Monday, December 29, 2008

Granola for Dinner

Last night, we had granola for dinner. It was good, very good. Marianne and Liang and their kids who are visiting from France were enthralled by it, and the recipe that follows is in many ways written for them. But as I ate it, I felt defeated. It has only one local ingredient: dried cranberries. And that and lettuce are about the only local fruit or vegetable I've had in the past month. I haven't given up on our project, I just can't find anything else in any of the grocery stores. And yesterday I had to throw out my last farmer's market turnips because they had gotten both mush and dried out at the bottom of the vegetable bin. I'm usually a very, almost ridiculously, positive person. So I've been feeling like we're doing quite well these first winter months with our local meat and dairy. But that nagging question of "what do you eat in January?" if you're going local and seasonal in New England seems all of a sudden to have no answer at all.

What to do? When I start to look for solutions, I get positive again. In fact, I can come up with a nice long list of answers:

1. Plan changes for next year:
a. Join a year-round CSA
b. Can, freeze, and dry a lot more
c. Make a cold frame for my garden and do a fall planting in it
2. Research more:
a. What are local winter fruits and veggies?
b. What are the best storage methods for things like potatoes, apples, rutabaga?
3. Expand the reach of "local" in the winter months
4. Find more local sources for grains and seeds so that granola for dinner can be a great, local option!

GRANOLA


Granola is exceptionally easy to make. And it has all of the other benefits of home-made food: you know exactly what goes into it; you can vary it precisely to your own preferences; you can taste the love that you put into it; you really do save money by not paying for someone else's labor.

My basic granola recipe is this:

4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey

To that I add an every-changing variety of nuts and seeds.

After mixing everything together, pour the mixture into a cookie pan. Bake at 300 for 1-2 hours, removing to stir gently about every 20 minutes. It's done when the oats turn a light golden brown.

A few favorite add-in combinations follow:

New England Cranberry Granola

Basic granola ingredients
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup shelled walnuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds

Almond Coconut granola

Basic granola ingredients
1 cup sliced or whole almonds
1/2 cup shaved or shredded coconut

Other favorite add-ins are:
chopped prunes
chopped dried apricots
raisins
other rolled grains such as barley (to substitute for a portion of the rolled oats)
shelled pecans

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Eve

I'm not sure if many families do this, but both my family and Dave's have the tradition of having seafood on Christmas Eve. My family usually rotates three or four favorite dishes. Dave's sticks to oyster stew. His grandmother, Josephine, grew up in Baltimore, and makes a really delicious version. She insists on fresh oysters, and, living in Nebraska now, that often requires special delivery. I think it's worth it to use canned and still enjoy the meal, but she would never do that. I admire her resolve!

While I'm divulging Scott family secrets, I'm going to post Jo's crab cake recipe, too. She grew up with blue crabs and has perfected the art of getting just enough egg and cracker to get the cake to stick together, but not taste of anything but pure crab. My sister-in-law, Kathy, has been studying with Jo, and I have witnessed her experimenting with different seasonings, with delicious results, though below she gives Jo's traditional recipe. I am lucky to be on the eating end of both women's amazing Christmas Eve meals!

And now I'll turn it over to Kathy.

Like all true family recipes these have been kind of shown to the next generation instead of transcribed.  Please excuse any and all lapses or mistakes in amounts and/or cooking times and temps.  After you cook them a time or two you will just feel them out and figure out what the best ratios are for your family tradition.

Jo's Christmas Oyster Stew
Fresh Eastern Oysters (with juice)
4 TBS unsalted butter
1/2 pint whole milk
1/2 pint half and half
salt and pepper (white pepper if you want to be fancy)

Heat medium sauce pan on medium heat.
Add butter let melt and bubble (not boiling but a little frothy on top)
Add Oysters with juice.
Cook until they are opaque.  About 5 to 10 minutes depending on size of oysters.
Add milk and half & half.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Let cook for about 5 to 8 minutes.
Make sure it does not boil but just simmers.

Adjust the richness by adding milk if too rich and half&half if not rich enough.
Adjust salt and pepper.

Serve Immediately.  With oyster crackers, hot sauce, and Old Bay.


Maryland Crab Cakes
These crab cakes are not the dense pucks you get in resturants.  They are mostly crab which in my opinion is the point.  Also I don't serve them with any kind of sauce, not sure they need them.  

1 lb lump crab meat (we always use blue crab)
10 Saltine crackers, crushed 
1 egg, beaten slightly 
1/2 stick unsalted butter
Olive Oil
Old Bay seasoning 


Pick through the crab meat to make sure there are no shells. 
Mix egg, crab, and crackers together.
Add as much Old Bay as you want.  I add about 1 TBS.
Loosely, mold 1/4c of the crab mixture into a ball. 
Place on a paper towel lined baking sheet and gently press down to make a patty.
Heat 2TBS butter and 1TBS olive oil in a pan over medium to medium high heat.
Add cakes to pan.  Aprox 4 to 5 at a time.  Don't over crowd.
Let cook on one side for about 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.
Flip and cook another 4 to 5 minutes.
Take out of pan and place on paper towel lined baking sheet.
Repeat.
Serve hot/warm with more Old Bay.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Old Treats, New Cooks

Three holiday dessert recipes have come down to me from my great grandmother Mabel. They are so delicious, that I always imagine her forever in the kitchen, developing hundreds of delightful treats, most of which are now lost forever. Of course, for all I know these were the only three desserts she ever made, and she got the recipes from her great grandmother...

For many years, each recipe resided in one branch of the family. My aunt Randy made the fruitcake, my aunt Jo made the shortbread cookies, and my mom made the sand tarts. Randy sent me a copy of the fruitcake recipe several years ago, because it turns out that Blanca's mom Rosie loves fruitcake. I was sure it was because by the time this fruitcake is really done it has easily a cup or two of rum in it, but this year she was over while I was baking and convinced me to give her one right out of the oven. It was gone in a day. She really loves fruitcake, but even to those who are sickened at the thought of the oversweet syrupy thickness that the cake usually conveys might be happily surprised by this one. No one else in my family would eat a whole cake, but we all really do enjoy a slice or two.

Mabel's Fruitcake

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1/2 pound (2 cups) sugar
5 eggs, beaten separately (at last minute)
1/2 pound (1 cup) broken up pecans or walnuts
1/4 pound white raisins
1/4 pound citron
(I sometimes use 1 big container of candied fruits instead of the raisins and citron)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 cup brandy
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 pound (2 cups) white flour

Preheat oven to 325. Beat with an electric mixer: sugar, butter, egg yolks, brandy. Mix, separately, the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, candied fruits, and nuts. Combine the two mixtures. Just before you are ready to add them in, which is now, beat the egg whites to very stiff. Then fold them into the rest of the batter. bake in two greased bread pans or two foil pans, about 1 hour.

Mabel's Sand Tarts


For 40 dozen cookies

2 pounds (4 cups) sugar
2 pounds (8 cups) flour
1 1/2 pounds (3 cups) butter
4 eggs
2 pounds almonds

Rub sugar and flour together, then add the butter and rub well until thoroughly mixed. Wet with the beaten eggs. When thoroughly mixed, form into small loaves 2" square by 8-10" long. let stand in ice box several hours or overnight. Slice as thin as possible. Place on smooth surface. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and put one nut kernel in center of each. Bake in a quick oven (375-400) until brown 95-10 minutes). This recipe can be halved or quartered easily.

Mabel's Shortbread Cookies, with a few variations

Makes one small batch. Can easily be doubled, quadrupled, etc.

2 cups flour
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar

Blend sugar and butter, then add flour and mix well. Form into two or three small logs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours. Remove from fridge and slice thickly. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. Jo suggested using Sucanat instead of regular sugar. This is a brilliant switch, giving the cookies a wonderful spotted look and a great nutty texture and flavor (no real nuts used).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tis the Season

Every year, my family hosts the Yule Log Party. Traditionally, it's supposed to be the Saturday before Christmas, but if that ends up being Christmas Eve or a day or two before that, then the party is the week before. By traditionally, I mean what our family does. Historically, yule logs can be traced back to pagan celebrations of winter solstice, as well as Christian roots. Wikipedia gives a very brief synopsis. For my family, it's a holiday party with lots of great food and drink and friends.

Guests arrive around 7pm. Everyone brings a dessert. In my hometown, potlucks are a way to get some of the best food imaginable. Everyone prides themselves on making the most delicious food they can (I think people actually see it as a friendly competition). When Dave and I got married, I suggested that people from my hometown bring a dish to share, as their gift. Dave was incredulous (to him potluck meant jello salad and pigs in a blanket). I persisted, assuring him it would be delicious; my people pulled through and he still talks about how amazing the food was.

Anyway, to make a long story longer, when everyone has arrived and taken off their winter garb, they put it back on and we all traipse outside to find the Yule Log, which my dad has hidden earlier in the day. We follow a trail of candles to the log, which is decorated with boughs of fir trees and red ribbons. We all sing Christmas carols and then, when everyone is sufficiently sung out, hungry, and cold, we bring the log inside, put it on the fire, and eat and drink and are merry until the wee hours of the morning.

The centerpiece of the food is eggnog. This recipe is from one of my parents' oldest friends, whom they met at childbirth classes. This recipe calls for raw egg, and I'd love to give a substitute for those wary of salmonella, but there really isn't one.

Ann's Eggnog

3 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
3 egg whites
1 1/4 cups milk
Ground nutmeg

Beat yolks to a lemon color. Add sugar and chill.
When chilled, beat egg whites and fold into yolk/sugar mixture.
Add nutmeg to taste.
Before serving, whip the cream and add it and milk to egg mixture.
Spike if desired.

Note on eggnog: if you decide to buy eggnog instead of making your own, try cutting it with milk. I find that most eggnogs are way too thick and sweet. I often add as much as one part milk to one part commercial eggnog.


Cookies are a staple on the dessert table.

Chocolate espresso cookies.
My sister found this recipe somewhere, years ago. It needs to be started the day before.

