Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vegetarian Chili

chili - bowl

The first project with my Rancho Gordo beans was a vegetarian chili using some of the fresh vegetables from the farm stand. This is another "get it all in the pot and let it cook for a while" dish. For this project, I used the Pebble beans, and of course you can use other, more commonly found beans (a common mix is kidney, pinto and great northern). The colors were a wonderful mix of browns and oranges -- it was like Fall in a pot.

Vegetarian Chili

Serves 4 - 6, depending on bowl size ;-)

1 lb pebble beans (or other bean mixture)
3 medium tomatoes
7 or 8 tomatilloes
2 red hot chili peppers
2 hot cayenne peppers (if available, otherwise use red chili peppers or jalapenos)
2 ears of corn (1 for chili, 1 for garnish)
2 onions (1 left whole, 1 chopped)
4 scallions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped (or half as much dried oregano)
natural greek yogurt

chili - ingredients
Just a few of the ingredients

Prepping the beans
Rinse and quickly pick over the beans to remove cracked beans or small stones. Soaking is optional (just requires longer cooking), but beans are easier to digest if you bring them to a boil for a couple of minutes, then turn off the heat to let them soak for over an hour. When done soaking, drain and rinse in a collander.

chili - beans
Rinsed Pebble beans, pre-soaking

Cooking the beans
Peel off the roughest outer layers of an onion and poke a few holes in it with a knife, making one large enough to insert a bay leaf. Place the rinsed beans and onion in a heavy bottomed pot (I like using my cast iron dutch oven), fill with cold water about an inch over the tops of the beans, and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes or so. Save at least 4 cups of the cooking liquid, and then drain the rest, putting the beans to the side in a bowl.

Cooking the Chili
Preheat the oven to 280F.

Chop up the onion and scallions, mince the garlic, and saute in the dutch oven on medium-low heat with a little bit of olive oil. If you have time to skin and de-seed your tomatoes, do so, then roughly chop them up and add to the pot. Remove the husks from the tomatilloes, dice, and add to the pot. Cut the kernels of an uncooked ear of corn and add to the pot. Add the oregano and ground cumin, 2 tsp of salt, and 2 of the hot peppers, minced. Finally add in the beans and a cup of the bean-cooking liquid, and mix it all together gently. As you will see in the below picture, I also kept and added the whole onion from cooking the beans.

Cover and place in the oven.

chili - cooking

At this point, you can cook on low heat for as long as you have (or can bear), but at least another hour. Check every 30 - 45 minutes and add more of the bean-cooking liquid if it is looking dry. I probably ended up adding at least two cups of liquid. About an hour in, I removed the whole onion and added a fresh bay leaf. Continue to taste for the desired balance of cumin, salt and heat from the fresh peppers, and adjust accordingly. I used 2 red chili peppers and 2 fresh cayenne peppers, but with fresh peppers heat can really vary so treat carefully if you have a sensitive palate. When you add more heat, let it cook until your next checkpoint before tasting again and adding.

Depending on your desired texture and aesthetics, if you want to thicken up the chili, put one or two large spoonfuls of the chili in a food processor and roughly puree, then stir back into pot. (Note: it isn't quite as pretty if you do this, but you do a get a wonderfully thick "comfort food" texture.)

Before serving, chop up some fresh cilantro and cook an ear of corn (method of cooking is of no matter - I microwaved it still in the husk for 2.5 minutes) and cut off the kernels. Add a dollop of yogurt (or sour cream) to each bowl and garnish with the fresh corn kernels and cilantro. Other nice garnishes are diced sweet red pepper, grated cheese, and diced red onion. It can be fun to serve each garnish in an individual bowl so your eaters can take their pick.

chili - served

Additional notes:
Using the oven isn't necessary, but I find that it reduces any risk of burning at the bottom of the pot (a handy thing if you get tied up by, say, a mischevous 3 year old and forget to check on it for a bit) and makes it easier to keep the chili at a low simmer. In my case, I actually started the chili yesterday evening and left it in the oven with the heat turned off when I went to bed (while placing the extra bean-cooking liquid in the fridge). When I woke up, I added some more liquid to the pot, brought it all to a boil again on the top of the stove, and then placed back in the oven for a few more hours.

If you don't have fresh hot peppers, you can use chili powder, but remember to start light (say, a tsp or two) and build up to the desired heat level, and you might also scale back the garlic, cumin, and oregano since chili powder is a mix of spices.

Finally, those of you who have been reading this blog are picking up that I am more about country/peasant/comfort food than haute cuisine. While I had to resist mightily from adding any meat to this chili dish, it came together well and was a filling and truly delicious meal.

