Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Weekday Vegetarian

Homemade pasta with Brussels sprouts and toasted pecans.

I’ve always wanted to be a vegetarian, but I just can’t picture myself having my last cheeseburger ever. A few weeks ago, Trevor shared the concept of a TED talk he’d heard. Basically, you become a weekday vegetarian, but still eat meat on the weekends. He said he wanted to try it. And it was something I could get behind, too. We’d be eating more healthfully, saving money, reducing our environmental impact and giving way less money to companies that treat animals inhumanely. And I’d never have to completely give up cheeseburgers.

Spicy cauliflower pasta
We had already incorporated many vegetarian dinners into our repertoire, but it’s been a challenge to find more tasty meatless meals. The Moosewood New Classics cookbook has been our go-to book. But I was getting a little tired of it, so I started looking through my other cookbooks that weren’t necessarily vegetarian. In our giant Pasta cookbook, I found a spicy cauliflower pasta. With homemade noodles and Persephone golden cauliflower, it was a keeper.

My Martha Stewart New Classics cookbook had a section on meatless main dishes and number of tasty soups and pastas that fit into our weekday needs. Trevor filled in at Hollywood Farmers’ Market on Saturday, so we’re stocked with lovely fall produce from Persephone, including my favorite, Brussels sprouts. Martha had a wonderful recipe for Brussels sprouts with walnuts and pasta. Since Trevor can’t eat walnuts we used toasted pecans instead. And I out Martha-ed Martha by using homemade fettuccine instead of store-bought, dried pasta.

For the pasta, the Brussels sprouts are cored and then the leaves are pulled off. They are sautéed in butter with red onion and garlic. Fresh sage and thyme added even more fall flavors to the mix. Then the pasta is added to the Brussels sprouts and it’s topped with browned butter, pecans and grated cheese. (I used less butter than called for – ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons.) We used Parrano cheese instead of Parm. I served it slices of wheat baguette, roasted Persephone delicata squash, and Trevor’s Persephone mixed greens. It was unbelievably good. Probably one of the best meals we’ve had lately — vegetarian or not.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Canning Roundup

Dilly Beans!, Bread & Butter Pickles and Kosher Dills.

After trying out several recipes from Canning for a New Generation last summer and fall, Trevor and I decided to do even more canning in the following year. We’ve made good on the promise and we’re running out of room for all of our beautifully filled glass jars.

Trevor is not working for Persephone Farm this season, but does occasionally fill in when someone needs a day off. Last Saturday was one of those days, so we stocked up on a boatload of veggies while he was at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, especially tomatillos for Salsa Verde and the last of the season’s tomatoes.

Our friends Paul and Meredith mentioned they’d tried the ketchup recipe from Canning for a New Generation and that it was unbelievable. I decide try it with the Persephone tomatoes. They did mention that they’d cut back on the allspice, so I omitted it and I added a little extra apple cider vinegar for more tang. I also reduced the amount of cinnamon. Even though it took a couple of hours for the seven pounds of tomatoes to cook down to three cups, I think store-bought ketchup is ruined for me now.

Green tomatoes soaking in lime.
We also tried Green Pickled Tomatoes for the first time. I had a slew of green tomatoes still on my plants and decided to not let them go to waste. The sliced tomatoes are soaked in a pickling lime solution overnight, rinsed and rinsed and rinsed, topped with brine and canned. The result is firm, sweet and tangy pickles delectable on grilled cheese or a turkey sandwich. Pickling lime was a little hard to find, but I eventually found it at a wonderful new store in Sellwood called Portland Homestead Supply Co. It takes a lot of self-control for me to not buy everything in that store! Earlier in the summer, I was able to can a batch of Crushed Tomatoes from our garden, too. I found citric acid at Portland Homestead Supply, too.
Pear-applesauce, Plum Filling,Spicy Carrots,
Green Tomato Pickles and Ketchup.
We also made two batches of Spicy Carrots that remind me of the giant crock of pickled carrots, jalapeños and onions my grandfather used to make. One bite of our carrots thoroughly clears your sinuses. These might be the prettiest jars in our collection. The thyme sprigs and dried red chiles stand out against the bright carrots.

Zucchini pickles are really good on
ham-and-cheese sandwiches.

Earlier in the summer, we made bread and butter pickles from homegrown zucchini. They tasted just as good as the cucumber version we made last summer. And it was a great way to use up a lot of zucchini. And we canned four batches of Dilly Beans!, probably our favorite canning project from last summer.

