Monday, December 28, 2009

Mistakes

Over the Christmas holiday I made what in hindsight feel like two pretty amateurish mistakes. The first was on Christmas Eve. Both Dave and I have family traditions of eating a shellfish dish for dinner. His family always does oyster stew. Mine mixes it up. We seem to be creating our own tradition of clam chowder, if two years in a row a tradition makes.


We had a delightful walk down to New Deal Fish Market Christmas Eve morning. It was hopping, with a line out the door. We couldn't decide was amazing thing to get, and then saw the clams. We also had salmon sushi and Alaskan King crab legs for an appetizer. Anyway, we decided to wing the chowder and it turned out great, except for one small, glaring problem: I naively salted it WITHOUT tasting it first, and while I didn't add very much salt, I completely spaced that the clams would release a lot of their own salt water. So, while it was technically edible, it was fortunate there was not too much and it wasn't our only food, or it really would have been overwhelming.


The second mistake was on Christmas morning. Dave's family traditionally has an egg casserole that his Mom makes the night ahead with sausage and cheese and bread. It is delightful and the perfect break between stockings and other presents. My family has always done English muffins, Dundee marmalade, eggs, fried potatoes and/or grits, and sausage or bacon. I decided to modify that meal a bit, because my kids don't usually have huge breakfast appetites. But, eggs, muffins with marmalade, and bacon were a must. So, I saved a lovely chunk of fresh bacon from the meat CSA. It was whole, not sliced, and I imagined it to be just like the bacon we'd slice off the huge slab that would hang in our mudroom, growing up. It was great bacon. So, I defrosted it and would lovingly look at it in the days before Christmas, sitting in the fridge. I could practically taste it. And then when I finally did taste it, I almost cried. Fresh (shockingly) means it isn't smoked. It was a huge disappointing chunk of very fatty pork belly. I tried to spice it up a bit, but even my loving, supportive, usually up-for-eating-anything husband determined it, for all intents and purposes, inedible.


I looked online the next day to figure out what to do with the remaining meat, and mostly what I found was people using the same CSA, discovering the same unfortunate surprise. Some people suggested smoking it on stove top smokers and others had some dish with lime they recommended. I haven't decided yet what to do. I'm clearly not going to buy a smoker. Maybe I'll cut off all the fat possible and make beans or something. Total bummer.


So, while the bacon is a flop, the chowder is actually worth talking about, minus the salt. A friend was telling me that you are supposed to roll the clams in cornmeal and then soak them in water, I suppose to make them open up and release grit. This would make them release the salt water, too, but I like the briny flavor so I leave it up to you, dear reader, to try the pre-soak method and give me a recipe.


Christmas Eve Clam Chowder


makes 4 side servings or 2 entree servings; total time about 15 minutes


2 pounds clams (we used cherrystones but have used littlenecks in the past)

1 TBSP butter

2 cloves garlic, minced (~1 teas.)

1 cup dry white wine

1 teas. pepper

1/4 teas. crushed red pepper

1 cup milk

optional spices added to taste: paprika, nutmeg, white pepper, ginger


Gently scrub clams in cool water with a brush. Discard any broken ones. If any are open, gently tap them against the counter and give them a minute. If they close, they're good to use; if they do not, discard them. (This works with mussels and oysters, too.)


In a large saute pan with a tightly fitting top, melt butter over medium heat and add garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, ~ 1 minute.


Add wine and clams, and put top on. Steam until clams open, checking every few minutes. This should take only a five or so minutes, but I've had it take as long as fifteen and they were delicious. Any that do not open a few minutes after the majority have, discard.


Remove all clams from pan and put in a bowl. Pick them up one at a time. Carefully drain liquid back into bowl and then remove meat by pulling it. Discard shell. When all clams have been cleaned out, chop the meat and put it and any accumulated liquid form bowl back into pan.


Add pepper, crushed red pepper, and milk (and any optional spices) and heat until the temp you like.


Serve with biscuits or rolls or warm bread.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas-week Dinner

I just want to note to all of our followers that we were mentioned in Martha Stewart's blog! Check us out: http://everydayfoodblog.marthastewart.com/2009/12/edf-on-cooking-the-seasons.html


The days leading up to any holiday are exciting; full of anticipation for seeing family, traveling, eating great meals. And, though the best meal is always saved for the actual holiday, I really enjoy the pre-holiday ones, too. I usually make a menu for 4 or 5 days at a time, and carefully think about balancing what we eat over that given period. With the holidays, however, I find that I focus on the big meal and getting presents ready or (in the case of Thanksgiving) cooking as much as I can before, and I realize last minute that we need to eat dinner in the nights leading up to the feast as well. I have mentioned before that I don't plan as much in the summer and am happy to throw something on the grill last minute, but winter cooking takes longer. All this to say, in the grocery store today, my 2-year old daughter and I decided to cook chicken tonight. Other than that, I was resting on the laurels of my kitchen cabinets. Luckily, they proved me right and provided enough ingredients to make a yummy, cozy meal.


Chicken, Corn, and Orzo


serves 2 adults and 2 children who love pasta


Chicken


Preheat oven to 400.


2 TBSP olive oil

1 large onion, chopped large

4 mushrooms, sliced thick

salt and pepper

1/2 teas. garlic powder

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs


In an oven-proof frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until getting soft, ~ 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute another 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic powder.


Place chicken thighs skin-side up in pan and nestle them into the onions and mushrooms. Put in the oven and cook until done, ~ 45 minutes or until juices run clear and joints are no longer pink.


Orzo


1 cup orzo

1 cup fresh spinach, chopped into ~ 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup muenster cheese (or monterey jack or colby or any other mild, good-melting cheese)

salt and pepper


15 minutes after chicken goes into the oven, cook orzo according to instructions (8 to 20 minutes in boiling water). Drain it and put back into the pan. Add spinach and cheese and stir well. Salt and pepper to taste.


Serve the above with frozen sweet corn cooked according to instructions on back and topped with butter and salt.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

of mixes and combinations

Renee's pizza rice and beans made me think of a few strange mixes we've been putting together in my house as well. My son is very particular about what he eats, but I've decided that requiring him to eat a certain amount of everything I cook is a battle I'm not going to fight. He does like certain vegetables, and an incredible range of foods, but far from most or all foods. So most of the time, I make sure that at least one part of what I'm cooking for dinner will be to his liking. But the other day, when he had a meltdown over not eating any of what I'd put on the table, he asked for a sandwich with bread, peanut butter, lettuce, carrotts, and cream cheese. I was so amused that I eschewed my normal "I'm not cooking anything extra for you, either eat what's on the table or find something else for yourself" (he's four, what he can find for himself is yogurt)and made it. He ate the whole thing and has taken it to school for lunch every day this week. That got us on a sandwich mix kick, and we started turning our breakfast of eggs and toast into bread, cream cheese, and scrambled egg sandwiches. The other thing he loves to mix is breakfast cereal. Yesterday morning it was yogurt with cocoa bunnies, honey bunnies, and grape nuts. Mmmm. This morning, I convinced him that the granola I'd made was already a mix. I think I hit on a secret of granola-making in this one: cook it less and add the dried fruit at the end. I also think I hit on a local food treasure: maple syrup. We've said many times that we're looking to use as much local food as possible, not only ever local food. And so I really haven't put much effort into trying to get certain basic ingredients--flour, grains, and up until now sweetener--to be local. I buy local honey, but I only occasionally substitute sugar for honey because honey--especially great local honey-- has a such a distinctive taste that it actually flavors most foods. And somehow, I just forgot that in addition to the thing that I love to dribble over my pancakes and hot cereal, maple syrup is a sweetener. Like honey, it does have a distinctive taste, but in a great number of foods I'm looking forward to that one! So, here's a granola recipe that uses a combination of honey and maple syrup for sweeteners. I'm now going to launch into experimentation with making those my primary sweeteners. And I'm ordering salvia for the garden in the Spring for one more option.

