Mother Earth Living

Food Matters

All about fresh, flavorful food

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5/5/2016


Photo by Fotolia

The world of trendy food is a fast-paced and fickle one. Big ticket items, like ancient grains and street food inspired dishes, are popping up in menus left and right. One hit item you won’t want to miss? Ramps.

Ramps (allium tricoccum) are a type of wild onion native to the moist deciduous forests of the Northeastern United States. Also called wild leeks, these plants have a taste similar to a combination of onions and garlic. (Ask any chef, and they’ll tell you that onions and garlic go together like peas in a pod.) On the onion spectrum, ramps have a stronger taste than the typically mild leeks, and have a more robust garlic flavor.

These pungent plants are so popular, festivals are held in celebration of their many culinary applications. Likewise, foraging for ramps draws increasing crowds to the Northeast every year. Ramps typically sprout in early March or April and continue to grow until around June, when the temperature rises and the leaves die back.

A Foraging We Will Go!

If foraging for ramps sounds like an activity you’d like to try, start right after the snow disappears, when plants just start growing back. Look for their broad, light green leaves and deep purple stems poking out from the forest floor. Check to make sure you have the right plant by tearing off a leaf and sniffing for the onion scent. This is to ensure that you don't accidentally pick the near identical, but highly poisonous, lily of the valley. The plants are in the same family, so they share many characteristics. However, lily of the valley leaves are scentless. Lily of the valley also has tiny, bell shaped flowers along the stem, while ramp blossoms are clustered at the end.

While many acknowledge that the peppery, garlicky flavor of ramps really kicks up dishes, their popularity has led to a sharp decline in their wild population. At the aforementioned festivals, nearly all the ramps used are foraged locally. Should you go hunting for some ramps of your own, don’t get greedy, and follow sustainable harvesting methods.

Once you have located a patch of ramps, use a trowel to gently remove dirt from around the top of the bulb. Using a small knife or scissors, carefully cut away a few of the leaves, leaving the bulb in the ground. Finish by covering the bulb with soil. Ramps have a strong flavor, so don’t take more than you can use in the next few days. While it is possible to preserve them, they’re best fresh.

Ramp Up Mealtimes!

Besides tasting great, ramps have the added benefit of being high in vitamins A and C. While their strong scents may dampen your desire, pinch your nose and forge ahead. Taking the time to incorporate ramps into your dishes will be a rewarding culinary adventure. To get started, consider the recipes below.

Pickled Ramps

This easy-peasy recipe is extremely versatile, and will circumvent ramp’s tendency to quickly spoil. Pickled ramps can be used like standard pickles in sandwiches or salads, or used adventurously to pep up fish and grilled meat.

Simply heat vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a saucepan, and add some bay leaves, mustard seed, allspice and red pepper. Once all the salt and sugar is dissolved, pour the hot brine over your ramps. Screw on the lid, and allow the jars to cool. Refrigerate for at least three weeks before eating to ensure the best flavor.

Poached Eggs With Ramps

For those looking for more of a challenge (and an immediate reward), poached eggs with ramps are the way to go. Make this recipe on a lazy weekend morning, when you have a lot of time to invest.

Start by sautéing your ramps in some butter until they’re soft. Then bring two inches of water to a simmer, and mix in some vinegar. Gently slide an egg into the water, and cook until the whites are just set. Remove, and place on top of toast spread with goat cheese and the ramps. Finish it off with some olive oil, salt and pepper.

Grilled Polenta With Ramp Chimichurri

For those who don’t want their hands held, grilled polenta with ramp chimichurri will be a rewarding culinary challenge. Make some polenta with cornmeal, stock and coconut milk, and season it with olives, oregano and honey. When it’s done, pour it into a pan to chill. After it’s chilled, thickly slice and grill until golden and crisp on each side.

To make the chimichurri sauce, combine ramps, parsley, cilantro, vinegar and olive oil in the food processor, and pulse until blended but chunky. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Serve with the grilled polenta.

Give these recipes a try, and you’ll see for yourself why ramps are so popular. Because they grow in the wild, foraging for them can even be its own reward. Just remember to harvest sustainably to keep the population strong for years to come!



5/2/2016

When summer arrives, you might not want to prepare as many hearty meals as you would in the fall and winter. Luckily, this time of year there are numerous fruits and vegetables you can find at farmers markets and grocery stores that are delicious ingredients in many low-calorie recipes. From salads to tacos, there's something you can make that your family will enjoy, whether it's on the grill or on the stove.

