Friday, January 29, 2010

Chili Beans in Honor of Mama

My mother-in-law, Rosie, passed away yesterday. I miss her. She loved to eat about as much I as I do, and when I made something she liked she showed me the best appreciation I can ever ask for: asking for seconds, taking some home, and requesting it again the next time we talked. Rosie didn’t like everything I cooked, and when she politely said that she wasn’t hungry (she was always hungry at dinner time), or pushed food around with a fork and knife (she preferred to eat with her fingers), I would feel that sinking pit at the center of the stomach that comes when I’ve had a culinary failure. And so I can credit Rosie, and my desire to please her, with many dishes that have come to be family staples (did I mention that she would ask for things she liked again and again?). I made tacos for Rosie, and pasta with meat sauce, Asian Beef and Cuban pork loin in the crock pot, and cream of broccoli soup. I was learning to make her enchiladas. One thing I never made for her that she would have liked was “chili beans.” And so when my sister-in-law Darling arrived this morning, I suggested that “we” put on a big pot of chili beans so that all of the relatives coming through can just grab a bowl whenever they’re hungry.

Darling’s Chili Beans

1 lb ground beef
2 small or 1 large onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
2 large cans pinto or pink beans
1 large can tomato sauce
1 package “taco seasoning”
1-2 jalapeños, seeds removed and finely chopped
Salt and pepper
½-1 cup water

Brown the ground beef, then add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft. Add all of the other ingredients except the water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Add the water, bring back to a boil, then bring to a low simmer and cook for 1-3 hours. Serve with sour cream and grated cheese and of course tortillas.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Easy Desserts for a Crummy Day

The wind is whipping around the house, shaking trees and telephone poles, the rain is pouring down, and all I can think about is dessert. But, because my two-year old is "sleeping" (not really, but we both pretend and feel better for it), I can't go out to the grocery store, nor do I really want to: did I  tell you about the wind and rain?

So, I am left to get my sugar fix from what I can find in my cabinets. I pride myself on keeping a well-stocked cabinet, so I may have a leg up on a lot of you, but with a little binge-shopping the next time around, you, too, can have lots of un-necessities hanging around in your kitchen, just waiting for the perfect grey day to be made into greatness.

Chocolate-covered dried fruit

This is SO easy and really quite impressive.

1 package chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli bittersweet)
4 cups dried fruit (pineapple rings, mango, papaya, apple rings, banana chips are favorites)

Spread out a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet.

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler, stirring occasionally.

Using fingers or tongs, dip fruit pieces into chocolate, letting excess chocolate drip back into pan for a few seconds , and lay on waxed paper to dry. Allow a little space between pieces. Let dry completely, ~ 1 hour.

Hot chocolate

8 oz. milk
optional: 1 teas. vanilla
1 TBSP unsweetened chocolate powder
sugar to taste (or honey, demerara sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.)

Heat milk (and vanilla if using) until hot but not boiling. Whisk in chocolate powder and sweeten to taste.

Super Fudge

My mother made this a lot when I was growing up. I do not know where she got it but my aunt passed it along when I was pregnant with my first child and having a hard time gaining weight. It's a nice, healthy alternative to brownies.

1 cup honey
1 cup peanut butter or almond butter
1 cup carob powder (or chocolate powder)

Suggested additions
dried, shredded coconut
sunflower seeds
puffed rice or other small cereal
nuts, chopped small
dried cranberries

In a medium pot, warm honey and peanut butter until soft and well mixed, then add sifted carob powder.

Add additional ingredients to total 2 cups and mix well.

Grease a pie plate or 8x8 or 9x9 pan with at least 1 inch sides, with butter or oil. Put fudge in greased pan and into refrigerator. When it feels firm (it may already) cut into bite-sized pieces in pan. Cover with plastic wrap. It keeps for at least a week in the fridge and freezes well, too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What kind of a commitment am I making to my meat?

