Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Free and Easy

My garden has turned from a wish list and a stack of magazines to rows of two-inch seedlings on every available counter.  But beyond bunches of chives and small pinches of fresh herbs, the hints of actually finding local and seasonal ingredients in my own back yard lead me smack into the realization of how far off the first harvest actually is. And it's not just me: the CSA and Farmer's Market won't start up for two months, and the "I'm Local" labels at Whole Foods are few and far between.  I'm still surprised that there does not seem to be much local greenhouse fare, but there is one: a Maine farm has started to supply Whole Foods with beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes.  And in keeping with winter really not being all the way over, Deep Root Farms in Vermont is still supplying Whole Foods with lovely root vegetables.  Our own farmer's market fruit and local meat CSA deep storage, in the freezer, hasn't quite run out yet.  Plus last week we got a surprise offer to be part of a morel recipe challenge sponsored by Max's.  We've been looking longingly at the beautiful piles of Pennsylvania mushrooms for a few weeks now, and the challenge put us over the edge - Pennsylvania is for at least the next month a part of New England.  So, tomatoes, parsnips, pork chops, morels, and peaches for supper. To our surprise, and relief, the pairing was not only delicious but fast and easy (ok, fast-ish: an hour and a half total start to finish for a full meal including dessert and five complete egg hunts for the 2-5-year-old crowd).  And with so much of the food having been paid for long ago, it was if not quite free at least not a lot immediately out of pocket.

Morel Mac N Cheese

Cook 1 lb Penne, drain, and put into a large mixing bowl with 1 T olive oil or butter.

Chop 8 small morels into small pieces and saute in 1 T melted butter for about five minutes.

Melt 6 T butter over medium-low heat, add 6 T flour, stirring constantly.  Add 3 cups milk and stir until smooth and thick.  Add 1.2 tsp. garlic powder, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. salt.  Remove from heat and mix in  the morels.  Mix the sauce gently into the pasta.  Put into a deep baking pan, cover with 1 lb grated mixed cheeses (cheddar, muenster, colby, fontina...) and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Tomato-Parsnip Salad

Peel 3 parsnips and slice, lengthwise, into 1/4" thick slices.  Lay on a cookie sheet, coat with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 350 for 15-20 minutes, turning halfway through.  They should be nicely browned all over and just beginning to become crispy. Remove from the oven and let cool.  Cut each slice into 2" pieces.  Slice 2 large tomatoes as thinly as possible.  Lay out one layer of tomatoes on a serving platter, then one layer of parsnips, another of tomatoes, and another of parsnips.  Drizzle with 1-2 T balsamic vinegar (we used a delicious fig balsamic).  Set aside for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour.

Morel-Braised Pork Chops

Soak 5 ounces fresh morels in 1 cup white wine for 10 minutes, then remove, saving the wine, and slice lengthwise into eighths.

Salt and pepper both sides of 6 3/4" pork chops.  Sear, in one very large or two medium, oven-ready pan(s), in 2T olive oil.  Remove the pork chops and set aside.  Saute 2 large shallots, finely chopped, in the pan(s) with anything left over from searing the pork.  Add the morels and the wine.  Place the chops on top and sprinkle with 2T roughly chopped chives.  Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes.  Set the pork chops on a serving platter.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the morels from the sauce and distribute over the pork chops.  Put the pan with the remaining sauce back on the stovetop over medium heat.  Simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup half and half or cream.  Pour a little over the chops and morels, put the rest into a sauce boat and make sure that everyone dribbles on extra at the table!

Peach Bread Pudding with Hard Sauce

In a large bowl, mix 3 eggs.  Add 2 cups milk, 1/2 cup half and half, 1/4 cup dark rum, and 1/2 cup dark brown sugar.  Mix well.  Stir in 8 ounces dried bread pieces broken into 1/2-1" chunks.  Let the bread sit in the milk mixture for at least 30 minutes, pushing down any pieces that stick up above the wet mixture.

If using frozen peaches, melt 1 T butter in a heavy pan.  Add 20 ounces frozen peaches.  Saute on very low heat, stirring as little as possible, until the peaches are completely defrosted.  Let cool to room temperature.  Stir the peaches and the yummy juice that has appeared in the pan into the bread mixture.  Pour into an 8 by 8" casserole.  Bake, uncovered, at 375 for one hour, then at 400 for 15 minutes.

