Support local CSA farms by signing up Saturday

The last load of farm-fresh vegetables arrived today from my community-supported agriculture program — just in time for subscription renewals. Small farmers and local-foods advocates tout Saturday as National CSA Sign-up Day.

As explained in a previous post, my family participated in a winter CSA designed to provide locally grown produce when local farmers markets are on hiatus. But most CSAs operate at the height of the growing season, supplying shareholders with summer’s bounty.

The model is based on supporting farmers when they most need it to plan for the year’s crops, which is now. Seven Rogue Valley farms offer CSAs, each a little different. Find the list on THRIVE’s website. Then browse individual farm websites to find the best fit for your food budget and preferences.

Expanding beyond boxes of produce, some farmers include add-on options for eggs, homemade breads, meats, cheeses, fruits, flowers or other farm products. Sometimes, several farmers group their products together, to give members the widest variety. About 6,000 farms across the country operate CSAs since their advent in the 1980s.

Although the selection is smaller in winter, greens — particularly kale and chard — are mainstays of my CSA, with arugula a more recent addition in the past month. This salad using chard and arugula won’t be quite as sweet come summer but still tasty.

Swiss Chard and Arugula Salad With Lemon Vinaigrette and Toasted Walnuts

Detroit Free Press photo

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste

1 bunch (about 1/2 pound) arugula or spicy greens mix, thoroughly washed, torn into pieces if leaves are large

1 bunch (about 1 pound) chard, thoroughly washed, stems trimmed, and leaves cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips

1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

3/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

In a small bowl, whisk together to emulsify the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together the arugula, chard and onion. Sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Starting out with about 1/4 cup vinaigrette, drizzle it around sides of bowl. Using salad tongs, toss salad into dressing working from sides in. Divide mixture among 6 plates. Sprinkle with the walnuts, and serve with remaining vinaigrette on the side if desired. Dressing will keep at least week in refrigerator.

Makes 4 servings.

— Recipe from the Detroit Free Press

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Clean anything with lemons, baking soda, vinegar

Lemons as cleaning agents will be a sidelight to today’s citrus class with Master Food Preservers.

The concept didn’t make the cut for Wednesday’s story in A la Carte on preserving citrus. But I figured most savvy cooks know they can freshen a sour garbage disposal by feeding it a lemon half or two. Hands sullied by garlic, onion or fish also can be deodorized with a cut and salt-sprinkled lemon.

These are just a few of the tips I gleaned from a workshop on all-natural cleaning at Ashland’s North Mountain Park Nature Center. Several years after writing a story on the topic, I still save squeezed lemon halves to remove cheese residue from a grater or to shine my stainless-steel sink. That’s before consigning them to the garbage disposal. It doesn’t get much thriftier than that.

And in an effort to save money on petroleum-based cleaning products that, in my experience, don’t work all that well, I combine baking soda with the cleansing potential of lemons. The other ingredient in this do-it-all triumvirate is distilled vinegar, which I buy by the gallon. In addition to being a nontoxic and versatile cleanser (window wash, hard-water descaler), distilled vinegar has myriad culinary uses.

Here is a list of ways from the Fresno Bee to put distilled vinegar to work:

Wash fruit and vegetables. Produce has all kinds of experiences before it arrives at the market, let alone on the kitchen table. Remove the residue of those adventures by washing fruits and vegetables in a solution of three parts water to one part vinegar. Rinse thoroughly. According to research, a vinegar wash kills up to 98 percent of bacteria and removes pesticides.

De-funkify the microwave. Microwave a bowl of water with a tablespoon of white vinegar for five minutes. Remove the bowl and wipe down the gunk. The steam from the water mixed with the mild acidity of the vinegar removes and sanitizes the microwave.

Disinfect wood cutting boards. After carving meats, wood cutting boards require a good scrubbing and disinfecting. After washing the board, wipe it down with undiluted white vinegar to make sure all the germs and other wee beasties are removed.