In a double boiler (if you don't have one - I don't - use a pan and a metal bowl that fits into it) melt 1 3/4 cups chocolate chips, and 4 TBSP unsalted butter.

In a separate bowl, whisk 2 eggs and 3/4 cups sugar. Stir in 1 teas. espresso grounds. Add this to the chocolate mixture. Cool.

Combine 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 teas. baking powder. Add 3/4 cup chocolate chips.
Cool in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Make TBSP - sized balls. Put on a cookie sheet and freeze overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 375. Grease a cookie sheet. Put balls on it, 2 inches apart. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.


Snickerdoodles

This recipe is from my friend Brendan.

Combine:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1/2 teas. vanilla

In a separate bowl, combine:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teas. salt
1/4 teas. baking soda
1/4 teas. cream of tartar

Add dry to wet and stir until mixed.

Preheat oven to 375.

Mix 2 TBSP sugar and 2 teas. cinnamon. Roll dough into 1 to 1 1/2 inch balls and roll in sugar mix.
Place on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart and bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pizza

Committing to seasonal foods means opening up to some serious shifts in the kitchen. I like change. I like the discovery or rediscovery of flavors, textures, implements. I like being done with something, and moving on. The sweet, nutty smoothness of sweet potatoes and yams suddenly offers unbounded possibility, and in a few months I’ll be happy to throw out the few that are sprouting at the back of the veggie bin. But most of these seasonal comings and goings are just that: renewable and renewing, but not totally new. Not the kind of shift that will change your culinary life forever. I can think of two things in the past ten years that have had an unprecedented and and transformational impact on my cooking. Most recently is Ruth Riechl’s Gourmet cookbook. Every single thing I have tried has been both easy and delicious, so that while I want to make and remake each success I want even more to try another new thing, every single thing in that tome. A few years before that, it was my friend Liz’s pizza.

I went from being someone who never made pizza at home – and I worked in a pizza joint for years, I knew what to do—to someone who makes it at least twice a month. And of course pizza is so incredibly versatile that we could list it as the quintessential food for every season. But Fall and Winter are probably my favorite times to make pizza because I love the extra heat that the oven gives to the back side of the house, and the way that the aroma of onions, bread, and cheese overtakes the beginning of stuffy winter smell. And, one of the pizza toping staples that Liz introduced is carmelized onions, which use of course one of those roots that’ll last the whole season in the right bin (provided of course that you bought or dug up enough).

The last time I made Liz’s pizza I discovered something I should have already known: Market Basket specializes in local foods! Ok, not quite the way you might imagine. They don’t seem to put any special effort into buying local produce or meats, and they don’t identify origin. But they are a local chain. Not only does that mean that they do less shipping of things like managers and accountants, it also means that some of their private label foods are locally made. Like the Market Basket mozzarella. Processed and packaged in Amesberry, Ma. The Whole Foods private label cheeses mostly come from Texas. I haven’t followed the whole food chain yet, to figure out where Market Basket brand’s milk comes from and what it’s treated with (and I do feel strongly about growth hormones and dairy). I’ll report back when I get there.

Liz’s Pizza
DOUGH:
The pizza dough recipe is from The Joy of Cooking with one key change: substitute half of the flour for corn meal. And it really works better if it’s coarse cornmeal.
Combine in a large mixing bowl and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water
Add:
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 ½ cups stone ground corn meal
2 T olive oil
1 T salt
1 T sugar
Mix to blend all of the ingredients, then knead for 10 minutes. Place in a large bowl lightly covered with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 ½ hours or until the dough has doubled in volume. Punch the dough and divide it in half. Roll each half into a ball and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Flatten each ball, lay it on a cookie sheet, and stretch it into a rough rectangle almost as large as the cookie sheet. Let sit another 5-10 minutes.

TOPPING:
Brush the dough with olive oil.
No sauce.
Slice two blocks of mozzarella cheese (it’s nice to use one fresh and one aged) or one block of mozzarella and one block of fontina and lay to almost cover dough.
Mostly, the toppings should be your choice, but the onions are always requisite. What follows is my current fall/winter favorite.
Thinly slice 2 large onions, preferably Vidalia or Sweet. Heat 1-2 T olive oil in a pan and drop in sliced onions. Saute, stirring often, over a medium-high heat until they just start to wilt, then turn the heat low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes, or until the onions have turned a gentle brown and are quite mushy. Set aside.
Slice ¼-cup to ½-cup of sun-dried tomatoes.
Spread arugula over the cheese.
If you are going to use meat, put that on now. If I’m using meat, I use either chopped prosciutto or pepperoni.
Sprinkle on the sun-dried tomatoes
End with a sprinkling of carmelized onions.

Bake at 475 for 10-15 minutes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Joanna's Happy Roast Chicken Dinner

Joanna could be a partner in this blog endeavor. Like Renee and I, she understands cooking to begin with a seed or an egg, to include rain and wind and dirt as much as it includes cutting boards and spices. Also like us, she lives in urban New England but has family connections to a more rural life. And of course, she loves good food. Next month, Renee and I start to receive our share in the meat CSA. Between that and Thanksgiving, it seems like a particularly apt time to turn to Joanna's Happy Roast Chicken Dinner.

Happy Chickens

By Joanna Jette

Animals that are bread for mass-slaughter are treated very differently than pets. I have raised several different animals for “food” and each time my father told me to treat it as if it were a pet, that way it was guaranteed to have a healthy and happy life (at least until it was slaughtered). Raising your own meat, or knowing how the farmer raised it, ensures that you are getting the best possible quality. You know if it is free-range or if it is feed a vegetarian diet (something most people already believe to be true) or even if the chicken is happy (something that I was taught which is extremely important in a chicken’s life).

On my way home from school a few weeks ago, I had one thing on my mind – happy chickens. I kept thinking how I really wanted chicken for dinner. I hardly eat meat, but when I do it is free range and organic. I had a few errands to run and had to drop something off for my parents. I could have stopped at Market Basket or Hannaford for a free range and organic chicken at $4.99lb, but I knew there was an alternative. I called my father, Rene and asked him if he had any extra chickens from the week before. He and his brother, Gerard, had raised about fifty chickens for slaughter and last Friday, most of the chickens saw their last day on earth.

I am really impressed with the effort my father and uncle had to put into their project. They built a pen that was mobile, so every few days the chickens got a new piece of land to scratch up – they seemed to like it! Rene and Gerard planted different grasses, vegetables, and herbs that the chickens could graze on in depending on the section of yard. My mother wasn't too thrilled with the chicken’s roaming coop, but my father insisted on having happy chickens – the happiness of his wife mattered less.

This operation is pretty old fashioned. The two of them enlist the help of an old friend, Gerry, and the three of them get to it. First, they create a calming environment by playing 99.5 FM, Boston’s Classical Station in the coop; this is so none of the other chickens are aware of what’s about to happen. Next, they set-up an area away from the chick coop in the garage (the floors are cement with proper drainage for easy clean-up). Two are needed for the killing, and the other is to hang the chickens. Instead of chopping of their heads, they break the neck of the chicken, its cleaner (no blood squirting) and quicker. The chickens need to rest for one day upside down before they can be drained or plucked. My mother and grandmother along with my father and uncle all help pluck the following day.
After bringing home the chicken I decided to roast it with potatoes, onions, celery, parsnips, and garlic. Right from the bag, the chicken smelled fresh – there was no chemical aroma. The chicken was moist and tender and not just because of my excellent cooking skills. It tasted like summer – like grass and herbs. I could tell that it was mainly due to the careful attention of detail on my father and uncle’s side that made the chicken taste so good. I decided that I was going to give them some money to raise a lamb and a few chickens just for me. Now I will have the most wonderful chicken (and maybe some lamb too) whenever I want!

Autumn in New England is a time to invite family and friends over for some relaxing comfort food. Anything that uses fresh fall produce is a wonderful was to warm the body and soul on those chilly nights. Potatoes, squash, pears, apples, and onions are all autumnal delights that are sure to please anyone palate and can be prepared in many different ways. Sunday at my house is synonymous with roast chicken. People are sometimes intimidated by roasting a chicken, but after many failed attempts at making one, I have finally found a fool-proof recipe. The recipes below are wonderful when paired together using fresh, local ingredients and the leftovers are just as yummy the second day.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

1 4-5 lb roasting chicken, fresh if possibile
2 large onions, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
½ lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
½ lb baby potatoes cut in half
½ lb acorn or butternut squash cut into one inch cubes
2 bay leaves
Salt
Pepper
1 c. chicken broth or stock

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take the innards out of the chicken and pat dry. Stuff the cavity with the lemon, one onion, and one bay leaf. Tress if desired. Place the rest of the vegetables in the roasting dish along with the bay leaf and broth. Salt and Pepper. Roast for 1.5 hours. Let cool for 20 minutes.
Serves 6.

Whole Wheat Rolls
2 tbsp. yeast
2 c. lukewarm water
1/4 c. honey – local is best
1/2 c. oil, canola or vegetable (melted butter is also okay)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 c. whole wheat flour
2 tsp. salt

Dissolve yeast in water and honey for about 5 minutes. Place all other ingredients in mixing bowl and knead until it loosens from sides of the bowl. P lace in large oiled bowl, cover and let rise until about double. Be sure it is in a warm place. Remove and shape into rolls or buns. Bake at about 375 degrees until browned, approximately 20 minutes.
Makes 2 dozen rolls.

Apple and Pear Crisp

3lbs McIntosh or Macoun apples
2lbs Bartlet pears
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ c. granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg

For the topping:
1 ½ c flour
3/4 c granulated sugar
3/4 c light brown sugar, packed
½ tsp salt
1 c oatmeal, not instant
½ lb cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 14 by 2-inch oval baking dish.
Peel, core, and cut the apples and pears into wedges. Combine the apples and pears with the zest, juice, sugar, and spices. Pour into baking dish.
To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. (This can also be done by hand squeezing the mixture through your finger, although it will take longer. It is a fun way to involve kids in the kitchen) Scatter evenly over the apple and pear mixture.
Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour until the top is brown and the apples and pears are bubbly.
Serves 8.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thanksgiving Redux

Following Keja's lead, I'm going to review Thanksgiving dinner. We were in Nebraska, with Dave's family, and I was responsible for the pies, the turkey, and the gravy.

