Friday, June 27, 2014

Live Action Salad Station

By Jaimie Jusczyk, Marketing Specialist

Executive Chef Scott wanted to showcase the beautiful and delicious produce that has been arriving in store from local farms, and what better way than with a Live Action Salad Station on June 26, 2014. Chef Scott set up a display in the Concord store produce department with the help of the produce manager, Shawn.
Executive Chef Scott Jones Live Salad Station

You could choose from a baby arugula with goat cheese and maple hazelnut vinaigrette salad, Chipotle grilled chicken Caesar salad or a Asian mixed greens with miso dressing salad. Chef Scott had a good time talking with customers about the local and organic ingredients he was using. One of the featured items was the Co-op's very own Hoop House organic lettuce mix that you can find in the produce cooler.
Executive Chef Scott Jones Live Salad Station

My favorite recipe was the chicken Caesar that was topped with a corn bread croûton made fresh from the Bakery Box, though the Asian greens salad was proving to be popular too. If you are looking for the recipes, download a recipe card by clicking here and you can find all the ingredients in the Co-op. You can also ask for the dressing, made fresh from the Celery Stick Cafe chefs. call them at 603-225-6840.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Grafton Village Cheese and The Imported Grape

by Jaimie Jusczyk, Marketing Specialist at the Co-op

The June Cheesy Wine Down Wednesday at the Co-op had some extra special guests from Grafton Village Cheese Company in Vermont. Dane Huebner, the master cheese-maker, with Mary were well received by our foodie participants and gave a very informative talk about cheese making before guiding us around a plate of aged cheddars, a clothbound cave aged cheddar, a maple smoked cheddar and a Vermont Leyden. Grafton Village Cheeses are handmade in small batches in Vermont. All the cheeses are suitable for vegetarians and use unpasteurized milk. Their international and national award winning cheeses are made with predominately Jersey cows milk that is rBST-free from small local family owned farms.

Grafton Village Cheese is part of the non-profit Windham Foundation of Grafton, Vermont, whose mission is to promote the vitality of Grafton and Vermont's rural communities through its philanthropic and educational programs and its subsidiaries whose operations contribute to these endeavors. When you shop at the Co-op and purchase Grafton Village Cheese you are supporting rural New England farms.

Cheese is a great source of protein and calcium. Enjoyed in moderation, cheese can help with weight loss as it slows the absorption of carbohydrates, keeping you feeling satisfied after a meal. So an after dinner treat of cheese and wine may be doing you more good than you thought! Cheese also provides us with zinc and biotin that is important for healthy hair, skin and nails. But be careful, cheese can be high in saturated fats so find a good balance in your diet.
Along with our cheese platter Heidi and Suzy from the Co-op selected a few different accompaniments like chutneys and jam that you can find on the end of the cheese case. Stop in and ask Suzy to help select a combination or look at the blackboards above the case for inspiration. The Bakery Box also baked some yummy cheese puffs that go well with a bottle of bubbly, just ask for Elaine, the Co-op's Executive Pastry Chef if you would like a special order.

Everyone at our cheese tasting class also enjoyed chatting with Gus from The Imported Grape as he opened 7 different bottles of wine for us to try with our cheese. Both Gus and Dane, agree that pairings generally are a personal taste but there are a few that you can’t go wrong with, like a strong smoked cheddar with a pinot noir or a fresh one year old cheddar with a Chardonnay. All the wines we tried are available at the Co-op, and did you know that when you buy 6 or more bottles in one transaction at the Co-op you will save 10% off during check out!
You can view all the images from the evening on our Facebook page, click here. Make sure you like us on Facebook to stay up to date on upcoming events at the Co-op. Thank you Dane and Mary from Grafton Village Cheese and Gus from The Imported Grape for a fun and informative evening at the Co-op!
Join us for the next Cheesy Wine Down Wednesday on July 2, when Suzy and Heidi will be creating refreshing summer suggestions with ricotta, mozzarella, burrata and some goat cheeses too. Josh from Horizon will be sampling the July Co-op Wines of the Month from 10SPAN Vineyard and maybe he will open a few more summery bottles for you to enjoy.
The Co-op has some great ways for you to save each month on your wine and cheese purchases. In one transaction purchase any 3 or more bottles of the Wines of the Month and receive $5 off any block of cheese from the cheese case. Click here to download the coupon and find out what wines are currently on sale.
Click here to purchase your tickets and more information.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fast Flavor with Fresh Herbs

by Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG)
Registered Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Coordinator