Salmon

If you're looking for a dish that’s high in flavor and low in calories, then consider salmon. The fish is also high in omega-3 fatty acids which can boost brain and heart health. Prepare the salmon by sprinkling some salt and pepper on both sides. Add a squeeze of lemon juice for a bit of acid. Grilling the fish works best as it can bring out all the flavors, but you can also bake it so there isn't as much fat as when fried.

summer parfait
Photo courtesy Yummly.com.

Mango Salad

Mangos have a simultaneously sweet yet acidic taste. For a different kind of flavor, add small pieces of Roma tomatoes and a hint of mint for a small parfait that is sure to please everyone at any summer party.

Fish Tacos

Light up the grill with an easy recipe for fish tacos. Use wheat tortillas and a blend of horseradish and mayonnaise for a flavorful sauce on the tacos. After you add the grilled fish, top the taco with a little mozzarella cheese, chopped Roma tomatoes and shredded lettuce.

avocado salad
Photo courtesy What's Gaby Cooking.

Avocado Salad

Lighten up the day with a beautiful avocado salad with tomatoes and limes. You want to use larger pieces of each as these are the only items you will need in the salad. Make a vinaigrette of lemon juice and honey for a sweet taste on top of the salad.

Skewers

You can add any item to a skewer before putting it on the grill. Small pieces of chicken or beef work well and supply the necessary protein. Mushrooms, cucumbers, squash and peppers pair well together, and are delicious grilled. All you need is a little salt and pepper for seasoning to complete the meal.

grilled banana with creme fraiche
Photo courtesy Cooking Channel.

Grilled Bananas

Slice bananas in half, leaving the peel on. Put them on the grill for about five minutes on each side or until they’re a golden color. Top the bananas with fresh berries and a light cream with a drizzle of maple syrup.

Fire up the grill, and add some new flavors in the warm summer months. Look for healthy eating cookbooks or ebooks, like Carob Cherub, for more recipe ideas and to see how many calories you are currently consuming.


Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter, @BrookeChaplan.



4/18/2016

I’ve been foraging since I was a kid—wild raspberries, wood sorrel, highly-coveted morels—and it’s been one of the most gratifying things I’ve been able to do. There is something satisfyingly primal about going into the wilderness (even if the wilderness is just your front yard) and finding good things to eat underfoot. Not to mention that it’s completely free!

Fortunately, foraging for your own greens couldn’t be easier, but do keep some common sense guidelines in mind. Most importantly: Never taste anything that you cannot positively identify! Luckily, the five easiest weeds to look for don’t have any dangerous dopplegangers, so they’re relatively low risk. All the same, invest in a good guidebook and if you’re not sure what it is, leave it alone. Peterson Guides and the Audobon Society both publish reputable field guides with full color photos that will be indispensable to you while foraging. With a good guide in hand, try scouring your lawn for these tasty greens and mix up a tangy spring salad to enjoy!

dandelion flower and greens

Dandelion

I’m pretty sure everyone is familiar with dandelion, but did you know that the entire plant is edible? You can make wine out of the blossoms, tea out of the root, and easiest of all—salad out of the leaves. Young leaves are the best since older leaves tend to be tougher. Dandelions grow all over the place, but be sure that you harvest them from an area that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Use caution at parks or other public spaces for this reason. The season for dandelion greens is April to early June, and they will be tasty until the plant flowers. Learn more about this useful weed in The Benefits of Dandelions: From Cultivation to Cooking.

lamb's quarter 

Lamb’s Quarters

Also known by the less appealing name of “pig’s weed” you’ll recognize this one for popping up, uninvited, on the edges of your garden bed, along your fence line, behind your garage—basically everywhere. Lamb’s quarters are another green that can be swapped in with spinach, it works in both fresh salads and steamed or wilted. Spring to early summer, March through June, are the best times for harvesting.

wild sorrel 

Wood Sorrel

Commonly called shamrocks by kids everywhere, wood sorrel is more than just a pretty curiosity that kids enjoy around St. Patrick’s Day. With small green leaves and yellow flowers, it often grows in a veritable carpet in shady areas, but is also adaptable to sunny locations. It has a tangy lemon flavor that’s a welcome addition to a fresh salad (if you cook it, it will disintegrate into nothing). You can find tasty wood sorrel all summer long.

plantain 

Plantain

With the same “natural habitat” as dandelion, plantain is often found side-by-side in yards and vacant lots. For fresh eating, the young leaves of early spring are the best. Once the plant begins to mature, it can be cooked in much the same way as spinach. April and early May are the best months for the tender new leaves, but it can be harvested all summer long.

chickweed with flower 

Chickweed

Chickweed is the champion of spring—it’s one of the first edible weeds to green up after the thaw because it actually germinates in the autumn and overwinters. Despite being hardy enough to withstand the cold and snow, it’s a delicate green to eat. It’s best used fresh, just lightly wilted over low heat, or added to a dish at the very end of cooking—very nice in an omelet or warm salad with a vinaigrette dressing. It can be harvested first thing in spring, from late March to April, but has long season and can be picked well into the fall.

