Monday, June 29, 2009

Pork Loin Roast and Vacation Redux

Being in such close proximity to a gorgeous beach, I keep coming back to simplicity in cooking: the easier the meal prep, the more time I get to play in the water. Then, I get it in the oven and while it's cooking, I get the kids cleaned up, a load of laundry in the wash, and toys picked up. I'm also using the herbs growing in the front porch container. The other night I made a pork loin crusted in herbs. Easy, yummy, perfect.

Roasted Pork Loin

Preheat oven to 375. 

Mince 4 or 5 garlic cloves, a few leaves of sage, a few sprigs of thyme, and a sprig of rosemary. Put in a small bowl and add salt and pepper. Add in enough olive oil to make a paste and rub over the pork loin. 

Sear pork on all sides in an oven-proof skillet and then put in the oven until done, approximately 30 minutes.

We go home tomorrow, much to our chagrin. It's hard to leave the beach. I'm very happy with how the cooking turned out. I have no regrets about only bringing the All Clad 10-inch skillet. I used it all the time but didn't really need anything else. I appreciate the simplicity of the cooking I did with only a few spices and pans. I'm looking forward to returning to my well-stocked kitchen, but this was an excellent exercise. I highly recommend trying it sometime.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Over the past week, the summer has arrived, and for once New England seems in line with whatever powers set the markers for those kinds of moments. Remember when I was writing about the few and far between little local treasures? When I scanned the garden and the grocery store for whatever might be in? I didn’t get all the way through the first veggie CSA share before the second came in, then yesterday our local farmer’s market opened, and my garden is starting to offer some serious pickins: lettuce by the bagfull, parsley and cilantro and all of the herbs in nice volume, and flowers all over the pea plants.

I vaguely remember all those posts I made in the winter about wishing I had canned and frozen more, but how do I convince myself to buy more when my fridge is already overflowing? How much will I really use over the winter? What’s best to freeze and how? I’m sure I could find good sources offering meal planning, freezing, and canning advice. I’ll check any links or references that are sent my way, but I spend a great majority of my working hours doing research—kitchen and garden time are where I just dig in, follow my instincts without finding supporting material for the footnote, and enjoy the mess along the way as much as the tidy packages at the end.

Yesterday, I used parsley and mint from my herb garden
to replicate a magnificent tabouli salad I had at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Jamaica a few weeks ago. This serves four as a main dish.

2/3 cup couscous
1 1/3 cup water
2 large bunches parsley (about 4 cups freshly picked)
About 6 3-inch mint sprigs
2 cucumbers
1 can of garbanzo beans
6 green onions
Juice of 8 limes
Salt and pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Bring the water to a boil, then remove from stove, add couscous, cover, and let sit while you chop the veggies (about 15 minutes). Finely chop the parsley and mint, thinly slice the green onions, and peel and cut the cucumber into garbanzo-sized squares. Use a fork to fluff the couscous, then toss everything together in a large bowl. It tastes quite good right away, and even better after a few hours, even overnight, in the fridge.

My mom and her friend Pam used the spinach in a wonderful spinach salad that served four for lunch

1 pound fresh spinach
1/4 pound bacon
6 oz blue cheese
2 cups snap peas
1 cup strawberries

The bacon was from the farmer’s market, nice and chunky but with a lot of fat. Pam carefully cut off the big pieces of fat, then sautéed the bacon, removed it from the pan with a slotted spoon and let it drain on a few paper towels. Meanwhile, my mom washed the spinach, cut the snap peas into ½-inch pieces, and roughly sliced the strawberries. Then they tossed everything together, leaving the spinach leaves whole and crumbling the blue cheese over the top. Finally, they drizzled a vinaigrette over the top.

At the CSA last week and this, we have gotten beets and turnips and kohlrabi with wonderful greens. The greens sauté up just like kale or collard, but we’ve also been getting so very much lettuce that I’m quite uninterested in sautéed greens at the moment. So I undertook my first act of putting things aside for the winter.

