Five Green Acres Mary Jo + Andrew Borchardt Poynette, WI
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In which I reveal my kitchen secrets

In which I reveal my kitchen secrets
October 26, 2011 Mary Jo

These are a few of my favorite (culinary) things…


This homely, bulbous mass of intense flavor is like celery, only MORE SO! I use it in lieu of celery by simply slicing off a portion, (1-2T) cutting or peeling the skin away, and finely dicing.  The rest of the bulb gets thrown back into the fridge where it keeps nicely for quite a long time.  This bulb was plucked from my garden yesterday, the last of a small bunch I’ve harvested over the summer.  They need a pretty long growing season, so I’d like to suggest (to my future self) not harvesting any of them till mid-late Fall.  Celeriac.  If celery is a quiet whisper, a pale, anemic hoarse croak of flavor, celeriac is a SHOUT FROM THE MOUNTAINTOPS! (so a little goes a long way and a single bulb will fill a generous many celery needs)

2. Whole Nutmeg

It was an earth-shattering moment the first time I took some cookbook’s suggestion and picked up some whole nutmeg.  It is absolutely nothing like that pale powder shoved into the Durkee jar labeled nutmeg;  you would never pick out the two as being related in a line-up.  Get yourself a whole nut, grate it with your microplane or fine grater, close your eyes, and smell.  That’s our nutmeg ritual – the kids come running and we all pass around the fresh-grated nut and inhale.  Bliss!  When you’re ready to open your eyes, delight in the beautiful swirly pattern hidden inside that unassuming nut exterior.  Really, could your eyes and nose derive even a fraction of this pleasure from the bogus jar powder?  No.  Treat yourself – it’s such a visceral pleasure.

3. Homemade chicken stock

I took the suggestion of The Splendid Table‘s How To Eat Supper cookbook and left the skins of the onion on before tossing them in.  Use any chicken bits you have, though the ones with bones might pack more nutritional punch.  We have a whole freezer full of chicken carcasses – what remains after we cut off the thighs, breasts, legs, wings of the fresh-butchered birds- which we prize for stock-making.  The idea was to make up a bunch and preserve it in the pressure canner, but the stars have not yet aligned to make that happen, so we are content to throw some chicken in a pot of water, simmer it for awhile, and call it the foundation of Supper. The leftover bits from a roast chicken make a wonderful stock, too.

4.  Miso paste

As easy as throwing a chicken carcass into a pot of water is, sometimes there’s not even time for that.  Sometimes, all that lies between making a real supper or copping out with a frozen pizza is the (instant) option of miso paste.  I often use it in lieu of chicken stock.  Use it carefully though – adding it to a boiling mix will kill off all the beneficial bits.  I usually add just the required amount of water for the recipe, then stir in the dissolved miso at the very end when I’m seasoning the dish.  Delicious, packed full of health – what’s not to love?

5. Whisking

I chucked the flour sifter after reading something about whisking instead.  The real estate that opened up in my cupboard was quickly put to better use and the whisk inventory was doubled, allowing for a spare.  Measure out your dry ingredients, whisk, and call it good.

6. Engage the senses

This one’s sort of redundant, having waxed on and on about the intense sensual pleasures of celeriac and fresh nutmeg, but I did want to mention this one thing:  I feel like I’m doing my best work as Momma when we casually meander through the aisles of fresh produce and bulk spices of our grocery coop and take the time smell what we’re putting into the cart.  Fresh ginger, powdered ginger, and cinnamon all got special attention in the store yesterday from our noses – big and small, and I felt like a really good mom.

7. Hidden greens

Swiss chard, kale, collards…all are fair game for tucking into the sauteed onions and garlic that are the base of nearly everything I cook.  Lasagna, spaghetti, enchiladas, or anything that starts with cooking diced onions in oil can usually expect to include finely chopped greens sauteed in the mix.  It’s a sneaky way for a mom to add some green veggies, but that’s part of my job.

8. Lemon juice with greens

I read somewhere that citrus helps our body better process the good stuff in those greens, so it goes without saying that each time I add those finely chopped greens to the saute, I also squeeze a lemon over the top.

9.  Lemongrass

Did you know it freezes well?  Yes!  Please don’t let me forget to harvest mine before the big frosts come.  Please and thank you.

10.  Delicata squash

I grew some this year, but didn’t photograph any?  Maybe because we inhaled it.  This is a variety of squash with a thin skin – so thin that you need not peel it before cooking, because it becomes just as tender as the flesh. When I do peel something, it’s reluctantly, so taking squash off that list of obligatory peeling is dynamite.

And you?  What’s your greatest kitchen secret?  Favorite tool?  Technique?  Do share!



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