In a medium pan, melt one stick butter.  Whisk in 1/2 cup dark rum and 1/3 cup powdered sugar.  Whisk until completely blended.  Pour a little over the top of the bread pudding before serving, and set out the rest on the table for self-dousing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Early Spring Comfort Food

Spring came in gorgeous and hot, and then turned cold and wet. Add to that three tired kids, one cold-ridden adult and two others back to school after a lovely week off, and it meant one thing: tonight was comfort food. At first glance, it was going to be a struggle to do local, seasonal fare. After perusing the supermarket, all we had come up with were shiitake mushrooms from Pennsylvania that we were considering local enough. Then Keja stumbled upon local beets and fresh cod, plus her by now huge chives in the backyard, and we were on our way. Something to remember when feeling underwhelmed by the local offerings in winter and early spring is that fish is a great way to go. Find your local fish monger, or even the grocery store (we are incredibly fortunate to have New Deal Fish Market a mile from our homes) and ask what's local. 

Cod in a Coat
Serves 4

2 slices thick cut bacon (or 4 slices regular), cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes
2 oz. (~ 2 medium-sized) shallots, diced
6 oz shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and discarded (or saved for stock) and tops torn into large chunks
2 oz. chives, roughly chopped
2 oz. cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 teas. ground black pepper

3/4 cup panko
1 teas. ground black pepper
1 teas. salt
2 TBSP sugar

2 lbs. cod

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a frying pan over medium low heat, cook bacon until the fat is rendered, for ~ 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add shallots, and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add mushrooms, cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and stir in chives, cilantro, and pepper.

Put mixture evenly into the bottom of a baking dish.

In a small mixing bowl add the coating ingredients. Liberally cover cod with coating on all sides and place on top of mushroom mixture in pan. Bake for 30 minutes, then broil for 2 to 3 minutes, until coating is starting to brown. Remove and serve.

Pressure Cooker Beet Risotto

makes 8 to 10 side servings

This recipe assumes you have a pressure cooker. We used Lorna Sass's basic pressure cooker risotto as a guide to get started, and then started playing with flavors, adding beets and cheese. We found the beet risotto to be a lovely side to the flavorful fish above. Alone, it would need more spark to hold you interest.

1 TBSP olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
4 cups chicken broth
6 small beets, roasted for 1 1/2 hours at 350, then wrapped in foil to steam for 10 minutes, then peeled and cubed
2 cups grated romano cheese
1 teas. salt
1 teas. ground black pepper

Put pressure cooker over medium heat and add oil. When melted, add onions and sauté until softening, ~ 2 to 3 minutes. 

Add rice and stir well. Add broth. Lock lid and cook over high heat. Once it attains high pressure, cook for 4 more minutes. Do a slow release, following instructions from pressure cooker.

Once slow release occurs, open lid and cheese, salt, and pepper, stir well, then add beets. Stir again. Serve.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring Break Cooking

I'm in California on Spring Break this week visiting me parents; sad to miss experimenting with Renee on Tuesday night, but quite happy to be cooked for by my mother!  And this family visit has me thinking of all of the many generations of passing down and reinventing that I'm a part of.  So I'm pulling out a recipe I tried after a recent visit to my grandmother.

Last weekend I visited my 86-year-old grandmother who lives and cooks independently in Brooklyn. The population in her building has shifted dramatically since I was a child, but when the elevator door opens on the 16th floor, the hallway still smells of that perfect blend of sautéed onions, garlic, and simmering tomatoes that is, for me, the essence of Italian. And of course, being fed large amounts of delicious food is a necessary component. She would joke that she’s lazy, but I really do attribute to experience the fact that my grandma Rose’s scrumptious specialties are perfectly simple and easy to prepare. This one was such a hit with my son, who loves to eat chicken “with the bone sticking out,” that I made it myself tonight, with a little variation to use up mushrooms that had been around just long enough.