Local Sweet Granola

4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit

Preheat oven to 300. Mix together everything except the dried fruit and pour into a baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through. After 30 minutes, remove from oven and close oven door quickly. Stir in dried fruit. Return to oven and leave in for another 30 minutes as oven cools. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for a week or two.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pizza Rice and Beans

I was planning to make pizza the other night, but realized at 5pm that there was no way I was getting dinner on the table at 6 or 6:30 if I had to make pizza crust. So, I ordered pizza from a great local place (Zing! Pizza - check it out). However, I had pizza ingredients sitting in the fridge, so the next night I made pizza rice and beans.

Pizza Rice and Beans
serves 4

1 TBSP olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 inches of stick pepperoni, sliced 1/4 inch think and each slice cut into quarters
2 roasted red peppers, ripped into bite-sized chunks
1 can black beans, drained of liquid but not rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked rice

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pan. Add onions and saute until softened, ~ 5 minutes.

Add pepperoni and red peppers and saute for another minute or two.

Add beans and cook until heated through, stirring frequently. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with rice and a salad.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winter Salad

This month's Martha Stewart Everyday Food is full of fantastic early winter soups and one-dish meals. Earlier this week, I picked the last of my kale from under the drifts of the first snow to make the wonderful lentil and kale soup from the magazine. But I'm still ready to eat salad, so I transformed Martha's "Bulgur with roasted red peppers, chickpeas, and spinach" from a warm vegetarian dinner into a delicious hearty winter lunch salad. I packed it for Blanca and myself, and like most grain salads it just got better overnight and through to lunchtime. The leftovers stored beautifully for a day. They might have lasted longer but we didn't give them a chance. A few tips, though. Bulgur, like any grain, can get stale. You might be able to hide stale bulgur in a soup, but here it's quite important to use fresh bulgur. Also, baby spinach has a flavor and texture that are quite different from the big spinach, and also baby spinach grows quickly enough and in cool weather well enough that it can still be found local and seasonal now!

Bulgur Winter Salad

1 cup bulgur
2 red bell peppers
1 can chickpeas, drained
2 cups baby spinach
6 oz. feta cheese
2 T olive oil

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add bulgur and remove from heat. Soak, covered, for 30 minutes. Then, drain in a mesh seive for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, roast the red peppers. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Place, cut-side down, on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Put under a high broiler for 10-15 minutes, until the skins are quite black. Remove from heat and put into a bowl. Cover tightly with the foil and let them steam in the bowl for another 10-20 minutes. Then, pull the peppers from the bowl, remove the blackened skin, and cut into 1" squares.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Put in the chickpeas and saute, stirring often, until they just begin to brown, 5-10 minutes. Remove them from the heat, pout them onto a paper towel. Toss with coarse salt and gently wrap with the paper towel.

Make a white balsamic vinaigrette by whisking together 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper.

Toss the bulgur, roasted red peppers, and chickpeas with the vinaigrette. Ideally, at this point you will be able to set it aside for a few hours and up to overnight.

Just before serving, or just before packing into lunches, mix in the spinach and crumbled feta.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Jet Lag Curing Chicken

I just returned yesterday from a lovely week-long river boat cruise in Austria and Germany. I would love to tell you how the culinary delights astounded me, but, alas, I cannot. The food was weak. Way too much sausage and pasta and not enough veggies. But, lest you think I am besmirching all Austro-Germanic cuisine, I'll admit I did not eat a home cooked meal. So to remedy that, tonight I cooked chicken.

Lemon-stuffed Roasted Chicken

I preheated the oven to 450. I placed a 6 lb. chicken in a roasting pan and dried it off with a paper towel. I cut a lemon in half and rubbed one half over the bird. I put both halves into the chicken. I rubbed safflower oil over the chicken and liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper. I roasted it for an hour and a half. It came out crispy-skinned and brown. Yum. Then I removed the chicken and put the pan over medium heat. I used a whisk to scrape all the crispy bits off the sides and then added a 1/4 cup of white wine (I actually used prosecco, because it was open). I whisked it in and brought it to a simmer. I poured the juice into a gravy strainer thing-a-ma-jig and poured the fat off. It was tasty served with the bird.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Beyond the Feast

Some foods are really only good in certain contexts. Take my mother's macaroni and canned something. When we are backpacking, it's the highlight meal: creamy hot noodles bringing out the slight tang of cheddar cheese powder, the chewy bursts of canned something adding depth of both texture and flavor. Since my mom doesn't really do prepared foods at home, it remained a high mountain treat. I recreated it several years ago on a trip in the White Mountains with my nephew and a few of his buddies. Junior and Johnny loved it so much that they begged for it back in Somerville. Not having, yet, quite as much devotion as my mom to keeping my home kitchen wholesome, nor, it turns out, quite as much understanding as she about the essential nature of ingredients such as high mountain air and a camp stove, I complied. It was hot dish gone bad (and if you don't know what hot dish is because you've never shown up late to a Minnesotan pot luck and had to do with what's left, be glad). We couldn't get beyond the first bite. Thanksgiving treats aren't quite as diametrically different off the holiday table, but much as I love creamed onions, stuffing, pecan pie, and even cranberry sauce once a year, I'd really rather not have them again until November 2010. So is it worth writing about them after Thanksgiving? Since I've been trying to perfect my cranberry sauce for about 3 years now and finally did it, got the one I want to put on that table every year from now on, that's a yes. The salads I really do enjoy way beyond the season. But otherwise, honestly, I'm ready to move on.

shallot-sherry cranberry sauce
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 12-oz bag of fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup sherry
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 T butter
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup currants

Saute the shallots in the butter until translucent. Add all of the other ingredients and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly until the cranberries begin to pop (about 20 minutes). Cook, stirring regularly, another 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Works perfectly as one of 2 cranberry sauces for 15-20 people.

Arugula-kohlrabi-cranberry salad
serves 10
1 box of baby arugula
2 kohlrabi
8 oz dried cranberries or craisins

Peel the kohlrabi, cut it into 1-2" wide chunks, and then thinly slice each one with a vegetable peeler or cheese slicer. Toss into the arugula with the dried cranberries and a white balsamic vinaigrette (1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/8 cup white balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper).

Red salad
serves 10
2 heads radicchio
1/2 red onion, halved and sliced
4 medium or 8 small beets
3/4 cup walnuts
6 oz. blue cheese

Roast beets by washing putting, whole and unpeeled, into 350 degree oven for 45 minutes-1 1/2 hours (depending on size: cook until beets can be easily pierced by a fork. When beets are tender, put into a bowl and cover tightly with tin foil or saran wrap (I roast them on a foil-lined pan, then use that foil to cover a bowl...) and let sit for about 30 minutes (and up to several hours), allowing the beets to steam the skins a little looser as they cool. Peel off the skins, cut into 1-inch cubes, set into a bowl with a half-cup of balsamic vinaigrette and allow to marinate for at lest 30minutes and up to a day.

Toast walnuts by speading in a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or else by shaking in a hot pan over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes (until they just begin to brown).

