Monday, September 27, 2010

Calamari With Spicy Dipping Sauce

We got gorgeous, local calamari from New Deal last week. It had been caught that day, and was the most tender, flavorful squid I have ever eaten.

2 lbs. calamari, tubes and tentacles
1 cup white flour
1 teas. salt
1 teas. pepper
1/2 teas. oregano
1/2 teas. thyme
olive oil
1 to 2 lemons, cut into wedges

Cut tubes into 3/4 to 1 inch thick slices.

Mix flour and spices together in a mixing bowl or paper bag.

Add calamari to bowl (or bag) and stir (or shake) until everything is well coated in flour. Add more flour if need be.

Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a frying or wide saute pan with 1/4 inch oil. When hot but not smoking, add enough calamari to cover bottom and cook for a few minutes, gently stirring once or twice to cook all sides. Remove to a serving platter. Cook remaining calamari this way, adding more oil as needed.

Squeeze lemon over the top and serve with the dipping sauce that follows.

Spicy Dipping Sauce

1 TBSP olive oil
3 cups chopped tomatoes
1 teas. diced jalepeño
1 TBSP garlic, minced
salt to taste

In a saute pan, heat oil. When hot but not smoking, add tomatoes, jalepeño and garlic and cook covered on medium-low, stirring frequently, until tomatoes break down, ~ 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully blend in a blender or food processor for a few seconds, remembering hot foods expand when blended, so keep top slightly ajar to release heat build-up. Blend until still chunky but mixed. Add salt.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


If Renée and I find slaughtering chickens more useful than terrifying, what else might we kill? I was only half-joking when I suggested that on the way home from Vermont we stop in New Hampshire to buy a rifle. And I wasn’t joking at all when I asked my brother if he could set me up with his gun and some tin cans the next time I’m out in Colorado. So far, the closest any of this has gotten to home were the stories of pheasant hunting as a kid that Renée’s husband Dave told us when I revealed to him my fantasy of two women, three kids, and a dead deer trudging out of the New England woods on their way to racks of venison. Slowly conceding to reality, I agreed that the most likely thing I’ll ever shoot at is a duck, and the most likely way I’ll cook a duck in the near future is by buying one at the grocery store. But I’m not giving up my dreams – this is just a trial run for that fantastic fowl I’ll make drop from the sky one day.

Rub a 3-4 pound duck with 1 garlic, sliced in half, 1 sliced hot pepper, and about 2 T tamari, in that order. Stuff with the garlic and one apple, quartered and stuck with 4-6 cloves per quarter. Set in a roasting pan and roast at 400-425 for about 1 hour, or until the meat reaches 170 degrees at the bone. Remove from oven, spread with plum sauce, and let sit about 10 minutes before carving.

While the bird is cooking, prepare the Plum Sauce

Bring to a boil 6 plums, halved and seeded, with 1/3 cup raspberry vinegar and ¼ cup sugar. Simmer on low until the duck is almost done. Strain the sauce, then stir in two shallots, which you have diced and sautéed until almost caramelized. Spread about half of the sauce over the duck, and put the rest in a gravy tureen to serve with the meal.

While the bird is cooling, cook the baby bok choy. Heat a wok with 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil to very hot. Toss in 1 garlic clove, sliced thin, and about 1” of ginger, peeled and sliced thin or cut into matchsticks. Toss for about 1 minute. Then add in 4 heads of baby bok choy (cut off bottom of stem to separate leaves, rinse, and dry partially first) and 1 T tamari. Toss frequently for about 3 minutes, or until bok choy just starts to wilt.