Grandma Rose’s Chicken

Serves 4

4 drumsticks or 2 whole chicken legs

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 cup sliced mushrooms (baby bell or crimini)

1 cup chicken broth or stock

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a pressure cooker or a pot that can go in the oven, heat 1 T olive oil and sauté the onion until it begins to soften (5 minutes). Add the mushrooms and sauté until they release their water (about five minutes). Remove the onions and mushrooms and set aside. Add 1 T olive oil and brown the chicken. Return the onions and mushrooms and add the chicken broth.

If you are using a pressure cooker: lock the lid and cook at high pressure for 15 minutes. You can use fast or slow release methods. Check for salt and pepper before serving.

If you are not using a pressure cooker, cover and put in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Check for salt and pepper before serving.

Serve with rice over which you ladle the extra sauce. My grandmother also served this with snap peas, which she buys frozen. It had never occurred to me that one might freeze whole snap peas. They were delicious, a perfect side for this dish, and I’m going to grow and freeze some this summer.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Down and Up-sides of kitchen experiments

The up-side of our Tuesday night cooking experiments this week were the sides: a scalloped potato dish that had sophisticated hints of white wine and goat cheese with all of the kid-friendly creamy goodness of classic potato-dairy blends, and a stir-fried broccoli with a sauce whose slight spicy-saltiness perfectly complemented the crisp green-ness of the vegetable.  Oh, and the dessert was gorgeous, full of the warmth of summer peaches and just perfectly gently sweet enough.  The down-side was the main dish.  We meant to make a stuffed chicken breast creation where the chicken would make the kiddoes happy and the stuffing would delight the adults.  Flavor-wise, that worked.  But a series of chopping and cutting missteps led to our dubbing it "poop chicken" as we set it out on the table (the stuffing oozed in a particularly soft formed brown manner) and not actually including the recipe here today.

Scalloped Potatoes with Goat Cheese and White Wine
Serves 6 as a side

Preheat oven to 375.  Butter a 9x13 pan.  Peel and slice very thinly 8-10 small potatoes (about 2 lbs) and 1/2 medium-large onion.  In a deep pan, melt 3 T butter.  Add 3 T flour and stir for 2 minutes.  Add 2 cups milk and stir until thickening slightly, about 3 minutes.  Add 4 oz. goat cheese, cut into 4 or 5 chunks.  Remove from heat. Stir until cheese melts.  Add 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper.  Lay 1/3 of the potatoes even along the bottom of the pan.  Add 1/2 the onions.  Pour 1/3 of the sauce over, distributing evenly.  Add the next third of the potatoes in a layer, followed by remaining onions and next third of sauce.  Put last layer of potatoes and cover with rest of sauce.  Pour 1 cup white wine over the layers.  Bake for about 90 minutes.

Broccoli stir-fry
Serves 3 as a side

Roughly chop 1 bunch (three heads) broccoli.

Finely chop 3 cloves garlic.

In a small bowl, mix well:
3/8 cup soy sauce
3 tsp. corn starch
11/2 tsp. chinese chili paste
3 tsp. sesame oil
3 T mirin

In a wok, heat 1T vegetable oil until it just begins to smoke.  Toss in sauce, garlic, and broccoli.  Cook on medium-high, tossing often, for 3-5 minutes.  Cover and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes more, until the broccoli turns a bright dark green.  Serve immediately.

Rustic Peach Tart

Make 1 pate brise:
Put 1 cup white flour in a large mixing bowl.  Slice 1 stick cold butter and drop into the flour.  With two butter knives, cut the butter into the flour (hold one knife in each hand and slide them along side one another, catching some of the butter and flour each time) until the butter pieces are about the size if pine-nuts.  Using flat dry and if possible slightly cold hands, quickly rub the butter flour mixture between your palms.  Do this for no more than 2 minutes.  The goal is to give the butter-flour mixture a sandlike quality but without working about perfect uniformity.  Pour 1/8 cup very cold water over the mixture and very quickly, lightly, and rough blend in with your fingertips.  Flour a pastry cloth and drop the mixture into the middle.  Gather the cloth around the dough and form into a firm ball.  Lay on the counter and press into a thick pancake with the palm of your hand.  Open the pastry cloth and with a floured rolling pin, roll to about 1/8 in thickness (still on the pastry cloth).  Set a cookie tray alongside the pastry cloth and lift and flip the cloth to lay the dough flat on the tray.  At this point, you can proceed or you can wrap the tray tightly in sara wrap and freeze for up to 3 days.

