Monday, September 28, 2009

Harvest Fest: Celebrating the Island Way

The weather was perfect and people were out in droves at the 16th annual Festival de la Consecha. The event, sponsored by Nuestras Raices at The Land of Providence in Holyoke, Massachusetts last Saturday afternoon, was a grand success.

So much so that my son, JP, and I worried we’d never find a convenient spot to park. The on street parking situation looked unlikely and the nearby high school lot was not full but fairly packed with cars. On our second sweep we were lucky enough to find an available opening just a few hundred feet from the festival entrance. We were feeling great.

The piquant aroma of island cuisine, grilled chicken and penil (spicy pork shoulder) greeted us at the gate. Live music while strolling through the exhibits and gardens made for happy dancing feet. There were lots of fun things to do and watch throughout the afternoon. Succumbing to a plate full of grilled adobo chicken with rice was inevitable.

Adobo is a seasoned salt generously sprinkled or rubbed on chicken, pork and seafood prior to grilling, sauteing, frying or baking. Spanish food markets and supermarkets sell decent prepared commercial blends but homemade is always best. Hint: Many spices like dried thyme and ground cinnamon are sold in large containers and less expensive in the ethnic food aisles of larger food stores.

There are two types of adobo. One is a wet marinade called adobo mojado. It is a mix of crushed garlic, olive oil, salt, black pepper, thyme, citrus juices (often lime but other citrus is used depending on the regional preference) or vinegar or a mix or both citrus and vinegar.

More widely used on the island of Puerto Rico and what was offered at the festival is a dry rub mix, known as adobo seco. Easier to prepare than the wet version and it has a long shelf life. Adobo seco is a dry mix of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, dry thyme or oregano and sometimes dried citrus zest or a dash of cinnamon.

I promised you a recipe and so asked the ladies at the food table for the ingredients and instructions. They assured me it was the following simple concoction rubbed on the delish chicken we enjoyed this weekend. Served with saffron rice and beans, it was amazing.


Adobo Seco Dry Rub Mix

1/4 cup salt
1/4 cups garlic powder
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon crushed dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper


Place salt, garlic powder, sugar, chili powder, thyme, black pepper, cayenne pepper into a large bowl. Mix together with a wooden spoon until well blended. Let set in an airtight container at least 24 hours prior to first use to allow flavors to blend. This dry spice mix stores well at room temperature in the airtight container for about three months.

To use, rub dry spice mix under the skin of the chicken pieces, about 1-2 teaspoons per serving. For best results, let stand in the refrigerator for one to two hours before grilling to allow the flavors of the rub to penetrate the meat. Just before grilling sprinkle seasoning on outside of the skin as well. Grill until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes on each side.

This dry rub mix is also an excellent blend for roasting pork and most grilled or baked seafood. Yummy.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sick as a Dog?

My friend Shawn has been reporting on Facebook to all of us about how sick he's been for days now. He's missed work during the day and his favorite televison shows at night because he just needs to sleep.

When he finally wakes up, he's going to be hungry but might still have a tender tummy. So, let me suggest that his spouse consider having a pot of this recipe waiting for the poor guy to sip on over the weekend. Scott? Are you reading this? And no cheating with a can of Campbells chicken noodle, too much sodium!

Nani's Chicken Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 whole medium onion
1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds), cut into pieces
Dash of salt
1 small bay leaf
4 large peeled and chopped tomatoes (1 16 oz can diced tomatoes)
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into carrot coins
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 cup soup pastina (The Silver Palate Cookbook, pasta glossary, page 67)
Ground black pepper and salt, to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves (1 tablespoon dried)

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large soup/stock pot. Lightly brown chicken pieces, about 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until chicken releases its juices, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to high; add 2 quarts water, dash of salt and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, then cover, reduce heat to low and barely simmer until chicken is cooked and broth is rich and flavorful, about half an hour. Remove chicken and set aside to cool enough to handle. Remove skin from breast, then remove meat from bones and cut or shred into bite-size pieces; discard skin and bones. Strain broth into a large bowl and discard any remaining chicken pieces and bones. Return broth to soup pot.