The pies:
The mince was delightful, definitely my favorite. So simple and easy. I don't think anyone other than Dave's grandfather and I had it, but that was to be expected.

The apple pie, which I can do in my sleep and never fret over, wasn't so hot. I had another mid-shopping breakdown and went for the only organic apples available, which, it turned out, were sweet. They were unmarked, other than "organic" so it was a gamble, and I lost. It ended up tasting like any other apple pie you'll ever get in a restaurant, with sickly sweet, fake tasting filling. I was very disappointed. I should have reduced the amount of honey I used, and didn't, but there's no cure I know of for the yellow delicious flavor they had, despite being red and looking like macs.

The pumpkin pie was fine, but in my attempt to not waste food, put in all the pumpkin and probably used 4 cups instead of 2 1/2, which resulted in very thick pie. Good flavor though, and not too sweet.

The turkey: I was not expecting to be the lead on this, but it was probably better this way, or I would have stressed about it, never having cooked a turkey before. But, a quick call to my dad and step-mother, and I was on my way. They suggested cooking it for an hour at 375, then turning it down to 325 for the remainder of the time. It was a 22lb. bird, and my dad guessed that it would take 4 or 5 hours. It took 3 1/2 but it wasn't stuffed, which probably explains the discrepancy. Then it rested under tin foil for a 1/2 hour. It was good. It's hard to compare any turkey to my parents' fresh, homegrown monsters, but it was pretty juicy and had a nice flavor. I did salt, pepper, and garlic powder the skin and rub on a stick of melted butter prior to baking.

The gravy: Ah, gravy. I have previously mentioned that my grandmother made the best gravy, and I hold hers up as the gravy standard. It was pretty thin, so it got into every crevice of the mashed potatoes, and always had a very concentrated meat flavor. Really outstanding. My gravy was an utter flop. The only worse gravy I've made was when my father-in-law brined the turkey in a salt and vinegar brine one year, and I naively made gravy from the drippings. The turkey was good, the gravy truly inedible. This year you could eat it, but it was nothing special at all.

I started by boiling the giblets with carrots, onions, and celery as soon as I put the turkey in. I kept adding water, when I probably should have just turned it off. Then I collected the drippings, which were pretty ample, and skimmed off the fat. I made a roux by melting butter and adding flour, stirring constantly, until the mixture was brown. I then started adding the drippings a little at a time but had way too much roux and was getting a ball of sticky goo in the pan, so scrapped that, started over with less roux, which was still too much, and halved that. Then I remembered the giblets so added some of that broth, feeling that it was important to honor the bird and use it all, and now the gravy was too thin.

My sister-in-law said she just makes a slurry of flour and drippings and adds it directly into the pan, so I tried that, to thicken it. Long story short, I served the gravy, and people took firsts, but not seconds. It tasted like flour and salt and not much else.

I immediately contacted my cousin Emily, who had the foresight to watch my grandmother make gravy, and makes a really good one herself, and asked for lessons. She's coming to visit on Monday and we're roasting a chicken so we can make gravy. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hindsight

Hindsight would be useful if only I could find some way to get back to the fore and to hold on to the sight. The earth does help by spinning and making for a calendar that works cycles, with seasons and holidays that happen year after year. But thirty-six years into this whole cyclical living experience and although I have spurts of taking excellent notes for next year, I still take them on whatever scrap of paper is closest at hand, which usually ends up in a stack somewhere, or else tucked into the pages of some-usually unrelated except I happened to be reading it at the time-book. Perhaps some great Google server will turn out to be the filing system I’ve been waiting for. Perhaps the dedication to local and season cooking that Renée and I have undertaken together will prompt me to get into that filing system just before this time next year. Perhaps we’ll turn this into a printed cookbook that I can peruse in the weeks and days before Thanksgiving in years to come.

Thanksgiving Hindsight


The Turkey was perfect. I remembered to cover it in bacon before I cooked at, and between that and the brine assured divine tenderness (with no basting necessary!). I also remembered to get out of the basement the enamel turkey pan with lid that I bought last year, and didn’t have to struggle one iota with unruly foil. Oh, and I bought 4 extra drumsticks when I picked up the turkey. I could have used just two, but the others will make good soup later in the winter.

It’s hard to mess up the ham.

I didn’t get around to making the cornbread and it was not missed.

There were too many sweet potatoes. I put in one mini sweet potato per person; I could have used half as many. The sweet potatoes were also so cooked they were hard to handle. I let them bake for 2 ½ hours. Half that would have been better.

I completely forgot to put out the cranberry sauce, and no one missed it! I discovered it around midnight when I was bringing in the drinks from the back porch. Luckily, it was really still the night before Thanksgiving so I gave half to Stephenie to take to her Thursday meal and I took half to Mac and Helen’s. There was way too much. The twenty of us at Mac and Helen’s didn’t even make a dent on the two I took. Two cranberry sauces should be plenty. The two best from this year were the cranberry orange relish from the side of the bag (12 oz cranberries, 1 orange with peel cut into 8 pieces, 1 cup sugar. Put half of the ingredients into the food processor, pulse until well chopped and blended. Repeat with second half. Serve cold.), and a ginger-port recipe I put together on the fly:
12 oz. cranberries
1 cup port
1 large (3 inch) chunk of ginger, peeled
3 shallots
1 cup brown sugar
2 T salted butter
Sauté the shallots in the butter until translucent. Add all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for 30-45 minutes, until the cranberries are turned to mush. Cool and serve at room temperature.

The green beans were excellent—I made the green beans with bacon and chestnuts from one of my magazines—but I tripled the recipe and I could have doubled it.

The best stuffing was one with chestnuts and prunes. I bought raw chestnuts; scored them with an x then sautéd with oil for a few minutes about 30 nuts, then baked them in the pan at 300 for about 30 minutes. I peeled them while they were hot. Did this the night before, then Blanca broke them up into the stuffing when she made it. She also cut up about 1 cup of dried prunes, into buts the size of the chestnut chunks.

I ended up making only two salads, both without actually looking at the recipes I think I read. They were delicious, and just the right amount for the twenty of us. One salad used one box of Olivia’s baby arugula, 1 red onion sliced thinly, and 3 clementines peeled and with the pieces cut in half. I used a dressing with 1 part olive oil, 1 part rice wine vinegar, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp fresh pepper, 1 tsp. honey. The other salad used one box of Olivia’s mixed salad greens plus one radicchio cut up, 4 oz. blue cheese, broken into chunks, and about 1 ½ cups roasted walnuts. I roasted the walnuts the night before, spread out on a pan in a 300 oven for about 30 minutes. I dressed that one with my standard 1 part olive oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp. fresh ground pepper.

The mashed potatoes, of course, were great. I made them early in the day and reheated them in the microwave just before I put them on the table.

The creamed onions were well worth the rather intense labor it takes to blanch and peel all those little pearls.

The pies were fantastic. I made the crusts the night before, then left them chilled (not yet rolled) in the fridge. The benefit of baking them while we ate was they were piping hot; the problem was that there were by then so many drippings at the bottom of the oven that we kept setting off the smoke alarms, and having to jump up and wave napkins at the offending beeps. Also, the berry pie would have held together better if it had had some time to cool. For the apple pie, I followed Renée’s recipe but instead of regular spices I used garam masala for a great twist. No one, and I mean no one, but me ate the mincemeat pie, but I have to say it was fantastic mostly because I came up with a brilliant top crust idea: in the food processor, I pulsed together 2 cups of pecans, 1 stick of frozen butter, cut into chunks, and ½ cup of flour. I piled that on top of the mincemeat and it was divine. It also helped cut the sweetness of the mincemeat. And, a guy in line at Trader Joe’s told me to check out John Doer (spelling? He said: like the liquor store…), a butcher in Newton who might actually make mincemeat!
On serving the dinner. I must remember to put one bowl of each thing on each table. This year we had three big tables in an L. Passing worked, but it would have been so much easier to just divide each thing into three serving dishes.

Fall Hindsight

At Thanksgiving, I used up the last of my farmer’s market shallots, red and yellow onions, and potatoes. I’d used up the last sweet potatoes a week before. If I’d bought more at the last farmer’s market, they’d easily be good for another month. I still have a few rutabaga, turnips, and parsnips at the bottom of the vegetable bin, but I could use many more.

The list of things I should have stocked up on over the summer is long, very long. What I’m most bemoaning are: Bags of blanched green beans; many many more whole berries and peeled and sliced peaches; bags of blanched spinach; bags of blanched kale and collards. I’m sure as winter progresses I’ll think of more.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Continued

It's cliche to say that everyone has a different Thanksgiving tradition, but it's also true. So there. I love to hear about what other families do. My family, both sides in fact (how odd!), do the following: turkey (my parents' homegrown one which is out of this world juicy), mashed potatoes, green peas, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, creamed onions, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and mince meat pie.

My husband's family adds sauerkraut and pecan pie, but didn't do creamed onions until they met me. Now my family does sauerkraut and pecan pie. We've melded our Thanksgiving dinners the way Dave and I have melded other family traditions, to the benefit of both, I think. One of our first combined family gatherings was Thanksgiving in Vermont, when Dave's grandparents and parents made the long trip from Nebraska.

We're going out to Nebraska this year, and I'm in the middle of looking up my pumpkin pie recipe, which came from my stepmother, I think. I'll do apple, too, and even though only my husband's grandfather Ralph and I like mince meat, I will do that as well, because it's not Thanksgiving without it. I love Keja's idea of getting it from a butcher. One of my favorite Joy of Cooking discoveries was Irma's recipe for mincemeat that yields enough for 20 pies and includes 9 quarts of apples, 4 lbs. of ox heart, and 4 lbs. of raisins.

So, pumpkin pie. This recipe makes one pie.

Use the crust from pie blog entry.

