Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Serving of Comfort Food Coming Up

With the rainy season in full swing, I’ve been preparing more homey, comfort meals like Moosewood’s Homespun Pot Pie. When it’s gray and drizzly outside you’ll be glad that you are inside eating this cozy dish.

This pot pie has biscuit-like topping as opposed to a flaky, piecrust topping. And it’s a nice, fluffy biscuit, too. Next time I might try mixing grated cheddar cheese into the topping batter.

A wide array of vegetables is packed in the pie. And while the recipe would be filling as is, I sneaked a little chicken breast, too. The prep time is a little long, but the end result is really tasty and completely worth it. It makes a lot and is great for lunch the next day.

We used Persephone Farm onion, garlic, potatoes and parsnips. I’ll be mentioning another dish that highlights the underrated parsnip soon. This meal is yet another reason to check out The Moosewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook!

And if you’re in the Portland area this weekend, I really recommend stopping by the Persephone Farm booth to check out Trevor and company in their Halloween costumes. I promise it will be highly entertaining.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

You Can't Eat Just One

Meatloaf and leafy greens may not sound like a tasty meal to some people, but I beg to differ. When the meatloaf is juicy and flavorful and the kale is as crisp as a potato chip it’s a standout meal.

I first started making crispy kale after watching Jacques Pepin prepare it on his TV show Fast Food My Way. He admitted that he stole it from another chef, so I’ll detail how I make it at home, too. It’s so good that Trevor and I will eat one whole bunch of kale between the two of us in one sitting. And usually we’re lucky to get any on our plates, because we start eating it as soon as it’s out of the oven! And luckily Persephone Farms always has lots of kale for us to take home and enjoy.

For the meatloaf, I played around with what we had in the fridge. I gave it a Southern feel by adding BBQ sauce and finely chopped greens. And some mashed potatoes on the side rounded everything out nicely. For this meal we used Persephone onions, kale and potatoes.

Crispy Kale

Serves 2 to 3. Really dry kale is the key to making it crispy. Also, this is one of the few dishes in which I use table salt instead of Kosher. Kosher salt crystals are just too big and don’t disperse well. The use of the cookie rack helps air get under the kale as it’s baking.

1 bunch curly leaf kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped into bite-size pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
table salt

Preheat your oven to 225˚ F.

Thoroughly wash the kale and then dry it in a salad spinner. You may need to do this in two batches. Pat off any excess water with a towel. Place kale in a large bowl. Sprinkle olive oil over the kale and toss well with your hands, ensuring each piece is coated with oil.

Place a cookie rack over a rimmed baking sheet. (Prepare two racks and two sheets, if you have them. Otherwise work in batches.) Spread kale in a single layer over the rack(s). Don’t over crowd, or the kale will not get crisp. Lightly sprinkle salt over kale. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until kale is crisp. Check it when you start to smell it, it may be done sooner depending on your oven. Crispy kale is best eaten immediately!

Southern-Style Meatloaf

Serves 2 to 3. Adding vegetables stretches out the meat and adds flavor and moisture to the meatloaf. I didn’t really write down the exact measurements as I was making this meatloaf. But meatloaf is pretty forgiving and these estimates should work.

1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup dinosaur kale or collard green, finely chopped
1 pound ground beef, preferably grass-fed
1/8 cup BBQ sauce, such as Sweet Baby Ray’s
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 egg
1/8 cup dried breadcrumbs
scant 1/8 cup water
olive oil, optional

Preheat your oven to 375˚ F. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

Spray a small skillet with cooking spray and sauté onion and kale over medium heat until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

In large bowl combine, ground beef, BBQ sauce, salt, pepper, egg, breadcrumbs, water, onions and kale with your hands until just mixed. (Don’t over mix or the meat can get tough.) Shape meat mixture into a small loaf shape and place on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with olive oil if desired.

Bake for 25 minutes or until thoroughly cooked, but still moist. Enjoy!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tacos Like My Momma Used to Make

My mom is one of those people who can hear a piece of music then whip out her violin, guitar or keyboard and play it back for you. Pretty amazing. But when I was growing up, her talents did not extend to the realm of the kitchen. She did have a few standbys that I did always look forward to. And tacos were one of them.

Unfortunately most people think of tacos as tasteless packaged shells with some bland ground beef thrown in. But for us, back before anyone worried about heart disease or diabetes, tacos were fresh tortillas from a local Mexican bakery filled with seasoned beef and fried at home. I never ate Taco Bell until I went to college.

A couple of months ago I had a craving for good homemade tacos. I don’t normally fry too much, but we’d just purchased some grass-fed ground beef so I hoped that sort of made up for the frying. Then I re-created one of my favorite meals. Trevor had never had tacos this way before. The crunch of the fried tortilla and well-seasoned ground beef won him over and he will not be going back to prepackaged shells.