Brandied cherries, yum!
Disappointingly, our all the apples on our apple tree had worms. We had to get apples from the Fruit Loop in Hood River to get our applesauce fix. We got a great deal on pears, too. So this year we canned chunky pear-applesauce. But the good news is we discovered that our plum tree gives an incredible amount of fruit. We canned pie/cobbler filling. I used the first jars of filling this week and it hasn’t taken long for us to finish off the plum cobbler with fluffy biscuit topping. We also canned Brandied Cherries made partially with cherries from our tree. We spoon the cherries over vanilla ice cream or toss them into Sidecar cocktails.

Our cupboards also hold Charred Tomato Salsa, Peach Cilantro Salsa and Quickest Kosher Dills. Our extra work will pay off when we’ll be enjoying green enchiladas made from Salsa Verde, crisp Dilly Beans! and plum cobbler for the rest of fall and winter.

Plum cobbler with biscuit topping.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Green Eggs

Weekday breakfasts usually mean a quick egg-and-cheese burrito for me and a bowl of Kashi GoLean! for Trevor. But Sundays are a different story. Sometimes I’ll mix up pancakes from scratch. But Trevor usually makes a big feast that involves Huevos Rancheros or fried potatoes. A couple of weeks ago he started morphing the two with really good results. Instead of frying up some flour tortillas and placing salsa, poached eggs and cheese on top, he piled up the toppings on fried potatoes from Persephone Farm. Since we used green salsa made from Persephone tomatillos and onions, we gave the dish the Seussian title of Huevos Verdes, which translates to green eggs.

When the poached eggs are broken and mixed into the piping hot potatoes it thickens up the salsa into a silky sauce. When Trevor first sets a heaping plate in front of me, I usually think there’s no way I can possibly eat it all. Five minutes later the plate contains only a little smear of yolk and a couple strands of grated cheese.

Recently Trevor made a roasted veggie version. He placed a poblano chile, the last of our garden’s ripe tomatoes and chopped onion in the oven to roast and char lightly. He put the veggies on top of the crispy potatoes and poached eggs, and grated some pepperjack cheese on top. It looked so good I forgot to take a picture of it! The roasting brought out the sweetness of the tomatoes and onions. And the poblano was just slightly spicy. Again, nothing was left on either of our plates.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hitting up the Pantry

After mimicking the menus of pricey restaurants in Portland, we needed to cook some meals that were a little easier on the wallet. Since we cook so much, we have a small arsenal of spices and condiments and an assortment of grains. So I took stock of what we already had in our cupboards and garden and planned some tasty, cheap meals.

Since we had rice wrappers, thin rice noodles, fresh herbs, daikon and carrots we made Vietnamese Summer Rolls with a tangy soy dipping sauce from a Martha Stewart recipe. The Zucchini Pizza we made from the Moosewood New Classics cookbook is now one of our favorite easy summer meals. But my very favorite meal was a recipe also from the Moosewood New Classics cookbook for Red Risotto. It called for Arborio rice, stock, wine, tomato paste and radicchio, all things we has on hand. I ended up buying a can of small red beans, but that was a very economical addition.

Risotto is a comforting and creamy dish. With the red beans, it became even more filling and homey. Below is a link to a similar risotto recipe. To make it more closely resemble the Moosewood recipe, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste, a pinch of thyme and a can of rinsed and drained small red beans with the last ladleful of broth. The wine, slightly bitter radicchio and flavorful stock give this risotto a lot of depth. And the cheese and beans add a creamy softness. We’ll be making this risotto many more times.

Red Risotto

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Menu Mimicry, part 2

Roasted beet salad with candied pecans and blue cheese

Last week I mentioned some of the dishes we recreated from reading menus of the best restaurants in Portland. We finished out the week with some outstanding salads. I feel like I did a good job of recreating the Insalata Nostrana’s creamy Caesar dressing and Trevor made a really good version of clarklewis’ roasted beet salad. We used Persephone Farm fennel, beets and radicchio. Here’s how we did it.

