As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

Cooking

Getting the Most out of Your Corn for you (and Your Chickens)

Back in June, I bought copious amounts of fresh sweet corn from Two Happy Children Farm at the SFC Farmers’ Market downtown. I used most of it to make Sweet Corn and Roasted Poblano Soup. Lucky for me, I saved the corncobs and placed them in a ziplock back in the freezer, knowing they would come in handy for a vegetable broth later on.  Corn was known to be the lifeblood of many Native American groups and these recipes proves that point!

This weekend at the market I bought some lovely golden summer squash and decided to make a pureed soup with my bounty. I wanted to make something healthy and delicious that I could prepare over the weekend and pop into the freezer for later in the week. It was time to use those corncobs I had so carefully saved and make a delicious, sweet broth that would form the base of the squash soup. Once again, I relied on Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone to inspire this soup.

Ingredients for Sweet Corn Broth

  • 8 corn cobs
  • 6 C water
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves

Directions for the broth

  1. Place all ingredients in large stock pot.
  2. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 25 minutes.
  3. Remove onions and corn cobs and place them in the compost -OR- if you have chickens, let them cool off and serve them to your chicks; they will love pecking at them.

Ingredients for Golden Summer Squash Soup with Basil

  • 1/2 C fresh basil, chopped
  •  4 golden summer squash, sliced in 1/2 in. rounds
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp white rice (I ended up using arborio rice as it was the only white rice I had)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 C sweet corn broth

Directions for Soup

  1. In a large stockpot, warm 2 tbsp of olive oil
  2. Add diced onions, garlic, basil and squash. Saute for 5 minutes.
  3. Add salt, rice and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20-25 minutes.
  4. If you have an immersion blender, you can just stick it into the stock pot and blend. If you do not have an immersion blender, use a ladle or measuring cup to place half of the contents into a blender.
  5. Blend until pureed and set aside. Repeat process with rest of soup ingredients.

I have not yet served my soup, as I planned ahead and will be freezing the soup for later in the week. I recommend serving it with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt in the middle. Enjoy!

Sauteing veggies for the soup

Ms. Chicken pecking at the corn cob

Soup is cooling; ready to store in the freezer for a quick meal!

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Sweet Corn and Roasted Poblano Soup

Ever since sweet corn showed up at the farmers’ mkt a month ago, I have been making cream of corn-potato soup non-stop (thank you Deborah Madison for the recipe!). Yes it’s that good—and super easy! And freezes wonderfully! Now I usually shop at the SFC Farmers’ Mkts and corn may be done for our farmers. But chances are you’ll see a lot of corn continuing at the grocery stores.

This recipe is so simple, but so delicious. I have only made it with fresh sweet corn and don’t know if it would be as good with frozen or canned corn. The sweetness of the corn is intoxicating and steals the show. Should you want to avoid dairy, you can just use broth and/or water. Keep in mind, the more broth you use (instead of water), the more flavorful it will be.

Ingredients

  • 6 ears of corn, corn cut off the cob
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 1.5 cups of cubed potatoes (I’ve been using small potatoes, so I don’t even bother to peel them)
  • 2 – 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium
  • 4 – 6 cups of water
  • Handful of fresh herbs (I’ve been grabbing thyme and Italian oregano from the garden), chopped
  • 1 – 2 cups of milk
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Optional: Roasted poblano peppers to garnish

Directions

  1. Heat oil in stock pot. Add onions and cook until translucent over medium heat, about 7 minutes.
  2. Add herbs and cook a few minutes more minutes.
  3. Add broth and potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add water and corn and cook for an additional 15 – 20 minutes or until corn and potatoes are soft.
  5. Meanwhile, if you are using poblano peppers, roast them directly over the gas burner, turning so that the entire pepper becomes charred. Once charred on all sides, place into a paper bag. Close paper bag by rolling up the opening. Keep in the bag for 5 – 10 minutes. Not only will the peppers cool, but the steam trapped in the bag will help you peel off the charred skin. Over the sink (but not under running water), carefully peel off the charred skin. Discard the stem, membranes and seeds if desired. Cut into strips or cut into strips and dice. (The reason you don’t want to peel away the charred skin under running water is that it can wash a lot of the natural oils and flavor off of the peppers.)
  6. Note: The amount of liquid you add will determine how thick your soup will be (hence the ranges of each liquid).
  7. Let ingredients cool (or if you are impatient like me, make sure to hold down blender top with kitchen towel).
  8. Put half of ingredients into blender and add half of milk. Blend until pureed. Place in another bowl.
  9. Put the rest of the ingredients into the blender and add the rest of the milk. Place back into stock pot with the rest of the pureed mixture.
  10. Bring soup to a very low simmer for the flavors to mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Serve warm garnished with roasted poblanos.

Note: if you have an immersion blender, you can use that in the place of a regular blender. This soup freezes wonderfully! In fact, I made this soup for the 4th time this past week and froze the majority of it right before going out of town; when I arrived late on Sunday night I put it in the fridge and had lunch for Monday ready!

