Welcome to Turnip Town

When I first started cooking a lot, especially when I was cooking from vegetarian recipes, I was a bit confounded because many of the recipes include bell peppers. I cannot eat bell peppers of any color; they do not like me, so we have a mutual non-aggression pact (I don’t eat them and they don’t bother me). I could never make those recipes the way the recipe said (yes, I did used to follow recipes more religiously, which is part of how I can disregard them more easily now), and I had the sense that I was making it “wrong,” somehow, that I didn’t know how it was supposed to taste. Eventually, though, I realized that what I was producing tasted quite good, even if it didn’t have an ingredient that the recipe’s creators included, sometimes in large quantities–which meant that I wasn’t making it wrong, after all.

Sometimes, in such recipes, I’ll make up the bulk that the peppers would occupy with more of the recipe’s other ingredients (onions, for example, or one of the other vegetables), but that’s rarely necessary. And, in general, I throw in more onions (and more garlic) than the recipe lists, no matter what the recipe is. But the spices and/or herbs, and the main ingredients themselves are what give the dish its flavor, and the peppers aren’t missed, at least not by me. I’m not going to make something where peppers are a main ingredient–stuffed peppers, for example–but that’s no different from not making any recipe because you don’t care for the main ingredient; the flavor of the main ingredient will overwhelm everything else you throw in, and there’s no rescuing it if you don’t like the main ingredient.

All of which is a preface to the turnip adventure. I finally got around to cooking some of them yesterday–the purple-tops; I left the hakurai for another day–and no matter what you do to them, they’re still turnips. For those of you who are interested in trying this at home, I cut up a lot of onions–three cups, maybe? possibly more–and garlic. I sweated them in a combo of butter, coconut cream (I got some of the box at the bottom of this on sale, and have been experimenting with how to use it), and olive oil–probably a half a tablespoon of each, then threw in the smashed and chopped garlic for awhile.

I added spices: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, ground coriander, a pinch of cloves, some grated orange peel I had in the fridge that had dried up, some candied lemon peel and orange peel (I had made the first one, but the second was from KAF), and a handful of leftover roasted pineapple. I also had some carrots–I cut them into strips in the food processor. I took the new one for a spin yesterday, and sliced up radishes and watermelon radishes for roasting, the carrots, and all the damn turnips, after I peeled the latter two. I tossed the carrots with a little butter and coconut cream, and some ginger syrup (also made that and had it in the fridge with candied ginger) and roasted them. I would NOT have taken that step if the oven hadn’t already been on for the crackers and the radishes (and, later, the bread), but I figured I’d give it a shot. After they had roasted a bit, I cut them up very small and threw them in with the spices. I threw in the sliced turnips and about a cup (probably a little too much) of chicken stock from the freezer, but you could just as easily use vegetable stock or water.

So how did it come out? Unfortunately, it still tastes overwhelmingly of turnips–that sharp, brassy, brassica taste, the one that I love in broccoli and cauliflower and cabbage, and even in brussels sprouts, if they’re prepared well and not overcooked. I’ll end up eating them, because the only alternative is throwing them out, and I can’t bring myself to do that, but damn, I am tired of dealing with turnips. Yes, they’re very good for you; yes, I’ve managed to add enough stuff to them to complement the flavor a bit (and I’m hoping that improves as they sit in the fridge); but they’re still . . . turnips. I suppose I could have made more of a curry sauce–more coconut milk, for example–but that starts to increase the fat content rather dramatically. I’ll probably eat them with some brown rice or some bread, both of which break up the brassica taste a bit.

I also made some more braised cabbage and venison ring bologna last night, which I ate with some freshly made whole wheat bread, and it was just awesome. That recipe is such a keeper–and handy, as I got three more cabbages in my farm share box this week.

What else came out of the kitchen this weekend? More crackers! I made them with the KAF Harvest Grains again, and I like that version better than the version with sesame seeds, though I’ll probably try a half-and-half version at some point. And some whole wheat bread, except I replaced some of the flour in the soaker with barley flakes and cracked wheat, and I put a little spelt flour in the whole thing when I made the final dough. (We’ll talk about bread in more detail in some future post.) I made two smaller batards rather than one big boule, and I threw one in the freezer. The aforementioned radishes I sliced in the food processor and tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and let them roast in the oven for, oh, 40 minutes or so? I’m not a radish fan, but I find that roasting them makes them a little less biting.

So, all in all, the curried turnips were . . . a success? Sort of? I mean, they’re still TURNIPS, and I couldn’t disguise that fact, but not every one of these projects is going to work as I hope. Which circles us back around to my original disquisition on peppers. On one hand, there are foods I simply wouldn’t buy–peppers are notable in that list–because I cannot eat them. When they show up in the farm share, I give them away, because there’s nothing I can do to them that will make me be able to eat them. There are other foods I wouldn’t buy on my own–and turnips are at the top of that damn list–but that will show up in the farm share over time. In the case of turnips, I can’t even “forget” about them in the fridge and then throw them out when they turn into a science project, because they last forever. (I also don’t like to do that, because it’s just wasteful.) In those cases, my project is to at least make them edible. They’re not likely to become a favorite food, but at least I’m not throwing them out. Obviously, if you don’t have a farm share you’re not going to run into this problem, but farm shares are becoming more popular, and they’re really awesome, so I doubt I’m the only person with an ingredient problem–and, more specifically, a turnip problem.

Now if I could just figure out what to do with all of the Asian greens (bok choy, tatsoi, tokyo bekana, etc.), because they’re all brassicas, too.