For all our gorgeous seasons, June may well be the most beautiful month in the New Hampshire garden. Every day we're treated to a show-stopping array of blooms and lush green mounds of happy herbs. The weeds haven't quite taken over (yet). Nothing's really reached its scraggly past-due state. And, at last, it's time to really get in there and *harvest* all those lovely plants for food and medicine! Now is the time to plant the last of your seedlings (those frost-sensitive babies you've sheltered til the last possible moment), to give them the chance to settle in before the heat of summer kicks in. Every year I load up on my annual seedlings and a few new perennials at the Herb & Garden Day plant sale (this Saturday!) and then spend the next day planting them. I really can't wait to have lemongrass, Thai basil, holy basil, lemon verbena, and other favorites at my fingertips once again!

I am excited to also see *lovely* organic and locally grown potted herbs available for sale at the Co-op from Generation Farm - how easy is that? Just pick them up while you're doing your regular grocery shopping and then pop them in the soil! You'll find classic culinary herbs including thyme, parsley, basil, and (a personal favorite) purple basil. We hope to carry more organically grown cut fresh herbs as well from Generation Farm and other local farmers this summer, too! Fresh herbs are one of the best kept secrets of healthy, delicious at-home meals. Whether you're topping off a salad with julienned fresh basil or creating an elaborate concoction, fresh herbs will enhance the flavor of your food without sugar, fat, salt, or even calories.

Flavor with Benefits

With that fresh flavor comes a host of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other beneficial phytochemicals that work in synergy with other ingredients to bring you greater health value. Think that's just a bunch of herbal PR BS? In one study, adding some lemon balm or marjoram to a salad increased the antioxidant profile by 200 percent! Another study determined that adding garlic, ginger, basil, or oregano to your basic tomato/olive oil sauce increases the antioxidant value 50 to 200 percent, too! (Oregano topped the list, and lucky for me that's probably my most-used kitchen spice, especially when tomatoes are involved.) The antioxidant levels of Greek-style lemon and olive oil dressing nearly tripled when garlic, rosemary, oregano, and mint were added. And for Italian dressing, garlic, basil, parsley, and oregano doubled the levels.

Quick Tips for Using Common Herbs


BASIL: This one is easy! Julienne or tear it to add to salad, Mediterranean mixes of cheese and tomatoes or bruschetta, or top off a soup (like this *amazing* roasted tomato-corn-basil soup recipe!). Scramble it into eggs with mozzarella....
Purple basil tastes pretty much like regular basil but offer a punch of color that looks as great in a dish as it does in the garden. Just know that once cooked or purred it will turn an unappealing grey-purple shade, so use it in fresh dishes and as a topper. It holds its flavor very well when dried. Learn more about Thai bail and holy basil here.

      Got too much? 
  • Turn it into pesto: Combine it with some salt, raw garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, and perhaps some nuts/seeds in the food processor. 
  • Make a frozen paste: Puree it with olive oil, then put it into a Ziploc freezer bag. Press it so that it's flat like a book with most of the air removed, label, and freeze it. When you need the flavor of fresh basil in a dish, break a hunk off and add it to the pot.
  • Dry It. Basil can be fussy to dry, so try it in a single layer in the dehydrator, strip the leaves from the stems and crumble it up, and keep it in your spice cabinet for wintertime tomato sauces and stews.
  • Freeze It. Basil can also be tricky to freeze because it tends to turn black (better as the frozen paste, above), but you can freeze whole sprigs plain in a vacuum-sealed bag with good results. I did this with my Thai basil last year and was able to make delicious Thai fried rice in winter.
 
THYME: The international flavor enhancer, thyme can be added to almost any savory dish for a generic herb-y flavor. I make an all-purpose Italian seasoning blend with equal parts thyme, basil, and oregano that's perfect for tomato sauce, meatballs, sprinkling on dehydrated tomatoes, etc. Also throw it into any saute, soup, or stew with an American, European, Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern flair. It's stellar with sage and mushrooms.

