A Reason For The Season by Cookbook Author, Kerry Dunnington

The following blogs were written by Baltimore-based award-winning cookbook author, cook, caterer, local seasonal food proponent, farmers market advocate and dear friend Kerry Dunnington. Kerry’s cookbooks can be found on www.amazon.com/kerrydunnington or by contacting Kerry at kerrydunnington@verizon.net, or via her website www.kerrydunnington.com. Kerry has a special offer in 2021, each of her cookbooks is on sale for $10.00.

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LEAVES OF GREEN: In keeping with the natural rhythm of our environment, Mother Nature is producing spinach now through May. This jade green, spade-shaped leaf provides more nutrients than any other food … what a gem! Spinach boasts an impressive nutritional profile that includes rich doses of vitamins C, K, A, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium and vitamin B6. One cup of steamed spinach has 41 calories. No wonder Popeye declared “I’m strong to the finish, cause I eats my spinach!”

SELECTING: A few types of spinach are available. Popular, and what is known as baby salad spinach, is a smooth leaf variety usually sold in plastic bags or containers and comes conveniently washed and ready to eat. Curly leaf spinach is textured and commonly sold bunch, stem intact. Spinach that does not indicate that it is ready to eat should be washed well; the leaves tend to collect soil and land.

PREPARING: To loosen and remove soil and sand, fill a large bowl with tepid water, add spinach and swish the spinach around to loosen particles. To ensure that all particles are completely removed, complete this process three times. Spin dry leaves in a salad spinner or place leaves on absorbent kitchen towels to dry. If planning to prepare the curly leaf spinach for a salad, it is best to wash the leaves just before using [because] moisture will cause the leaves to spoil. Spinach will stay fresh for a few days stored in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic.

WORTH NOTING: It is best to buy organic spinach because it is one of twelve foods where pesticide residue is most frequently found:

  • Organically produced food supports the health of our environment.
  • Eating foods in their growing season provides the most nutrients.
  • Buying locally grown food or food that is produced within a 150 mile radius supports our local farmer; “well-travelled” food loses its nutritional value.

ENOYING: What follows are two of my favorite ways to use spinach and this month’s recipe for Polenta Lasagna, a popular recipe from my cookbook, This Book Cooks: (1) Sautéed Spinach – Sauce garlic in olive oil, add spinach, cook until just wilted, sprinkle with salt, serve immediately; (2) The Classic Spinach Salad – Combine fresh spinach with chopped hard-boiled eggs (1 egg per person) cooked and crumbled pork or turkey bacon, sliced mushrooms, sliced red onion, toss with an oil and vinegar dressing.

POLENTA LASAGNA: A delicious, nutritional and colorful recipe, easy for weeknight, (Kids love it!) and impressive to serve for a casual supper. The bonus? It is so simple to prepare and requires nothing more to accompany, than company.

Ingredients: 1-1/4 cups low-fat ricotta cheese; 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper; 1 teaspoon dried basil; salt and pepper to taste; 1 bunch fresh spinach, steamed, chopped and drained of any liquid; 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided use; one 16-ounce tube polenta cut into 16 slices; 1 cup marinara sauce.

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, red pepper, basil, salt, pepper, spinach and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange eight of the polenta slices in the bottom on the baking dish, spoon 1/2 of the ricotta/spinach mixture over the polenta and top with 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce. Repeat with the polenta, ricotta/spinach and marinara sauce, top with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover, place oven temperature to broil to allow top to brown. Serves 4.

From baltimoreeats.com; April 2007.

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I’ve often wondered if grocery store produce departments offered frequent flier miles for fruits and vegetables, what fruit or vegetables would collect the largest number of miles? I did some research and learned asparagus generally logs more miles in a week than commercial airline pilots! By the time this delicate vegetable find its way into your grocery store basket, it has traveled the globe.