Roasting poblanos

 

Rajas (strips of roasted poblanos)

 

Sweet corn and poblano soup! This picture doesn’t due it justice.


Irish Champ–Live!

On Wednesday I had the opportunity to go on Good Day Austin again for work. I was so inspired by the champ I had at New York’s Spotted Pig in February, that I decided to make it myself and share it.  And St. Patties Day is only a week away!

The recipe is based on Irish Champ from Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages by Anne Mendelson. (One of my favorite books, by the way!)

Here is the link to watch the video clip.

Dirt--the sign of freshness! (spring onions from Greengate Farms)

Ingredients
5-6 large russet or baking-type potatoes
2-3 small leeks or medium spring onions OR 6 large scallions, cleaned and trimmed; include an inch or two of the green part (more for scallions)
2 cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4-8 tablespoons of butter, cut into chunks

Directions
Boil potatoes in salted water until tender. While they are cooking, cut the leeks/scallions in thin slices. Put them in a small saucepan, pour in milk, and bring to simmer. Cook, uncovered, until tender 10 – 15 minutes (a little less for scallions). Strain off milk, return it to pan, and keep it warm, reserving the leeks/scallions separately.
Drain cooked potatoes and put them in a large, deep bowl and start mashing with a wooden spoon or potato masher.
Mash in drained leeks/scallions while adding as much of the hot seasoned milk as the potatoes will absorb without getting soupy (the amount will vary depending on the starchiness of the potatoes). Some lumps are good. Mix in butter.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve as hot as possible.


Lemon Dill Carrots–LIVE!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of going on Good Day Austin to showcase a Happy Kitchen recipe. I’m not trying to be pompous with this statement, but I have been on TV so many times though that it’s quite fun and I don’t get nervous at all–it really is like just having a conversation with a friend. Anyway, what host Keri Bellacosa said off the segment was great. She asked, “What am I tasting? The carrots?…OMG, these are the best, sweetest carrots I’ve ever had!” To which I replied, “Fresh carrots from the farmers’ market will do that!”

Click here to see the show segment (for whatever reason, the video embed code is not showing up).

Lemon Dill Carrots


Put an Egg on It

By now, you might have seen Portlandia’s “Put a Bird on It” video. It’s pretty ridiculous. And sadly true. When I was in Brooklyn last week at a small gift store some earrings caught my eye. What kind of earrings? Bird earrings. And this video immediately popped into my head. I didn’t buy them.

Anyway, as I was making lunch today, I started thinking to myself, maybe there needs to be an egg motif for quick, easy meals–Put and Egg On it. Most Americans typically think of eggs as breakfast items, not lunch or dinner. But with the plethora of eggs I have (thank you again, chickens!), I make a lot of meals by…Putting an Egg on It. And lots of other cultures do too. I remember when I went to Ecuador for the first time and a typical meal there was rice, potatoes and a fried egg on top. And it was soooo tasty! And did you know that a popular pizza topping in Italy is a whole egg?  And think about Pad Thai–more egg. So, anyway, go ahead, put an egg on it!

Leftover rice, sauteed kale from garden w/Braggs and two of my hens eggs

Leftover rice, sauteed kale from garden w/Braggs and two eggs from my hens

Steamed cauliflower tossed with sauteed onions and garlic, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and an egg


Dinner in 10 minutes? You Betcha!

One of the things I learned from a speaker at the Cookbook Conference I attended last week (and yes, I promise to write more about it soon!) is that you don’t have to always post something super glamorous on your blog. Duh, right? Well, sometimes I get so caught up in writing the “perfect post” that I end up not posting at all. So I am giving it a shot. I thought my dinner tonight was perfect being that it took less than 10 minutes to make. No joke. And part of it was from a can YET I managed to get some freshness in!

Ingredients:

  • Rice (Had made a bunch of rice, then froze it, then defrosted it, so it was already cooked=easy peasy. And yes, rice freezes! Always make extra to have around!)
  • Canned refried beans
  • Tortillas
  • Green Sauce

To make green sauce, put the following in a food processor and blend for about 20-30 seconds:

  • Handful of cilantro (thank you garden!)
  • 1 tomatillo, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 C sour cream
  • 1/4 – 1/2 of a jalapeno (depending on how hot you like it), roughly chopped

There that wasn’t so bad, was it?

 

 


“Relax and Have Fun”

As many of you know, I am the Program Director of The Happy Kitchen, Sustainable Food Center’s cooking and education program. In a nutshell, we train peer “Facilitators” to lead cooking and nutrition classes in communities that suffer from health disparities. Sustainable Food Center is in the midst of a Capital Campaign–we are raising $4.5 million to build an actual center for Sustainable Food Center, including a full-on teaching kitchen! (We are technically still in the “private phase” of the campaign; we hope to go “public” in May.)