Serve with rice.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fall Chicken Pasta Salad

Pasta Salad is just about the least informative name a dish could have, second maybe to Soup or, if you're in Minnesota, Hot Dish.  "Pasta," kind of like "broth" can hold just about anything, gently creadle its flavors, and deliver them to youin fantastic--or just kind of average--combination.  So what distinguishes a great pasta salad?  First, of course, it's one that uses local and seasonal ingredients.  Things that grow together naturally taste good together, if you follow a few basic rules of common sense.  That's why I think of the main distinguishing factor in a pasta salad name to be its season.  Second, the pasta must be cooked just to al dente, and then just after it's drained either rinsed in cold water or tossed with a little olive oil, or both.  It doesn't matter much what kind of pasta you use, though spaghetti, linguini, and angel hair are pretty much out.  And third, it contains the right balance of flavors, colors, and textures.  For this, I have a basic set of categories to draw from.  The key is to get at least one but not more than two things from each category.  A pasta salad CAN get overloaded, so if you use for example red pepper as your crunchy, count it also as one of your reds.  After you've prepped everything, toss it together with the pasta and douse it with a good amount (two-three times what you'd use for a regular salad of the same size) of vinaigrette.  You can serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days. 

1) Protein- pasta salad tastes great without a protein, but it fills you up and doesn't really satisfy.  Good in the Fall Pasta Salad are
          cold chopped chicken
          cubed hard salami
          feta cheese
          garbanzo beans

2)  Something crunchy
          raw corn, sliced off the ear
          raw red pepper, diced
          raw red onion, diced
          raw green beans, chopped
          raw carrotts, chopped
3) Something roasted
          red peppers
          zucchini or summer quash
          winter squash
4) Tomatoes of some sort (fresh, roasted, sundried...)
5) Something sweet
     You can bring out the sweet in something savory
          caramelized onions
          roasted red peppers
          roasted or caramelized carrotts
     Or you can use something more traditionally sweet
          apple or pear
6) A range of colors: the red white and green of the Italian flag are a must, but best is to get at least one color beyond that.  Remember also to stick to the rule of not more than two things in any category, so if you used red pepper and tomato already, then you've hit your red limit.  There's actually a nice range of colors in the lists above, but a few other favorites still need to be mentioned.     
          Basil, whole leaves or roughly chopped
          zucchini, raw or roasted
          eggplant, roasted
          summer squash, raw or roasted
          corn, raw or cooked



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Local, Seasonal Chicken Salad and Raspberry Galette

We roasted up the 6-pound chicken that I brought home from Vermont. I kept it simple, to really taste the meat. I rubbed it with oil, salted and peppered the outside, and put a lemon that I had poked holes in into the cavity. It took longer to cook that I thought it would; I've heard that fresh chicken (never frozen) cooks faster than it's defrosted brethren, but I was wrong. It took two hours to get to 165 degrees. Anyway, we ate most of it that evening, but had some leftover, so, as our marriage vows indicate, Dave took over the task of making something delicious out of food I would have sworn had little hope of being eaten.

Below is his incredibly good chicken salad recipe.

A Chicken Salad Change-of-Pace 

Try this if you are bored with your current chicken salad recipe.  Chop up some chicken leftover from a good roast chicken (a couple of cups of finely chopped meat).  Add 1 carrot, diced as small as your patience will allow.  Add 1 medium-sized yellow bell pepper, again diced as small as you can.  Add mayo to taste (I used 3 tablespoons).  Then dice up a few handfuls of flat-leaf parsley and cilantro and throw that in there.  Makes a nice chicken salad change-of-pace for sandwiches!

Yesterday, Vivien and I went raspberry picking again, this time with our friends Meghan and Emma. The girls reenacted Blueberries for Sal; every few minutes Meghan and I would add a handful to their pails, and when they came back to us five minutes later, they would only have three berries in the bucket. However, Meghan and I each picked around four pounds. So, I froze a few trays and we ate a bunch for snack and breakfast today, and the remainder I made into a galette, which is a rustic, free-form pie.

Raspberry Galette

serves 4

1 cup white flour
2 TBSP white sugar
1/4 teas. salt
6 TBSP unsalted butter
2 TBSP Crisco
2 TBSP ice cold water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter and crisco and use two butter knives to criss-cross cut the butter into the flour. When each piece is ~ pea-sized, use your hands to gently rub the butter into the flour until it is cornmeal consistency. Do not over-rub, as it will make the crust tough.