Rip radicchio into about 4 pieces per leaf and place in a large salad bowl. Add on beets, red onion, walnuts, and crumbled blue cheese. This salad will hold up well for several hours. Add an extra quarter-cup of balsamic vinaigrette just before serving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Oatmeal

One would think I would have lots to write about during Thanksgiving week but I don't! And that's because we rarely stray from our traditions and you can check in on last year's posts to see what my family does. hmmmm. So what am I going to share, you ask? Oatmeal. Yup, good old stick-to-your-ribs, bland, boring, tried-and-true oatmeal. But I argue that while it does keep you full until lunch, it is not bland, not boring, not your father's oatmeal, although my father makes great oatmeal. He puts it on the woodstove when he wakes up at 4:30 and adds raisins. 2 or 3 hours later, it's creamy, perfect.

I buy my oats in bulk. They are regular old rolled oats, not quick or 5 minute. They are great this way in cookies, too. Quick oats may have their place, but I haven't found them necessary. And forget instant oatmeal, which is more artificial flavor than anything else (cinnamon apple, anyone?).

This makes about 1 1/2 cups cooked oatmeal. To increase or decrease, just use the 2 parts water to 1 part oats ratio.

In a saucepan add 2 cups cold water and 1 cup rolled oats. Turn on stove to lowest setting and cook, uncovered and stirring once or twice, until oats have absorbed the water, ~ 10 to 15 minutes depending on stove.

Top with any of the following, depending on the season and your inclinations:
butter
brown sugar
milk
yogurt
diced apple
flax seeds
raisins
sunflower seeds
chopped dried apricots
fresh berries
fresh peaches or apricots
honey
sorghum
molasses
walnuts
pecans
slivered almonds
coconut flakes
chopped cranberries

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Herbs First and Last

The few tomatoes that I left on the vine have plopped to the ground in mushy heaps, making ready for fresh sprouts in May, and the green beans finally stopped producing and bear only a few last dry pods for me to harvest. But just as in April, the herb patch is green, perky, and full of flavor. So, having forgotten a flashlight, at 5:30 last night I felt around in the dark, grabbed what I could, and snipped off big armfulls of what turned out to be parsely, sage, chives, and mint. In one of my food magazines last month, I saw a recipe for a kind of sauce to make with some herb selection. Prepared with the vague memory of bright green drizzled over fleshy fish, I poured and blended, then we all happily chomped and smacked. One warning: this sauce alone, if you taste it while you're making it, seems too salty and too tart. But spread over fish, it's just perfect.

Fish with fresh herb sauce


Salt and pepper 4 sturdy fish filets (my favorite is salmon because the pink flesh looks so nice against the green sauce) and set aside.

Place into blender:

about 1 cup chives
about 1 cup parsley
3-4 sprigs mint
1 sprig sage
1 T coarse salt
3-4 T olive oil
2-3 T lemon or lime juice
1 tsp. pepper

Pulse until completely smooth. Scoop and scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Heat 1-2T olive oil in a heavy pan. Sear fish, turning once, 5-7 minutes on each side.

Serve immediately, spooning sauce over the fish. Put the rest on the table - everyone wanted more! Perfect with rice or potatoes (mashed, baked, boiled...).

VARIATIONS:

1) Instead of using a blender, chop the herbs very finely and then mix with a wooden spoon in a bowl.

2) In the blender, add about 1/3 cup water to make a very light sauce that you can drizzle, in pretty patterns, over the fish.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Shot Heard 'Round the World

I have a love-hate relationship with Market Basket: you can't beat the prices, the employees are usually really friendly, there's sawdust on the floor on rainy days, it's crowded, they are constantly stocking the shelves so the aisles are one cart-width wide, and much of the food is local, as Keja mentioned a while back.

I was there this weekend and discovered a few packages of Concord grapes, which are only the best grape ever. I don't think many people know about them, but they are as local as you can get. I don't know how you eat them, but in my family we put a tiny nick in the skin with our teeth, pop the flesh into our mouths, give a scant chew or two and then swallow the flesh and seeds, throwing away the skin (after sucking the goodness out of it). I introduced them to my best friend in college and she did the opposite, eating the tough skin and carefully spitting out the seeds. It all works.

Anyhow, I jumped at the chance to get a last package because they are usually a September fruit, and only last a few weeks. I then discovered that they were courtesy of Michigan but I got them anyway.

When I got home, I filled a quart mason jar 2/3 full with the rinsed grapes (skin on) and then mushed them with a whisk. I filled the jar with vodka, put on the top, and let it sit for 24 hours, occasionally turning it upside to mix it all up. After 24 hours, I strained it and put it into a clean, covered jar. The result is a deep pinkish purple, grapey but not cloying delight of an alcohol.

Drink it as a shot and it's The Shot Heard 'Round the World. Or, make The Cocktail Heard 'Round the World, which my husband treated us to while we watched the Patriots lose.

In a shaker filled with ice add 3 oz. grape vodka and 1/2 TBSP simple syrup. Shake well until icy cold and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Add a cherry or lemon twist.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ovenless Creations to Keep the Family Conscious

I have been a week without an oven, and it has really stretched my imagination, in a good way! Seven days ago I put a butternut squash in to bake in the late afternoon. An hour later, I put in brussels sprouts and apples to roast and was surprised at how cool the oven was. But I ignored it and then an hour later, added in macaroni and cheese. All the while, I kept wondering why the brussels sprouts smelled so much like gas. So, after two and a half hours of sitting in a brussels sprout-stinking home with my kids, wondering why I had a headache, I finally realized that it was actually a gas-filled death trap and turned the barely warm oven off. We ran the kids outside to get oxygen back into their blood, opened all the windows in the house to let in the 35 degree clean air, and called the stove repair company. A week later, they showed up. So, in between both Dave and I forgetting multiple times that we did not in fact have a working oven, we made good use of the crock pot and stove top. I went so far as to have potatoes all prepped for baking, turned to the oven and was greeted by the masking tape across the burners blaring "DO NOT USE OVEN".

The kids and I made beef stock while Dave was at work. This is Dave's purview so I felt pretty uncertain about what to do, but luckily my 4-year old son remembered perfectly and it turned out rich and tasty. It also emptied the freezer of the odd assortment of bones we had been collecting for a very long time.

The stock went overnight in the crock pot, and the next afternoon, I made it into stove-top stew, which used up the random package of "pork kebabs" (no idea what cut that indicates) we got from the meat CSA. I have no problem with mixing meat media, but if you do, make beef stew; it will be great.

Beef Stock

In a crock pot add the following:
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, cut into large chunks
2 sticks celery, cut into large chunks
10 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 or 5 beef rib bones

Add water until everything is covered. Cover pot, put on low, and cook overnight. In the morning, strain and either freeze in freezer safe containers or refrigerate and use within a few days.


Pork Gnocchi Stew

1 TBSP olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 shallot, minced
2 carrots, sliced into 1/2 inch chunks
1 cup tiny potatoes or equivalent amount regular potato cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb. pork cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 teas. oregano
1/2 teas. thyme
1 quart beef stock
1 lb. package shelf stable gnocchi
salt and pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven saute onion and shallot in olive oil until they begin to smell good, ~ 5 minutes.

Add carrots and potatoes and cook 5 more minutes.

Add pork and let cook, stirring frequently, 5 more minutes.

Add spices and beef stock. Bring to a simmer and then cover and turn low and cook for at least 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so.

