Perennial alliums

The “lilies of the kitchen”–yes, I borrowed the title from a book by Barbara Batcheller (See Bibliography–Vegetable Cookbooks)” are onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, and scallions!  They are often hidden away in the sofrito/soffrito or the mirepoix, but they can make fantastic dishes on their own.  I can’t imagine a kitchen without these “lilies”.  In my kitchen, being without onions and garlic is just about as big a catastrophe as being out of chocolate or coffee!

Can you really cook without all the Allium family? Caramelized onions, roasted garlic, scallions or green onions to add to salads and chives to top the baked potato.  Then there are leeks…another under-used, and perhaps, under-appreciated vegetable as an ingredient as a vegetable on their own.

While most of this family are now readily available in the supermarket, there are some that it’s worthwhile growing in your own garden.  Others, unless you have a huge garden and want to be self-sufficient, it’s much easier to buy.  The regular “yellow” or storage onions that we cook with–they’re inexpensive.  Most of us don’t have space or the humidity/temperatures required to store the quantity that we use in a season so buying those makes good sense.

Others like leeks, shallots, and garlic I use in such quantities that I don’t have space or time to tend. Since they are also readily available from the supermarket or the farmer’s market I’ll opt to buy as well. Some that we use “green”–like scallions might be worth growing but still demand space and time.

When we speak of “fresh” onions, we often use the terms green onion, scallion, and spring onion interchangeably but there really are some differences. The green onion and scallion differences are mostly marketing semantics. Spring onions are just regular onions (that would eventually form a bulb) harvested while immature–as when you have to thin the onion you planted too close together. Scallions, on the other hand, are species of allium that do not form a fully developed bulb. If you’re a huge fan of alliums of all sorts there are some perennial perennials that can be good substitutes for those fresh ones that we normally buy, and they can be grown in small spaces–or even large containers.

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A. fistulosum

Allium fistulosumor bunching onion is a possible stand-in for those green onions from the grocery store if you want to grow your own. While the “Welsh” is a misnomer since these came from China originally, the taste is still “green onion”, sometimes grown as an ornamental. You can find bunching onions from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

 

 

 

The Egyptian (this may also be a misnomer) –my favorite–is just plain fun with its unusual appearance that will definitely be a topic of conversation.

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A. cepa x proliferu

Other common names include tree onion, top onion, walking onion, Canada onion, and Catawissa onion which may all refer to various cultivars. The Egyptian Walking Onion,  Egyption Onions , Biodiverseed and Mother Earth News websites provide some glimpses into the rather mysterious history of these (and other) onions.

Genetically it has been shown to be a cross between the common allium (Allium cepa) and the “Welsh” onion (above). Botanically speaking, it is Allium cepa x proliferum. These form bulbs, but also have top-sets which can be shared with friends. These plants multiply from the bulb in the ground as well as by producing top-sets, and sometimes topsets on topsets, rather than seeds. These onions are most often found from growers or seed catalogs specializing in heirloom vegetables such as Territorial Seeds, although a Google search shows them available from eBay and Amazon.

Potato onions (multiplier onions, shallots)  or Allium cepa var. aggregatum are also perennial alliums. These do not produce topsets, but rather “multiply” from bulbs left in the ground over the winter.

Multiplier (Allium porrum), perennial, multiplying or “Musselburgh” leeks (Allium ampeloprasum), though smaller than annuals,  can provide the taste of leeks without the amount of effort involved with annual leeks. These are also called garden leeks.

More information on sites like Edible Gardening, Hope Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, FoodForestFarm.com , inhabitat.com, and icultivate.net.  Grow some “lilies of the kitchen” and don’t ignore others like chives. Then there’s garlic: for a method of growing without yearly planting check out The One Straw Revolution.

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Christmas dinner

I’m having my usual lazy Christmas day–just me and Frankie (the cat). After having brunch of scrambled eggs with truffle butter, I turned my attention to fixing supper.