Radicchio Caesar salad with herbed croutons
Please be aware that this recipe uses a raw egg yolk, so eat at your own risk. Pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems definitely shouldn’t consume raw eggs.
Serves 6 to 8

1 head radicchio (preferably from Persephone Farm), halved
6 to 8 slices of day-old white bread
6 fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
cooking spray or olive oil
1 egg yolk
¼ to ½ cup grated or shaved Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup to ¾ cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place radicchio in a large bowl of cold water and allow to soak for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 400˚. Rub 4 sage leaves on the bread slices. Cut bread into small cubes, spray with cooking spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Finely chop 2 remaining sage leaves. Place bread cubes on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or brushed with olive oil. Sprinkle sage and rosemary over bread cubes. Season lightly with salt. Bake for 5 minutes, toss bread cubes and bake for another 5 minutes until cubes are lightly browned and crunchy. Cool and set aside.

To make dressing, place egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese and Dijon in a food processor or blender. Turn on food processor and slowly drizzle in olive oil. Once dressing becomes thick and creamy (almost like mayonnaise), you can stop adding olive oil and stop the food processor. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and add more garlic, Dijon or lemon juice if desired and pulse a few more times.
Rinse radicchio, chop and spin to dry. Place in a large serving bowl. Add enough dressing to lightly coat the radicchio and toss. Top with Parmesan and croutons.

Roasted beet salad with candied pecans and blue cheese
We used a sweet (dolce) Italian Gorgonzola, but you can use whatever kind of blue cheese you like. Oregonzola blue cheese, is also a great choice.
Serves 4
1 bunch beets, (preferably from Persephone Farm) stems and roots cut off
1 bunch arugula, washed and dried with stems cut off
1 cup of fennel, (preferably from Persephone Farm) very thinly sliced
½ cup pecan halves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
sherry vinegar
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces of Gorgonzola or other blue cheese, crumbled into small pieces

Preheat oven to 425˚. Place beets in squares of aluminum foil, sprinkle with olive oil and wrap up tightly. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, until fork tender. Allow beets to cool enough to handle, then slip skins off using paper towels to keep your hands from turning red. Chop beets into bite-size pieces.

While beets are cooking, mix together brown sugar and water. Toss mixture with pecans making sure each piece is coated. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray, place pecans on foil, sprinkle lightly with salt, and bake on a baking sheet in a small toaster oven at 350˚ for 6 to 10 minutes. Check on the pecans after 5 minutes, toss and allow to bake until a pecan piece broken in half is golden brown. (You can also bake the pecans in the oven with the beets, but you will need to cook them for less time and watch them more carefully. Pecans and other nuts can go from not quite done to blackened very quickly.)

Assemble salad by tossing arugula and fennel with sherry vinegar and olive oil and seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Divide arugula and fennel into bowls, top with beets, pecans and cheese. Enjoy.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Menu Mimicry

Rock fish with braised fennel and potatoes

Last Saturday we had an amazing dinner at Nostrana in SE Portland with our friends Sara and Courtland. It was the first time we’d eaten there and everything was delicious. The food was simple, but what made it memorable were the choice ingredients and inventive combinations. For example we started with pizza topped with shiitake mushrooms, arugula, house mozzarella, lemon oil and pecorino cheese. The Insalata Nostrana was an interesting twist on a Caesar salad — it featured just slightly bitter radicchio instead of romaine lettuce.

Between all the food and the wine, we had quite a hefty bill, which was somewhat alleviated by a $50 coupon and some well-spent roulette winnings. Still, it was a splurge and the kind of dining experience we could not replicate every night. Until Trevor had an idea. We’d scour the menus of the best restaurants in Portland and try to create dishes based on the brief descriptions in the menus.

This has been our first week of cooking off the menus without any sort of recipe. And so far, we’re four for four. We look at the ingredients and descriptions (braised, crisp, roasted) and try to imagine how the chefs would prepare them.

We started with halibut with braised fennel, green garlic and gold potatoes from the clarklewis menu. We substituted rock fish for halibut, since halibut was $20.99 a pound at the farmers’ market. Trevor’s not working for Persephone Farm this season, but we always stop there first to load up on organic vegetables when we hit the PSU farmers’ market. We got our fennel there. Trevor followed Martha Stewart’s Cooking School directions for braising fennel and potatoes. It came out silky and creamy. We dredged the fish in flour and pan fried it. The slightly crisp exterior played off the creaminess of the rest of the dish. I also made a little kale on the side.