Caramelize 2 1/2 cups of pumpkin in a frying pan, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat 4 eggs, 1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar, 1 1/3 cups evaporated milk, 1 1/2 teas. powdered ginger, 2 teas. cinnamon, and 1/8 teas. mace (I never have this so never add it and it's always delicious).

Add pumpkin and 1 teas. fine salt, and stir well.

Pour into a prepared crust, crimping edges of crust, and bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until a one inch circle in the center remains liquid. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My Favorite Holiday

Cooking and gardening relax me. I find a similar sense of accomplishment in both: creating a tangible product; putting something beautiful and good into the world; sharing and caring for others. Most of the year, I take that in the little pockets I can squeeze out between teaching, writing, cleaning the house, walking the dogs, and playing cars with my three-year-old. But once a year comes a holiday that grants me my greatest wish: two entire days devoted only to cooking. And a week or two before of perusing recipes, jotting down ideas, scanning cupboards and supermarket isles. The anticipation of Thanksgiving is almost as good as the day itself. And we’ve managed to spread the holiday out, so now it covers two days.

The night before Thanksgiving, we have a full feast with friends and neighbors. This started because Blanca, a firefighter, was working Thanksgiving Day. We just moved the holiday over. Somehow this happened two or three years in a row. Then, a year came when she was off Thanksgiving Day. We told our crowd that we could do a Thursday celebration. Everyone was crestfallen. They had traditions with relatives or travel plans that day, and pleaded with us to stick to Wednesday. So we did. For a few years, we took Thanksgiving day as a freebie, a day when no calls could be made, no errands could be run, and we’d clean the house and take a long hike. Then we reconnected with my cousins who live nearby, and get to enjoy two Thanksgivings, the best of every world. On Wednesday, I get full control of the entire meal. The only thing I delegate is the stuffing, where Blanca reveals her fantastic culinary creativity every year with three or four superb surprises. Then, on Thursday we get to be part of the best kind of pot luck, where Mac and Helen take care of all of the main dishes and the twenty or so other cousins each bring a side or a dessert.

I’ll post some notes on Thursday reflecting on what we actually did, but of course a Thanksgiving blog is most useful the week before.

My meal is about half my own creation, recipes I have made and modified so many times that I’m no longer sure where they originated and can safely claim my own. The other half or so are new experiments, gathered from my favorite cooking magazines. Here’s the current version of the menu. We’re still working on a head count, but it looks like 15-20.

Turkey
I order a fresh turkey, pick it up Tuesday morning and brine it for about 24 hours in cold water, about a box of kosher salt, about a cup of sugar, a few bay leaves, a handful of pepper corns, and a handful of juniper berries. I use a big cooler which I fill with ice and water, then keep it out on the back porch so it stays below 40 degrees the whole time. Of course, before I put the turkey in the brine I pull out the giblets and save them for the stuffings.

3-4 stuffings, à la Blanca

One goes in the turkey, the others get baked in pans on the side.
There are a few keys to the stuffings. The first is to make a great broth for them by boiling the giblets, neck etc. taken from the turkey with a few stalks of celery, an onion, a carrot, and plenty of salt and pepper. Start this first thing on the day of the meal. Then, we use Stouffers packages, with their proportions. But the real treat is that Blanca at the very end adds in a fantastic selection of fruits, fresh and dried. She works out 3-4 different combinations. I can’t promise what it’ll be, but usually involves apple, mango, dried cranberries, currents, and pineapple.

Baked Ham
Luckily our neighbors come to the meal and let us use their oven for overflow. We just buy a Spiral Honey Ham and follow the directions on the package.

Baked sweet potatoes
These go in the pan stuffed around the turkey. We put them in around the same time as the turkey goes in, and they are very very well cooked when they come out.

Mashed potatoes.
Recipe already in this blog!

4 cranberry sauces/relishes.

I’m still selecting these. I always do the orange and cranberry relish from the recipe on the ocean spray cranberry bag, and one sauce with ginger, shallots, and port or Marsala. I’m still looking through my magazines for two more.

1 green bean dish
I found a recipe in Gourmet Magazine for green beans with chestnuts and bacon that I think I’m going to use.

Creamed pearl onions
I combine the recipes from Joy of Cooking and the Fannie Farmer cookbook.

2-3 salads
These are always new. I’ve found several great ones in Gourmet Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Better Homes and Gardens that I think I’m going to do this year.

Cornbread
I have about 10 cornbread recipes, and always forget which is my favorite. I like a sweet cornbread, and always serve it with the Alexanders’ special spread: equal parts corn syrup and soft butter, stirred to a white creamy perfection.

4 pies
I usually use the pâté brisé recipe from Joy of Cooking for all of them, but this year I’m trying Renée’s crust. I do a version of the Joy of Cooking’s pumpkin pie, with a pumpkin left over from Halloween. I do one apple pie where the key is that I use as many different varieties of apple as possible. About 8 apples fills a pie. So if the store has eight varieties, I use eight varieties (regardless or origin, organic-ness… this is a once a year deal). I use a full top crust on the apple pie. I do one berry pie with berries frozen over the summer, usually a mix of red and black raspberries, ½ cup of honey, and 1-2 T of cornstarch. I use a lattice top crust on the berry pie. And then I do one mincemeat pie. When I was little, once or twice my mother found a butcher who made his own mincemeat. I don’t remember the details of how she found him or why we didn’t get it every year, but I will never forget the taste of real mincemeat. One of my projects for next year is to find a local butcher who does or will make real mincemeat. In the interim, I buy the jarred stuff and it’s only a sorry substitute. I’m usually the only one who eats the mincemeat pie, but this year I think I’ve recruited two adventurous new friends, Stephenie and Andrei, to at least try a bite.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Doubting Thomas

I've been feeling very busy lately, running around doing too many things in too short a time. Yesterday, my family and I went to the grocery store at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, when everyone else was there, too. It was a madhouse, and they were out of many things and I felt both overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. I usually shop midday, when the stores are pretty empty, and I can take my time to compare products and go back for things I forgot in other aisles and answer the kids' questions. But yesterday, I was rushed and frustrated.

Namely, the apples were bothering me. I know from research that apples are one of the important fruits to get organic, if possible, because of the pesticides used on them. But, Keja and I have made a commitment to try to get as much locally produced food as possible. The apple selection at Whole Foods yesterday consisted of organic apples from New Zealand and Washington State, or locally grown apples that were not organic. What to do? I don't know the answer. I looked at my two kids and picked the organic ones, but I don't know if that was the right choice. Washington is a long way away, and New Zealand is half the world away. Who knows when those apples were picked, and I can only imagine the fossil fuels that went into their travel to my grocery store. So this is my rant. My post full of self-doubt and questions. If someone has an opinion, I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jill's Fall Favorites

In my other life, I am an English Professor at Salem State College. But rather than pulling me off in a different direction, teaching at Salem State offers another way for me to explore what it means to live, shop, cook, and eat in New England.

Nearly all of my students are either New England natives or else have immigrated here. Like Jill, they know the names of the best apple orchards around and the seasons for oysters, lobster, and cranberries not because they are already locavores, but because those things are part of the landscape of New England. Others, like Ramon, know what it is to stare gloomily at the rows of imported tropical fruit and know that even in the heart of summer they will never taste as sweet and rich and thick as they do right off the vine. Ramon savors fall apples not only because when he was younger apples were a delicacy but because in the Fall they have, with a totally different taste, that same quality he can only long for in the mango: the whisps of fresh air that still cling to a vine-ripened, fresh-picked piece of produce.

This semester I’m teaching Composition, World Literature, and Food Writing. We’re blending analysis and practice as we read and write our way through the semester. We started with Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. Then Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable Miracle tansformed the way that at least two students eat. The two seasonal New England Cookbooks in print, Duncan MacDonald and Robb Sagendorph’s Old-Time New England Cookbook and Leslie Land’s Yankee New England Cookbook, left the students quite clear that a publication which successfully combines both a deep sense of New England tradition and a contemporary spin on ingredients and cooking directions remains to be written. One of their writing assignments was to compose a small section to go into that newer, better publication. The work was so good, that it belongs in the publication, and we’ll be posting it here from time to time.

JILL DEMBOWSKI

The moans and groans of children all over the U.S. can be heard to mark the beginning of Fall. But the back to school season is not all Fall is famous for. In New England as soon as the leaves start to turn we know that fair season is right around the corner. Fairs have some of the tastiest, unhealthiest food you will ever eat. Anything and everything is fried or covered in sugar. Some of these tasty treats can be made right in your own home giving families the chance to have their own family fair. These fairs only come around once a year so put down the Weight Watchers book and go crazy.

Candy Apple
8 medium sized apples
8 wooden sticks
3 cups white sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring

Wash and dry the apples. Remove any stems or leaves and insert a wooden stick into the end of each apple getting it as close to the top without poking through. Set apples aside. Heat and stir sugar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan until sugar has dissolved. Boil until the syrup reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer, or until a little syrup dropped into cold water separates into breakable threads. Remove from heat and stir in cinnamon and food coloring. Dip one apple completely in the syrup and swirl it around a little with the stick to coat. Hold the apple above the saucepan to drain off excess. Place apple, with the stick facing up, on a well greased pan. Repeat with remaining apples. If syrup thickens or cools too much, simply reheat briefly before proceeding. Let cool completely before serving.
NOTE: For even more candy to your apple roll it in candies M&Ms, or for something a little healthier go for nuts or shredded coconut. This process should be done just after the syrup coating.