Blanching and Freezing Greens
This works for the greens from any root vegetable as well as for spinach, kale, collard, and the like.
Bring a large pot of water to boil.
I love mixing different kinds of greens together for a complex, ever-changing side of sautéed greens. This has the added advantage of letting you pile together whatever you happen to have that week rather than needing to save up till you have enough of something for a full side, but purists can of course separate out. Wash the greens, if they have very hard stems that reach up the leaf, you can cut out the stems (the kohlrabi did this week), and roughly chop. If some of the greens are more tender than others (the turnips and spinach, this week), set them aside. Once the water is at a rapid boil, drop the greens in. Give more sturdy greens 2-3 minutes, then add in more tender greens for about 1 more minute at the end. A big pot of water takes about 6 cups of chopped greens at once, so if you have more work in batches. Drain into a colander or scoop out with a slotted spoon and set into a colander to drain. Save the green water and make a stock next. Let the greens drain well and cool, then drop them into freezer bags. They should keep 3-6 months in a chest freezer. We’ll give recipes for how to use them in the fall and winter!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wintery Cooking for a Rainy Month, but with Spring/Summer Twists

I'll admit, it feels nice to have the oven on when it's raining and cool and the sun hasn't poked from behind the clouds in days. So, I've resorted to lots of oven-necessary dishes. However, the rain isn't stopping herbs from growing in the front porch planters, or tomatoes from piling up at the farm stand, so we get the benefit of fresh food AND warmth!

Herbed Stuffed Cornish Game Hens

Preheat oven to 400.

In oven proof skillet melt 4 TBS unsalted butter
Add 2 to 3 cloves minced garlic and chopped leaves of fresh sage and thyme (~1 TBS each).
Add salt and pepper and cook for a minute or two until fragrant,
Add 4 slices of cubed bread and stir until well mixed. Turn off heat.

Stuff 2 game hens with stuffing and put remaining stuffing in bottom of skillet. Place hens on top of stuffing and lay a few sage leaves on top of hens. Add a few sprigs of rosemary into the pan.

Bake for ~ 45 min to 1 hour, until cooked through.

Serve with wild rice.

Gnocchi and Slow Cooked Pork Ribs

Okay, no herbs here, but an oven on all day? Okay!

8 hours prior to eating, place 2 to 3 pork loin (or country style or thick) ribs into a baking dish with 3 or more inch sides and a cover.

Add ~ 1 cup potatoes cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch chunks, 1 or 2 carrots cut into 1 inch slices, an onion cut into 8ths, a few cloves garlic, salt and pepper. Add stock or water to almost cover meat. Cover dish (use foil if it doesn't have one that fits).

Put into a 250 degree oven. Check every few hours to make sure liquid is at least halfway up ribs. Add more as needed.

An hour before eating, bring half a pot of water to boil in a medium pan. Add 1 package shelf stable gnocchi and cook until it floats to the top. Remove from water and put into the baking dish, stirring enough to cover gnocchi with gravy.

At the end of 8 hours, remove and eat!

Fresh Quiche

Use pie crust previously posted. Roll out and put into a pie plate. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Saute 2 slices bacon, an onion, a deseeded tomato, and 3 or 4 shiitake mushrooms. The bacon grease should be enough fat to cook onion, tomato, and mushrooms, but if not, add a little oil. To avoid the bacon grease, cook it first, drain, and cook onion, tomato, and mushrooms in safflower oil, adding bacon at the end.

Add chopped fresh chives and basil (1 TBS each), and oregano, thyme, and/or tarragon (totaling 1 teas.) We added 3 shoots of sliced leftover steamed asparagus, as well.

In a large bowl, whisk 5 eggs. Add 1/2 cup plain yogurt and 1 1/2 cups milk. Add salt and pepper. Mix well.

Grate 3/4 lb. mozzarella cheese.

