Friday, October 26, 2007

Pumpkin, a la Frank Chung

Frank Chung, of a thousand volunteers at the New York Botanical Garden, has once again claimed his crown for having the most volunteer hours of all. Hurrah! Frank tends our China Garden, a four-bed plot in our Global Garden section. Look at that pumpkin in his arms! What a beautiful milky-pale beauty!

Pumpkins are rad to cook with--they can be sweet or savory. The most simple dish I put together recently was diced, steamed pumpkin in a bit of butter with a few sage leaves. A good collection of herbs can be had at the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from Keith Stewart, and if you're around on Wednesday, Kira's stand on the South-west corner can hook you up with some of the sweetest pumpkins on the planet.

Honestly: Carrots are truly spectacular.

I'm going to deadpan this one and say it with all my heart: carrots are outrageously awesome. If you haven't thought about this lately, they are ROOTS. You pull them out of the dirt and eat them and they are as sweet as candy. I would understand if they grew from a pretty little flower on a pretty little tree like a pretty little apple: but carrots (and sweet potatoes, a raptorous story for another day) fight their way past rocks and grubs and worms! Wow. I love you, carrot. You are my working-class hero.

Two Meerkats of Meerkat Media Arts Collective ( visited the BotGar last week to shoot some footage for an ongoing documentary about Colony Collapse Disorder, bees, and local honey. We watched kids shake their boodies like bumble bees, talked about gourds, and ate a lot of fresh grub in the process.

Gina pulled her first carrot out of the ground. It was fantastic.

Planting Garlic

More than the changing of colors in the trees (which this year, who knows why, has been oddly bland here in NYC), putting bulbs in the ground is a sure sign of fall. Sigh. This past week at the Botanical Gardens, we said good-bye to our plot and gave it the final gift of garlic--Keith Stewart's garlic from Port Jervis (NY), to be precise. A delicious hardneck Rocambole, this garlic produces fat, juicy cloves for our harvest in July. We lay salt hay down to tuck it in for the frost.

If you're hankering to plant garlic, it's as easy as finding a garlic you like (I recommend shopping around the farmers' markets and asking what they fancy), seperating the cloves, and planting them about 3" apart and 3" down if they're of a fair size. If the weather stays cool, they'll pop up little green shoots in the springtime. When they produce a scape (flowering stalk) in the spring, cut it off (to force the plant to focus on a full bulb); when the leaves start to brown and fall back, you know your head of garlic is ready to harvest.

Garlic is clonal--if you like what you've got, replant some of the cloves. I don't remember the exact numbers, but Keith told me once from a half-dozen heads, he's now got a several fields of thousands of garlics.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gorgeous Gourds!

I've never grown a plant I didn't eat--This fall, our New York Botanical Gardens Community Plot was planted with decorative gourds. This variety is called Speckled Swan--my favorite was our weensy Pear Bicoloreds.

Mushrooms with Walnuts

Extremely simple, suprisingly delicious. Mushrooms are a great fall food--true, you can get them earlier, but it feels good to eat such a woodsy food when the woods are turning such pretty colors!

Mushroom growers are a pretty neat bunch. They seem to make a very deliberate choice when they go into fungi-farming. Growing (usually) on a bag full of sawdust, mushrooms require the sort of care that reminds me of keeping a pet bat. It has to be dark. It has to be cool. And it has to drink your blood. Juuust kidding. Happy Halloween!

Mushrooms with Walnuts

(note: walnut oil is pretty pricy, but it's damn good. If you can't splurge, a virgin olive oil is good. Try not to use cheap oil, as mushrooms pick up bad flavors easily.)

Walnut oil, for the pan
1 shallot
Garlic, to taste (I used 2 cloves of Keith Stewart's Rocambole)
10 small mushrooms of your choice
Handful of walnuts

Saute garlic and onions together until onion is soft and translucent. Add mushrooms and cover pan. Lower heat and let the mushrooms cook 'til soft, stirring as necessary to prevent burning. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a toaster oven or your oven for about 5-6 minutes, until the bitterness goes. (Or simply add the walnuts right after you add the mushrooms to the pan.)