On Elizabeth David; Recipe Links 8-30-08

Last Sunday and today, I've enjoyed flipping through classic old Elizabeth David cookbooks over a cup of tea. She brought French and Mediterranean cooking to the Brits after World War II and has a wonderful, informal style (albeit a bit parsimonious with her words when describing recipes). She had a delightful habit of mercilessly chiding her countrymen and women for atrocious cooking habits (these books were written in the early 1950s).

Among other things, she rails against the obsession over the relatively new (at the time) "deep freeze" technology and the popularity of artificial flavourings at the expense of fresh, seasonal food. Given that I'm currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma (and San Francisco is currently hosting the Slow Food festival) the message reverberates. It is interesting to see how long it has taken for the pendulum to start swinging back to "natural" here in the US in a broad way. It takes a lot to get people to change, especially under the onslaught of marketing messages.

These two quotes caught my eye today from David's cookbooks, and made me smile:

"Nobody has ever been able to find out why the English regard a glass of wine added to a soup or stew as a reckless foreign extravagance and at the same time spend pounds on bottled sauces, gravy powders, soup cuves, ketchups and artificial flavourings." (she then has a footnote that details out the horrific ways some artificial flavourings are created -- from French Country Cooking, pub 1951)

"How one learns to dread the season for salads in England. What becomes of the heart of the lettuce? What makes an English cook think that beetroot spreading its hideous purple dye over a sardine and a spoonful of tinned baked beans constitutes an hors d'oeuvre? Why make the cold salmon, woolly enough anyhow by mid-summer, look even less appetizing than it is by serving it on a bed of lettuce leaves apparently rescued from the dust bin? What is the object of spending so much money on cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuces because of their valuable vitamins, and then drowning them in vinegar and chemical salad dressings?" (from Summer Cooking, pub 1955)

As Homer Simpson would say... "doh!"

Now on to recipe links! Here are some of the recipes I've seen from food bloggers over the last several weeks that caught my eye and I want to remember for a future day:

P.S. I might not make desserts (that's Lisl's territory), but all you Daring Bakers are sure making great-looking eclairs right now!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Drunk Lamb and Lentil Braise

lamb braise

When my friend John gave me two Mark Bittman cookbooks (I retaliated by giving him the Dean & Deluca cookbook and Jamie Oliver's Naked Chef), I was looking forward to expanding my stylistic horizons through The Best Recipes in the World. Needless to say, John nearly fell over laughing when I told him that the first recipe I tried from the cookbook was... French. Gee, way to wander from your norm! Well, I didn't have bloody pasilla chiles lying around John!! (but boy that recipe looked good), however I did have lentils!

This dish is like the classic daubes I learned to make from Julia Child's Essentials of French Cooking years ago, only simpler. I changed Bittman's recipe a fair amount to suit my purposes, but I'll definitely credit the cookbook for reminding me of this great dish I haven't made in a while. I called it a "drunk" braise because you sacrifice a bottle of red to the cause!

Serves 4

4 lamb loin chops (can do this recipe with beef instead if you aren't a lamb fan)
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3/4 lb dried green lentils (picked over to watch for small stones)
1 handful small orange lentils (optional)
1 tbsp minced garlic
3 medium bay leaves, or 2 large
1 large handful of chopped parsley
1 bottle of red wine (I used a zinfindel)
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 320F

Heat some olive oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat and sear your lamb for about 20-30 seconds each side and remove to a side plate.

In your dutch oven, bring the heat down to medium-low and saute your chopped onion and garlic until the onion starts to turn translucent, and then add the chopped carrots, fennel, parsley, lentils, bay leaf, half a tsp of salt, a few grindings of pepper, and the bottle of wine and turn up the heat until it is bubbling.

lamb braise -starting

Nestle the lamb into the mix, cover, and place in the oven for 3 to 3.5 hours. Check the pot every 45 minutes or so and very gently stir. Flip the lamb halfway through. If it is simmering a little too hard at any point, lower the heat another 15F. If the dish starts to dry out (you want it to be nicely moist), add water. I would estimate I ended up adding about a cup of water. It is also important to taste for salt -- too much will ruin this dish, but too little will leave this quite flat.

I served by removing the lamb to a cutting board, and shredding the meat with two forks. I then layered it on top of the lentils and vegetables, topped with some fresh parsely. This goes well with a red wine with some body, or a dark beer.

