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What’s Cooking Wednesday: Beef Stroganoff

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Call it the Great Dinner Debate or maybe the Rural/Urban Dinner Divide. When to use the term ‘dinner’ for a meal definitely differs based on where you’re from.

Growing up on a west-central Illinois farm, my family used ‘lunch’ or ‘dinner’ for the midday meal, but the evening meal was always ‘supper.’ More metropolitan folks tend to call the noon meal ‘lunch’ and save ‘dinner’ for evening.

So who’s correct? Actually…both!

Dinner by definition is the main meal of the day – it’s not attached to a particular time. On the farm, we tended to eat the main/larger meal at noon in the middle of the working day and a lighter meal in the evening.

Folks in town often eat their bigger meal at night….unless of course it’s Thanksgiving Dinner, which all of us probably eat at noon 🙂

Anyway, Beef Stroganoff was always a family favorite for Sunday dinner (our noon meal), but you could eat it whenever you want. The secret ingredient in this rich & creamy sauce – ketchup! It adds a little bit of flavor and just the right amount of tang.

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Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. beef steak, cubed
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3 fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp. ketchup
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  •  Black pepper to taste
  • Parsley (for garnish)
  • 12 oz. egg noodles or dumpling noodles (my favorite!) – cook according to package directions

Instructions:

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet & saute the onion. Add the cubes of beef and garlic. Cook until beef is browned, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add mushrooms.
  3. Add flour and stir. The flour should ‘soak up’ the butter and juices from the meat.
  4. Add whipping cream in small amounts and stir thoroughly between each addition (If you add too much at once your sauce will have lumps of flour).
  5. Cook until sauce starts to simmer and thicken, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add ketchup & Worcestershire sauce and stir in completely.
  7. Add sour cream and stir in completely.
  8. Sprinkle with black pepper to taste.
  9. Place your cooked noodles on plates to serve and divide sauce evenly over the top.
  10. Sprinkle with parsley to garnish.

The Friday Five: Harvest

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As you may have noticed by the waves of amber grain disappearing from farm fields, corn and soybean harvest is rolling in full force. For farmers, harvest brings the culmination of a full year’s worth of work and then some in planning, selecting, planting & caring for their crops.

For this week’s Friday Five, I though maybe we should take a look at five things harvest means on the farm:

  1. Long hours & hard work! Harvest is a time-sensitive task and when it’s time to go, farmers are usually in the fields from sun-up to sundown or longer as long as a) the weather’s fit b) the crop conditions are right and c) the equipment cooperates.  If you have friends or family who farm, you may notice they completely disappear from social events for a couple of months in the fall, as described by this chart from Illinois Corn Growers.
  2. Meals in the Fields:  Farmers may not stop for lunch or dinner during harvest (see above), so meals are often delivered to the fields. Take a look at some creative and delicious ways farm families stay fed during harvest with ‘How to Feed a Farmer’ posted on the Watch Us Grow blog and ‘Field Meals to Go’ from Katie Pratt’s Rural Route 2 Blog.
  3. Technology & equipment: Today’s family farmers harvest data, not just crops. Sophisticated computer and GPS technology give farmers a wealth of information to make decisions and adjustments for next year. Take a closer look  inside a combine with these photos from the blog Daddy’s tractor and get a glimpse of the bits and bytes of precision farm data  in this article from Business Insider. Or if you want to watch harvest in real time, check out this opportunity to watch it on Periscope!
  4. Danger: Farming is a dangerous occupation and harvest carries many hazards. Big machinery with lots of moving parts, dry corn stalks that can catch fire from a spark and even fatigue from the long hours can lead to accidents. Do your part to help keep farmers (and yourself) safe! Slow down & pass with caution when you meet equipment on the road. Check out this advice from blogger Celeste Harned for more tips to stay safe.
  5. Helping Hands: Farmers are a close-knit community.  Every year I see at least one story about farmers coming together to harvest crops for a neighbor in need. This week I saw three: One right here in McLean County, one near Champaign and another over by  Galva, Illinois.

