Creamy Mushroom Soup

Creamy mushroom soup with a swirl of sriracha

If you are a mushroom fan (believe it or not, some are not), this is a delectable, warming way to use just about any kind of mushrooms.

Vitamins galore

Packed with over a dozen minerals and vitamins, including copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins, mushrooms also contain antioxidants which help protect cells from damage and reduce chronic disease and inflammation. Also, mushrooms contain Vitamin D, the only produce that does, and you can increase that amount by setting your mushrooms on the windowsill for more sun exposure.

Immune system, depression

If you look up mushrooms and the immune system you’ll find all sorts of research showing how different types can boost your immune system, lower cholesterol, decrease anxiety and depression, improve sleep and clear brain fog. We’re not talking magic mushrooms here – just the culinary ones that are readily available.

Roasted mushrooms lend an even deeper flavor

Mushroom varieties

The standard white mushroom is perfectly acceptable, but you can give the soup added flavor with portobellos, shiitakes, or any other wild mushrooms. The only one recipe doesn’t work well with is the puffball – they are simply too mushy when cooked this way. Serve with whole grain crusty bread and a fresh salad for a complete, easy meal.

Sliced portobello mushrooms

Creamy Mushroom Soup

3 oz. mushrooms sliced
½ medium onion diced
1 clove garlic minced
2 T. butter
2 c. chicken stock
¼ c. white wine
1 medium russet diced
½ c. heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Sauté mushrooms in 1 T. butter; set aside. Sauté onion and garlic in remaining butter until soft. Add stock, potatoes and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft, 20-25 minutes. Add half the mushrooms to the pan and puree with a stick blender. Add remaining mushrooms and cream. Warm but don’t boil. Serves 2.

Vegan option:

Replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Replace the heavy cream with coconut milk. Saute in olive oil.

Garden Cakes

There’s something so cozy and wholesome about potato pancakes. They’re crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and a wonderful palette awaiting a dollop of sour cream or applesauce.

Although I don’t have an ethnic tradition of latkes in my background, I’ve taken a traditional recipe from a Jewish friend of mine and adapted it to use whatever is coming in from the garden or left over in the fridge.

This is one of my favorite ways to use leftover mashed sweet and white potatoes around the holidays. The best part is that you can use your imagination and creativity to combine all sorts of vegetables and seasonings.

The basic recipe:

1 c. mashed or grated sweet potatoes
1 c. mashed white potatoes
½ small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 egg
½ c. flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic in a small amount of olive oil. Mix all ingredients in large bowl and drop by large spoonfuls into pan glazed with olive oil. Pat the cakes flat. Saute until browned; flip and brown on the other side. Alternatively you can place on parchment or a silpat on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Repeat with the rest of batter.

Serve warm by themselves with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream and a dollop of applesauce or currant jelly or whatever other jelly you have on hand. Or serve cold over a fresh salad dressed with vinaigrette and sprinkle with goat cheese or feta.

Riffs on the recipe:

Swiss chard ready to chop

1 cup of any combination of grated raw beets, carrots, parsnips, finely chopped greens

You can also add cooked grains (quinoa, bulgur, oatmeal), mashed cooked beans (black, garbanzo, lentils). Just remember that the drier the mix, the more binder you may need such an additional egg.

Check the recipe tab for zucchini latkes and quinoa cakes

Ugly Fruit

Ugly tomatoes


Let’s be honest – none of us is perfect. Including the vegetables we so carefully nurture in our gardens. But why shun the forked carrot, the split beet or the knobby tomato in favor of their more perfect counterparts? If a peach has a bruise, can’t we just cut it out and enjoy the rest of the peach?

Food waste is an international issue, and one of the best ways to help stop food waste is to shift our thinking to accepting imperfect vegetables and fruits in our own kitchens and at our tables. 

I’ve recently become acquainted with a wonderful organization called Bounty and Soul (https://bountyandsoul.org/), whose mission is to get food and nutrition and wellness education into everyone’s hands and to build community while doing it. I get to help out with cooking demonstrations and food distribution at their markets. 

Bounty and Soul market

Every week I see wonderful smiles as people from all types of life walk away with not only free food, but information on nutrition bringing the food to their tables. Much of the food is donated by local farmers, markets and groceries, and the truth is that it’s not the picture perfect produce you see in the grocery store. It is all perfectly serviceable and delicious, just not perfect in appearance. 