: : :

So that's the normal recipe. In full disclosure, I'll note that in this particular case, I started it two nights ago and cooked it for two hours (it wasn't going to be done in time for dinner that night), and then placed in the fridge until I was able to finish and serve it tonight. Not wanting to put my dutch oven in the fridge, I shifted everything carefully to a deep baking dish. Tonight when finishing the cooking process, I didn't want to make more washing up so I left it all in the baking dish, covered that with aluminum foil, and cooked it for another hour and a half tonight at 280F.

I love slow, low heat cooking probably more than anything.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Geeking out with beans

Rancho Gordo
My Rancho Gordo beans came today! Let the games begin!

fresh blackeyed peas

When we dropped by Gills farm stand last weekend, they had fresh black-eyed peas. Some of the pods were really green and soft, with young, green beans that hadn't fully developed (you can vaguely see them in the background above, out of focus). To any black-eyed pea experts out there: does that mean they were picked too soon?

fresh blackeyed peas

And Now For Something Completely Different...
Tonight my attention was starting a lamb and lentil (part of the geeking out with beans day) braise which will be finished off tomorrow when I get home from work. So for dinner we whipped together linguine with a simple tomato sauce. Once upon a time, I used to think you had to cook a tomato sauce for hours but it's really not true. Tonight's version took about 40 minutes and was great.
quick pasta sauce

Chop and saute an onion in olive oil, followed by chopped mushroom, sweet yellow pepper, and a whole bunch of parsley. Let it all cook for a few more minutes, then add a can of whole, peeled tomatoes with some salt and pepper. Simmer the sauce for 30 more minutes before breaking up the tomatoes into smaller chunks with a spatula. Taste for salt and serve on some al dente linguine. Fresh, simple, fast, healthy, tasty and filling. All good descriptors for a work-night meal.

Lastly, we've created an email for the blog for anyone who wants to contact us but doesn't want to leave a public comment: larder -at- constable -dot- net. Pardon my spelling it out that way, but spam bots are such a scourge!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Swiss Chard Gratin, Dry Rub Pork

Anyone who reads this blog has already noticed that sometimes I get in the mood to do a recipe and heat of the oven be damned! Tonight was one of those cases after I saw an Alice Waters recipe for Swiss Chard posted by The Wednesday Chef. It had to be eaten.

But before I talk about the recipe, I had a question for you foodies out there -- I know that Alice Waters inspired, well, everybody, but who do you consider was particularly influenced by her within the following generations of leading chefs ?

Swiss Chard Gratin


Adapted from The Wednesday Chef who adapted from Alice Waters. This amount serves about 4 as a side dish. The use of a cast iron pan in making this dish reduces washing up!

1 bunch of swiss chard (8-10 large leaves)
1 cup breadcrumbs
unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp flour
1/2 to 1 cup milk
pinch of ground nutmeg

Tear up some bread and make pea-sized breadcrumbs in a food processor. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a large cast iron pan and lightly brown the breadcrumbs over medium heat. Remove and set aside in a small bowl.

Preheat oven at 350F.

Get some lightly salted water boiling in a large pot. Wash the chard and cut away the stems. Thinly chop the stems (just like chopping celery). Place the chopped stems in the boiling water and cook for two minutes, then add the green leaves of chard, and cook for another three minutes, then drain in a collander and press some of the excess moisture out of the leaves.

Add 2 tsbp of butter to your cast iron pan and saute the diced onion over medium-low heat until it turns translucent. Remove the chard from the collander, loosely chop, and add to the cast iron pan. Add some salt and continue sauteing for several minutes.

chard gratin cooking

Add the flour and stir in well. Then add 1/2 cup of milk, the pinch of nutmeg, and stir and cook for another 5 minutes. You want the mixture to be moist but not soupy, so continue to add small increments of milk as you go to keep the proper level of moisture.

Remove from heat, and taste for salt. You can optionally add a little more butter here (say 1/4 tbsp cut into small pieces and sprinkled around). Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top evenly and place in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes.

Let's just say that I did not leave leftovers.

Dry Rub Pork

Pork Dry Rub

I continue to experiment with dry rub combinations. Tonight I removed sugar all together and combined roughly equal portions of mustard seed, coriander seed, cumin seed, black peppercorns, and salt in a mortar for grinding. I rubbed the spice mix on the pork and let the chops sit for about 40 minutes before grilling -- searing on high heat for 2 to 3 minutes a side and then moving to indirect heat on the grill for a few minutes more (these were big chops). The result was very good.

