A perfect sea urchin

The Pantry Corner

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I did not set out to buy a broccoflower. I wanted broccoli rabe to sautee with parsnips. Given that the Farmer's Market usually has both these items at good quality and for a good price, this was a no brainer. Wednesday night I went out to wait for the #120 bus, and it was late, and it got later. The driver even managed to take a bio-break and make us even later. As a rsult, I missed the market, and had to buy produce at Kroger. I needed paper goods as well, so this was not a dead loss, but it was pretty close. I dreaded the experience.

Produce at Kroger is more expensive than at Farmer's Market, but not terribly so. The selection and condition were what was awful. I had to pick through the mineola oranges to find ones that weren't bruised. They were .79 a pound. The zucchini at $1.00 a pound was pricey, but not out of line with everything else which was also slightly pricey. I bought the zucchini. You can't go wrong with zucchini.

Then there was the broccoflower. It was three dollars in change, but it was broccoflower which keeps its texture and soaks up broths and marinades like a sponge. It's both sturdy and tender at the same time. It's just a great vegetable, and I hadn't seen one even at the Farmer's Market. I put the broccoflower on a scale. It was between two and three pounds. I did the math. It was bad, but it was a treat. I treated myself.

I have enough apples and oranges to make me happy. I have broccoflower salad for Shabbos flavored with fresh pablono chili (A survivor from before Passover) and kosher for Passover ginger flavoring an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. I put blanched carrots in with the blanched broccoflower. I am eating high off the hog, and when I got done at Kroger, my bill including paper goods, was about thirty dollars. That is not bad. I forgot that seasonal fresh produce is not particularly expensive. I'm just very spoiled, but I'm also weirdly grateful that I made myself shop at Kroger and did not go home empty handed.

Eileen H. Kramer -- April 22, 2011

Celery Root

Celery root was and still may be a hard core vegetable. At the DeKalb Farmer's Market, it holds a spot in the root bin at the far end and rear of the produce department. Go any further back and you find rice and spices. Beets, black radishes, rutabega, and these days parsnips and horse radish are its neighbors, and also white turnips. I am at the root bin a lot. You have to be serious about vegetables to be root bin devotee. The carrots, by the way, are elsewhere. They have a more central back row seat. They are more popular so several sizes and packages and types get a whole big bin and a half. The other roots are at the end of the line. Roots in the root bin, however, are for those who "know what they are doing" or who are ethnic. Many are bitter. Radishes and turnips pack a wallop. Some require serious knife peeling. That's celery root.

The work is well worth the reward, though. Most roots are somewhat sweet. Beets, rutabega, and even white turnips and certainly parsnips fall into this category. Sometimes it is a mustardy sweetness. Sometimes it is an earthy sweetness. This is why people say beets taste like dirt. They forget the centuries people took in breeding sweet red and yellow beets. Celery root and balck radishes of course are NOT sweet. Black radishes are pungent. Cut in small pieces they turn cole slaw atomic. Cut in somewhat larger but still small pieces and roasted with other vegetables, they give those veggies a kick, that whets the appetite and tingles the taste buds. A small amount of heat or bitterness just works.

Celery root is in a class by itself. I first encountered cleery root in Columbus, Georgia in a store that should have known not to stock it. Yankees in the deep south are always in search of good fruits and vegetables to fill their insatiable taste for variety. New Yorkers after all can lunch in by the pouund salad bars that have endless trays of lettuce-less marinated salads of nothing but vegetable goodies. We know our apples and oranges by name. We enjoy winter squash and rutabega along with raddichio and escarole and of course swiss chard. Collards and kale for us are just one more green. Southerners from what I've learned are meat and potatoes folks, unless they resort to soul food, but there was the celery root. I bought it, figured out how to peel it, and I forget how I cooked it, but wow! It had the great taste of cooked celery but a lovely smooth, nonstringy texture. Let's just say I was sold despite the extra work. Besides, knife work in a kitchen is cathartic. There are many other chores that are far worse.

