Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mis En Scene

In theater and film, they talk about 'mis en scene' - staging basically, the composition of actors and set and props on the stage or in a shot.

In cooking, we do 'mis en place.' Again with the French! (Pronounce it: meez on plahss.) It's also staging. Preparing everything you need to cook with - food and tools - and having it all at the ready (composed), at hand, by the stove. I hear it translates to 'put in place' or 'everthing in its place'...but I regret to inform you that - are you sitting down? - aside from two years in Mr. Quercio's high school French, I am not fluent, and I am a trusting soul...so we're gonna go with 'put in place.' (Though I like the idea of it actually translating to 'stick it up your pants' and we all are just buying into it.)

It's a highly common-sensible thing to do. In school they stress it. It even has, in kitchens, become a bastardized verb or noun. 'I still have to meez...do your meez...meez this dish...' At home, to be honest, I do it or don't depending on the dishes being prepared. If you're doing a stir-fry, it's essential. A stew? Mm...probably not so much. You can generally do simultaneous prepping and cooking for something like that.

I like to meez.

Don't laugh. That is, to some, essentially saying you like to collect stamps or organize your sock drawer. BUT...I find prep work somehow relaxing and comforting. Sue me.

It's not rocket science. (Cooking seldom is.) Just go through your recipe and try to get everything cleaned, chopped up and ready to go, so once you start firing up your dish everything is at hand. The idea being, you don't want to toss that minced garlic in the pan and discover you don't have the accompanying...oh, say...minced ginger and said garlic burns while you attend to the skipped task. Or you need to whisk hot stock into your perfectly golden roux and remember you loaned your whisk to the plumber who lives next door (for reasons best left unsaid, un-wondered about...).

It will add some extra dishes, but let's just assume you have a dishwasher or a grateful spouse who jumps at the opportunity to clean up after you (we love you, spouse!). In school, I got a real jones for these little Pyrex prep dishes that could hold every chopped up individual ingredient. In fact, all my classmates apparently lusted after these things because there was generally one whopping shortage of little Pyrex prep dishes for those who didn't act fast enough. At home - yes...damn it! I DID get some little Pyrex prep dishes for home - I will generally prep things and try to organize them all onto a plate or couple plates, but sometimes I just have to break out the prep dishes.


Do your meez, babies. Meez it! Get your shizzle all prepped and ready to go and you will be amazed at how fast and easy the actual process of cooking feels.

Mis for a pasta dish. (right) Notice those swanky prep dishes!

Mis for a stir-fry (above).

Monday, December 29, 2008

On Having Lost the Will to Blog...

Are you there, God? It's me, Bar-gret.


Been a while.

Miss me?!

Comes a time, I suppose, in ever blogger's, um, inter-span, when he or she loses the will to blog. When life and family and work and love and friends take you by the proverbial collar (can't think of a proverb involving a collar, but give me a minute...), and yank you quickly and efficiently back into the real world. Away from one's tiny digital soapbox where one is free to wax poetical about canning and greens. (I once knew some greens from Nantucket...) Away from the 'virtual community' of the Internet, where one can measure his friends in numbers and stats, dictate his persona through judicious uploading and editing, and regularly place one's heart on his well-published sleeve via Facebook. Back into the world of work and cars and flesh and blood and hopes and dreams and love and sex and birth and death. Things you can touch. Things you can smell. Things you can taste. Things you can live with. Things that you can't live without.

But hey, Ebenezer, why such a DOWNER?? Let's talk about some FOOD. Mais oui?


I'm in jeopardy of having my license to blog revoked (and then actually being replaced by Pierce Brosnan, or - worse - Timothy Dalton), so...baby steps here...I think I'd like to try and start back up with some techniques and terminology. Back to basics for me and for you, but I promise to try to show up more often. Shall we?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Can Can

Calm yourself, Toulouse. Not that can-can.

Canning is fun.

Well..."fun" you say? Maybe not "fun" like...miniature golf or dancing the tango after several mojitos fun. Still, it's something that I like to do when I have the time (and a surplus of something I want to store for a while). Aside from the obvious benefit of having food 'put up' to eat over the cold winter, it gives you some insight into the way things worked kitchen-wise in the past. You get to live a little history here. Plus it's like a cool science experiment to boot!

Here's how it works in a nutshell: food and liquids (often hot) are placed into sterilized canning jars, fitted with two-piece lids, then placed in a hot water bath for 10-20 minutes. During that time, a vacuum is created where the hot water forces all the remaining air in the jar out. Once the jars are removed from the water bath and begin to cool, a vacuum seal is established between the jar and the lid. After they've completely cooled, you can remove the outer lid ring and feel the strong seal between the jar and the lid proper. Properly canned foods can last up to a year, kept in a cool, dark location.

Are there some inherent dangers to home-canning? Yes. Non-sterile jars and trapped air-bubbles within the food can introduce bacteria that may cause spoilage or, worse, botulism. You want to be careful to clean and boil your jars before filling, swipe around the inside of the jar with a knife to help remove any air pockets and make sure your seals are good and strong. Also be on the lookout for your product no longer looking 'right' after it's been stored for a while: mysterious growths (hey, look, sea monkeys!!), cloudiness, loss of seal or ESPECIALLY bulging out of the lid. Don't risk trying that stuff; chuck it. I don't want to scare you off; I've been canning for years now and have never had any issues.

There are so many foods you can preserve by canning. Jams and jellies, pickled vegetables of all kinds, simple packed fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and corn. Where do you start? Usually you want to start canning things WHILE they're in season (read: fresh, better tasting and obtainable at affordable prices). Those end of the season aforementioned corn and tomatoes are going to bring a little summer to you when you eat them in February. When strawberry's hit in the spring, make yourself (and your friends!) some strawberry preserves.

I've been getting in a holy ton of apples from the CSA, so...Apple Butter For Everyone!! Also pickled the green beans from the CSA in vinegar with some dill and garlic, and did my semi-regular pantry stock up of what Miss Kate likes to call "the Crack." It's just a simple pomodoro sauce I adapted from one of Lydia Bastianich's books, but she's quite fond of it so I try to keep us in a steady supply. Whatever you make - and whenever you try it - it's always appreciated.

What do you need to start canning?

Time, first of all. Do it when you're hanging around the house for lazy, rainy day or weekend. It's not hard work, but it can be time consuming between the preparing of what you'll be canning and the actual process itself.

The Blue Book of Preserving published by Ball, the manufacturer of all the supplies you need, is a great intro/starter/bible for canning.

A large pot for the boiling water bath. Big enough to hold water and as many (filled) jars as possible. So...BIG.

Canning jars and lids - again, made by Ball. You can find them at some grocery stores. I've found them a lot in local hardware stores. (Mom & Pop type businesses, not the mega Home Depot places...) $8-10 will get you a box of 12 jars and lids. The jars can be cleaned and used over and over again. Lids are only one-shot deals, though, so buy some extra lids if you become a regular canner.

Extras? A funnel for filling the jars without getting food or liquid on the lid is pretty essential. I have a handy (not at all necessary) slotted thingy for dipping the lids into the boiling water to sterilize. A (pretty close to essential) long set of (Ball designed, I'm sure) canning tongs for placing and removing the jars into the hot water. And a magnetic 'wand' for picking lids out of the hot water.

I'm sincerely not trying to shill for Ball, but I did just notice on their website they sell a whole Canning Basics Kit that looks like it has ALL of the above mentioned stuff. Take a look.