Photos by (top to bottom): Fotolia/Elenathewise; Jim Pisarowicz/Wikimedia Commons; Fotolia/Lars Johansson; Fotolia/urza; Paige Filler/Flickr.


Amanda is focused on homesteading in a small town, and blogs about it a Little House in an Old Town, the exurban evolution of her writing at Apartment Farm.



4/15/2016

This vegan version of a traditional favorite adds a classic flair to any meal. Freshly prepared croutons add a real punch and tofu imparts a creamy consistency to the delightfully authentic-tasting dressing.

homemade vegan Caesar salad 

Jazzy Vegan Caesar Salad Recipe

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

Salad:
• 12 cups lightly packed romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and cut into bite-size pieces

Croutons:
• 5 to 6 slices very fresh whole-grain bread
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
• Caesar Salad Dressing (see recipe below)
• 1 tablespoon Cashew Parmesan, plus more for serving (optional)

Instructions

1. Cover and refrigerate the prepared lettuce to allow it to crisp up.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper. Cut each slice of bread into nine equally-sized pieces.

3. Put the bread cubes and garlic powder into a medium bowl, and stir gently to evenly coat the bread cubes. Add the Italian seasoning, and stir to evenly coat. Spread the seasoned bread cubes in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet.

4. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, turning once, until the bread cubes are golden and crisp. Put the baking sheet on a wire rack. Let the croutons cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

5. Place the dressing in a large bowl. Add lettuce and croutons. Toss well to thoroughly coat the lettuce and croutons with the dressing.

6. Sprinkle with Cashew Parmesan (if using). Serve immediately with more optional Cashew Parmesan on the side.

Chef’s note: For a completely oil-free recipe, omit the Cashew Parmesan.

Caesar Salad Dressing

For years I yearned for a delicious vegan version of this classic dressing, and I was really jazzed when I came up with this delightful mix of easy ingredients. The capers stand in beautifully for anchovies and the tofu replaces the egg with ease. Deeeeee-lish! Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

• 8 ounces firm regular tofu, drained
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 2 teaspoons capers, drained and rinsed
• 1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
• 1 medium clove garlic
• 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
• Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions

Put the tofu, lemon juice, capers, Dijon, garlic, and salt in a blender and process until smooth and creamy. If the mixture seems too thick, add a bit of filtered or spring water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve the desired consistency. Add freshly ground pepper to taste.

Cashew Parmesan

This cheese-less Parmesan imparts a creamy taste and realistic texture. Makes 15 servings.

Ingredients

• 1/2 cup raw cashews
• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or Himalayan pink salt, plus more as needed

Instructions

Put the cashews and salt in a blender and process until the consistency of crumbled Parmesan cheese is achieved. Don’t overprocess. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.


Laura Theodore is a 2014 TASTE award-winning television personality, radio host, vegan chef, cookbook author and recording artist. She is author of Jazzy Vegetarian Classics: Vegan Twists on American Family Favorites and Jazzy Vegetarian: Lively Vegan Cuisine Made Easy and Delicious. Laura is the on-camera host, writer and co-producer of the popular cooking show, Jazzy Vegetarian and hosts the weekly podcast radio show, Jazzy Vegetarian Radio. Visit Laura on Facebook and follow her on Twitter for daily recipes and tips for serving delicious, plant-based meals.



4/8/2016

Vegan quiche makes a perfect spring recipe. Serve warm or chilled for an enticing brunch, lunch or light supper entrée. A crisp green salad served on the side is all you need to round out this delightful, egg-less quiche.

vegan zucchini quiche

Zucchini Quiche Recipe

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

Crust:
• 1 cup garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour
• 3 heaping tablespoons sesame tahini
• 3 tablespoons cold nondairy milk, plus more as needed

Filling:
• 2 medium zucchini and/or yellow summer squash
• 14 to 16 ounces soft or firm regular tofu, drained
• 1-1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
• 1/3 cup diced sweet red pepper
• 2 tablespoons minced onion
• 3/4 cup shredded vegan cheese
• Freshly ground pepper, to taste
• 1/2 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Oil a 9-inch pie plate.

2. To make the crust, put the garbanzo bean flour in a medium bowl. Add the tahini and the cold nondairy milk. Mix together using a pastry cutter or fork until the dough begins to form into chunks the size of large peas. Pull the dough together with your hands. If it is still too crumbly to form into a ball, add more of the cold nondairy milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, up to 3 tablespoons.

3. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared pie plate. Gently press the dough evenly over the bottom and partway up the sides of the pie plate. Bake the crust for 7 minutes. Put the plate on a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes.

4. While the crust bakes, cut 10 to 12 very thin slices from the center of one zucchini and set aside for garnish.

5. Using a box grater, shred enough of the remaining zucchini to equal 1-1/2 cups (lightly packed). Put the 1-1/2 cups shredded zucchini in a fine meshed strainer and place it over a medium bowl. Let the shredded zucchini stand for 10 minutes to drain excess liquid.

6. Meanwhile, put the tofu, Italian seasoning, turmeric, chili powder, salt, and cayenne pepper in a blender and process until smooth.

7. Before removing the zucchini from the strainer, press it gently with your hands to push out any excess liquid. Put the zucchini and maple syrup in a large bowl and stir gently to coat. Add the red pepper and onion, and stir to combine. Add the tofu to the zucchini mixture. Add the vegan cheese and fresh pepper, and stir gently to combine. Pour the tofu mixture into the crust. Smooth the top.

8. Cut the reserved zucchini slices in half and press them into the top of the quiche in a decorative fashion. Sprinkle the paprika in an even layer over the top.

9. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the center is set.

10. Put the pan on a wire rack and cool for at least 60 minutes before slicing into wedges. May be served warm or refrigerated and served chilled.


Laura Theodore is a 2014 TASTE award-winning television personality, radio host, vegan chef, cookbook author and recording artist. She is author of Jazzy Vegetarian Classics: Vegan Twists on American Family Favorites and Jazzy Vegetarian: Lively Vegan Cuisine Made Easy and Delicious. Laura is the on-camera host, writer and co-producer of the popular cooking show, Jazzy Vegetarian and hosts the weekly podcast radio show, Jazzy Vegetarian Radio. Visit Laura on Facebook and follow her on Twitter for daily recipes and tips for serving delicious, plant-based meals.



4/1/2016

The title says it all: A spinach salad that is quick and easy, and packed with great taste. It’s also nut- and oil-free.

fresh spinach salad 

Quick & Easy Spinach Salad Recipe

Makes 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients

• 3 cups lightly packed baby spinach
• 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 teaspoon maple syrup
• Sea salt or Himalayan pink salt, to taste
• Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions

1. Put the spinach in a medium bowl.

2. To make the dressing, put the vinegar and maple syrup in a small bowl and briskly whisk until smooth.

3. Pour the dressing over the spinach and toss gently to coat the leaves. Top with salt and pepper as desired.


Laura Theodore is a 2014 TASTE award-winning television personality, radio host, vegan chef, cookbook author and recording artist. She is author of Jazzy Vegetarian Classics: Vegan Twists on American Family Favorites and Jazzy Vegetarian: Lively Vegan Cuisine Made Easy and Delicious. Laura is the on-camera host, writer and co-producer of the popular cooking show, Jazzy Vegetarian and hosts the weekly podcast radio show, Jazzy Vegetarian Radio. Visit Laura on Facebook and follow her on Twitter for daily recipes and tips for serving delicious, plant-based meals.



3/25/2016

Baking this chili in the oven makes it super-simple for a weeknight meal. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled if you’re feeding a crowd. For extra pizazz, top each serving with a generous dollop of vegan sour cream.

dish of oven-baked chili 

Oven-Baked Two-Bean Chili Recipe

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

Chili:
• 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
• 2 medium sweet onions, chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1 heaping tablespoon unsulphured blackstrap molasses, plus more as needed
• 1/3 cup organic catsup, plus more as needed
• 1/4 teaspoon salt

Toppings:
• 1/4 cup sliced scallions
• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (optional)

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Put all of the chili ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.

3. Pour the mixture into a medium casserole dish. Cover and bake for 35 minutes.

4. Remove the chili from the oven and stir it. If the chili seems dry, add more molasses or catsup to achieve the desired consistency. Cover and bake for 10 to 20 minutes more, or until bubbling and browned around the edges. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

5. Serve the chili in deep bowls, topped with scallions. Dust with chili powder, if using.

For more recipes and information or to purchase Jazzy Vegetarian cookbooks, visit Laura's website.


Recipe used with permission from Ben Bella Books © 2013, Laura Theodore, the Jazzy Vegetarian, host and creator of Jazzy Vegetarian on PBS, and author of Jazzy Vegetarian Classics: Vegan Twists on American Family Favorites and Jazzy Vegetarian: Lively Vegan Cuisine That's Easy and Delicious.





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