Michigan Food Finds

Storing and Freezing Garden Harvest

It’s getting close to closing down my vegetable garden for the season. Now is the time to process the bounty of herbs and produce for canning and freezing to enjoy during the winter months. My fresh basil grew like crazy this summer and fall so I started with making and freezing pesto.

pesto

Basil Pesto

3          cloves garlic, unpeeled
½         cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2          cups packed basil leaves
¼         cup pine nuts, toasted
¼         cup grated Parmesan cheese
½         teaspoon kosher salt
¼         teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place garlic cloves in small piece aluminum foil, drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil, loosely close and bake for 20 minutes. Cool slightly before squeezing garlic from skin.

Add roasted garlic cloves, basil, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper to food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, scraping down sides as needed. Drizzle in remaining oil while processor is running until well combined. Toss with cooked pasta, use as a condiment for grilled meats or a marinade.
Yield: 1 cup pesto

Cook’s Tip: Place pesto in ice cube trays, cover with a thin layer of olive oil and freeze overnight. Remove from ice cube tray and place in a zip top freezer safe bag  or container for up to 6 months. Also, I have skipped the step of roasting the garlic and it is just as delicious with a more pungent garlic forward flavor.

basil plant

Lately, we have been eating our grape tomatoes as fast as I am picking them. Including our dogs (did you know dogs love tomatoes?!) In the past, I have roasted them on a sheet pan with garlic, basil, salt and pepper and froze in freezer safe zip top bag.

Roasted Tomatoes

4              cups grape tomatoes
4              cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2              tablespoons olive oil
¼             cup thinly slice fresh basil
½             teaspoon coarse salt
¼             teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss all ingredients together on a sheet pan. Roast for 20-25 minutes, stirring once, or until charred in spots. Cool completely and place in a freezer safe zip top bag. Consume within six months.

Cook’s Tip: Toss roasted tomatoes with hot pasta for a quick dinner.  Or, try baking roasted tomatoes a pie plate topped with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. They can even been pureed for a smooth sauce.

Even though it can be exhausting transforming basil and tomatoes into freezable feasts, it is so worth having that taste of summer many months from now.

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

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Michigan Food Finds

A Winning Recipe

I’m a recipe geek. I read cookbooks, watch cooking shows, write recipes and cook constantly. Because of my passion for all things food, I also enter recipe contests frequently. My latest shot at a winning recipe was via the Food and Culinary Professionals practice group from my professional organization The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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The contest was “the sweet bites challenge” sponsored by Splenda® Naturals. And, I was the winning appetizer category with my date and ricotta cheese polenta bites. It is a quick and lean appetizer that offers a bit of sweet and savory. You can also make this recipe with any local, seasonal fruit in place of the dried dates. Though, here is Michigan, we will have to patiently wait until our first summer fruits arrives.

 

Date and Ricotta Cheese Polenta Bites

Ingredients

Polenta
1 ½ cups water
½ cup corn grits (Bob’s Red Mill)
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
¾ teaspoon Splenda® Naturals Sugar and Stevia Blend

Dates
12 pitted dates, fine diced
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 ½ teaspoon Splenda Naturals Sugar and Stevia Blend
Pinch coarse salt
Pinch ground black pepper

3 tablespoons ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped dry roasted lightly salted almond

Instructions
Spray a mini muffin pan lightly with vegetable cooking spray; set aside.

Place 1 ½ cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat; bring to a boil. Add corn grits and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 5 minutes; stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in ¾ teaspoon Splenda®. Spoon 1 tablespoon of polenta into 18 mini muffin wells and press down middle of each to make an indent. Place in refrigerator 15 to 20 minutes to set.

When polenta is cooling, add dates, ¼ cup water, vinegar, 1 ½ teaspoon Splenda®, salt and pepper in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer 4 to 5 minutes or until thick and reduced. Remove from heat; set aside.