Next we made a roast chicken salad with peppered bacon and avocado from the menu of Bunk, our favorite sandwich joint. We cheated and bought a rotisserie chicken for the salad, which we shredded and mixed with mayo and some fresh rosemary. Then we fried up thick-cut pepper bacon and sliced the avocado our neighbors had given us. We threw a little Persephone speckled lettuce on there for good measure. It was a big, delicious sandwich.

As I was shelling the fava beans I thought
of that line from Silence of the
, "I ate his liver with
fava beans and a nice chianti."
The next dish was a real stretch because neither one of us has ever eaten or prepared fava beans. I’ve seen several cooking shows that showed how to prepare them, so I knew it was an involved process. We were going off the Nostrana menu, which listed a fava bean salad with prosciutto, lemon and pecorino. Fava beans are in season and cheap at the farmers’ market. To prepare them, you shell the beans from the pod, then boil them for about 10 minutes. Then you remove the tough outer shells from the beans. We may have overcooked the beans slightly, because we had to remove the skins very carefully or the beans turned to mush. Then we tossed the beans with lemon juice, olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese (We were buying lots of pricey specialty cheese for this experiment, so we decide to swap good imported Parm for pecorino.) Then we topped the beans with crumbled pan-fried prosciutto. Yum.

Orecchiette with polpetinne and arugula
Last night we made orecchiette, a small ear-shaped pasta, from scratch just like they do at clarklewis. (We tried a new recipe for the pasta, and weren’t completely happy with it. The pasta was a little too chewy.) We also made pork polpetinne (tiny meatballs) to throw in the pasta. For the meatballs, I put one boneless, country-style pork rib in the food processor to grind it up. To that I added the little bit of ground beef we had in the fridge, dried breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, minced fresh sage and parsley, one egg, salt and pepper, and some water. We made tiny little meatballs and cooked them in a pan with a little olive oil. I also sautéed some shallots. We mixed the hot pasta, shallots and meatballs with arugula, grated taleggio cheese, parm and some pasta cooking liquid. The taleggio is a really good melting cheese, so it blended with everything and made a thick cheesy sauce.

Despite a few smushed fava beans and not-to-tender orecchiette, we’ve considered our menu mimicry a success. By trying to think like the top chefs in Portland we’ve tried new foods, learned new techniques (braising fennel), and picked up great ideas for simple quick dinners (store-bought pasta mixed with taleggio will make a fast, satisfying weeknight dinner).


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick's Feast

Slow-cooked, beer-braised corned beef and vegetables.

Nothing says “Happy St. Paddy’s Day” like corned beef and cabbage. Except for maybe green beer. I did a test-run corned beef in the slow cooker last week and it was delicious — tender and salty with flavorful braised veggies. Trevor was so excited about it, we bought two more corned beef roasts when they went on sale. This St. Patrick’s Day, this is what we’ll be eating for dinner.

I love my slow cooker!
And the best part is the slow cooker does all the work, which is especially nice since I just got a job as an editor for a Web site. But working outside the home doesn’t mean we’ll be doing lots of fast food. We’re already getting good at making quick meals such as stir-frys. And with some night-before prep, the Crock Pot has been cooking up some really great roasts, chili and soups.

Persephone Farm potatoes and
onions with corned beef.
Actually the best part may be having leftovers for corned beef hash. We had a little trouble with the recipe from The Breakfast Book, but on the second try the next day the hash was crispy and not burned. It may have had something to do with the fact that we halved the recipe. I’m sure we’ll get around to perfecting the hash this weekend with our leftovers.

Slow Cooker Corned Beef

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dinner Disaster

Not every meal can be a masterpiece ...

As formidable home cooks, sometimes it’s easy to get a bit cocky. But then, a series of events humbles you and you’re forced to eat disgustingly mushy broccoli.

Last Sunday we had an “easy” meal planned. Parmesan Herb Baked Flounder is a Cooking Light recipe that we’ve been making for years. I admit I really don’t like most seafood. Even the freshest piece of salmon smells fishy to me. But I’ll eat white fish like cod and halibut somewhat grudgingly. Trevor loves fish in all shapes and forms and is constantly trying to get me to cook it more often. When Trevor brought it up this week, I saw frozen cod fillets were on sale so I said we could do the Cooking Light recipe.

Because we’ve made it so often and always have the ingredients on hand, I didn’t check the recipe before going to the grocery store. I didn’t put green onions and Parmesan cheese on my shopping list. I thought I had the cheese and completely forgot green onions were called for. That was misstep number one. When I got home, I put two fillets in a bowl of cool water to defrost. When we got ready to make dinner, they weren’t completely thawed. We should have put them in the microwave to defrost them a tiny bit. That was big misstep number two.