It's the knife work and the vegetable's challenging appearance that keeps celery root out of the mainstream, besides the fact that many folks, won't brighten up their lives by trying a new vegetable. Celery root often has new celeries growing out of the top, long strings at the bottom, dirt encrusted bumps on the top, and a tough skin that takes a knife rather than a peeler. It is also craggy and may require surgery, even after being peeled. I dreaded peeling my celery roots as I always dread it.

I shouldn't have been so frightened this time around. These celery roots came with no growths or stringy roots. Their tops were not particularly gnarled. They peeled easily with a sharpened paring knife, and required no surgery. I roasted them with carrots, scallion bottoms, and a sixteen ounce package of frozen brussel sprouts and plenty of Vegit and Crazy Mixed Up Pepper. I never met a spice mix I did not like. The roast veggies cooked quickly and since they are in a chametz roaster and made with peanut oil, they need to be gone before Passover.

I always think of celery root as an indulgence, due to all the work, but now it takes less work. I will probably make it more often, since it is reasonably priced and tastey, but will the modifications in growing and packaging of this vegetable be enough to bring it to the main stream. It is trendy this year, the way brussel sprouts were last year, but still, many people are allergic to knife work, and celery root still requires this. Also, it's a new vegetable, and face it vegetables really do need a good name. They don't have one with classic meat and potatoes folks.

Eileen H. Kramer -- April 15, 2011

The Chametz Eat Down

This year it was a no brainer. So far it has been easy. It gets much harder later on, as the clean up goes into high gear. I joke and say that this is what it felt like to be a slave in Egypt. My kitchen floor again needs a really good scrape. Meanwhile, I've stopped buying chametz and started eating it instead. That is a nice change. I get to eat the Shabbos food as soon as I meak it which means as soon as the current Shabbos food is gone. In this case, I have rutabega salad fit for royalty with fresh cranberry beans, and Savory Corn Muffins with Cubanelle Peppers and Cheddar Cheese. When these are gone its time for corn bread or pumpernickel raisin bread and green pea and vegetable salad with cheddar cheese chunks.

In the back of my head plays the story of a very rich family. They are so rich they feed pieces of kosher cheddar cheese to their dog. The children do not like the cheese, and the matron of the house can not digest it. Kosher cheddar cheese is not cheap stuff, and right now I have some very good quality product. Kosher cheese is somewhat of a delicacy. This is only the beginning. I have more socked away for Passover along with several hard-to-find flavors of canned fish, including smoked sardines and peppered, kippered herring. That I am going to eat crackers and cheese or crackers and fish on fine China with various types of salads or side dishes does not escape me.

There is irony there, but it is one of the prettiest ironies. It is not the story that the rabbis tell: Back in Egypt we had forced government labor, it was hard work, but everybody worked hard. It was a day to day kind of job and we got paid. We were fed adequately. We had fresh bread made with barm from the Egyptian breweries and occasionally fresh meat, and of course plenty of fresh vegetables in season and salted ones in the off season and fruits when there were fruits. It was not a bad life if you didn't mind working for somebody else. We wanted something better: FREEDOM, which we thought we were getting in the Exodus. Read the Book of Numbers and learn what we really got, but at least we had our own dictator instead of Pharaoh. So it goes.

But rewind to Exodus, we were out of there, lighting out for the territories. We celebrated. We ate flat bread and the produce of our own herds and later insect eggs (manna) around the camp fire when we had wood for a camp fire. We slept in tents under the stars. Our world was the desert, but it was ours. We camped out and were free, so for a week each year we camp out. Our separate kitchen and provisions mimic the camp fires of old. We don't think of the future beause it is glorious. We eat our hard bread and it could be whip cream cake or raisin cookies. For one week we can celebrate being free, and thinking it is going to last.

Eileen H. Kramer -- April 11, 2011