Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer bounty

This past weekend it rained. And it rained. We made it down to the farmers' market between downpours and also had our farm share we picked up the day before, so our kitchen was overflowing with reds, purples, oranges, browns, yellows, blues, and green green greens. Something about the cloudy light made the colors even more vibrant and I wished I had 20 people I needed to feed. It was a day of cooking, one of those rare and luxurious days when there is nothing else to do and a million things I want to make. So I did. I made kale chips, eggplant parmesan, bread, tomato and black bean salad, stuffed zucchini, chocolate chip cookies, prepped peaches for freezing, snacked on raspberries and blueberries fresh from the market, and made pesto.

I can't believe I haven't written about pesto sooner! It's one of those quintessential summer meals and there are as many variations as people to make it. This is nice with pasta or as a rub on meat, or spread onto a sandwich. Try more or less garlic, more oil for a looser pesto, less for a thicker one, add other herbs, add pine nuts, go nuts!

8 cups loosely packed basil leaves, a bit of stem okay, washed and dried

6 medium garlic cloves

1/3 cup olive oil

1 TBS cilantro salt or 1 1/2 teas. salt

yield ~ 1 1/2 cups

In a food processor or blender, add basil and garlic and puree until you have a smooth consistency. Drizzle in olive oil while blending. Add salt to taste.

Pesto can be frozen, or stay in the refrigerator for about a week.

Herbs that sit in the fridge for a while can get limp and dried out. To revive them, cut off the bottoms of the stems as you would flowers, and put into water. They will usually come back to life nicely.

We also got our meat CSA this weekend, so I made an super easy baked chicken.

Super Easy Baked Chicken

Feeds 2 adults and 2 not very hungry kids. Assume one leg/thigh per adult, with a little left over.

2 whole chicken legs (with thigh still on)

1 shallot bulb, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch thick slices lengthwise

1 sprig rosemary

1/4 cup sage leaves

1/4 cup thyme sprigs

salt and pepper

1 lemon, cut in half

1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 375.

Rinse and pat dry chicken and place it into a baking pan with 1 to 2 inch deep sides.

Put shallot slices all around chicken. Tuck rosemary, sage, and thyme around and under chicken.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lightly squeeze lemon over chicken and put the lemon halves in pan. Drizzle entire pan with olive oil.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until joint does not bleed when you cut into it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mexican Slow Cooking

I think I mentioned something earlier about the pace of Mexican cooking. A great number of Mexican households still have someone (it’s as likely to be a grandmother, sister, or cousin as it is a wife) home a good part of the day to tend to boiling pots and sizzling pans. Some things, like chiles rellenos, I could really only make during vacation or for some special event where I decided I could afford a whole portion of an afternoon just to cooking. So if you don’t love cooking, this is one to eat out. But if you’re reading this, you probably do love cooking. And chile rellenos are an art that you can master, perfect, and savor. Other dishes, like albóndigas, require more time than attention, and reheat so fantastically that anyone who works from home or who has a few hours between the end of the work day and bedtime could put together, and enjoy…

Most farmer’s markets don’t’ carry them, but if you can grow red or green peppers in your garden, you can grow Poblano chiles. They’ll ripen around the same time as the red or green peppers: sometime mid-late August through the end of September. And Market Basket does often carry them.

Chiles Rellenos

Serves 4-6

1 fresh Poblano chile per person
2-3 chicken breasts
1 onion roughly chopped
1 onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic
6-8 small or 3-4 large tomatoes, diced
¼ cup flour

Boil the chicken breasts in a big pot of water with salt, pepper, one roughly chopped onion, and one clove garlic for 30-60 minutes, until the meat is so tender you can shred it with your hands. Remove the meat and set aside to cool. (Refrigerate or freeze the liquid: it’s a simple chicken broth already!)

Meanwhile, heat a cast iron skillet, then put 2-3 of the poblano chiles onto it. Cook without turning until the first side is very black then turn and repeat till as much of the skin as possible is black. Put the chiles into a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap or a lid—they’ll continue steaming for a little. Reapeat with remaining chiles.

When you can work with the chicken, use your fingers to shred it.

In the skillet, sauté the finely chopped onion with the diced tomatoes. When the onion start to turn soft, add the shredded chicken and salt and pepper to taste, and sauté together another 3-5 minutes.

Peel the black skins off the poblano chiles, leaving the chiles intact. Make a slice in each chile from the top just below the stem to about halfway down the chile. Reach inside carefully and remove all of the seeds and white part.