Remove the sticky. Need to remove a sticker from a jar, or adhesive left from a bumper sticker? Vinegar to the rescue. Wet a rag with vinegar and wipe the sticker with it until soaked. The paper and the adhesive will come off in no time.

Soothe sunburns and scalds. Hard to believe until you experience it first-hand: Rubbing white vinegar on a sunburn or a scald not only removes the pain instantly, but depending on the severity of the burn, may relieve the pain entirely and helps keep the burn from blistering. (Reapply as needed.)

Stop scratching. Used topically, distilled vinegar is a simple anti-itching remedy for bites and stings. Stop or reduce the itching by applying the vinegar with a cotton ball directly to the bite. (Reapply as needed.)

Buff windows. Vinegar is probably the most inexpensive glass cleaner you’ll find. In an empty spray bottle, mix equal parts white vinegar and water, then clean as usual. It will leave windows streak- and residue-free.

Mop floors. For no-wax floors, using a vinegar and water solution is a great eco-friendly floor cleaner and disinfectant. The mix: 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to a half-gallon of water.

Clean baby toys. Little ones are like puppies: They indiscriminately chew on just about everything. Using an equal-part solution of distilled white vinegar and water is a great, nontoxic way to disinfect plastic or rubber toys. Simply spray or wipe down the toy with the solution, let it sit, then wipe off any remaining wetness after 15 minutes.

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Citrus fruits shine in foods fresh and preserved

Like rays of sunlight, citrus brightens just about any food it touches, observed a local chef quoted in this week’s A la Carte.

Once the weather is reliably warm and sunny, it’s easy to forget that the citrus season is waning. So with citrus at its best, now is the time for capturing its essence in curds, marmalades, chutneys, vinegars and more, as explained in this week’s story.

At least a dozen recipes await participants in Tuesday’s class at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. And a rainbow of citrus fruits will be represented, promised Master Food Preservers teaching the class.

Harboring no fewer than a half-dozen types of citrus for the past week in my refrigerator, I immediately ponder uses for the zest before peeling the fruit. Clementine zest acidified a salad of white beans and fennel, along with the fruit’s sections, that I recently prepared. And since I’ve found a reliable source for Meyer lemons at Food 4 Less, their juice and zest are no-brainers in everything from beverages to desserts.

Common oranges are cited for this recipe, perfect for Chinese New Year, when citrus fruits often are bestowed and consumed for good fortune. But tangerines, tangelos, mandarins and the like could be substituted.

Slightly freezing the meat strips, according to recipe testers for Tribune News Service, makes them fry up crisp and crunchy, while still staying tender inside.

Crispy Orange Beef

Tribune News Service photo

1 1/2 pounds sirloin steak tips, trimmed

3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

6 tablespoons cornstarch

10 (3-inch) strips orange peel, sliced thin lengthwise (1/4 cup), plus 1/2 cup juice (2 oranges)

3 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons dry sherry

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

3 cups vegetable oil

1 jalapeno chili, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise

2 tablespoons peeled and grated, fresh ginger

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

2 scallions, thinly sliced on bias

Cut the beef with grain into 2- to 3-inch-wide pieces. Slice each piece against grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips. In a bowl, toss beef with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce. Add the cornstarch and toss until evenly coated. Spread beef in a single layer on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Put sheet in freezer until meat is very firm but not completely frozen, for about 45 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together the orange juice, molasses, sherry, vinegar, sesame oil and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce.

Line a second, rimmed baking sheet with a triple layer of paper towels. Heat the oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until oil registers 375 F. Carefully add 1/3 of beef and fry, stirring occasionally to keep beef from sticking, until golden-brown, for about 1 1/2 minutes. Using a wire-mesh skimmer, transfer meat to paper towel-lined sheet. Return oil to 375 F and repeat with remaining beef. After frying, reserve 2 tablespoons frying oil.

