Living La Vita Locale: Vida Salad

Growing up, my grandmother made this concoction called Health Salad.  So, color me shocked one day in NYC, when I saw it at a deli.  I turned to my friend and said, “I thought my grandmother made that up!” Honestly, when I was younger I didn’t like it.  I didn’t really like anything that tasted cabbage-y, from coleslaw to cabbage borsht, although I have since changed my mind and will heartily dig into all things cabbage, from kraut to prakas (stuffed cabbage).  My husband jokes that the horseradish is the root of my people, and if that is the case, then the cabbage is the brassica of Everyman.  The ancient Greeks wrote about them, as well as the ancient Chinese.  From north to south and east to west, there are varieties of cabbage that are central to most major cuisines.  This humble green is packed with vitamins and minerals, grows well in poor conditions, keeps well through the winter, and along with the potato, probably kept a gazillion people alive during hard times.

After a time, my mother took up the mantle of making the health salad.  It was one of her contributions to every family dinner occasion, from Thanksgiving to Passover, my mom, Vida, made the Health Salad.  It was about this time of year a few years back, and I was putting away my share from the CSA when I realized that I had all of the ingredients to make Health Salad.  There was a head of cabbage in the fridge from the week before, and I had cucumbers, carrots, and the one pepper per share from that week.  I called my mom and asked for the recipe.  Since then I have tweaked it a bit, and since my mom likes these results better than hers, I feel good about renaming the recipe, Vida Salad.  Yes, after my mom, but her name means “lifetime” in Spanish, so “Lifetime Salad” — salad that will help you be healthy for a lifetime!

Vida Salad

Salad

  • 1 medium head of cabbage, quartered and cored
  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 sweet pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1-2 T salt
  1. Put a large colander inside a bowl.
  2. Slice the cabbage quarters thinly, across the grain, so you have thin shreds (I usually do this on a mandoline).  Put them in the colander and sprinkle with 1 T salt. Toss to coat.
  3. Grate the cucumbers and carrots.  Add them to the colander and sprinkle with the remaining salt.
  4. Cut the pepper into strips and then cut across the strips to make small squares.  Add them to the colander.
  5. Using a plate that has a smaller circumference than the colander, weigh down the veggies to press out the excess water that the salt is drawing out. While you are waiting, make

The Dressing

  • 1/2 C Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 sugar or honey (but use a mild flavored honey)
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1/4 C coconut oil

Put all of the ingredients in a jar and shake until the sugar is dissolved.

6. Press out as much of the water as you can.  I take an extra step here and put the veggies in a towel and wring out as much water as I can.

7. Dump the water, and put the veggies in a bowl.  Add the dressing and mix thoroughly.  While you can eat this right away, the flavor definitely improves after a day or two in the fridge.

 

This is great as a side, on a burger or hot dog, or mixed with tuna.

While the Blueberries Continue

While the blueberries continue to ripen, I continue to freeze, dehydrate, and cook down preserves.  But there are still lovely lettuces being harvested and carrots and cucumbers and early peppers — all of the fixings for a lovely salad.  And yes, we add fruit to our salads: first come our strawberries, then the first harvest raspberries, followed by blueberries.  Soon, there will be grilled peaches, followed by August apples, thinly sliced.

We make our own salad dressing, which is really an easy thing to do, and it tastes so much better than bottled dressing.  A simple and delicious vinaigrette can be made from a  good olive oil, and your choice of vinegar, a little salt, and a pinch of sugar for balance.

But while the blueberries are flowing, this vinaigrette is on our table

Blueberry Vinaigrette

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 T honey
  • 1/4 cup salad oil

Put the first four ingredients into a mini-processor and blend them all together.  Once the blueberries are liquified, begin to slowly drizzle the oil into the processor.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate.  This will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.

Other uses:

  • Mix 1/4 cup with 1T of mustard and 1 T honey and use as a glaze on grilled chicken or pork.  When your chicken or pork chop is nearly done, brush it with the glaze.  Applying the glaze sooner, or toward the beginning of the grill time, may cause the glaze to burn, which will impart an acrid flavor to the meat.  Be sure to allow enough time for the glaze to cook onto the meat, about 8 minutes or so, depending upon how hot the grill is.
  • Mix 1 T with 1 T of mayo and spread on a turkey sandwich (or that leftover chicken).
  • Dress coleslaw with this instead of mayo.
  • Use as a dressing for potato salad.

 

Living La Vita Locale: Blueberry Season is Here

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My heart leaps when I see that little blue sign by the side of the road that says, “U-Pick Blueberries” with a bright orange arrow with “3.5 miles” stenciled across it.  It is the annual symbol that blueberry season is here.  The season for the most valuable crop in New Jersey, the official state fruit.  My little home state ranks fifth in the nation for blueberry production, behind Washington State, Oregon, Georgia and Michigan (not in that order).