The French started a national campaign several years ago called “The Inglourious Fruit.” It was a public relations campaign to get French citizens to slow food waste by purchasing and eating those fruits and vegetables that are not perfect. These were discounted in grocery stores and markets, and the campaign was a huge success. 

There is a new website from which you can order imperfect vegetables and fruit and have it delivered right to your door. Check out https://www.imperfectfoods.com/ for great information on food waste, not to mention access to wonderful produce. Their slogan is “Eat Ugly With Us”. 

For my own resolution to reducing food waste, I’ve started keeping all my vegetable trimmings and am using them to make a delicious broth for soups. As I trim vegetables for a meal, I make sure to wash the leftovers well (getting all the dirt out of the onion top), and then throw them in a bag in the freezer. Once I have a bag full of not-so pretty beet greens, carrot tops, leek greens, parsley, mushrooms stems and cilantro stems, I put them in a slow cooker along with the remains of tomatoes and a few garlic cloves. I cover with plenty of water and let simmer twelve hours or so. 

Once it’s done, I either strain the broth, squeezing out all the liquid I can, or I puree it (depending on what vegetables I’ve used). With a seasoning adjustment, this becomes the base for a delicious, nutritious soup. You can use it right away or freeze it for later. 

“Glut” sauce ready to roast

My other favorite way to save the uglies is to make a batch of “glut” where everything goes in to roast and then gets pureed for a pasta sauce or spaghetti sauce base. This is the perfect way to use all of those tomatoes toward the end of summer. You can add any other vegetables and herbs you have an abundance of. It will taste a little different each time, but that’s the fun! Because it is milled, you don’t have to core the tomatoes or peel anything. Simply make sure everything is washed well. 

Sauce for the freezer

6 lbs. tomatoes, quartered (or for an eggplant-based sauce, substitute eggplants)

1 ½ c. coarsely chopped carrots, tops and all

1 ½ c. coarsely chopped celery

1 ½ c. coarsely chopped onion

9 gloves garlic, chopped

6 T balsamic vinegar

1 bay leaf

1 ½ T fresh thyme, oregano, basil, parsley

1 ½ t. salt

1 T. pepper

Roast 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Run through a food mill, bag and freeze. Makes 2 quarts. Use for pasta sauce, over fish or chicken, or use as a base for chili or minestrone. 

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted mushrooms
Roasted Broccoli

Nothing is happening in the garden today because of the cold. So, I get to cook – my favorite recreation. I love looking in the crisper to see just what’s there, and then pulling out vegetables like mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and even one of the last eggplants of the season. I’m going to roast vegetables!

Roasting brings out the flavor

Roasting vegetables makes them sublime, giving them that rich “umami” flavor everyone is talking about. All you need are fresh-picked vegetables, good quality olive oil, salt, a sharp knife and a roasting pan. Depending on the vegetable, most will roast to caramelized goodness in about 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Drizzle them with olive oil first, roll around, and then salt when they come out of the oven. Then slice into chunks and add to rice, pasta or simply enjoy plain – a perfect side or main dish. A sprinkling of feta or Parmesan cheese and maybe a drizzle of sriracha sauce complete the dish.

Roasted Broccoli and Carrots with Farro

1 c. broccoli florets

½ pkg. baby carrots

3 T. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

½ small onion, sliced

½ c. cooked farro, quinoa, rice, bulgur or millet (cook according to package instructions)

1 t. balsamic vinegar

¼ c. Parmesan cheese

1/4 c. toasted pecans, pepitas or sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 375. In a sided roasting pan (broiler pan works well), add the carrots and drizzle with 1 t. olive oil. Roast until a fork inserts with ease, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, salt generously and put aside in a bowl. Add broccoli to pan, drizzle with 1 T. olive oil and roast until crisp-tender, about 30 minutes. Salt and add to carrots.

Add the last tablespoon olive oil to a saute pan and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the farro and heat through. Coarsely chop the vegetables and return to the bowl. Add the farro mixture to the vegetables, sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar and parmesan. Top with nuts or seeds and serve warm or at room temperature.

                                                                                ©Kate Jerome 2019

Pumpkins and squash

All things pumpkin!

The nip of frost in the air and the smell of wood smoke outdoors are sublime companions to the scents of cinnamon baked apples and nutmeg-laced butternut squash in the kitchen. This is the perfect time to raid the last of the farmers’ markets and pumpkin farms to pick up the end-of-season bargain squash in every hue and flavor. Load the car with pie pumpkins, buttercups, Turk’s turbans, blue hubbards and kubochas.