It seems that I’ve inadvertently created another Christmas tradition (aside from the oysters): chicken (or at least fowl) in a pot. I guess it has something to do with it being an easy and tasty dish that I really like. This year, though, there was a variation–it’s pheasant in a pot. It’s been awhile since I’ve had pheasant so that’s what came to mind for this Christmas supper. After-holiday sales, and sometimes specials in between, are great for eating higher-on-the-hog with lower prices–so there was a plump McFarlane pheasant, just a bit shy of 2.5 pounds, lurking in the freezer.

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…giblets removed

I toyed with cooking the pheasant with milk as I had done before with cornish game hen, but somehow I just couldn’t picture the pheasant-milk combination. So, just plain pheasant in a pot.

I couldn’t think of any reason that pheasant wouldn’t work just as well as chicken for this treatment–but since a pheasant isn’t a chicken, I thought there would have to be a little adjustment.I little skulking about (via Google) suggested that my pheasant should cook in less time than the bigger chicken (duh! About an hour or a little more). Cook’s Illustrated has a basic recipe for chicken in a pot; that seemed a good place to start since there’s always a rationale included that should make the recipe easy to modify as needed though it seems that none of that series (Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, or America’s Test Kitchen) addresses pheasant.

So, next, seasonings for the bird. Pheasant may be considered one of the “other white meats”, but it’s still more like the dark meat of the chicken: bay leaves (certainly), onion (can you cook without onion?), garlic (often used with pheasant), thyme, sage, and juniper berries (good with game) were the final seasonings that went into the pot. I also added some sliced button mushrooms with the onions while they were sautéing. These are eye-ball measurements:

  • one large onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • one basket sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • large pinch rubbed sage
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon minced garlic

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After browning the pheasant breast-side with the onions and mushrooms, the pheasant was flipped, seasonings added, and the pot  covered with foil and the tight-fitting lid, and it went into a 250ºF oven. Time to consider what I wanted for sides to this lovely bird.

My peasant side is showing–well, right along with bird-in-a-pot which isn’t exactly haute cuisine unless you are eating in in a US restaurant–I  rummaged through the vegetable bin and decided that something with cabbage and rutabagas would fit with the dark meat.

After some more Google use and letting my imagination run wild for a bit, it seemed something quick and easy would be a sautéed combination of those two vegetables, spruced up with a bit of a sauce of some sort. Something sweet-tart–maybe some dark buckwheat honey and lime juice and zest of one lime). I did a little shredding, julienne work (mandoline), and zesting  I left those veggies sitting in water to await cooking time; the buckwheat honey and lime zest melding; then I was off for some more quality time with the cat for an hour (until time to check the temperature of the meat (one of J.J. Salkeld’s  Lakeland mysteries).

While the bird rested (about 15 minutes or a bit more), I put the drained cabbage and rutabaga in a sauté pan with a dollop of butter (salted) and covered them–sort of a steam-sauté–until almost tender then removed the lid to let moisture evaporate while I tossed this mixture around a bit with my sauce (about 10 or 12 minutes altogether).

After scraping up all the good brown stuff from the pot, the juices from the roasting pot were strained, and enriched with a blob of truffle butter. End of cooking–time to eat!

Just a word about en coquette cooking: the meat is absolutely luscious, but don’t expect the same kind of browning that you’d get with dry-heat roasting. I can attest that it works very well–as well as braising–with farm-raised pheasant. I’ll most likely do it again with the next pheasant I decide to eat.

The cabbage/rutabaga combination turned out to be even better than I had expected–always a pleasant surprise–even before the sauce went on. Just with the butter it would have been an admirable side to the pheasant. The mandolin made short work of both the shredding and the julienne work and the cooking time was only about about 10 or 12 minutes. I have to admit that there are leftovers from the 1/2 rutabaga and 1/4 head of cabbage. (I’m thinking that they could be turned into rösti or fritters for a main course since I didn’t add the sauce to the entire batch of cabbage and rutabaga.)

Wine? Of course, but since I had some of the Les Hérétiques left from last night, I decided I’d just go with that–it’s a good all purpose wine–maybe not what I’d have chosen were I giving it a lot of thought, but sometimes it’s a needs-must situation–I love my wine vinegar but there’s a limit to how much good wine I’m going to pour into that jar. So–I finished that bottle this evening. The “leftover” wine was quite good with this combination of food–the blackberry was a nice contrast to the other flavors here.