While we're on the subject of preserving, after a conversation a few weeks back with local playwright and all around lovely guy, Joe Byers, I realized I'd never tried drying my own tomatoes. (Joe just had.) It's really, really easy to make your own 'sun-dried' tomatoes - but they're really oven-dried. Hey...tomatoes dried under the Tuscan sun will most likely kick the tiny tomato butts of these, but still...if you have tomatoes piling up at the end of the summer, here's another easy way to keep enjoying them through the winter.

Wash the tomatoes and dry them off. Slice them in half. (There...wasn't that HARD?!) Place a rack over a cookie sheet and spread the tomatoes, cut side up over the rack. Sprinkle them with some Kosher salt. Place the pan in a 200 degree oven. (I used my convection oven at 170 degrees.) Leave them in there for about ten hours, then start checking every half hour or so to pull out the ones that are dry (but not hard). Store them in a Ziploc or other air-tight container. Or, for really nice rich sun-dried toms, put them in a sterile jar and cover them with olive oil and store them in your refrigerator.

early on in the process...

...some, oh, ten or eleven hours later

There are different ways to preserve foods. Give canning or dehydrating a try. Heck...get all pioneer on us and make yourself some jerky. If you like to cook but only find time to do it every once and a while, why not make a giant BATCH of your 'famous' soup or sauce and can a bunch of it to enjoy until the NEXT time you get around to some extended kitchen time. Give it a try, if you're curious, and let me know how things turn out.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Soup Night: Variations on the Kale Theme

Jeffrey, I do and I do and I do for you...

Took a shot at adapting Miss Deana's Kale Soup recipe for the vegetarian crowd last night and we were quite happy with the results. I tried a frequent 'stand in' for meat in vegetarian cooking by dicing up a portabello mushroom and sauteeing it over high heat to get good color and depth of flavor. Also, we were out of celery seed, so I went with fennel seed which really gave it some of the flavor missing from that banned substance: Italian sausage. Substituted red kidney beans for the cannellini because that's what we had in, but while the difference in taste is negligible, I think I'd prefer the 'look' of the cannellini (white kidney beans).

Again...what is soup night without bread? I remembered a bread recipe a director I worked with introduced me to a while back, which I hadn't tried in a while. It is about the fastest way to make a yeast bread I've come across and yields really great results if you are in need of something to dip in your soup or toast up some morning. Sure, it's not some artisinal country loaf from a starter with several rises - so you won't get that developed flavor and crust, but it's BREAD and your house smells like WARM BREAD and it's still really good.

Last night was the first time I made this bread using bread flour instead of all-purpose. Both work, but the bread flour - with its higher gluten content - provides better structure and results in a better 'crumb'. If you've got a KitchenAid stand mixer (best Christmas present ever!!!), this bread can't be easier. I think I got home around 6:30pm last night and the bread was ready to go on the table at 8:30pm.

B's Kale and White Bean Soup

1 portabello mushroom, gills scraped out, 1/4" dice
1 T. butter
1 t. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 C. carrots, 1/4" dice
1 C. parsnips, 1/4" dice
1 large russet potato, 1/2" dice (about 1 C. or so)
1 t. fennel seed
1 t. dried rosemary
1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes
1/2 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 pound fresh kale, ribs removed and chopped
1 can (14oz) vegetable stock
3 C. water
3 T. dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat butter and olive oil in Dutch oven over high heat, add mushroom and saute until they release their liquid and begin to caramelize/brown. Reduce heat to medium and add onions, carrots and parsnips. Saute until onions are soft and translucent.

2. Add garlic, fennel seed and rosemary and cook another minute until fragrant. Add potato, tomatoes, stock and water to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. (You will need probably a good tablespoon of salt here.) Bring to a boil.

3. Add the chopped kale into the pot, stirring until wilted. Reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Serve topped with grated Parmesan and some crusty bread.

Quick White Bread

2 C. bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1 envelope (or 1 scant tablespoon) active dry yeast
1 C. warm water

1. Mix dry ingredients in bowl of standmixer fitted with dough hook. With mixer running, begin adding the warm water until a consistent dough forms. (This will vary, based on the weather, the flour, etc...last night, for instance, 3/4 C. did the trick.) Continue 'kneading' the dough with the mixer on medium speed for 4-5 minutes.

2. Scrape the ball of dough into a bowl coated with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 15 minutes or more. The longer the better. Last night I let it rise for 30-45 minutes.

3. Punch down the dough and scrape onto floured counter or board and form a round loaf (boule). Place the loaf on a baking tray or pizza pan coated with cooking spray and place it into a cold oven. Put a small oven safe bowl of water on a lower rack in the oven and turn the oven to 400 degrees. Bake until done - the loaf will give a hollow sound when rapped on the bottom - about 1 hour.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Just Kaled To Say I Love You

We take requests!

Chronicles reader Jeff responded to our last post looking for a soup recipe using kale. Coincidentally, Kitchen Chronicles friend and my personal CSA Guru Deana Novembrino had recently sent me her recipe for kale soup to help me make use of that Red Russian kale we got in. Give it a try Jeff and let us know. I'm going to try a vegetarian-ized version at home for Miss Kate, but VERY happy to see the double-shot of bacon AND sausage/chourico in Deana's recipe. B loves his pork products.

D's Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup

3 C. cubed potatoes
1 T. olive oil
2 C. sliced chourico or Italian sausage
1 C. finely chopped bacon
1 medium sized onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups carrots, 1/4" dice
1 T. celery seed
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 pounds fresh kale, ribs removed and chopped
(if using a tender kale such as red russian, you may leave the ribs in
6-8 cups chicken stock
3 T. dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil potatoes in about 4 cups water until softened, about 10 minutes. Set aside and reserve cooking water.

2. While potatoes are cooking, add olive oil to large stock pot and brown bacon and sausage. Once browned remove sausage and bacon.

3. In same stock pot sautee onions, garlic and carrots in remaining bacon fat. Add in celery seed and season with salt and pepper.

4. Once softened, add in tomatoes, cannellini beans, and kale. Cook until kale is cooked down. Add in potatoes and their cooking water and stock to cover ingredients and bring to a boil. Once boiling add sherry, cover and reduce to simmer for 45-60 minutes, Stirring occasionally.
Serve topped with grated parmesan and accompany with crusty bread.

Greens, beans, sausage...mm. Get your peasant on!

Monday, October 13, 2008

More Tales of the CSA

Well, the CSA is winding down. Here's what we got in the last couple weeks.

Week 8

1 bunch turnips
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch mizuna
1 head cauliflower
2 sugar pumpkins
10 green peppers
6 pounds apples
1 bunch parsley
4 aneheim peppers
4 cubanelle peppers
4 baby eggplant
Wound up braising the turnips and their greens with some pinto beans and serving them over some soft parmesan polenta. That was a big hit with Miss Kate. OK...and I really liked seeing the cauliflower come in. It's especially tasty in this dish:

Cauliflower with Pasta in Spicy Cream Sauce

3 C. crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 C. heavy cream
1/2 C. shredded Fontina cheese
1/2 C. grated Parmesan cheese
1 medium head cauliflower, chopped
1 lb. shells
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped fine
1/4 t. dried crushed red peppers
salt & pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients except for cauliflower and pasta in a large bowl. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, add pasta and cauliflower and cook for 6 minutes. Drain pasta and cauliflower, add to bowl and mix. Pour into a casserole coated with cooking spray. Bake in 400 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until bubbly. Brown under broiler, if desired.

The recipe is very adaptable. This time out, as I had some pumpkin in from the CSA, I diced up some of that and tossed it in with the pasta and cauliflower - made a nice autumnal addition. Experiment with what you have in, different pasta shapes and cheeses.