       Got too much?
  • Dry It: Thyme is super easy to dry for winter use. Just pack it loosely (still on the stem) in a bag or basket with another basket as a lid  and put it in a warm dry spot (like your car windshield, parked in the sun). Check it every day to see if it's dry and fluff it around if it's not. Once it crumbles, strip the leaves from the stems and store them in a tightly sealed glass jar in a cool, dark, dry spot. Thyme isn't very juicy, so it might just be done drying within a day!
  • Stuff It: Put whole sprigs of thyme under the skin and inside the cavity of a chicken before you roast it.
  • Make a Tea: Thyme blends well with a lemon wedge, some grated ginger, and honey. Steep it in a thermos for 30-60 minutes to pull the flavor from these leathery leaves. It's particularly nice for sore throats, coughs, and chest congestion.
  • Tincture It: This alcohol-based remedy will keep for up to 10 years on the shelf! Use thyme tincture for chronic lung issues, chest congestion, and antimicrobial action. The flavor is reminiscent of Listerine. Chop and stuff the fresh plant into a 2 or 4 oz jar - get as much in as you can. Cover it with vodka and let sit for one month, then strain it through cheesecloth and squeeze as much liquid out as you can. Store the tincture in a dark bottle in a cool, dark, dry spot. A typical dose is 1-2 squirts (= 30-60 drops or 1-2 ml) mixed in a little water a few times a day. 
  • Infuse It In Honey: Chop up the herb, cover it with honey, and let it sit for a few weeks or so. Warm it a bit and then push the honey out through a strainer (you can use the dregs to make tea). Use the herbed honey to sweeten tea, make salad dressings and marinades, and take by the spoonful for coughs and sore throats (or just because it tastes good.)

PARSLEY: Yet another utilitarian herb! Use parsley any time you want to add fresh green flavor to your dish. It's best fresh or added just at the end of the meal. Great on veggies of all types and as a substitute for cilantro (sorry, I hate cilantro!) in Mexican and Indian dishes. Throw it in eggs, potatoes, sautees...

      Got too much?
  • Juice It! It will increase the antioxidants and up the green ante on any green juice or smoothie with fresh flavor.
  • Make Tabouleh: Basically a Middle Eastern appetizer or meze based on parsley that is *perfect* for summer. Click here for a gluten-free quinoa tabbouleh recipe.
  • Make a Paste (see basil, above)

 

TARRAGON: This is one of those herbs that finds its way into many a garden but then goes totally unused. Don't fall into this trap - it's delicious! French tarragon has a green anise-y flavor that gives a little bit of sweetness to savory dishes and create a more well-rounded flavor (I particularly like it in combo with oregano and basil). When sweet corn comes into season, snip a little bit of tarragon into succotash and this corn saute recipe. And of course tarragon is classically infused in poached white fish, and creamy soups and sauces. Go light, though - it's easy to overdo tarragon.

      Got Too Much?
  • Make Herb Vinegar: Chop up fresh tarragon and loosely pack it in a jar. Cover it with a good vinegar (apple cider vinegar is healthy but white rice or white wine vinegar will better show off the herb's flavor and color). Use a plastic lid (vinegar eats metal), and let it sit for a few weeks, shaking daily. Strain it out and store it in your spice cabinet to make salad dressings and perk up dishes with a light sprinkle. It will keep for a year or longer.
  • Freeze It: See basil, above, but you don't necessarily need a vacuum-sealed bag.
 
MINT: For every flavor, there is a mint, but our garden variety mints tend to be peppermint (or the variety of peppermint called chocolate mint), spearmint (and similarly flavored curly mint), and the fuzzy "gift from a friend" apple mint. All make great teas with slightly different flavors, ranging from bright menthol (peppermint) to earthy-minty (applemint) with doublemint gum (spearmint) in between. For culinary purposes, I separate peppermint from the other two and prefer it for anything chocolate. For example, you can puree fresh peppermint leaves with oil to add to brownie mix or just use the dried herb. Spearmint and applemint are more appropriate as a last-second ingredient in Southeast Asian stir fries, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Indian dishes - often in combination with a little lime juice. I love applemint, basil, and lemon balm in fresh spring rolls. A little applemint goes well with Italian seasonings as well and was my Sicilian grandfather's secret ingredient. Spearmint is my favorite for mojitos (and alc-free mockitos). All mints do well with fruit.

      Got Too Much?
  • Dry It (see thyme, above): It's not hard to go through a bunch of dried mint for tea!
  • Make Soda: Take three large sprigs  and poke them into an empty 1-liter bottle (if you plan to re-use the bottle, try to get them in stem-side-up for easier removal later on) and cover with plain seltzer. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and drink within the day for the freshest flavor. Apple mint seltzer is our favorite accompaniment to Mexican, Indian, and Asian dinners. It's also wonderfully refreshing for a day of gardening. My husband likes to sweeten it with a little simple syrup (simmer 1 cup of sugar in 1/2 cup water until it dissolves - this will keep in the fridge for a week or longer).

