Saturday, April 23, 2011

Remember that bread that didn't quite work the way the recipe said it would I made that I used the wrong flour for...?  It turned out great.  Fortunately, I've made bread before so I knew the texture I wanted for kneading--it was just a matter of adding more flour.  And then some more.  And get the picture.  We had it with berry preserves for a snack mid-morning today, and used it in grilled cheese for lunch.  Phew.

The Farro and Roasted Root Vegetable dish from David Lebovitz was great, too.  (  Thank heavens I'd done the prep work for it (read: roasted the vegetables and cooked the farro, and then refrigerated them separately) because after digging over 40 holes in the stoniest soil I've ever seen, and making sure that 40 plants were firmly secured in their new homes in the earth, and then hoisting all the mini-boulders and rock-wall-sized boulders over to the property's rock walls, there wasn't going to be much cooking going on around here!  I sauteed up a chicken breast (one for the two of us...that bird was on steroids or something) and tossed the veggies and farro together, and called it dinner.  At 9 p.m. 

Guess what we're doing again tomorrow?  Yep, planting more trees.  Hey, it's Earth Day-and-Easter weekend--what better way to celebrate the two?

Other than with maple smoked ham and stuffed artichokes, of course.

If you've never had a whole artichoke, they can seem daunting.  I grew up eating these (Italian side of the family) and they're one of my favorite spring foods.  I took the recipe out of The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane, and it consistently comes out just like I remember the ones my great aunts made.  I think I may even be converting Larry, who was hesitant about them at first.

Please try them--if you like artichoke hearts, you'll love this!

Stuffed Artichokes
(from The North End Cookbook, adapted by Me)
serves 2-4

2 whole artichokes, cleaned (see below)
1 lemon half
1/4 c olive oil, divided
3 small cloves of garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 cup of moderately fine breadcrumbs (I've used homemade and the ones from a paper can--I like'em both)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup shredded parmigiano (or Grana Padano)

1.  Heat 3 tbsp olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning in a medium skillet over moderate to low heat. When the garlic just starts to sizzle and give off its aroma, add the breadcrumbs.  Toss and toast for about 3-5 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and let cool a few minutes.  Toss with the cheese.    
2.  Holding the artichoke steady, with the same hand, gently spread out two to three of the bottom layer of leaves.  Sprinkle in a small amount of the breadcrumb mixture, about a teaspoon.  Repeat until the bottom layer is "stuffed" (you don't want a ton of breadcrumbs in each layer; just enough to fill the bottom where the leaf joins the rest of the choke).  Move into the next layer, and so on, until you get to the fine leaves at the center.  Open gently but don't worry about separating every leaf, and pack in a final bit of breadcrumbs.  Repeat with the next artichoke.  Drizzle the tops with the remaining tbsp olive oil.
3.  In a saucepan large enough to hold the two artichokes side by side, add 1 cup of water.  Thrown in the peeled artichoke stems and the squeezed lemon; nestle the artichokes in.  Bring the water to a boil, put the lid on and reduce the heat.  Keep the water at a simmer for 40-60 minutes.  Start testing at 40 by tugging on a leaf near the center of the choke.  If it slips out easily, the artichokes are done.  Remove from the pan and let cool (along with the stems). 
4.  How to eat:  pull the leaves out one at a time, and grasping the base of the leaf firmly between your teeth, but with some give, "strip" the breading and the fleshy part from the artichoke--don't eat the whole leaf--it's tough.  Repeat until you get to the tender center leaves--some of these you can eat whole.  When you've stripped the choke down to the almost-center, you'll be faced with the fuzzy actual "choke."  DO NOT EAT THIS.  Prickly central...  Using a spoon, scrape all of the fuzzy, small, prickly leaves out.  Once cleaned out, you're left with the artichoke bottom. DO EAT THIS!!!!!!