Most of the asparagus we purchase [in USA] hails from far away places such as Peru (now the world’s leading asparagus exporter), China, and California. As the crow flies, Peru is 3,536 miles from Maryland, China 7,446 and California, 3,000.

In Hadley, Massachusetts (297 miles from Maryland), which until recently was the asparagus capital of the world, the bulk of their asparagus harvest is exported. Towns surrounding Hadley don’t even supply “Hadley Crown” asparagus at any local Farmers’ Markets!

This isn’t the way we intended to protect, preserve and honor our local agriculture. We need to reverse this trend and to lessen the “carbon footprint” resulting from moving food such distances to market. We need to buy food in its growing season here – and enjoying it when it’s at its peak flavor and offered the most nutrients.

SELECTING, STORING AND PREPARING: The asparagus season is brief and runs generally from April through May. Use asparagus within 1 to 2 days of purchasing. Asparagus stalks should be rounded, look for firm stems with deep green or purplish closed tips. The thickness of each spear is a matter of preference and will determine the cooking time. I find the most flavorful spears are medium sized. To store, remove the bands that bind the stalks and refrigerate with the ends wrapped in paper towel. Before cooking, remove the woody end (1-2 inches) of each stalk.

SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Asparagus can be served hot or cold. If you’re serving cold asparagus (although I think serving the spears cold mutes their flavor), plunging the stalks in cold water immediately after cooking. Once cold, remove the stalks and transfer to a kitchen towel. Many methods can be applied. Stalks can be steamed, boiled, broiled or grilled. I tested each method and discovered the most flavorful asparagus is boiled, it evokes a clean, mild flavor and preserves the bright green color.

CREAMY LEMON PASTA WITH ASPARAGUS: Lemon and asparagus complement each other perfectly. This recipe is simple to assemble, colorful, refreshing and so representative of spring. The dish stands on its own, but if you want to serve accompaniments, toss baby lettuce leaves with an oil and vinegar dressing and serve with slices of olive bread. For optimum results, the eggs and milk should be at room temperature when you begin. The ingredients are easier to incorporate if the pasta is broken in half before cooking. Be sure to great the lemon zest before you juice the lemon.

Creamy Lemon Pasta with Asparagus: 2 eggs; 1/4 cup low fat milk; 8-ounces angel hair pasta; a bunch of fresh asparagus trimmed of woody ends and cut into 1-inch pieces (cutting the asparagus on the diagonal adds to the presentation); 2 tablespoons butter; 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind; 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice; 1/2 teaspoon salt; and fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and milk until well combined. Cook pasta in salted boiling water for about 4 minutes, add asparagus and cook an additional 2-3 minutes or until asparagus is fork tender, drain. While the pasta and asparagus are cooking, melt butter in a medium skillet over moderate heat, add lemon rind, lemon juice and salt, cook for 1 minute. Pour lemon/butter mixture over pasta and asparagus and toss. Add egg/milk combination to pasta/asparagus mixture to cook over low heat for a few minutes or until mixture slightly thickens, stirring constantly, then serve immediately. Add grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4 – 6.

From baltimoreeats.com; April 2008.

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I’m often asked how I come up with food combinations. I tell people I “design” food combinations the same way an architect designs a building, or the way an artist creates a work of art. And, as with many creatives, this often occurs when I’ve awakened in the middle of the night. It’s predictability a time when the creative side of the brain gets nudged and, for me, the when really unusual combinations come to mind. Indeed, it was in the middle of the night when the idea to make a cake using parsnips came to me.

After all, we’ve been adding carrots to cake batter and turning it into a moist, tasty cake for years. H-m-m-m, I wondered if parsnips were added to a cake batter would the result be as nice as the famous and popular Carrot Cake?

I was intrigued by the thought of creating a cake recipe using such an unlikely ingredient, so the following day, I folded shredded parsnips into a simple cake batter. The result was a delicious moist cake – one where this so under-appreciated vegetable became completely appreciated! I sampled the cake to my husband and neighbors who were flabbergasted when they learned parsnips were the predominant ingredient!