This week Trevor bought some more grass-fed beef from Highland Oak at the PSU Farmers’ Market after working at the Persephone Farm stand. And he had tacos on the brain. We used onion from Persephone. And Trevor made a delicious salsa with Persephone sunburst tomatoes, shallot, garlic, jalapeño and cilantro.

The key to these tacos is making sure your oil is hot enough. Warm it up slowly over medium heat. I use the Rachael Ray trick of sticking the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil to see if it’s hot enough. If bubbles form around the handle, it’s good to go. Also shape the beef into flat little ovals, that aren’t too thick so they will cook quickly.

Homemade Tacos
Serves 2 to 3. Please be very, very careful when frying. Make sure all handles are facing in toward your stove. Keep all small children and pets out of the area and wear shoes. Trust me on that one.

canola oil or other frying oil
½ pound ground beef, preferably grass-fed natural beef
6 corn tortillas
¼ cup onion, diced
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¾ cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1 medium tomato, chopped
½ cup lettuce, shredded
salsa to taste

Fill a large skillet about 1 to 1½ inches of canola oil. Heat over medium heat until bubbles form when the handle of a wooden spoon is dipped in.

Combine, ground beef and onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Form six flat, oval-shaped patties that will cover one half of the tortillas.

In another skillet, heat tortillas until they are soft and pliable. Working quickly, place one patty in each tortilla and fold the tortilla in half. When all six on finished, carefully place as many tacos as will fit into the skillet with hot oil. Cook about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Adjust the heat as necessary. If it’s bubbling very rapidly, turn it down a little; just a few bubbles, turn it up slightly. Tortillas should be crisp and lightly browned. When taking each taco out of the oil, carefully tip it to each side to allow excess oil to drain.

When tacos are done, place them on a cookie rack with paper towel underneath. You may pat them lightly with a paper towel to removed excess grease. While tacos are still warm, open them slightly and fill with grated cheese.

Once all the tacos are finished cooking, you can fill them with tomatoes, lettuce and salsa or any other topping you desire. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Strawberries and Cream

I love when Trevor is in a dessert-making mood. Last week, he brought home some absolutely beautiful strawberries from the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market and was inspired to make shortcake. (He forgot to get apples from Persephone Farm and needed a fruit fix.) He busted out the ultimate cooking reference book, Joy of Cooking. If you want to know how to make the perfect white sauce — or skin a squirrel — the Joy of Cooking is your book. And of course there’s also a recipe for shortcake.

The shortcakes came out of perfectly fluffy, but the bottoms were a little too dark. Not that that stopped us from scarfing them down! But next time we’ll remember to use our Silpat baking mat and they should be perfect.

We topped the strawberries and shortcake with homemade whipped cream. It worked out perfectly that we had some extra whipping cream on hand. There is just no substitute for real whipped cream. As much fun as those spray whipped-cream cans are, it’s always better to make your own. These were probably the last strawberries we’ll see until next year, but we definitely made the most of them!


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tastes Like Fall

Before moving to Portland from Southern California I never really knew how good fall could be. In the Valley it went from sweltering to pleasantly sunny. But in Portland there is a definite change in the air and I’m treated to a view of trees exploding in Technicolor gold and fiery red.

The squash changes color, too. It’s the time of year for sweet, nutty winter squash in beautiful, vibrant shades of orange. I never appreciated butternut squash until I moved here.

And I first discovered the deliciousness of delicata squash at the Persephone Farm stand four years ago when Trevor first started working there. So when last weekend Trevor said the first of the delicata arrived, I made sure we took some home. Delicata has a thin pale yellow skin with dark green stripes. There’s no need to peel it when you roast it in the oven, the skin is edible and tasty. The cantaloupe-colored flesh is sweet and mellow. This week I swapped it in for butternut in Pasta with Winter Squash and Pine Nuts and Trevor liked it even better this way. (I did have to peel the delicata for this particular recipe.) I also used mini farfalle instead of penne because it was on sale and I like the way it holds the sauce.

This dish is so simple and just plain delicious. The fragrance of sage and garlic just dances around your kitchen in the most lovely way. And the sharp Parmesan cheese is the perfect foil to the delicata. It’s like fall in a bowl. Try it soon. And I’ll fill you in on what Trevor made for dessert next time: Shortcake with Winter Berries and Cream!


Please leave a comment! I’d love to get your feedback.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Happy Meal

Last night Trevor and I didn’t really talk while we were eating except for the occasional exclamation of “Oh my God, this is so good!” or “Mmmmmm!” The meal that had us so happy and full was from Cooking Light’s 2009 March issue. We had Tomato Poached Eggs, Zucchini and Mint and homemade focaccia.