Stuff the peppers with the chicken mixture, making sure that they will still close.
Put half of the flour on a plate and lay the stuffed peppers on top. Then sprinkle the remaining flour on top of the peppers.

Mix 2-3 hard eggs hard until they become frothy. Gently dip each stuffed pepper into the egg mixture, being sure to keep the slice as closed as possible.

These are traditionally deep fried in about two inches of hot vegetable oil, but they can also be sautéd, in a generous 2-3 T of vegetable oil. Heat the oil and then sauté, turning gently once halfway through, until nicely browned.

Serve as is, or doused with a light tomato sauce (aka sofrito, recipe follows, in with the albóndigas recipe), accompanied by rice and beans and tortillas.

Veggie Variation

Alternatively, you can skip the whole chicken part and stuff the peppers with cheese. If you can find it, use queso Oaxaqueño, which is very like mozzarella. Otherwise, use “queso fresco” which you can find at Market Basket, or half mozzarella and half jack. Grate or shred the cheese before stuffing the peppers with it.

Serves 4

These are Mexican meatballs, served in a light and slightly spicy tomato soup. Like all meatballs, they get better with time, so ideally make these the night or even a day or two before you plan to serve them, then refrigerate them, in the soup. Everyone makes a slightly different version of these. This recipe is inspired by Blanca Nieto’s recipe in Cocina tradicional Mexicana, but in addition to translating I’ve made so many alterations and substitutions I think it’s safe to call it mine.

Tomatillos grow perfectly alongside tomatoes in Somerville. They’re ripe when the little paper coverings start to crack open, usually sometime in late August or early September.

For the meatballs:1 lb ground beef
2 tomatillos or green tomatoes
2 mint leaves
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 small onion
1 egg
1 clove of garlic

In a food processor (or a mortar and pestle, if you’re feeling traditional), blend the tomatillos, onion, mint, cumin, and garlic.

Put the ground beef into a big bowl and using your hands, blend in the tomatillo mixture, the bread crumbs, and the egg. Form into walnut-sized balls and set to rest in the refrigerator.

For the sofrito and broth:5 medium tomatoes
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (I found a fantastic adobo sauce recipe in Gourmet Magazine this summer, but I’ve yet to try cooking chipotles in it and canning them; canned chipotles in adobo sauce are available in any grocery store that has a “Latin” section, or in and “Latin” market. Note that I’m saying to use one pepper out of the can, not one can of peppers). This is what gives the broth its kick. If you want a lot of kick, use two peppers from the can. If you can’t take any kick, leave it out.
1 clove of garlic
1 small onion

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Cut a skin-deep x in the bottom of each tomato. Parboil the tomatoes for 3-5 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside to cool. Save the water. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins (they will slip off). In a food processor or blender, blend the peeled tomatoes, the chipotle pepper, the garlic and the onion. Heat 1 T oil in a soup pot and add the tomato mixture. Cook on medium heat until it has reduced by half. This is a sofrito. You can use it to pour over your chiles rellenos. Or you can keep going for the broth for the albóndigas.

Add the water you saved from parboiling the tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Add the meatballs, reshaping as you go. Return to a boil then simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.
All Mexican soups are served with a plate condiments in the center of the table: 3-4 sliced limes; ½ onion, finely chopped; ¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped; and 1 jalapeño, finely chopped. You take as much as you want of these and squeeze/sprinkle them on the top of the soup.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pickles and Macaroni and Cheese

This is my post of recipes from friends of friends. The first comes from the daughter of a friend and is perfect for this time of year when cucumbers are everywhere, and the second from my aunt's mother-in-law and is great comfort food, no matter the season. Enjoy, because they are both fantastic!

Refrigerator Pickles

Cucumbers -Small (Kirby) are best. Cut off stem ends. Use enough to pack tightly in container, 2 layers if tall jar.

Fresh Dill (including flowering tops & seeds if possible)

2 Dried Hot Peppers

4 or more cloves Garlic, cut into 4 lengthwise pieces

1 TBS or more Peppercorns

¼ to ½ tsp. whole Cloves

1 ½ TBS or more whole Coriander Seeds

2 Bay Leaves, crumbled

Dried dill seed (optional)

Use a large (at least 2 qt) jar. Wash jar well and sterilize with boiling water.

Prepare Brine: Use about 4 cups water & pour in kosher salt - try ¼ cup first then add more if necessary. Stir till salt dissolves. Should be almost too salty when finished. If way too salty, add more water.

Stuff dill into bottom of jar. Add cloves. Put in one layer of cukes. Use about ½ spices. Add more dill. Pack another layer & repeat. Stuff garlic & peppers down between cukes.