Apple Cider Donuts

2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup fresh apple cider
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons melted butter Vegetable oil Powdered sugar

Beat the eggs and the egg yolks together in large bowl, then gradually add cider and both brown and granulated sugar. Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and spices together and stir into egg mixture along with the melted butter. Stir only enough to mix. Turn dough out onto work surface, floured just enough so the dough won't stick as you roll it out. When dough is 1/2-inch thick, cut out donut shapes using a well-floured cutter and let them rest 5 minutes on lightly floured surface. Keep the holes to fry also. Heat enough oil to fill your frying pot to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. When it reaches 365 degrees F, drop 3 to 4 doughnuts in. They should not be crowded. As soon as they float to the top and are holding their shape, turn them. Fry until golden on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove as they are done and drain on absorbent paper. After they have cooled dust lightly with powdered sugar.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fall Clean-Up

As fall firmly settles, I start cutting down dead plants and puttering around the backyard, pulling this, moving that. But there is always one weekend, usually in late October or early November, when my husband and I realize that summer really isn't coming back for a while and so we do a major overhaul. We empty the fountain, pull in the table and chairs, stack up the massive amount of outdoor toys, empty the rain barrel and compost bin. It's cathartic to put everything in its place, hibernating, in the same way it just feels right to bring it all back out again in April, waking everything up in preparation for a busy summer ahead.

This year, however, we're doing a few things differently. First, we are trying to keep the compost going over the winter. Decomposition generates heat, and it's a big experiment to see if it will create enough to keep the compost working. If not, we'll leave it frozen in the bin and have a barrel-full ready to go in the spring. We use an old olive oil container on a stand with a rod running through the middle so we can easily turn it to mix everything up. It's perfect for the city because it's (knock on wood) rodent proof and requires little else other than giving it a turn or two every time we dump a bucketful of scraps in.

I'm a haphazard gardener and composter. I don't know what I'm doing but enjoy the process a lot. We originally had a worm composter in the basement but I would lie awake nights, envisioning rats sleeping in the container. I was freaked out to open it to add more food, lest a mouse jump out at me. We never saw any rodents, but the fear was too great. So we switched. The first year we used the olive oil container system, I only added food and we had a stinking drippy mess. So I got online and learned that you need to have dry stuff - leaves, paper. I started adding dried leaves from my yard and shredded paper from my house.

It's an amazing process. We get two to three full barrels of beautiful dirt a summer. I hope to get at least one more from the fall/winter cycle.

The second new thing we're doing is getting raised beds. We ordered them from Gardener's Supply. Gardener's Supply is a great resource because their customer service is staffed by actual gardeners who like to talk shop. Our soil is not even worth testing for lead. We know it's there. We live a few blocks from a highway that used to spew leaded gas fumes and are surrounded by houses covered in lead paint. I've tried container gardening and had little success. So, we just ordered an easy-to-assemble bed. We're going to line it with a weed mat to keep lead-tainted soil out but also drain water.

I'm really excited to try this. I love the idea that from leaves in our tiny backyard and scraps of food from our house, we can grow more food. Sunlight is a bit of an issue. The sunniest spot on our property is the front yard, which I've spent the four summers we've lived here turning into flower beds. It's finally looking a little bit how I imagined it would look and I hate to give up on it. So, we're going to put the raised bed at the far end of our driveway, where it gets quite a bit of sun and won't even take up precious lawn or flower bed space. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Versatile Potato

Potatoes of course can be used in almost anything, but we don’t often think of them as a Latin staple. Funny since potatoes are native to South America and Peru is the origin of most of the varietal potatoes we know. So I’m going to try to disabuse New Englanders of the idea that potatoes are the province of the Irish.

Papas con chorizo
This is a standard Latin dish, which can be served on its own or used as filling for quesadillas, sandwiches, burritos, tacos… Traditionally, it’s made using big brown potatoes, the kind that are in season from Maine right now. But once, I was halfway through making it when I realized I had fewer potatoes than I needed. So I threw in a few sweet potatoes to make up the difference. It turns out that sweet potatoes not only work, they add a gentle sweetness that perfectly compliments (and calms) the spice of the chorizo (chorizo, or chouriço in Portuguese, is a spicy Latin sausage). Now, I usually use all sweet potatoes. That opened up the idea of playing with the other ingredients, and my papas con chorizo has become almost as pliable as my soup.

The Original
Serves 4
4 potatoes
3-4 chorizo sausages
1 can “salsa roja” (red sauce)
2 tomatoes, diced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Remove the chorizo meat from the casing, break into pieces and sauté in a little olive oil. Peel and cube the potatoes and add to the pan. Add the salsa roja and diced tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Variations
Sweet potato: replace all or part of the potatoes with sweet potatoes or yams
Other potato: discover the particularities of other potato varieties by using them, exclusively or mixed.
Green tomato or tomatillo: use green tomatoes or tomatillos instead of red tomatoes, and use “salsa verde” (green sauce) in place of “salsa roja.” Gives the dish a wonderful tartness, but I don’t recommend combining this variation with the sweet potato variation (spicy, sweet, and tart takes the tastebuds in too many directions at once, as far as I’m concerned).
No spice: use sweet Italian sausages instead of chorizo and replace the “salsa roja” with two extra tomatoes. Works with any kind of potato.
Sweet: use sweet Italian or apple sausages instead of chorizo and replace the “salsa roja” and the tomatoes with 4 apples. Works with any kind of potato.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Time changing banana bread

Ah! The time change. Yuck. It does remarkable things to my hibernating habits: I draw the shades at night, I turn up the heat, I stay inside more, I eat more, I bake. Lately, my son and I have been making banana bread. We use an old recipe from the Mary Meade's Country Cookbook by Ruth Ellen Church. I got this book from my grandmother. She was not a big cook, though she made the absolute best gravy ever; I cannot imagine ever having better. She also gave me my Joy of Cooking, which still included how to skin an opossum and bleed a rabbit. They got rid of that a while back, much to my chagrin. I'm not going to skin an opossum but the fact that it was there, in black and white, meant that I could. Maybe some people still opened up that book to get instructions. It was like a story passed down from generation to generation, that is never forgotten because each generation learns it by heart.

But I digress. We've been baking banana bread together, and it's easy and fun and delicious. I always have bananas since my non-fruit eating daughter actually likes bananas, but I also have a bunch frozen. It's a great way to preserve a banana that's over the hill. Throw it in the freezer (I don't even wrap it up) and when you want to make bread, pull it out an hour or so beforehand. It will thaw quickly and be perfect in bread. It's actually quite disgusting when it thaws, and I have to power through the minute it takes to get it out of the peel. It should be noted that I'm not a banana fan at all, short of bread, so you may have no such squeamish moments.

One thing I love about this recipe is that it's a snapshot of the times (1960s). It calls for butter or margarine, soda (baking soda - when I was ten or eleven and first starting to bake and using an old Joy of Cooking, I thought you had to add Coke/Pepsi soda, and since we never had it in the house, almost stopped cooking then and there!), and sweet or sour milk (buttermilk?).

I've modernized this for today's reader, though the actual recipe remains the same:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease one bread pan.

Cream 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar (we've been using dark brown sugar though any works; we cut the sugar just a bit, too).

Add 2 lightly beaten eggs

In another bowl, add 1 1/2 TBSP regular milk or buttermilk, 1 teas. lemon juice, and 1 cup bananas (around 3). Mush until bananas are slightly chunky. (The recipe calls for mashing them through a sieve but it's both tedious and unnecessary.)

Add banana mix to butter mix.

In another bowl, stir 2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teas. baking powder, 1/2 teas. baking soda, 1/4 teas. salt. Add to wet ingredients and stir until just blended.

You can cook it as is, though the original recipe suggests adding a cup of chopped pecans or walnuts. We add chocolate chips instead. Cook for around 45 minutes.

We decided it's best hot from the oven, with too much butter, but it's pretty good cold, too.

Friday, October 31, 2008

mmmmmmmmeat

Food particularities, as we say at my house to avoid calling anyone picky, have been the inspiration of many of my new recipes (the other grand inspiration being a desire to avoid going, or going back, to the farmers’ market or store). I often label a new recipe “Necessity is the mother…” My greatest challenge has been to find ways to keep garlic to a minimum. The only thing worse, for someone raised on Italian staples, would be to have to cut out olive oil. Often, I’ve found that thinking carefully about onion varieties is the solution: leeks, shallots, red onions each have distinctive flavors that can really shine when they’re not accompanied by garlic. But for a basic meat marinade, a simple substitution or shift in emphasis didn’t cut it. Then, I found something totally different, totally divine, and totally simple. There is one big problem: it relies on the totally not-local. It might have no place in this blog, except that the recipes volume-wise have much more (local) meat than marinade, and that we have always meant for this blog to be a place of compromise. We are moving our families’ eating habits towards all local and seasonal, we hope you’re along for the ride, but we never really expect to get there.

This marinade, like Renée's, can work in endless variation, with any type of meat or fish, and for any cooking method.

Basic marinade:
Lime or lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best but “from concentrate” also works)
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Great add-ins:
Orange juice
Oregano
Parsley
Thyme
Cilantro
Jalapeños
Hot red peppers
Garlic

Marinate meat or fish in this marinade 2-24 hours. After 24 hours, the citrus will actually start to “cook” the meat or fish. If you want ceviche, let it go! Otherwise, try to get it cooked within 24 hours.

A few particular favorites


Cuban pork loin

Serves 4-6
2-3 lbs pork loin (not loin roast, just the thin long loin)
¼ cup lime juice
½ cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon oregano
Salt
pepper

Cook in crock pot on high for 4 hours or on low 6-8 hours, turning once or twice if possible. This can also be braised, but with no flavor enhancement, and more dishes to clean. Make extras and use it to make Cubanos (Cuban sandwiches) by layering it with cheese and pickles, and anything else you like in a sandwich, then pressing and grilling it.

Carne Asada (Grilled Meat)

Serves 4
2 -3 lbs Steak tips
½ cup lime or lemon juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Mix marinade and put into a plastic bag with steak tips. Marinade in refrigerator, or if using frozen meat, marinade on counter (in winter, with the house below 70, you’re good to go for at least half a day).

Grilling is not reserved for summer in my house, and there’s usually a path in the snow from the back door to the grill. You’d be surprised how warm you can be in a down jacket next to a nice bed of coals. But this recipe is scrumptious broiled as well.
Grill or broil until done- about 10 minutes per side for medium/well.