Week 9

1 bunch beets
2 bunches turnips
1 bunch fennel
2 pints tomatillos
1 bunch red russian kale
24 (about 8 pounds) apples
1 bunch mustard greens
1 pound SHELL beans
1 bunch scallions

Enjoyed this note from our CSA farmer:

"I put the SHELL beans in capitals because you must remove them from the SHELL before you eat them. It just seems that no matter how many times I tell people that they are SHELL beans someone will complain that they where to tough, because they ate the SHELL."
So...there you go. Shell those suckers. One pound doesn't yield a lot of beans. After SHELLing them, I cooked them in some boiling water until tender, then tossed them with some extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt; served them at room temperature as starter.

Lots and lots of greens from the farm. I like greens. Kate likes greens. I don't think greens jump into peoples' minds as a 'popular' food item at home, though.

Who's to blame? Spinach was probably already on the outs when Elzie Segar debuted his Popeye character in 1929 - popping open a can of spinach for instant strength. Was Segar getting a kickback from the nation's spinach growers? As a kid, watching Popeye squeeze that can of green goop into his mouth and kicking Bluto around, I was not impressed enough to run to my mother and beg her to load my plate up with spinach - or any other questionably green thing that came from a can. (And in our house, most everything came from a can.) Greens, a term we'd yet to learn, and spinach in particular were things we HAD to eat because...gulp...they were supposed to be good for us.

Sometime in the 80's, while sporting a heavy wool beret and slinging 'product' to tourists over the counter at Au Bon Pain, I decided to give 'one a dem dere spinach 'n cheese crescents!' a try.


I've been a spinach eater ever since - with or without the croissant. And, it's a slippery slope from there to more addictive drugs...chard, collards, kale, mustard greens. I confess, sometimes I still eat my greens and the dish can feel a little TOO good for me. There just are some dishes that are a little too honest, perhaps a little too obvious in their health benefits and earthy-crunchy roots. For me, these dishes make me nostalgic for the brief time I was at UMass Amherst volunteering with my girlfriend in the Earthfoods kitchen. A collaborative making lots of vegan and vegetarian offerings for every latter-day hippie on campus. Oh, the brown rice and tahini dressing consumed...

In an effort to maximize the CSA presence and with a nod to Earthfoods (and a reaction, perhaps, to the earlier pasta/cream sauce decadence), I came up with this dish:

Pumpkin & Mustard Greens in Peanut Sauce

2 T. peanut butter
1 T. rice-wine vinegar

1 T. soy sauce
1 t. chili garlic sauce or Sambal Oelek
4 T. water, preferably warm or hot
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-3 C. diced sugar pumpkin
1 C. quartered tomatillos (about 4-6 small ones)
1 cup vegetable broth or water
8 cups firmly packed, coarsely chopped mustard greens (1-pound bunch)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, chile garlic sauce and water.

2. Heat oil in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven until hot, then garlic and saute until fragrant (30-60 seconds). Add the pumpkin to the pan along with the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 4 minutes, then add tomatillos, cover and continue to simmer another 4-5 minutes.

3. Add the greens to the pan and cover again. Simmer until tender - another 5 minutes. (If pan is getting too dry, you may want to add a little more water or vegetable broth.)

4. Stir in the peanut sauce and cook uncovered for a minute or two. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over rice. Garnish with chopped parsley, cilantro or peanuts.

I still have a ways to go before next week's pickup. Hope to use the holy ton of apples we have in to make some apple butter. And, will hopefully have some more canning time (this is the season for it!) to deal with those beets (before Miss Kate 'disappears' them...) and the surplus green peppers.

Happy Columbus Day Weekend. I hope you're all getting out there picking apples. Send me a pie. Maybe some apple crisp?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Comfort Food Season Opens

A while back, preparing a class I'm planning to teach, I quizzed some friends to list their favorite comfort foods. I was not surprised to find a few common threads woven through the tapestry of eats that make us as individuals feel like we're home from school, lying on the couch in feetie jammies watching Gilligan's Island reruns while Mom brings us a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Macaroni and cheese, of course - being the King Primo Deus Daddy of all comfort foods, made every single list.

One slipped by me though. A personal fave that makes a regular appearance in our house once the weather turns cold. Kate came home the other night and asked if we had any plans for dinner. (This is code-speak for 'what are you making for dinner?' as she knows I tend to start thinking about dinner around the time I wake up each morning.) I ran a few options by her and she mentioned how the autumn chill in the air made her think it might be a 'cabbage bake night.'

Perfect! And HOW had I forgotten about Cabbage Bake after months of grilling and CSA veggies and whatnot?? Well...Cabbage Bake is...not romantic, in name or appearance. It is a humble, homestyle casserole that is a thing of beauty in just HOW plain it is. Remember the compliment Harrison Ford received from an elder in Witness?

"You look plain, John Book."

Cabbage Bake isn't here for flaunting to your dinner guests. It is here to warm your house and your insides and throw a big ass wintery hug on you when the weather gets cold. Easy? Yes. Cheap? You betcha! (oof, Palin flashback) Tasty? Mm-hm! In fact, four out of five of the cabbage-phobic we tested have opened their arms wide to the Bake.

I don't know the actual source of the recipe. I can only trace it back as far as Trisha Shaw passing it on to her lovely sister Kathryn who taught it to me; so I can only give credit to the much beloved Horgan Clan, truly my First Family of Culinary Consciousness.

Here you go. Try it before you judge.

Cabbage Bake

1 medium head cabbage, quartered, cored and sliced thinly
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can of Campbell's Tomato Soup (that's right!)

1/2 that can of water and about a 1/4 C. of red wine
1 C. white rice
1 lb. very lean ground beef (or Morningstar Veggie Crumbles for my veggie friends)
1 can stewed tomatoes
to taste: salt, pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce

Parmesan cheese

Slice the cabbage and put it in the bottom of an olive oiled Dutch oven.

Saute the onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil until soft and add the ground beef and brown. (If you're going veg, add the crumbles at the end.) Add in the rice and continue to saute for a minute or two, then add the rest of the ingredients - minus the parm. Taste it and make sure it's seasoned enough for the sauce AND the rice and cabbage you'll be cooking - so...highly. Pour the sauce over the cabbage and spread out, then top the whole thing with some Parmesan cheese. Cover the Dutch oven and bake in a 350 oven for an hour to an hour and a half.

The cabbage bakes down and a lot of the liquid it releases goes to cooking that rice, leaving you with a wonderfully flavorful one-dish meal. Kind of like stuffed cabbage minus all the work of stuffing. It's great as a leftover; in fact, I've been known to consume such for breakfast the next day. Sue me.

Give it a try some chilly autumn weekend night and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Catching Up with the CSA

Last few weeks have been a blur, my friends. And consequently, so has the blogging and the food-ing. Just to catch you up on the CSA haul, though...

CSA - Week 5

1 bunch mizuna
1 bunch arugula
1 bunch carrots
1 bag lettuce
4 bell peppers
2 cubanell peppers
2 st. nick peppers
2 aneheim peppers
1 pint tomatillos
1 bunch parsley
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 pounds tomatoes

CSA - Week 6

1 bunch arugula
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch mustard greens
2 pounds green beans
6 peppers
4 eggplant
4 pounds tomatoes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 bunch scallion
1 bag baby lettuce
1 bunch carrots

Week 7

1 bunch beets
1 carrot
2 bunches scallions
1 bunch tatsoi
10 aneheim peppers
2 pints tomatillos
2 pounds green tomatoes
1 pound green beans
1 bunch turnip greens
4 bell peppers

There have been a slew of greens (good and good for you!), a lot...no, really, a LOT of peppers. And, more pounds of green beans than I think this household has ever taken in in one calendar year...let alone a month. Someone have a good recipe for the ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole?

