Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Ideas and Preserved Ingredients

Last night we made a meal that was a smashing success, start to finish, if I do say so myself. Even the kid taste testers approved. It was a lovely mix of using up canned and dried foods as well as harvesting herbs from our gardens, and taking advantage of the amazing grocery stores Greater Boston has to offer. 

These dinners are also serving two very important functions: we have great discussions about food: for example, the merits of labeling meals that are low in fat as healthy vs. those that are comprised of whole foods; and we are also showing our children that cooking food is not only about filling our hungry stomachs, but also about the process. I find, and I think Keja agrees, that I have as much fun planning, prepping, and cooking the meal as I do eating it. While our kids now only see the benefits of our Tuesday Night Cooking Club to be a chance to play together more, I believe that we are building a strong foundation for them, too, to appreciate and think of food as more than just a quick fix to a growling tummy.

This meal was partly planned (tacos, fiddleheads, beans, cake) and partly a happy accident we created to use up extra fish (ceviche). However, we found that it all went really well together. Whether you decide to eat the ceviche as an appetizer, or to build it into the tacos, it works. 

This entire meal serves 4 people.


Ceviche a sort of soup, sort of salsa, sort of salad that uses the process of cooking raw fish in citrus juice. It can take a few hours but we used #1 tuna and let it marinate for around 45 minutes. This left the center of each chunk of fish nicely raw, which was fine, because it was sushi grade.

1/2 lb. tuna (we used tuna "tips" - the leftovers from when the fish monger was cutting steaks), cut into 1/2" cubes
1 teas. salt
1/2 cup lime juice (or slightly more)
1 mango, slightly underripe, chopped into 1/2" cubes
1 avocado cut into 1/2" cubes
1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 TBSP chives, chopped into 1/8" pieces
3-4 mint leaves, coarsely chopped

In a small bowl with steep sides place tuna, salt, and lime juice and stir to mix. Tuna should be just covered with juice. If it is not, add just enough juice to cover. Set aside for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

Stir in remaining ingredients and serve.

Fish Tacos

1 lb. tuna tips

2 TBSP oregano
2 chipotle peppers from chipotles in adobo sauce, seeds removed and cut coarsely
2 teas. garlic powder
2 teas. coarse sea salt
1 teas. cumin

Mix rub ingredients together and spread evenly over tuna tips. Set aside for 30 minutes.

2 to 3 tomatillos, papery skins removed, toasted 1-2 minutes per side in a cast iron pan until soft and browning, ~ 20 minutes
1/2 of a whole guajillo chili, toasted in cast iron pan 1-2 minutes per side, ~ 4 minutes
3 TBSP sour cream
2 TBSP orange juice
1/2 teas. sea salt

Blend together in a blender until smooth.

1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup green cabbage, chopped
2 TBSP chives, chopped
1 TBSP mint, medium chopped
12 corn tortillas, heated over gas stove or grill 1-2 minutes per side, or warmed in an oven

Broil or grill tuna on high 2-3 minutes, turning halfway through.

Put each ingredient in a separate bowl. Have each person make their own tacos. Lay tortilla out. Place tuna on top. Spread on veggies. Drizzle with sauce. Serve with refried beans (we made them with beans Keja harvested from her pole beans last year. They were SO good and full of flavor, putting canned refried beans to shame!).

Fiddlehead Ferns

**A note on fiddleheads: some people are sensitive to toxins in raw or undercooked fiddleheads, and others are not, as we discovered. Renée is sensitive and got sick from eating them; Keja enjoyed a lovely evening afterwards. After some thorough research, we have concluded that the safest way to eat fiddleheads for everyone is to steam or boil them for 10 minutes, and then cook as we suggest below.

These are a seasonal delicacy. We got ours in Whole Foods and they were from Massachusetts. I remember when I was 3 or 4 growing up in Vermont friends gave us some that they had found in the wild. Either way, they are super delicious. 

4 TBSP butter (salted or unsalted)
1 1/2 cup Fiddlehead Ferns
1 TBSP lime juice
salt to taste

Melt butter in a saute pan over medium low.

Add ferns and saute, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add lime juice and gently stir. Add salt if necessary.

Apple Sauce Cake

We made and canned apple sauce and jelly last fall. We both had a few jars remaining on high shelves and decided to do something about it.

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 10" springform pan.

2 cups white flour
1 teas. baking soda
1 teas. baking powder
1 teas. cinnamon
1/2 teas. salt
1 stick (8 TBSP) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup sour cream

In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients.

In a large bowl mix butter and sugar well. 

Add eggs to butter and mix.

Add apple sauce and sour cream to butter. Mix well.

Add dry to wet ingredients and mix well.

Pour into the pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, checking after 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teas. vanilla
optional: 1/2 cup raspberry jelly

Mix cream cheese and sugar.

Add vanilla.

Swirl in jelly, if using.