Peel whole onion then with a sharp knife score each end to allow for flavor added to the broth but without the onion falling apart. Add whole onion to pot along with carrot coins and celery. Simmer about 10 minutes until veggies are softened. Add chicken and tomatoes and continue simmering until vegetables are tender and flavors meld, about 10 minutes longer. Add pastina and cook until noodles are just tender, about 10 more minutes. Adjust seasonings, adding more salt, if necessary, and pepper, stir in parsley and serve with saltine crackers and ginger ale to help those tender tummies and sniffley noses feel better.

Yield: about 3 quarts; 6 to 8 servings. Stores well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days; reheat on low.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Something Special

Something special is happening in Holyoke, Massachusetts. A 25 acre parcel of farm and woodlands situated alongside the Connecticut River will become the newest reservation in the Pioneer Valley under the stewardship of The Trustees of Reservations.

The Sisters of Providence, a religious community with deep roots in the city of Holyoke, donated the land in June of this year and tomorrow marks the official dedication. A portion of the property is farmed by Nuestras Raices (Our Roots) a vibrant urban garden that helps immigrant communities grow harvest and provide fresh ethnic crops while training and supporting immigrant farmers.

At my house, Farmer Paul has a golf tourney on Saturday having pretty much hung up his hoe for this season. We're cleaning out the garden in readiness for its well earned winter's nap. But this weekend you'll find me and my JP at the 16th annual Festival de la Cosecha (Harvest Festival) taking place on September 26th from noon to 6 PM. Live music, traditional Caribbean foods and plenty of activities for the children are highlights of the afternoon. The event is open to the public. Check out the Nuestras Raices website at
http://www.nuestras-raices.org/ for more info.

And I promise to report back with at least one great recipe!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Nice Warm Cuppa Tea

No sooner has our garden's harvest come in and there is a sudden turn in the warm days and comfortable nights. It's feeling downright chilly around here in western Massachusetts.

Our backyard crops are slowing to a trickle. The yellow beans produced a single serving in the last three days and the tomatoes are nearly gone, the cherry tomato plant still offers modest clusters to brighten the flavor of store bought mesclun mix tossed with raspberry viniagrette. But I know it won't last much longer.

Farmer Paul climbed his way to the uppermost limbs of our apple tree earlier this week and we wrapped the less ripe in newspaper for cold storage, gave away about two bushels worth of some pretty nice fruit and still managed to leave a generous number of beauties on the lower branches for friend Laura's little guy to snatch in an apple adventure today. It was an awful lot of fun to share our garden with so enthusiastic a picker.

There is consolation in seeing the ripening butternut squash looking so great. Soon, the foliage will be in high color and I'll be flipping open my copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook to page 47 to follow the recipe for Curried Butternut Squash Soup. But for this evening, I think I'll settle for a warm from the oven cinnamon sugar cookie and a cup of chai tea. Yummy.

Chai Tea

Water – While some people swear that boiling the water just right makes a huge difference in the taste, I certainly can’t tell the difference between bubbling boils and slow boils. I just like it hot.

Tea – Tea experts favor Darjeeling. But just about any non-herbal regular or decaf tea will work. I use a tea bag brand instead of loose tea with a strainer and it tastes fine.

Milk – In choosing what to put in your chai, there is one simple rule: the thicker the milk, the richer the chai. Whole milk, cream, even a little butter will go into the most delicious chais. But of course, these options come with a high calorie cost.

Sweetener – Choose your favorite sugar (brown, white, or cane) or honey. For a real taste treat try maple sugar. Each one lends a different twist to the finished tea. Artificial sweetener is okay but not great. I prefer a less sweet tea and so use only one level teaspoon.