Serve on whole-wheat bread, on top of eggs, or with pasta and a white cheese. Put it on your pizza! Eat it in your pajamas! Whatever you'd like.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jerusalem Artichoke: What is this thing?!

This might blow your mind, but the Jerusalem Artichoke is neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke. It is, in fact, a Girasole (sunflower), with a tasty--if weirdly artichoke-flavored, to some--tubereous root that we at the FamGar (New York Botanical Garden Family Garden) have recently tried for breakfast.All I've ever learned about "sunchokes" I learned from the internet--and Manissa's brother Hans claims they're yummy raw. I know they're super good for you (lots of iron--don't peel them!). Here's a sampling, followed by a recipe suggestion:

STORAGE: Keep the tubers wrapped in plastic and refrigerate. They will keep up to two weeks, but it's always best eat them as fresh as possible for the best flavor and nutrition. Their sweetness is known to increase when refrigerated after harvesting. If you grow your own, refrigerate them for a day or two before consuming.

PREPARATION: Scrub the sunchokes clean with a vegetable brush. Since much of their nutrients are stored just under the skin, it's best not to peel them. Once cut, sunchokes discolor quickly, so it's best to cut them close to serving time, or cut and immerse them in water with lemon or vinegar to prevent oxidation. Cooking them with the skins on may cause a darkening of the skins because of their high iron content.

Slice sunchokes and enjoy the crunch they add to your salad.
Slice and serve them along with crudites and dips.
Shred them into a slaw. Dice them into a chopped salad.
Slice, dice, or shred and marinate in a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice or rice vinegar
Coarsely chop sunchokes and add to the blender when preparing raw soups.

STIR FRY: Slice, dice, or shred and stir fry along with other fresh vegetables in a little extra virgin olive oil. They will become softened in about 4 to 6 minutes. For a tender crisp texture, stir fry about 2 to 4 minutes.

BAKED: Sunchokes can be baked whole or sliced. Toss them in a bowl with a little extra virgin olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Set the oven temperature at 375 and bake 30 to 45 minutes for whole, and 20 to 25 minutes for sliced, turning them half way through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

STEAMED: Coarsely chop the Jerusalem artichokes and put them into a steamer basket. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue at high heat and steam for 5 to 8 minutes. Test for softness. Remove and season to taste or mash like potatoes.

BOILED: Sunchokes can be boiled whole or cut as desired. Bring a covered saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add sunchokes and boil for 10 to 15 minutes for whole, and 5 to 8 minutes for cut up. Season as desired or mash like potatoes.

Sunchoke Pecan Sandwich
Yield: 3 to 4 sandwiches

1 ripe avocado
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne
1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 to 120 ml) organic canola oil

2 cups (480 ml) coarsely shredded sunchokes
1/2 cup (120 ml) raw or toasted pecans, coarsely chopped or coarsely ground
1/4 red bell pepper, finely diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

6 to 8 slices whole grain bread
12 to 16 large basil leaves
3 ripe tomatoes, sliced
3 to 4 butter lettuce leaves

+To make the avocado sauce, wash the avocado, cut it in half, scoop out the flesh, and place it in the blender. Add the lemon juice, salt, and cayenne and blend briefly. With the machine running, slowly add the canola oil, using just enough to create a thick, creamy sauce. Stop the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides of the blender jar and stir the mixture.
+To make the sunchoke filling, combine the sunchokes, pecans, and red bell pepper in a medium bowl. Add enough of the avocado sauce to moisten and hold the mixture together. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
+Spread a thin coating of the avocado sauce over one side of each of the bread slices. Spread the sunchoke mixture over half the bread slices and top with the basil leaves, tomato slices, and lettuce. Place the remaining bread slices over the filling and cut the sandwiches in half..