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If I want to sound really fancy, I guess I just ate pheasant en coquette with truffle  au jus–whatever you call it it was a fine meal, even if I can’t get the cat to say so though I’m not that modest. I’m still listening to Christmas music and enjoying a another glass of wine. The other half pheasant has been boned and stashed, and the carcass is in the slow-cooker making pheasant broth. I’m not sure what is going to evolve out of the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day leftovers, but I would guess that there is going to be some pheasant soup, among other things.

The kitchen is tidy–only the roasting pot left to soak with baking soda overnight–and only clean things to put away from the drainer in the morning. Altogether a most pleasant day with the cat, low-intensity, undemanding cooking, music, and reading.

I was contemplating starting to filter my chocolate/cardamom/ancho/golden rod-aster honey liqueur this evening, but I’m just too full and lazy. I decided it would be better to start that in the morning since it is a long process–so now to quality time with the cat and Kindle since I’m happily fed and still enjoying wine.

I hope all of you had as pleasant a day as I did. A final happy holidays to you if you happen to be celebrating something just now.

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Dicing onions

Ok, I’m lazy–even about some things in the kitchen–like dicing onions; however, I’m not at all sure that it’s possible to cook without onions.Being out of onions is like–well, my mind simply boggles at the thought.

800px-mixed_onionsI use lots of onions, meaning that I cut up a lot of onions, but I’ve never understood the “usual” way that we’re told is “proper” to dice onions. I can understand it if your onions are HUGE, I suppose, or if you have a touch of OCD (I may have, but not about diced or chopped onions). I’ve always thought that onions were essentially self-dicing with little effort on my part–after all they come with layers already there. Another aspect of dicing or chopping onions–I’ve never been one to expose myself to unnecessary risk so why the cuts parallel to the cutting board? (Yes, I know that you’re supposed to have your hand on top so it’s impossible to cut yourself. Be sure to check on that the next time you’re dicing an onion properly. Where’s you hand?)

My lazy approach has always been kind of a two-part thing: First don’t buy huge onions. Secondly, I bypass those horizontal cuts, doing only the vertical cuts. For diced, do the vertical cuts close together; for chopped, farther apart. Easy!

Recently, I stumbled over a video from The New York Times Cooking Techniques on how to dice an onion that omitted those cuts. How refreshing!

Since I’m doing single-serving cooking most of the time, I often use shallots. Then there’s the truly, completely lazy way to deal with the onions. For cooking purposes when I want chopped onions I often reach into the freezer for that bag of frozen chopped onions. If I want lots of onions for something like caramelized onions, then I’ll get out the knife and go to work.

Snow day. . .

Well, not really a snow day (I wish!), but an ice and wind day, the second in a row here. It’s a grey day with a few snowflakes fluttering around. It’s not so far been a productive day. I’ve been wandering from room to room, fighting the urge to take a lesson from the cat. Neither did he go with me to make morning coffee nor did he get out of bed when I started rattling around in the kitchen. He simply got under the duvet instead of on top.

Cat looking into refrigeratorSo I’ve resisted the lure of book and duvet to try to accomplish something, even if not useful or productive, just something I can say that I did. The motif today seems to be opening, peering inside, and closing doors, figuratively and literally, including internet browsing–opening a site and then just passing on to another. I’ve peered into the cabinet where all the plastic storage containers live and close the door tightly and firmly, then opened the internet door (Google search) on organizational ideas for empty containers.

Peering into the refrigerator led to the conclusion that I didn’t want to eat anything that was already in there. The threat of power outage led me to follow a link on what foods were safe after a power outage, but that didn’t catch my interest either (no new information, and no power outage here yet). My list of blogs that I follow l did provide something that held my attention: posts on one taste at a time caught my interest–food waste and eating mindfully. After reading (and reblogging those) my meandering led me back to the kitchen with thoughts of something warm and cozy to eat this afternoon.