SELECT, STORING AND PREPARING

Parsnips are in season during the colder months of the year. The ivory colored root of the parsnip resembles the ship of a carrot. Choose small to medium size parsnips since larger parsnips tend to have a woodsy flavor. Parsnips will keep for 1-2 weeks wrapped and stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator.

To prepare, wash well, peel and trim ends. Parsnips will turn brown once they are peeled and cut, so prepare just before using. They can be steamed, boiled, sautéed or roasted. When steaming or boiling, parsnips tend to cook quickly and will turn mushy, so cook only until just fork tender. Sauteing and roasting them will bring out their sweetness.

SERVING SUGGESTIONS

Simply season boiled or steamed parsnips with salt, pepper and butter. Add parsnips to pot roast, or to round out a hearty winter soup or stew. Include them in any assorted roasted vegetable medley. They are also great folded into mashed potatoes and they make a lovely base for a delicious tasting cream soup. Add shredded parsnips to muffins, waffles and pancake batter; the parsnips magically seem to dissolve and no one will ever know you’ve enriched the batter with beneficial fiber and nutrients! To really win your tasters over, serve these Parsnip Baby Cakes the next time you’re having a tea, serving dessert or simply want a decadent sweet treat.

PARSNIPS BABY CAKES WITH GINGER ICING

Cake: 1 cup white flour; 2/3 cup sugar; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1/8 teaspoon salt; 1/4 cup plain yogurt; 3 tablespoons canola oil; 2 teaspoons grated orange rind; 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; 1 egg; and 1 cup raw parsnips, peeled and shredded (about 2 medium).

Ginger Icing: 4 ounces (1/4 cup) light cream cheese, softened; 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar; 1 tablespoon candied ginger; and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, orange rind, vanilla and egg. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, add liquid ingredients and combine until moistened. The batter is dense, not to worry. Fold in parsnips, distributing evenly. Lightly oil (or use eco-friendly baking cups) 8 muffin cups, spoon batter into cups and bake for 20 minutes or until cup cakes are light brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow cup cakes to cool for 10 minutes in pan before removing to a wire rack. In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, ginger and vanilla. Beat until mixture is smooth and creamy. Lather cup cakes with icing. Yields 8 muffins.

From http://www.baltimoreeats.com Dec. 2008.

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The following blogs were written by Baltimore-based award-winning cookbook author, cook, caterer, local seasonal food proponent, farmers market advocate and dear friend Kerry Dunnington. Kerry’s cookbooks can be found on www.amazon.com/kerrydunnington or by contacting Kerry at kerrydunnington@verizon.net, or via her website www.kerrydunnington.com. Kerry has a special offer in 2021, all of her cookbooks are on sale for $10.00 each.

February: I was so fortunate to have known all four grandparents until I was twenty-two years old. The year I turned thirty-three, my grandmother, the last of the four (and the one I most emulated) passed away. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t reflect upon the impact they had on my life.

My grandparents were farmers who harvested their own food. Sharing family meals was a big part of their way of life. The meals they prepared were simple, wholesome, balanced, and the food we ate was in season.

In the spring and summer months, when their trees and gardens were brimming with fruits and vegetables, we savored the bounty. During the winter months, we ate what my grandmothers, aunts and mother had preserved. Nearby farmers provided chicken, beef and pork. Milk and eggs were delivered. Food was respected and relished and the evening Blessing was a sincere token of gratitude.

As a tribute to my grandparents, this months I am featuring a recipe that has been in our family for many generations. We call it a Boiled Dinner. A simplistic combination of kale, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and bacon. As children, we were thrilled when our mother told us, “We’re having a boiled dinner tonight.”