To see more, search & follow #harvest15 on Facebook or Twitter.

What does harvest mean to you?

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Baked Butternut Squash

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Butternut squash receives much less fanfare than it’s botanical cousin, the preeminent and ever-popular pumpkin. And while pumpkin will like remain king of fall flavors for the foreseeable future, one taste of this baked squash recipe just might cause you to rethink your palate priorities.

My freshman year of college, I took my roommate to my parent’s house for a home-cooked meal and baked butternut squash was on the menu. In my roommate’s words it ‘made her believe in the possibilities of squash,’ a vegetable she had never previously liked.

This recipe for baked squash came from my grandmother and is a perennial fall favorite for my family. The combination of squash, apples, sugar and spices make for a delicious side dish almost good enough to be called dessert and one that pairs particularly well with pork.

One warning: this is one dish that doesn’t taste as good as leftovers, so only make what you plan to have eaten….not that eating all of it should be a problem!

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Baked Butternut Squash

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 lbs)
  • 1 -2 medium apples
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. With a knife, cut the neck off of the butternut squash. Cut off the top and peel. Cut into slices about 1″ thick. Peel the bottom and scoop out the seeds. Cut into 1″ slices/pieces.
  3. Arrange all your slices into a glass baking dish.
  4. Core, peel & slice your apple into rings. Arrange on top of the squash pieces.
  5. In a saucepan, melt the butter. Once melted, stir in brown sugar, cinnamon & flour.
  6. Immediately pour the sauce over the apples & squash.
  7. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes until squash is fork tender.

The Friday Five: Trash Talk

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We’ve probably all done it. Forgotten something in the back of the refrigerator and then had to deal with the stinky, rotten or moldy consequences.

As Americans we’re also pretty bad at throwing away ‘good’ food, too – items that would be safe to eat but end up in the garbage can for whatever reason. In fact, the USDA estimates we throw away 133 billion pounds of edible food every year at a cost of $370 per person.

Food waste has environmental costs, too – both in terms of wasted production and emissions from food waste in landfills. To get a grip on the food garbage problem and ways to combat it, take a look at our fresh picked tidbits for this week’s Friday Five:

  1. For starters, ‘Let’s Talk Trash’ from USDA helps put the problem in perspective with a few numbers & pictures. The 90 billion pounds depicted here is a little less than the 133 billion reported elsewhere, but that may be because it can be difficult to get an accurate count (see #3)
  2. Last week, USDA & EPA announced plans to cut food waste 50% by 2030, as reported by the Washington Times.
  3. For a deeper look at the food waste numbers and the challenge of tackling the problem, check out this article from Wall Street Journal.
  4. Perhaps the U.S. needs to takes some cues from Denmark, which is leading the way in reducing food waste, as reported by NPR’s The Salt.
  5. And for a few ways to get you started in curbing food waste in your own kitchen, check out these 10 Tips to use food you might consider tossing, also from NPR’s The Salt.

What can you do to reduce food waste?

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Ratatouille

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Ratatouille may roll off the tongue, but it’s not that easy to spell – I hardly ever get it right on the first try. Fortunately, this recipe is much easier to make than spell.

Eggplant is the star of this delicious combination of vegetables sauteed to perfection in a tasty tomato-based sauce. Ratatouille can be a great side dish or center piece for lunch or dinner.

My version of ratatouille is ‘low fuss.’ I use one skillet & cook it on the stove top – no need to heat up the oven & just one pan to clean! The veggies are added one at a time, so while one is cooking you can slice/dice the next one.

Also, the measurements for this recipe DO NOT have to be exact. Add more or less of anything to suit your taste.

