Here’s a way to make local root vegetables last well into winter.
BY JUDITH DUNBAR HINES
For Sun-Times Media
Carrots are the unsung workhorses of the vegetable world. We barely notice them as they make an appearance in everything from appetizers to entrees to desserts. They are available almost anywhere at any time of year.
Without fanfare, they make a significant contribution to a healthy diet, containing generous amounts of essential Vitamin A, potassium and carbohydrates. Unlike most vegetables, carrots actually are more nutritious cooked than raw, so drop a few extra into a stir-fry or soup to boost your winter menus.
As farmers market shoppers can attest, locally grown vegetables have much more flavor than their store-bought and plastic-wrapped relatives. But it’s winter in Chicago and the garden is tucked in and farmers markets are mostly a memory.
However, this year I have a secret stash and it will last a few more weeks. When the market was winding down, I bought a good supply of the most sturdy root vegetables — like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash and beets. They are wrapped well in newsprint and layered in a cardboard box which now rests on my enclosed porch. As long as the temperature on the porch (or unheated basement) remains around 40 degrees this do-it-yourself root cellar will allow me to keep the vegetables for several weeks beyond the end of the season.
The box-cellar needs to be made of some kind of porous material so that the vegetables can breathe. Plastic milk crates or a good clean cardboard box will work well. Build a base of several layers of newsprint, then wrap the vegs in single layers with more newsprint around and between layers. I put an instant-read thermometer on top of the vegs and peeking out of a hole in the side of the box, where I can keep an eye on it — extremely frigid weather made me bring it inside one night, but it went back to its shelf the next day.
The muffin recipe below is perfect for a winter breakfast or mid-afternoon snack. The natural sweetness of carrots means that additional sugar is minimal. Use dark brown sugar for the best flavor. The whole wheat flour also is from an Illinois farm, milled this summer and stored in a jar in the freezer, so even in mid-January I thank my local farmers for a nutritious and delicious treat.
Local Attractions uses the best of regional produce and products and hopes you will do the same.
Makes 12 muffins
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
¾ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup grated carrots ( 2 medium)
1⁄3 cup chopped pecans
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a muffin tin.
Combine dry ingredients (through salt) in a large mixing bowl, stirring to break up any brown sugar lumps. Stir in the carrots and nuts.
Combine the buttermilk, egg and melted butter and stir only until dry ingredients are moistened.
Fill muffin cups ¾ full; bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
Judith Dunbar Hines