Monday, April 9, 2012

Kids Make Borscht

It's not all about beets

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

Could borscht be the best soup ever?

My earliest memories are of a restaurant version somewhere: treacly sweet and garishly red. No thank you. The soup we made in our food appreciation classes last week, in contrast, groaned with all sorts of vegetables and a depth of flavor that only hinted at beets.

I'm convinced that the borscht we're most familiar with--that shockingly red beet puree--sprang from the imagination of a restaurant chef. I found nothing of the sort in my primary source--Please to the Table--an award-winning collection of recipes and food lore from the former Soviet Union. In fact, the author's first version of borscht--a traditional Ukranian soup--starts with pork or ham.

We made the vegetarian version (except for the chicken stock). Sure, it was red. But it was also so much more. The kids were crazy for it, asking for second and third helpings. How many other ways do you know to get children to salivate over cabbage, carrots, green pepper, celery, tomatoes--and, yes, beets.

Normally my recipes describe ingredients as part of the narrative. But there are so many in this soup, I will list them first. In fact, the most difficult part of this soup may be shopping for the ingredients. Maybe the best plan is to make a large batch and freeze some for later.

You'll need the following:

6 Tbs butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and grated

1/2 large green pepper, cored and cut into small dice

1/2 small cabbage, shredded then coarsely chopped

1 medium beet, peeled and grated

1 rib celery, cut into small dice

1/2 tart apple (such as Granny Smith), peeled and cut into small dice

2 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

2 quarts chicken stock

bouquet garni, consisting of 1 bay leaf and 8 pepper corns tied in cheesecloth

1 tsp sweet paprika

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp sugar or more to taste

juice from 1/2 lemon

chopped fresh dill for garnish

sour cream

Melt the butter in a heavy soup pot over moderately high heat and add the onion, carrot and green pepper. Cook until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes, then add the cabbage, beet and celery. Cook a few minutes more, stirring frequently, then add the apple, potatoes and garlic. Stir in the tomato paste and mix well, then add the chicken stock and the bouquet garni.

Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat and cook 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and the soup is quite aromatic. Remove the bouquet garni and stir in the paprika, salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice.

Ladle the soup into large bowls (this soup does not need to be piping hot) and garnish with chopped dill. Serve with a sour cream on the side. Kids are not wildly enthusiastic about sour cream. But what do they know. In my opinion, borscht is best with a big dollop of sour cream in it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Biking to School

This is one determined 10-year-old

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

This bicycle may be the best purchase we've ever made for our daughter. After bringing it home from Target on Saturday, she couldn't wait to get on it, so we took it out for a road test, riding 3.25 miles to her new elementary school.

Daughter's new school just happens to be located near one of the highest points in the city. Fortunately, we already live in an elevated portion of the District known as Columbia Heights. Still, as we mapped the route to school it was clear we would face a challenge: the long uphill grade of Massachusetts Avenue affectionately known in these parts as "embassy row."

In fact, it's one of the most beautiful parts of the city, with wide lawns fronting the embassies and tall oaks giving shade. We pass the grounds of the British embassy, as well as the vice president's residence at Observatory Circle before crossing over Wisconsin Avenue into the Glover Park neighborhood.

Daughter was whooping and cheering as we pulled into the elementary school lot. I took her to a nearby burger joint for lunch, then she rode her bike all the way home again. For the rest of the weekend she complained her "butt cheeks hurt." But we were astonished to hear her propose that we repeat the trip at least twice a week, starting today.

This morning she was out of bed at 6:30 am, bathed, dressed and ready to go at 7:15. We took a few extra rest breaks on the Massachusetts Avenue climb this time, but still managed to beat our previous time by 10 minutes. We showed up at the schoolhouse door at 7:55, ready for breakfast.

Breakfast after biking 3.25 miles

And here's what they were serving: "toasty turkey ham and cheddar on a whole wheat English muffin," according to Chartwells.

"Can we have something special for dinner?" daughter wanted to know.

I think that can be arranged.

Friday, April 10, 2009

We've Moved!

The Slow Cook is now located on Wordpress. We've loved our little home here at Blogger, but we will no longer be posting here.

Please go to our new home.

Thank you,

Ed Bruske

Welcome, People Readers

If you've arrived at this site from People magazine, you probably have an interest in starting a food garden or learning more about how to grow your own food. You may also be wondering what's behind the name "Slow Cook."

I guess you could say I am part of a growing movement in this country that rejects industrialized food in favor of food that is produced more sustainably. That encompasses a lot. It means favoring foods that are grown locally without pesticides and chemical fertilizers and without traveling long distances at the expense of enormous amounts of fossil fuels and carbon emissions. It just so happens that the sustainable foods we prefer--grown in a planet-friendly manner and prepared with loving care--are also tastier and more nutritious. And if you grow them yourself, they're a whole lot cheaper as well.