Heat reserved oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the orange peel and jalapeno and cook, stirring occasionally, until about half of orange peel is golden-brown, for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring frequently, until garlic begins to brown, for about 45 seconds. Add soy sauce mixture and cook, scraping up any brown bits, until slightly thickened, for about 45 seconds. Add beef and the scallions; toss. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

— Recipe from “Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book” (America’s Test Kitchen, 2014, $40).

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It’s time to lavish love on heart-healthy lentils

Lentils will anchor a cooking demonstration I’m putting on this evening as an ACCESS volunteer.

Participants in an Asante employee wellness program will get a taste of these little legumes in tortillas topped with common taco fillings. The idea, of course, is that lentils are a protein-packed yet fiber-rich alternative to meat or even more commonplace beans that show up in tacos and burritos and other Latin fare.

Ideal fare for American Heart Month, lentils prevent cardiovascular disease, as explained in a 2013 story for A la Carte. They’re also the richest plant-based source of folate, an often elusive but vital nutrient.

And because I happen to love lentils, I plan to offer plenty of suggestions beyond tacos. My personal favorite is the warm or room-temperature salad with French lentils, which hold their shape and texture better than other types. It can incorporate any seasonal vegetables: the typical, summertime mélange for ratatouille or the braised fennel of which I’m so fond this time of year. See a photo of the former on my Facebook page.

The following recipe from a recent Washington Post article is an ideal example of this comfort-food concept. I prefer mine with a poached egg, rather than sunny-side-up, because the oozing yolk doubles as a salad dressing.

Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

Braised Lentils With Mushrooms and Kale

1 cup dried French green lentils

3 cups homemade or low-sodium, store-bought vegetable broth

12 ounces assorted mushrooms (such as cremini, shiitake and oyster), cleaned

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1/2 cup)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine (may substitute sake or sherry)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (may substitute half-and-half)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

4 large eggs (optional)

8 ounces kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped

Rinse the lentils thoroughly. Combine them with the broth in a medium pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat until liquid is barely bubbling and cook, uncovered, until lentils have swelled and absorbed most liquid and are barely tender but intact and not mushy, for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat.

Remove and discard stems from any of the mushrooms of the tough-stem variety, such as shiitakes. (For oysters, remove and discard just thickest part of stem’s bottom, and leave creminis and button mushrooms intact.) Coarsely chop mushrooms.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook for a few minutes, until it is lightly browned. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for another minute, until onion just starts to get tender. Add mushrooms and salt in an even layer. Cook undisturbed for 2 minutes or until bottom layer is deeply browned. Stir a few times, pack mushrooms into an even layer again and cook undisturbed for another 2 minutes or until bottom layer is browned. Repeat another time or two, until all mushrooms are deeply caramelized and have shrunk, for 7 to 9 minutes total.

Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute, then pour in the wine. Deglaze pan by scraping up all flavorful brown bits from bottom. Cook to reduce wine until no liquid remains.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the cream. Let it bubble gently for 2 minutes, until slightly reduced and thickened, then add cooked lentils and their liquid. Stir to combine, taste, and add more salt if needed. Cover pan and let it cook, barely bubbling, for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, if using the eggs, pour the oil into a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack in eggs and sprinkle lightly with salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until whites are just set but yolks are still runny. Use a spatula to transfer eggs to a clean plate while you finish lentils.

Add the kale to lentils. Cover and cook until kale is tender but still bright-green, 2 to 3 minutes.

Taste, and add more salt, if desired. Divide lentils among serving bowls and top each with an egg, if using. Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Washington Post from “Date Night In,” by Ashley Rodriguez (Running Press, 2014).

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Custard mashup omits scary step for amateurs

Given the choice between custard and cake, I’d take the former any day.

So the only decision left for someone of my ilk is which creamy, sweet iteration: pot de crème, crème brulee, crème caramel or maybe panna cotta. If only there was a dessert that combined them.

And actually, there is. The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va., has been serving a sweet called chocolate custard cream — a mashup of crème caramel and chocolate pot de crème — since it opened in 1978. A recent article in the Washington Post declares it an easy dessert still worthy of a romantic meal.