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Ratatouille

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup sliced & quartered eggplant (peel if desired)
  • 1 cup sliced & quartered zucchini (and/or yellow summer squash)
  • 1 cup diced tomato
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. basil
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce or tomato juice

Instructions:

  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil on low for a minute or two
  2. Add diced onion and saute over medium heat until they start to turn translucent. Add garlic, basil & oregano.
  3. Add eggplant and saute until it starts to soften, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add zucchini and saute until it starts to soften, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add diced tomato and tomato sauce/juice. Stir and cook until eggplant starts to turn translucent and sauce thickens.
  6. Serve hot.

Makes about 1 cup.

Fun fact: Did you know that the vegetable we call ‘eggplant,’ the British call ‘aubergine’? I learned that recently while talking with an acquaintance from across the pond.

Have you come across any unique or unusual names for food?

The Friday Five: Out of sight, out of mind

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When it comes to food, many of us (myself included) have a tendency to take for granted all the choices we have available and the convenience of easily accessible ingredients.

Here’s a few tidbits fresh picked for this week’s Friday five that help highlight some of the marvels of our modern food system and some areas that you might not think about:

  1. What does it really take to make a sandwich from scratch? Try 6 months and $1,500! Check out this video series from How to Make Everything for a look at one man’s quest to grow and source the raw ingredients for a sandwich truly made from scratch.
  2. Transportation is an essential part of our food system, but not one most of us think about very often. Take a look at a few of the folks who haul food for a living in this article from NPR’s The Salt.
  3. Have you seen headlines about recently about a shortage of eggs? Or perhaps pumpkins? While things like avian flu and weather can cause supply issues (and maybe price increases), check out this perspective about how most of the ‘shortages’ we see in the United States tend to be overplayed, in an article from TIME.
  4. On the flip side, there are real differences in the cost of food in different areas of the country. A report on food costs called Map the Meal Gap 2015 from Feeding America shows differences in meal costs correlates with low-income and food-insecure families, as reported on MarketWatch.
  5. Even in today’s era of mechanized and computerized agriculture equipment, many fruit and vegetable crops are still harvested by hand. Here’s a look at a few of the more labor intensive crops in this article, also from NPR’s The Salt.

To meet some of the farmers who grow your food, check out www.watchusgrow.org

What do you appreciate most about your food supply?

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Homemade Applesauce

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Today’s recipe is so simple I hesitate to even call it a recipe: 2 ingredients & a little time are all it takes to make delicious homemade applesauce.

My parents have 6 apples trees, so growing up we had an abundant supply of apples and fresh applesauce was frequently on the menu in the fall and winter.

Applesauce is a great way to use some apples that may be a little past their prime – ones that are bruised or starting to wrinkle. You probably won’t see anything like that in the apples you buy at the store, but at an orchard you can probably buy what they call “seconds.”

Seconds are apples that are less than perfect visually – maybe not be ones you want to slice & eat fresh, but they are good for cooking & baking…including homemade applesauce! Of course you could use the better looking apples, too. You will just pay a little more for them because they’re pretty.

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Homemade Applesauce

Ingredients:

  • 5 medium apples
  • 1/4 cup water

Instructions

  1. Peel and chop your apples using your preferred method. I just use a knife for a small number – but you could use a fancy crank peeler or even chop your apples in a food processor.
  2. Pour 1/4 cup of water in a medium sauce pan
  3. Add your chopped apples & cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally until apples chunks are soft (my small batch of 5 apples took about 30 minutes, a larger batch would take longer).
  4. Remove from heat & mash with a potato masher. You can also run it through a blender for smoother applesauce. I like mine “rustic” & slightly chunky.
  5. Serve warm or cold. Add cinnamon if desired. You could also add sugar, but I think the fruit is sweet enough all by itself.
  6. Store in the refrigerator. Can also be frozen for later.

5 apples = about 1 cup of applesauce

Tips:

  • Apple Varieties: sweet varieties like Yellow Delicious, Jonathon’s & Galas make good applesauce. I would avoid some of the tarter varieties like Red Delicious & Granny Smith.
  • You can really use as many apples as you want, just use a bigger pan. You will only need 1/4 cup of water even for a large batch. The water just keeps the apples from sticking to the bottom of the pan until they start to cook down and release some juices.