Roll it out into a 12-inch diameter circle and put on a cookie sheet. Put 1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries into the center, dust with 1 TBSP sugar and sprinkle 1 teas. lemon juice over it. Fold the sides of the crust up and gently pinch together edges to form a roughly 6-inch diameter circle with an uncovered hole at the top that is ~ 3 inches in diameter. I regret that I did not take a picture, but this website has a nice photo of what the galette should look like.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the crust is starting to brown. Cut into four pieces and eat as is, or topped with vanilla ice cream or plain or vanilla yogurt.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Slaughtering Chickens

This weekend will stand out as one of the most fun and relaxing I’ve had in a long time. It's the same one Renée describes below.  We were there together, shared thoughts, concerns, curiousities on the drive up and down.  And just like when my son and I lick off the same ice cream cone we still come up with different descriptiosn of its flavor, we experienced the chicken slaughter in unique ways. 

Renée's dad Dirk and and her stepmom Judith live in a picturesque Vermont town and between the smattering of red and orange leaves, the crisp cool air, and the kids running karate chopping through the community dance late into the night, it was a perfect New England Fall scene. But my favorite part of the weekend was the chicken slaughter.

In part, it was a relief to put some experience behind all of my talk about being the kind of carnivore who has full appreciation for the life and death of her meat.

In part, it was fascinating to learn a whole new side of the food preparation process. And in response to my friends’ somewhat wary, “so, how was it?” I’ve given the physical details. Monty, a professional slaughterer arrived at Dirk and Judith’s with a whole set-up: cones, hangers, vats of hot and cold water, a plucker, and table, and knives. He caught the chickens, turned them upside down and let us help carry them in relative calm across the yard to where we put put them head-down into the cones in batches of six. Monty cut each neck with a single, swift, slice. The heads fell into a bucket, followed by a little blood. The bodies twitched, one or two hard enough to come out of the cones and flop around on the ground, but not for long. Monty dumped them one at a time into the hot water to loosen the feathers, then we took turns holding them by the legs over the spinning plucker, and once the feathers were gone they just looked like a whole bird you’d get at the store. There was still cutting off the feet and gutting them. Reaching into the cavity of the bird and trying to imitate Monty’s single smooth pull and plop of intestines and organs was hard, but it felt like any kitchen skill. Yes, there were the lungs alongside the liver, and a heart that had only just stopped beating, but what mostly passed through my mind were questions about how you might turn those too into good foods, and when someone said their mom used to make cookies with the chicken fat I looked at it and thought yum.

In part, it was amazing to witness the deft hand of a man who’s been slaughtering for more than 40 years, to see the respect, and tenderness, in the way he stepped into the coop, brushed down the white feathers as he lifted the birds, and caught their blood spray across one cheek. Monty is generous with his time and his knowledge, explaining as he went why it’s better to dip the birds in cold water before you try to pull out any last feathers, and slowing his work to remind us how to pinch off the gall bladder or to point out that those little things are the testicles. It was a treat to catch a few hours’ worth of old Vermont stories, and to share thoughts on the future of small farming and local food with folks whose livelilhood depends on its production.

And of course the whole is something that none of those parts quite capture. After it was done, as Monty was cleaning up, I watched a clump of partially coagulated blood slosh out of a bucket with the water and catch on some grass. “That looks like blood” said my son, who had just been allowed to come over to see what we’d been up to. “It is,” I replied, and I wanted to reach down and touch the red remains, to finger the sacred thread that connects life to life through death, a little spilt blood, quickly mixing with dirt and dog shit, divinely mundane.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Let's Talk Chicken

A word of warning: this post contains full details on chicken slaughter.