The freezer is still stuffed with the remains of the experiment, but our subscription to Stillman’s meat CSA is officially over. So now what? I’m having typical end-of-relationship quandaries: one part of me wants to run as far as possible from anything vaguely resembling what I’ve just had. And there are a lot of other fish in the sea, or livestock in the pens as the case may be. Whole Foods has a great selection of high quality local meat and poultry which is not only nicely butchered in general but can most often be cut to order right there at the meat counter. The prices can be on the high end, but they also have excellent sales even on high-end cuts, so as long as I am still prepared to buy and freeze meat in some kind of bulk, why not? It was this kind of thinking that even got me to try something new: when Whole Foods offered a nice looking turkey breast roast at a reasonable price, I picked it up and produced something so delicious and so easy I’m sure it’ll become a staple. But then Renée and I went to a CSA fair last week and met the folks from Austin Brothers Valley Farm. They had beautiful steaks sitting on ice, compelling literature about the connection between you and the farm, and sweet pictures of grazing cattle. I tried to ask about the selection and quality of the meat and the butchering process. The farmers said all sorts of things that sounded good, but I don’t really know enough to make sense of their explanations and I suspect that the people at Stillman’s would have said the same things to me last year had I asked them. My problems with Stillman’s boiled down to three main things: the chicken wasn’t well butchered, the beef was tough and sinewy, and the packaging was not to my liking (not great seals, no weight markings). Austin Brothers doesn’t do poultry, they said all sorts of good-sounding things about the quality of the beef, and the packaging that they had on display looked good. If we get 5 pounds/month it’s $9/pound; 10 pounds/month it’s $8.25/pound, and 20 pounds/month it’s $7.75/pound. But a three-month commitment has the same cost as a 6-month commitment, so maybe I can handle short-term monogamy and limited meat monogamy. Maybe I need to start slow and keep my options open for a while. Because I really do like being able to name the farmers are who are out there with the cows we’ll be eating; I love the idea of being able to take my son to the farm to see the very same animals that we’ll have on our table. Those are the parts that, however fantastic it is that Whole Foods as a company is supporting local farmers, I’ll never get by going through the grocery store. And I can still hang out at the meat counter picking up my poultry.

Non-Commital Turkey Breast Roast
Serves 4-5
1 2-2 ½ pound turkey breast roast, tied
2-3 T pepper corns
2-3 T coarse salt
1 T freshly dried thyme (the jars of dried herbs loose their zing FAST. If you dry your own every year, or even buy fresh at the store and dry it yourself, you’ll get MUCH more taste)
1 T freshly dried Italian herb blend (thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, parsley)
12 shallots
2 T butter
2 T flour

Preheat oven to 350. Using a big mortar and pestle or else a towel and a rolling pin, roughly crack the pepper corns. Mix together with the salt and herbs. Place the roast in a fairly small roasting pan, something that is just big enough to hold the roast and the shallots. Rub herb mix all over the roast, turning several times and really working to get as much as possible stuck onto the roast, and letting any extra fall into the pan. The roast should have a nice layer of fat on at least one side. Leave that side up. If there’s no fat anywhere on your roast, lay a few strips of bacon over the top. Peel the shallots and set them all around the roast. Cover tightly with tin foil and put into oven. After 30-60 minutes, remove the foil and continue baking another 60-90 minutes for a total of about 2 hours. It’ll b e done when the internal temperature (use a meat thermometer) is 165-170 and the juices run clear. Set the turkey and shallots in a serving dish and cover with the foil. Pour the baking juices into a measuring cup or bowl. You should have ½-1 cup of baking juices. Set the baking pan right on the stovetop flame. Melt the butter in it, then stir or whisk in the flour. When it’s well mixed, pour the baking juices (and any extra pepper corn and herb bits) back in, stirring well. Add another ½ cup or so of water, stirring well. Pour into a gravy boat and serve alongside the turkey. If you taste the gravy alone, it’ll probably seem way too salty, but the inside of a turkey roast really doesn’t get salted at all, so poured over the turkey it’s a totally different and quite perfect thing. Slice the turkey and serve with the shallots.