How to clean an artichoke:
1.  Cut the stem off of the artichoke where it joins the globe.  Peel the stem and rub with the cut side of the lemon.  Rub the cut side of the lemon on the base of the globe, too. 
2.  Cut the top of the globe off, about 1 inch of it.  I usually rinse with cold water, shake dry, and then rub the top with the lemon. 
3.  Turn the globe stem-side up, and bang the top of it (leaf-side down) firmly against the counter (kind of like you would with iceberg lettuce to get the core out).  This will loosen the leaves, making it easier for stuffing.  Dribble lemon juice all over the top.  Proceed with recipe.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Moderation? What for?

The past week was another one of those weeks when just getting to Friday was a big deal.  But we made it, and now we're on vacation.  Larry took the week off, and I'm on Spring Break, so we spent the first few days getting things done around home, and then took off for the house in upstate New York.  I'm trying to pretend that I don't see snow flurries out of the window right now, but really there's nothing to worry about.  It's been flurrying all day, but not a thing is sticking...maybe because it's about 48 degrees.  The sun even occasionally peeks its head out, and will apparently be spending the day with us tomorrow.  Which is good, because we have something like over 40 plants to pick up at the local plant sale and get into the ground.  Moderation?  What for?

I did actually cook one day last week (more than one, but reheating doesn't really count, does it?).  Friday, I think.  It was a quick and easy pasta dish that was great reheated for lunch today.  Up here at the NY house, we don't have a microwave.  I have to say that I think the reheated pasta was even better because I had to do it on the stove top with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil to keep anything from sticking. 

This morning I started the day by baking bread.  Normally a relaxing endeavor, this time it was more of a frantic, "OhmygodthishastoworkI'vealreadyputinfourcupsofflourwhyisitstillsosticky?" thing.  Surprisingly (okay, not surprisingly) it was a baker's error and not the recipe (dammit).  I was so focused on the "whole wheat" part of the flour label that I somehow missed the "bread flour" part of the label.  Sadly, whole wheat and whole wheat bread flour are not the same beast. 

But have I mentioned my almost pathological inability to waste food?  There was no way I was chucking that shaggy, sticky pile of goo.  I just kept adding small bits of flour and kneading, and hoped for the best.  We haven't tasted it yet, but it rose correctly, smelled great while baking, and sounds appropriately hollow.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.  (If not, I'll make a loooot of croutons...)

I also roasted the vegetables for a farro and vegetable salad that I found on David Lebovitz's site; we're having that for dinner.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Whole Wheat Penne with Italian Sausage*, Sundried Tomatoes, and Spinach
by Me      serves 4

8 oz. whole wheat penne or other short cut pasta
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for finishing
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, reconstituted with boiling water and then sliced thinly; save some of the
                                         water, about 1/2 cup
3 grilled Italian sausages*, sliced thinly (I used pork, but chicken or turkey would be good;
                      you could also omit it and sub in mushrooms--brown them before adding the garlic and onions)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. fresh spinach, cleaned and stemmed
parmigiano-reggiano cheese, for serving

1.  Bring water for pasta to a boil; salt if desired.  Cook pasta until just shy of al dente, following package directions for guidance.
2.  While pasta water comes to a boil, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes (do mushrooms first, if using) and saute until softening, about 3 minutes.  Add wine and cook until pan is almost dry again; add sausages and tomatoes, and salt and pepper.  Add a splash of the tomato water to make things glisten. 
3.  Scoop the pasta straight from the water into the skillet; it's okay if water clings.  Add the spinach and start tossing; add a little pasta water to keep things loose.  Continue tossing until spinach wilts and pasta is al dente, about 4-5 minutes.  Grate on some cheese, drizzle a little olive oil over, and serve. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cheating and Compost: The Perfect Saturday

 To start today's post, I'm going to teach you how to cheat.  It won't win you any money (at least, I don't think it will) but it will make your mouth happy.  The world's easiest Blueberry-Lemon Curd Tartlets:

1 jar of lemon curd  (I used Stonewall Kitchen's.)
1 jar of blueberry jam, preserves, or whatever the stuff is called when the blueberries retain much of their
     shape, or 1 pint fresh blueberries, if they're in season
1 pie crust (I use Martha Stewart's recipe, which makes two; freeze the other one if you're not using it right'll be glad you did!)
4 removable bottom tartlet pans
1.  Divide the dough into four pieces, roll out to about 1/8 inch.  Fit into tartlet pans.  (Tuck excess dough into the rim of the tart pans; a nice, thick outer crust on these is great.  Or, really, do what you want...!)  Dock the whole bottom of the dough, and line the inside with foil or parchment and pie weights (to keep the sides from slumping).  Bake completely at 425, for 15-25 minutes (check at 15).  Cool completely.
2.  Spread the bottom of the tart with 1/4-1/2 cup of lemon curd.
3.  Top with a few tablespoons of the blueberries.  Refrigerate at least one hour.
4.  Try not to eat all four of them by yourself.

Next up, remember those gorgeous fresh eggs from the last post?  We had some of them in breakfast sandwiches this morning.  Again, not really a recipe, but so good I wanted to share.

 Serves two.

4 slices whole wheat bread, toasted
4 large basil leaves, torn
4 slices of cooked bacon, halved
1 cup mixed greens
butter, for two of the toast slices
salt and pepper, for the eggs
2 eggs, cooked to your liking  (I used small ones, because they were too cute to resist)

Obviously, this is your standard egg sandwich, but the thing I wanted to mention was the basil.  Mixing it with the bacon and the eggs was a good idea, though I wasn't sure it would be when I started out.  It's not a combination I've had before.  Count me a fan!  You'll notice I skipped the cheese here, which is close to blasphemy in this house.  The sandwich didn't need it, but if you'd like to omit the bacon and make this vegetarian, you could put some parmigiano or other salty, nutty cheese like gruyere on, and it would be brilliant.  It was the contrast of flavors that made this so enjoyable, and I think the cheeses would give you that.

After breakfast, I broke into one of our composters.  We've been "making compost" for three years now.  We have two of the compost tumblers that you see in the picture, and last fall we stopped adding new stuff to this one.  This is the first time that I've actually harvested the stuff in large quantities, and I have to admit, it was way more exciting than compost probably should be.  I wasn't 100% convinced it was going to work, especially since these suckers advertise that the compost will be ready in a few months and you'll note that I said we've been doing this for three years now.

I have to own that one of the reasons it probably took so long is that we kept adding new materials, but even if we hadn't it would have taken awhile to get to this stage.  But now that we have...I'm hooked.  It looks like the darkest chocolate cake crumbs, and feels all crumbly and fun when you run your fingers through it.  There's no odor at all, which is good, because when the stuff is first brewing, it's pretty stinky.
I'm using a "compost sifter" to sort the stuff that's ready from the larger chunks that go back in.  Seriously, this was a lot more fun than you'd think it might be.  Then again, my husband's endearment for me isn't "sweetie" or "honey," it's "garden geek."  That might explain the look of joy on my face as I sift dirt...

Hoping you're having a day of doing whatever makes you happy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

To Wrap or To Layer, That is the Question...

I know I posted a picture of the eggs from our first Spring Treat share two weeks ago, but I had to post these.  Look at that adorable little blue egg!  The farm has Araucana chickens, and their eggs are a grayish blue color--so pretty.

Though it's rainy and cold here today, spring is shaping up nicely.  I have two kinds of kale, escarole, raddichio, endive, mustard greens, and one pathetic lonely lovely spinach plant out in the garden under row covers.  The chard that was under a row cover all winter (and feet of snow) is coming back beautifully, so we'll be eating that next week.  The first daffodil bloomed this past Monday, and the lilac buds are noticeably bigger each day.  Down the street, one of the magnolia trees is in full blossom; the dogs know that on our walks, we stop under the tree so Mama can just breathe.  It's funny that no matter how amazing perfumes are, they can never get those flower smells quite right...they're just too ethereal, I guess.