Learn More About Growing & Using Culinary Herbs

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Living Juicy! Fresh Nutrition You Can Drink

by Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator


Maybe it's the sight of greening grass, farmers tilling the soil, or the feeling of warm sun on the skin, but there's just something about this time of year that has us craving something bold, fresh, and flavorful on our plates... or more specifically, in our glass. Once the weather warms, I like to give in to the urge to pull out my juicer, blender, bullet, and glass straws (all dishwasher-safe, thank heavens!) to infuse my day with fresh juice and smoothies. Just a few sips, and I already feel more vibrant and ready to take on the day! Here are some well-balanced basics and recipes for drinking your micronutrients...

Why bother? 
1. Fresh juice and smoothies dramatically improve your ability to increase your fresh produce consumption to something closer to the 5 to 9 servings a day we should get. (And, really, how of us even come close to 5-9 servings a day? Very few!)
2. These nutrient-dense drinks are easy for your body to absorb and utilize.
3. They're easy and relatively convenient as a quick healthy meal or snack.

First, I'm going to give a big nod to my colleague and fellow Co-op Wellness Educator Kelly Lang, a Holistic Health Coach who runs Green Life Wellness and also leads the Back on Track Cleanse - a new one will begin this summer (dates TBA - stay tuned on her website). While I only flit around with juices and smoothies here and there when the weather turns warm (I'm a big fan of warm, solid, savory food in general), Kelly lives the juicy life on a regular basis. I really appreciate how she embraces juices and smoothies as a way to get more nutrients and whole foods into the diet while also having a balanced approach to the whole thing. She's taught some great classes on this topic at the Co-op over the years, and the following is a combination of my own experience and gleanings form Kelly's talks. She's also been generous to share some of her favorite recipes at end of this blog!

Benefits of Fresh Juice

Fresh-juice produce is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes and should be consumed immediately for the best results. (As it sits, it will oxidize, lose nutrients, begin to taste "off," and may even become a hospitable environment for germs.) You won't believe how many fruits and veggies fit into a cup! Juicing removes the fiber and concentrates the nutrients, which means you get an extremely nutrient-dense and easily absorbed hit of nutrients.

Downsides: Because juice lacks fiber and concentrates the sugars naturally present in fruit and certain vegetables (beets, carrots, sweet potatoes), it can produce an intense sugar rush and crash if you're not careful about balancing and limiting your sweets. Juice also tends to lack the fats and protein that our body requires to function properly. Juices - especially the sweet ones - often provide ample calories without helping us feel full. As humans, we should eat a diet based primarily on fiber and solid whole food. Think of juice as a part of a balanced diet, not something you should subsist on for extended periods of time.

Tips: 
  • Look for a juicer that works for you in a price range you can handle. I like the mid-range $150 Breville which works well, isn't too pricey, and is easy to clean (most parts are dishwasher safe). Be sure to rinse everything off immediately after use to prevent a stuck-like-cement pulpy mess.
  • My inspiration for buying a juicer was starting a CSA share. Juicing is a great way to use up things in your fridge before they go bad! 
  • For best results, include veggies and greens in your juices to lower the sugar hit and increase the array of nutrients. 
  • "Sweets" include oranges (peeled), apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, and pineapple. Berries and grapes are sweet and tasty, too, but these tend to bounce around in my juicer, so save them for smoothies. Use "sweets" to develop a taste for veggie juice, then back down to a level (some suggest 40% or less) that isn't so sweet and allows for more veggies.
  • Less sweet things to incorporate include romaine, lettuce, kale, spinach, parsley (so, greens of any sort!), cucumber, celery (this gets strong, so start low), zucchini and summer squash, peppers, lemon/lime/grapefruit (peeled)...
  • Enhance the flavor without the sugar rush with herbs like fennel (bulb, fronds), mint leaves, lemongrass stalks.
  • Wash produce before using to help remove pesticides and germs. Drink immediately after juicing.