As we meet with our architects and builders more frequently, reality has set in that The Happy Kitchen will finally have a kitchen. Throughout the Program’s history, the classes we have taught have been located in the community we were serving–at schools, rec centers, places of worship, libraries, etc. This model is ideal as we can teach families in their own community. However, having our own kitchen soon will boost the Program tenfold in our ability and scope. For example, about 1.5 years ago, we started offering cooking classes to the general public for a fee as we realized that far too many people do not possess the confidence, skills or knowledge to “cook from scratch”. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person spends about 30 minutes per day in food preparation and clean up. Now just to give you something to compare it to, the same average person spends over 2.5 hours per day watching television. And did I mention that over 60% of American adults are overweight or obese?

Thus, we started offering classes open to everyone, regardless of their community affiliation or income level. The idea is that we want to teach everyone how to cook and how to eat healthyfully in an equitable manner; the revenue earned from the fee-based classes are directly pumped back into the Program to off-set education for families that do not have the means to pay. This earned income revenue stream also allows the program to not be so dependent on grant funding.
With our new “teaching kitchen” we will be greatly expanding the number and type of classes that we offer, both for free and for a fee. Lately, I have been brainstorming about how the Program will change and what our offerings to the community will be once we have the new building. We know we want to offer something much more hands on–we are limited in this scope as classes are not taught in kitchens.

In thinking about the Program’s needs I got to thinking about my own needs—what skills or knowledge would I need to help guide The Happy Kitchen in its new space? Just as I was having these thoughts I also happened to be reading Kathleen Flinn’s second book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How A Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Homecooks. After earning her culinary degree at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, Kathleen ponders over what to do with her degree—not open a restaurant—which is what most people assume you do with a degree from Le Cordon Bleu Paris. While shopping in the grocery store in her hometown of Seattle, it dawned on her—teach people how to cook! (“Wait you mean I can make Fettuccine sauce without a jar and it’s cheaper?”). What unfolds is a warming account of teaching women (yes, the study group ended up being 100% female) confidence and self-sufficiency in the kitchen.

As I read the book, I kept thinking to myself, Yes! Yes! Yes! This is exactly the direction in which I want The Happy Kitchen to go—I want us to be the most recognized “homecooking school” around. I want us to be the leader in teaching citizens of Austin how to feed oneself and one’s family in a healthful, economical and sustainable way. Furthermore, I want The Happy Kitchen to be a model for other cities who will send us their leaders to become trained so as to seed other Programs around the nation (The Happy Kitchen has replicated it’s programming in Florida, North Carolina and various places in Texas). So, not only did the Book stimulate ideas in my head for The Happy Kitchen—but it also set off ideas for me, namely that I would start the culinary program at Austin Community College!

I do not have a professional culinary background– what I know is from cooking in my youth with my mother, working in restaurants, cooking on my own as an adult and now directing a cooking education program. Reading the Book and the way the classes were taught, made me realize that I want a foundation in technique and the why of cooking in order to be a better educator and Program Director.

And this week marks my first classes—Intro to Foods (food science and “kitchen lab”) and Food Production and Planning (basically culinary math). Given my objectives, I will be wearing a very different lens than most culinary students as my goals are to incorporate my learning into the The Happy Kitchen and thus the public; I have no desire in pursuing a career in the “typical” food industry–restaurants, catering, hospitality, etc. Most of all with my studies, I wish to bring back the knowledge and comfort of a lost skill.

Now you may be wondering why turn to culinary school  if you are trying to bring back a “lost skill” that lay folk possessed. Well, to be perfectly honest, going to school helps to expedite some learning. Attending classes weekly (with kitchen labs!) forces me to acquire knowledge and skills that may take years. And I should also add that in no way do I believe that culinary education is superior to what my mother or grandmother know. But, I think there are certainly techniques and food chemistry behind the things that we do that we might not know why we do it—we just do it out of habit. It’s kind of like speaking a language. One grows up speaking their mother tongue without really knowing why certain sentence structures are the way they are. However, when one studies a foreign language, one must learn the grammar along with the language to better acquire it as one does not have the opportunity (most of the time) to just live it and speak it.

Also, I have been at SFC for just about 4.5 years. Throughout my time at this wonderful organization, I have thought about going back to school for my masters—in everything from Geography, to Public Health to Public Affairs. I am kind of a dork– taking a class with 15 other people with an instructor, taking notes, practicing skills, sharing ideas, reading and then testing my knowledge–all of this I kinda like. That being said, I could probably write pages about institutionalized education and how messed up our our learning system is—everything from backwards school policies to the monitization of higher learning. But I will save that for another time. Anyway, on a personal note, I am very much excited to learn new techniques, be exposed to the food industry “from the belly of the beast” and hopefully create some lasting partnerships between Sustainable Food Center and ACC. Wish me luck!

P.S. The title of the blog is what my instructor said on the first day of Intro to Foods Class–Rock on!

My chef's coat, knife roll and yes, I even have to wear a silly hat 🙂