Believe it or not, I have been cooking lately.  There just haven't been that many things that seemed interesting enough to post.  This one wins, though, because a.  I actually kept track of what went into it, and b. it fits the quick, easy, and adaptable bill.  Here's the little torpedo burrito packed up for lunch.

Last Sunday, I cooked up some dried black beans that we had left over from last summer's CSA.  I used the traditional method of an overnight (or in this case all day) soak, and then bring-to-a-boil-drop-to-a-simmer until they're tender method.  How long you have to simmer them depends on how tender you like your beans, and how old the dried beans are.  (I hate to admit that I didn't actually keep track of how long I simmered them.  My apologies.)  I only added some peppercorns.  I prefer to season my black beans as I use them, whether I'm cooking them from dried or from the can.

We had some tomatillo salsa and corn in the freezer, also from last summer, and dried chorizo in the fridge.  (Am I the only one who adores that stuff?  If I could figure out how to put it in dessert, I might.  Heck, if bacon can go in chocolate, there has to be room for chorizo somewhere!)  Along with a few other ingredients, this recipe was born.  If it looks similar to the Mexican Lasagna recipe, that's because I was originally going to make another Mexican Lasagna.  I decided to mix it up with the smothered burritos, though.  I'll include possible variations in the recipe.

Black Bean, Corn, and Chorizo* Burritos
by Me

2 tsp. canola or other mild flavored oil  (might want to add a little more if not using chorizo)
1/2-3/4 cup of chopped onion
1 large garlic clove,  minced
2 tbsp chopped pickled jalapeno
1/3-2/3 cup dried chorizo (optional)  I was probably somewhere in the middle of the two measurements.
1/2 tsp chili powder (up this to 1 to 1 1/2 tsp if not using chorizo)
1/2 tsp cumin (up this to 1 to 1 1/2 tsp if not using chorizo; also, add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper)
2 cups black beans  (if using your own cooked from dry, include the liquid, up to 1/2 cup; if using canned,
                                rinse and drain and add up to 1/2 cup water or veggie or chicken broth)
1-2 cups corn kernels (don't need to defrost if frozen; I used two cups, because I love corn)
6 six or eight ounce whole wheat flour tortillas (or really, whatever you have)
salt to taste (I used 1/4 tsp, but if you don't use the chorizo, I'd up that, maybe to 1 tsp?)
6-8 oz. shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar, but Monterrey Jack, Queso Fresco, or Pepper Jack
            would be great here)
1/2 c salsa (I used tomatillo)
chopped pickled jalapeno, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1.  In a dutch oven over medium heat, cook the onion, garlic, jalapeno, and chorizo in the oil until the onions start to soften.  Stir in the spices and cook about one minute.

2.  Stir in the black beans with their liquid, corn, and salt; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes or until there is barely any liquid in the pan. Turn off the heat.  Oil an 8x8 baking dish.

3.  Warm tortillas, either wrapped in a kitchen towel in the microwave (20-25 seconds) or wrapped in foil and put in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Sprinkle 1 tbsp cheese down the center of each tortilla, and spoon in about 1/2 cup of the bean mixture.  Wrap and roll, tucking in the sides to enclose all of the filling (if you're using a small tortilla like I did, the ends might not stay shut; just make sure you grease the baking dish so the filling doesn't stick).  Place seam-side down in baking dish.  Repeat with rest of tortillas; you may have some filling left over.*  Spoon the salsa over top of the burritos, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. 

4.  Bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbling.  Top with remaining chopped pickled jalapenos, if desired.

You could just as easily layer this: a little salsa on the bottom, a layer of tortillas, a layer of bean mix and cheese, a layer of tortillas, etc.  End with a layer of tortillas and spread a thin film of salsa, sprinkle with cheese.  Bake about 20-30 minutes, or until cheese at all layers is melted.

*This would be a great filling for an omelet!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Moderate decadence

Robert Frost had it right when he said, "Nature's first green is gold... ."  The forsythia in the yard are positively glowing as their buds wait to burst into bloom. Daffodils are opening their funny little faces.  And in our Spring Treat share, we got golden-hued savoy cabbage that had been over-wintered at the farm, and we got fresh spinach and arugula.