Dinner all combined was the grilled pork chop, side of chard gratin, and a side of some roma beans boiled for 2 minutes on the side and a touch of salt -- all paired with a nice Malbec.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tomato Salad; Bitten pasta recipe; photoshop irritation

Tomato Salad
Who doesn't love summer tomatoes?

Tomato Salad
This was just sliced tomatoes with oregano, basil, salt, pepper, olive oil, and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Nothing fancy, just happiness. We served it with some bread, the pesto from yesterday, and homemade hummus (ever since reading I Found Happy's recipe I've been making my own hummus... don't know why it never occurred to me to do before!) .

Biting into Bitten
For dinner, we decided to try a recent recipe from the NYTimes Bitten blog: Pasta with Eggplant, Tomato and Breadcrumbs (click on that link for the recipe). We made it without the pancetta, but felt that it was missing something in the end result (still quite satisfying however). My own notes/changes for next time: make sure that the breadcrumbs are well browned; throw the chopped tomatoes in at the very end so that are barely cooked; experiment with lemon or cumin to punch up the flavor a bit, or drop the vegetarian angle and add the pancetta.

Pile o' basil

Pasta sauce
Making the sauce did make for this amazing orange (orange tomatoes) and purple combination. The lighting in the kitchen wasn't ideal for a picture, but there was some serious color going on.

Photoshop Grrrrr
So I tried once again to edit my digital pictures on my Mac laptop (which I use for work), but continue to face this irritating problem where Photoshop CS3 screws up the color profile and washes out all the color when saving as a jpeg. I've tried one workaround I found googling, but that has not worked. I was able to salvage yesterday's lamb pictures somewhat, but who wants to look at a picture of a greyish tomato? Newwwpp! So I had to wait until I got home to my personal Windoze machine tonight to redo the pictures and post this. Adobe, I love your products, but you messed up on this one. More net research required methinks.

P.S. I meant to do a shout out to my former work colleague Allison Hemler for kicking off her internship at Serious Eats and getting her first post up. We miss you AH, but good to see you taking on such cool new projects!

Pesto Rack of Lamb; Saturday in the Catskills

pesto lamb (out of oven)

Last night had one of those amethyst skies that, should you see the effect in a Frederick Church painting your brain would rebel against the artist's dramatic flair. However, there it was in full glory.

It was a glorious day for food as well. In the morning we popped up to Gills Farm and then Fleishers, the grass-fed and organic meat butcher in Kingston, NY. It was pretty cool to watch Josh, the proprietor, break down the lamb in front of us. We had cut a massive amount of basil from the farm, and so Lisl, Aussie that she is, turned to me and said "pesto rack of lamb?" I've never splurged on a rack of lamb before, but we decided what the hell. The quality at Fleishers is hard to resist. I'll post some other pictures from the day below, but first the very simple lamb recipe that Lisl prepared:

Pesto Rack of Lamb

Trim any excess fat from the rack of lamb and smear pesto (see below) all over the meat.
pesto lamb (applying)

Preheat oven to 450F. Place the lamb rack on a baking tray and roast for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven (the very top picture) and then slice between the bones to separate each chop.

pesto lamb (plated)

We served this with zucchini and some boiled potatoes lightly tossed in some of the remaining pesto (yes we on a serious pesto kick, but it wasn't overwhelming). This is paired nicely with a pinot noir.

Pesto (fast/lazy method)
While 101 Cookbooks has a very cool post on making pesto like an Italian grandmother, we were in a hurry so used the food processor. Making pesto is about tasting as you go, rather than scientific measurement. I stuffed several handfuls of basil leaves in the food processor with a handful of pine nuts, several pinches of salt, a clove of garlic, a handful of grated parmesan cheese, and a dousing of olive oil. Then it was just a matter of pulsing and adding more olive oil and increments of cheese/nuts/salt (whatever was needed), and pulsing again, until I was happy with the flavor and texture. Doing everything in the processor isn't optimal (Jamie Oliver, for example, pulses his basil and pine nuts, but mixes his cheese, salt and olive oil gently in another bowl), but I'll admit that I was moving fast and didn't want the extra bowl to wash up!

Other Saturday pictures
Gills tomatoes
Gills Farm still has tons of zucchini and now has sweet orange tomatoes.

We joined some friends for lunch and had to bring a salad to feed 9. This is just a combination of green and yellow peppers, red and orange tomatoes, radishes, red onion, feta cheese, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and gently tossed with olive oil and a bit of white wine vinegar.