Broiled fish
Serves 4
2 lbs fish: any white fish, salmon, or scallops
½ cup lemon or lime juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
2-4 Tablespoons capers OR 2 minced shallots
Salt and pepper
Parsley

Fish takes the citrus most quickly, and only needs about 30 minutes in the marinade. If you’re using a fish with skin, broil skin-side down. For fish, broil 10-15 minutes without turning. If you’re doing scallops, you can do this on the stovetop just as well, but either way be sure to turn once. It’ll take about 10 minutes total with scallops.

The Latin overtones of the citrus (limes, lemons, and oranges are local with a nice long season in Florida, California, and further South) always suggest rice and beans as an accompaniment for these –and beans at least can be local and seasonal right here and now, in Fall and Winter in New England.

Beans, Refried
Serves 4
Ingredients:
2 cups dried beans (pinto, pink, or kidney are my favorites)
6-8 cups water
1-2 onions, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
2 Tablespoons corn or vegetable oil

Put everything into a pot, bring to a boil then simmer for 3-4 hours or until the beans are nice and soft. Heat oil in a large pan. Using a slotted spoon, scoop beans from pot into pan, then add in ¼-1/2 cup of remaining liquid. As the beans cook, use a ricer to mash them. Stop when you reach the desired consistency (I take about 5 minutes to get to about 2/3 smooth and 1/3 lumpy). If the beans start to dry out, add more of the cooking liquid, if they are too soupy, cook a little longer.


The other side dish that goes particularly well with all of these is grilled or sauteed peppers and onions (peppers are at the end of their season now, but you can still find a few picked just before the first frost, and onions of course are in their prime).

Peppers and onions


1 red pepper per person
1/2 onion per person (a sweet variety, like vidalia, is best)
1/2 green pepper per person
about 2 T olive oil
salt
pepper

Remove tops and seeds from peppers and slice them into long strips. Slice the onion into strips of similar width.

For grilling:
put peppers and onions into a grill basked, dribble with olive oil, salt, and pepper. These take longer to grill than the meat. Put them on first, cook about 20 minutes, tossing occasionally, then move them off to the very side of the grill while you cook the meat, or take them off and reheat them at the last minute. They're done when everything is soft and some of it has become blackened.

For sauteeing: Heat olive oil in a pan, I prefer a cast iron skillet. Toss in onions and peppers. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is soft, about 15 minutes. If you like it a little blackened, at the very end turn the heat up high and don't over-stir.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wait - save those pumpkin seeds!

This is the week of pumpkin carving, so I hope I catch you before you throw out the seeds. They are a great snack when roasted. Here's how: clean off the largest chunks of pumpkin matter and then put seeds in a large bowl. Fill with cool water and swish around with your hand. The seeds will float and most of the remaining pumpkin will sink to the bottom. Put on a paper towel or clean tea towel to dry. Put in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Or, get crazy and add garlic powder or toss with tamari instead of salt. Stir up until evenly coated and spread seeds out on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 300 degree oven for an hour or so, until crunchy and browned.

My friend Jen does this:

Rinse the seeds. Put in pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer. Simmer for two hours. Drain and dry. Toss with olive oil and salt. Toast at 300 degrees for 45 - 60 mins, until lightly browned. Resalt if desired and eat. She also once used some seeds that had already been cooked inside a winter squash (skipping the boiling part) and they were a bit crisper.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Root season

I love root vegetables. There are so many ways to cook them that it's almost impossible to get bored. Sometimes (often, if you ask my husband, Dave) I get in a rut and cook the same thing over and over. I do that with sweet potatoes. I put them in the oven, ideally at a low temp like 325 or 350 and cook them for a few hours. It's hard to overcook them, it takes the guesswork out of timing everything to be ready at the same time, and they make the house smell delectable!

But, sometimes I get fancier. I'm a potato freak, perhaps due to some old Irish roots, or just because they are so versatile and so tasty. My current favorite way to cook them is to roast them.

Roast potatoes

You'll need a shallow baking dish large enough to put the potatoes in a single layer. Turn oven on to 400 (if you are cooking something else that needs a different temperature, the potatoes will be fine; time may need to be adjusted). Pour enough oil (I like safflower but canola or olive oil will work, too) into the baking dish to generously cover the bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put dish in oven.

Peel as many potatoes as you want (rule of thumb is you'll always want more than you cooked). I like yellow potatoes. They roast with a sweet creaminess. Potatoes are on the bad list for pesticides, so try to get organic.
Cut into large bite-sized pieces (approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches).
Take pan out of oven and put potatoes in, turning to coat in oil. Add more salt and pepper if desired.
Roast for around an hour, turning potatoes every 10 to 15 minutes, until they are browned. If they are done before the rest of your meal, turn heat lower (250 to 300) and leave until ready, turning once in a while.


Another root vegetable of which I'm fond is the beet. Again, there are many ways to cook it.

The simplest is to boil it. Wash well and cut each beet into quarters. Cover with water and boil until tender, ~ 30 minutes.

Or, you can roast them.

Roast beets - I got this recipe from my friend Amy who is both a creative and a health-conscious cook, and the creator of Coaching for Whole Body Wellness; she has great advice and recipes.

Preheat oven to 375 (if you are cooking something else that needs a different temperature, the beets will be fine; time may need to be adjusted).
Wash as many beets as you want.
Wrap in tin foil and place on a cookie sheet or pie plate to catch any errant drips.
Cook until tender, approximately 1 hour.
Take out of oven and let cool until you can hold them in your hand. Peel skins off. If it's difficult, try peeling under water.
Slice beets and sprinkle with olive oil and salt and pepper.


Sauteed carrots

Heat enough olive oil to cover bottom of a frying pan
Slice as many carrots as you want (they should be in a single layer) into uniform sticks (I usually half a narrow carrot or quarter a thick one and then cut into 3 inch lengths)
Saute over low heat, turning frequently, until softened, approximately 30 minutes.
When cooked through, sprinkle a few teas. sugar over carrots (I prefer demarara/turbinado/raw though white is fine).
Sprinkle with salt.
Cook for a few minutes, turning a few times, until sugar caramelizes.

Variation: this can be cooked with butter instead of olive oil, and will caramelize beautifully.


Mashed turnips

Clean and quarter turnips. Boil until soft, ~ 30 minutes. Drain water. Add a pat of butter, a dash of 1/2 and 1/2, cream, or milk, a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper and a small sprinkle of ground cloves. Mash together until they are a consistency you like. I leave the skins on and they don't mash perfectly smooth. If this bothers you, peel the turnips before you cook them.


My final note will be on butternut squash. Although not a root vegetable, it cooks similarly and fills the same niche on the dinner plate. My favorite way to prepare it is to halve in lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, put it on a cookie sheet or shallow baking dish and fill the holes where the seeds were with a pat of butter, a spoonful of honey, and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Bake at 350 or 375 until soft, approximately 45 minutes.

Another way to prepare butternut squash is to mash it.

Mashed butternut squash and beets

Wash and peel 7 or 8 beets.
Cut into quarters, and boil in a large saucepan, covered with water, until tender, ~ 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel one butternut squash. Cut in half lengthwise, scrape seeds, and cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks.
When beets are close to done, add squash chunks and continue to boil, ~ 10 more minutes.
When both are soft, drain in a colander and return to the pan.
Mash with a potato masher until smooth.
Add a few TBSP of butter and salt to taste.
Add a 1/2 teas. each of cumin and nutmeg and mix well.

Friday, October 24, 2008

More soup!

With school starting up and the weather feeling at least like it goes up and down 10 or 20 degrees randomly throughout the day, cold season is in its fullest. Luckily, so is soup season, and even more luckily I have a soup to cure all colds. Soup also has the added benefit of conveying plenty of liquids, which we need to fight colds and all other manner of illnesses.


A SOUP TO CURE ALL COLDS

Serves: 4; Prep time: 15 minutes; Cook Time: 1-8 hours
The simple, clear broth is soothing and easy to swallow for even the sorest throat, the tons of veggies is just generally good for you, and the best part is the huge chunk of ginger carries all sorts of cold-fighting goodies (oh, and great flavor).

Ingredients
2-3 chicken breasts, cubed
2-3 carrots, chopped
1-2 ribs celery, chopped
1 leek, sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 large or 4-6 small turnips
1 large chunk (2-3 inches) ginger, peeled
4-6 cups stock or chicken broth
Turnip or other greens, roughly chopped

Preparation
Chop, slice, and cube. Toss everything except the greens into a big pot on the stovetop or into a crockpot. About fifteen minutes before serving, add the greens.

A few notes on the ingredients: potatoes can replace the turnips, but turnips have a wonderfully sweet tenderness that contrasts perfectly with the spice of the ginger, and at the farmers’ market at least they come with greens. White, yellow, or green onions—all of which are in season—can replace the leeks. Green beans and broccoli also go nicely in this soup, but if you put in too many different vegetables the unique flavor of each one is sometimes lost. In this soup where simplicity rules, I find that singularity works best.

CREAM OF BROCCOLI SOUP
Serves: 4 Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 30-45 minutes

Ingredients:
2 leeks (or 2 small or 1 large onion), finely sliced
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 bunch of broccoli (2-3 heads with stems attached)
4-6 cups stock or chicken broth
1 dried hot red pepper or crushed red pepper
½ cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
1 dash cream or half and half
Olive oil
Salt
pepper

Preparation:
Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a big soup pot and then sauté the leeks or onions until nice and soft, 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, peel and dice the potatoes, cut and break the broccoli florets into thumb-sized pieces, and peel and roughly cut the broccoli stems. Toss potatoes and broccoli into the pot, add stock or broth making sure you have enough to cover the veggies. Salt and pepper to taste. I can’t give enough praise for Green on Greens’ suggestion to add a little hot pepper to cream of broccoli soup. I prefer the dried Chinese red peppers, and use a whole one. This gives the soup a nice kick, but it’s tempered by the cheese and cream you’ll add at the end. Crushed red pepper also works quite well. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the broccoli and potatoes are soft. Turn off soup and blend until smooth with an immersion blender. (Or in a regular blender in batches). Just before serving, add cheese and cream. This soup freezes very well.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Meats and the Girl Who Loves Them

Keja and I are joining a meat CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from Stillman's at the Turkey Farm. Stillman's is out in western Massachusetts and once a month they will deliver frozen beef, pork, lamb, and chicken to a central pick-up spot in the city.