Remove polenta from mini muffin pan to a serving dish. Top each evenly with date mixture, ½ teaspoon ricotta and chopped almonds. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 6 (3 per person)

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Michigan Food Finds

Beer and Salsa

Essence on Main in historic downtown Clarkston has a beer tasting the third Thursday of every month. I usually have grand plans to attend and life jumps in the way with kid’s events, work travel or our adult league sports (yes, my husband and I still get out there and play). But, last night we escaped for an hour from the mayhem of our family’s schedule to sample a local beer and snack.

A great proponent of local foods, Essence on Main is my go to place to pick up local honey, beer or a sweet treat and has been in the community for almost a decade. They also have a full take out menu headed by Chef Joan Donnay with house made salads, soups, sandwiches and Crust baked goods.

beer

The local beer being poured for the tasting was from Boatyard Brewing Company out of Kalamazoo. We tasted four beers: Kalamazoo Cream Ale, Frosted Harbor Raspberry Wheat, Midnight Star Black Cream Ale and Haze Sunset New England IPA. Boatyard is a true craft brewery that uses traditional ingredients in innovative ways. Ingredients like Waimea hops, caramel and black malt produces tastes and aromas that are specific to the brewmasters creativity. While all were very drinkable, we agreed upon a four pack of cream ale to take home.

salsa

My Salsa was our snack for the evening. Launched in 2016, My Salsa is a garden vegetable, no added sugar salsa offered in a variety of heats. We sampled all five flavors ranging from mild to x-hot. I braved all the heats with the promise that the x-hot—made with Carolina Reaper and Scorpion peppers—wouldn’t “melt off my face.” I did survive the x-hot with my face intact though took home the mild spicy for my family to enjoy

At the end of the event, I found my husband over by the wall of wines. He wasn’t aware of the great selection of wines at Essence on Main. I’m thinking that our next night out should be for Essence’s monthly wine tasting.

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Michigan Food Finds

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH PITA PIZZA

The Food and Nutrition Test Kitchen from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a monthly collective cook-off. This month we cooked Butternut Squash Arugula Pizza. I swapped out a few ingredients to put my own local Michigan twist on the recipe.

 

 

 

 

Butternut Squash Pita Pizza

3  cups peeled and chopped Michigan butternut squash
1  small onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1  tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon MSalt
2, whole wheat Lebanese style pita bread (Paramount Baking Co.)
½ cup pizza sauce
2  teaspoons olive oil
1  cup fresh baby spinach, rough torn
2  ounces Idyll Farms goat cheese
2  tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400o. Combine squash, onion, 1 tablespoon olive oil and MSalt on a rimmed baking sheet. Place squash mixture in oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until just golden and soft; set aside. Place 2 pita breads on a baking sheet and top each with ¼ cup pizza sauce. Evenly distribute squash and onion mixture on each pita and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and top each evenly with spinach, goat cheese, vinegar and pepper. Cut into quarters and serve hot.

Yield: 2 servings

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Michigan Food Finds

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Cranberry Pumpkin Seed Simply Smart Bar

SIMPLY SMART BARS

The 10th annual Making it in Michigan Conference and Marketplace Trade Show was this week. It was the perfect place to learn about Michigan food products and a great way for local businesses to expand their market.

One product in particular that spoke to my dietitian thinking was Simply Smart Bar. It is a whole food bar made from plant-derived foods. Made right here in Oak Park, Michigan, these bars are a great on-the-go meal replacer that you can feel good about eating. With ingredients that are easy to recognize—flax, almonds, apricots, raisins and pea protein—you know what you are consuming.

Most Americans could benefit from eating more plant foods as they are essential for good health. Plant foods produce thousands of phytochemicals—a compound produced by plants—that is proven to have health promoting properties. Simply Smart bars are chock full of plant foods while also full of fiber and protein making them satisfyingly filling.

Simply Smart Bars contain sustainable ingredients, are nutrient-dense and delicious to eat. Support made-in-Michigan products for your next snack.

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Test Kitchen Recipe

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Cherry-Chocolate Almond Clusters

CHERRY-CHOCOLATE ALMOND CLUSTERS 

The Food and Nutrition test kitchen program’s collective cook-off recipe this month is Cherry-Chocolate Almond Clusters. This is a perfect recipe for Michiganders—70 to 75% of the Montmorency tart cherries consumed across the nation are produced in our fine state. Michigan is nationally recognized for its prized cherry production though fresh cherries aren’t quite in season yet. Our cooler climate only allows us to pick fresh cherries from late June through August.