Cooking time was at a premium lately, but I really tried not to waste anything. Greens were often braised or boiled, drained and then sauteed with garlic, other seasonings and beans for a quick vegetarian entree.

We enjoyed - end of the summer and all - some nice grilled vegetable salads tossed with the fabulous baby lettuces we were getting in from the farm. With this one, I pan seared some tilapia and served it all with some tomatillo quesadillas.

Miss Kate really liked a corn and carrot soup I came up with one night. Just sauteed some aromatics - onion, garlic, and celery, the carrots - added some vegetable stock, corn kernels I had removed from the cobs and frozen earlier and seasoning, then simmered until tender and pureed it all. No bread in the house...and you can't have soup without bread...didn't want to go out, so I made a loaf of parmesan bread and served it with another salad of those Parker Farm lettuces. (Pictured at the top.)

I had a lot of tomatoes we couldn't get through in time, so I used them in a marinara type sauce by sauteing aromatics, adding in the chopped up tomatoes and cooking until very soft, then running it all through a food mill back into a pot. Threw in a sprig or two of fresh basil and let that reduce over low-ish heat until it had a nice consistency. Used the sauce over pasta with meatballs - or Nate's Meatless Meatballs ('fauxballs' in our house), and in my favorite eggplant dish - Baked Eggplant in Mushroom Tomato Sauce - from the good folks at Cooking Light. It's a sort of eggplant parmesan that we serve with or over some angel hair pasta. Always a hit.

What else...what else? Used some of the eggplant to make baba ganoush for the lovely actors backstage at The T Plays. And threw any spare thing on hand into some tasty fried rice one night after rehearsal. (A nice alternative - assuming you have some leftover rice in the fridge - to the Midnight Pasta discussed earlier.)

Had a bunch of tomatillos to deal with - which I hadn't cooked with a lot. Saw Tyler Whatshisname on Food Network make a really easy tomatillo salsa which I've made several times to use them up. Chop up the tomatillos and some onion, garlic and peppers. Cover them in water and season, then simmer until soft. Strain out the solids into a blender (reserving the cooking liquid) and zip them up. I added some cilantro and lime juice and a some of the reserved cooking liquid to get a good consistency. Used that salsa as a verde sauce the other night for some black bean, Parker Farm corn and goat cheese enchiladas. Bueno!

Will endeavor to get back on the blogging horse more regularly next week when things calm down a bit. Just picked up Week 8 from the CSA tonight; it's truly fall - apples, pumpkins! And we'll hopefully get back to some more interesting writing and witty banter...cause, uh, that's why we're all here. Right?


Until then.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Spaghetti di Mezzanotte

Pardon the lapse (uh...if any of you care). Most of you know that I'm also involved in the Boston theater community and I've been working this past week on The T Plays being produced by Mill 6. It's been a lot of fun, although it has eaten (hah...get it?) into my cooking (and blogging) time.

Often, when I'm working on a show or performing in one, I wind up eating quite late after getting home. Not always due to hunger, but sometimes it's just the act of cooking something that I look forward to as a way to wind down. More often than not, these late night suppers are some sort of pasta. I'm sure my resident nutrition expert, Deana, would frown upon this as an eating practice, but - hey - pasta is fast, easy to make with on-hand kitchen staples, and can have the culinary appeal of a big, warm welcome-home hug and a goodnight kiss.

Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene, the mother/daughter team behind Sicilian Home Cooking write of the Sicilian tradition of Spaghetti di Mezzanotte, or Midnight Spaghetti. A small group of friends gathering together after a night on the town and throwing together a late pasta party.

So...I blame the Sicilians.

The most common midnight spaghetti, they write, is prepared with garlic, olive oil, and hot peppers. I have my own that I turn to frequently, knowing that the ingredients are always on hand and the preparation, well practiced by now, requires zero thought. Linguine in a quick sauce of sauteed garlic, onion with broken up canned tomatoes and a can (this is ease-of-use time!) of chopped clams. Spaghetti with olive oil, hot peppers, anchovy paste, capers and bread crumbs. There's a great stove-top mac and cheese recipe in the ever handy Quick From Scratch Pasta book by Food and Wine I picked up at some used bookstore, but - lest you take me for a food snob - I will, given a very late return home - pop open a box of the unnaturally Black Light Poster orange Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. (What we like to call the 'emergency rations'...)

Johanne Killeen and George Germon, owners and operators of the excellent Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island - and surely no strangers to coming home late, tired and hungry - have many quick easy pasta recipes in their book On Top of Spaghetti, including one named '4AM Spaghetti for One.' It consists simply of pasta tossed with olive oil that's been flavored with garlic, Espalette pepper or paprika, oregan, pepper and salt.

There is, of course, the late night pasta everyone has heard of - prepared for or by the queens of late nights - pasta putanesca. Yes "whore's pasta" (there...don't you feel dirty?) made up easily with pantry staples for that between-John or Giuseppe snack. Pasta in a sauce made up of tomatoes, anchovy fillets, olives, capers, garlic and hot peppers.

Basically, the goal is light - unless you can sleep late the next day...then, why not?...hit the cream sauce! And go with things you can have in your pantry: canned tomatoes, tuna, clams, olives, some ham or cheese from the refrigerator. Lemons and garlic are also essentials and you should try to always have some on hand. And if you have that window box of basil or parsley growing someplace indoors, the fresh herbs are always welcome.

It may be ill-advised to adopt this as a regular eating habit, although it has become one of mine. Allow me to point out that I do not weigh 300 pounds.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

True (CSA) Confessions


It happened.

Last night, the night before I was to go pick up our next CSA harvest, I had to throw some stuff away.

There were four or so tomatillos that I didn't use in the tomatillo salsa earlier in the week. And a SMALL bunch of tatsoi I hadn't gotten around to using in a salad or something before they got a bit skanky.

And one large-ish bunch of scarlet, beautiful beets.

In one giant, painful, Eff You to the pilgrims, Laura Ingalls Wilder and her ilk, all those who made do...lived off the land...used every scrap, not to mention the host of poor, starving Indian children my mother pled for when brother Ned refused to eat his peas - I picked them up and tossed them in the trash. Yes, the trash. So I suppose that's one more Eff to the capital U to my greener friends who will bemoan this sorry loss to their compost bins.

OK. I hate myself a little. I don't, as I've said, relish the idea of wasting food. But, hey, I maintain that I remain a bad and deeply flawed individual.

I didn't toss those beets, though.


Instead of making my (very European, mind you) daily jaunt to the market to pick up something for dinner, I vowed to make dinner with what we still had in and that would be...

"beets...lots of dill (now bagged in the freezer - thank you, Deana!)..."

Borscht! Or something very like it.

I've never had it. Never made it. But I knew I could make a really nice beet soup with what we still had in and serve it with a nice side salad. Sauteed some onions, carrots (from the CSA!), garlic, celery and added the peeled chopped up beets, then covered with some water and vegetable stock and seasoning and cooked that until soft. Pureed that in the blender and returned to the pot, then seasoned it and added a shot of apple cider vinegar and some of the aforementioned dill. Finished it with the beet greens which I'd washed and sliced thinly (in lieu of, what I believe is, the more traditional cabbage).

I think it made for a tasty and highly nutritious - and pretty! - soup.

Mrs. B (not the one who searched diligently for fashion deals at the now defunct Bradlees) and I sat down and enjoyed the salad (with cuke...from the CSA!) with parmesan vinaigrette. Then we moved on to the soup. Miss Kate took one spoonful and - in a stunning and uncharacteristically blunt moment of clarity - put down her spoon, slid the bowl of steaming red broth away from her and said:

"Never make that for me again."