I serve this with roasted sweet potatoes and roasted asparagus, which I put into the same oven during the last 45 and 15 minutes of cooking, respectively.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pizza Your Way

A year ago I took a pizza class with my Dad at King Arthur Flour in Vermont. Ever since, I have been making awesome pizza at home. I got a pizza stone for my birthday and use that when I remember to preheat it in the oven first, but even when I forget and cook it on a cookie sheet, the pizza is delicious, fresh, hot, and rarely makes leftovers.

The crust ingredients are straight from King Arthur. I won't even bore you with their instructions, which are good, but unnecessarily complicated.

The whole process takes about 2 hours start to finish.


Makes enough for 2 "personal" sized pizzas. Double or triple as needed. Because of the packing nature of flour, it is best to weigh it; if you don't have a kitchen scale, use a spoon to fluff flour in its container, then add a spoonful at a time into the cup measure, gently shaking flour from spoon.

2 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour (I often do half whole wheat)
1 1/4 teas. instant yeast
3/4 teas. salt
1 TBSP (1/2 ounce) olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 cup (4 to 6 ounces) warm water

In a large bowl, add dry ingredients and use a whisk to mix. Use a dough cutter or spoon to stir in olive oil.

Add the minimum amount water, keeping in mind you will probably need to add it all. You want a wet but not sloppy dough. Once you have added all the water you need to, mix just enough to get a fairly cohesive mass and turn it onto a floured surface.

Knead it until it is smooth and shiny and when you gently poke it with your finger, it springs back quickly, ~ 3-5 minutes.

Put into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

When it has doubled in bulk, remove from bowl and put on a floured surface. Gently stretch the dough until it is the shape and thickness you want. Tears are okay: just gently mush them back together.

Variation: roll out on semolina flour for a crunchier crust.

Pizza sauce

1 TBSP olive oil
2 cloves crushed or minced garlic
1 28 oz. can tomato sauce
oregano, salt, and pepper to taste

In a sauce pan, heat olive oil and add garlic, stirring constantly until just fragrant, ~ 1 minute.

Add tomato sauce and spices and cook until bubbling. Turn off and let sit until needed.

Pizza toppings
You'll need ~ 8 oz mozzarella cheese for the above amount of dough.
Make sure any vegetables are sautéed first, otherwise they will make the pizza very wet.

Use whatever strikes your fancy. My favorites are:
sautéed onions and garlic
roasted red pepper
sautéed mushrooms

When dough is looking close to doubled in size, ~ 30 minutes before you want to eat, preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Prep dough. Put on a cookie sheet or, if using a pizza stone, onto the backside of a cookie sheet which has some semolina flour on it so dough will slip off onto stone. Lightly brush dough with olive oil, then add a layer of sauce. Cover with cheese and toppings.

Put into the hot oven, either on cookie sheet or slipped onto the stone. Cook until cheese bubbles and dough is puffing, ~ 10 minutes.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

New England almost White Winter Plate

Atlantic Cod can be fished year round, but in the winter when much else local is out of season, it’s nice to remember that cod is still being reeled in daily from Glaucester to the Cape and Islands, thrown on ice, and driven to our local grocery stores! Cod’s light texture and mild taste make it perfect for any number of sauces and preparations, including this most simple one. The thing is: I love fish with mashed potatoes or rice, but cod and both of those are white white white. And while it’s kind of cool on the one hand to celebrate the unmelted snow of midwinter with an all-white plate, even though I know that fish is good for you an all-white plate strikes me as totally unhealthy. So I figured a way to add some wonderful color, and to use up the very last of my winter CSA share red onions (so sad to see them go, but the last delivery was a month ago and I had to pull out a few layers that were turning brown, so it was time).