Storing squash and pumpkins

Winter squash and pumpkins can be stored for months in a cool basement if you wash them with soapy water and dry them well. Store on wire racks in a cold room. A basement that stays in the 50’s is just about the right temperature.

Pumpkins are king

Red Pumpkin

Pumpkins are the kings of winter squash. Pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, and pumpkin is also delicious when baked and mashed like potatoes. Look for small pie pumpkins, cheddar pumpkin, Cinderella pumpkin and pink or green pumpkins.

Easy to bake

Butternut squash ready for baking

Although often daunting because of the size, all it takes to bake most winter squashes is to cut them in half and invert them on a rimmed cookie sheet. You can remove the seeds before baking, especially if you want to toast the seeds, or you can bake with the seeds intact and remove them after baking. They come out more easily this way.

Bake for an hour or so at 350 degrees, depending on the size of the squash. Serve with butter, brown sugar, maple syrup or stuffed with whatever sounds luscious. All winter squashed are cooked the same way, and can be interchanged in almost any recipe.

Freeze it

The cooked flesh freezes well, and if you measure it into freezer bags in one cup batches, it’s ready to pull out for use whenever the mood hits to make muffins or squash bread. Or soup!

Spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash and pie pumpkins

Spaghetti squash is a little different in that when it is cooked, you can separate the flesh into strands that really do resemble spaghetti. The “spaghetti” is delicious with a little butter and parmesan or even spaghetti sauce. And it doesn’t have the high calories of pasta.

My favorite recipe of the season is squash or pumpkin soup, flavored in any number of ways.

Easy Squash Soup

small butternut squash, pumpkin or other winter squash
1 c. chopped onion
2 t. oil
5 c. chicken or vegetable broth
2 T. molasses
1 t. curry powder or 2 T. red curry paste
¾ t. salt
1/8 t. cayenne or more to taste
⅔ c. half and half or coconut milk
Sliced red sweet or chili peppers for garnish

Mix onions with oil and spread on pan around squash. Roast at 425 45 minutes or until tender. Scoop out pulp, measure about three cups, and add with rest of ingredients to heavy pot. Bring to boil and simmer 5 minutes. Puree in blender and return to pan. Add half and half or coconut milk and warm until heated.

Serve with a drizzle of Sriracha or coconut milk, sliced red chilis, crumbled crisp bacon if you have meat eaters in the house, or chopped parsley or cilantro if desired.

                                                                                ©Kate Jerome 2019

Parsley

Italian flat-leaf parsley has the best flavor

Do you love parsley? I don’t. I don’t mind it, just don’t love the flavor. It’s so “parsleyish”. But pick up almost any recipe and you’ll find it used as a final garnish. Recently a friend served parsley pesto over pasta for dinner. Mentally I was thinking it sounds as bad as raisin pie which is a total waste of good crust. It actually tasted okay, but pretty parsley-intense. Luckily the parsley flavor was mellowed by olive oil, cheese and nuts.

Healthful Addition to Meals

Still, garnishing is best in my book. I dutifully purchase a bunch at the grocery with which to garnish my dish. It only costs a buck, but I’ll use only about 10 leaves. So then I have this bunch of healthy, green goodness that gets rid of garlic breath, is chock full of vitamin C and K, helps regulate blood pressure and is a digestive aid. I can’t make myself just compost the rest so I need to find a way to use it that doesn’t swamp me with parsley flavor. And so I don’t have to run to the store every time I want some for garnish.

Freeze it

Parsley in my retro 70’s salad spinner

It can be frozen! It’s easy to do and when it comes out of the freezer, it tastes fresh, retains its beautiful green color and still gives you all the healthy benefits. Simply wash it, remove as many stems as you can (not necessary to remove them all), spin it dry in a salad spinner, bag and freeze.

Chopped, dried and ready to freeze

When you want to use it, simply remove the amount you want, chop it while frozen and voila. It thaws quickly so if you want to sprinkle it for a garnish do it while frozen or you won’t be able to separate it easily.

Parsley lasts for months in the freezer

Grow your own

Growing your own parsley assures you’ll always have it at your fingertips. Parsley stays green well into winter (almost evergreen in mild winters), and sprouts in very early spring. Find a spot in sun or partial shade, soak your seeds 24 hours and plant.