Fun fact: The commercial blueberry was first cultivated in Whitesbog, NJ by Elizabeth Coleman White, and agricultural scientist Frederick Coville. The low-bush wild blueberries were very prolific throughout the Pine Barrens, and White read about Coville’s work on the  blueberry in an agriculture journal.  In 1910, she and her father, cranberry barron and landowner, Joseph White, convinced Coville to join them in Whitesbog to continue his work with the added efforts of White.  The result is the blueberry as we know it today.  If you are in the area, you can take a tour of the historic Whitesbog Village, and maybe even pick a few blueberries.

This year, I think I finally perfected a no-bake blueberry pie filling that set up beautifully in about an hour in the fridge.  It is a very straight-forward application that highlights the blueness of the berries, is low sugar, and gluten-free.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie Filling

  • 1 prepared 9-inch pie crust   (use whatever kind of prepared pie crust you like.  The recipe on the link is a traditional flour crust and therefore NOT gluten-fee)
  • 6 cups fresh blueberries, divided
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 T organic cornstarch*
  • 1/8 t sea salt
  • 1/4 C sugar**
  1. Put 2 C of the blueberries and the sugar in a saucepan.
  2. Whisk together the water, cornstarch, and salt until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the sugar and berries.
  3. Cook over a high heat until bubbles appear.  Reduce the heat and continue cooking, stirring constantly until the berries darken and the mixture gets thick (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and let is cool for about 5 minutes.
  4. Carefully stir in the remaining 4 C of berries and continue mixing until all of the berries are well-coated.  Let the mixture cool a little more (about 5 minutes).
  5. Pour into your prepared pie crust.
  6. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours to ensure the set.

For added pizzazz, top this with whipped cream, or serve next to a scoop of ice cream.

*I call for organic corn starch as a way to avoid GMO corn.

**You can use many types of sugar, but do not substitute with things like stevia or truvia.  The sugar is part of what thickens the mixture.

This will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.  I mix it in yogurt, top ice cream, and make a no-bake cheesecake with it as well.  So make a double batch!

Focus on One: Perfect Pumpkin Pie

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Happy November.  It has been a while since I have had the time to write anything.  The opening of school has been very hectic, and as the first marking period wound down, I realized that in addition to other things I didn’t do this fall because I was so busy with school work, I hadn’t written a blog entry in months.  Focus on one?  Writing blog entries again?  Well, it IS November, and Thanksgiving is a mere 12 days away, so Focus on One: making the perfect pumpkin pie.  For years, I worked on perfecting my pumpkin pie and I think that after all of this time, I have finally got it down.

There are two things that make a pumpkin pie really great: one is using a mix of fresh pumpkin and butternut squash puree and the other is the pie crust.  I will start with the crust.  Excellent pie crust results from very cold fat and not over mixing the dough.  How do you do that?  Make the crust mixture in advance and put it in the freezer.  I actually make batches of the crust mix and freeze it in plastic bags with 1 cup of mix in each bag.  And the trick to not over-rolling your dough is to use a pastry cloth and a pin sock and NEVER wash them.  “Yuck,” you say.  Store the pastry cloth and the pin sock in a freezer bag in the freezer.  It is like having a non-stick pastry cloth and I can roll out a very thin pie crust.  Another question is about the fat to use in the pie crust mix.  Traditionally, people used lard in pie crust because it creates a much flakier crust.  However, many people use butter because it has a better flavor, but the texture of the crust is more like shortbread than pie crust and it is difficult to roll thin.

In “Recycle Those Pumpkins,” I give instructions to bake-off your Jack-O-Lanterns.  You can use the same technique to bake off any type of squash, and store it in the same way.  I use the frozen puree in soups, casseroles, and custards.  The reason I like to use a combination of pumpkin and butternut squash for my pie custard is that the butternut adds a beautiful color to the finished product.  Also, if you are using Jack-o-lantern pumpkin instead of pie pumpkin, it will improve the flavor.  What is the difference between a pie pumpkin and a jack-o-lantern pumpkin?  J-O-L pumpkin seeds are chosen for hardiness and size.  Everyone wants a nice big pumpkin to carve, and one that won’t go soft and moldy in a day.  Pie pumpkins do not store as well because they have a higher sugar content, softer flesh, and a softer outer shell.  The nice thing about pie pumpkins is that they are available at local farmer’s markets right now, along with other great fall veggies.

Elements of the perfect pumpkin pie:

Pie Crust Mix Recipe:

In a large bowl, mix together:

  • 6 Cups All-Purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Cut in 1 pound of fat (lard, butter, shortening (not really recommended), or some combination of two or three) at room temperature until it makes pebbles.  Store in the freezer until ready to use.