What About Packaged Juice?
Most store-bought juice is little more than an all-natural sugar high, even if it is "100% juice." Many vitamins and nutrients get lost in the processing, and most juice products rely on nutrient-poor, sugar-high, cheap apple, white grape, and pear juice. Notable exceptions - deep purple-blue-red berries like blueberry, cranberry, cherry, dark purple grape, and pomegranate actually contain as much or more antioxidants than the fresh fruit and tend to be lower in sugar than other juices. Just be sure to read the back of labels very carefully to ensure it's not full of filler juices to keep it sweet and cheap. The real deal will tend to cost upwards of $9 per bottle. These juices may help fight urinary tract infections, decrease inflammation and pain, strengthen cardiovascular and blood vessel health, and boost brain function. To get a "dose" antioxidants and healing properties from these juices, just four to eight ounces a day will usually suffice. Consider mixing them with plain seltzer to stretch them out.

Benefits of Smoothies

Smoothies take the concept of juicing a step closer to real food. No major high-tech (read: expensive) equipment is required. You just grind everything up in a blender or bullet and drink, so no nutrients are lost. It's also easy to throw "add ons" in like flax seeds, chia seeds, avocados, protein powder, powdered supplements and superfoods like cacao powder... which help make your smoothie more of a complete meal. They tend to be a good source of fiber and can have good protein and healthy fats depending on what you toss in. Because of their liquid form, smoothies are still relatively easy to absorb, and they are super convenient. I find smoothies are the perfect answer for clients who are too busy for breakfast or who can't stomach food in the morning.

Downsides: It's really easy to turn a smoothie in to a high-calorie sugar bomb, and even if you manage to fit a complete and perfectly meal of nutrients, fat, protein, and carbs into a glass, you might not feel as satisfied as you would with a solid meal. Depending on the strength of your blender/bullet, tougher veggies and greens may not break down into a pleasantly drinkable consistency.

Tips: 
  • The stronger the motor, the better your smoothies and choices of ingredients will be. High-end choices include the Nutri-Bullet and VitaMix, but you can get by with cheaper models or whatever you already have in the kitchen.
  • Resist the urge to add extra sugar in the form of, well, sugar... as well as maple syrup, honey, and agave. If you do, be sparing. And *please* don't add ice cream - keep that for dessert! Also go light with fruit juices and sweetened yogurt. Aim to get the majority of your sweetness from berries, melon, bananas, and other fruits.
  • Toss in some veggies: try a handful of spinach or kale (ribs removed) for starters, then play around with sprouts, cucumber, and other veggies
  • Add some protein: plain yogurt, milk (cow, goat, hemp, almond), tofu, nuts or nut butter, chia, or a clean unsweetened protein powder
  • Add some good fats: yogurt (ie: whole milk) and nuts are good here too, as are chia/flax/hemp seeds or oil, milk (cow, goat, coconut, hemp, almond, soy). You wouldn't believe how amazing a 1/4 avocado is to cream things up!
  • Add liquids with purpose: Juice is nice and sweet, but play around with more nutrient-dense - and less sugary - options like various types of milk or even plain water.
  • Let your extras work for you: You don't need them, but if you want to add them, opt for the most healthy flavor enhancers. Pure cacao/cocoa powder, superfruits, clean unsweetened protein powder, herbs, supplement boosters, green powders, etc.

Recipes

Courtesy of Co-op Wellness Educator and Holistic Health Coach Kelly Lang from Green Life Wellness and the Back on Track Cleanse (Thank you, Kelly!)

BERRY YUMMY PROTEIN SMOOTHIE
• 1 cup berries (strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries etc.)
• 1 ripe banana (frozen if possible – or add ½ cup ice if not)
• 1 packet protein powder
• 2 cups cold, filtered water (add more water to reach desired consistency)
Optional additions to above:
• 1 teaspoon chia seeds or hemp seeds (for extra protein, omegas, fiber)
• 1 tablespoon cashew or almond butter (adds protein, healthy fat and makes it more filling)
• Handful of raw greens (antioxidants, phytonutrients)

GREEN BERRY SMOOTHIE
• 1 small bunch kale
• 5 large romaine leaves
• 1 cup blueberries (or any berries)
• ½ ripe avocado
• 2 ½ cups filtered water
Sweet Treat: Carrot-Orange-Lemongrass-Parsley
• 1 packet protein powder
Optional additions to above:
• 1 teaspoon chia seeds or hemp seeds (for extra protein, omegas, fiber)
• 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
• 1 tablespoon cashew or almond butter

MILD GREEN JUICE
• 1 head of romaine
• 2 stalks celery
• 1 cucumber
• 1 green apple, cored and sliced
• ½ lime (peeled)
Optional Addition:
• ½ fresh fennel bulb