Uh, Christine, have you had your eyes checked lately?

Yes, the spinach and arugula are green...don't worry, I can still see!  But they're as precious as gold when you've been trying to eat locally and are kind of tired of root vegetables being the only "fresh" things.  Obviously, from previous posts you can see we're not subsisting on them...but even their appearance at the grocery store is kind of tiresome these days.

(I know.  I know.  Stop whining and be glad you have enough to eatI am.  But remember that everything is relative!)

Today is a kind of raw spring day, with the sun peeking through occasionally,  but mostly rain.  I'm not particularly imaginative about these things sometimes, so soup it was!  Our share had the above-mentioned cabbage, and some carrots and potatoes, so I stole (and adapted) a page from Rachael Ray and made cabbage and potato soup.  We're having it for lunch tomorrow, because...

 I wasn't done there!  I've been craving some kind of moderately decadent creamy pasta dish, so I decided to make a creamy spinach fettucine for dinner, with an arugula salad.  I didn't particularly feel like busting out any recipes, so I went on the fly.  I would loosen the sauce a little more next time, but otherwise...yum. 

Tomorrow is supposed to be nice, I think, so I might not be as appreciative of a warming bowl of soup
but I'm always appreciative of a warming bowl of soup.  It reheats better than creamy pasta.  Tonight's dinner: pasta.  Tomorrow's lunch:  soup. 

And to all a good night.

Cabbage and Potato Soup
adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
serves 3-5, depending on accompaniment

1 tbsp olive or other oil
1 to 1 1/2 cups of chopped onion
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped small
salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 tsp of salt total)
1 small head of cabbage, cored and thinly shredded; rinse and leave some water clinging
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 large red potatoes, peeled and diced (about 3 cups)
1/2 to 1 tsp dried dill
4 cups of liquid (I used 1/2 water, 1/2 vegetable broth)
2 slices Candadian bacon, chopped (optional)

1.  Heat a dutch oven over medium.  Add oil, onion, and carrots.  Very lightly salt, to help them soften more quickly.  Cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add cabbage and a little more salt.  Stir occasionally, until beginning to wilt.
2.  Add red wine vinegar.  Cook, stirring, about two minutes.  Add potatoes and dill, and a little more salt.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3.  Add liquid, bring soup to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are softened, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir in Canadian bacon, if using, and cook for about another 5 minutes.

Creamy Spinach Fettucine
by Me
serves 3 (or should, anyway...)

6 oz. fettucini  (reserve 1 c pasta water)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp butter, divided
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, unless you live here)
3/4 to 1 cup of thinly sliced onion
small shot of dry white wine, about 2 tbsp.
2 scant tbsp flour
1 cup of half-and-half (I'd probably use 3/4 c with 1/4 c skim milk next time)
2 heaping cups of chopped, fresh spinach
1/2 c parmigiano cheese, divided
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Bring water for pasta to a boil.  Cook fettucine until al dente--try to time this so you're pulling the pasta out of the water just as it finishes, and dumping it into the sauce. If you start the pasta water a few minutes before you start the sauce, you should be good.
2.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil and 1/2 tbsp butter over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and a small sprinkling of salt.  Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened but not colored.  Add white wine, and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated.
3.  Push the onions over to one side of the pan.  Add rest of butter and flour on empty side; stir so that they combine and form a smooth paste/slurry.  Cook, stirring, about one minute.  Slowly whisk in half-and-half, pulling onion mixture into the cream sauce as you whisk.  Lower the heat to medium-low. 
4.  Stir in most of the cheese, leaving some to sprinkle on top of servings.  (Add a little pasta water if the sauce is too thick.)  Add spinach, stirring to combine.  Add a little (more) pasta water, nutmeg, salt and pepper. 
5.  Add pasta to sauce, stirring to combine.  Add pasta water until the sauce coats the pasta the way you like it.  Sprinkle individual servings with the reserved cheese, and serve immediately.