Well...there's a first time for everything and - while I try to find ways to prepare even allegedly hated food products in a way someone might grow to like them - there was no getting this one by Miss Kate's lifelong dislike of the beet root. She's come to like them, as she stressed, in salads - particularly the lovely golden beets - but there was no getting around the fact that this dish was the oval office in the capitol of Beet Town, USA.

Props to her for trying it though, and - truth be told - I didn't have high hopes. I liked it, in the end. Eating her bowl after mine may have been overdoing it in the See, I Love This and Beets Don't Kill Department.

Thus ends our brief affair with borscht. Unless you, beet lovers everywhere, want to come over. We're keeping fingers crossed that Parker Farms doesn't show up with a bushel or two of beets, colorful delectable earthy BEETS, this week.

Stay golden, Beety Boy.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What I Did Last Summer...

I've been bad.

(Those of you who've known me since our younger days will not be surprised to learn that I am late turning in my papah!)

Originally meant to give a weekly update of the CSA harvest for those of you vicariously partaking. My fourth pickup was last night. So, backing up...

CSA - Week 2

2 lbs tomatoes
2 pts cherry tomatoes
1 bunch mustard greens
4 eggplant
3 green peppers
4 apples
10 ears corn
3 cucumbers
1 pound shell beans
1 bunch parsley

This was a bit of a lost week as we were away on vacation. Bequeathed the take to my mother-in-law, but some of it made its way with her down to me at the Cape. Felt a bit 'early' to be starting up with apple desserts, which always feel more 'right' come October - but I confess I won't just pick up an apple and eat it. Sue me.

Grabbed the trusty Cape-resident Joy of Cooking and found a recipe for an Apple Cockaigne. Hearkening back to the last 'New England' post, I'm a big fan of fruit desserts from days gone by: cobblers, grunts, buckles. (Just the names alone!) Still, those feel more cold weather to me and the Cockaigne looked interesting and provided us with the added incentive of flamboyantly over-pronounced Fraaaanch.

Cockaigne, by the way, is not a cooking term I was familiar with. (No big surprise.) Gourmet Sleuth provides this to clear things up:
The term in medieval times signified "a mythical land of peace and plenty". Authors of the famous Joy of Cooking cookbook named their country home "Cockaigne" and thus included the term on many of their "favorite" recipes included in the cookbook.

It turned out nice. Tart-like with a shortbread-ish crust. I made little pseudo creme fraiche topping with some Greek style yogurt we had on hand. Still, though, it was no G.D. cobblah.

Oh, and we made a simple sweet corn soup by removing the kernels, simmering the cobs in some water to make a corn broth, then removing those - tossing in the kernels, some butter and a splash of cream and pureeing with some fresh basil. Ta die fowah. However, next time I wouldn't puree the basil with the soup as it adds a greenish tint when you really just want that beautiful corn color. Next time I'd chiffonade the basil and sprinkle it on before serving.

CSA - Week 3

4 eggplant
3 green peppers
1 bunch broccoli
2 pts cherry tomatoes
3 lbs tomatoes
1 bag baby lettuce
10 ears corn
1 bunch raab
1 bunch beets
1 bunch mizuna

There is plenty to do with eggplant, but we LOVE this recipe from Cooking Light - Baked Eggplant with Mushroom and Tomato Sauce. It is fabulous and makes regular appearances at our house - generally served with or over some angel hair pasta.

We didn't have any mushrooms, so I sauteed up some of the CSA green peppers (the SWEETEST green peppers I have ever tasted in my life) with the onions. Instead of broiling the eggplant per the recipe, I tossed the slices on the grill. It was still summer after all. For the tomato sauce I sauteed the CSA tomatoes until they broke down, ran them through a food mill to get out the seeds and skins and then reduced that down with some garlic and a little (really, Barlow, a little?) wine. Try this dish...EVEN if you aren't crazy about eggplant. Really.

Mizuna was new to me. (Look, Mary, m'Zuzu's petals!) An Asian green. Great in salads and, I believe, often found in the mesclun mix you buy at Whole Foods or the like. One night, to use up the rest of the mizuna, tomatoes and peppers, I made a sort of middle eastern pasta salad, throwing in some chicpeas, grilled haloumi cheese and tossing it all in a pomegranate vinaigrette.

The corn (last batch from the CSA, I hear...too much work to keep the bugs off them in the later months...and this city boy girly man confesses that he won't miss the weekly army worm sighting each time one smuggled himself in on an ear and decided to explore): we can't get through ten ears in any sort of time and the quality of fresh corn on the cob deteriorates the SECOND it's picked. I shucked all the ears the night they came home, removed the kernels with a chef's knife, blanched them for a minute or two and shocked them in ice water. Drained them and froze them in a big Ziploc bag. Now we've got terrific frozen sweet corn whenever we want it.

CSA - Week 4

2 pts cherry tomatoes
2 pts tomatillos
2 bunches tatsoi
1 bunch dill
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch beets
1 bunch kale
6 green peppers
4 pounds tomatoes

Got home with the goods last night. Put everything away. (No, I did not wear the carrot tops...yet.) It's a double-batch of bad juju for Miss Kate, who is no fan of beets or green peppers. Looking for something quick, I sauteed some slivered garlic in olive oil, wilted the rinsed and chopped kale, then added a cup or so of vegetable stock. Covered and simmered for ten or fifteen minutes then added in some rinsed and drained cannellini and red kidney beans. Served that over white rice. Nice vegetarian (which we eat a lot) supper. Nutritionists far and wide (Popeye, too) sing the praises of dark, leafy greens: chock full of vitamins, iron, folate, etc. And they really can taste quite lovely - even though I haven't yet evolved to the point where I still don't feel like I'm 'eating responsibly' when consuming them. The beans are in there because they're an important source of protein if you're a veg. For a great healthy side, you could just do the kale this way without the beans and much less vegetable stock.

This will be my first time cooking with tatsoi - another Asian green that looks somewhat similar to bok choy, with dark green spoon-shaped leaves. I'm going to try it in a lo mein tonight, most likely with some of those beautiful young CSA carrots and (sorry, Kate) green peppers.

So far so good, though. Aside from some garlic and some onions and some fresh fruit, I don't think I've purchased produce anywhere since the CSA came into our life.

OK, all caught up. Sorry for the length. I will try and turn in my homework on a weekly basis now. And I will not talk in class. I will try and turn in my homework on a weekly basis. And I will not talk in class...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Nourishing the Inner Puritan

Fall is coming, my friends, and I am feeling those yearnings for red wine, tweeds, and comfort food. (And a Trapper Keeper and a Partridge Family lunchbox, but I never could shake that back to school thing...)

One of my father-in-law's favorite meals is...as we are New Englanders here...the traditional 'Saturday Night Supper' of - yep - franks and beans. When I've got the time, as I did last week, I like to make him a big pot of Boston Baked Beans from scratch. They're really easy to prep; you just need the time to leave them in a low oven all day long, but they smell delicious and, not surpisingly, are a far cry from those you get out of a can. (Which are really fine and will do in a pinch.) I swear by the recipe for baked beans from the good folks at Cooks Illustrated. Rinse the dried beans and bake them for hours with rendered salt pork and bacon (I had some chorizo left around this time and swapped that in for the bacon), some onion, water and (mandatory) molasses, whirling in a bit of mustard at the end of cooking. Really, try them sometime. You'll thank me.

Miss Kate and I are junkies for another traditional old New England supper: cod cakes or fish cakes. (Not the most romantic sounding of dishes, I know, but somewhat better than The Joy of Cooking's moniker: cod balls. Enough said.) We keep store-bought fish cakes on hand in the freezer for quick meals when we're not in a big mood to cook. They are usually very (very) affordable. Our dearly departed fishmonger, Greer's, in Belmont used to sell them three for a buck. Serve them with some baked beans, some coleslaw, and you'll feel like whipping out the yellow rain gear and speaking in your favorite (butchered) New England accent.

