Monday, November 16, 2015

Rr is for Rutabaga

You say Potato, I say Potawtoe - You say Parsnip, I say Parsnip - You say Turnip, I say Rutabaga 

     Actually, you may be saying “waxed turnip,” but no matter what you say, when the word rutabaga is uttered out loud you can’t help sounding as if you're from Boston, or is it Jersey?  I’m fairly certain those two accents are not the same, but for some reason I can’t tell them apart in my head at the moment.  However, I am pretty sure those few times when you do say rutabaga you’re not really sure what the difference is between turnips and rutabagas.  So I will enlighten you.
     Turnips are an easy to grow and popular European root vegetable.   Rutabagas are also an easy to grow, wildly popular European root vegetable.   The Swedes and the Finns are especially fond of rutabagas.  Both these Cinderella-like veggies can be boiled and mashed (like potatoes and parsnips and cauliflower, alone in a combination of), sliced or diced and roasted in olive oil and a good pinch of pink Himalayan salt, cubed or grated then fried with some butter and fresh herbs (like latkes) or simply julienned and eaten raw in salads.   Rutabagas often commonly referred to as “Swedes”  (“Neeps” in Scotland) or yellow or waxed turnips until the late ‘60’s but the term waxed or yellow was confusing for the average store clerk and consumer so rutabaga is now the label seen in your produce section of the market.  They are larger in size than turnips, have flesh that is more yellow in coloring, with a swipe of purple, carry a bit more starch than turnips and have a longer shelf-life.  Both these cool weather relatives of the cabbage family are available year round, with peak season for turnips from October to about February and rutabagas peaking from July through April . . . wait, what?  According to several other resources detailing what’s in season now, this is the season for rutabagas.  As a matter of fact harvesting is going on as I write this Blog in Washington State, Maine, Canada and Siberia.  Makes sense with its frost hardy propensities and love of long cold seasons and moist soils.  Whew! that was close – so I will continue with rutabaga as my seasonal Rr food of the month. 
  When asked about the similarities or differences in taste between rutabagas and turnips, I encourage those inquiring to sample them side by side, taking a bite of one then the other.  The rutabaga you will find is a bit sweeter, especially when roasted.  Higher in starch content, of course that would make them sweeter and they are easier to peel than turnips.  Both turnips and rutabagas are strong in potassium (rutabagas more so), vitamins A and C as well as carrying a bit of fiber.  And rutabagas have almost half as much natural sodium in them than turnips. 
     So what do we do with these bi-colour, bulbous things you ask?  Think in terms of a substitute for potatoes, parsnips and cauliflower.  Since my eldest son is a smashed potato connoisseur, I decided to test his taste buds by adding rutabaga to his favourite smashed potato recipe.  For myself some ruta-fries.

 Ruta-fries Recipe

1 russet potato - washed and peeled
2 rutabagas - washed and peeled
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt
1-2 teaspoons ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Slice peeled potato and rutabagas into thin rectangles.  Spread slices onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  Evenly drizzle olive oil all over potato and rutabaga slices then sprinkle with salt, pepper and cayenne.  Using your hands, move seasoned potato and rutabaga slices all around, mixing olive oil and seasonings onto both sides of the slices.   Bake in 400 degree, preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes, until crispy and golden brown.
These are absolutely delicious and they're baked which makes them even better for you!

 Recipe for Potato-Rutabaga Smash

1 russet potato - washed, peeled and cut into medium cubes
2 rutabagas - washed, peeled and cut into medium cubes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup whole milk               1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder   1/4 teaspoon dried dill
salt and pepper to taste

Place cubed potato and rutabagas in large saucepot and fill with water to about 2 inches above vegetables.  Bring water to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until vegetables are soft but not mushy.  Drain ALL the water from saucepot and using your potato masher or potato ricer, begin smashing.  Add milk and mash some more.  Add sour cream and mash a little more.  Finally add all the seasonings and give the mixture a final mashing until it is the consistency you prefer.  I like a few lumps in my smashings, something to bite into.  My son loves the smooth, creamy version.
The yellowish cubes are the rutabagas, the whiter ones are the russet
Rutabaga Smash topped with gravy and garnished with dill 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Qq is For Quince (eventually)

Finally, after a summer’s worth of extended weekend retreats and vacations, I’m back on my computer.  Writing has become a daily endeavor and going days without doing so feels akin to not brushing my teeth.  I really miss it when I don’t do it. 