The Friday Five: Pumpkins!

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Looking for the perfect pumpkin for your front step? Or maybe some mums to fill out your fall flower bed? Central Illinois has plenty to offer!

pumpkinsAfter all, when it comes to pumpkins – Illinois is the cream of the crop! Illinois farmers grow 80-85% of the world’s supply of processing pumpkins (used to make canned pumpkin puree & pie filling) and the majority of those are grown right here in the central part of the state.

Check out a few upcoming opportunities to visit the country, experience a little taste of agriculture and maybe pick up a pumpkin:

  1.  Explore local farm history with the 2015 McLean County Barn Tour Sat., Sept. 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. featuring interesting barns, antique farm equipment and more. The self-guided tour and begins at the Chenoa United Methodist Church and is sponsored by McLean County Barn Keepers.
  2. Rader Family Farms opens this weekend (Sept. 12). Located just west of Normal (look for the pumpkin topped silo), Rader’s offers plenty of pumpkins, a corn maze, kid-friendly activities, food & special events throughout the season.
  3. Also this weekend, you can head south for the Route 10 Farm Crawl Sun., Sept. 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with activities at Mariah’s Mums & More, Timberview Alpaca FarmWagon Wheel Pumpkin Farm near Clinton, Illinois.
  4. For more pumpkin treats and festival fun, head to the Pumpkin Capital of the World for the Morton Pumpkin Festival Sept. 16-19, 2015. Sample the savory and the sweet with everything from pumpkin chili to pumpkin donuts & ice cream.
  5. And if apples are what you’re after, check out Country Mist Apple Farm near Heyworth, Curtis Orchard near Champaign or Tanner’s Orchard north of Peoria.

Just remember when you venture out into the country, watch out for farm equipment! Harvest is just beginning for corn & soybeans, so be alert for slow moving vehicles on the roads. Slow down, pass with caution & be safe!

What are your favorite ways to celebrate Fall?

Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Cookies

2013 soybeans, landscapeFall is here! At least if the return of all things pumpkin and pumpkin flavor are any indication.

Yes, I know technically fall doesn’t start until the Autumnal Equinox on Sept. 23, but if the Starbucks pumpkin latte is your benchmark – it made its 2015 nationwide debut yesterday (Sept. 8).

And pumpkin is kind of a big deal around here in central Illinois. Did you know we grow more pumpkins than any other state? In fact, 80-85% of the world’s supply of processing pumpkins (used to make canned pumpkin puree & pie filling) are grown by Illinois farmers. Plus pumpkin pie is now the official state pie.

So in honor of this ‘local’ ingredient, try these Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Cookies. Kind of like a pumpkin snickerdoodle, cinnamon chips and a combination of spices make this cookies a tasty fall treat and the perfect complement for some apply cider…or milk if you prefer.

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Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup cinnamon chips
  • Topping: 2 tsp. cinnamon & 1/4 cup sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 1 or 2 cookie sheets.
  2. Stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and spices in a mixing bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream butter with granulated and brown sugars. Add egg and whisk until light and fluffy.
  4. Stir in vanilla and pumpkin puree.
  5. Gradually add dry ingredients and stir as you go until just combined. Stir in cinnamon chips.
  6. Mix sugar and cinnamon topping in small bowl. With lightly floured hands, roll teaspoonfuls of dough into a ball and then roll in topping to coat.
  7. Place about two inches apart on cookie sheets. Flatten the balls with your hand or a flat bottomed glass (these cookies don’t really spread so flatten them to the size you want your final cookie).
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes until edges just start to brown. Remove from oven & leave on the cookie sheets for 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies. Enjoy!

Adapted from “Pumpkin Cookies Recipe” by Two Peas & Their Pod. See the original recipe here.

What’s your favorite pumpkin flavored food?