Spices – The selection and proportion of spices used in chai tea varies. I use one cinnamon stick and one tiny drop of almond extract per cup. Occasionally, I will add a dash of Cardomom. Experiment to suit your tastes. The most common spices used in spiced chai are:

Cardamom
Ginger
Cinnamon
Vanilla
Cloves
Almond
Nutmeg
All Spice


Making the Chai

Bring water to a boil and add solid spices. Cover, reduce heat, and allow to simmer. Ten minutes is sufficient, but soaking the spices longer will continue to add to the flavor. Bring the water back up to a rolling boil, then turn down the heat. Add tea, and allow to infuse according to the directions on the package (usually 3-5 minutes, covered). Strain out the tea and spices, return hot brew to the pot. Add milk, and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat, and add vanilla, other extracts, flavorings, and sugar or honey. Stir for thirty seconds, and then turn heat to low to keep tea warm while serving.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Buying, Growing and Eating Local is My Bag

There are still a few weeks left to this year's summer crops harvest season in my neck of the woods and longer in other parts of the country. Apples and winter squash are just coming in and root veggies, potatoes and turnips and the like will be appearing at roadside stands and farmers markets soon.

Finding your area’s local harvest hot spots is trendy and socially responsible. But if being hip isn’t reason enough for you to jump on the locavore bandwagon and join the In-crowd at your regional Farmers Market and roadside stands then read on, you’re bound to find a good excuse to Buy Local!


Top 10 Reasons to Eat Local Food

10. Eating local means more dollars get pumped into the local economy.

9. Locally grown food is thousands of miles fresher.

8. Buying, eating and growing local fruits and vegetables is politically correct.

7. Eating local is better for air quality -- fewer miles driven for delivery, less exhaust.

6. Buying local food helps our awareness of each seasonal bounty.

5. Buying locally grown food will give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

4. Local grown food has less susceptibility to harmful contamination and other safety issues.

3. Local food growers offer more variety.

2. Supporting local providers supports farmland protection.


And the Number 1 Reason to buy local foods is actually a question...

Have you tasted an ear of super sweet corn shucked and boiled less than 24 hours from picking?

I rest my case!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Keep Austin Weird

I am willing to bet the only landfill in the country, maybe the world, where you can have a beer and eat some barbeque all while listening to live music from Little Joe and La Familia is the Texas Disposal Systems’ facility just outside the Austin city limits.

Not to mention the signs that advise your driver (in this case me) to be aware of the animals grazing away on either side of the narrow gravel road leading to the Exotic Game Ranch and Pavilion. I’m told that many of the animals aren't indigenous to Texas or even North America, and include several varieties of deer, bison, wildebeest and the highly endangered addax. At the first antelope sighting we burst into a chorus of Home on the Range.

TDS, Inc. rents the pavilion to selected groups on an invitation-only basis. Often, groups are outdoor-oriented organizations, law enforcement or young nonprofits in the early phases of fundraising. Last Friday night, the Texas Democratic Party hosted a bash honoring the Democratic National Committee and as a member of that body, I have to tell you it was an interesting evening for more than the great food and entertainment.

Texas Disposal Systems handles two-thirds of Austin's solid waste and one-third of San Antonio's. Note to all odorous landfills: the place doesn’t smell bad and it was 93 degrees in Austin that day. Even people living in other parts of the Austin area take notice of the way Texas Disposal Systems runs its operation. According to the president of Northeast Action Group, a community action organization in Northeast Austin, TDS shows how you can run a landfill.

There are T-shirts, hats, and coffee mugs at every tourist trap that proclaim the city's motto of "Keep Austin Weird" and if I hadn't seen with my own eyes and smelled with my own nose ... the only thing my nose breathed in was the smell of barbeque. Amazing AND weird: all in a very good way!

Texas-style Barbeque Brisket

1 4-pound brisket
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons cayenne
2 tablespoons paprika
1 medium onion, finely grated
3 cloves garlic, finely grated
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup butter
1 cup water
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
6 ounces of beer


Preheat grill to 325 degrees F using indirect method. Note: If a two burner grill, light one burner, if three burner light two. Meat to be placed over burner with no direct flame beneath.

Trim excess fat from brisket and season with garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, cayenne and paprika. Place on preheated grill. Prop the lid a little so it’s not fully closed (I use a brick) and let cook.