Add brine to cover cukes. Cover and shake gently. Refrigerate. In approx. 2 days, taste the brine. If too salty, replace ¼ or ½ brine with water. If not salty enough, make more very salty brine and add.

Pickles are ready in 3-4 days.

Pat's Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Boil water and cook 2 cups of elbow macaroni noodles, draining when done.

Grate 2 cups muenster cheese.

Melt 2 TBSP unsalted butter in a small saucepan over low heat.

Turn heat up to medium and add 2 TBSP white flour, whisking constantly until roux starts to brown slightly and becomes fragrant.

Slowly pour in 2 cups milk, whisking constantly and stir until thickened, a few minutes.

Whisk in 1/2 teas. salt, 1/2 teas. garlic powder, 1/4 teas. pepper, and 1/4 teas. paprika. Take off heat.

Butter a 9x9 or similar sized casserole dish with lid. Even a 9x13 baking dish covered with aluminum foil would work.

Put half of the noodles into the dish. Add half of the cheese, spread out evenly on top of noodles. Put remaining half of noodles, and then remaining half of cheese. Pour the cream sauce on top and dot with a few teas. butter.

Bake covered for 30 minutes and then remove cover and bake another 15 minutes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Seaside sublime and the pace of Mexican cooking

Oaxaca is a large, fertile state in central-south-west Mexico. The city of Oaxaca is nestled among low mountain ranges, which reach down to a gorgeous rugged coastline - great for surfing and fishing. To get from the city of Oaxaca to the coast, you can drive 150 miles and 15,000 sharp curves over the mountains (about six hours), or you skirt the mountains and make it ten relatively smooth hours navigable by large vehicles. There's also one airline that makes one-two trips a day, with one four-seater and one eight-seater. In other words, while Oaxaca's coast abounds in fantastic fresh fish, Oaxaca city does not. Luckily, we went to the fish. In open restaurants with palm rooves, we ate some of the most delicious fresh whole fish I've ever had - al diablo, en ajo, and empapelado. I've yet to try any of these at home, but I'll be sure to put out the recipes once I perfect them. We also had my very favorite seafood dish in the universe: ceviche. This is something I do make.

Many people shy away from ceviche for the same reason they're nervous about sushi: the fish is "raw." First, as the long tradition of sushi-eating in Japan and now the US shows, as long as it is well selected, raw fish is quite safe. Second, the fish in ceviche isn't totally raw; it's "cooked" in lime juice. Still, you must absolutely use only truly fresh fish for ceviche (I hear you can also use "fresh frozen" but I've never tried that). Any firm white-fleshed non-oily saltwater fish works for ceviche, so use whatever is in season. Scallops also go wonderfully in it, as does (cooked) octopus. Many people like to put in shrimp as well, but honestly I find that shrimp looks pretty in a ceviche butdoes not yield the best flavor combination. If you are using octopus, which is really delicious, buy a small one, boil it for about 30 minutes, then proceed as with other fish.

The really complicated thing about ceviche, as with many Mexican dishes, is that it must be made in stages. There's not much actual work time involved in ceviche, but you have to start it a day or two before you plan to eat it.

Traditional Ceviche
serves 4 as an appetizer

1 cup fish (or combination of fish, scallops, and octopus), cut into one-inch squares
Lime juice to cover fish
salt and pepper

chop fish, cover in lime juice, add salt and pepper, and place in a glass or plastic (NOT metal) bowl, well covered, in the refrigerator for 36-48 hours.

1 onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and diced
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Mix these with the fish. Can be served immediately, but tastes even better if it sits in the fridge for another several hours (up to 24).

Mango-Lime Ceviche

Follow directions for fish as with traditional ceviche. Stick to just fish. Then in place of readitional add-ins, use:

1-2 mangoes, chopped into one-inch squares
1 red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/3 cup finely chopped mint

Serve this one immediately, as mango soaked in lime gets mushy.

Other Variations

In the Mango-Mint Ceviche you can substitute a few other fruits for the mangoes: nectarines and peaches are particularly good (and local and seasonal in New England just about now!), but oranges or sweet grapefruit are also interesting, and pomegranate is quite nice.

In any ceviche, you can use a little lime and/or orange juice to change the base flavor, but the majority of your "cooking" juice should be lime.

You can add tomatillos, or substitute them for the tomatoes entirely.

Some people add red, green, or yellow peppers. I prefer fewer ingredients, but...

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Tomato Days of Summer

I was in NJ for one last week of the summer and got lots of great recipes from my aunts. With eighteen people, some vegetarians, some picky eaters, and some serious carnivores, meals were a mishmash, but a yummy mishmash. Here is my aunt Margo's addicting tomato and black bean salad.