ORANGE JUICIEST
• ½ green apple, cored and sliced
• 4 large carrots
• ½ cucumber
• Handful of greens (whatever you have left)
• ¼ inch piece of ginger
• ½ lime (peeled)

Enjoy!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring Brunch Recipes: Welcome the Season

by Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), Registered Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Whether you’re celebrating Easter, throwing a Welcome Spring party, or just planning a cozy Sunday morning brunch for your family, breakfast food holds a special place in the months of April and May. Maybe it’s because brunch basics like eggs, maple syrup, and pork traditionally come into season this time of year. Or perhaps it’s how early blooms, spring greens, and perfect eggs symbolize the start of the green season and new life. Either way, I urge you to lay out some bright tablecloths pick up some flowers, and enjoy a delicious breakfast with your loved ones this month! Here are a few of our favorites...

Simple Crepes, Three Ways
This recipe makes about 10 medium-size crepes. For a crowd, set up a buffet of crepe toppings.
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbls sugar or maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbls butter, melted
Combine ingredients. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium. Once hot, use a cold stick of butter to treat the pan, then ladle some of the batter. Tilt the pan around to help spread the batter to the edge of the pan. Let brown on one side, flip, and brown on the other, remove.
  • The French Canadian: Serve with brown sugar (or maple syrup) and butter.
  • The Parisian: Serve with steamed asparagus, ham, melted brie, and a pinch of fresh or dry dill weed
  • Dessert for Breakfast: Add 1/2 teaspoon almond extract to the batter. Serve with a sauce of raspberries simmered with sugar and a dollop of creamy ricotta sweetened with a bit of maple syrup.
Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
This recipe makes pancakes more virtuous and delicious. Makes about 8 medium-sized pancakes.
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 Tbls melted butter or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup stoneground whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 peeled, grated apple
  • 1 Tbls dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch ground cloves and nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine ingredients until smooth. Cook in skillet until golden on both sides. Serve with butter and maple syrup.
  • Variation - Bananas Foster Pancakes: Skip the apples and cloves. Slice a very ripe banana into thin rounds. When you pour each pancake, place three banana slices on the top. 
Breakfast Skillet Eggs with Home Fries
This recipe serves two and can be multiplied for more. Be sure that your pan size allows the potatoes to be in a single layer with some space in between, otherwise they won’t brown well. Cutting potatoes small, using cast iron, and adding a lid ensures the potatoes bake on the stove top. For a crowd, bake the potatoes and onions in the oven and serve with scrambled eggs on top.
  • 1 Tbls or more extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 small potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped into about 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 ounce cheddar cheese, cubed (optional)
  • 2 to 3 large eggs (local, free range, pastured)
  • Needles from 4 sprigs rosemary (or 1 tsp dry)
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric powder
  • Two handfuls of fresh arugula or other tender green
  • Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
Heat medium cast iron skillet over medium heat while chopping potatoes. Add oil, toss the potatoes in the pan, cover. Chop onions. Toss potatoes; when they’re a little golden, add onions to the pan, keep covered. Add more oil if necessary. Prep eggs and cheese. Whisk them together with salt and pepper. Add rosemary and crushed red pepper to skillet. Keep tossing the potatoes and onions, add some salt and pepper to them. When they’re cooked and golden, push them to the side of the pan and pour the eggs/cheese in the middle. Scramble everything together until the eggs are cooked. Serve on a bed of greens. 

Maple Cardamom Bacon
For just a few people, make this on the stove top in a skillet with a lid. If you have a crowd, bake it in the oven.

  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 Tbls real maple syrup
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
  • Pinch black pepper (optional)
Lay out bacon slices in a single layer in a covered skillet on medium/low heat or in a lined, rimmed baking sheet in the oven at 400°F. Cook until partway done. Flip, sprinkle with cardamom and pour maple syrup, continue cooking until crisp. Remove from pan immediately, sprinkle with pepper, and serve.

Blog Inspiration
Need more ideas?  Here are some of my fave food blogs...


For recipes and more, visit www.WintergreenBotanicals.com.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Easy, Cheesy Holiday Apps

by Maria Noel Groves, Co-op Wellness Educator
with Heidi Pope, Cheese Buyer

The holidays bring out my inner Martha Stewart... and my inner psycho. Grand plans of fancy spreads can become a harried reality - honestly, who has the time? Fortunately, cheese is easy to please. Even your basic cheese-and-cracker platter can go from mundane to gourmet with barely any extra effort - just a change in perspective. These tasty appetizers multitask as elegant edible decorations for your table as well.