That’s partly because chef Patrick O’Connell eliminated the scary part for amateurs: creating and cleaning up a pot of scalding sugar syrup. The classic French custard’s caramel, too sweet in his opinion, has been replaced here with cooked honey.

The following recipe produces a dessert that’s luscious, yet not too rich. It can be refrigerated for a few days in advance of serving.

Photo for The Washington Post by Renee Comet

Chocolate Custard Creams

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 1/2 cups whole milk, 1/2 cup sugar and the scrapings of 1/2 vanilla bean. Bring to just below a boil (scald) and turn off heat. Stir in 3 ounces coarsely chopped, bittersweet chocolate (at least 64-percent cacao) until melted.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together 3 large, fresh eggs and 3 large, fresh egg yolks. Gradually add milk-chocolate mixture, whisking continuously.

3. In a saucepan over medium heat, cook 1 cup mildly flavored honey for 3 minutes, or until it bubbles, darkens and becomes slightly thicker. Turn off heat.

4. Grease eight 6-ounce ramekins with cooking spray. Spoon about 1 tablespoon cooked honey into each one; swirl to coat bottoms. Invert ramekins over a bowl or sink to let any excess honey drip out, then arrange them in a 4-inch-deep baking pan. Ladle about 1/2 cup chocolate custard mixture into each ramekin. Fill pan with enough boiling water to come one-quarter of the way up sides of ramekins. Cover pan loosely with foil. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until custards are barely set.

5. Carefully transfer ramekins to a platter; cool, then refrigerate until well-chilled.

6. To serve, dip bottom of each ramekin into hot water, then run a hot knife around inside edge. Invert custards onto individual plates. Top with fresh raspberries, a dollop or piped rosette of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a chocolate curl. Serve at a cool room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

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Braise chicken with fennel for one-pot feast

Biweekly deliveries of fresh, organic vegetables from a local farm go far toward filling my family’s produce needs.

The highly seasonal nature of community-supported agriculture, however, requires me to use carrots, turnips, potatoes, kale and spinach week in and week out. I can think of worse fates for a cook who prides herself on preparing what’s in season. But my less-frequent grocery store trips do offer the chance to branch out a bit.

Frisee, Belgian endive, avocados and lots of citrus were on my list for this week. In lieu of the greens, the produce section offered the heftiest fennel bulbs I’ve probably ever run across. And the price, $1.59 apiece, couldn’t be beat.

“Thank goodness someone else knows what that is!” a fellow customer exclaimed in the checkout line.

Thinly sliced fennel is one of my favorite foundations for salads, particularly with citrus. This recipe from a previous post is a prime example.

But these fat fennel specimens were just begging to be braised. My other preferred preparation method, braising yields a silky, soft, subtly sweet vegetable that I typically serve as a side dish.

One-pot meals, though, can go a long way toward convincing cooks to try unfamiliar produce like fennel. This recipe from the Los Angeles Times calls for braising fennel with chicken thighs. I might leave the fennel in larger chunks here to highlight its succulence.

Food writer Russ Parsons says the dish is more about technique than an actual recipe. “About as basic as cooking can get,” it can be adapted to other meats and veggies. But the fennel here is the perfect foil for briny olives, earthy mushrooms and zesty lemon.

Tribune News Service photo

Chicken Braised With Fennel, Mushrooms and Olives

1 cup flour

Salt and pepper

3 pounds chicken legs (thighs, drumsticks or a combination)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 bulbs fennel, quartered and sliced 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick, fronds reserved

1/4 cup minced shallots

1 cup white wine

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 pound mushrooms, trimmed and halved

1/2 cup green olives, pitted and chopped

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Lemon juice, if necessary

Place the flour on a plate and stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pat the chicken thoroughly dry and dredge it in flour, shaking off any excess.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. When it’s hot enough that a piece of chicken dipped in oil sizzles, add chicken, skin-side down. Cook until chicken has browned, for 5 to 6 minutes, and then turn and cook on other side, for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and keep it warm.

Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the fennel and cook until it starts to become tender, for about 3 minutes. Add the shallots and cook until fragrant, for about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce by one-third, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard and add the mushrooms and green olives.

Add chicken thighs back to pan skin-side up, resting them on top of fennel. Cover pan, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until chicken is done through, for about 10 minutes.

While chicken is finishing, chop together the lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of the reserved fennel fronds.

Taste sauce for chicken and correct seasoning, adding lemon juice if necessary to sharpen flavor. Divide fennel and mushrooms among 4 warmed pasta bowls. Place chicken on top and sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds and lemon zest.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Cupcakes can be good for sweetheart’s heart

More than a decade since “Sex and the City” made cupcakes chic, the frenzy has faded around these cutesy desserts.

The essential character of a good cupcake, however, hasn’t changed, according to local bakers. And the decades-old concept has only improved with innovations spawned from cupcakes’ status as sweet-treat sensation.

Among the cupcake’s attributes is automatic portion control. The temptation to take a hearty helping of a larger dessert doesn’t exist with a cupcake. And polishing off a whole one just doesn’t come with as much guilt, so say bakers interviewed for this week’s story in A la Carte.

And given the right ingredients, a cupcake doesn’t have to be all empty calories and fat. A recipe previously posted to this blog touts the anti-inflammatory properties of bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened cocoa powder and tart cherries. At least one scientific study showed that heart-attack survivors who ate dark chocolate had lower mortality rates than those who went without.

So during American Heart Month, you could do worse for your sweetie than a homemade cupcake. Because recipes accompanying this week’s story pretty much covered chocolate, here’s a cocktail-inspired cupcake developed with heart health in mind by dietetic staff at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Egg whites lighten the recipe, which also forgoes a dairy-based frosting for processed whipped topping. While it’s not my favorite move, I do give the recipe developers credit for including some actual coconut, touted as a superfood in some circles for several years although its saturated fat content still doesn’t sit well with the American Heart Association.

Note that a 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple, well-drained, will yield about 1 1/4 cups of pineapple juice, the amount called for in this recipe.

Piña Colada Cupcakes

1 package (18.25-ounce) trans-fat-free white cake mix

1 1/4 cups pineapple juice or water

3 egg whites

1/4 cup canola oil

2 tablespoons dark rum or 1 teaspoon rum extract

3 teaspoons coconut extract, divided

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple packed in juice, drained, juice reserved and divided

1 (8-ounce) container fat-free whipped topping

1/4 cup toasted coconut (see note)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 24-cup medium muffin pan with 2 1/2-inch foil liners or spray with floured baking spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, pineapple juice, egg whites, canola oil, rum and 2 teaspoons of the coconut extract; beat according to package directions. Fold 1/2 cup drained crushed pineapple into cake batter.

Fill each baking cup 3/4 full with batter and bake in preheated oven for 16 to 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool completely on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, combine the whipped topping, remaining drained, crushed pineapple and 1 teaspoon coconut extract. When ready to serve, top each cupcake with 2 tablespoons whipped topping and sprinkle with some of the toasted coconut.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

NOTE: To toast coconut, spread out shaved or shredded coconut on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place in 350-degree oven for about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir it once it starts to lightly brown. Watch carefully because it burns easily.

Created by Ashlee Carnahan, Henry Ford Hospital dietetic intern for Heart Smart, and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

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Bone broth on hand makes for effortless flavor

Apart from health, the reward for making bone broth is rich, deep flavor.

Because just about every culture and culinary tradition has its version, bone broth broadens a cook’s menu options far beyond soups and stews. Add it to pan sauces. Cook whole grains, beans or pasta in broth. Braise meats and vegetables in it for lighter dishes without the fat of sautéing or even roasting.

Read the current edition of A la Carte for a story detailing the distillation of this vital liquid and see this blog’s previous post for another recipe.

Once bone broth is in hand, the time that went into its manufacture can dramatically cut the time it takes to get dinner on the table. Soups with homemade bone broth taste like they’ve simmered for hours although their assembly required just mere minutes.