Meanwhile prepare sauce. Melt butter in a sauce pan with the oil and sauté onion and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add water, cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder and a little salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add beer. Baste over brisket about every 30 minutes. Cook brisket on low for about 4-5 hours.

Remove brisket from
grill and slice thin for serving on a roll or on its own accompanied by baked beans and a fresh green salad.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hoping for a Knockout Punch

Last year a friend brought over a mason jar of homemade raspberry vodka made by our mutual friend, the mayor of Easthampton, Massachusetts. The concoction was flavorful enough to be iced and sipped with a splash of Sprite.

I've been hankering for a grape infused vodka this summer and have purchased two different brands for summer cocktails that have sorely disappointed. Grape taste should not be perfumey and so I decided to take a chance on trying Mayor Mike's instructions for infusing store bought vodka with fresh picked fruits of the vine instead of raspberries.

As you can see from today's garden photo, our grapes are nearly ready. If the experiment is a success I'll give you the details on making your own fruit infused vodkas. Meanwhile, I'll just share my new cocktail recipe created in honor of an anticipated successful infusion.

Grape Punch-tini

2 ounces grape infused vodka
1/2 cup lemonade
1 ounce orange flavored liqueur
1 ounce crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur)


Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into martini glasses. Garnish with a grape on a toothpick instead of an olive. Serves 2.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Apple Crazy

Came home late last night from Austin, Texas. Had a blast but have no time to tell you about it today. There are apples everywhere here. I've been at it all morning. Canned 'em in cinnamon sugar, made applesauce and baked yet another galette. Raspberries instead of blueberries added for color and taste because our backyard raspberries are abundant this week.

As for my adventures in Texas: for a hint go ahead and google "Pinetop Perkins" and I will regale you tomorrow or Tuesday - once the apples are under some kind of control!

Cinnamon Sliced Apples

4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3 teaspoons cinnamon
10 cups water
3 tablespoons lemon juice


Half fill a large pan or bowl with cold water. Slice a whole lemon and drop into cold water. Peel, core and slice enough apples to fill 6 quart or 12 pint jars already prepared for home canning. Drop sliced apples into the cold lemon water as you go until you have enough slices to begin packing.

Make a syrup of sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon and water. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. Add lemon juice. Put 1 1/2 cups of this into each quart jar, 3/4 cup for pints. Fill with drained sliced apples and pack. Put lids on and process 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. These apples are suited to most apple recipes, including winter galettes and cobblers. Fabulous when simply warmed in a microwave and topped with fresh whipped cream, too.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fish Treat in Cattle Country

Arriving last night in Austin, Texas I was too late for making a dinner meeting on my schedule. Alternate route to a quick bite: the Renaissance Austin Hotel cocktail lounge to settle for a glass of wine and a selection off the bar menu to tide me over.

What I found were the friendly faces of three women I know from the far away places of Washington, DC, Nebraska and California sipping wine and munching on two dollar (yup, two bucks) mini-fish tacos. Great company, decent wine and delish snacks that didn't cost a fortune - is there a better way to start three days of meetings?


MINI-FISH TACOS
1 small soft corn tortilla
1/8 cup finely shredded cabbage
2 ounce "finger" slice cod loin
1 tablespoon creme fraiche - The Silver Palate Cookbook, page 339
2 tablespoons salsa (or chopped fresh tomatoes)
dusting of any good cajun fish spices


Spoon creme fraiche and shredded cabbage in center of corn tortilla. Set aside. Lightly dust fish "finger" with store bought cajun spice mix. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to small frypan on medium high burner. Quickly sear fish and scoop onto cabbage. Fold tortilla over fish creating a tortilla pocket. Serve with salsa or tomatoes piled on the side as condiment/garnish.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In the groove 'til you make a mistake

This is the hot chili pepper jelly and classic cheese platter I brought as a hostess gift to a Friday night patio party at the start of the long holiday weekend. Homemade goat cheese spread on good quality store bought crackers, cold cooked shrimp, crudites and veggie dip complimented classic Kir making for a pleasant evening with friends.