Fleishers shop
Walking into Fleishers in Kingston, NY

Fleishers lamb
Josh breaking down the lamb that would produce our rack. Moments before we watched him break down a pig. If you go in there, don't hesitate to talk to him -- he is super nice and has a depth of knowledge about his meats as well as how to cook with them.

kingston fire engines
As we were walking back to the car, we came across a street fair organized by the fire department showing off these fabulous old engines from Kingston and surrounding towns. What a treat!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tomato & Black Eyed Pea Thai-inspired Salad

Tomato & Black-eyed Pea Salad
If you are looking for ways to use your summer tomatoes, and want to try an interesting salad dressing, you might enjoy this combination. I used a Thai-inspired base dressing normally used in Yum Nuea, but then mixed with basil (in Yum Nuea, you add cilantro, ginger and serrano peppers).

The resulting salad was a satisfying meal unto itself (the black-eyed peas were critical to making it hearty), and an interesting new flavor which we enjoyed.

The following amounts served two

2 tbsp cup lime juice
1 to 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Several drops of dark soy sauce

1/2 cup of black eyed peas
2 ripe medium or large tomatoes
Handful of cherry tomatoes
1 red pepper
Red onion
Handful of basil leaves
Several leaves of lemon basil

Cooking the black-eyed peas: I put the black-eyed peas in a bowl to soak in the morning before heading to work, but that is optional. In any case, put the beans in a pot of cold water about 1 inch over the top, bring to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer and cook until tender (about 25-30 minutes if soaked, and another 15 minutes or so if not). I made a larger batch, but used roughly half a cup in the salad.

In a small bowl, combine the dressing together, finalizing amounts to taste (start with minimal soy sauce and add drops to taste -- like you experience with salt, if you go overboard with soy sauce by accident, you are better off starting over than trying to fix).

Cut a few thin slices of red onion, break into smaller pieces, and soak in the bowl with the dressing while you finish the rest of the salad.

Slice your large tomatoes into thin crescents. Halve your cherry tomatoes. Remove the stem, seeds and inside of the red pepper and chop into bite-sized pieces. Do a loose chiffonade of the basil leaves, i.e. cut into very thin strips (note: I didn't bother rolling up the leaves before cutting, which is a common chiffonade approach).

Combine everything into a bowl, toss, let sit for just a few minutes, toss again and serve. We paired this with a nice rose.

Making great natural yogurt: EasiYo

I never liked natural yogurt until my wife Lisl took me to Greece one summer, and all of a sudden my definition of yogurt changed completely. At that point I understood why all the Aussies and Europeans complained vociferously about American yogurt.

The only comparable yogurt that we could find back here in New York was Total, but it was expensive. Then Lisl's mother came visiting from Sydney one year and introduced us to a home yogurt system from New Zealand called EasiYo. It is finally available in America and I can't recommend it highly enough. It is really easy, delicious and cost-effective. The international website is here, and their North American distributor ("Phase One Trading Group") is located here. (We usually get the Greek and reduced fat yogurt bases.)

P.S. we have no business connection to this brand whatsoever -- we just love the product.

Recipe Links 8-21-08

We started this blog a couple of months ago originally as personal space to store, tag, and share recipes with friends. It is one reason why we have no official first post, just entries like "Grandma's Oyster Stew" and "Mom's Meatloaf" where I ported recipes over from my old personal website. Every week since then, I continue to discover new foodie blogs that inspire me, or resources like Rancho Gordo mentioned below. There's no question that I've become a better cook by engaging in the foodiesphere.

And I've said it before, but boy-oh-boy does the foodiesphere have a huge sweet tooth!

I love the new discoveries. One unexpected example is the delicious restaurant Lisl and I went to last night, which I never would have pulled from the Manhattan haystack save for a recommendation from Stacey over at Stacey Snacks, who I met through Foodbuzz.

In no particular order, here are a number of blog recipes from the last couple of weeks that I want to try later when inclination strikes. This isn't meant to be any kind of "best" list or any of that nonsense - just things that caught my eye that I will forget if I don't write down.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Eggplant, Zucchini & Basil Gratin

Eggplant & Zucchini Gratin
I seem to be on this vegetarian comfort food kick. Tonight's dinner was a lovely success, layering eggplant, zucchini, cheese, breadcrumbs and basil. I completely winged it (having only about 2 brain cells left to rub together after a late night and a long day) but at the first bite Lisl and I were both at "wow!" I suppose I shouldn't be surprised... melted veggies with gobs of cheese and olive oil? As Mr. Powers would say, yeah baby!