I am both excited and apprehensive about getting regular deliveries of meat I wouldn't necessarily buy myself. I am fairly picky about meat: I am the biggest of carnivores if I'm eating a rare steak or equally rare roast beef, or grilled pork chops or my all-purpose baking method (see below for details). But I never make pot roast and rarely make stew. I love these things, when others make them, but my go to is a nice cut of meat grilled or baked or pan-fried. So, this CSA is going to stretch my imagination, in a good way.

I really enjoy the preparation of food. I am fortunate to stay home with my children, which affords me the time to grocery shop and cook at my leisure, or at least as long as the patience of a 3-year old and a 1-year old hold out. Quick prep meals are fun, too, and certainly have their place in my weekly menu, but for me, there's nothing better than the luxury of a few hours to cut and stir and simmer. Especially in the winter.

My favorite way to prepare meat is versatile, both in the meat variety, and the accompanying spices and veggies. It works with fish (fillet or steak), beef (steaks of all kinds), chicken (thighs, legs, breast), pork (chops, loin roast), lamb (chops, shoulder, leg, rack) - you name it. This method is good for a confident cook, not because it's hard, because it's not at all, but because temps and times and ingredients are open to opinion and how I do it may not be the way you find works best. So, I will give an outline and it's your job, gentle reader, to fill in the blanks. Note, this is a good recipe to try when you don't have a set time you are trying to eat, at least the first time.

To start, you need a good quality frying pan that can go into the oven. Cast iron works well but my favorite is my All Clad stainless steel 10-inch fry pan.

To begin, preheat the oven to 375 degrees or so. In the frying pan mentioned above, add olive oil and start it heating at a medium-low temp on the stovetop. Add minced garlic (a plug here for my favorite garlic press. It's really expensive but worth it. Pro cooks will tell you garlic presses are lame, and maybe they're right, but I don't listen. I love mincing garlic, I really do, but when babies are crying and I'm trying to make the most of my cooking time, I use the Rosle garlic press. You can even press unpeeled cloves.).

You can also add shallots or onions or mushrooms, or all of the above or something else entirely - experiment! Add salt and pepper. A note on salt: I was fortunate enough to go with my husband's family to Alaska seven years ago. While there, we stayed at a place run by a professionally-trained cook who gave us a taste test of salt. "Isn't it all the same?" we naively asked. It's really not. We tasted all sorts of specialty salts and then at the end she gave us Morton's table salt to try and it tasted like metal. It was awful. I will never go back. Any decent quality sea salt is great. I really like larger grains because you get tiny little salt blasts.

Sautée for a few minutes until everything is starting to smell really good and then push garlic/shallots etc. to the side of the pan. Turn heat up just slightly, and add whatever meat you are cooking. Give garlic mix a stir once in a while. Sear meat on the first side for a few minutes, then flip. Immediately cover meat with garlic, etc., and put the whole thing in the oven.

Let it bake until done. Time will vary greatly depending on meat used and thickness. Fish will be minutes. Chicken thighs maybe a half hour. Beef steak, 20 minutes, etc. The point is, check once in a while and cook until done. Never has any cut of meat taken more than an hour total cooking time.

My two very favorite variations are:

- rack of lamb with a rub of minced garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and chopped fresh mint (mash all together in a bowl and spread onto lamb. Put lamb into pan with just a little olive oil and sear on fatty side first. Flip, cook a minute or so on bony side and transfer to oven.) The rub will form the most delicious crust when cooked.

- pork loin roast with garlic, shallots, salt, pepper, and thickly sliced shiitake mushrooms (cook as described in general directions above).

My advice is to try this method and make note of temps and times and additional ingredients and alter as necessary for next time. In my experience, most things have a wide variety of times and temps and can handle lower temp/longer time and higher temp/shorter time, depending on what else you are cooking. I've started at 375 and realized it was going to take way too long, cranked the heat up to 425 and been fine. And I've done the reverse, too. And, if you come up with some great new creation, let us know! Most importantly, enjoy the process; cooking is a learning experience, with a great payoff.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Roasted Roots and Sprouts

Roasting in the Fall is a two-for. It turns roots and sprouts from background filler to high styling treat, and it fills the house with a rich warmth, literally. Instead of turning on the heat in early or mid October, I roast vegetables and bake bread.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
I happen to like Brussels sprouts, but this dish is one for even the most wary. Roasted sprouts taste nutty, and completely different from their boiled, steamed, or even sautéed cousins.

Brussels Sprouts have been available in the New Hampshire farmers’ markets I frequent for a few weeks, and have about a week to go there according to my best sprout supplier. I haven’t seen them at all at the Union Square farmers’ market. Maybe the season is too early for them yet this far South, or maybe our farmers don’t grow them. Whole Foods doesn’t label the origin of their Brussels sprouts, but they do have them priced at a seasonal rate (about $1.39 a pound; it can go up steeply when they’re imported from….Alaska? Norway?).

2 lbs Brussels sprouts
2 apples, the kind that stay firm when baked (Granny Smith and Cortland work well)
Rosemary
Kosher salt
Olive oil
Pepper

Trim off the bottoms of the Brussels Sprouts and slice them in half. Spread them out on a cookie pan; you can include any stray leaves that fell off while you were slicing. 2 lbs should give you enough to cover one pan. Peel the apples, core, and cut into chunks that match the size of the sliced Brussels sprouts, and put them into the pan. Take the leaves off one sprig of rosemary (about 1T dried rosemary) and sprinkle on top. Sprinkle on also 1-2 T kosher salt, pepper to taste, and 2-3 T olive oil. Toss the Brussels sprouts and apples so that they are evenly covered with the spice and oil mixture. Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, or until the Brussels sprouts are browned.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

1 large sweet potato or 2 small per person
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Pepper

Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into ½-1 inch squares. Spread them out on a cookie pan. Dribble 2-3 T olive oil and sprinkle 1-2 T salt and 2-3 tsp pepper over the top. Toss to coat. Put in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the pieces become quite soft.

Variations:
potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, and winter squash work wonderfully this way as well. Combine contrasting colors (sweet potatoes and white potatoes, white potatoes and beets…) for extra fun.

Roasted Beet Salad
Serves 4

4 large or 8-10 small beets
Olive oil
Vinegar
Mustard
Salt
Pepper
8 oz. feta cheese

Trim the tops and bottoms off 4 large or 8 to 10 small beets. Place on a foil-lined cookie pan. Roast at 350 for 1-2 hours (depending on the size of the beets). Roast for at least 30 minutes after you can first poke through the beets with a fork or knife. Remove from oven and wrap tightly in the tin foil. This gives a little final steam to the beets and makes peeling much easier. Let sit at least 15 minutes, and up to several hours. Peel the beets, and cut into small squares.
While the beets are cooking, make a vinaigrette in the bottom of an airtight container that will hold all of your beets. I use about ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup balsamic vinegar, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, 1 tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper.

Toss the beets into the vinaigrette, cover, shake well, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2-3 days.
Just before serving, cut the feta cheese into squares the same size as the beets and toss.

Variations: Toasted walnuts make a wonderful addition to this salad. It can also be served on a bed of arugula or chickory.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apple Sauce Continued

Coincidentally, I needed apple sauce this morning for my son because he has a stomach bug and needs bland food. I am not normally a huge fan of apple sauce (except Judith's), so don't keep it around, because when I do it ends up molding in the fridge. And, as I don't have a Squeezo, I did an abbreviated version of Judith's sauce that I think is worth sharing. I peeled, cored, and cut 2 apples into small chunks and put them in a sauce pan with 1/2 cup or so of cider. I slowly brought them to a boil and then gently mushed them with a spoon. That's it. It had a great texture, not the smooth blandness of typical store-bought sauce. Sort of stringy and chewy, which doesn't sound good in writing but was a hit with everyone in the family this morning - even my anti-fruit and veggie one year old. You could add cinnamon. It took 15 minutes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fried Green Tomatoes and Apple Sauce

I hope I get this post in while there are still green tomatoes to be had. I wouldn't know, because my attempt at container tomatoes this year was a huge disappointment: the seedlings never even flowered.

My father was a single parent for many years; he worked very long days, and still managed to not only keep a clean house full of cats, dogs, fish and the stray wooly bear caterpillar we would sneak in, but also to feed my sister and me really delicious and nutritious food. He toyed with the idea of writing a cookbook from the point of view of a single parent but never did; he could have, and should have. Below is his recipe for fried green tomatoes. They are, in his words, simplicity itself. I remember them as a huge treat at the end of summer and into fall when, in Vermont, the growing season ended much too early to ripen many of the tomatoes on the vine and there were too many to ripen on window sills. They are great with fried eggs or as a side for dinner. But you can eat many more if you have them by themselves.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Prep time 5 minutes. Total cooking time 20 to 30 minutes.
Serves 2 to 3 people as a side dish. To increase recipe, add more tomatoes until flour is used up, then add more flour/salt/pepper mixture as needed.

My father traditionally slices the tomatoes pretty thin, maybe 1/8 to 1/4 inch. However, he recently started slicing them thicker and recommends this way for a more intense tomato flavor.

In a clean paper bag put a cup of white flour and liberal amounts of salt and pepper (~ 1/2 teaspoon each)
Slice 2 to 3 medium to large green tomatoes 1/2 inch thick
Add enough oil (I use safflower) to a frying pan to generously cover the bottom and heat over medium-low heat
Put tomatoes in the bag and shake until completely coated
When the oil is hot but not smoking, add tomatoes, cover pan (if doing thin slices, do not cover pan), and let them cook, undisturbed, for 10 to 15 minutes. (Small peaks are okay to make sure not too hot; turn heat down if they are cooking too fast)
When nicely browned, flip tomatoes. At this point, check once in a while to make sure not too brown and move around if necessary
Cook uncovered until other side is brown, approximately another 10 to 15 minutes
Place on a paper towel-covered plate when done

Note: if doing thin slices, they will cook in around half the time.


