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:
brown sugar
diced apple
flax seeds
sunflower seeds
chopped dried apricots
fresh berries
fresh peaches or apricots
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...).


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.