Put cheese into bottom of pie plate (on top of cooled crust). Add vegetables. Pour milk/egg mixture over veggies. Bake at 400 degrees until set and not liquid, ~1/2 hour. Let cool at least a few minutes or completely.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Frozen Fruit Temptations

At the veggie and fruit CSA last week, we got two baskets of fresh strawberries. The first one we almost finished in the car on the way home. The second one I decided to freeze for the winter. I was going to cut out the stems, slice the strawberries in half (they were small), and lay them out on a baking tray in the freezer overnight, then transfer them to a plastic bag with a bunch of rhubarb washed and sliced into ½” pieces. I might even add right in ½ cup of brown sugar, ½ cup of white sugar, and 3 T tapioca. In December I’d have a strawberry rhubarb pie halfway prepped. It turned out that by the time I got home I had to start dinner, my son was so hungry he needed a plate of chips and salsa to tide him over, we wanted to eat on the porch so unless we planned to chat across strings of underwear and socks I had to get the laundry off the line, and the dogs needed a walk. I only got around to cutting out the stems and tossing the strawberries into a freezer bag. I could have still used them in December. If the berries got all stuck together from not being frozen on the tray first, I could defrost them before I used them. As long as I was cooking them, they weren’t going to hold their shape anyway. But the next morning, as I was getting a new bag of coffee from the freezer and wondering what to make for breakfast, there was the bag full of scrumptious frozen berries. If I were a squirrel, I’d spend all winter stealing from the bird feeders. Instead of savoring the thought of eating the berries in a few months when no fresh or local ones will be available in any store, I grabbed the bag and dumped the whole thing in the blender with a few other goodies for one of my favorite on-the-go breakfasts: licuado.

In Mexico, licuados are everywhere. They come in milk-based and water-based varieties and in every possible combination of scrumptious fresh tropical fruits. Every breakfast place, every icecream shop, and many little storefront stands have a big blender, a shelf of fruit, and a little fridge with milk. You make your selection, then watch a machete whip around the pineapple, the navaja fly over the mango, then after a few chops and a dash of liquid the blender whirrs and your meal is ready. Between trips to Mexico, I keep my own blender on the ready, and try to infuse that fresh wonder into the transport-dependent sugar-laden American smoothie tradition. One of the things I’ve discovered is that in order to achieve the kind of thickness that the fiber-rich tropical fruits of Mexico lend to a licuado, I can use frozen New England fruits, a dollop of yoghurt, and a frozen banana. I know bananas are never local in New England, but I buy them anyway. As soon as they start to get more black spots than I want, I peel them and toss them in a plastic bag in the freezer for licuados. The other thing I’ve realized from the Mexican tradition, is that that wild and widely varied combinations of fruits are often wonderfully rewarding.

Basic Licuado

about two breakfast-sized licuados

1 cup fruit juice

3 cups frozen fruit

½ cup yoghurt

1 frozen banana

Suggested variations: Juice and Fruit

For the juice, I usually use orange, but in season (not quite now), I’ll replace the juice with chopped watermelon, or I’ll use apple juice or cider.

For the fruits, in Spring strawberry is a perennial favorite and this early it’s all there is, but in a few weeks we'll be able to have Strawberry-black raspberry and then strawberry-black raspberry-blueberry.

In summer, there are of course more fruit options:

Blueberry-peach or nectarine (peeled)

Mulberry-red raspberry

Mulberry-peach or nectarine (peeled)

Red raspberry-peach or nectarine (peeled)

Plum (peeled)-peach or nectarine (peeled)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Seafood and Simplicity

It's Monday! Ahhhh! I forgot I had obligations other than playing on the beach. We've been enjoying the tomatoes, as promised, but the blueberries are from North Carolina, much to our chagrin. They are quite good but not local. I guess it's too early. 

I am experiencing the simplicity of cooking here. As I mentioned before, the house is not equipped with fancy pots and pans or mixers, and I don't want to buy a ton of stuff we have at home yet won't be used here after we leave, so I only got the basics: sea salt, a pepper grinder, nice garlic powder, fresh garlic, olive oil, lemon. It's nice to take a little break from the breadth and depth of my cabinets at home and eat simply, enjoying the flavor of the food, without the excitement of lots of spice. Rather than buy balsamic vinegar, which is my go to for salad dressing, I have been doing 1 to 1 lemon juice to olive oil, and adding salt and pepper. I'm hooked!