Really, these cakes are a simple and hearty example of the frugality New Englanders are (I hear) known for. Scraps of leftover fish, mashed pototoes, a bit of onion and seasoning bound together with some egg and bread or cracker crumbs...and (hello!) deep or pan fried. Now, the storebought kind are great in a pinch, but surely you've had crabcakes prepared for you in a restaurant and enjoyed them. Recently we had some 'real' fish cakes the Skipper's restaurant down the Cape (stellar), so I figured it was time to try some from scratch myself. Hunted around for a recipe and couldn't find any one that particularly fit the bill. Lots of variations in fish (reconstituted salt cod, for instance), the bread used for a binder and coating, seasonings. I cherry-picked to come up with something like this:

I cooked up a pound of fresh cod (we were on the Cape of Cod, after all) and flaked it into a bowl, boiled and mashed a few potatoes (about the same amount as the cod) and added those, hit them with a dash of Old Bay Seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, then mixed them together with 1-2 beaten eggs, some cream and crushed up Saltine (gourmet!) crackers until I had a mix that was not heavy and not too loose. I formed handfuls of the mixture into little cakes (about 3 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick), dredged them in panko bread crumbs (ok, not so traditional) then - in an attempt to show SOME restraint - rather than frying the cakes, I put them on a lightly buttered cookie sheet and baked them in a 425 degree oven until they were puffed and starting to get good color.

Served 'em up with Ye Olde Baked Beans and - because I had them in from the CSA share - some quick pickled beets and their greens. You might want to give a squeeze of lemon juice over the cakes...but, if you are a tartar sauce maven like me, have at it because the fish cake screams out for that sauce. Hey, this isn't a light supper. It's hearty, stick-to-your ribs fare meant to send you to bed warm, happy and ready to get up at zero o'clock in the morning to go pull some lobster traps.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Those hands, those eyes...

Doing some recipe testing this evening (Spicy Peanut Chicken and Caponata, for those of you keeping score...not together, mind you) and something occurred to me, after watching my lovely wife sweat the math prep portion of her GRE. Granted - this doesn't involve quadratic equations, but I've assisted on enough cooking classes now to observe many fine people earnestly scouring the kitchen for measuring spoons and panicking when there are none to be found.

For those of you who want to, or already like to, cook at home - don't be so hasty to yank that lovely measuring spoon set out of your cluttered gadget drawer. (Use the Force, Luke...)

Baking is, for the most part, pure science...so when you are baking, hells yes pull out the measuring cups, the scale and spoons and have at it. But savory cooking, dear ones, is much more art than science. I don't suppose Jackson Pollack was carefully measuring out a 1/4 cup of burnt umbre to whip out across his canvas and you shouldn't either. Think more of recipes as guidelines, rather than paint by the numbers, and get yourselves more accustomed to eyeballing amounts. It'll save you some dishes to wash and make you feel way more cool while you're cooking.

I'm not suggesting you take a wild stab at guessing amounts, but start to use your eyes and your hands to get an idea of what is what. Next time you measure out a tablespoon or a teaspoon of the spice or ingredient called for, dump it in the cupped palm of your hand. Look at it. (Don't you have such lovely hands? No, not your HANDS!) Look at what that little mound of spice is size-wise and remember it. After a while, you're going to know what a tablespoon or a teaspoon of something roughly looks like - and the next time you're fixing up something nice, forego the measuring spoons and just eyeball it.

The same goes for a cup of diced veggies or even liquids (although I am not promoting dumping said cup of liquid in your hand). When you're measuring out these things, start paying attention to how much they look or feel like. What does a pound of something feel like, weight-wise, when you're lifting it. Next time, try and go from memory. I promise you, where savory cooking is concerned, a little more or a little less of anything is not going to be insurmountable BECAUSE I know you are using your eyes to see how your intended dish LOOKS and tasting as you go along to make sure the seasoning is to your liking. ('Cause you promise me you're doing this...right? Some recipes, you'll find, are just plain wrong...or wrong for YOU...and the people at Bon Appetit or wherever are going to say 'cry me a river' if you complain that you added the called for 1/4 teaspoon of salt and found the dish to be bland if you didn't TASTE it before you served it.)

Get comfortable with the big ones...a tablespoon, a teaspoon, a cup, and from there you can eyeball a half, a quarter or an eighth of one of those. Leave the exacting science to those preparing a wedding cake or finding a cure for cancer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pita Pahty

My wife went to Greece earlier this year - some fellowship where they get to study ancient Greek drama then GO to Greece and tour the ancient Greek theaters and places she and her fellow educators were studying. (My brother-in-law took his family to Hawaii earlier this year for some kitchen design convention. I am noticing a disturbing trend in me feeling job perk envy…) Anyway, Miss Kate fell hard (again) for Greece and Greek food. The breakfasts of that thick, strained yogurt topped with honey, nuts and raisins. Feta on anything and everything. Trahana, a tiny couscous-like pasta, in soup and porridge. And, since she doesn’t eat meat (yes…THAT’S how much I love her), she dined almost regularly on vegetable souvlaki while over there.

Last night for our first vacation dinner, Miss Kate requested something along those lines. Eager for a vacation food ‘project,’ I decided to try making my own pita breads for the souvlaki.
Found a great recipe for pitas in the 75th Anniversary Edition of The Joy of Cooking. Let me pause for a minute to pass on the growing respect and admiration I have for this cookbook. I have never really been fond of it since owning an earlier edition back in the 80’s. It’s lack of illustrations and plain vanilla layout make it quite dull to look at. My in-laws have a copy of the 75th Anniversary Edition of Joy down at their Cape house, and I find myself referring to it almost every time I’m down there for something. It’s a phenomenally inclusive reference with simple recipes and great information about cooking and food to boot. I’m still not crazy about how they present their recipes – integrating the ingredients list into the instructions, but I’ve turned to this book so many times I think it’s time to get my own copy.

Anyway, I love making bread and the pitas were really fun. Very simple bread dough of flour, yeast, water, butter, sugar and salt kneaded until elastic, allowed to rise until doubled in bulk, then punched down. The dough is then divided into balls, benched (allowed to rest before final shaping) and then rolled into flat circles. You drop these circles onto a preheated baking stone in your oven and they cook for about 3-4 minutes total.

The fun part is watching them blow up in the oven like balloons (creating the pita “pocket”).

After you remove each dough to a rack to cool, it deflates into that flat disc of pita. This is one of those cooking events that always makes you sit back in awe and admiration at both the science of it all and the wonder of ‘who the !@#*! figured out it'd do THAT??’

Going on Kate’s description of her Greek entrees, I chopped up some bell pepper, red onion, zucchini, and eggplant. Made a marinade of olive oil, red wine vinegar and a tablespoon or so of a fabulous Greek seasoning blend from Atlantic Spice Company. Now…I generally frown upon using these pre-blended spices, but I’ve tried a few that have been recommended personally or in a recipe and I confess to keeping some Goya Adobo and Saizon on hand, along with the classic Old Bay seasoning blend, some Emeril’s Original Essence and now this Greek blend. (Besides, this Atlantic Spice blend was a groomsman’s gift from my friend Jeff, who IS Greek and a great cook…so that’s a pretty strong recommendation!) Tossed the veggies in the marinade for about fifteen minutes, then transferred them with a slotted spoon to a grill rack on the Weber on low heat and covered the grill. Grilled/roasted them until tender, stirring them and drizzling with the reserved marinade every now and then. (If you don’t wind up getting that seasoning blend, I’d go with adding some of the following to the oil and vinegar: honey, lemon zest/juice, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.)

