run side of that area, and went back to the other side, moved a brick and used my persuader again. They all popped out and stood there sullenly looking at the tarp. Chickens are very suspicious. The hens wouldn't trust the tarp, but stretched their long necks out to eat all the cat food they could reach, and then waited. Finally Pot Pie led the way and they all followed and began pecking up the nuggets. Now we had to work fast, since I wasn't willing to fill up their crops with cat food and then take them on a long road trip.

I slithered inside the run with my small plywood board and began to put the pressure on. The chickens weren't nervous anymore; they were panicked, and expoded in a flurry of feathers and claws. One went around me, one took off my glasses, and I don't know what the rest did because I wasn't wearing my glasses. I began laying hands on chicken parts, trying to grab something more substantial than a handful of feathers. I got one, shoved it at my daughter, who popped it in a carrier. One down. Boards that we had propped up against openings were falling over faster than we could re-do them. Petrolla was edging back and forth along the chicken house, trying to decide whether to be loyal to her sisters or make a run for it. But the three of us slowly cornered her and took turns lunging at her until I captured her with my grasp, fueled by my greatest weapon, the fear that she would get really loose and lead us on a merry chase around the property while I should have been getting ready to go. Bunny succumbed likewise. Now there was only Pot Pie left.

All my boards were askew, the run was pulled loose, leaving a big opening for escape. He tried to go underneath; he tried to run around; he tried to go back in the house. The kids were trying to grasp in a semi-helpful fashion, but the truth is, if you aren't firmly committed to hanging on to an unwilling chicken, you'll never keep it. Squawking and flapping, Pot Pie was getting upset and trying to get back in the house. I reached in and grabbed the first thing I could get ahold of, which turned out to be his wing. I didn't want to be holding a wing while the rooster went running across the field, so I reached again and got a foot. I hauled him out, grasped the other foot and held him up. Upside down. He was instantly calm. So calm we thought he might have just died of a heart attack. But his eyes were still open, so we stuffed him in the carrier with Bunny.

Apparently they all made the trip successfully, and we set the carriers in the floor of their new home that night with the hatches open. They will now enjoy the freedoms of a country ranch and the company of other chickens. Pot Pie will find out how he stacks up against the other roosters, and the hens can lay or not, pecking grass and bugs all day.