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.


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

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.