To serve, again based on Kate’s description, I reheated the pitas on the grill for about a minute per side, put them on a plate and topped them with a mound of the vegetables, some tzatziki – a Greek condiment of yogurt, cucumber and dill or mint (Joy of Cooking again!), and some chopped fresh tomato from our brother-in-law’s garden. (If you’re using out-of-season tomatoes…and you SHOULDN’T be…then I’d grill them with the rest of the vegetables.)

The results got high marks from Miss Kate and I was pretty happy with it myself. It’ll be a keeper in our house and I’d like to try some traditional (meat) souvlaki soon...all by myself, I guess...unless you want to come over.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Learning to Share

So our friends Deana and Nick moved to Vermont (sniff...) and we have taken over their CSA share. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and this share allows us to pick up a bunch of locally grown produce from Parker Farm each week. For about fifteen bucks a week we get an assortment of whatever crops have come in. This is something I've wanted to get involved with for a while but put off because I was afraid - given our often unpredictable schedules - we wouldn't be able to make use of all the produce. (Chef B. HATES to let food go bad...) With Deana passing their torch on to us, it means we get to try it out for the last thirteen weeks of the growing season and see how it goes.

Last night I pulled into the Cambridge parking lot, where the farmers park their truck to make their drop off each week, and came home with the following: 2 bunches of sweet onions (which look like giant, bulbous scallions/spring onions), 2 bunches of arugula, 12 ears of corn, 1 bunch of yellow carrot, 1 bunch of radish, 3 cukes, 1 pound of green beans, 1 bunch of Asian turnips and 2 pounds of red potatoes. Not bad for fifteen bucks! In fact, ballparking, I think that's cheaper than it would be if I purchased that stuff at a local farmstand or supermarket. And it was all picked THAT MORNING.

Really...c'mon now...I don't know that I've ever eaten a carrot that hadn't been sitting in a bag in someone's fridge for who knows how long. These yellow carrots are tender, tasty, asparagus-thin...beautiful.

I also love that you get in what you get in...whatever is ready to be picked each week, so you have to figure out what to cook and eat based on what is REALLY in season. (You know...I'm sure there were pilgrims who didn't like green beans just like me, but if that's what was growing on the farm that week, pilgrim, you're eating green beans. Oh my God...is this how the Thanksgiving green bean casserole was invented?!)

Last night I rushed home with my bounty, figuring out what to cook for dinner and how to store everything. Do I keep the giant bunch of carrot tops? Can you eat them? Apparently you can and they're very nutritious - but I need to find out how to prepare them. And, hey, I found this interesting tidbit on the web:
"Carrot tops were considered a fashion statement when worn by the ladies of the English court. The lacy green foliage provided an attractive hair ornament or an adornment on their hats."
So screw cooking 'em...I'm gonna wear mine! Another storage tip I found is to twist or cut the carrot tops off and store them separately as they can pull moisture from the carrots themselves.

So what did I make? Based on a Deborah Madison recipe, I boiled some of the potatoes and the gorgeous little Asian turnips (snipping off the tops and reserving the greens). Sliced up a bunch of the green onions and sauteed them over low heat until they carmelized. Once the potatoes and turnips were cooked I fished out the turnips, sliced them in half length-wise and set them in the pan with the onions to also get some carmelization going. Drained and mashed the potatoes with some goat cheese and a little butter and milk. While all that was going on I boiled the turnip greens separately and drained them. Served the greens, turnips and onions over the mashed potatoes and it was a terrific (super fresh) vegetarian meal.

Ready for another 'genius' observation? Fresh-picked vegetables and greens are DIRTY, man. This is not the scrubbed up, waxed up produce from your local grocery store. Farmer Steve in his weekly email has said how muddy everything is from the copious amounts of rain we've been getting - so much that it's inhibiting their harvesting. Maybe the stuff is muddier than usual or maybe not...hey, it grows in the GROUND and they just picked it and threw it on the truck to bring to us! Maybe a little more washing, rinsing and scrubbing than usual - but well worth it.

If you're interested, I recommend looking into a CSA near you. I think we're hooked. Here's a little blurb from the USDA on it:

"Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing."

Can't wait to see what we get in next week's pick up!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Roman Holiday

Following up on the last post, another beautifully simple Roman style dish: Pizza Bianca. It's not what we tend to think of here in the northeast as pizza. Almost more like a focaccia , just the dough topped with salt , olive oil and some rosemary.

Latest issue of Cooks Illustrated contains a great recipe/technique for making Pizza Bianca. Like many of their recipes, it takes some time, but the results are well worth it. It's got to be a great gig there in America's Test Kitchen: perfecting recipes for optimum results. Imagine going to work some day knowing you're going to make and taste twenty...thirty...sixty(?) variations of chocolate chip cookies until you find one that is juuuust right. There's a lot of science to food and cooking (hello, Harold McGee!) and the good folks at Cooks Illustrated are dedicated researchers studying reactions and perfecting each approach in their 'lab.' Often I find their methods require a lot of steps, but - to be fair - they're not a magazine geared towards 30 minute meals or the like. I don't think I've ever tried one of their recipes where following each detailed step hasn't resulted in exactly what they promise.

Their Pizza Bianca uses a very 'wet' dough unlike any kind of pizza dough I've ever worked with. Unlike the normal dough one sees tossed in the air and/or spread with a rolling pin at the local pizzeria, this one almost resembles what breadmakers call a sponge; it's poured into an oiled sheet pan and stretched. The results are a high, airy crust with a crisp, colorful exterior - more in line with what we (growing up in Belmont, Massachusetts at least) referred to as 'Greek' style pizza. (Actually, in Belmont, you called it 'Brothers' style pizza...as opposed to Dom's or Belmont Pizza...the three de facto 'types' of pizza we knew...)

Tried their more substantial version which added a topping of strained crushed tomatoes and shredded mozzarella and we were quite happy with the resulting pie. Pizza at home (and, sorry, I don't even consider those Boboli things much more than a step above frozen pizza) can be so good, but it can be tricky to get it as good as one you pick up from your local brick oven place. (Um...'cause we tend not to have brick ovens in our homes...) A pizza stone - also recommended for the Cooks Illustrated recipe definitely helps. (But, yeah, they require some extra forethought - preheating for an hour.)

You absolutely need a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook to try this. The dough has so much water in it in proportion to the dry ingredients that it takes a lot of mechanical action to get the gluten to develop. (Heed the recipe's warning to babysit your mixer as it has a tendency to wobble and wander the counter while kneading the dough on high speed.)

So, a lot of work? Not really, but you'll need time...a few hours for the dough to mix and rise. The pizza itself takes about a half hour to assemble and bake. Makes me want to go back to Rome and try the real thing. In the meantime, though...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Under the weather this weekend and what better way to lay in than watching a Lidia Matticchio Bastianich cooking show marathon on some PBS fundraiser. I confess, I have got a pretty big (but, you know, in a non-stalkery kind of way) thing for Miss Lidia. She's stylish, successful and cordial, makes beautiful food and, by all appearances, has a great family and life. Pity, for a moment, poor Joe and Tanya Bastianich growing up with their mother bringing them regularly back to her childhood home in Istria (now, I believe, a part of Croatia). The sight of their present-day family gatherings there made me...ok, fine...green with envy. While they clinked their classes (filled, no doubt, with wine from their own vineyard) and shared beautiful dishes of foods harvested just next door, I harkened back to my own childhood family celebrations with we wee Adamsons and our cousins the 'Bob Whites' giving thanks and slicing up the 'traditional' lime green jello, cream cheese and pineapple mold that reared its head each Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mm? Yeah...