2 golden zucchini (green or summer squash would do as well)
2 medium Japanese eggplants
2 slices whole wheat bread
handful of basil leaves
mozzarella cheese
monterey jack cheese
parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

In a food processor, pulse your bread into breadcrumbs. Preheat oven at 350F.

Peel the eggplant with a vegetable peeler and slice lengthwise into slices about a millimeter or so thick. Salt both sides and place in a collander to drain for about 20 minutes. Dry the slices with paper towel. Then slice the zucchini the same thickness (as best you can -- this dish is anything but scientific!).

Heat a large pan with olive oil on medium to medium-high heat and saute your batch of eggplant and zucchini, adding more olive oil to the pan between each batch. You don't need to cook the slices all the way - about 30-40 seconds a side should suffice in the hot pan - just enough to soften them.

In a deep baking dish baking dish begin layering (hopefully you can get a sense of the size of my dish in the below pictures -- it is 3" deep). Place a layer of eggplant down first. (Note: don't be afraid to cut your slices of eggplant or zucchini into the necessary size to fit the gaps in a layer) Then grate a layer of parmesan cheese. Then add a layer of zucchini, a layer of breadcrumbs, and a layer of grated mozzarella cheese. Grind some fresh pepper and a little salt.

Add another layer of eggplant and then a layer of grated monterey jack cheese. Then lay down a layer of basil leaves, another layer of zucchini, a layer of breadcrumbs, and a layer of parmesan cheese and a little more fresh pepper.
eggplant zucchini gratin (layered)
Out of focus picture but you get the point...

Continue layering the eggplant and the zucchini, alternating cheese types with an occasional layer of breadcrumbs until you are out of vegetables (as I said... this isn't scientific). Grind some fresh pepper on the top, and put down a final layer of breadcrumbs and gratings of all three types of cheeses. Drizzle some olive oil over top.

I baked for about 20 minutes at 350F, then got hungry and kicked it up to 375F for another 15 minutes, then let cool for a few minutes. You get a delightful crust and a totally melted core. The layer of basil really permeates this dish nicely. It's rich, but oh so satisfying. This dish can handle a hefty, peppery red wine should you be so inclined.

Eggplant & Zucchini Gratin (out of oven)

I'll end with a few "ingredients" pictures.

I love how this one came out.

Golden Zucchini

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weekend in Pictures

While we ate well this weekend, I can't really say there was much in the way of recipes -- just fine, fresh food. Below are a few of the photographs taken along the way.

First apples of 2008
The first local apples are emerging in the Catskills: Ginger Golds (above) and Paula Reds. Tart and delicious!

Mixed Peppers
Mixed peppers

I love color

farm bounty
Bounty from the farm stand

roast tomatoes (before)
I tried roasting tomatoes after seeing them on Smitten Kitchen. While you see that I tossed some rosemary on top, Deb is right in her post that herbs are really unnecessary. Next time I'll leave them out entirely.

roast tomatoes (after)
They're like little tomato candies

summer meal
Saturday's meal was super simple and completely satisfying: corn picked that morning; par-boiled romano beans and cherry tomato salad (tossed with oregano, olive oil and red wine vinegar); and grilled pork lightly marinated in olive oil and rosemary. I'm sad that this was the last week for romano beans, as they were my favorite discovery this summer.


I'll leave you with a lemon-limeade (juice from 5 lemons, 5 limes, sugar to taste, tons of mint chilled in the fridge for a while and served with frozen watermelon chunks standing in f
or ice cubes). I don't love the picture but the drink was yummy!

Apples in the Catskills mean that summer is waning, but luckily there's a whole new wave of great produce still to come.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Chickpea Stew (and mag cover whimsy)

chickpea stew
Tonight I adapted a recipe from the Sept 2008 edition of Food & Wine, a chickpea and spinach stew (original recipe here). I can't resist saying, the cover of the magazine absolutely cracked me up. It read:

our 20 best fast recipes ever

So does a food mag have to be like Cosmo now? And I query: do they really come up with 20 new best sex positions each month? (I refer to Cosmo there, not F&W, although I guess that could be an interesting editorial direction...) . At least F&W stuck to a round number, unlike Details which prefers things like 133 ways to look great... I'm imaging the editorial cutting table: "sorry Boss, we tried to make it to your 135 quota but just couldn't get there!"

Enough amusing myself -- onto the food! This is a great dish, and while I'm sure the original recipe is good, I had to go my own direction. I diverged from F&W in a number of ways: smaller portion, longer cooking (I know ... efficiency yada yada yada but it's a STEW, not a chickpea stirfry for crying out loud), and slightly different ingredients (for one, I can't stand raisins in cooked food but that's just me -- I'm a "savory" type).