Baked Cod with Red Onions

Serves 4

Marinate 4 ½-3/4 pound cod filets in the juice of 6-8 limes plus about 1 T coarse salt and about 1 tsp. ground pepper. Let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. Slice 2-3 red onions. Lay half of the red onions on the bottom of a baking dish. Lay the cod over the onions, then lay the second half of the onions on top of the cod. Pour the marinade over everything. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish; you’ll know it’s done when the fish is white all the way through and start to sort of flake open on top). Serve the remaining sauce on the side. Perfect with rice or mashed potatoes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lamb Stew

I made lamb stew the other night. It was easier than easy. It was technically a Garbage Stew, a la Garbage Risotto, because it cleaned out the veggie drawer of all the leftover random root veggies that were collecting mold. It also used up a meat CSA package labeled, oddly, "lamb stew", which really was just 1 to 2 inch pieces of mystery lamb parts. The kids thought it was okay; Dave really liked it, but using up leftover things from the fridge and cupboard is a flavor-added ingredient to Dave, so take that with a grain of salt.

Garbage Lamb Stew

1 lb. lamb cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces

1/2 to 1 cup flour

1 teas. salt

1 teas. pepper

2 TBSP safflower or other high heat oil

3 cups root veggies cut into 1/2 to 1 inch chunks (carrots, parsnips, potatoes, dikon radish, turnip, celeriac, beets, etc.)

1 large onion, chopped

4 cups stock

salt and pepper to taste

Dry lamb off with a paper towel. Put flour and salt and pepper into a bowl and mix up. Add lamb and coat thoroughly. Add more flour if necessary.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pan. Add lamb and sear each side.

Add in root veggies and onion, and stock. Bring to a low simmer and cover. Let cook for 3 or 4 hours, stirring occasionally, until veggies are soft. If liquid is thin, remove cover for last 30 minutes to thicken it. Salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

mistakes and the discoveries to which they lead

Monday night is soup night at our house. Blanca works late and comes home hungry but not wanting a full meal. Soup is the solution. This week we have my parents and brother visiting, so my mom kindly offered to make the soup. I asked for French Onion and she looked in the Joy of Cooking. The soup was delicious. But, the Joy of Cooking said it made 8 servings. They obviously meant "cups" of soup rather than bowls. After my mom, my dad, and my brother each had a very modest serving, there was just one left. So I saved it for Blanca and went looking in the freezer. There was a single-serving of frozen minestrone soup I made last week, so I thawed that. No problem. But then when I went to put Blanca's bowl laden with graded gruyere and bread under the broiler, I got jealous. So I threw some on top of my minestrone, and put that under the broiler too. Now, the minestrone was good from the start, but the results were really fantastic and I'm not at all sure why it's never occured to me to put in the best part of French Onion Soup to other soups before!

Minestrone Soup with French Onion Topping

2 carrotts
2 celery ribs
1 onion
1 zucchini
1/2 head cabbage
1 can cannelini beans
6-7 cups homemade stock or broth
6 oz. tomato sauce
olive oil
salt pepper
parmesan rind
6 oz grated gruyere cheese
4-6 slices bread (I prefer French or Sourdough)

Slice the carrotts, celery ribs, and onion. Saute in olive oil the bottom of a big soup pot for about 5 minutes. Slice the zucchini and add. Saute for another 3-5 minutes. Chop the cabbage and add. Saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add stock or broth, tomatoe sauce, beans, and parmesan rind. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. A few minutes before you are ready to serve, ladel the soup into oven-safe bowls, sprinkly lightly with gruyere, then cut bread into 1" squares and lay over top, then sprinkle with more gruyere. Set the bowls onto a baking pan and then place them under a high broiler for 3-5 minutes, until browned. Remove and serve immediately.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rethinking Salad

A while ago Keja mentioned that the way you cut the ingredients of a salad can drastically change how it tastes, often alleviating the boredom of a mid-winter salad (she also suggested not eating salad out of season but we'll pretend we didn't read that!). And she was right! The salad below is almost a salsa or chutney, rather than a traditional leaf-based dish.