I told you about my first canning season failure with that soupy apple jelly and today I had another flop. A new batch of pepper jelly jelled into a rubbery consistency. Tastes good but is basically unspreadable. The apple syrup was pretty good on French toast the other day. Now I need to come up with an idea for this over-jelled jelly. Maybe if I use it instead of marmalade to make the glaze for plum chicken? I hate to waste it but I think I'll just toss it and try again another day.

Jams and jellies can be tricky businesss. Like I've said before, nobody's perfect. But I have no intention of giving away an imperfect product. That's why when I make up a batch of jelly, I keep a little out of the jars to taste what whoever opens the jar will taste. When all else fails, there's always good store bought.


CHEVRE SPREAD

8 ounces plain goat cheese
1 tablespoon creme fraiche (page 339, The Silver Palate Cookbook)
2 tablespoons marscopone cheese

Using an electric mixer whip all ingredients into a creamy spread, (about 1 minute on medium high). Spoon into a pretty glass bowl and serve with crackers or thin sliced baguette. Top with your favorite hot pepper jelly.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What's a patio picnic without brownies?

I am so going to miss the cheery summer table settings.

Today was lovely but the temperature has dipped below 50 degrees every night for the last week. Nearly time to try out the fire pit we bought at Cabela's on sale at the tail end of last year. Wait until you see it, a very cute woodland motif - little moose and bear figure cut outs all around and a firescreen top to keep the sparks from flying.

Meanwhile, we're up to our eyeballs in apples. Good thing my favorite brownie recipe has applesauce in it. If anybody has other great apple or applesauce recipes, please, send them my way!

PATIO PERFECT BROWNIES

3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup applesauce
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream sugar and butter. Add egg. Sift cocoa, salt, baking soda, chili powder, cinnamon and flour ingredients and add to sugar mixture, alternately with applesauce. Generously apply baking olive oil spray to the bottom only of 8 X 8 inch square pan. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. In a small bowl, combine white sugar, chocolate chips and chopped nuts. Sprinkle over batter. For cakey brownies use one egg white in addition to the one whole egg. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Makes nine 2 1/2 inch brownies.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Summertime Blues

Earlier this week, Holyoke Home asked that I post my award winning Spicy Blueberry Barbeque Sauce recipe. Good timing for that request as tomorrow is Labor Day and like most Americans, my little family will be celebrating with a traditional last gasp of summer backyard cookout. On the menu is grilled chicken, corn on the cob, broccoli slaw and of course, decadent dark chocolate brownies for dessert. Tomorrow we eat, so today I shopped.

It's a short pleasant country drive to find supersweet corn at my favorite farm stand in Whately, Massachusetts. A dozen ears later and it was three miles down River Road to visit Pasiecnik Farms. Four quarts of pre-picked but fresh late season sweet-tart blueberries were exactly what I needed for a triple batch of my now famous sauce - some for now and a few jars put up for later. Who says there's no cure for the summertime blues?


SPICY BLUEBERRY BARBEQUE SAUCE

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
3/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup water

8 chicken thighs, deboned skin left on (or two whole pork tenderloins -about 2 pounds)

Rinse meat and pat dry, place meat in a shallow pan, cover and refrigerate. Make the sauce by bringing the remaining ingredients to a low boil in a medium size saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until slightly thickened and chunky. Remove from heat and allow the sauce to cool. If a smooth sauce is desired, pulse in food processor for a few seconds after it cools. Reserve half the sauce. Pour remaining sauce over meat in a shallow pan. Cover and refrigerate, marinading for one hour, turning occasionally.

Preheat grill to 350 degrees. Grill the meat pieces over indirect heat until cooked, 10-12 minutes per side. Discard sauce that was used as marinade and baste with the reserved sauce until well cooked. You can use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Top the meat with any remaining BBQ sauce and enjoy. Serves 4.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ratatouille Update

Turns out there are several versions of ratatouille that include yellow squash in addition to zucchini. I love Google. I have never bothered to look for ratatouille recipes because I had a perfectly good recipe developed over many years and committed to memory.