First was my trip to El Dorado Hills to visit my little sister.  
Here we hiked with my niece and grandniece in the wide open spaces of Coloma, a sleepy historic town just outside of Sacramento.  Then there was an night of line dancing and every bedtime, late night sister-talk.  One afternoon Sis and I decided to chance it and took in one of those Meryl Streep’s movies where she felt compelled to share her big love (not-so-big talent) for singing.  But we had fun anyway.  Afterwards we went back to the house and I turned Sis on to the joy of Burrata with red, ripe Roma tomatoes, fresh garden basil Chiffonade and a drizzle of thick, rich balsamic.

A few days later I took a trip to Palo Alto to visit old school chums and Mother.  For someone who has not lived in the Bay Area for well over nineteen years, my cravings for home are incessant.  While there I went shopping, ate in quaint and artistic restaurants and strolled my customary walk up Hamilton Avenue to Homer and Forest to my brother’s old condo (tears, tears, tears).   The tree he and Aviva planted from a seed is now as lush and vibrant green as my brother’s spirit.  
Then there was my quick turnaround to the Pacific Northwest where I was able to give smooches and hugs to my favourite grandson.  
Lastly was my annual girls’ weekend to the cabin in Duck Creek Utah.  While each venture offered  good times and exciting meals, not to mention plenty of fodder for writing, I came home tired and spent.  But not so much after the trip to “the cabin.”  If you can call it a cabin, our dear friend K who spent years of her life as an interior designer has created an environment that exceeds the d├ęcor and ambiance of most homes I’ve cooked in. 

Duck Creek boasts grand vistas, wild life ranging from blue birds and hummingbirds to deer and bears, all encompassed by those strange and magnificent Hoodoos.  In my opinion the states of Arizona and Utah seem to bear God’s expression of whimsy and fun.  Stunning red rocks stacked high in creative and precarious arrangements.   I swear He must have worn the same expression as my young sons when they would call me over to show off their own near toppling Leggo towers.  Hoodoos, I find to be both eerie and astonishing.  I can’t help but stare and gape in quiet admiration.

This summer however, our trip to the cabin was four minus one.  Nancy, K and I arrived mid-day, without Sooz, to that familiar Grape Nuts crunch of the gravel beneath the tires of our truck announcing our official escape from society, technology and stress.  Almost immediately following the unloading of our bags and turning on of the water we opened a bottle of wine and K prepared an utterly sumptuous opened face BLT, warm and crunchy, topped with a slice of marbled yellow and white cheddar.  We sat out on the back deck taking in deep, deep breaths.  The transformation one feels when leaving Vegas for the wide open spaces of Utah are swift and complete. 

Since we couldn’t quite justify sitting and drinking for the remains of the day, a short hike was in order.  Changing into heavy boots and donning light sweaters we made our way down the slopping driveway allowing K to bring Nancy and me up to date on the status of her neighbors.  After another hour or so we headed back and someone (I’m pretty sure it was me) announced it was five o’clock somewhere and poured more wine.  Ruminations about dinner were uttered.  Usually our fourth member organizes our meals and snacks, but since she was not with us, we decided to wing it.  Winging it turned out to be just fine.  I prepared dinner that night; pearled couscous with bits of sweet dried apricots, spiced up with red pepper flakes and topped with filets of wild-caught grilled salmon then garnished with a handful of microgreens.  Afterwards we all headed off to bed, satisfied and exhausted.