Remove cover, add gnocchi and bring heat up to medium and cook for 30 more minutes, stirring every 5 or 10. If it's sticking, turn heat down a bit.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Remainders and Hangers-On

Both Renee's mother-in-law and my father-in-law remembered their parents wrapping green tomatoes in newspaper and letting them ripen in the basement. Renee tried and got mush. I meant to try too, but, luckily it turns out, I didn't get around to it. When I realized that I really never would get the two baskets of green tomatoes wrapped or taken down, I lay them out along the windowsills. And they ripened perfectly. All of them, pretty much all at once. Since in Fall even while a savor the few last fresh veggies I crave thick and hearty meals, I've been pairing the tomatoes with a variety of rich cheeses.

Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Sandwiches

Slice a large tomato per person into 1/4" rounds. Line a baking pan with tin foil and lay the tomatoes on the foil. Bake at 300 for 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, slice a good bread and spread it with goat cheese. Sherman Market which just opened in Somerville's Union Square carries a wonderful selection of New England artisanal cheeses, including some great goats. Remove the tomatoes from the oven. With a spatula, remove them from the foil and place them on top of the sandwiches. Place the sandwiches back on the foil, turn the oven to broil and broil the sandwiches for about 3 minutes.

Caprese Salad
Serves 4

Slice 3 large tomatoes into 1/4" slices
Slice 10 ounces mozarella cheese into 1/4" slices
Gather about 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves. The cold has started to brown the edges of the leaves, but the basil that I never got around to picking is still standing, and holding a fantastic flavor.

Lay out one layer of mozarella, one layer of tomato, and one layer of basil. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 T balsamic vinegar and 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil. Repeat until you've used up all of the ingredients. This preserves very well for up to 12 hours, the dressing slowly infusing the tomatoes and mozarella. It works as a main dish or as a side, and also makes great sandwich filling.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Roast Chicken with Chestnut Stuffing

Our farmers' market is officially over, our farm share has gone into its death throes (root veggies every other week for a few more weeks), the tomatoes I so carefully wrapped in newspaper and put in the basement rotted into green ooze, and we're back into Eastern Standard Time. So I made roast chicken last night. And, to really sock it to summer, I stuffed it. And then we cleaned out the veggie drawers of the fridge for anything even slightly edible, stripped the chicken carcass, and made stock.

Roast Chicken with Chestnut Stuffing

Chestnut Stuffing
Stuffs one large chicken with a little extra to go in the pan

1 lb. chestnuts
1 link sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
2 TBSP plus 1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 teas. salt
1 teas. ground black pepper
1 teas. garlic powder
1 TBSP dried sage
1 4 to 6 pound chicken

Preheat oven to 425. Cut a small slit in each chestnut so they do not explode in the oven. Place them on a cookie sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Remove and cool. Peel shells off. You may need a knife to slice into them. Make sure to remove the hard inner piece, right on the center ridge of the meat. Coarsely chop nuts.

Reduce oven temp to 400.

In a medium or large skillet, saute sausage, chopping it into small pieces as it cooks. When it is all grey, ~ 10 minutes, add 2 TBSP olive oil and onions and saute until onions are wilting, ~ 5 to 7 minutes.

When sausage and onions are cooked, place in a medium-sized mixing bowl and add chestnuts and all other ingredients. Stir until well mixed.

Place chicken breast-side up in a roasting pan. Stuff stuffing into chicken. There will probably be some leftover. I let it spill out of the cavity and onto the bottom of the pan. It will soak up the juices and get crispy; it's the best part.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Put into 400 degree oven and roast until juices run clear when leg joint is cut into and temp at meatiest part is 165 degrees, very approximately 2 hours, depending on size of bird.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tradition: National, Local, Family

The cool thing about tradition, I've been thinking as I read through endless Thanksgiving-themed magazines, is that it embodies the connection between repetition, endurance, and change. I mean, hamburgers are an American tradition because all over America, we eat hamburgers, but also integral to that is that each region, each family, makes them and eats them in a slightly different way. I'll have to ask my Literary Criticism students if this means that there is an ideal Type of a hamburger that every humburger crafstwoman is striving to repeat, but here the question is much more one of aesthetics: was Renees hamburger recipe so perfect that you can never try another, or was it so exciting to have a new hamburger-tasting experience that you want more new flavors? If it's the latter, read on:


In my house,I'm not in charge of the grill. And it took years for me to be allowed to even have anything to do with the prep for what reaches the grill. But with kids and parents and life to take care of, the job had to be shared. And so I learned Blanca's amazing hamburger recipe.

Blanca's Hamburgers
serves 2-4
1 lb ground beef
1 package onion soup mix
1 red onion, diced small
1/8 cup soy sauce

Mix ingredients well by hand. Form patties. If possible, set aside in the refigerator 1-8 hours. Cook on a hot grill or broil on high, about 7 minutes per side.

It's getting pretty cold to grill outside, so when you do you want to come in to a nice warm house and a nice warm dessert. What more perfect to ensure both of these, and what more seasonal, than baked apples.

Baked Apples
1 large apple per person, any variety (some varieties will hold their shape better, others will mush more; all will taste fantastic).
Slice off the bottom of the apple to create a little disk. Reach in with a paring knife and scoop out the core, all the way to the top and including the stem. Set the cored apple back on top of the bottom disk in a baking pan. Fill the cavity you just created by coring the apple, from the hole at the top, with brown sugar. Repeat with each apple. When all of the apples are filled, pour about 1/4 cup apple cider around bottom of apples, cover with tin foil, and bake at 350 for about an hour.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Misleading Food

I just returned from a whirlwind weekend trip to Nebraska to celebrate my husband's grandparents' 65th wedding anniversary and to pick up my children from their solo visit with their grandparents. This was my first plane trip without children in 4 and a half years and I got an incredible amount of reading done. I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" which is inspirational, amazing, hunger-pang inducing. It makes me feel a bit of a fraud for attempting my own local food movement, though Barbara addresses that beautifully, explaining that any attempt at using fewer fossil fuels to get food should cause pride and not embarrassment.

Anyway, along with wishing I had more healthy soil, a chicken coop, and an outdoor bread oven, I was also struck by the protected little world of local food in which I dwell. I may roll my eyes in the grocery store at the packaged, processed food, but in reality, the people I am around most often do a remarkable job of buying local. It is a rare farmers' market day when I don't see dozens of people I know buying food grown within 20, 30, 100 miles of our town.

Air travel is a bit misleading because the airport has a captive audience and no one is offering turnips or heirloom tomatoes, but this weekend I was amazed at the sheer volume of packaged food, and a lot of it packaged as healthy (low fat! no trans fats! low sodium!). I was in the grocery store and saw a newly walking toddler heading for a tower of soda and her mother was telling her she couldn't have any more soda today.

I was filling the sugar container a few weeks ago and noticed on the 5 lb. bag this nutritional note: sugar is a 100% natural simple carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are an important part of any balanced diet. A is true. B is true. But how many people do not know that A does not equal B in this statement? And this is the problem I think a lot of people have. They don't mean to feed their children non-nutitious food. They want them to grow up strong, healthy, and intelligent about food. But they themselves don't understand that just because something doesn't have fat or just because a package says the product within is "part of a healthy diet" it is not necessarily true.

I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many people who understand that not all food is created equal.


Hamburgers

Regular old hamburger is pretty boring, I find. Years ago I came up with this recipe as a last minute desperate attempt to stretch the meat I had when an extra guest appeared for dinner, but it was such a hit that I've made hamburger this way ever since.

Makes 4 or 5 burgers; double as necessary

2 pounds hamburger
3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup fine bread crumbs
spices of your choice (oregano, basil, thyme, tarragon)
1/2 teas each salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients well and form into patties.
Grill or pan fry, very approximately 8 minutes per side until done to your taste.