This recipe comes from my friend Caitrin. It's based on Israeli salad and she has refined it over the years. She says that the scallions are key to a traditional Israeli salad but in a pinch I used shallots and it was delicious. I've also used only green pepper, seeded an English cucumber, and forgotten to add cheese. The point is, it's going to be delicious!

Caitrin's Israeli Salad

Serves 4 to 6 salad-hungry adults

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 green bell pepper or Italian green pepper

1/2 large European seedless cucumber or 3-4 Persian cucumbers

4 - 6 scallions

2 medium-large tomatoes

Lettuce - as much or as little as you want- Caitrin often uses a half or third of a head

1/4 bunch of cilantro

1 ripe avocado

Feta (sheep's milk is much better) use as much as desired

1 lemon, juiced

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup olive oil, the darker the better

Chop all vegetables fine (aim for 1/8 to 1/4 inch pieces) and put in a bowl. The trick to having it taste so good is that you spend time cutting everything very small (especially the cilantro, lettuce, and scallions).

Add the salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil and toss it very well, get all of the juices very well mixed.

At times Caitrin also adds radish, or shredded carrot, even tuna.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

For the Love of Leftovers

I am married to a person who doesn't do leftovers. No reheating an extra portion for lunch the next day. No putting it sliced up into a sandwich or tossing it over lettuce for a salad. If it looks anything like what we had in the past few days, it's out. But complete transformation is a different story all together. And the thing about a leftovers shepherd's pie is that the bits and peices can build up for weeks from such a variety of different meals that any one origin is unrecognizable. Of course, this means that an exact recipe for the dish is impossible, but I'm going to give the specifics of a truly fantastic one I made last night. One of the great benefits of this one: there were three teens and a toddler eating alongside us adults, and though each of the kids' plates had something piled up on the side at the end of the meal, there was such a variety of meat and veggies that each one had been able to fully enjoy a nourishing meal!

The trick to making this is saving things up in the freezer
Preheat oven to 350.
After making sure everything is chopped to roughly the same size (it's easy to further chop all of these things while they're fozen). Mix together in a big bowl:

2-3 cups cubed leftover steak or roast (If there's a piece of steak or roast that goes uneaten at a meal, I cube it and then put it in a marked freezer bag)
1/2-1 cup leftover roasted sweet potatoes

1/2 cup leftover sauteed greens

1-2 cups cubed leftover roasted carrotts (these are so good in so many things, any time I'm making a roast I put in 3-4 extra carrotts just to have in the freezer)

1/2-1 cup cubed leftover roasted shallotts or onions (ditto)

1/4-1/2 cup roughly chopped frozen blanched carrotts

1-2 cups roughly chopped frozen blanched green beans

Toss with a thick gravey. I make this on the spot:

In a large pan, melt 2 T butter. Add 2 T flour and mix well. Add 2 cups beef broth, 1/4 cup at a time and mixing very well between each to keep a nice thick gravey. If your beef broth was pretty rich and thick, you're set. If it was on the clear side, add 1 beef bullion cube mashed in a few tablespoons of hot water.
Pour the mixture into a big deep baking dish.
Top with about 6 cups fresh or frozen mashed potatoes. If you've frozen these, be sure to let them thaw before you put them on so that you can spread them well. Any favorite mashed potato recipe will work, but this one is particularly fantastic:

Mashed Potatoes
Peel and cube 6-8 potatoes. Any kind works, and my favorite is actually a blend. Steam the potatoes until soft, about 20 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a big bowl and smash, using a ricer or really big fork, with 2 T butter, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1 T salt, and 1-2 tsp. freshly grated pepper. The parmesan cheese is the secret ingredient that makes these. Add a little more if you really want to taste it.
After you've spread the mashed potatoes over the filling, bake at 350 for an hour, then if you're not quite ready to eat turn down to 250 and it can keep going for up to another hour.
Serves 6 comfortably.