Stormy Turnips and Twisting Tornadoes

This time of year here in Tennessee it starts to warm up, the Daffodils pop up, the Forsythia bushes are ready to bloom, buds are on the trees and tornado season starts. It seems to have started earlier than usual this year. A week or so ago it was one of those late winter, sultry evenings that make me want to sit out on the porch and pretend its Spring. But it was a night of  severe tornado warnings, high winds, brutal rains…a night to stay inside. Wouter was away which made it more eerie to be in the house with the lights flickering, the winds beating against the house & not much to eat in the pantry.

A few days before this evening I purchased these exotic California Black Turnips along with some Black Snow Peas. I had not really thought about what to do with them cuisine-wise, just that I thought they were very beautiful & wanted to photograph them. But there was no way I was going to venture out to a restaurant or  market to procure dinner so I studied them for a while and this is what I came up with.

“Black Turnip-Apple Mash-up with Snow Peas & Asparagus”

For this you will need: 6 turnips (Black or regular type); 1 crispy apple (Braeburn or Pink Lady are great); good butter, kosher salt & black pepper to taste and a good grating of  Parmesan.

To Make:

1. Peel Turnips (Black Turnips are a beautiful white inside), trim & rinse. Cut turnips into chunks and put in a pan of water over medium high heat.  Peel, core & chop apple into chunks and add to turnips in pan. Add a bit of salt to the water. Cook until turnips are soft enough to mash like potatoes.  Mash using a fork or potato masher, adding as much butter, salt & pepper to mixture as you like. Mash until fluffy like mashed potatoes. Set aside. The apple adds just enough natural sweetener to offset the bitter taste turnips can have. A good combination.

2. Next the Black Snow-Peas (I have searched the internet and cannot find any photographs of these beauties. If you read this & know anything about them I would love to hear it.) They are beautiful with mostly dark skins with hints of green. I just popped them into a ziploc bag with a bit of water and cooked them in the microwave until crispy soft and cooked.

2. The Asparagus spears I cooked the same way.

3. To serve I put some of the Black Turnip mash into a shallow bowl & topped with the steamed Asparagus spears & Black Snow Peas adding a bit of sea salt & freshly grated Parmesan.  Surprisingly delicious the mash had a wonderful taste, the snow peas & asparagus were cooked al dente and were the perfect sides. With a glass of wine, I savored my “dry” dinner.

While preparing the Turnips for cooking my mind was wandering and I realized that if you turn a Black Turnip upside down it resembles a tornado funnel! As the Turnips cooked I did this sketch on my kitchen blackboard.

“eat your vegetables”

“The Last Pear(s)”

“after the fall”

I was told by a friend, Abby,  recently,  “You have this thing about pears” and it is true…I love the juicy taste, the sexy shape, the variety of colors & textures, how they work with both sweet and savory recipes…they complement, they enhance and they stand alone beautifully. It is mid-November, Winter in Nashville and I just picked the last pears from a tree on my street. Many from this tree have been food for the birds, many have fallen on the ground to beautifully rot, but I have the last of the edible pears and that is all there will be for this year.

“Dried Pears for Winter Dishes”

1. Wash & dry pears. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Set oven temperature to 200 degrees.

2. Cut whole pears, stems, core and all into thin slices using a “mandolin” or sharp knife. I used one of my three mandolins to slice these pears for drying. This one is the most simple and inexpensive one I own, but works the best. You can pick up a mandolin at most shops that sell cooking supplies.

3. Lay thin pear slices out flat on parchment paper.

4. As you can see I put multiple trays of pears to dry in my oven at the same time by stacking them askew so the air could circulate throughout all the trays during the drying time. Turn your oven timer to 7 or 8 hours and walk away. During this drying time you might want to check pears, turning them over once. This is not necessary, but something I like to do. After this day of drying, check pears, if not dried out completely then leave in the oven for an hour or so more. Whether you have a dry day or rainy day will often affect the pears so keep this in mind. When pears are dried enough I just turn the oven off, leaving pears inside while oven is cooling down.

….perfectly dried pears…

5. Store dried pear slices in a container with an airtight lid for later use in your favorite recipes.

“The Last Pear Tart In a Cornmeal Crust”

Left photo: I really like these pre-made frozen “Vicolo” organic corn meal pizza crusts for quick and easy savory or sweet tarts. There is something about the idea of combining yellow cornmeal, pears & brown sugar that really appeals to my winter palate so I created “The Last Pear Tart” with these and a few other simple ingredients.

Right Photo Ingredients : One pre-made Vicolo, or other brand, corn meal crust; 1/2 cup plain yogurt; 2 eggs, 2 to 3 tbsp brown sugar; 3 or 4 thinly sliced, peeled, cored pears.

To Make: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.                                                                                                                       1. Whisk together the yogurt, eggs & brown sugar.                                                                       2. Arrange pear slices over thawed corn meal crust and pour yogurt                                            mixture over pears letting it run up under and around all pear slices.                                   3. Place filled crust on a baking sheet and pop into the oven. Bake for                                       about 20 minutes or until tart is golden brown, pears are softened and                                   edges start to caramelize. Remove tart from oven. Let cool a bit                before serving cut into wedges.

“….the last pear…..”