Pour 1 lb sliced fresh or frozen peaches into the center of the dough, leaving 2" clear on all sides.  Sprinkle the peaches with 1/8 cup sugar, preferable demerara.  Fold the two inches up and over the edge of the peaches.  You will have a nice rough circle of peaches left showing in the center.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  While cooling, melt a handful of dark chocolate chips or a square of dark chocolate.  Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate all over the top of the tarte.  Serve warm or cooled to room temperature.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How long does it have to live in my freezer before it's local?

On most of the food we froze over the summer, we have passed the 6-month mark that is usually given for freezer-freshness.  Luckily an early March week like this, when Spring taunts us with snowbells then covers them in an icy glaze, is perfect for sweeping the bottom of the chest for any remainders of our Summer and Fall gardens and markets.  Renee and I have turned up green beans, fruit and berries, greens, and pesto.  Not only does that make for sorely missed local color on the dining table, it leaves us with almost nothing to shop for, almost nothing to pay for, and very little to prep!  A perfect time, we thought, to take on the labor-intensive experiment of stuffed artichokes--I'd like to say it's because they're not local that we're not actually including that recipe here, but actually they just came out rather badly.  But everything that really was local and freezer-seasonal (and simple) was delish, so here goes.

Baked Monkfish

Rub 1.5 lbs monkfish tail filets on all sides with a mixture of 1.5 tsp. fleur de sel or coarse salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. garlic powder.  Lay on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 for about 20 minutes (until flakey and white all the way through).  Serve with a butter dip made of: 1 T fresh or dried chives, finely cut (Keja actually has 2-inch chive stubs in the garden already, but Renee, one block North, is in another zone) and 1 T lime juice stirred into 4 T melted butter

Warm Potato Pesto Salad

Peel and cube 6 small potatoes.  Steam for about 15 minutes, until just cooked through.  Set aside in a bowl and in the same steamer, steam 4 cups frozen green beans for about 10 minutes until warmed through.  Toss together with 1-2 cups thawed pesto

Blueberry Honey Sorbet

In a large pot, over low heat, heat 2 lbs. frozen blueberries until bubbling.  Let them bubble gently for a while (at least 10-15 minutes) so that the skins soften so much that they will blend into a perfect mush.  Take off heat and pour into a blender.  Let cool for 10 minutes, then blend on low until smooth (being careful to lift lid slightly to let heat escape).  When the berries are smooth, add 1/3 cup honey and blend to mix well.  Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, until cold. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to machine instructions. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Heaven in a Bowl

This recipe is from our Scallop Night, a few weeks ago. You almost didn't need the scallops, the broth was so delicious. Probably chunks of tofu would be good in it, too.

Thai-Inspired Scallop Soup
serves four as an entrée or 6 as an appetizer

2 teas. vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3 scallions, sliced thin, whites and greens separated
6 inch square of cheese cloth and string to tie it, or just string
2 Thai red chiles
1 inch ginger, peeled and cut into 4 chunks
1 stalk lemongrass, outer leaves removed if brown, cut into 4 or 5 long thin strips, then each piece cut lengthwise into 3 or 4 pieces
13.5 oz. coconut milk
1 1/4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 lb. sea scallops, quartered (or bay scallops or peeled shrimp)
1 teas. salt 
1 1/2 - 2 limes, juiced
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

In a dutch oven or medium to large heavy soup pot or deep-sided saute pan, heat vegetable oil over medium-low heat and then add garlic, stirring frequently until golden but not burned, ~ 4 minutes. Remove garlic, setting aside.

Add whites of scallions to the pan and saute ~ 3 minutes, until softening.

Lay out the cheese cloth and in the center pile the chiles, ginger, and lemongrass. Fold sides up and tie closed with string. If only using string, tie chiles and lemongrass and keep ginger separate.

Add coconut milk, broth, and cheese cloth bag (or string-tied lemongrass and chiles and ginger). Cover and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

Remove cheesecloth bundle (and ginger if separate) and discard. Add scallops and cook until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add salt, lime juice, cilantro, scallion greens, and garlic pieces. Add more salt, if necessary. Serve with a salad and biscuits.