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.