Friday, October 23, 2009

magical beans

I know where the story of Jack and the Beanstalk originated. My bean patch. They go on forever. And, like Jack's pot of gold, they give whoever is intrepid enough to keep on climbing, or picking, enough to feed them and their family for as long as they live. Or at least through the winter. I now have enough frozen to have beans once a week till Spring. Yesterday, I picked more. I'm working on the fancy add-ins to keep them exciting at the dinner table, and I've found a few really good ones.

Green Beans with Roasted Tomatoes

1 lb green beans
1 large onion
24 cherry or grape tomatoes
1 T butter
salt and pepper

Cut the tomatoes in half and lay, cut side up, on a baking tray. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Remove and set aside. You can do this up to a day ahead.

Trim the green beans (that means, snap off the two ends). Cut the onion in half slice into pieces teh size of the green beans.

Steam the green beans and onions very lightly, until the green beans are just barely tender (3-5 minutes).

In a skillet, melt the butter. Add the green beans, onions, and tomatoes, and salt and pepper, and stir gently.

One of the great things about this is that you can cook it just till heated, and have a light crisp side, or you can cover it and cook it very low, stirring occasionally, for up to 30 minutes, and have a rich stewy side.


Green Beans with Bacon and Almonds

6-8 oz. bacon, diced
1 lb green beans
1/2 cup sliced almonds
salt and pepper

French cut the green beans by trimming and then slicing diagonally. Lightly toast the almonds by setting ina dry pan and heating until the just barely start to brown. Remove from pan and set aside. Int he same pan, saute the bacon until just crispy. Remove and drain the pan. Lightly saute the green beans in the bacon grease still coating the bottom of the pan. Cover and let self-steam for 3-5 minutes. Then, toss in bacon and almonds and saute until warm. Serve immediately.

Variations: this also works nicely with other nuts and seeds, and with other salted porks. Try making it Italian with pine nuts and prosciutto, or French with chestnuts and lardon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Spaghetti 3 Ways

Have I really not put up my family's recipes for spaghetti sauce? Sometimes I surprise myself when my flawless memory proves to be otherwise. Regardless, even if I did put them up, I promise the recipe won't be the same, because they are not written down anywhere, until now. My father makes a wonderful tomato sauce, meaty and full of peppers, onions and spices. I based mine off of his but since I'm lazy, shortened it a lot. I'm not sure where my husband got his, whether he based it off of my Dad's or mine or someone else's, or completely made it up; no matter - it's awesome. Serve any of these with a big green salad, a nice red wine, and garlic bread and you have yourself a fantastic meal.

These all make enough for at least four generous servings, plus more for leftovers.

Dirk's Spaghetti Sauce

Olive oil
7 - 8 garlic cloves, chopped small
2 bay leaves
1 TBSP dried oregano
1 1/2 teas. dried basil
1 teas. ground black pepper
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 large green pepper, coarsely chopped
1/2 lb. white mushrooms, sliced
28. oz tomato sauce
28 oz. diced tomatoes
6 oz. tomato paste
1/2 to 3/4 cup dry red wine
1 to 1 1/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage links, cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick pieces
2 TBSP water
1 to 1 1/4 lb. lean ground beef

In a Dutch oven or other high-sided, heavy pot, pour in olive oil until it's 1/4 inch thick and put over low heat.

Add garlic and bay leaves and when it simmers, add oregano, basil, and black pepper. Simmer 5 minutes and then add onion and green pepper. Simmer another 5 minutes and then add mushrooms.

Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent, ~ 10 minutes.

Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and wine and bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan over medium heat, add sausage and water and cover. Cook for ~ 15 minutes until sausage is grey. While it cooks, pour off any accumulated grease once or twice. When sausage is cooked through (cut into a slice to make sure it's not pink), add to sauce.

In same frying pan, cook ground beef until completely cooked, pouring off grease as needed and stirring frequently, ~ 10 minutes. Add to sauce.

Mix the sauce together well and bring back to a simmer. Taste and add additional seasoning if needed. At this point you can lower heat to very low and simmer for a few hours (or put on a wood stove for a few hours) or turn heat off, cool completely, and refrigerate and eat the next day.



Renée's Spaghetti Sauce

5 links sweet Italian pork sausage, cut into 1/2 to 1 inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 teas. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 teas. salt
1 teas. ground black pepper
1 28. oz. can tomato sauce
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
note: you can use 2 cans of either tomato instead of one of each)
1/4 cup red wine
freshly grated parmesan

Saute sausage pieces in a large skillet or high-sided saute pan over medium heat until cooked through, approximately 10 minutes.

Drain off all but a teas. or so of the grease and add in garlic and onions and cook, stirring frequently to avoid garlic burning, until softened and fragrant, approximately 5 minutes.

Add oregano, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Cook 1 minute.

Add in cans of tomato and wine and stir in. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered (or with a splatter screen on top to avoid a big mess) for 20 minutes. Taste it and add more salt and/or pepper if needed.

You can eat it now, but it will be much better if you turn the heat down to low and let it gently simmer for up to an hour or two more, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve over spaghetti noodles and sprinkle parmesan on top.



Dave's Spaghetti Sauce

2 TBSP olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup green peppers, chopped
1 cup eggplant, chopped
1 lb. ground beef or ground Italian sausage (you can get links and remove from casing, chopping up with spatula while cooking)
1 teas. dried basil or 1 TBSP fresh, chopped fine
1 teas. dried oregano
1 teas. salt
1 teas. ground black pepper
1/4 teas. crushed red pepper
1/4 cup red wine
28 oz. canned tomato sauce
28 oz. canned tomato purée (chunky is fine)
1 bay leaf

In a deep frying or saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until softening, approximately 5 minutes. 

Add mushrooms, peppers, and eggplant and cook until softening, approximately 10 minutes.  

In separate pan, brown hamburger or sausage, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.  

After veggies are sauteed, add spices. Then add wine and canned tomatoes. Add browned meat and bay leaf.  Simmer all afternoon and make your house smell good!



Garlic Bread

This is heavy duty garlic bread. It's not for the faint of heart, anyone on a diet, or people who try to keep butter out of their meals.

1 stick salted butter, softened
1 TBSP garlic powder or 2 TBSP fresh garlic, minced
1 loaf sourdough or white or wheat boule (round shaped) loaf of bread
paprika

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a small bowl, mush butter with a fork. Add garlic and mush until well-combined.

Slice bread almost but not quite all the way through, leaving enough connected on the bottom so loaf stays together if held carefully. Evenly spread garlic butter on both sides of every slice.

Dust top of loaf with paprika.

Wrap in aluminum foil and bake until nice and hot in the center, approximately 30 minutes.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

First Frost

We're expecting the first frost of the season tonight. I spent the fifteen minutes between when I got home from work and when it got really too dark to see outside pulling green tomatoes off the vine. When I got inside, I knew I was going to have to either turn on the heat or engage in a serious baking project. It's mid-October in New England, but I'll be darned if I'm going to fire up the boiler. Arroz con pollo takes too long to start after 6 pm and still eat that same evening, but it saves and reheats scrumptiously.