Place cake on a plate and frost.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Once and Future Meal

What with seedlings reaching (almost) sky high and herbs in full leaf, fresh from the garden and farmstand food is starting to seem like a real possibility again.  But we haven't quite hit the bottom of the freezer bin and if we don't get there soon, whatever's left will get buried and lost for ever.  This sounds like the makings for some profound reflection on the nature of time or the shared qualities of Fall and Spring, but all we got to really was a good meal. 

Green Rice Pilaf

1 cup blanched frozen chopped kale or other greens
1 cup stock
3 cups water
1 cup rice 
1 ounce (1/3 cup) "sundried" tomatoes (these were actually done in a dehydrator), sliced into thin strips
2 large onions
1 tsp. salt
1 T olive oil

Cut the onions in half and then slice into 1/8-1/4" strips.  Saute in olive oil until just beginning to soften, then turn down to a very low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour.  The onions will caramelize, turning sweet and brown.  This can be done up to 2 days in advance and the caramelized onions can be refrigerated.

Blend the kale, with about 1/4 cup of the stock or water, until smooth.  Bring the remaining water and stock to a boil, add the rice and return to a boil.  Add the blended kale, sundried tomatoes, and salt.  Cover and simmer, on medium-low heat, for about 30 minutes.  Remove lid, fluff rice and add in onions.  Cover and let sit for another 5 minutes or so. 

Roasted Cauliflower

Spread 1 head cauliflower (any color), florets broken or cut into 1-2" pieces, on a baking pan.  Drizzle with 4 T olive oil.  Sprinkle with 1 tsp. each salt, pepper, and paprika.  Roast at 350 for about 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes.

Fresh Herb Spread

Chop finely: 2 lg. bunches chives; 1 bunch parsley; 4 sprigs mint; 1/2 bunch watercress
Mix with: Juice of 2 limes; 2-3 tsp. coarse sea salt (I love salt, and use 1 T here quite happily)
Put into a small serving bowl and set on table to be spooned over the fish.

Butter Fish

We meant to use butterfish, a flakey mild fish of my childhood.  But when Renee went to buy fish, she was told butterfish was an oily anchovy-like thing and not in anyway.  The sole that she got worked perfectly.  Cod or flounder would be good too, but if you use those, double the cooking time as they tend to be thicker.

Melt 2 T salted butter in pan until it stops bubbling.  Add in about 1/2 lb. of the sole.  Cook for two minutes on each side.  Repeat with another 2 T butter and the other 1/2 lb. sole.  Serve immediately, topped with the Fresh Herb Spread.

Raspberry Clafouti

1/2-1lb frozen raspberries (a traditional clafouti is dappled with fruit, which a 1/2 lb would do; a full pound makes for a very berry-filled dessert, but the clafouti holds it well).
1/4 cup vanilla vodka (or 1 tsp. vanilla)
4 eggs
1 cup cream or 1/2 and 1/2
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour

Whisk eggs, cream, milk, and vodka.  Add sugar and keep whisking.  Add flour and keep whisking.  Butter a 9x13 dish.  Spread the raspberries over the dish.  Pour the batter over the berries.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. 

Vanilla Vodka

When I lived with the Vexliards in France, I learned many a wonderful kitchen trick.  But I only watched from a distance as they concocted alcoholic delights like vin de noix (walnut wine) and cherry eau de vie.  Still, the memory has been sitting somewhere waiting to be reactivated, and when Marx's sent us a free sample of vanilla beans, the fusion occured.  Well, actually, I first thought of making our own vanilla, which Renee already does, and then she suggested vanilla alcohol, and then I remembered. 

Fall a mason jar with vodka
Add 5 whole vanilla beans (do not split)
Let set at least two weeks.    

Vanilla Vodka Creme

Since we've started making liquours, we clearly need to start making drinks.  Dave is our cocktail mixologist, but Renee and I are full of dessert drink ideas.  This one is not only delicious, it changes delightfully as you drink, starting out strong on the vanilla and slowly sweetening into the caramel.

Set a spoon holding a heap of burnt caramel sauce in a brandy snifter.  Pour over the spoon 2 oz. vanilla vodka and 1 oz. heavy cream or 1/2 and 1/2. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Last Fall, I meant to pick every last leaf of parsley and basil to make large stores of pesto for the winter. I managed one nice batch before the frost withered the basil leaves and the snow buried the parsley. I’m sorry about the lost basil, but pleased as punch about the parsley which perked right back up as soon as the snow melted and has quickly returned to its vigorous early November habits. I’m quite sure that the package of tiny seeds I bought last spring did not mention any winter-hardy qualities, but only the chives and the sage match its density (although one-inch sprigs of mint, thyme, and rosemary are putting on a good early show themselves). The other thing that “popped out” (to use my son’s terminology) this week is out our friend’s baby, so while Renee took new baby pictures I cooked. These meatballs highlight the backyard parsley and store beautifully for days in the fridge or weeks in the freezer, an ideal dish to make in volume and share with friends or (newly expanding) families.