This recurring theme eventually led to the freezer compartment of the refrigerator which has been needing organization and sorting for a while. Gazing at a container of stock finally got my interest. What better way to start sorting and organizing that to make something from what I found in the freezer that was approaching its end-of-life-even-if-frozen state.  Thus: mostly freezer soup happened–with additions from the crisper drawer.

Ingredients

  • pulled pork (from a large pork butt, slow-roasted in the Schlemmertopf)
  • two packages of stock (one pork, one chicken)
  • the last package of sofrito (a staple, but needing to be used and replaced)
  • carrots (the last of a bag that had been vacuum packed for later use)
  • 1/2 small rutabaga, diced
  • two handsful of cabbage, in bite-size pieces (a crisper staple)
  • about 1 cup yellow split peas
  • about two teaspoons Hatch red chili powder
  • a dash of dried oregano
  • (a retained bay leaf from the pulled pork)

Preparation

  • thaw and sauté the sofrito to brown lightly (frozen with olive oil)
  • add chili powder and oregano to bloom in olive oil
  • add frozen stock
  • add pork
  • add rutabaga, cabbage, and split peas
  • simmer until rutabaga and split peas are tender (about 40 minutes)

Supper is on! IMG_8880

As is typical of all soup making, there is more than I’m going to eat, but some will go back into the freezer for a quick meal on another grey day–carefully labeled, and dated.

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Radishes: Easter Egg vs. French Breakfast

Radishes are a sure sign of spring to me. The ones you grow yourself will be quite different from the one you get in the plastic bags at the supermarket.

Radish sandwiches are awesome–with a little salt and European-style butter on pumpernickel (especially freshly baked) accompanied by a glass of champagne.

We don’t usually think of radishes being treated as a vegetable.  Here are some other things to do with them, e.g.  radish soup.

gettin' fresh!

I grow a lot of radishes. My husband, who’s not keen on too many vegetables, loves them. As does his father, who regularly sits down to an entire bowl, which he eats plain except for a sprinkling of salt. So every spring I make sure to put in a healthy radish patch, just to make sure I have some left for me!

Radish Varieties L: Easter Egg, R: French Breakfast

The two varieties I’ve been regularly growing for the past few years are Easter Egg and French Breakfast. Easter Egg is actually a mixture of varieties, which is one of its primary advantages. Radishes grow very quickly (mine mature anywhere from 4-6 weeks from sowing, depending on the weather), and they also quickly pass their prime. Sowing a mixture of varieties helps space out the harvest a bit, and with Easter Egg, you have that variation built in.

French Breakfast radishes mature slightly earlier than…

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The Cuban Swet Potato (Boniato))

Today was a particularly stressful Monday–thanks to disappearing content on my computer-assisted course. But one has to eat, stress or no stress.  My quick lunch today was the Cuban sweet potato (Boniato) that I brought home from the grocery store yesterday.

True to my usual idea about checking out something new, I did some skulking on the web, and decided that the best way to get acquainted with this new vegetable would be to prepare it as simply as possible.  Being rushed and needing uninterrupted computer time to recover from technological boo-boo, I just treated it like a baked potato–washed, oiled, couple light stabs with the tip of a paring knife (so it wouldn’t explode), popped into a 350°F oven for about 40 minutes. (That’s when it was soft enough to smush, well, like a baked potato.)

A little sprinkle of fleur de sel, was all it really needed, but I confess to checking it out with a little unsalted butter, too.  It was not as wet as the usual orange sweet potato though more moist than a russet baking potato.  The flesh was pale yellow, and not as sweet as the orange-fleshed  sweet potatoes, nor was it as dry,  as pale, or quite as sweet as the now-available white sweet potatoes.

I enjoyed it for lunch!  More Cuban sweet potatoes will find their way into my kitchen before too long if they are available.  I really should check things like nutritional information and glycemic index on it too.

Now off to the kitchen to pop some veggies and potato into the Römertopf, and then back to the computer to finish the recovery project!

(Hey, I’m also patting myself on the back that this new veggie came into the house yesterday and I ate it today–did not allow it to loiter in the crisper.)