Arroz con pollo
serves 4-6

1 whole chicken, quartered, or 2 breasts and 2 legs
1 relatively mild dried pepper (ancho, California, New Mexico, or Poblano)
2 T coarse sea salt
1 T pepper corns
1 T cumin seeds
1 T oregano (preferable Mexican or Latin oregano)
1 T olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cups rice
3 cups stock or chicken broth
1 large or two medium green tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 can tomato sauce, ideally "spanish style"

Toast the dried pepper by setting on a very hot cast iron skillet for about 1 minute per side. Remove any stem and put the pepper aside. Next quickly toast the cumin seeds (this should take about 30 seconds).

Using a mortar and pestle if you have one, or a spice grinder (a coffee grinder works for this, but be sure to clean it carefully!), grind the toasted pepper, toasted cumin seeds, 1 T salt, pepper corns, and oregano. Using your hands, rub the mixture all over the chicken. Cover and let sit 1-24 hours. If it's one hour, you can leave it out; if it's longer put it in the fridge and then bring it back out 30 minutes before you're ready to do the next step.

Preheat oven to 350.

In a dutch oven or big oven-safe pot, heat the olive oil and then brown the chicken, about 3 minutes per side. You may well need to do this in batches. Once the chicken is browned, set it aside. In the drippings, saute the onion until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat, then add the stock or broth, green tomatoe, and tomatoe sauce. Stir. Place the chicken pieces on top of the rice mixture, cover, and bake for one hour.

Serve immediately, or let cool to room temperature and refrigerate (taste continues to improve!).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Green Enchiladas

Yesterday, Keja and I canned 13 jars of unbelievably good raspberry apple jam and 8 jars of apple sauce. We will post details soon, but this was our first solo foray into jam, and any worries I've had in the past are now gone. Yum!

This recipe is one of my family's favorites. It perfect for cool weather, truly comfort food. It takes a while to prep, but is very worth it.

Green enchiladas

1 TBSP olive oil
8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
1/2 teas. salt
1 teas. pepper
2 teas. garlic powder
1 green pepper, chopped coarse
1 medium onion, chopped coarse
1 4 oz. can green chiles, chopped (spicy or mild)
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
8 large flour tortillas
1 15 oz. can green enchilada sauce
8 oz. cheddar or monteray jack cheese, grated

Heat olive oil in a frying pan with deep sides over medium-low heat. Add chicken thighs and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cook, turning over every 5 minutes or so, until cooked through, approximately 30 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan, placing on cutting board, and add peppers and onions and saute until softening, approximately 10 minutes.

Stir green chiles into pepper mixture.

Meanwhile, using two forks, tear chicken off of bone. Keep any skin that is crispy and toss any that isn't.

Preheat oven to 375.

Add chicken back into pan. Cook 2 or 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Dice cream cheese and add into pan, stirring well. Cook 5 minutes or until cheese has melted and is thoroughly incorporated.

Fill each tortilla with 1/8 of the mixture, rolling into a tube shape so filling is completely enclosed within tortilla, and place into an 11x17 pan with at least 2 inch sides.

Pour enchilada sauce evenly over enchiladas and sprinkle on cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.

This meal reheats well and is great as leftovers.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Seven" Bean Soup

It's been almost two months now that I can go out to the garden every two or three days and gather a basketfull of beans, enough to serve four as a side at dinner. I start by picking the ones that dangle from the string my mom ran from the bean patch to the porch above. Then, I walk up to the row. From standing, it usually doesn't look like much, but bend over or crouch down and look back up from under the canopy of leaves, and the stringy green pods are suddenly everywhere. They lurk behind clumps of leaves, and twirl around sections of stalks. No matter how often I come out and no matter how carefully I look, I always miss a few. Now, fresh green beans are divine when they're about as thick as a pinky and anywhere from finger to fore-arm length. Of course they always have actual beans inside, but when they're ready to eat fresh you can barely even make out the beginnings of lumps. But they grow fast, and given one extra day those delicious tender green beans become fibery, lumpy pods. Normally, I pull them off anyway because if you leave them on, the plant will devote energy to developing them into seeds, and have less left over for new flowers and beans. But as you can guess, by a few weeks ago I was ready for my beans to have a little less energy. So I left the overdeveloped beans on. They grew, got lumpy, the dried out. Last week, I picked a few and opened them up to see what was inside: black beans. Perfectly hardened, quite beautiful black beans. I'm saving a bagfull to sow again in the Spring, but there are plenty more. Not quite enough to make black bean stew or refried black beans, but plenty to fill out a "seven"-bean soup!

"Seven" Bean Soup
There are different schools of thought on how to prepare beans for soup. I am definitely a partisan of just throwing them into the pot dry, with all of the ingredients, and cooking them for a nice long time. Not only does it seem simpler to me than soaking, I find the flavor to be richer. So I just put into a big soup pot 2 cups of mixed dried beans (For a good balance of flavors, you must have at least three different types of beans, but three, four, seven, or twelve bean types make a great soup. My favorite blends include: kidney beans, pink beans, pinto beans, white [canelli] beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, pea beans, and fava beans), 6-8 cups stock or chicken broth, 1-2 onions, diced, 2-3 carrotts, peeled and diced, 1 celery stick, chopped, 1 pound soup bones (our meat CSA offers as many bags of soup bones as you can carry along with the shares), 1 pound hot italian sausage, cut into small rounds and peeled, 1 Tablespoon salt and 1 tsp. ground pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 3-5 hours. Start tasteing for salt and pepper about two hours into it.

Variations: Other nice additions include: 3-5 large tomatoes, chopped; 1-2 cups of green beans, trimmed and cut into 1" bits, which you add in about 20 minutes before serving.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Roasted Red Peppers and Cheese Steaks

We got a large bag of bright red bell peppers in the CSA this week. They are sweet and lovely on salads, but you can only eat so many so I like to roast them. There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest (read laziest) way is to put them on a cookie sheet in a 450 degree oven on an upper middle rack and turn them every five or ten minutes. When all sides are nicely blackened, remove them from the oven and put into a paper bag (on the cookie sheet or on a plate or in the sink, as they will leak) and let them cool. When they are cool enough to touch, peel the now-papery skin off and remove the seeds from the middle. You will be left with the juicy meat of the pepper. This is great on sandwiches, pizza, salads. I put them into a jar and cover with olive oil. They will last in the refrigerator for weeks and once the peppers are gone, the remaining olive oil is wonderful as a base for salad dressing.

Some people broil the peppers, and while this is fast, I sometimes forget and am left with a charred mess. If you do this method, check the peppers every few minutes.

Some people hold the peppers with heat-proof tongs over the flame of a stove or grill and turn them as they blacken. This is the best way to control the blackening, but it's also messy and you have to be involved the whole time.

The one downside to my method is that if you forget them, the fleshy part of the pepper cooks away and you are left with very little actual roasted pepper afterwards.

At the farmers' market on Saturday, I got a pound of beautiful wild mushrooms. I forgot to ask what kind they are. But, they were delicious in cheese steaks. Cheese steaks are a great way to use leftover roast beef (or lamb).

Cheese steaks

makes 4 sandwiches

1 TBSP olive oil
1 green pepper
1 medium to large onion
1/2 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 teas. salt
1/4 teas. ground black pepper
1 cup leftover roast beef, shredded or chopped small
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
8 slices bread, toasted (optional)

Heat olive oil in a frying pan and saute onions, peppers, and mushrooms until soft, approximately 7 minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Add in meat and cook until just heated through, approximately 3 minutes.

Take off heat and stir in cheese until melted.

Put 1/4 of the filling onto each of 4 slices of bread and top each with another slice of bread.

Friday, October 2, 2009

In Search of Crab

If you remember Robbin Lynn Crandall's earlier posts, you must have been waiting for her next appearance here, if you're new to her work, you'll be wanting more after you read this...