Here are some simple cheese spreads. An attractive platter and cute cheese knives go a long way to dress things up, but even well-placed porcelain white plates and bowls, baskets covered in cloth napkins, or wooden/bamboo cutting boards will do the trick. Don't forget the herbs and fruit! Whether or not people eat them, they'll make your platters pop.
  • Surround a log of seasoned goat cheese with an arrangement of nice crackers, using dried cranberries or fresh grapes as accents.
  • Snip sprigs of fresh herbs (ie: sage, thyme, rosemary) to place atop cheese blocks or spreads. You can also use larger bunches of herbs and hardy kale tucked around and under the cheese blocks for flare.
  • Surround a large bowl of grapes or other fruits (ie: strawberries, an opened pomegranate) with a stylish arrangement of cheese and crackers on a large platter.
  • Serve baked, wrapped brie on a board with slices of crusty baguette, accented with fresh strawberries or glistening cranberries.
  • Small bowls of paté and hummus (decorated with a sprinkle of paprika and some snipped herbs) will keep the dairy-free folks happy. Also check out Daiya brand dairy-free "cheese."
For crackers, choose a mix of gourmet and tried-and-true styles. Locally made Craquelins crisps are always amazingly delicious and gorgeous on the table. Standard fare crackers help fill the gaps - Kashi and Back to Nature have a wide range of great options, and sometimes you can catch them on sale this time of year. My personal faves include the Harvest Whole Wheat Crackers and the Sesame Tarragon, which are fancy without offending bland taste buds.

Not being a fancy cheese expert, I turned Co-op cheese buyer (and fellow foodie) Heidi Pope for tips on how to branch out of my cheddar-jack rut. Here are some of her recommended easy cheesy canapés that are sure to amaze your dinner guests without sending you into breakdown mode preparing them.
  • Bellaviva dried pear slices topped with a slice of Courrone Brie, a bit of La Quercia Prosciutto Americano, and a tiny drop of Modenaceti Balsamic Glaze.
     
  • Classic Lazzaroni Bruschette topped with a slice of Olli Toscano salami and a piece of Manchego. Top with finely-chopped herbs.
     
  • Original Sea Salt Mediterranean cracker topped with Vermont Creamery Quark, finely-chopped ham, and a dollop of Bonnie’s Red Pepper jelly.
After you put out your spread, give yourself a treat! Heidi recommends her favorite holiday treat: Drinking Moonlight Meadery's Kurt's Apple Pie with some Grafton Cellars Naked Cheddar.

Enjoy!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Put Your Iron in the Fire: Cooking with Cast Iron

By Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), Registered Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

My two fave pans.
I grew up in a cast-iron family. My mom always had one on the stove or in the oven, and my grandmother regularly whipped hers out to fry up potatoes to go with my grandpa's steaks. One of the very first kitchen supplies I ever purchased was my own set of big and little cast iron pans (this was before they came pre-seasoned, and I was surprised to learn they start out grey!), which I still use daily. And I bought my husband a set of cast iron pans on our first Valentine's together as a couple. It's not unusual for us to have three of them going at a time - on the stove, in the oven - they're such versitile, classic cookware! So, I forget that most people consider cast iron a foreign concept. Half of those who have the pans love them, but the other half regard them as a sort of nebulous kitchen decoration. I'm here to help you get over that confusion and fear and put your iron in the fire...

Why Cast Iron?

Cast iron pans are the ultimate indestructible cook pan (they will literally outlive you), and they're made with an all-natural material that actually benefits your health when it leaches into your food. When you cook in a cast-iron pan, the food you eat will have increased iron content, particularly if it's acidic and/or cooked for a longer period of time. How much more iron? This varies widely, but according to one study, the increase ranged from about .5 to 5 mg more iron per serving. Applesauce jumped from .35 to 7.38 mg, but I don't know anyone who actually makes applesauce in a cast-iron pan. Most adults need just 8 to 15 mg of iron in the diet daily (menstruating and pregnant women need much more than men). While it is possible to overload on iron - particularly with dietary supplements - and people who have excess iron in the blood should avoid cast iron, most Americans would do well to cook more with these durable pans. Adequate iron levels help build the blood and make us feel more energized. Other benefits of cast iron? A well-seasoned pan surpasses any other pan for sauteing and roasting. It's much less apt to stick than stainless steel and aluminum and doesn't pose the dangerous leaching carcinogen tendencies of nonstick pans like Teflon (though I do keep my Ecolution pans from the Co-op on hand for crepes and omelets). Cast iron also gives an unsurpassed browning effect to food and is a lot easier to clean, IMHO.