October Ode to Pumpkins & Squash…

October is the loveliest of months. The heat of the summer is past and the cold of the winter has not set in yet. Each morning has a chill in the air and my thoughts of food begin to change. At the farmer’s market there is a great variety of pumpkins & winter squash to be had. They are so beautiful, elegantly organic & colorful. Earthy & delicious. I look at them, I arrange them, I cook them, we eat them.

“Roasted Pumpkin, Winter Squash & Sweet Potatoes”

1.  Cut in half & seed a variety of winter squash, sweet potatoes & a pie pumpkin. (Save the seeds, wash & let air dry. Sprinkle with paprika, garlic salt & brown sugar. Roast at 350 degree oven until golden brown. Let cool. Great snack.)

Pie Pumpkin, Carnival & Delicata Squash, Sweet Potatoes.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  After seeds are removed, cut larger squash & pumpkin into smaller pieces. Place all face up on a baking pan covered with parchment paper.

3. Drizzle over all with the following – 3 tbsp Maple Syrup, 1/4 cup Soy or Tamari Sauce, 1/4 cup Olive Oil, 1 tbsp dried Thyme leaves, Kosher Salt & Black Pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven & turn vegetables over and roast for another 20 to 30 minutes or until softened, but not mushy.

4. Serve hot with Parmigiano-Reggiano generously shredded over roasted vegetables.

The roasting brought out the natural sweetness of the vegetables enhanced a bit by the flavor of the maple syrup. The soy sauce & thyme added just the right roundness to the taste. The shredded Parm a subtle bit of crunch & tanginess. Our favorite, most simple October dinner.

“Baby Boo” Squash

“A Series of Coincidences Involving Pears”

“Pears in Black & White”

The first coincidence….The pears hung heavy, weighing down the tree branches as I walk by it daily. They ripened day by day dropping with a thump to the ground to rot. One morning about a week ago I took a basket and picked as many as I could carry. My urban foraging continues. I am so busy with no time to actually “do” anything with the pears. Now they just sit in the basket nagging at me each time I look at them. A few days pass by…

The second coincidence…an email arrived from a long-time friend Tammy Algood. Tammy is inviting me to attend her book signing in mid October at a local bookstore for her new cookbook. (The basket of pears are still sitting on my kitchen counter…I eye them guiltily.)

The third coincidence…A few days later as I am shopping for groceries, I saw a stack of Tammy’s cookbooks for sale. I picked one up and started reading it and was instantly charmed by her chapter heading stories. Flipping through the book I landed on the “Pear” section. With a sigh of relief my gaze fell on a recipe titled “Can-Do Pear Butter”.  A simple use for my basket of pears.

Book Cover…”the Complete Southern Cookbook” by Tammy Algood.

I met Tammy many years ago when I was working on television gardening, cooking and how-to shows. Tammy did many on-camera segments over the years for a variety of HGTV shows. She was a “natural”, coming to us with a vast amount of knowledge of all things gardening, cooking and Southern. I had the pleasure of working with her directly on her segments and from day one was totally charmed by her naturalness, her sweetness and intelligence. I have kept up with Tammy over the years via her weekly newspaper column and she is my go-to person when I am in need of pumpkins for a photo shoot in the summer before they have ripened or any other crazy, out-of-season food need I always seem to have. Tammy’s book “the Complete Southern Cookbook” is now wedged between Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and Frank Stitt’s “Southern Table” on my cook book shelf becoming another of my favorites.

The recipe for “Can-do Pear Butter”

“Portrait of Nagging Pears”

Start with 7lbs of pears before coring & peeling…

…which becomes a bit more than 4lbs after.

Cut into chunks, cooking down until softened.

Cooked until very soft…pureed in processor and returned to pan.

This recipe calls for nutmeg. My nutmeg grater, which was given to me by another wonderful Southern cook many years ago, is one of my favorite kitchen utensils. I have never seen another one like it.  Unlike the small hand graters it works like a pepper grinder in that you put a whole nutmeg inside. As you turn the handle a small, sharp metal blade finely shaves off pieces of the nutmeg.

Brown sugar, lemon juice and fresh nutmeg added. Mixture is now ready to be cooked down.

Cook time is up… mixture has cooked down until it is “butter” thick and ready for the canning jars and processing.

Filled jars ready for canner & processing.

Tammy Algood’s “Can-Do Pear Butter”. Beautiful, thick, not-too-sweet pear butter with just a hint of nutmeg & lemon.

coincidence |kōˈinsədəns; -ˌdens|noun1 a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection : it’sno coincidence that this new burst of innovation has occurred in the free nations | they met by coincidence.2 correspondence in nature or in time of occurrence

ORIGIN early 17th cent. (in the sense [occupation of the same space] ): from medieval Latincoincidentia, from coincidere ‘coincide, agree’ (see coincide ).

pear |pe(ə)r|noun1 a yellowish- or brownish-green edible fruit that is typically narrow at the stalk and wider toward the tip, with sweet, slightly gritty flesh.2 (also pear tree) the Eurasian tree that bears this fruit. Genus Pyrus, family Rosaceae: several species and hybrids, in particular P. communis.ORIGIN Old English pere, peru; related to Dutch peer, from Latin pirum.