The following morning, we took our coffee and K’s freshly baked apple-cinnamon and cheddar scones back out to the deck.  Morning chit-chat while feeding the squirrels and wild birds was followed by yoga out on the front deck.  Then we excitedly changed our clothes to ride the Rhinos to the “shoppy-shops.”   Since we were down a girl I would be driving one of the Rhinos all by myself.  Boy was I ready, but damn.  After pulling them both out of the garage, my Rhino wouldn’t start up again, dead battery.  I was regaled to riding in the back of the other one, with Nancy and K in front.  WOW!  What fun!  I was whooping and hollering all the way down the mountain.  Four hours later with our loot in tow, we headed back up to the cabin.  By now it was almost two o’clock, waaaay past time for our first glass of wine of the day and another of K’s open faced sandwiches.  The Devil Wears Prada (no singing) then off to bed.
A quiet afternoon of reading, talking and Hoodoo gazing and before we knew it, the dinner hour was upon us.  As chef in residence I prepared the second evening’s meal of salad Nicoise.   Instead of the traditional tuna I substituted marinated chicken thighs and rich, creamy cannellini beans.  Of course I included the traditional capers and Greek olives then crowned each plate with a soft boiled egg.  I love anything topped with an egg.  K prepared sumptuous stuffed mushrooms as a side.  Earlier she had played around with her iPad and was able to pull up a movie for us to watch before bed.  Another Meryl Streep movie

 In only two days we already had a ritual in place, coffee and scones followed by yoga.  Nancy had some of her own writing to finish that morning so K and I set out on a two hour hike.  Beautiful scenery and not a sole around, only us and the visible tracks of deer and elk.  As we began to make our way deeper into the dark woods I told K, “It feels like bears around here.”  Her reply?  “Oh don’t worry, I’m packing.” 

“You’re packing?  Where?”

“Right here,” was her answer, as she patted her side. 

K went on to explain the name and type of armament she had strapped to her side.  She is a licensed and accurate dead eye diva, so I knew I was good hands.  Unfortunately her explanation of the fact that our protection was so small, and only powerful enough to scratch and irritate a bear, thereby pissing him (or her) off, I grew more nervous than ever!  “Do you at least have a whistle?” I asked.  Nope, no whistle, at that I announced we were going back down the trail.  Whew.  Just in time too, within moments we heard the sound of breaking branches ahead.  We stopped, frozen and quiet.  It was just a crazy cyclist.  How he was riding over fallen trees and such rough terrain on a bike is beyond me, but there he was. 
K and I made our way to the road, climbed back into the Rhino bumping and jostling our way to the cabin where I shared the thrill of our adventure with Nancy and K exhibited her find of a perfectly heart-shaped rock.
So what does all of this have to do with the letter Qq?  Well, for our final meal in the mountains that afternoon I assembled a snack platter of membrillo and cheese .  Membrillo is a wonderful, soft treat with a consistency similar to jello, and is made from quince.  Quince is a fuzzy, yellow-green skinned fruit that taste kind of like an apple and pear combined.  They’ve been around for hundreds of years.  The Romans used the fruit and flowers of the quince tree for the preparation of perfume and honey, in addition to eating the fruit itself.  Since it is naturally high in pectin quince makes for great jams, jellies and of course pastes.  Membrillo is a dense paste made with the pulp of the fruit and cooked with sugar, vanilla bean, fresh lemon and water until it becomes very thick turning a dark, ruby red color.  The mixture is then poured into a parchment lined cookie sheet or other pan and allowed to firm up.  When ready, slices of this sweet and sticky wine-colored jell is accompanied with manchego cheese and marcona almonds.  The girls loved it.  I can remember seeing small packages of membrillo on my grandparent’s kitchen table, but don’t recall ever eating it.  Not until I was an adult did I learn about this uniquely sweet, astringent condiment.  It’s really quite lovely (had to get a Qq in there somewhere).  
Why is it that no matter whether you are camping in a tent, a fifth wheel or camper or find yourself in a cozy cabin nestled on top of a mountain, nothing compares to food eaten in the great outdoors?  Whether you are enjoying the sticky sweet of s’mores or membrillo, hot dogs extended on wire clothes hangers or small squares of quince atop a lightly toasted round of sourdough bread accompanied by the famous cheese of La Mancha.  I am certain Don Quixote and Sancho indulged and enjoyed this delightful treat as they rode their steeds amid those windmills. I encourage you to give the elusive quince and membrillo, which you're likely to find in a specialty food shop.

 For Nancy, K and I, there was that one little matter of the minus of our fourth friend but as we sat quietly at the round checkered pattered table, gazing out the massive windows while savoring our platter of this traditional Spanish treat, each of us felt that sense of calm and rejuvenation that comes with being in nature.