...from our wonderful guest and friend, Robbin Lynn Crandall:

After an unusually cold and rainy summer this year, we are finally enjoying some wonderful summer weather—technically in fall. But I like to remind myself that there are other things that make the onset of autumn—albeit a beautiful time of year—and the fading of summer not such a sad event. I’m talking about…crab.
I received a little culinary inspiration—or should I say, aspiration—while on a driving vacation down south this summer, all the way to Florida (they had sun!) and back: sixteen days of driving, hotel-hopping and eating. My husband and I made stops, among others, in Savannah and two tiny islands off the coast of Virginia and Maryland well known for their wild ponies, Chincoteague and Assateague. These islands, like Boston, are also pretty well known for their outstanding shellfish, specifically oysters and clams.

I have to admit, though—I was also expecting to find wonderful crab. I love crab and was thinking that surely in the southern states, one would find it plentiful and outstanding. It didn’t appear to be either, at least where we traveled. We had fantastic oysters and fried shrimp, accompanied by that wonderful southern side dish—hush puppies—but no crab.

There was one exception: at a restaurant which shall forever remain nameless, I did find and order probably the worst crab cake I have ever had. But I think it had more to do with my expectations on its preparation—expectations it did not live up to. Where were the big succulent pieces of crab? Where was the light breading? Where was the seasoning? This crab cake appeared to be a blob of something mixed with too much mayonnaise and a dark, over-fried bread crumb coating.
Well…that did it. The hunt for the perfect crab cake recipe was on. And I couldn’t wait to make them back in Boston, of course, where we find wonderful crabmeat pretty easily. It wasn’t until the following morning, as we were taking in one last round of the shops before leaving Savannah that I found a glossy postcard bearing a traditional Savannah Crab Cake recipe that sounded good. Perfect!
Crab season in Boston follows the traditional season anywhere, come to find out, and although crabs become plentiful in summer (after their long hibernation during the winter, they wake up in spring, and start swimming around in summer), they are really at their peak during the fall, when the little guys start packing on weight (translation: ‘fat’) for their winter hibernation. So autumn is the perfect time to get out those crab recipes.

I found my crabmeat from a surprising source—at my local grocery fish market in a one-pound can. But don’t let the can fool you—even though North Coast Seafoods, located in South Boston, hand packs their fresh crabmeat into a can, it is not considered ‘canned’ in the traditional sense since it is stored on ice and does not come from the market isle. I paid $13.99 for the pound and the pieces turned out to be perfect for crab cakes—uniform medium flakes with great fresh flavor.
The cakes were simple to make and, I’m happy to say, contained just enough mayonnaise to make all the ingredients stick together fairly well for easy frying. I whirled up fresh breadcrumbs in my food processor, and of course, I also enjoyed going out to my garden to snip the fresh parsley and dill the recipe called for. My husband announced (as he inhaled them) that they were the best crab cakes he ever had, which is saying something since he is not a lover of them. I have to say it was an outstanding recipe and much more like what my expectations of a crab cake should be. The true clean flavor of the crab came right through.

I surely didn’t think I would gain so much inspiration from my southern trip when shellfish is so plentiful here in New England, but isn’t that what it’s all about? Traveling and tasting new flavors is a delight and helps make trying new recipes at home a renewed pleasure.

Savannah Crab Cakes
If you don’t have fresh dill on hand, you can certainly use
½ teaspoon of dried dill as a substitute. The crabs won’t tell!
1 Tbls. Butter
½ c. chopped celery
½ c. chopped onion
½ c. breadcrumbs
1 lb. fresh crabmeat
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbls. mayonnaise
1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. chopped fresh dill

In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add the celery and onion and sauté until vegetables are transparent. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, add the crab, ¼ cup of the breadcrumbs, egg, onion and celery, mayonnaise, parsley and dill. Mix gently. Form cakes into 2-inch patties. Do not compress too much. Coat with the remaining breadcrumbs. Fry in oil 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown. Makes 6-8 patties.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Complete Garden Failure

I'm exaggerating a little, but not too much. It finally sunk in this weekend when I went to visit my parents in Vermont and saw their garden. Mine really bombed, and I'm not sure why. It took me this long to realize it because I'm a novice gardener and don't have experience to fall back on, I'm lazy and hardly ever picked up my gardening book to see where things should be, and I have a fabulous farmers' market a five minute walk away so didn't think too much about why my beets were only small greens and no beet underneath.

My parents' brussels sprouts are huge - at least 3 feet tall. My biggest one is 10 inches, with no sprouts. My potatoes never grew beyond an inch in diameter, I had maybe a dozen peas, a few dozen beans, small kale, no peppers, lettuce and rainbow chard that barely grew, watermelons that didn't sprout, and eggplant that is clearly not eggplant, but some sort of zucchini or summer squash.

My tomatoes did pretty well, despite my earlier worries, and the thing that did the best, the sunberries, are the one thing we all agreed were not worth doing again because they just aren't very tasty.

So why the failure? I got all of my seeds from an heirloom seed organization in the midwest and perhaps they aren't as good as they advertise. We had so much rain in June and maybe that is the one month plants need to establish themselves and do a huge percentage of growth. Maybe the sunniest spot in my yard is not sunny enough for a garden. I just don't know. I'm not giving up. Next year, I will buy seeds locally and maybe do fewer varieties. Hopefully the weather will be a bit more cooperative.

Okay, enough griping; here's a recipe. It's one that has been handed down via stories through my Dad's side of the family. My Dad and his siblings all reminisce about how their mother made it and swear it will never be replicated, despite their best efforts, but I think they've come up with something pretty delicious.

Sheldon Potato Salad

makes a large bowl, enough for 12 to 15 side servings.

3 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teas. salt
1 teas. pepper
1 large or two medium tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 green pepper, seeds removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 to 1 cup mayonnaise, depending on personal preference

Boil potatoes until just cooked; pour into a colander. Put back into empty cooking pot or a large bowl and add vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, stirring gently until mixed. Let cool completely in the refrigerator.

Add vegetables. Add mayonnaise, starting with 1/2 cup and mixing well. Add more mayo as needed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pesto

I almost didn't become a pesto-maker. I've never done it before, and even though I love pesto, I think of it being dependant on lots of garlic, and Blanca doesn't like even a little garlic. So I order pesto on nights when we go out and I'm prepared to be banished to the far side of the bed later on. But last week, I said I'd make pesto, and I follow through on my promises almost to a fault. This time, it's really all for the best. Pesto, it turns out, is super fast and easy to make, does not require much if any garlic, is fantastically adaptable to whatever you happen to have on hand, and can be esily made lin large enough quantities to eat some now, and save some in the fridge for next week and in the freezer for next month.

Pesto

1 small garlic clove
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
2 cups medium-packed basil leaves
1 cup loosely packed parsley
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1T salt
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 dried chinese red pepper (gives it a very little kick; mostly enhances the flavor)
1/4 cup water

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until completely smooth. You may need to stick a spoon in once or twice to mix it up as you go. This makes about 2 cups of totally blended pesto.

Alterations:

Any nut, really, works wonderfully. Pine nuts are classic; walnuts are great; even sunflower seeds work!

You can mix and match with the parsley and basil, using more of one and less of the other as you like. You can also substitue all or part of either with spinach.

If you like garlic you can use more.

Romano or Asiago cheese both work well in place of parmesan.