We did a lobster fest last night. My grandfather always was the mastermind behind those once or twice a summer special dinners. It was the only time he cooked dinner, but he committed fully and the only thing anyone else did was to set the table and do dishes. He delivered each lobster to the table, shells cracked, tails split. I remember the first time I had a lobster in a restaurant and couldn't understand why it was so hard to get into!

My sister's boyfriend was the only one of us with enough moral fortitude to kill the food we were going to eat, so it fell to him to steam them. I strongly believe one should be able to kill the animal one eats, otherwise don't do it, but I am a terrible hypocrite. My 4-year old son experienced his first qualms, as well, wondering why the lobster was alive if we were going to eat it soon. 

He was sad because he likes lobsters, and said he would rather eat lions because he doesn't like them, since they eat mice, which he does like. The logic of a 4-year old mind is interesting. But, he dug in like the rest of us. Jason steamed them for 15 minutes, until they were bright pink. We ate them with drawn butter. Simple.

A week ago we got oysters. I steamed them in butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, white wine, and garlic.  About half never opened, despite over 20 minutes of steaming. I've done this before and it took only a few minutes, so it seemed weird. I went back to the store and they gave me a dozen more. They sat in the fridge for two days, since we were all tired of oysters from the night before. Finally, lying in bed two nights later, I realized that the oysters were either going to suffocate in the fridge or rot before we ate them, so Dave sweetly went out at midnight and returned them to the bay for me.

Seafood really drives home that you are eating animals, since most shellfish arrive home alive.

Soft-shell crabs, pan fried

Lacking a grill, yet craving a soft-shell, I melted a tablespoon of olive oil and another of butter in my pan. I salted, peppered, and garlic powered the crabs, and cooked on each side for 3 or 4 minutes. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Salad Season

It’s still down to the 50s most nights and my winter squash seeds definitely did not make it, but our veggie and fruit CSA starts distributions this week and there is a whole long list of veggies that are in season in New England!

As I write, the farmers at Red Fire and other farms across Massachussetts are picking lettuce, mesclun, spinach, radishes, turnips, beets, kale, greens, green garlic, herbs, and strawberries right out of the fields. And from the greenhouse Red Fire Farms promises cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes, and carrots. I am planning a different salad for every night. How variety in repetition functions is something I often ponder in my work life; in the kitchen I’ve figured it out: the effect is pleasure and good nutrition; the method is to add and subtract specific ingredients and to change up the cuts.

One night a few years ago I passed off the salad-making on my friend Melissa and found the very same ingredients I always lay out on the cutting board transformed into a totally new salad. Much more meticulous than I, Melissa had not simply given a general kind of a chop to each thing, but had carefully diced everything from the tomatoes to the peppers into little perfectly matched pieces bedded in thinly sliced lettuce. The texture and even the flavor was completely different. Then last year, Blanca started taking over the salad-making. She always remembers to slice red onions over the top, but best of all she carefully cuts on a slight bias, so that the carrots and cucumbers slide off the knife in gentle ovals. I think there’s a French word for that kind of slicing, but whatever it’s called it ensures that the “goodies” don’t fall to the bottom, and produces wonderful mouthfuls of flavor. It’s not that I prefer one or the other method, but that I love the variety in repetition, and the opportunity to play not only with what goes into a salad but in what shape and size.

Melissa’s petite diced salad

1 head romaine, iceberg, or Boston lettuce (any variety of “crunchy lettuce”)
1 bunch full-sized spinach
1 red pepper
1 bunch cherry tomatoes
3-4 radishes
1 cucumber
2 carrotts

Thinly slice the lettuce and spinach. Cut the rest of the ingredients into matching small pieces (start by quartering the cherry tomatoes, and use that as a size guide). Toss with a vinaigrette. (my basic vinaigrette recipe is a the end of this post).

Blanca’s French-cut salad

4-6 cups mixed salad greens, mesclun, and baby spinach (at this time of year, they come so small there’s no need to cut)
1 red pepper
1 bunch cherry tomatoes
3-4 radishes
1 cucumber
2 carrotts
1/2 red onion

Cut the carrots, cucumber, and radishes on a bias, or at a slight angle so that you get sort of long oblong pieces. Slice the red pepper and red onion into long thin strips. Toss with a vinaigrette.