Chickpea Stew

1/2 lb of dried chickpeas (approx)
7 oz bag of baby spinach
1 medium yellow onion or half a large vidalia onion
3 roma tomatoes
1 medium garlic clove
small pinch of saffron
1 tsp hot hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
olive oil (extra virgin if you have it)

The Chickpeas
You can easily use a can of pre-cooked chickpeas, but I don't like the taste of the liquid you get with canned beans, so I try to cook from dried beans whenever time permits (one also has more control over tenderness that way). Before I went to work this morning, I soaked about half of a 1 lb bag of dried chickpeas in a bowl of cool water.

Rinse the chickpeas, placed them in a medium pot and covered with water about an inch above the chickpeas. Bring them to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook for about an hour (you can add things like a carrot, onion, parsley stems, or bay leaf if you feel inspired). If you don't have time to soak, but want to use dried beans, you'll probably need to let them cook for another 40 to 60 minutes. Once your chickpeas are done, save three cups of the cooking liquid, drain the pot and return the chickpeas and 1 cup of the cooking liquid to the pot.

tomato crosshatch

The Tomatoes
I skinned and seeded the Roma tomatoes. If you are in a hurry, you can skip this step, but it is a nice touch. To skin a tomato, cut a shallow X at the bottom (I find with the oblong roma tomato, it is easier with slightly bigger crosshatch cuts than normally needed) and place it in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Once it cools, the skin should come off easily. Quarter the tomatoes and use your fingers to gently scoop out the seeds. Then loosely chop into smaller pieces and add to the pot with the chickpeas. Turn on the heat and get the chickpeas, liquid and tomatoes to a simmer.

The Onion
Chop your onion and saute it with a tablespoon of olive oil until it just turning translucent, then add to the pot. Keep the saute pan handy for the spinach (below).

The Spices
Mash a medium-sized clove of garlic with the flat of your knife and remove the skin. Then chop and place in a mortar. Add the ground cumin, hot paprika, 1/4 tsp of salt, and (very optionally, given the price of saffron) a pinch of saffron threads to the mortar. Pound into a paste and then add to the stew pot, along with a bay leaf, the tomato paste, and 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid (if you forgot to reserve any, just use water). Stir and keep at a low simmer for 20 minutes.

You want the stew to be slightly liquidy but not soupy, so continue adding the reserved liquid as needed as the stew thickens, stirring periodically. Add salt and pepper to taste (I estimate that I added another 1/4 tsp of salt here). You might also decide to add more cumin if you want a stronger spiced meal.

Adding the Spinach
As the stew is lightly simmering, saute the baby spinach in a tablespoon of olive oil for a couple of minutes until it has just cooked down. Drain in a collander and press on the leaves to drain the extra liquid. Mix the spinach into the stew pot and let simmer for another 10 or 15 minutes, adding any extra reserved liquid to achieve the consistency you want, and tasting for spices.

When you serve, you can drizzle a little more olive oil and/or grind a little black pepper on top of each bowl. I ate this with some grilled sausages, but frankly it would be a great, very satisfying meal unto itself with a big hunk of good bread. I want to try it again adding carrots, parsley, and another version with more heat from hot peppers.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chard Leaves Stuffed with Mushroom Risotto

risotto stuffed in chard leaves
Tonight I adapted Mark Bittman's post on Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozarella, which he in turn adapted from the restaurant La Zucca Magica in Nice. It makes for fabulous comfort food or a rich first course. Yum. If you make the dish, you might find his short video useful. It's also really fast to put together if you have made the risotto in advance. Did I say yum already?

My version was to make a mushroom and shallot risotto with chicken broth (Bittman went with a lemon-saffron risotto). Vegetable broth would work quite well for you vegetarians out there.

Shallot and Mushroom Risotto
(Makes enough for 6 medium-sized stuffed chard leaves)
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cup arborio rice
2 medium shallots, finely diced or minced
1 cup white button mushrooms, thinly sliced*
6 cups of stock (chicken or vegetable)
splash of dry white wine
olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat your stock (I used a homemade chicken stock) in a saucepan until it very lightly simmering.

In a thick bottomed pan, melt 2 tbsp of butter and a dash of olive oil over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the shallots and cook for a minute or so, stirring regularly to prevent any sticking. Then add the mushrooms and continue cooking and stirring for several minutes until the juices from the mushrooms start to emerge. Add the arborio rice and stir it in until it is coated with the butter. Add a few turnings of salt and pepper grinders.