The same could be said of caramelizing onions in advance of combining them with other ingredients. Properly caramelizing onions is a process that takes about an hour, maybe longer. But the super-sweet results are worth keeping one eye on the stove and occasionally stirring the contents of a pot.

With homemade bone broth, the following soup, courtesy of Tribune News Service, would taste like an all-day endeavor, although hands-on time is mere minutes. Any stock could be used in place of chicken or vegetable, which also was the subject of a recent story in A la Carte.

Tribune News Service photo

Onion-Mushroom Soup

4 tablespoons butter

2 large white onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 large red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced

8 ounces cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos), sliced

4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

8 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine

Apple cider vinegar, if needed

In a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the white and red onion; season with the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to turn brown. This could take from 1 to 2 hours, depending on stove’s temperature.

Remove onions with a slotted spoon and add the mushroom slices and thyme. Cook until mushrooms are tender.

Return onions to pot, along with the stock and sherry. Raise heat and bring to a simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. If soup is too sweet for your taste, add some of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons at a time, until broth is as sweet and sour as you like.

Makes 12 cups.

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Raise a cup of bone broth to better health

Sipping a hot cup of bone broth is no bizarre-foods experience for me.

Anyone who’s made homemade stock should have felt the urge to ladle up a bowl before squirreling the lion’s share away for other uses. Likewise, when I was casting about my kitchen for some fast but wholesome sustenance earlier this week, homemade lamb stock left over from a root-vegetable stew provided near-instant gratification devoid of my default: refined carbohydrates.

Before reporting on an increased demand among health-conscious eaters for bone broth, I sung its praises in a previous post that also offered tips for its manufacture and use. The recipes that ran with the piece in A la Carte can be adapted to advice from nutritional therapist Summer Waters for including acid, which helps to distill as much nutrition as possible into the brew.

If the article didn’t provide enough inspiration for boiling up a batch of bones, the buzz around broth-as-beverage counters in big cities, now including Portland, lends a must-have mystique to a food that’s actually as old as humankind. So it’s strange that bone broth should require additional spices, herbs and vegetables, such as scallions, to present it as worthwhile food.

But in the interest of providing yet one more reason to love bone broth, here’s a fairly classic recipe for miso soup that could use any type of rich stock in place of chicken. It almost goes without saying that any leafy greens could substitute here for spinach. Using a microwave per instructions from the Chicago Tribune isn’t my preference, but the process does illustrate how speedy this soup can be assembled, even in dorm rooms or similarly sparse accommodations for cooking.

The fast dish does get a nutritional boost from the fermented soybean paste miso, just another probiotic food that gets high marks from many of the same folks so enamored with bone broth.

Cheers to your health!

Chicago Tribune photo

Instant Soup

1 teaspoon peeled and freshly grated ginger

2 teaspoons red miso (shelved near tofu)

2 ounces firm tofu, cut into small, neat cubes

1 big handful (1 ounce) fresh baby spinach leaves

1 scallions, trimmed and sliced into long, thin slivers

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 cup chicken broth

Soy or tamari sauce, to taste

In a large soup bowl, pile up, in order: the ginger, miso, tofu, spinach and green onion. Drizzle with the sesame oil. Douse with the broth.

Slide bowl into microwave and zap until hot, for 2 minutes. Stir. If you like, drizzle on a little soy. Dig in.

Alternatively, combine all the ingredients in a pot on stovetop and heat over medium until steaming.

Makes 1 serving.

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For light, lacy tempura, minimize mixing batter

I’ve never considered vegetarian dishes a form of dietary deprivation. Still, a little fat goes a long way in recasting vegetables as comfort food.

Tempura is a meal that my husband and I periodically crave. When the garden is a riot of eggplant, green beans and summer squash that we’ve prepared in almost every conceivable way, we resort to battering and frying. Absent home-grown veggies, I’ve been known to tempura-fry an abundance of wild mushrooms.