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O Joy

Like many people, one of my first two cookbooks–a gift from my grandmother, inscribed to me, so personally meaningful to me–was Joy of Cooking. This was back in the mid-70s, so it was the last version pre-major-revision, and it still has instructions on dealing with small game like squirrels and raccoons, as well as a significant section on freezing and canning. I don’t use it as much as I once did, but it still provides a lot of basic information about specific foods and specific techniques. (For years, I read the description about how to make croissants, and didn’t quite believe it. Is that really how you do it, I wondered? And then I got a job making thousands of croissants a week, and, yes, it’s really how you do it.)

My second cookbook was the first Moosewood Cookbook. I was in college, at a party at the dean of students’, and there was a spinach cheese pie. I asked the food service person about it, and he told me where the recipe was from, and I promptly went out and bought the book. I have at least a half a dozen Moosewood cookbooks, and it is one of my life dreams to go the restaurant to eat. My personal favorite is the Moosewood Low-Fat Cookbook; it is absolutely chock full of fabulous recipes, and it doesn’t rely on the wads of oil and cheese that are in some of the other books. It also has a lot of different flavor profiles in it, from many parts of the world, which is useful for figuring out what you like. It’s actually one of my favorite cookbooks of any kind.

That said, for all of the cooking I do, you’d think I’d have (and use) a lot more cookbooks than I actually do. I tend to lean on a few favorites, if I use a cookbook at all, and I supplement all of the cookbooks with online browsing (epicurious.com, because it has a lot of recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit; the King Arthur baking site). When it comes time to actually apply heat to ingredients, however, at this point I am just as likely to make it up as anything else. I still like the cookbooks, though, because they often provide guidance on a particular technique, ingredient, and/or flavor profile, which helps me not make the same things over and over. I will still sit and browse through my favorites, on occasion, just to jog my memory about what’s in them.

All the cookbooks in the world can’t help with the Turnip Problem, however. Specifically, I have a refrigerator drawer full of the damn things. They keep forEVER, so I can’t secretly wait until they rot, and then throw them out, and, just to make things fun, I’m getting more of them next week, as the first CSA delivery is Thursday. The first share will have carrots, cabbage, onions, garlic, a jar of tomatoes, and the aforementioned turnips. I think what I’m going to try is some kind of curried turnips, perhaps with a little coconut cream, and probably onions, garlic, and carrots as well. (I still have onions, garlic, and carrots from the last of the fall share.) Normally I’d add some beans, too, but beans AND brassicas is a prescription for, as they say, intestinal distress.

This morning I used the last of a stale loaf of dried-cranberry-swirled whole wheat bread to make French toast (some roasted pineapple and blueberry compote in the fridge helped round that out), the leftovers of which will be breakfast a couple of days this coming week. To make blueberry compote: dump a bunch of frozen blueberries–300-500 grams, or a bag of frozen from the store, or even fresh if that’s what you have–in a saucepan, with a little lemon juice or grated lemon rind or even preserved (in simple syrup) lemon rind if you have it, and a little swirl of honey, and cook it on low heat for a half hour or so until it simmers and reduces. It won’t be as thick as jelly while it’s still hot, and you can make it as thin or as thick as you like, but it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks before getting moldy, and it’s fabulous on top of pancakes or french toast, in crepes, or in oatmeal. It would probably work with peanut butter, too.

This afternoon I’m mixing up another batch of crackers. I bought sesame seeds the other day and will make the recipe as written, more or less. Tonight’s dinner starts with a recipe I found in a sample issue of the Cooks Illustrated spinoff–something like Country Home Cooking, or Cooks Country, or something. (I’m too lazy to go look it up.) It’s simple as anything, and it’s a great way to use cabbage–which you may remember is also in my fridge. I have since modified the recipe a bit.

Chop and start cooking some onion; I like to leave it in thin slices rather than chopped for this recipe, but whatever suits you. (And I nearly always cook my veggies in a combination of olive oil and a little butter; I like the flavor of butter, but the olive oil has a higher smoke point and is somewhat healthier, so the combo is a perfect compromise.) When the onion has started to caramelize, add some garlic if you like it, cook it a minute or two more, then add some chopped up venison ring bologna, leftover ham, sausage, whatever. You can completely do this without meat–the original recipe did not have meat in it–but it’s also fabulous with the ring bologna. I would not use ground meat, though.

Add a tablespoon of good spicy mustard–again, whatever kind is to your taste and/or in your fridge–and some thyme if you have it. (I rarely do, and so just leave it out when it’s not around.) Also add a half cup of beer; the recipe calls for a light-bodied lager. You can use anything here, too, though I strongly recommend you avoid anything that’s very hoppy; an IPA, for example, is likely to make the whole dish too bitter, even for us hops-lovers. While the onion was cooking, you were coring and thinly slicing the cabbage; after the beer mixture cooks for a minute or two, put in the cabbage and cook it covered for ten minutes or so. The recipe also calls for two teaspoons of cider vinegar, but I bet I’ve left that out a bunch of times, too. With a hunk of crusty bread or a pretzel roll, it makes a really nice winter dinner, and the leftovers make good lunch fare, too.

The other thing I’m starting today is some pretzel rolls, using a combination of the recipes in the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking book, a version of Peter Reinhart’s soft pretzels I found online, and the formula I got from the bakery. I will use at least half whole wheat flour, possibly all whole wheat, and I will make rolls rather than pretzels.