Grated Salad

1-2 beets
1-2 turnips
3-4 carrots

Grate all the ingredients together and toss with a vinaigrette.

Spring Salade Composé

This is the generic term for what we often call a Salade Niçoise. It literally means a salad that is composed or put together. The basic idea is that you put a bunch of different things together, with the idea that some of these go beyond the super basic lettuce tomato cucumber carrot combo. It’s generally a meal to itself. My spring favorite includes:
3 small roasted beets. Cut the tops and bottoms off the beets, place them on a foil-covered cookie sheet and roast at 400 for about 30 minutes or until tender through. Remove and put into a bowl tightly covered with the foil. Let sit another 30 minutes, then slip off the skin and cut into 1-inch squares.

2 potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch squares, and steamed until just tender
6 cups mixed greens, mesclun, and baby spinach
3-4 hard-boiled eggs
2 carrotts
3-4 radishes
1 bunch cherry tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 red pepper
1 cup diced cheddar cheese

Cook the beets and potatoes, then put them into separate containers each with a ½ cup of the same vinaigrette. Let sit in vinaigrette for at least 30 minutes and up to all day. Then cut the rest of the ingredients as you prefer, and lay over lettuce, keeping each one in its own little pile. Dribble the rest of the dressing from the beets and potatoes over the top of the salad. Serve with thick pieces of home-made sourdough bread.

Basic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (if you can find first press, use it!)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp mustard
1/4 tsp water

Monday, June 8, 2009

Soft-shell Crabs and Clementine

Soft-shell crabs are in season now. They are (usually blue) crabs that have outgrown their shell and molted. For a few days before the newly growing shell gets too hard, the crab is still soft enough to be eaten in its entirety. I love it. It's a texture thing for me. My husband does not. It's a texture thing for him, too. They are chewy and crunchy and salty. My mouth is watering. The recipe below is loosely based on one from Taste Magazine, a short-lived but excellent publication from Williams-Sonoma. I think it was too technical, complicated, and frou frou for most readers, and it only lasted two years. I kept every issue. The photos were gorgeous, the ingredients often hard to find. It was delightful.

Grilled Soft-shell Crab Salad

Serves 6 as an appetizer or 3 for dinner.

6 fresh soft-shell crabs, rinsed in cool water
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 avocado
1 jicama, peeled
1 bunch watercress, approximately 3 cups
1 lemon

Heat grill to nice hot temp.
Pat crabs dry, rub with olive oil and liberally salt and pepper them.
Turn gas grill to medium or use cooler side of charcoal grill. Grill crabs for a few minutes on each side, until orange-ish pink.

Remove from grill, put on plate, and cover to keep warm.

Cut avocado into 1/2 inch or so cubes and cut jicama into 1 to 2 inch sticks and put in a bowl. Chop watercress and add to bowl. (A note on watercress: I'm used to bruised, damp watercress that is smushed into a bunch. But, on rare occasions, the grocery store has watercress of a different variety. It's larger, very green, and has whole, un-battered leaves. It's not rotting in damp water so it looks not only edible, but delicious. I didn't understand the joys of 'cress until I found this. It's worth looking for.)

Squeeze lemon over veggies, drizzle with a few tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss. Put on plates. Place 1 or 2 crabs on each plate, depending on whether this is an app or the entree. Enjoy.

I am reading "Clementine in the Kitchen" by Samuel Chamberlain, written in 1943. (Get it from the library, or, if you are in the Boston area, get it from one of our many great independent bookstores.) It's a charming book about an American family that was living in France until World War II forced them to move back to the United States. They brought their cook with them and in between mouth-watering recipes, they tell of her introduction to American cooking and shopping.

One anecdote in particular spoke to me. They took her to a supermarket for the first time. She was used to a small French town with the butcher separate from the baker separate from the grocer, etc. The entire family was overwhelmed by the mixes ("just add water and get pancakes, muffins, cakes! Hubby will love it, ladies!") and by the packaged food. They were surprised that even spinach was wrapped in cellophane. Clementine left with only things she could have bought back home: butter, flour, cheese. The author remarks that the family was delighted that she didn't succumb to the packaging and that they would continue to eat good food.