We’ve made this meal several times since we got the issue in the mail. The recipes are based on traditional Sardinian cuisine. Sardinia is a “Blue Zone” with a higher-than-normal amount of residents living to be healthy 100-year-olds. As Cooking Light reports, one of the secrets to this longevity may be a plant-based diet in which meat only plays a small role.

And this meal is definitely worth sticking around for! We did slightly modify the recipe. Instead of the traditional Sardinian music bread, we made focaccia with stone-ground flour from Bob’s Red Mill. For that recipe we swapped the dried herbs for fresh rosemary and basil, and added thinly sliced onions, too. And we used homemade tomato sauce we had on hand instead of making the sauce. But we have made the sauce in the recipe before and it’s delicious.

We used zucchini, garlic and onion that Trevor brought home after working at Persephone Farm’s stand at the PSU Farmers’ Market. And we picked all the herbs from our garden. Ricotta salata is a firm, salty version of creamy ricotta. This cheese can be difficult to find, but it’s available at New Seasons stores in Portland.

This meal is so good, we forget it’s vegetarian. It’s so homey and satisfying that even a staunch carnivore won’t feel like something is missing from his plate.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tasteful Economy

The smell of a chicken roasting in the oven is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s even better when that 4-pound chicken was less than 4 bucks on sale, and you can get several meals from it.

First, I loosely followed Martha Stewart’s guidelines for roasting a chicken. Her book, Martha Stewart’s Cooking School is a great reference for the home cook. However I used a lot more herbs than she calls for. I snipped about 1/3 cup sage, thyme, basil and rosemary from my herb garden. I placed some of the herbs, lemon slices and garlic in the cavity, and stuffed some under the skin, too. I also rubbed some butter on the outside of the skin.

To make a kind of a rack for the chicken to rest on, I cut some celery stalks in half and put them on the bottom of my cast-iron skillet. And to make this a one-pan meal, I quartered some potatoes and a cipollini onion, and scattered them around the chicken. About an hour later, I had a beautiful roast chicken. (But I do admit when we started carving it, we realized it still needed to cook a little longer. But it wasn’t a big deal — I just put it on a baking sheet and put it back in the oven for a few minutes.) And I made some gravy from the pan drippings. For this meal I used Persephone Farm celery, onion, garlic and potatoes.

After we’d enjoyed our chicken dinner, I wrapped up the chicken carcass and put it in the fridge to use to make stock later. As you’ll soon discover, I really, really hate to waste anything.

The next day for lunch, I shredded up chicken breast to make a chicken salad. I’d had one from Trader Joe’s a while ago that I really had enjoyed; luckily I had the ingredients on hand to recreate it. I added chopped fresh rosemary, light mayo, diced dried apricots and diced Persephone celery to the shredded chicken. The apricots and celery added flavor and crunch and stretched out the chicken. I even had enough left to have as a snack on crackers.

For use No. 3 of this roast chicken, I made chicken stock. Making stock is so easy. And it has so many benefits. 1) You save money. 2) You can control the amount of fat and salt. 3) You don’t waste any parts of the chicken. 4) The taste of homemade stock blows away the canned versions. Again Martha Stewart’s Cooking School is a great reference for stock making.

Also, making stock is a great way to use up vegetables and herbs that might be toward the end of their lifespan. If your carrots or celery are a little limp, they’ll still be tasty additions. You can also use parts of vegetables that you’d normally discard, like the dark green parts of leeks. I’d saved a few such items in my freezer and then threw them in my stockpot.

Here’s what I used in my stock today: 3 carrots, spring onion tops, some leek tops, fennel stalks, 4 stalks of celery, ½ a large onion, 6 cloves of garlic, fresh thyme, fresh sage, fresh chives, fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves, 6 peppercorns, gizzards from the chicken, the chicken carcass, two wings and kosher salt.

I like to add a little olive oil to the pot and brown up the onions, garlic and celery before I add the rest of the ingredients. It just adds more depth of flavor. Once you add the rest of the ingredients, add enough water to cover everything by an inch or so. Then bring it to a boil and skim off any foamy bubbles that appear on top. Then you just lower the heat and let it go at a low simmer for an hour to an hour and a half. You don’t need to do anything to it except skim it if you see more foam. The skimming is important because if don’t do it, you’ll get cloudy stock.

Once I strain out the solids and discard them, I divide the stock between sandwich bags then place them on a cooking sheet and freeze. Once the stock is frozen, I take the bags off the sheet and stack them easily in the freezer. I divide the stock in ½-cup and 1-cup portions, since most recipes call for small portions. The flavor that homemade stock gives to recipes like risotto or soup, or even steamed brown rice is indescribable. I hope you’ll try it soon.