Spring Parsley Meatballs

1 lb ground beef
1 egg
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup grated parmesan
½ cup finely chopped parsley
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh oregano
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 can tomato paste

Pour all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix with hands just enough to blend well. Form the mixture into balls. You can freeze them at this point to cook later, or cook the meatballs in gently simmering tomato sauce for about 30 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate or freeze in sauce.

Any tomato sauce is good with meatballs, but I find that a blended sauce best highlights the meatballs. We posted a fancy one a few weeks ago. But with the meatballs, all you need is the most simple blended tomato sauce. I used this:

Simple Blended Tomato Sauce

1 large onion, chopped small
2-3 carrots, chopped small
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 T olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper

Sauté the onions in olive oil until barely translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper, bring to a simmer and cook 20-30 minutes. Blend in two batches. Return to the pot to cook meatballs.

Serve over spaghetti, linguini, or angelhair pasta.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Potatoes and Ice Cream, a Meal to Heal

Well gentle readers, here at Cooking the Seasons we are feeling pretty sorry for ourselves. For technological reasons beyond our understanding, our entry for the Morel Challenge was not received. To ease our troubles, we made the ultimate comfort foods: French fries and ice cream. You can't vote for our mushroom recipe (though you can make it) so instead, let us know what you think about these two recipes!

French-Baked Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, and Beets

3 medium potatoes sliced into French fry size. Put into cold water for 10 to 30 minutes.
1 large sweet potato, slice same as potatoes
1 large beet, sliced same as potatoes

Put potatoes, sweet potato, and beet sticks on a cookie sheet. Toss in 1 to 2 TBSP olive oil, 1 teas. salt, and 1 teas. pepper. Spread them out evenly.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, turning halfway through.

Vanilla ice cream with burnt caramel sauce and strawberries

3 vanilla beans
1 quart half and half
3/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks, stirred until smooth

Split vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds out with a spoon and put seeds and beans into a heavy sauce pan. 

Add half and half and heat over medium-low heat until warm. Add sugar and stir frequently until sugar has dissolved and mixture is hot but not boiling.

Very slowly, drizzle egg yolks into mixture while whisking constantly. (It helps to have another person assist with this step.)

Cook for ~ 15 minutes until mixture is thickening (test by dipping a wooden spoon into mix; when you draw your finger across the spoon, it should leave a line).

Place in a cold water bath (we stopped up the sink and added ice but a large bowl works well, too). When the mix is luke warm to cool, put in the refrigerator and chill until cold, ~ 1 to 2 hours.

Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Burnt Caramel Sauce

When the ice cream is completely frozen, begin the caramel sauce. This is not the gooey, thick caramel you might think of, but instead a liquidy sauce that thickens as it hits the cold ice cream.

In a heavy sauce pan over medium-low heat, melt 1/4 cup demerara or white sugar (demerara will give it a darker color and flavor), stirring frequently.

When sugar is completely liquid and starting to bubble, drop in 3 TBSP of butter, broken up into chunks. Stir until melted completely, ~ 30 to 45 seconds.

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup heavy cream.  Pout into a pitcher and serve over ice cream, with fresh strawberries.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pork Tenderloin with Morels and Shallots

We were recently asked to join the Marx Foods Annual Morel Recipe Challenge. We were honored to be asked, quickly agreed, and were sent an ounce of lovely dried morels. Our recipe idea came to us pretty quickly, and we are delighted with the results! We practiced last week with fresh morels and tweaked it a bit to bring you the recipe that follows. We hope you enjoy it. 

Pork Tenderloin with Morels and Shallots

Serves 4
Takes ~ 2 hours, including soaking morels

1 oz. dried morel mushrooms
2 cups dry white wine
2 1lb. pork tenderloins
3 TBSP olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped fine
2 TBSP roughly chopped chives (~ 1/4 inch pieces)
1/2 cup half and half or cream

In a mixing bowl soak morels in wine for 1 hour.

15 minutes before morels are finished soaking, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Salt and pepper all sides of the tenderloins.

Remove morels from wine, saving wine. Slice each morel lengthwise into 6 to 8 slices.

Heat a large oven-proof, heavy frying pan over medium-low heat. Add olive oil. Sear tenderloins for 2 minutes on each side. Remove to a plate.

Add shallots and saute for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add morels and wine to pan and place tenderloins on top of shallots and morels. Pour any accumulated meat juices in, too. Sprinkle with chives. 

Bake in the oven on a middle rack for 30 to 40 minutes, until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees in the center of the tenderloin. As all ovens are slightly different, start checking temperature around 25 minutes to avoid the crime of overcooking.

Remove tenderloins to a platter and slice into 1/2 inch slices. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the morels onto the top and sides of the meat. 

Place the pan with the remaining liquid over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in half and half or cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Drizzle half of the sauce over the platter and pour the rest into a pitcher or gravy boat and serve on the side.