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Nov. 1 - Vicki's Vegetable Ventures

Posted 11/1/2011 12:40pm by Vicki Phillips.

Hits and misses
Lately I’ve been making fried green tomatoes using a technique dubbed with the acronym FEB, which stands for flour, egg and bread (or panko). Dredged and dipped, slid into hot peanut oil, sizzling and browning, these little tots never fail to delight. Turnips, on the other hand, continue to challenge me. Last week I had to throw out two that didn’t get eaten and finally withered. And now I have two more which I’m determined to use, perhaps in a hearty beef stew for the snowy days coming this week.

Another miss was my failed experiment at roasting pumpkin seeds. I’d spent the better part of an hour digging them out of the pumpkin, separating them from the stringy flesh, washing and drying them — only to screw up the roasting process with too high heat, or too much oil or too long of a cook time. Whatever, into the trash went the bitter-tasting, blackened seeds.

I’ve been guilty of ignoring an accumulation of what the Brits call “capsicum.” I had two weeks’ worth of peppers in the fridge: red and green, round and elongated, big and small, hot and sweet. Last night I used half of them (the older ones) for old-fashioned Italian sausage and peppers. My Neapolitan mother taught me how to make this, which seems easy but can be tricky if you don’t cook the peppers correctly.

Although two weeks old, the peppers had fared well in my fridge and produced a traditional meal as good as my mother used to make. A crusty whole-wheat roll and a glass of Cabernet rounded out this homey dinner.

East European comfort food
A recipe I clipped from a newspaper long ago begins, “Nail polish takes longer to dry than this dish takes to cook.” Thin, boneless pork loin chops are flash-fried, then a quick sauce tossed together with sour cream, white wine and dried dill. I made it Sunday night, this time using fresh dill for my best-ever execution of this recipe. I served it with our CSA red cabbage prepared East European style, braised with apples, onions, cloves, red wine and currant jelly. The pork and cabbage nourished us with a comforting yet elegant meal after arriving home from a long drive from Kearney, NE.

Fall harvest celebration
We had gone to Kearney because one of the couples in our dinner group has taken up a Kearney-Denver dual residence due to work. They invited the whole gang to come to their new house in Kearney for the weekend, the highlight of which was a multi-course feast with a fall harvest theme. My son Keith joined us from Lincoln, bringing an appetizer of pumpkin dip and apples, served in a cute little pumpkin which he’d adorned with a Cornhusker “N” and “Go Big Red.” Next came my pumpkin-squash soup, made with CSA pie pumpkin, butternut squash, delicata squash, tarragon and leeks.

Our hosts did the main course … exquisitely. Dave, who used to live in France, cooked roti de porc au caramel de cidre, or pork with cider, and Patti baked apples with raisins and cinnamon. Side dishes were Fred & Barb’s delicious roasted mélange of carrots, parsnips and onions, and my salad.

I decided on a simple salad, clean and crisp to cleanse the palate and provide a complementary mouth-feel to the richer, more complex dishes being served. I mixed our CSA salad greens and spinach and added some celery, our colorful carrots from Chatfield and a bit of fresh tarragon. For the dressing I followed Fred’s method. First, he insists that extra-virgin olive oil is far too heavy for salad dressing, so I used grapeseed oil. Second, he takes three different salts (celery, onion and garlic) and lets them sit in the vinegar for a while. Sherry vinegar lent delicacy, with a splash of balsamic to amp up the flavor.

Local and in season
Our feast was capped off by Deb & Alan’s yummy pear tart with shortbread crust. How fitting that the end of Chatfield’s growing season coincided with this special meal with our foodie friends. I was able to utilize numerous items from the final distribution and offer dishes prepared with farm-fresh ingredients.

In fact, the quality matched what I’ve found in Europe, where food always tastes better to Ray and me. We could never figure out why, chalking it up to some micro-climate phenomenon. But now that we’ve eaten produce that comes from a short distance away, is in season, was picked recently and was not mass-produced, we realize that Europeans eat like this all the time and that’s why their food tastes better. What a simple and healthy approach — kudos to the growers and gardeners at Chatfield!


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