Kale is extremely nourishing, half a cup provides nearly the entire day’s recommended vitamin C intake and has only 22 calories! There are three types of kale to choose from, curly, dinosaur (kids love that name!) and red kale. Curly kale, the most common of the three, is deep green, has ruffled leaves and a fibrous stalk. Curly kale has a lively pungent flavor that some describe as slightly bitter and peppery. Dinosaur (my preference) has dark green leaves, a slightly sweeter flavor and a more delicate taste. Red kale, similar to dinosaur, has dark red running through the veins of its leaves.

Selecting, Storing, Preparing

When buying kale look for crisp, dark-colored leaves with hardy stems. Smaller-sized leaves have a milder flavor than those with larger leaves. Wrap kale in a tea-towel and store in the crisper section of the refrigeration. Kale is best eaten within one or two days after purchase since it has a tendency to turn bitter over time. Just before preparing, wash it well in cool water, being certain to remove any sand or dirt that tends to get caught in the leaves. The inner rib can be stringy. To remove it, fold the leaves in half lengthwise, hold the folded leaves where the stalk meets the leaves, and pull the leaves from the stalk.

Our Family’s Boiled Dinner

4 medium size potatoes, quartered; 8 eggs; 1 pound dinosaur kale, washed, inner rib removed; and 12 slices of bacon

Dressing: 1 cup apple cider vinegar; 4 tablespoons sugar; salt and pepper to taste.

Fill two large pots with water, bring water to a boil and cook the potatoes and eggs for about 15 minutes (potatoes should be fork tender). Cook the kale in the second pot until tender. Check after about 15 minutes. Meanwhile fry bacon until crispy. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Pour excess bacon fat from pan and while the pan is still warm, add apple cider vinegar and sugar, stir until mixture is combined and sugar has dissolved. Season with salt and pepper. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, peel shells from eggs. Drain the potatoes and transfer to a covered dish to keep warm. Drain the kale.

Shallow wide bowls (I warm them on the stovetop) are ideal for serving a boiled dinner. To assemble the dinner, divide kale among 4 serving bowls, top with 1 potato (4 quarters), 2 eggs and 3 slices of bacon. Serve dressing on the side. Serves 4.

From http://www.baltimoreeats.com Jan. 2008.

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January: I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend a cold winter evening than in front of a roaring fire partaking in a bowl of healthy, hearty soup and home-made hot rolls with my husband, family and friends. Just the aroma alone will have your guests clamoring to indulge. The recipes for my Christmas Lima Bean Supper and Quick-Cooking-Oatmeal Rolls perfectly complement each other and need nothing more than good company and robust wine.

Quick-Cooking-Oats: Oatmeal Rolls:

Helpful to know: Plan accordingly, the oats get soaked in the milk for 2 hours. These rolls are best eaten hot from the oven and slathered with butter. If they’re not devoured the day they’re baked, slice in half and toast lightly. I prefer using parchment paper to line my baking sheets but you can also lightly oil the sheets with canola oil or cooking spray.

2 cups quick cooking oats; 2 cups milk: In a large bowl, combine quick cooking oats and milk. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours.

1 package active dry yeast; 3/4 cup warm water; 1 tsp. sugar; 1/4 cup olive oil; 1 tsp. salt; 4 cups of white flour plus extra for work surface; canola oil for mixing bowl: In a small bowl dissolve yeast in water, add sugar and allow to proof. Add to milk/oatmeal mixture in a large bowl. Add olive oil and salt, stirring until well combined. Add flour 1 cup at a time. When dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl (after about the third cup), transfer to a floured surface. Adding flour as needed to keep from sticking, knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 7 – 10 minutes. Lightly cover a large bowl with oil, place dough into bowl and turn dough to coat all surfaces. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down; transfer to lightly floured work surface. Roll to 1-inch thickness and cut into 32 rolls using a 2 1/4-inch biscuit cutter. Place onto 2 baking sheets that have been covered with parchment paper. Cover rolls with towel and let rise for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and bake rolls for 18-20 minutes, switching position of baking sheets halfway through the baking time.

Yield = approx. 32 rolls

Kerry Dunnington – Winter 2010, http://www.baltimoreats.com

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