How fitting for today's movement back to locally-grown foods, seasonal foods, cloth bags. We have a long way to go, but it's very interesting to see where the insanity began, how far it has progressed, and maybe, hopefully, that there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel marking the end to the crazy way we have been eating for the last 70 years.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Asparagus Salad

I almost put in asparagus furroughs last month, but decided that my garden is too much in flux to designate any one spot as asparagus forever. Now I’m sorry because I’m one more year away from snipping tender stalks in my own back yard. And since our veggie CSA and the farmer’s market don’t start up till next week, I’m afraid I’m only going to get local asparagus from Whole Foods and Harvest Coop. I’ll stare off the back porch and wander the rows all summer fantasizing about different possible spots, and next year I’ll be ready for the commitment.

Asparagus is so delicious when it’s fresh and in season (like now) that I eat it unaccompanied and just steamed (in a steamer basket, maybe 10 minutes till just tender), no oil or anything, on a regular basis, though my new favorite is definitely grilled (I use a veggie grilling basket) or broiled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

But I do like variety, and have recently become enamored of the ways that asparagus pairs with with salad goodies. For salad, I use the grilled or broiled method above, then let cool and chop into 1-inch pieces.

Grilled or broiled asparagus pairs wonderfully with a number of different salad options. Here are some basic ideas for hearty salads that in large servings make a whole meal. I always use a balsamic vinaigrette with these.

Lettuce or arugula topped with asparagus, roasted beets, toasted walnuts, and feta or goat cheese.

Lettuce or arugula topped with asparagus, sliced hardboiled eggs, and chunks of sharp cheddar cheese.

Spaghetti broken into short pieces cooked and cooled, tossed with arugula, pitted (and halved if you want) kalamata olives, and asparagus. Sundried tomatoes and feta or goat cheese are nice with this too.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Simplicity and Necessities

I'm going to be in New Jersey for three weeks, away from my garden. I'm already feeling withdrawal. Not that I hover, because I don't, but I like to look out the kitchen window at it, or wander back if I have a few minutes and pull a weed or prop a plant or just putz around. There is always something more you can do to a garden. This I have learned from years of flower gardens, but vegetable gardens aren't any different. My garden will be in great hands: Keja's mother will be staying here, and from all I hear, she is a marvelous gardener. It actually will be under better care than with me. It must be like sending your child to college, knowing they need to move on, as you've taught them all you can. But it doesn't make it easy.

I think my lettuce fell prey to the squirrel. Only a few small leaves are coming up. My potatoes are amazing, by far my most successful thing to date, growing inches a day. The tomatoes in the bed are doing okay, but the container tomatoes, like always, are struggling. Why? The peppers are getting faded on the leaves. Too much sun?

I was grilling the other day and had some asparagus I needed to use. I wrapped it in foil, after drizzling with oil, salt, and pepper. It sat off to the side while the chicken was cooking. 20 minutes later, it was tender and perfect.

I am trying to figure out what to bring to NJ. We'll be staying with my uncle, who is not a cook. The cookware is from the 50s and 60s, maybe 70s, and does not meet my snobby standards. I've considered not bringing anything, and dealing with what is there; I've imagined bringing everything I could possibly need with us, in our small car. I think what I'll do is bring my favorite pan - the All Clad 10-incher, and deal with the rest. It's a good exercise to think about though: what is a necessity (I use this word loosely) and what is a luxury.

My final thought is about what New Jersey has to offer: amazingly lovely produce. It's not called the Garden State for nothing. Whatever ideas you may have about New Jersey, its beaches and its tomatoes, blueberries, and peaches are among the best I have ever experienced. At home, dessert to me means something that requires preparation, like a cake or homemade ice cream or a pie. But summering on the Jersey Shore as a child, blueberries or peaches in a bowl of milk was perfectly satisfying. I look forward to the simplicity of that, and hope my children will, too.