Purchasing & Cleaning Basics

If you don't already have a cast-iron pan and are considering purchasing one, you have the option of buying pre-seasoned or unseasoned pans. They are available at most stores that sell kitchen products - you'll spend more at a fancy kitchen store and less at hardware stores for the exact same thing.

Purists may prefer the unseasoned pan. You season it by washing it then coating it with vegetable oil (Crisco is classic, but I prefer the organic palm oil shortening from the Co-op and unsalted butter works well, too... you can use any vegetable oil that doesn't oxidize easily and can take some heat - saturated fats that are solid at room temp are best), then heat it for several hours in the oven. Unfortunately, this process - which bakes the oil seasoning into the pan, darkening it over time - also oxidizes the oil on the pan, making a nasty smoky mess in your house. You may want to do it outside on the grill, or just buy the pre-seasoned pans.

For regular maintenance, want to wash the pan with a stiff bristle brush and dry the pan immediately after use, then coat it with a thin layer of oil (shiny but not sticky, explain the experts at Lodge Cast Iron). I like to reheat the clean, dry pan on the stove to fully dry it, then rub the oil in the hot pan (carefully!) with a paper towel. Soap is generally not recommended or necessary because it will eat away the seasoning you've worked so hard to build. But if you must, use mild soapy water and be sure to dry and oil it right away.

Avoid the urge to leave pans soaking or filled with food for hours - they will eventually rust. If this happens, you can reclaim your pan by scrubbing away the rust with steel wool and then do a thorough re-seasoning.

If your cast iron has been sitting for a long time (months? years?), you may find that the finish has a sticky consistency and rancid oil smell - it's worth giving it a thorough scrubbing - possibly with soap - and re-seasoning before cooking in it or that off taste may get into your food.

Don't let all these instructions freak you out. Cast iron takes no more time to keep clean and in good condition than any other set of pans. Regularly used pans just need a quick scrub, dry, oil - maybe two minutes of work, tops!
Multitasking an autumnal dinner of roast squash and chicken.

What Can You Cook In Cast Iron?

Technically, anything, but cast iron really shines for sauteing and roasting of any sort, on the stove top or in the oven. You can buy cast iron lids if you want to cook things covered in the oven. If you want a lid for stove-top work, you can just re-purpose whatever other pan lids you have on hand. I have a flat-bottomed dutch oven that is *awesome* for roasting free-range chickens from the Co-op. I cook it covered for about 20 minutes at 550 degrees, then turn the temp down to 350, take the lid off, and cook for another 30 minutes or so until my thermometer tells me it's done, the skin is browned, and the juices run clear. Consider regular shallow-bottomed cast-iron pans for baking quiche, too. Another thing that lidded cast-iron dutch oven pans have become famous for are making no-knead round loaves of homemade bread that rival those of fancy brick ovens. Here's a short list of my favorite things to cook in cast iron:
Enameled cast iron is great for soups and stews
  • Scrambled and fried eggs
  • Roasted potatoes (in the oven) and pan fries (on the stove top with a lid). Ditto for match-sticked or tiny cubes of beets or sweet potatoes.
  • Roasting chunks of winter squash or a whole winter squash that has been cut in half
  • Roasting Brussels sprouts after a quick steam with water or wine
  • Sauteing kale, arugula, or other greens and making kale chips
  • Baking quiche and cornbread that looks very fancy on the dinner table served in the pan
  • Roasting chicken
  • Making soups that start with sauteed ingredients (though I prefer enameled cast iron for this, regular cast iron sometimes lends an off flavor)
  • Baking bread, with or without a lid (enameled pans smoke less at high bread temps)
  • Sauteing rice pilaf, corn dishes, and other grain dishes, stir fries, etc.
  • Making skillet "baked" beans on the stovetop
  • Poaching eggs in hashbrowns or greens
  • Pan-frying (particularly in butter) choice cuts of wild game or grass-fed meats, fish, etc. for a special night's dinner. Yes, it's also great for seasoned cubes of tofu, too!
  • Pan-frying seasoned eggplant, veggie burgers, croquettes, etc.

Happy Cookin'!

How do YOU like to use your cast-iron pans? 

Let us know in the "comments" section!