That makes our approach the opposite of "fast food." And that makes us slow.

Food gardening can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. If you are just starting, I suggest you take the easy approach. Don't try to do too much at first. Don't go overboard with many different varieties of things. Stick with the fruits and vegetables your family likes to eat most and learn how to grow those. You can always add things later. Gardening is a never ending learning process, even for people who've been doing it for years. If you have children, you will be creating wonderful memories--and good eating habits--that will last a lifetime.

To get you started, I've assembled links to several other web sites that I think will be helpful. At those sites, you may very well find yet more links. In today's world, gardeners spend quite a lot of time cruising around the internet for ideas and information. We also have a wonderful and vast community of fellow gardeners and cooks to share with. (Who knows? You may end up starting your own blog to memorialize your gardening efforts.) And do feel free to cruise around this website and use the search feature.

If you don't have your own yard to garden in, don't despair. You can grow many things in pots even on an apartment balcony. Perhaps there is a community garden in your area, or maybe you would like to start one. Check with your local parks and recreation authority. With more and more people seeking to join community gardens there are often waiting lists. Some erstwhile gardeners are seeking out vacant lots. Others are enlisting the back yards of neighbors to form communal arrangements. And there is a growing movement to establish gardens in schools, where we can connect kids to nature and teach them the benefits of growing our own food.

You might begin by watching this series of short film clips on how to start a garden. Some other good internet sources include Kitchen Gardeners International, Revive the Victory Garden and Vegetable Gardener. There are also several worthwhile gardening forums at Garden Web where you can pose questions to other gardeners who are only to glad to help.

I've also asked some of my fellow food gardening bloggers to share their thoughts on starting a new garden. Take a look at what Sylvie's doing at Rappahanock Cook & Kitch Gardener, or El at Fast Grow the Weeds, Emily at Eat Close to Home, or Michele at Garden Rant.

There are also many excellent books on the market for gardeners of all levels. In fact, your local librarian may be one of your best sources on the subject. And by all means take a look around your neighborhood for the gardener who quietly grows prize-winning tomatoes. She'll gladly talk your ear off if you introduce yourself. And even if you can't get a plot at the local community garden this year, there's nothing to say you can't hang out there and ask questions.

And for all you established kitchen gardeners and urban farmers and homesteaders with blogs, write up your thoughts on starting a garden and send me an e-mail with a link. I post all the links here for the next week.

Good luck, and happy gardening!

Read more great stories about how were are taking back our food system at Fight Back Fridays.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pardon the Interruption....

The Slow Cook is expecting to be featured in an article about vegetable gardening in People magazine scheduled to hit news stands tomorrow, April 10. We've been told to brace for a flood of visitors to this blog.

Hence, beginning tomorrow, and perhaps for several days, we will be displaying prominently a post on resources for vegetable gardening in the interest of giving novice or first-time gardeners a bit of guidance in starting their own gardens.

As soon as the flood ebbs, we will resume our usual schedule of random musings about food, gardening and the pursuit of a sane agriculture policy in these United State.

Also of note: We have redesigned the blog and are in the process of transferring it completely to a website in Wordpress. Please excuse any technical irregularities that may crop up in the interim. We hope to have everything under control by tomorrow.

In fact, is moving from its old home at to its sparkly new home at Because the transformation is making its way from third-party hosting (blogspot) to a server, you may need to re-register to make comments. We appreciate your patience and are happy to entertain any feedback or suggestions you might have.

Kids Make Deviled Eggs

We couldn't very well have a food appreciation class without something to snack on. So while our Salvadoran curtido is curing, the kids made these deviled eggs.

Actually, I hardboiled the eggs ahead of time in the manner described in our earlier post. Then the kids peeled the eggs and we whipped 1 dozen yolks with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

To finish the eggs, we spooned our finshed yolk mix into a plastic storage bag, cut off the tip of one corner and squeezed the mix into the whites. The plastic bag makes a very efficient pastry sack. Simply dust with a little paprika.

Can I just say, kids love deviled eggs.

Kids Make Salvadoran Curtido

When we recently made Salvadoran pupusas with the kids in my food appreciation classes my wife's immediate reaction was, Where's the slaw.

What she was referring to was the cabbage and vegetable melange called curtido that inevitably accompanies Salvadorn fare. Well, we didn't have time in a one-hour class to make the pupusas and the curtido, so we made it this week. And the thing of it is, the slaw is supposed to marinate in its brine for a week, so it's not something you can just whip together and put on the table.

The recipe is simple enough: chop 1/2 head cabbage and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain. Mix the cabbage with 2 carrots, peeled and grated, 1 small onion, diced, 1 red pepper, diced, 1/2 teaspoon oregano. For the vinaigrette, mix 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup water.

Toss everything together, cover and refrigerate for 1 week, stirring occasionally. Serve with pupusas or other rustic Hispanic savories..