Eventually, my father married Judith. My stepmother also has cooking skills, and one of her claims to fame is her apple sauce. It requires a Squeezo strainer, which I do not have, and am currently debating getting. At this point, it doesn't seem worth the money to get something I'll use once or twice a year, especially when I can get apple sauce from Judith. But, if I have a successful tomato crop next year, I could use it for tomato and apple sauce. hmmm. Stay tuned about my decision (opinions gratefully accepted).

I used to help make this sauce, including climbing the huge wild apple tree in the field behind my parents’ house to pick the sour scabby apples that make such gorgeous sauce. The actual making of the sauce was a production, but accompanied by popcorn and hot tea, it was pretty fun, and very worth it.

Popcorn

Pop plain popcorn
Melt 2 parts butter and 1 part tamari (soy sauce is fine) on stove top
When popcorn is popped, pour butter mixture over corn and sprinkle with garlic powder. Stir and eat.


Apple sauce

Slice clean apples in quarters, removing most of inner core and leaving skin on (skin will make apple sauce a lovely shade of pink)
Put an inch of apple cider in a large pot, add apples, and cook until soft but not mushy, approximately 10 minutes
Squeeze through Squeezo strainer (or other kind but it must remove skins and seeds)
Put sauce back in pot and bring to a boil
Put sauce in sterilized jars and can (see here for instructions)

Variation: save some sauce in pot. Add a few raw, chopped and peeled apples into hot sauce. This sauce needs to be eaten within a few weeks as raw apples will not keep for very long but it is worth it.

Note on sterilization: Judith, and many other people, can apple sauce in a way the USDA calls "open-kettle canning", which does not require heating the filled jars in a boiling water bath. The USDA does not recommend this type of canning. Judith does it because she doesn't like the sauce when it's been cooked more than the recipe allows. She has never had a problem with it, but for safety's sake, perhaps doing as the USDA suggests is best.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Colors of The Flag

Big, imperfect tomatoes, fresh, mild onions, and little hot peppers poked through piles of zucchini, kale, and green beans all over the farmers’ markets this week. The red, green, and white mean Italian done one way, and Mexican done another.

When Blanca and I first met, she blew me away by making perfect rice every time, completely “by guess and by golly” as she calls it. “How can you mess up rice”? she asked me. Just like that, with little black rice-marks all over the bottom of the pan, when it wasn’t some kind of gloppy mush. But one day, I asked her to get the pasta going for me and she asked, “how?” It hadn’t even occurred to me that there was a “how” to making pasta.

Twelve years later, she throws on the pasta on a regular basis, I measure but my rice comes out perfect every time, and there are a few whole meals from her family repertoire that I can make on my own and even her mother approves. What’s incredible is that other than the differences of rice versus pasta and tortillas versus bread, a great number of Mexican and Italian staples are made from almost the exact same ingredients.

TACOS
Serves: 4 Prep Time: 30-40 minutes Cook Time: 1-8 hours
A wonderful self-service meal that is ideal for finicky guests, picky kids, and hungry hounds. Tacos consist of warmed tortillas and a variety of fillings that are assembled at the table.

Carne Deshebrada
1 pound flank or skirt steak
1 garlic clove, whole
2 T dried or 2 sprigs fresh oregano
2 T salt
1 T pepper

Put the meat and spices in a large pot of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer, gently, 1-3 hours. Can also be done in the crock pot on high for 6-8 hours. When the meat is very tender, lift it out of the pot and place it in a bowl or colander. Pull off little sections of the meat and then, using your fingers or two forks, pull it apart. It will easily turn into what looks like a pile of strings. You need to cool the meat to pull it apart, but you want it warm to eat. The best solution is to hang a sieve or colander over the still very hot pot of water, and to drop the meat strings into it. Then you can transfer them to a serving bowl at the last minute. Incidentally, you now have a big pot of beef broth to save for some other time.

Pico de gallo
As far as I’m concerned, the centerpiece of the meal
1 large tomato, diced, with all of its juices
½ onion, diced
½ bunch of cilantro, washed and finely chopped
juice of 2 limes
salt and pepper to taste
½ jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

Chop and dice so that the tomato and onion pieces are the same size. If you want the pico extra mild, remove the seeds from the jalepeno before chopping. If you want it a little more picante, leave the seeds in and use the whole pepper. Mix together all of the ingredients and set aside.

Other Accompaniments
Serve also with, in separate bowls: 6 oz. grated jack or cheddar cheese; ½ head of boston or iceberg lettuce, cut into thin shreds about the length of the meat threads; sour cream.

Corn tortillas are relatively easy to make from scratch following the directions on the Maseca (a special preparation of corn meal flour). If you make your own, you’ll want to cook them on a cast iron pan. To heat store-bought tortillas, place them in pairs directly on the gas flame, turn just as they start to brown (less than 1 minute), and then stack and fold them into a dish towel to keep them warm. If you have a tortilla warmer (a tortilla-sized lidded basket), of course place the dishtowel inside of that.

PASTA WITH QUICK TOMATO-MEAT SAUCE
Serves: 4 Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes
My mom makes a version of my great-grandmother’s tomato-meat sauce. It is delicious, and I’m sure will make its way onto the blog. This one is, especially in its basic mode, wonderfully quick and surprisingly complex.

1 lb ground beef (optional; can be replaced with ground turkey)
1 clove garlic
6-8 large tomatoes, diced
1 can tomato paste
1 Chinese hot pepper (the long thin red ones, fresh or dried)
1 tsp sugar
A few grates of nutmeg
2 sprigs thyme
1 dash cream

In a large pan, brown the meat. Add 1 whole clove of garlic and stir for a few minutes. Then add all of the other ingredients, stirring well. Cover and let simmer on low heat for at least 10 minutes, and up to 45 minutes. Just before serving, turn off heat and stir in one dash of cream.

Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water. 10 minutes before you are ready to eat, cook the pasta. Rotini, orecchietti, fiori, or some other medium-sized pasta with some kind of way to catch the sauce works best.

Serve with grated romano or parmesan cheese.

Variations: Add 1 small zucchini, 1-2 carrots, and/or 1 green or red pepper, chopped, at the same time as the other ingredients. You can also sauté an onion before adding the meat, then leave it in the pan for the duration.

Monday, October 6, 2008

An Ode to Apples and Butter

I always get blue in the Fall if I'm not careful, so I try to keep myself busy. Apple picking is a staple for me. For years, my family has trekked out to Harvard, MA, to Carlson Orchards. They have lots of apples within easy walking distance, and raspberries, too. It's never been crowded and it's a lovely drive. They are not organic, however, which brings up the topic of fruits and pesticides. Apples are high on the list of fruits to try to get organic due to the nastiness of their spray. The Environmental Working Group has a great article here on fruits and vegetables to buy organic and why. There is an organic orchard, also in Harvard, called Old Frog Pond Farm, though I have not been.

Once you have the apples, there are many things to do with them, including apple sauce, pie, pork chops with apples, and crumbles. All delicious and all pretty easy. Below are recipes for the two desserts. They include lots of butter. As my little sister used to say, "Can I have too much butter on my toast?" Yes, you can. Enjoy.

Apple Pie

Wash 10 to 12 apples (if not organic, since you want to remove as much spray as possible before you work with them). I prefer a sour apple, ideally macoun but macintosh work, too. Peel them and slice into 12 to 16 slices each (removing core).

Put in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, melt 1 stick butter. When melted, add 1/2 cup or so honey. Let heat until bubbly and add lots of cinnamon (I usually do around a tablespoon). Stir well and then pour over apples, turning them to completely cover with sauce. Lick the spoon.

Preheat over to 425 degrees.

Make crust. For years I made the Joy of Cooking's simple pie crust, and then my sister-in-law gave me Once Upon a Tart and I reluctantly tried their pie crust and have never looked back.

Flaky Tart Crust from Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau
Makes two 9-inch crusts

(I have shortened their lovely directions for the sake of brevity)

In a food processor fitted with a blade put:
2 1/2 cups white flour
1 teas. sugar
1 teas. salt

Pulse a few times to mix.

Add:
12 TBSP cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
5 TBSP Crisco

Pulse only until it turns into moist crumbs; over-mixing will make the crust very heavy.

Dump crumbs into a large bowl and sprinkle 4 TBSP of ice water evenly over them.

With your hands or a spoon, mix until the dough just comes together.

Form two even discs. At this point, the creators of this recipe suggest wrapping discs in plastic wrap and chilling for at least 30 minutes. I'm impatient so I skip this step and it seems none the worse for wear.

Roll out one crust. Put into a pie plate.

Pour apple mixture into plate.

Roll out second crust. At this point you can either put the whole thing on top and crimp edges or you can get fancy and do a lattice-work crust. I get fancy. In my house, lattice-work means apple pie. Period.

For lattice, cut crust into 3/4" to 1 inch strips. Lay the longest across the middle. Lay another long one across the middle perpendicularly. Lay another one on either side of the first long strip. Then lay one on either side of the perpendicular long strip, lifting up the ends of the middle strip so it goes over these new strips. Continue this process until the pie is covered. Crimp edges.

Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then turn down to 325 and cook until crust is browning and pie is bubbling, anywhere from 1/2 hour to an hour.


Apple Crumble (aka Apple Yum Yum)

Wash, peel, core, and slice (12 to 16 slices each) 5 to 6 apples. Put in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, melt 1/2 stick butter. When melted, add 1/4 cup or so honey. Let heat until bubbly and add lots of cinnamon (I usually do around a 1/2 tablespoon). Stir well and then pour over apples, turning them to completely cover.

Put apples into a bread pan.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In another bowl, put 1/2 stick butter (anywhere from cold to room temp), 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup flour, and 1/2 cup oats. With your hands, mix until well incorporated. Crumble evenly over the apples and cook until crumble is browned and smells good, approximately half an hour.

Variation: this recipe works for peaches, berries, cherries. If I do any fruit other than apples, I skip the butter-honey sauce and just do plain fruit, or I'll toss with some vanilla or lemon juice and a few tablespoons of raw sugar.