In the end what I chose to do in making my veggie stew was to fall back on familiarity. But I did do one thing differently than usual. I'm not talking about the fact that I substituted yellow squash for traditional zucchini. For once, I wrote down the recipe measure by measure.

SUMMER RATATOUILLE

1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, grated
1/2 small yellow onion, grated
3 medium size meaty tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup beef, chicken or vegetable broth
1 medium size eggplant, about 1 lb.
2 medium size zucchini squash, about 8 oz. each (yellow squash tastes great too!)
1 medium sweet bell pepper, cut in thin strips
1/4 cup carrot coins, thin sliced
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil (1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese (optional)


Heat oil in large saucepan, add onion and garlic. Stir until lightly cooked through. Add tomatoes and broth. Cover. Bring to a medium simmer for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, cut eggplant crosswise into 3/4-inch slices, then cut slices into 3/4-inch cubes. Stir eggplant into saucepan and cover. Cut zucchini and yellow squash into 1/2-inch slices, halving each slice. Stir squashes, bell pepper strips and carrot coins into the saucepan and sprinkle with basil and oregano. Reduce heat to low simmer. Cover. Cook fifteen minutes longer, stirring occasionally. The eggplant will release liquid as it cooks, stirring often helps distribute the flavors. Sprinkle with cheese before serving if desired.

Makes six generous servings as a side dish to most any meat but tastes particularly delish with a simple fresh baked fish -- 1 tablespoon olive oil and a shot glass of dry vermouth on the bottom of a shallow baking dish before laying fish fillets without overlapping. Lightly season with fresh ground pepper and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Serves four as a main course veggie stew. In either case, pair with a crusty baguette, light fruity table wine and a slice of lemon cake for dessert and you'll have yourself a tasty easy menu.

And speaking of lemon cake, I promised my son, John Paul, that I would flip to page 298 in The Silver Palate Cookbook and make him the Glazed Lemon Cake as mini-bundt cakes later today. I'm certainly NOT suggesting that you cheat BUT ... a box of lemon cake mix baked as directed with the addition of one tablespoon of freshly grated lemon zest, topped off with Silver Palate lemon glaze is pretty close to the real thing.

LEMON ICING

1 pound box confectioners sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) sweet unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespooons fresh grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice


Cream sugar and butter thoroughly. Mix in lemon zest and juice; drizzle onto warm cake.

Friday, September 4, 2009

rat-a-too-ee

It started at about ten o'clock last night. My head hurt, my shoulders ached and my throat went scratchy. This morning I'm in full blown seasonal allergy mode and miserable -- a terrible way to end a perfectly productive week and start a holiday weekend.

To make matters worse, there's this basket of fresh picked veggies sitting on my kitchen counter that need to be cooked into something. Feeling the way I feel at this very moment all I can think of is tossing them in a pan and hoping for the best.

A vegetable toss exactly describes the traditional French side dish known as ratatouille. The translation of the French word touiller is to toss and/or to stir. As it happens there's a great recipe for ratatouille on page 167 of The Silver Palate Cookbook. Summer squash is not an ingredient but I have only one zucchini and it's not exactly a daring substitute. It'll probably taste great. I'll let you know later or over the weekend.

For now, I'm going to Starbuck's for a quick coffee and if that doesn't work, I'll take an allergy pill and head back to my bed for a nap. I think this afternoon I'll watch the movie while I chop up that aubergine and the rest of this morning's garden haul. Laughter is the best medicine and I just love that little rat.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Apples and tomatoes and pears, oh my.

Paul peeled while I cooked and crushed about a half bushel of apples into apple sauce. Our first failure of this canning season happened when the apple jelly wouldn't gel. Four eight ounce jars of what has the consistency of maple syrup instead of toast ready jelly. We might try it on pancakes this weekend. The whole apple cooking and canning endeavor kept us busy for several hours and still, we've barely made a dent in the fruits of our harvest. As much as we've given away is replenished daily. I'll miss the bounty when it's gone but for now it's slightly overwhelming.

