Monday, December 28, 2009

Mistakes

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


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


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


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


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


Christmas Eve Clam Chowder


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


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

1 TBSP butter

2 cloves garlic, minced (~1 teas.)

1 cup dry white wine

1 teas. pepper

1/4 teas. crushed red pepper

1 cup milk

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


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


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


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


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


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


Serve with biscuits or rolls or warm bread.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas-week Dinner

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


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


Chicken, Corn, and Orzo


serves 2 adults and 2 children who love pasta


Chicken


Preheat oven to 400.


2 TBSP olive oil

1 large onion, chopped large

4 mushrooms, sliced thick

salt and pepper

1/2 teas. garlic powder

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs


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


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


Orzo


1 cup orzo

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

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

salt and pepper


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


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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

of mixes and combinations

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

Local Sweet Granola

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pizza Rice and Beans

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

Pizza Rice and Beans
serves 4

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

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

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

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

Serve with rice and a salad.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winter Salad

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

Bulgur Winter Salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2009

Jet Lag Curing Chicken

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

Lemon-stuffed Roasted Chicken

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Beyond the Feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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