To serve with pasta, mix 1 cup pesto into 1 package spaghetti or other pasta cooked al dente (bring big pot of salted water to rapid boil drop in 1 package of pasta and 1 T olive oil; return to boil and cook 8-11 minutes, depending on type of pasta; drain immediately then return to pot where you'll add in the pesto), stir well and serve. My mom reminds me that traditional italian pesto is served mixed into pasta with potatoes and green beans--both in season right alongside the basil!

Also works wonderfully as a base for pizza and a spread for sandwiches.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Roasted Tomatoes and Beet Green Spirals


You could say that I've run out of my own recipes (and can you really blame me after a year of posting?) or you could say that I have a lot of friends who are great cooks. I prefer the latter.

This first recipe is from my friend, Kim. She overheard it at a farmers' market a while ago and made it her own. The great thing about this recipe is that you can easily make it your own, too. Much to the chagrin of our wonderful recipe testers, it relies on a "pinch of this" and "enough of that", which happens to be how I cook and my very favorite type of recipe.

Kim's Roasted Plum Tomatoes

I bought beautiful purplish plum tomatoes at the farmers' mar
ket. They were small and sweet. I got about 3 lbs, and it ended up making one quart mason jar's worth. Below is what I did, but try adding more garlic or other herbs (thyme is great) to make it your own. They end up super sweet and soft but not mushy.

3 lbs plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 head garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teas. sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Place tomato halves on cookie sheets or in baking pans, close together but leaving enough room that they can all lie flat.

Sprinkle with garlic and salt. Drizzle with olive oil.

Roast in a 250 oven for 3 to 4 hours (3 hours if small tomatoes, 4 if large).

Put entire contents of pan into a mason jar if keeping in the fridge or into a freezer bag if freezing.

Eat as is, on pizza, in sandwiches, with goat cheese, on salads.













This second recipe is from my friend Jen. Ironically, she doesn't like recipes and prefers to cook with the "little of this, little of that" method. However, her made up creation was so good that she agreed to figure out what she did and write it down for me. She's a good friend.

Jen's Beet Green Spirals

1 sheet puff pastry
1 teas. olive oil
1 small handful chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teas. chopped ginger
a few sprigs fresh dill
greens from 4 beets
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup other cheese, grated (Jenn used Ecuadoran but cheddar or mozzarella or anything medium firm would work)
1 egg, gently beaten
1 teas. water


Thaw puff pastry (40 minutes) on a baking sheet, cutting board, or other flat surface.

Grease another baking sheet with olive oil.

Meanwhile, saute onions, garlic, ginger, and dill in olive oil. Put in a bowl and set aside to cool, keeping pan on stove.

Wash greens (don't dry them) and saute in the pan until tender. Rinse in cold water and squeeze out water by hand. Chop up.

Mix sautéed onion, etc., with cheeses.

Preheat oven to 400.

Lay out pastry on a floured surface.

Mix egg with water and brush over entire pastry.

Spread cheese mixture over pastry, leaving an inch bare along one short end (this is where it will seal).

Spread greens over cheese.

Roll from the short end that is covered towards the end with bare strip. Slice into 12 pieces.

Bake on the greased baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes until starting to puff and lightly brown.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Basil

When the beans are still spreading like wildfire, the tomatoes are finally coming in, and the CSA has upped the weekly amounts of red peppers and potatoes to almost 3 pounds, little things like herbs often slip into the background. But my patch of thick, pungent, knee-high basil demands notice. It has thrived in spite of our barely month-long summer, my mile-high beans that blot out the sun on one side, and the baseballs that regularly attack from the other. And notice I have; I've even elevated basil to a main ingredient in appetizers, salads, pasta dishes, pizza...

Basil Dinner Salad

This is just your basic garden salad with one big change: substitute 1/3 of the lettuce with basil leaves. If you make lots of garden salads, use your own recipe. If you want a few ideas, here's mine, serving about 4 as a side dish.

About four cups of lettuce and about 1 cup of basil leaves (the basil leaves are much flatter than the lettuce, so weight-wise it's 2/3-1/3 but volume-wise it's 4:1), washed and spun dry.

2 large tomatoes cut into 1" chunks or 1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

2-3 carrotts, peeled and sliced

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced

1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced

1 red pepper, seeds and white inside removed, cut into 1/2" squares

Serve with a balsamic vinaigrette


Basil Caprese Salad or Sandwich
serves 4

all Caprese salads have basil, but maybe not quite this much.

4 large tomatoes, sliced
2 8-oz fresh mozarella cheeses, sliced
1 cup fresh basil leaves
Sea salt
pepper
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Cover your serving platter or each plate with one layer of mozarella, one layer of tomatoe, and one layer of basil. Use enough tomato to completely cover the cheese and enough basil to completely cover the tomatoe. Sprinkle with about 1 tsp. sea salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1/2 T olive oil, and 1 T balsamic vinegar. Repeat.

To turn this into a sandwich, stack the layers on a piece of bread, but do not repeat.

Early Fall Garden Pasta with Prosciutto
serves 4

1 package of your favorite pasta (I like thin fettuccini for this)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a fast boil, put in the pasta and abotu 1 T olive oil. Cook until al dente (8-12 minutes, depending on the type of pasta), drain, return to pot, and stir in 2 T butter.

While the water is coming to a boil

Cut 1/4 pound sliced prosciutto into 1/2" squares
Cut 1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes in halves
Wash, spin dry, then roughly chop 3/4 cup basil leaves

After the pasta is drained, stir the above along with 2 small or 1 large jar of artichoke hearts

Serve with grated parmesan or romano cheese


Of course, the traditional thing to do with tons of basil is make pesto--I'll be experimenting with various pestos this week!

Monday, September 14, 2009

In a Rush Meatloaf

I don't own a microwave, for which 99.99% of the time I am grateful, because I like to take my time in the kitchen, and I have a freakish distrust of those weird boxes, but there is always the one time when I really need one. The other night was one of those nights. I realized a day too late that I hadn't defrosted the meat for the loaf, so carted my frozen containers over to the playground, where Keja took the stash home and defrosted it for me. I guess a microwave is like a pick up truck: it's always best if you have a friend with one.


So, unless you don't own a microwave and forget to defrost the meat early, this is a really easy recipe and absolutely perfect for a crisp Fall evening.


Peter's Mom's Amazing Meatloaf


2 cups bread crumbs

2 whole eggs

1/2 cup ketchup

2 TBSP Dijon mustard

2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce

1 cup hot beef broth

1 medium onion, small diced and sautéed

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teas pepper

Salt - optional, depending on saltiness of broth; better to salt at the table if you're unsure! (It's hard when you can't taste your meal before you eat it!)

Fresh herbs - optional (thyme, parsley, sage, rosemary are all nice; use a 1/2 teas or so of any or all)

2 lbs. ground meat (the secret is using a variety of meat with high fat content. Try using pork sausage, ground lamb, ground beef, ground pork, etc. in whatever combination sounds good to you. Avoid anything leaner than 80%.)



Directions:


Sauté onions until starting to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic at last minute to release flavor.


In the bowl of a mixer or large mixing bowl, mix onion with all other ingredients EXCEPT MEAT. Mix until incorporated. If not using a mixer, I recommend using your hands to mix everything together.

Add meat into meatloaf mixture.

Place meat into two bread pans.

Cook at 400 for one hour, with pans over a cookie sheet to catch potential drips. The meat should be cooked through.

Before cutting and serving, drain off excess fat (unless you like it, then reserve it). I like to use a baster to remove the fat. It is easier to transfer to a plate for easy carving.

Serve with mashed potatoes. Yum.