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The family that eats together...

Spoons Across America, a wonderful program for kids (sort of Slow Foods, the junior version) has been touring a delightful number of children through the Tribeca Greenmarket where I sell fruit (apples, for the moment). I am crushing on "Spoons" like no other. I came across this quote on their website and nearly spilled tears for happiness.

“The greatest thing you can do for your children is to cook and share food
with them. The precious moments you spend together around the family table
go way beyond the food itself; they lead to an understanding of the benefits
of healthy eating and are the basis for good family relationships.”

- Jacques Pepin, national spokesperson of Spoons Across America

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Class Prep!

Each Monday when I make the journey up to Connecticut to teach Growing Chefs, I see how much stuff I can fit in my bike bag without toppling over. This was last week's bounty: about 100,000 lbs of food.

The joy of my own kitchen is getting to make a big, exciting mess any time I want to.

Squash Pie

Waaah! Look at this amazing squash Kira grew (and I biked back to the Bronx!) It's Japan's answer to a pumpkin, and if you ask me, sweeter and lovlier than our own Halloween icon. I made it into a pie with no sugar and it was just fantastic.

To prepare squash, simply cut it in half, take out the seeds, put it face down in a dish with a little water (to keep it from burning) and bake at 350*F for about 40 minutes, or until soft. The smaller the squash, the shorter the baking time, and vice-versa.

Pie is easy to make. For a simple crust, I mixed whole wheat flour and white flour in equal parts, added an egg and oil until it was pliable, and spread it thin along the bottom of a greased pie dish. This is a very basic, plain crust, but it maintains a flaky texture and I like it.

To make the pie filling, I simply baked the squash and blended it (you can use a food processor or mash it by hand) with some spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, the usual). If you're so inclined, as I was, you can wisk in an egg or two and a half-cup of cream or so. I've been known to add honey or brown sugar, although I'm steering clear of sweeteners now that the cold weather has set and plants are getting sweet on their own.


This Monday, Growing Chefs put together some wonderful little knishes. To my suprise, no one in Darien, Connecticut had heard of knish! so we were free to experiment with our own fillings without fear of traditionalists' retrebution.

Here's the recipe:
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sift. Now wisk together:
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup warm (NOT HOT) water

Fold in. Do not overmix (or it'll get tough). Let stand and rise 10 minutes. Divide into four balls and flatten each on a well-flour-dusted surface into a square at desired thickness (my square was slightly bigger than my hand).

We made mashed potato, mashed sweet potato, mashed blue potato and pears-with-cinnamon fillings. Use about three hearty spoonfuls (about 1/2 cup) of filling to line the center 1/3 of each dough square. Fold bottom and top, tuck sides, and seal with by running a wet finger down the seam.

Bake at 350*F for 35 minutes. To get a nice gloss, brush the top of the knishes with egg yolk before baking.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Carrots aren't just orange, you know!

When chattin' about food, I'm often surprised by how many people feel so terribly sure that tomatoes are always red, beans are always green and carrots are most certainly orange. You would think in a world so aware of human diversity, we'd step back and wonder why those are the ONLY colors we see sold in our grocery store shelves. The truth is, veggies come in crazy colors--and they're no harder to grow!

Carrots are a primo example. As any ancient cookbook will tell you, carrots, for the Romans, were primarily white and purple. It wasn't until the Dutch visited Queen Elizabeth and presented her with a tub of their famous butter and wreath of golden carrots, green frilly stalks still attached, that the orange carrot we know today became the popular norm by her decree. True, they taste nice--but until you try the sweet notes of a Belgian icicle variety, or the dirty rich taste of a scarlet nantes, you haven't really eaten carrots.They don't have to be straight, either! Look what happens when this root hits a rock!


Yum! Worms are extraordinary, beautiful creatures with a proclivity towards my soil. We pulled this out of the compost and immediately ate it. Just kidding. We put it back.