Spontaneous Stock with a Strong Scent

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By Kerri Conan

Last weekend I got one of those gee-I-wonder-what-will-happen-if flashes. I was standing at the sink, snipping the tough ends from the bottoms of just-picked garlic scapes, the lily-like flowers that sprout up from hard-neck garlic as the plants start to form bulbs underground; there should be some in farmers markets for at least the next week or two.)

Anyway, the pile of these extremely fragrant green sticks is growing, and they’re weeping a little garlicky nectar from the cut ends—sort of like tears—and now I’m thinking surely there’s a way to save my precious darlings who never hurt anyone from the compost heap. Or at least delay their demise.

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Posted in Produce

But is it Art?

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by Kerri Conan

Its name is herb. Tarragon to be exact. And when I saw this announcement of his (or is it her?) second appearance as an object of art, I thought “ugh.”  

Talk about fetishizing. How about just eating the stuff? As raising, cooking, eating—and talking about—food becomes more popular, are we actually making it too precious and less approachable? Continue reading

Posted in Farming, Food Politics, Uncategorized

For Perfect Peas: Shock and Thaw

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By Kerri Conan 

Pardon the circular logic, but peas are perfected by cooking perfectly. Of course you can eat them raw, but why would you? Their flavor, color, texture, and digestibility are all improved by heating. Either that, or ruined by it. 

Over the decade that my husband Sean and I have been growing—and cooking—peas in our Kansas garden, we’ve tried at least a dozen different ways to perfect them for both immediate and future eating. Our experiments with assorted varieties of snow and snap peas have resulted in clunkers and epiphanies. I’ll spare you the suspense and spill the hardly surprising technique that works best: shocking. 

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Posted in Produce

Semi-Traditional Tacos, Straight Out of the Garden

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By Kerri Conan

No one drives a taco truck yet in my neck of Kansas, but since the craze is contagious and we do have access to good local corn tortillas, I too have become an aspiring tacologist.

In this new science, those behind the wheel of the taco truck trend provide both our inspiration and some ground rules: All of our experiments will be delicious. We will be respectful of—but not hamstrung by—authenticity. And the toppings should be crunchy, colorful, maybe creamy, and more interesting than iceberg lettuce and Jack cheese.  Continue reading

Posted in Mexican

Dressing in the Palm of Your Hand

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By Kerri Conan

I am not the sort of gal known for her delicate touch. But each spring, when the first garden salads of the season appear on our table, I muster a smidgeon of restraint.

This year our Kansas greens are waterlogged with two weeks of near-solid rain, so they’re extra fragile, tender, and mild. Add whatever microgreens I’m thinning from the plot—this week it was beet and dill sprouts—and suddenly dressing becomes an issue. Even the velocity of a thin stream of oil pouring from a bottle or spoon seems harsh. The answer: Mix the dressing in your hands, then use the same tools to toss it. Continue reading

Posted in Farming, Produce

A Mixed Grill for Herbivores

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By Kerri Conan

[Kerri launches the grilling season with creative treatments of a few different vegetables. Those of us who don't live in her neighborhood are jealous. - mb]

After working in the garden all day Sunday I had cellulose on the brain. So I emptied out the produce bins in the fridge and headed to the grill. The plan was to serve everything room temperature over softened rice sticks, splashed with a lively nuoc cham-style sauce.

I had grilled tofu, asparagus, and onion before, but the rest of the stuff on the tray was novel territory. So I set up a two-tier fire with lump charcoal: hot one side, nothing on the other. Everything was started on the cool side and cooked covered for a few minutes—to ensure tenderness and smokiness—then seared. Or vice versa. And because there was too much for one grill load, I paused to add coals midway through, which gave me time to make the sauce. Brushed everything with grapeseed oil and sprinkled with a little salt. That’s it. Let’s work around the assortment in the photo clockwise; for more how-to shots of the process, flip through the slide show.

  • Red onion halves: don’t turn them too much or they’ll separate into rings.
  • Peeled blood oranges: they were too dry to eat raw but became chewy little rubies after grilling.
  • Parsnips: I thought it would be easiest to handle them on skewers, but a couple broke off; super yummy though.
  • Napa cabbage leaves: each contained a full spectrum of textures ranging from silky to papery; I cut them into wide ribbons for serving.
  • Tofu steaks: I cut them a little over ½-inch thick so they were crisp and charred on the outside, with a custardy interior
  • Asparagus: as big around as your thumb and grown nearby; I didn’t bother to peel the ends but I arranged them on the grill so the ends were toward the hottest part of the fire.
  • Thinly sliced jicama: wrap a delicious layer of carbonic flavor around their usual crunch and that’s what you get.
  • Celery heart: the big surprise, smoky and grassy and silky all at the same time.

The sauce was based on spearmint and chives from the garden, a dusting of last year’s ground chiles, some minced garlic, fish sauce, simple syrup, water, and lots of both lemon and lime juice. Fortunately there are lots of leftovers.

Posted in Produce