The test kitchen’s original recipe uses fresh cherries which will be fun to try during the summer months. But, for now, I switched out fresh cherries for dried. Michigan dried cherries have a 6 to 12 month shelf-life in the pantry allowing us to eat Michigan cherries all year long. Though, being so delicious, they are typically eaten long before any expiration date.

Fresh cherries can be frozen, canned, dried or concentrated, and are abundant in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins give cherries their ruby red color, sour-sweet taste and anti-inflammatory health benefits. Full of vitamin C, potassium and fiber, eating cherries in any form is an easy choice.

Once you make a small batch of Cherry-Chocolate Almond Clusters, you will want to double the recipe and share this delicious and nutritious treat.

 Cherry-Chocolate Almond Clusters
#FNTestKitchen

¼ cup sea salt, dry roasted almonds, rough chopped
¼ cup dried pitted tart Michigan Montmorency cherries, chopped
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine almonds and cherries in a small bowl. Place chocolate chips in a separate small microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir with a rubber spatula and repeat until chips are melted. Pour melted chocolate into cherry and almond mixture; gently stir until evenly coated. Place heaping tablespoons on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Yield: 6 clusters

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Michigan Food Finds

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Fresh chives and thyme in the garden

SPRING EDIBLES

Michigan spring weather is a constant flux of beautiful sunny days mixed in with gray, rainy days along with the ultimate possibility of wet snow. Every day is a surprise. In spite of all the weather challenges, my garden consistently provides me with some hope for summer. This time of year, my perennial herbs appear—bright, strong and green.

The first to poke through the ground are the chives. Ready to use just as soon as they sprout, chives will grow tall and flower staying hardy until the winter. Once I clean up my garden, the fresh thyme perks up and is also ready to be harvested. These common herbs are familiar spring edibles and are widely consumed. Looking around my yard, I also notice a variety of wild spring edibles.

The dandelion is the most common wild edible much to the angst of my family and neighbors. They are the unwelcome invaders of the perfect suburban lawn and garden. Introduced as salad greens by European settlers, dandelions are a great (and inexpensive) source of antioxidants and nutrition. The leaves, flowers and roots are all edible raw or cooked. The leaves and flowers can be added to soup, sautéed, fried into fritters or made into tea. The roots are commonly dried and roasted for a coffee or tea substitute. Be sure to only consume dandelions that are not treated or sprayed.

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Dandelions in my front yard

I also have found growing wild in my garden purslane. Found close to the ground in shady areas, purslane is often just picked and discarded. It had thick red stems and succulent green leaves shaped as tiny spoons. Purslane can be eaten raw or cooked adding a peppery flavor and heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Lastly, the other most pesky but noticeable wild edible, are nettles. I inevitably find these by accident and end up quite itchy. Though, nettles can be easily disarmed then consumed like any other edible green. Most importantly, pick the nettles while wearing gloves, then just pour boiling water over them for 30 seconds. You can consume without any problems once disarmed.

I have learned to embrace our Michigan “spring” weather and revel in the daily changes. I’m pleased to have a few homegrown items to eat before the traditional bounty of Michigan edibles become available. As with all wild edibles, be sure you can positively identify what you are picking and eating. Michigan State University Extension is a great resource for gardening and agriculture. Check out their spring wild edible workshop.

Dandelion Flower Tea
8 to 12 dandelion flower heads, gently rinsed
10 to 12 ounces boiling water
Slice of lemon, lime, fresh ginger or sprig of fresh mint
1 teaspoon Whitfield’s Raw Honey

Place dandelion flower heads in a heat safe mug. Pour boiling water over flowers; steep 5 to 10 minutes then remove dandelions. Add lemon, lime, ginger or mint. Stir in honey. Drink hot or cold over ice.

—Pam Aughe, R.D.