All this talk about apples probably has you wondering what's up with the pizza picture. There was no time for flipping open The Silver Palate last night. It was pizza right out of the Almost Homemade cookbook instead. One of our local bakeries sells great dough for two bucks, add a jar of supermarket sauce, a handful of shredded mozzarella, crumbled goat cheese, a few fresh toppings from the garden - baby spinach leaves, halved cherry tomatoes and sauted green Cuban peppers, toss on some thin sliced pepperoni and voila! Almost homemade pizza was ready for the oven at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. Dinner was served and I took this picture to prove it.

Between putting the finishing touches on a work project, returning phone calls and then all that processing apples when Paul came in from his day at the courthouse, and I was too pooped to even mix up a pitcher of White Sangria (The Silver Palate Cookbook, page 329) with the half bottle of Pinot Grigio leftover from Tuesday night. Instead, I turned the television on to Comedy Central, popped open a bottle of diet gingerale and called it a night. Nobody's perfect.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Apple of My Eye

My husband, Farmer Paul (aka Fisherman Paul, Hiker Paul and all variety of other vigorous and productive activities), and I sat on the patio after dinner (The Silver Palate Cookbook, page 187 - Red Snapper with Butter and Shallot Sauce), sipped a little white wine and admired our garden. A plopping sound cut through the quiet. "Apple down," he said, jumping up to snatch a beautifully ripe and pretty big Macintosh from the grass under the laden branches of our supposedly (another story for another day) dwarf variety of self pollinating apple tree. "Let's go in and bake a pie."

I haven't made an actual pie in a long time. My youngest son hasn't lived home since college and a whole pie is just too big for three of us to eat before the crust goes soggy. What you see in the picture here is a piece of last night's Apple Blueberry Galette with a side dollop of homemade creme fraiche. Galettes are my specialty. Sounds fancy, doesn't it? So around here everyone calls it a pie or a tart because it would be too weird for Farmer Paul to say, "Let's go in and bake a galette."

Our division of labor when cooking together has a rhythm. Paul peels, cores and drops the apple wedges into a small bowl of lemon water while I create a piecrust that, for the most part, comes out consistently well. It takes only half of a double crust recipe shared with me by my late mother-in-law more than thirty years ago and to which I added ground oats or almonds to make it my own. I saved the other half in zip lock bag to make another galette over the weekend. The dough stays well for close to a week in the refrigerator. The baked dessert won't last that long.


BASIC APPLE GALETTE

Pie Crust
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup ground quick oats or almonds (pulse in food processor until fine ground)
dash of salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup really cold water

Fruit Filling
3 cups sliced apple wedges (about 4 large or 6 medium sized pie apples)
1/3 cup granulated or brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh minced ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tab butter melted (microwave)
1/4 cup blueberries or dried cranberries (optional)

To Finish Crust
2 tablespoons fat-free milk
1 tablespoon turbinado or raw sugar

Make the pastry dough by combining flour, sugar, ground oats, and salt in a processor; pulse 2-3 times. Add shortening and pulse 4-5 times, or until mixture holds together in the shape of small peas. With the processor running, slowing pour the water through the chute, processing until the dough forms a ball. You may or may not use all the water, this is the tricky part of making a flaky crust. Not to worry, mine isn't always perfect but even picky Paul says I make good crust. Remove the dough ball and adhere any remaining pieces of dough to it, split dough into two balls, drop each in a zip loc bag and refrigerate. Preheat to 350 degrees F.

While the oven is preheating, combining all filling ingredients except butter in a large bowl, and toss gently, making sure that the cornstarch is coating the fruit. (This will prevent too much juice from leaking out while the galette bakes.) This should take about 15-20 minutes, just enough time for your dough to be chilled. Remove one dough ball from the refrigerator and place on a sheet of aluminum foil sprinkled liberally with flour. Roll out the dough, forming into a 14-15-inch circle or oval or rectangle... whatever shape your crust takes is part of the fun of baking a free form pie pouch. Place the foil with rolled dough on a baking sheet.