Parsley makes a beautiful border plant

Parsley is a biennial, meaning it grows a rosette of leaves the first year, sends up a flower stalk in the second year and dies after setting seeds. If you let the seeds ripen and fall, nature will start your new plants where they drop and you’ll always have parsley. You simply need to thin out the plants and organize (not nearly as impolite as dill, which scatters its seed all over everywhere).

Carrots and celery

You can use the same freezing method with celery and carrot leaves, but unfortunately, this method does not work with cilantro. Even though they are related, cilantro is more delicate and loses its flavor when frozen. I’m still experimenting though so I’ll keep you posted.

I took my friend’s recipe for parsley pesto and converted one of my favorites, broccoli pesto, by adding about one-third parsley. The recipe is below.

Broccoli-Parsley Pesto for two

1 c. broccoli flowers
½ c. parsley leaves
1 clove garlic
½ c. fresh basil leaves
½ t. salt
¼ t. pepper
¼ c. toasted walnuts, pecans or pine nuts

¼ c. olive oil
1-2 T. grated parmesan
½ lb. noodles of choice, cooked and drained

Pulse first seven ingredients in a food processor until chopped. Gradually add olive oil with the processor running. Process until smooth. Toss with hot cooked noodles and Parmesan cheese. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Leave Your Leaves

It’s your friendly leaf goblin, showing up as I do at this time every fall. The leaves are finally starting to fall, which means that wonderful activity, leaf pick-up, is here. Instead of looking at them as a nuisance, why not think of them as gold for the garden? I’m going to try to convince you to change leaf pick-up into “leaf recovery.”

Attitude change about beauty

It means a mind shift from wanting everything to look pristine to a less tidy appearance. Why is it that when we see leaves blanketing a bed instead of commercially shredded mulch, it looks messy to us? Both are organic matter, and the leaves are actually much more colorful than shredded bark.

Leaves = Nutrients

The leaves that turn lovely hues and then drop are nature’s source for replenishing the soil beneath trees and shrubs. A plant takes up massive amounts of nutrients through its roots as it grows to use in food production for its healthy leaves. When the plant sheds its leaves, those nutrients are released back into the soil as the leaves decay. These nutrients are waiting to be used by the plant next season to produce leaves, stems and fruits.

So, taking away the leaves simply takes away nutrients. We can add nutrients by fertilizing, of course, but for the most part, synthetic fertilizers do nothing for the soil, and certainly make a dent in the wallet.

Mulched tree circles make happy, healthy trees

What do I do with them?

So, can you simply leave them where they fall? And exactly how do you use these leaves that are so plentiful?

For the leaves covering your grass, think of the prairie’s cycle. Prairies don’t usually have trees, so there are few leaves. The organic matter from a prairie cycle comes from the grass itself. So, it is a good idea to clean up the leaves on your grass in order to keep the grass healthy and free from disease.

On the grass

Simply mow the grass and leaves together and blow it all in your landscape beds. This is not a hard job, but may take some creative driving or pushing to round them up into beds. If your mower is a mulcher, take out the mulching chute cover so you can blow and direct the leaves as you would into a bagger. If you don’t have that capacity, you can simply mow over them a couple of times and they will be ground finely enough to leave in place.

In the beds

Beautiful beech leaves making a winter blanket for the tree

As for landscape beds, take a walk in the woods and you will see blankets of leaves covering the ground beneath trees. This cycle of leaf fall and decay maintains the soil health and this, in turn, allows the trees to grow and remain healthy. We can easily duplicate that cycle by simply not taking the leaves away.

You can leave them whole where they fall and eventually they will begin to break down into the fine humus that is so good for plants. Or you can shred them with the mower and blow them into the beds. You will have ready mulch every year without the back-breaking work of adding wood mulch to your beds.

Make winter beds for pollinators

Keep in mind that native bees nest in the ground, and bumblebees burrow into leaf litter to spend the winter. Leaf litter also protects countless types of butterfly pupa such as black swallowtails and fritillaries.

Make a leaf pile for later use

Shredded leaves on my vegetable garden

I have a lot of leaves, so after I fill my beds, I scoop all the extra into a pile at the back of my property and let them sit there over winter. Next spring I can dig into the bottom of the pile for some of the most beautiful shredded mulch to go directly on my vegetable garden instead of straw.

After a couple of years, my leaf pile will be reduced by half and will be composted beautifully for use all over the landscape. The British have been doing this for years – they are famous for their leaf “mould” which they use in the garden and even in containers. Best of all, it’s free!