Don't cry for me. I bet the Bastianich kids didn't get to play Pong after dinner on some Istrian Magnavox.

So one of the episodes featured Lidia and her daughter Tanya wandering around Rome where they stopped at a sidewalk trattoria for some pasta. Lidia had an old Roman dish called Pasta Cacio E Pepe. Just pasta with pecorino romano cheese and coarsely ground pepper. It doesn't get much simpler than that. I'm pretty sure her version of the recipe would be in the companion book to her Lidia's Italy series, so do check that out. We had to try it. Immediately.

Based on watching the divine L, we threw a couple tablespoons of peppercorns in a ziploc bag and crushed them on the counter (to coarse chunks, not fine) using the bottom of a skillet. Cooked a pound of spaghetti in salted water until al dente then removed the pasta to a bowl with tongs (don't drain it in a colander) , tossed it with a cup or so of freshly grated pecorino and the pepper. Ladle in a bit of the pasta cooking water as you go to get a nice consistency. The cheese will melt and the pasta will be nicely flecked with the pepper. Add the pepper in increments so you can control how spicy it is, but we liked it very peppery. Also, don't think this is traditional, but gave it a drizzle of some nice olive oil just before serving.

I'd like to say it cured the summer flu thing I had, but I can't. However, it was a giant bowlful of comfort and will become a 'regular.' Sometimes the more ingredients a dish calls for does not necessarily mean the mo' better it is. Sure, the better quality your pasta, cheese and pepper are, the better your dish is going to be, but...pasta, water, pepper and cheese. That's it. Try it!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hello Mudda, Hello Fava

First date with fava beans last night. They're in season in the spring and summer and I decided it was time to get over the fear of them being too labor-intensive and reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter serving them with a nice chianti ("f-f-f-f-fff!").

They come in large pods. You can grab the stem and peel it back down the pod, almost like you're unzipping it, then split the pod open and pop the beans out. Next step is to drop the beans into boiling water for 1 minute, then shock them in cold water and drain. Now you need to remove each bean from its waxy, pale green casing. I found a pretty simple routine for this. Pinch the 'stem' end of each bean (where the bean was attached to the inside of the pod) between your left thumb and forefinger, holding it the 'flat' way. Then use your right thumb and foreginger to pinch off an opening in the casing on the other end. All you have to do then is squeeze your left thumb and forefinger and the fava bean proper pops out through the opening. (I'm right-handed, so you lefties may want to adjust accordingly.)

You do have to buy quite a few pods to amass a good amount of final product. (Allegedly 1 pound of pods produces approximately a cup of beans.) Sure, it's more work than popping open a can of lima beans or something, but it's not hard work (perfect task to unload on...I mean 'entrust to' one of your younger kid-type kitchen assistants) and the fresh fava is really lovely in appearance, texture and subtle taste. Try tossing them in a summer green salad or pasta.

They also are reported to contain L-dopa, a substance some link to libido and a boost thereof. In the name of privacy, the editor will neither confirm nor deny this claim to the natural Viagra throne.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Show the 'Berg Some Love!

Had a great time assisting my former classmate Deana's 'Extreme Kitchen Makeover' class tonight. She's a talented chef and nutritionist - aside from just being a lovely person. Nutritional point: the more color (green, etc.) in your vegetables, the more valuable nutrients inside. On the down side of the equation: the lowly iceberg lettuce. Probably the ONLY lettuce readily available when I was growing up in the 70s. (Or maybe just all Mom got.)

I'm not going to argue about its nutritional value over Romaine or other lettuces - and it certainly doesn't hold the nouvelle cache of mesclun greens or arugula. But it does, I think, make a nice addition to certain salads (hello, Greek salad!), has a great crunchy texture, and - this is a hunch here - seems to keep in your fridge longer than other lettuces. I can tell you my friend Scott and I get all oogie at the sight of a wedge salad on a restaurant's menu.

The Wedge is retro...and it's yummy; cropping up on many steakhouse and restaurant menus once again. Couldn't be easier to make at home. Cut your head of iceberg into wedges, rinse them in cold water and shake off as much water as possible and dry them off while keeping the wedges intact. Drizzle some blue cheese dressing over them and sprinkle with crispy (real please!) bacon bits. Sprinkle some chopped fresh tomato and/or red onion around it, if you want some color. Try it. You won't be sorry. And do make your own blue cheese dressing. It's easy (most homemade salad dressings are) and will kick any bottled dressing's ass. You can probably find a slew of recipes for blue cheese dressing on the Net or in your cookbooks (but if you can't, let me know and I'll post one).

Nick Stellino of 'Cucina Amore' and 90s PBS cooking show fame, he of the even-then-outré samurai ponytail (where IS he now, anyway??) has a pasta recipe in his Glorious Italian Cooking that has chopped iceberg lettuce added to the sauce (with ham, leeks and mushrooms) and simmered, much like a green. Does the pasta dish scream "Taste of Iceberg!"? No. But it's tasty and it's another way to use any of the head left over from your wedge and I'm sure it provides some nutrional value over, oh, say the actual penne or whatever pasta you're using. I have yet to try this myself, but I have seen people grill a wedge of iceberg quickly to give it a nice smoky flavor and pretty-pretty grill marks, then dress it. Let's see your wimpy mesclun greens stand up to a few minutes on the grill.

Anyway...I'm just saying...iceberg lettuce needn't be relegated to food courts and sub shops. (Cue 'Breakfast Club' sountrack.) Don't you...forget about it...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pancakes In A Pinch

We woke up this morning needing pancakes. (OK, I woke up this morning needing pancakes and inflicted my 'needs' on everyone else.) Only problem, no maple syrup in and no desire to leave the house. Came up with this pancake syrup which did the trick. It makes a lot (two plus cups) so cut it in half if you're not making a holy ton for a crowd.


1 C. sugar
1 C. brown sugar
1 C. Karo (light corn) syrup
1 C. water
2 T. molasses
1/4 - 1/2 t. vanilla extract

Stir all ingredients together in a small sauce pan over medium heat until sugars have dissolved. Bring to a very low boil for just a minute or two and remove from heat. Serve it warm, poured over your cakes.

Nice pancake combo too: we had a ripe banana and 'juuuuust-on-their-way-out' strawberries. Sous Chef C mashed up the banana and stirred it into the pancake batter. We sliced the berries, laid them on each pancake after being poured into the pan before the flip. Bueno.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Short and Sweet

OK, we're down on the Cape and I found these gorgeous local sea scallops which I couldn't pass up (even though Mrs. B Home is allergic). There's really nothing so simple and so delicious as fresh scallops seared on both sides with a little salt and pepper. You just don't need anything else.

But, if you do, well...deep fry 'em and hit me with a side of fries and slaw, please.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Le Squid

Decided to give squid a try for the first time since school. You can (mercifully) buy it cleaned at WholeFoods and they even give you the option of just buying the bodies or (for the hardcore squid lovers) the tentacles as well. B loves his fried calamari, but he's never tried the 'low and slow' approach to squid. Anything between super-fast cooking and long cooking times with squid makes for something the consistency of rubber. Based on a recipe I'd read in a recent Bon Appetit, I sauteed some chopped chorizo, red pepper flakes and garlic, then tossed the squid in the pan with a generous cup of red wine, covered the pan and kept it at a low simmer for an hour. After that I left the pan uncovered and threw in a bunch of swiss chard that I'd chopped up and cooked another half hour or so. The dish was tasty (although not terribly pretty) - more on the rustic, peasant-y side of things - but I like that. Served it over some simple mashed potatoes. Could work well over some pasta, I think, too.