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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Early Fall Soup

I’m planner, a list-maker, a freeze-ahead-er, but somehow what I most often need when it comes to dinner time is something that can be thrown together in twenty minutes or less from whatever happens to be on hand. And in order to make the family dinner fit in with the busy and totally irregular schedules of my family, it also has to be able to be set aside for an hour or two once it’s done. That’s why my fall and winter staple is soup. If my twenty free minutes are in the morning, I use the crock pot; if they’re later on, I use the stovetop. But then comes the issue of variety. If you’re using seasonal vegetables, availability will dictate change for you from early to late fall and from late fall to winter, but what about within a single week? If we’re having soup two or three nights a week, especially if those nights happen to be in a row, I want to avoid the “Agai-a-ain”? look (I recognize it, even if everyone over three is much too polite to say it out loud).

On kids and soup: I have a rather particular three-year-old eater. He seems quite adventurous about taste, but texture, color, and consumption style can be sticking points. So I am (mostly) thankful to my friend Liz who introduced Lucca to the Chinese art of soup-slurping. This works best with one of those large Chinese soup spoons, and with creamed soups or a bowl of mostly broth.

On freezing soup: The minestrone soup freezes wonderfully. The spinach and potato leek soups also can be frozen, but it’s best to freeze them before adding the dairy (cream and cheese, respectively). If you do freeze the spinach or potato leek soup after it’s fully made, you’ll want to reheat it quite slowly as the dairy can easily make it boil over or burn.

EARLY FALL MINESTRONE

Prep time: 20 min Cook time: 30 min-8 hrs. Serves: 4-6

Bottom-of-the-barrel vegetables are wonderful in this soup: tomatoes that are starting to get mushy, corn, carrots, and green beans that have been in the fridge for a week already. Of course, the whole point of this soup is that it works without any two or three of the veggies or the chicken. But in early fall, all of these are abundant at farmers’ markets and in back yards. The two early fall veggies I don’t usually put in are potatoes because I want to distinguish this from the potato leek soup, and summer squash because it can overcook.

Ingredients
4-6 cups chicken broth (See recipe below)
2 cups shredded or cubed chicken, ideally from leftovers (leftover chicken can be shredded or cubed and then frozen just for this)
2-3 carrots, chopped
1-2 celery ribs, chopped
Kernels cut from 1-3 ears of corn
1-2 cups chopped greens (chard, kale, bok choy, spinach…)
1-2 cups chopped green beans
2-4 tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled but left whole (remove before serving)

Crock pot method: toss all ingredients into the crock pot, cook on high 4-5 hours or low 6-8 hours.

Stovetop method: toss all ingredients into a large pot, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes. Can continue to cook on very low heat for much longer.

CREAM OF SPINACH SOUP
Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 20 minutes Serves: 2 (double, triple, etc. as needed)

I’ve been making this for years with packaged frozen spinach, but this whole experiment is about trying what’s out there now, and figuring out how to freeze it myself for later. In the Fall fresh spinach returns to the farmers’ markets. It turns out there’s a catch: fresh spinach in farmers’ markets come on stems, very fibrous stems. Good for your digestion, but not so good for a smooth cream soup. I didn’t realize this until after I had tossed the spinach and chicken broth into the blender. Thus the strainer method. It also works to cut off all of the stems and use them for chicken or vegetable stock. Then you’d have to strain the stock, but you wouldn’t have to strain the spinach soup.

Ingredients
4 cups chicken broth (see recipe below)
2 bunches fresh spinach, roughly chopped
4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup cream (or ½&½ or milk)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  • Be sure to wash the spinach well, but don’t worry about drying it.
  • Bring the chicken broth just to a boil, then add the chopped spinach. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Pour into a blender, in batches if necessary. Remember that when you turn the blender on, the liquid will suddenly bounce upwards. Be sure not to overfill the blender. I always hold the lid down gently with a folded kitchen towel.
  • In a different pot, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour and stir for 1-2 minutes.
  • Pour the blended spinach and broth through a strainer into the butter and flour mixture. Do this in small batches, stirring well in between. Use a wooden spoon to press all of the juice out of the spinach-stem-fiber ball that will form in the strainer.
  • Simmer, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the lemon juice, cream, salt and pepper and stir.
  • Serve immediately or let cool and reheat.

POTATO LEEK SOUP

Preparation time: 15 mintues Cook time: 30 minutes Serves: 4

Potato leek soup might be similar in consistency to cream of spinach, but not this way. Any variety of potato works, each varying the flavor slightly. But because of the labor involved in peeling them, fingerling or baby potatoes are not recommended. Most leek recipes call for the white part only. The green part adds a wonderful, umm, green flavor. At a certain point, though, the green part turns quite tough: that’s where you should stop. The other thing about the green part is that it sometimes has sand in it. Always wash leeks carefully. One of the benefits of farmers’ market leeks, though, is that they are often grown in dirt and are easier to clean.
A few years ago, my friend Diane gave me an immersion blender. You can submerge it right into your soup, right on the stove. Not only does it eliminate the extra step, and the extra dishes, involved in using a regular blender, it also allows you to monitor more carefully the creamy to lumpy ratio. If you don’t have one of these magic tools, a standing blender can work but a ricer (aka a potato masher) requires only a little elbow grease and has the same benefits as the immersion blender.

Ingredients
Olive oil
4 large or 8 small leeks, sliced
4-6 cups chicken broth
4 large or 6 medium potatoes, sliced
1 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
Salt and pepper

Preparation
Heat the olive oil, then sauté the leeks until they just start to turn brown, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken broth and potatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes (as long as you keep the heat very low, you can extend that for up to about an hour).
Turn off the heat, and blend or rice until about 2/3 of the potatoes are smoothed out. The idea is to create a thick and chunky soup. If you want your soup thinner, add milk; if you want it thicker, cook it, uncovered, for another 10 minutes.
Add the grated cheese, salt, and pepper.
Serve immediately or cool and reheat.

CHICKEN BROTH
Any time you cook chicken with bones, make broth! A list of ingredients might make it sound like you need something in particular to make a good chicken broth. Besides chicken bones, you don’t. Throw the unused chicken bones or carcass into a pot—a crock pot works perfectly as does a pot on the stove. Add as many of the following as you have on hand: onion, celery, carrots, veggie tops or bottoms (carrot tops, with stems, spinach stems, etc.). You’re going to strain the broth at the end, so you really can put in all sorts of pieces of veggies that you really wouldn’t quite want to eat. But those parts often have excellent nutrients and great flavor. Do be sure to wash whatever you throw in, as dirt and sand will get through the strainer and make your broth uncomfortably gritty. Season with any of the following: garlic, bay leaf, oregano, thyme. Add more salt than you think you’ll need, and pepper ground or whole. Simmer, low, for at least an hour. Cool and strain. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week, and in the freezer 3-6 months.