As I have said before, I feel strongly that if I am going to eat meat (which is at the top of my list for food enjoyment), I should be able to kill the animal I eat. This does not mean I will kill all of the meat I eat, for obvious reasons, but that I understand the process and have actually been involved with it at some point. That's what I said. In reality, I was living a double-standard, and feeling guilty about it. I have always been squeamish about death (I have memories of screaming in fear as my younger sister chased me, holding dead flies), faint at the sight of blood, and felt deep sadness for animals in pain. When I was twelve, my family first raised pigs and I dutifully did chores and thought of them more as pets than anything else. When it came time to kill them, I left for the day; I swore I would not eat their meat. But then I smelled pork chops cooking, and I couldn't help myself. Nor have I been able to help myself ever: I love to eat meat, and talk a good story about how one should be able to kill it, but until this summer, did not.

A previous post details my first kill - lobsters, this summer. I was surprised that while it was difficult to take another animal's life, I felt empowered and responsible and that that lobster was the most delicious I had ever eaten. I also felt as though I wanted to try more. So, this past weekend, Keja and I drove up to my parents' house in Vermont to assist with the annual chicken slaughter. I will let her speak about her impressions, but here are mine.

My parents' have a friend come in to actually do the slaughter and they assist. Monty has been doing this for forty years. He is jolly and kind and funny and a wonderful teacher. He neither praised us for overcoming our hesitation and assisting, nor made light of what we were doing. He sees this as a job and wants to do it the best he can. It felt respectful and practical all at once. I don't know what my Dad told him about our desire to participate, but Monty started out with, "okay, let's go get some chickens" and we followed him into the barn, where he grabbed them, one by one, and handed them out to us. It's true that when you hold a chicken upside-down they don't fight. We put them into cones, so their heads hung out from the bottom, and Monty cut off each chicken's head with a knife so quickly that you literally would miss it if you blinked. And then, like the lobsters, the nervous system went into overload and their bodies convulsed and the wings flapped, and a few did so so hard that they came out of the cones and jumped and flapped on the ground for about a minute. This was the hardest part, to see this. My brain knew the chicken was dead and not feeling pain but my heart couldn't help but feel incredible pity and sadness for this being that looked alive, except for the obviously missing head. Monty says this convulsing happens to all animals at slaughter, even large beef cows, and probably would to humans, too.

Monty then dropped each body into hot water for a minute and then handed them to us. We held them over a plucker, a machine that has very flexible five inch rubber prongs that rotate quickly and remove all but a few feathers. Then we cut off the feet for my stepmother to make chicken stock with and dropped the chicken into cold water. When all of the chickens had been processed this far, we gutted them. Monty patiently walked us through this a few times until we felt confident.

Seventeen chickens went from clucking birds to ready-to-roast in three hours. It got easier as we went along. I was amazed at how, once the feathers were off, they felt like meat. I was sad, carrying them out from the barn, knowing that within minutes they would be dead, and they didn't even know it, but also honored to know that I was choosing to turn them from barnyard birds into food, because I want to eat them. I wasn't leaving the dirty work to someone else whom I would never meet. I knew that these birds had been cared for well their entire short lives. They had a clean, cozy stall to sleep in, a beautiful field to run it, an apple tree to nap under and eat the apples from when they dropped. And they had a respectful, quick death. I know they were scared before they died; how could they not have been? But short of being gassed in their sleep, I don't think they could have died any better or more humanely.

So in the end, we drove home with a cooler of fresh chicken and the knowledge that we choose to eat meat knowing what that means. It was not an anonymous death tonight's dinner had, but one done with full knowledge of the responsibility we take for our choice to honor our omnivorous heritage.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Busy Time of Year

Although modern life allows us the luxury of buying food whenever we need it, no matter the time of year, something about the late summer and early fall makes me feel kinship for people who lived before refrigeration and grocery stores. I would never pretend to know the hardship of that life, but I certainly appreciate what they must have gone through to ensure their family's survival over a long winter. The summer laziness quickly shifts into back-to-school, house repair, intense garden and CSA food storage, so I end up having to think one day at a time to get through the madness. Much of it is delightful work: who doesn't enjoy making tomato sauce to freeze or picking raspberries? I just returned from a lovely morning doing just that with my friend Katherine and her grandchildren and my kids. In an hour and a half Katherine and I picked six pounds of berries while the four kids ran shirtless up and down the long rows. The farm we go to is called Wright-Locke Farm and is a tiny little place in the middle of Winchester, staffed by volunteers. The berries are organic and plentiful. If you live in the area, you should go.