Once the crust mix is frozen, you can use it.  For one crust pies, use 1 Cup of mix and add 3 Tablespoons of ice water.  Stir just until it all comes together.  For two crust pies, use 2 cups of the mix with 1/3 Cup ice water.

To roll out a pie crust, lightly flour a pastry cloth and a pin sleeve.  Make a ball out of the dough and squash it flat with your hand.  Roll the dough into a circle.  To transfer to the pie plat, fold it in quarters and slip the pie plate under the pie crust, then unfold it.  Give the crust a lot of slack and gently push it into the bottom edges of the pan.  If you tear it, just take some dough from the excess around the edges and patch it.  No one can see the bottom of the pie.  Just make sure to seal it up so the filling doesn’t leak through.

Pumpkin Custard

  • 11/2 Cups fresh pumpkin puree (if frozen defrost it first)
  • 1 1/2 Cups fresh butternut squash puree (if frozen defrost it first)
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C) and cover a baking sheet with foil.  Place the unfilled pie crust on the baking sheet and set aside.
  2. In a sauce pan with high sides, mix the pumpkin and butternut squash purees.  Put this over a medium-high heat. and cook for about 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the water has cooked off of the puree.  Do not rush this step, as too much water in the puree will affect the overall consistency and flavor of the custard.
  3. In a bowl, beat the eggs.  Add the milk and cream and beat together.
  4. Once the puree has gotten really thick, remove it from the heat and stir in the dry ingredients.  Make sure they are well combined.
  5. Add the egg-milk mixture and stir until it is all incorporated.
  6. Fill (but do not overfill) the pie crust.  If there is extra custard, you can bake it in a greased ramekin.
  7. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, or until set.  Check the pie after 30 minutes.  If the crust is getting too brown, cover the edges only with foil.

This custard also makes great ice-cream.

Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for your continued support on this blog!

Who Grew Your Food: Specca Farm

There is this farm stand on Rt. 206, on the Southbound side and anyone who lives south of the Columbus Market, or uses Rt. 206 to and from the shore, know it: The Corn Stop.  It has been there as long as I can remember. Last weekend, I was teaching a class and needed some peaches for a recipe I was making, so I went there so I could at least get something local.  The woman behind the counter was wearing a Specca Farm shirt so asked where the farm was and when she told me, I remembered why I knew the name.  Many years ago, I took my children strawberry picking there.  They are located just outside of Mt. Holly, NJ and grow very fine produce.

Later in the week, I had the opportunity to talk to Lisa Specca about the farm.  Her husband’s grandfather, Romeo Specca came from Italy after World War I and started work in this country as a gardener.  After some time, he was able to purchase some land in Philadelphia (where Franklin Mills Mall is today!) and begin his farming career.  In 1958, when his property was purchased to make way for the great new North-South Interstate 95, he purchased land in Burlington County, New Jersey, and founded the Specca Farm we know today.  His son David continued the farm and passed it on to his son, David (that’s David II), who runs the farm with his wife Lisa and their children, David (that’s III) and Steven.

The farm began as many in NJ, as a truck farm, taking produce into Philadelphia markets.  David I began the “U-Pick” as a side business that gained popularity over the decades.  They are not open all summer.  The crops they grow for U-Pick are not harvested all summer, so for example, right now, in July, they are closed.  In the early spring they open for a variety of greens, including Broccoli Rabe, of which they have four varieties, each with its own fan-base.  Later in the Spring they have strawberries.

They open again in late summer, mid-August, which is really when the harvest in New Jersey kicks into high gear.  Tomatoes and cucumbers are peaking, okra and green beans are plentiful.  And they stay open until Christmas allowing for the wonderful fall vegetables NJ has to offer, like cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower that all thrive in the cooler temperatures of autumn.

The farm is a conventional grower because they are not yet able to produce enough compost and manure to use as fertilizer in their fields.  They use an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) system that includes minimal spray, and only sprays that are labeled “Next Day Harvest”.  David II’s off-farm work at the Burlington County Eco-Complex keeps him well aware of the environmental issues facing our county and holds land stewardship as a high priority.

What does The Corn Stop have to do with any of this?  Well, when the previous owner retired, and the business became available, the Speccas decided to give retail a try.  Lisa is excited about the new opportunity.  The Corn Stop is not selling exclusively Specca Farm produce, but produce from a variety of sources in order to provide more variety in what they have to offer.  If it can be grown locally, and is in season right now, The Corn Stop has it.

If you want more information about the U-Pick, you can check out Specca Farms on Facebook.  Not into Facebook?  You can call them at 609/267-4445 and listen to a recording of what will be available for U-Pick.