Tomato and Black Bean Salad

2 TBSP mayonnaise

1/4 cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 teas. salt

3 cups tomatoes, diced

2 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup sweet corn, cooked and cut off the cob or frozen cooked

1 cup very coarsely chopped arugula

1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil

Whisk together mayonnaise and olive oil in a medium mixing bowl.

Add garlic and salt and let sit while you prep everything else.

Add remaining ingredients and chill at least one hour. Serve.

Note: this is excellent the next day added to a green salad.

One compromise we made was to base meals in vegetarian dishes but have a small side of meat to satisfy the meat-eaters. It's such a nice way to get a little bite but not overwhelm the meal with 12 ounces of steak. We made lamb chops smothered in herbs. They were tiny - not more than 3 or 4 ounces each, but it was the perfect complement to basil pesto and fresh corn.

Herb-smothered Lamb Chops

Preheat oven to 350.

Dice 1 TBSP each basil, thyme, sage, and rosemary. Put in a small bowl and add 1 teas. cilantro salt. Stir well.

Put 6 lamb chops in a 1 to 2 inch deep baking pan and cover with the herbs.

Drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil.

Bake approximately 1/2 hour, until cooked to your liking.

Sweet corn

The quickest way (and most environmental, as it uses very little water) to cook fresh corn on the cob is to steam it. It only needs 10 minutes at the most in the steam, and it will be perfect. Another way is to put the corn into boiling water and cover it. As soon as it returns to a boil, take the corn out.

When we got home, we had our first ripe tomato from the garden. Since we only have three total tomatoes, this one is really valuable! And, it is so good. Sweet, packed full of flavor, juicy but not mushy. It sat on our counter for a few days between my uncle picking it and us returning, and it still made my hands smell like a tomato. I am so sorry we don't have more coming, because this really is what a home garden is all about, in my opinion.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Radicchio Salad

Gardening is interesting. Parts are so easy: once planted, you water a few times and sit back and wait for the rewards. And other parts are tough! I can't help it that it rained so much and my tomato plants' blossoms rotted on the vine. Nor that my potato greens browned and died when the potatoes below ground are the size of golf balls at best. Or that my second batch of lettuce was mysteriously removed when the tiny sprouts first peaked out of the dirt. But the beans we've had are great. The lettuce we did get delicious. The peas out of this world sweet.

Radicchio salad

1 head radicchio

1/2 c. candied pecans (recipe follows)

2 TBS raisins

1 medium tomato, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 TBS chopped mint

2 TBS goat cheese, crumbled

Renée's vinaigrette (click here)

Candied pecans

Melt 1 TBS unsalted butter in a small frying pan over medium low heat. Add 1/2 cup pecans that have been chopped very coarsely. Cook, stirring frequently, until pecans begin to brown. Add 1 teas. sugar, stir in, and cook one more minute. Remove from heat and let cool.


Wash, dry, and tear radicchio into bite-sized pieces.

Add pecans, raisins, tomato, and mint. Crumble goat cheese onto salad and dress to taste. Mix well. The goat cheese will mostly disappear, mixing in with the dressing.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Green Beans and August in Oaxaca, Mexico

I’m sure that bringing yourself to tropical food is not more environmentally friendly than bringing it to you, but I do have a few other reasons to be in Mexico for the month of August! And before I launch into the pleasures of fresh avocados, mangos, and papaya, I did discover one great and simple creation on my last night in Boston. I’d been slowly emptying the fridge, and was down to green beans and cold rice, plus freezer fare. I’d had in the back of my head “dry cooking” green beans, and this seemed a pretty good time to try it. It turns out, I think any time is a good time for it.

Green Bean and Shrimp Stir Fry

Serves 4

1 lb green beans, trimmed but not cut

1 T oil

1 lb shrimp, deveined (pre-cooked is fastest, frozen is fine)

½ cup packed fresh basil leaves

1 tsp. coarse sea salt

In a large wok, heat the oil and then toss in the green beans and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until they start to get a little black. Removed the beans from the wok and set aside. Toss in the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently. If they were raw, they’ll be done when they are pinkish-white, 5-10 minutes. If they were cooked, you just need to warm them through, 3-5 minutes. When the shrimp are ready, add the green beans back in along with the salt and basil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Serve immediately with rice.

Fresh cooked rice is great with this, but so is refried rice. To refry rice, heat 1-2 T vegetable oil until very hot. Add 3-4 cups cooked rice, then season with about 1 tsp. fine salt, 1.2 tsp. ground pepper, and ½ tsp. garlic powder. Stir constantly until heated through, 5-10 minutes.