In between freezing trays of berries, the kids and I made stock out of the chicken from last night. Next we have collard greens to blanch and freeze for winter soups. It is quite a feeling of accomplishment to look in the chest freezer and see it full of amazing produce, all grown locally, some even from our own backyard.

Roast Chicken with a Spicy Butter Rub

1 roasting chicken
4 TBSP butter, softened
1 TBSP pressed or finely minced garlic
1 teas. paprika
1/2 teas. cayenne pepper
1/2 teas. salt
1/2 teas. ground coriander
2 limes

Preheat the oven to 375.

Place the chicken in a roasting pan and pat dry with a paper towel.

In a small bowl, combine butter and spices and mix together until smooth.

Rub butter mixture all over chicken.

With a sharp knife, poke 4 or 5 holes in each lime and put into the chicken cavity.

Roast until done (thermometer in thickest part should read at least 165 degrees), ~ 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Roasted Veggies

This is just another take on the roasted veggies we love. We got okra in the CSA last week and it wasn't really enough to make into gumbo. It sat in the bottom of my fridge and I knew it was going to stay there until I didn't recognize it, unless I used it immediately. This can cook at the same time as the chicken.

4 to 6 small beets, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 to 4 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
10 to 12 okra
olive oil

Toss the vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake at 375, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes, until cooked, ~ 45 minutes.

Serve everything with a green salad and apple pie.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It's too hot to cook

Tuesday night I didn't even notice supper time come or go.  The kitchen isn't the coolest room in the house, so I didn't go near it, and when the outside and inside temperature have been over 90 and humid for hours, my stomach seems to shut down.  Then of course, around 10 pm a cool breeze began to stir and all of my senses reemerged, but there was still no way I was going to turn on even a single burner.  Luckily, vegetables are in high supply and it's easy to make big and varied salads.  We're now on day three of the heat wave, and I've added in cold veggie sandwiches to my diet for a little change of pace.  There's no real recipe coming here, more a set of suggestions.  The biggest one, though, is that while all of the fantastic fresh stuff goes well together, only raw food for three days straight gets tedious.  A supply of roasted goodies, jarred and chilled, can make a world of the difference.  If you can plan ahead, on those 70-degree nights get it going.  Otherwise, even last night between midnight and five am it was cool enough to have the oven on--usually a time when you're doing something else, ok, but when I'm faced with a choice between sleeping and eating or even preparing good things to eat, sleeping doesn't stand a chance. 

My favorite cooked add-ins are:
Kim's roasted tomatoes
Broiler-roasted red peppers: cut red peppers in half, remove seeds, and set flat side down on a baking pan.  Place under a broiler until the skins are black.  Set into a bowl and cover tightly for 10-30 minutes.  Slip off skins and slice peppers.
Roasted eggplant: slice into 1/4" thick rounds or strips, lay on a baking pan, drizzle with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes
Roasted zucchini: same as above.
Marinated steamed potatoes: peel if desired and cut potatoes into 1" squares.  Steam until just tender.  While they are still hot, put into a jar with a good amount of balsamic vinaigrette and shake well.   
Marinated steamed green beans: same as above, just trim the beans and leave whole or cut as desired.
Marinated steamed beets: big whole beets aren't fully in season yet, but beet greens are and they often come with tiny little baby beets attached--you can cut these off and use them, they're so tender they don't even need to be peeled--prepare as for potatoes
Hard boiled eggs

Toss some selection of the above in a salad or layer for a sandwich with any combination of
lettuce if you can still get any
finely chopped swiss chard (a great lettuce replacer and in full supply now)
thinly sliced cabbage (just coming into season)
cucumber if you can still get any
tomatoes (the combo of fresh and roasted in any of the veggies is delightful)
grated or finely chopped apples (now in season!)
sweet peppers
raw green beans
fresh corn kernels

And then to really take a salad it over the top, sprinkle on some feta cheese