With a ladle, start adding the stock, never pouring more than 1/2 cup worth of liquid in at a time. Stir as continuously as you can bear (continuously is preferrable), and when most of the stock has been absorbed or evaporated, ladle in some more. You don't want the rice to ever get too soupy or too dry -- it should remain bubbling. After a few ladles-worth of stock, add a dash of dry white wine, stir in, then go back to adding stock.

Most cookbooks recommend that you start tasting your risotto after 20 minutes of cooking. You want the rice to be cooked but still have a bit of a crunch. In my case, the risotto took 25 minutes of cooking. If you don't have quite enough stock, continue with water.

* Note: many folks use fancier mushrooms for risotto, such as porcini or shitake; those are delicious, but button mushrooms are cheaper and still quite good.

swiss chard

Stuffing & Cooking the Chard Leaves

6 Chard Leaves (or as many as you need)
Fresh mozarella, loosely diced
1/2 cup of broth (chicken or vegetable)
parmesan cheese, grated
olive oil

You'll want to let the risotto cool before you proceed to the next step (of course, you won't have this issue if you are using leftover risotto from the fridge). You'll want to have a medium to large chard leaf for each risotto ball you are making.

With a sharp knife, remove the thick stalk running up the center of the chard leaves, leaving the two halves of each leaf connected by 2 or 3 inches of leaf at the top. Then parboil the leaves in boiling water for about 30 or 40 seconds.

Using your hands, make medium-sized balls of the risotto (I went with about 2.5 inches in diameter). As Bittman put it, it's rather like making a small snowball. Then push in one side to create a cavity. Place a few pieces of mozarella in the cavity, then close up the ball around it.

Place the risotto ball at the point of the chard leaf where the two halves of the leaf connect, and the snugly wrap each leaf half around it until it is entirely covered.

Place the stuffed leaves snugly in a small/medium-sized baking dish, and pour some broth over top -- enough to fill the dish with about a half-inch of broth. Then bake for 20 minutes at 400F.

Serve by dribbling some of the broth from the baking dish over the top and add a dribble of olive oil and some grated parmesan cheese. Some fresh pepper is nice as well. Note: I decided that this particular rendition of the dish was better without the lemon zest garnish Bittman uses in his version.


In the spirit of experimentation, I played with using collard green leaves as well for the wrapping and the verdict was clear: the chard was absolutely delicious; the collard greens were very quickly voted off the island!

A big thank you to La Zucca Magica and Mark Bittman for bringing this one to the rest of the world. Did I mention "yum"?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fusilli, Ricotta w/ Lemon, Tomatoes and Corn

Fusilli with Ricotta

Earlier today I came across Food Blogga's Penne with Fresh Ricotta and Baby Heirloom Tomatoes, which is a beautiful take on a classic combination (just go look at her photographs - absolutely killer), and there was no question what I was having for dinner tonight. Food Blogga (aka Susan) had these amazing baby heirloom tomatoes, but I was stuck with something a lot less appealing -- tomato envy. However, I had some grape tomatoes (poor chaps, buck up, it's hard to compete with the fashion models) and had picked up some fresh sweet corn. Here's my riff:

1/2 lb fusilli
1 cup grape tomatoes
1 ear, very fresh sweet corn
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup of ricotta cheese
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp pine nuts
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
handful of fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper

Halve the tomatoes and combine in a bowl with the lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, basil, and some grindings of salt and pepper. I was in a hurry so I microwaved the corn in the husk for 2 1/2 minutes, let it cool for a few, then cut the kernals from the ear and mixed into the bowl.

Heat a small saute pan (ideally non-stick) over medium heat and toast the pine nuts for a couple of minutes, periodically shaking the pan to roll the nuts.

Boil the fusilli until al dente (with dried pasta, about 10 minutes). When done, reserve a cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta and return to the pot, then mix in the ricotta cheese and about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid until the pasta is well coated. Stir in most of the grated parmesan.

Note 1: The Kitchn writes of an interesting approach where the ricotta is warmed in a bowl over the boiling pasta. Note 2. 101 Cookbooks has a post on making your own ricotta (mine was store bought whole milk ricotta).

Add the herbs and vegetables, as well as the pine nuts, and lightly toss. Taste and if you feel that the texture is a little dry, add a little more of the reserved cooking liquid or squeeze some fresh lemon juice and lightly toss again.

Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese on top when serving. I think this dish goes really nicely with a Sancerre or an Australian or New Zealand Sauvingon Blanc (the Chilean Sauv's are improving as well).