Add the fruit mixture to the center of the dough, leaving about 2-inch border. Drizzle melted butter over fruit. Fold the pastry border over the filling, overlap where necessary and press gently to adhere the folds. Brush the edges with milk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes. (Cutting too quickly will cause crust to crack). Optional garnishes include rum raisin ice cream, creme fraiche (The Silver Palate Cookbook, page 339), or fresh whipped cream.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

With Sheila on my shoulder ...

This week our garden has exploded and I am required to be a cooking, canning, crazy woman to keep up with the harvest.

Thirty-eight pints of tomatoes and 6 quarts of cinnamon apples so far. Not to mention eight small jars of hot pepper jelly, four jars of applesauce and six pints of farm stand peaches I brandied. And there's more out there waiting for my attention. If you don't have a garden, you can buy fresh local grown at farmers markets or roadside stands a short drive from home. Even city dwellers can manage to find local fruits and veggies.

Admittedly, I'm not so nuts about canning when it's hot outside and I'm boiling a batch of jars inside. Thank goodness for my A/C. But canning is not hard work, easy to follow instructions are readily available. When winter comes, the bubbling pot on the stovetop will be the result of home or local grown bounty. Then I'll be happy.

It's important to keep in mind that hot water bath canning is only safe for high acid foods like tomatoes and most fruits. Added lemon juice or vinegar in recipes generally indicate that your canning will go well. Always use proven recipes or test your food using litmus paper. If you have no idea where to find the stuff, just order it online. Tomatoes and tomato sauce are the safest kind of food for home canning and a litmus test really isn't necessary.

This afternoon, I'm simmering up a batch of pasta sauce for home processing. My version of the classic bubbling pot is slightly different but a pretty tasty adaptation of the original Silver Palate cookbook recipe. The Silver Palate Cookbook has a good variety of sauce recipes for different dishes but page 70, Pasta Sauce Raphael has always been my favorite. The two ingredients I don't add for canning are the marinated artichokes and the grated Romano cheese.

When winter comes and the air in my kitchen is redolent with the smell of last summer's harvest, it'll be time to turn to page 70 of The Silver Palate Cookbook to execute Steps 2, 6 and 7. Slightly out of order but with Sheila Lukins on my shoulder the taste will be superb as always.


NOT EXACTLY PASTA SAUCE RAPHAEL

4 pounds ripe meaty tomatoes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fine grated or chopped yellow onion
2 cloves finely grated or crushed garlic
1/8 cup shredded fresh basil (1 tablespoon dried)
2 sprigs fresh oregano (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (2 tablespoons dried)
1 small pureed medium-hot red pepper (1/4 teaspoon chili powder)
1/2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 jars (6 ounces each) marinated artichoke hearts
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese

1. Bring a large pot of water to boiling. Drop tomatoes, a few at a time, into the boiling water for about ten seconds to loosen skins. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and set to cool in a large bowl of icy water for a few minutes. After all the tomatoes are cooled, skins will easily peel off. Cut into halves, squeeze out most of the seeds and chop coursely. Reserve.

2. Drain artichokes and reserve liquid. (Skip this step if you aren't an artichoke fan or if canning sauce for future use.)

3. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan and saute onion, garlic, oregano, parsley and red pepper puree for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add ground pepper.

5. Add tomatoes and salt, simmer uncovered over medium low heat about an hour. Stir occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan while cooking. For use as a plain sauce or to can, skip steps 2, 6 & 7 for now.

6. Add artichoke marinade and simmer another 15-30 minutes, stir often.

7. Add artichoke hearts and continue simmering until the sauce is thickened to your liking, approximately twenty minutes more. Stir in grated cheese, salt and pepper to taste and serve with your favorite pasta. (To learn about what different types of pastas are available, turn to page 67, The Silver Palate Cookbook for a pasta glossary. You will be amazed.)