We’re staying in Oaxaca, the home as far as I’m concerned of all of the best in Mexican food: mole, tamales, and Mexican chocolate all originate here. The state of Oaxaca has some of the most vibrant indigenous communities in Mexico, with seventeen official languages and as many accompanying cuisines. There are more fruits and herbs in the market that I don’t know than ones that I do! So many women walk the streets and sit on corners with steaming pots of delicacies that it seems silly to cook, but it is nice to eat at home occasionally. All we have here is a stove top, one pan and one pot. But that’s all we need. Blanca took over last night and made one of her simple staples: carne molida. Peppers and tomatoes are in full season here, any by the end of the month they will be in Boston too.

Carne molida (ground meat)

Serves 4

1 lb ground beef

½ green pepper

½ onion

1 jalapeño pepper

2 small or one large tomato

2-3 T soy sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Dice the onion, pepper, and tomato. Cut open the jalapeño and take out the seeds. Then chop it finely. In a heavy pan, brown the meat, then add the other ingredients. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onion and peppers are softened but not mushy (10-15 minutes). Serve with rice and tortillas.

Freezing Fruits and Pesky Pesticides

I've been so wrapped up in freezing the loads of blueberries and peaches we have from the farmers' market and farm share and even the grocery stores, that I need to remember to eat some fresh!

Freezing fruits preserves much of their nutritional value. When freezing berries or cherries (remove pits first), wash them first, and air-dry them. Spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze them thoroughly, usually 4 to 6 hours. Put them in a freezer-quality ziploc bag or tupperware. Freezing them individually prior to bagging them up will eliminate the problem of having a solid mass of berries which must be thawed to use. The berries will stay loose and you can take out what you need. This way, you can freeze whatever will fit into your container and not be too concerned about specific amounts. Sliced rhubarb can be frozen with this method, as well.

For peaches, I don't usually freeze slices individually, so I measure the amount I'll need for a pie and write that amount on the container. If you do freeze slices first, which allows you to take out what you need and not concern yourself with measuring pre-freezing, spread them on a cookie sheet like the berry method, above. Two or three hours in the freezer should be enough to harden them. My husband's aunt told me that she freezes whole peaches on a cookie sheet, then puts them in ziploc bags and returns them to the freezer, and when she wants one, microwaves it for 30 seconds or so. She swears that they are almost like fresh. I don't have a microwave, so haven't tried this, but Jan is an honest person and a good cook, so I trust this works.

If you have too many bananas to eat before they go bad, throw them into the freezer (no need to wrap) and pull them out when you want to make banana bread. They thaw quickly.

Fruits and vegetables to get low or no spray

Any food pyramid or doctor will tell you to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and farmers' markets will drive the point home by displaying gorgeous rainbows of produce. A lot of stands at farmers' markets in Somerville and Cambridge advertise low-spray, or even no-spray items. But what if they aren't "low or no"? Should you avoid them altogether? Is fresh and sprayed better than nothing at all? Is peeling enough? These and other questions are answered by the Environmental Working Group ( Check out their website for a list of fruits and vegetables with the worst pesticide sprays.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pork Kebabs and Kale Chips

Pork marinade

We got "pork kebabs" from the CSA. Not too helpful a name, but they were already cut into big kebab chunks so I decided to marinate them.

At least 4 hours before cooking, and up to 8 hours, whisk together in a container with a top:

1/4 cup part lime juice

1/4 cup part dark brown sugar

1/4 cup part olive oil

2 TBS toasted sesame oil

2 TBS apple cider vinegar

1 TBS worcestershire sauce

1 TBS tamari

Place 1 lb. of pork cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch chunks into marinade and stir around. Put lid on container, shake up, and put in refrigerator. Every hour or so shake up container.

Soak wooden skewers in water for half an hour to prevent burning. Place meat on skewers and grill on medium heat, turning every few minutes, until cooked through, approximately 10 minutes total.

Kale Chips

I can't take credit for this. It came to me from a friend of a friend who heard about it from a CSA she was a part of a few years ago. It sounded good so I tried it, and boy! - it's a keeper!

Wash and spin dry kale.

Pull or cut off greens from the stems. Rip into 1 to 2 inch chunks.

Place in a bowl and drizzle on enough olive oil to lightly coat kale. Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste, and garlic powder if you so choose. Toss around with your hands until all is coated and place in a single layer on a cookie sheet or pyrex glass pan. Put into a 375 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until kale is crisp.