But in the cold season, our community-supported agriculture share can provide plenty of tempura fodder: winter squash, onions, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower to name a few. I haven’t tried them, but I’d be willing to bet that Runnymede Farm beets, parsnips and celery root would make toothsome tempura.

Of course, we have never pulled off tempura well. Many restaurants don’t exactly, either. That’s why I was so interested in a recent Washington Post article on the topic.

Writer Joe Yonan recalled an unforgettable dinner at a tiny Tokyo spot, where the crust on the tempura was “shatteringly crisp and light … not heavy or greasy in the slightest.” Second most impressive was how the breading “seemed to accentuate, not overpower, the food.

A decade later, when Yonan delved into the new “Japanese Soul Cooking,” he was just as surprised to read that one should barely mix tempura batter, leaving lots of lumps and unblended flour in it, along with mixing it up immediately before coating and frying. The goal is to keep the gluten from forming, just as one shouldn’t overwork biscuits or pie crust.

The batter’s uneven consistency also adds to its laciness upon frying. Keeping it cold with ice cubes makes it more viscous — and therefore more likely to adhere to the vegetables.

Other key points: Maintain the right oil temperature, monitoring it with a thermometer. Drain the just-fried vegetables thoroughly. They can be any favorite combination, such as broccolini, winter squash or pumpkin, eggplant, sweet potato, shiitake mushroom caps or other mushrooms, carrots.

In addition to this recipe, Yonan shared one for dashi at

Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

Vegetable Tempura

For tempura:

1 pound assorted vegetables, cleaned, trimmed as needed and cut into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup cake flour

Dashi, or other sauce of choice, for dipping

8 ounces daikon radish, peeled, coarsely grated and squeezed to remove excess liquid

1/2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated

2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying

1/4 cup toasted sesame oil, for frying

For batter:

2 large egg yolks

2 cups cold water

1/4 cup ice cubes

2 cups cake flour

For tempura: Prepare a cooking station next to stove-top burner. Have ready the vegetables, a plate with the 1/2 cup of cake flour, and the ingredients for wet and dry parts of batter. Set a cooling rack over a paper towel-lined baking sheet, and line up your tools: chopsticks, a metal strainer and a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer.

Pour the vegetable and sesame oils into a large, deep, cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven set over high heat. Bring oil mixture to 360 F (slightly lower than standard 375 F for frying, because tempura cooks quickly).

Meanwhile, prepare separate wet and dry parts of batter: In a bowl, combine the egg yolks and water, mixing until well incorporated, then add the ice cubes. Place the 2 cups cake flour in another bowl.

When you’re ready to fry, finish batter: Quickly add 2 cups cake flour to liquid, all at once.

Hold 4 chopsticks together, tips pointed down, like you’re grabbing a bottle. Stab at batter with chopsticks, mashing down repeatedly to combine dry and wet parts. Do not stir; you barely want to mix batter. (Chopsticks are much less efficient than a spoon or spatula — which is exactly the point.) Mix for only about 30 seconds or until batter becomes loose and liquid, with consistency of heavy cream. It should be lumpy, with visible globs of dry flour floating in it and with unmixed flour sticking to sides of bowl. That’s preferred; you don’t want to overmix.

Lightly coat vegetables in flour on plate, then dip them into batter 1 at a time. Immediately and carefully lay each vegetable in hot oil, working in batches. (Use, at most, half of surface area of oil to cook.)

Deep-fry denser vegetables like sweet potato or carrot first, for about 3 minutes, until they turn golden-brown. Transfer them to cooling rack to drain. Repeat with other vegetables. Cook softer vegetables like asparagus, broccoli and pumpkin for about 2 minutes.

Serve tempura immediately, with a dish of the dipping sauce and a small mound of the daikon topped with the ginger on the side, for each portion. (To eat, add daikon and ginger to dipping sauce right before dunking in first piece of tempura.)

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Washington Post from “Japanese Soul Cooking,” by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat (Ten Speed Press, 2014).

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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