Trevor made the topping without reading the recipe and mixed all of the wet ingredients with breadcrumbs. We did stop and correct that. Although I grated the tiny bit of Parrano cheese we had left down to the rind to have a scant amount of cheese for the second attempt. At this point, things already were not looking good. This was supposed to be an easy, quick meal. We’ve made it a million times and it’s always tasty — even to someone who doesn't like fish.

I had held off making the sautéed broccoli we were having on the side until the Persephone Yellow Finn potatoes I was boiling were almost done. We held off putting the fish in the oven, too since it usually takes 10 to 12 minutes to cook. Once the fish went in, I sautéed garlic slices in olive oil and added the broccoli, salt and red pepper flakes, then added about ¼ cup water and covered. It takes about 7 minutes with the heat turned to low. The broccoli should be bright green and crisp tender when done. I'd timed it to be ready when the fish came out of the oven. When the fish should have been done, Trevor stuck a fork in it and realized it was still frozen in parts. So it went back into the oven.

I had tossed the potatoes with a quick vinaigrette of red-wine vinegar, grainy mustard, olive oil and salt and pepper. I loved boiled potatoes with lots of vinegar and a bit of oil when I was little, but it’s not something I eat often now. With lots of potatoes in our root cellar, I thought they’d be a good quick side. Trevor had the idea of adding some crumbled bacon on top. That made them even better.

As we were waiting for the fish to cook, I turned the broccoli off, but kept the lid on to keep it warm. I’ve lost count of what misstep this is, but that was another one. As we were waiting for the fish, we started picking at the potatoes. I took one, then Trevor accused me of eating a bunch, so he took several bites. The fish still was not done and we were running out of potatoes.

Finally the fish was out of the oven. But when I went to put the broccoli on the plates, I realized it had kept cooking and was an unappetizing olive green. But at this point, we’d gone too far to call it quits. We ate our fish, remaining potatoes and mushy broccoli, shaking our heads and laughing at ourselves for making the sorriest looking meal we’d had in a long time. (And Trevor's fish still had a few parts that weren't quite done!) The Persephone potatoes were the only bright spot. They were tangy and salty with a little crunch from the bacon. And although we completely biffed the fish this time, it is a recipe worth trying. And it’s one we will eat again — when we’re sure the fish is completely defrosted first.


Parmesan Herb Baked Flounder

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Labor of Love

Food and love are inextricably knotted together. Think of a favorite childhood memory and it’s probably tied to food: baking cookies with your Grandmother, your mom making your favorite meal for your birthday. As a child, I had the most fabulous birthday cakes because my Aunt Sally was a supreme cake decorator. The one I can picture most vividly right now was a four-part choo-choo train. It was frosted in pale orange with the wheels and windows outlined in flourishes of a darker pumpkin-colored frosting. The cars of the train held mounds of candy “cargo” – licorice pieces, and I think those chewy candies in the shape of peanuts. Somewhere in my parents house is a picture of me with cheeks puffed out trying to blow out the candles on this fantastic cake train. What an ultimate display of love to take the time to create such a detailed and artistic cake.

Bechamel Sauce
Making and serving food to your loved ones says, “I love you so I want to nourish your body and give you pleasure.” In a microwave-fast, out-of-a-box, drive-through food society it’s something that’s easily forgotten. Food isn’t just calories and fuel, it’s love.

This Valentine’s Day, Trevor and I celebrated at home. Sometimes when we’re flush we’ll take a weekend trip or try a fancy restaurant we’ve heard good things about. This was not one of those years. But it wasn’t any less special. I said I’d make Meat and Spinach Cannelloni from Lidia Bastianich’s Italian-American Kitchen. And Trevor was in charge of picking up some dessert.

Lidia’s cannelloni is truly a labor of love. It takes about four hours to make, even for someone who is quick in the kitchen. But it’s a meal that just can’t be rushed. Chunks of pork butt, carrots, celery, onion (there’s the trinity again) and refreshed dried mushrooms are slowly braised in the oven with chicken stock and wine. And the liquid that remains in the pan is reserved. Then fresh pasta squares are needed. And creamy béchamel sauce has to be made. And once the meat and vegetables have roasted and cooled, they are ground up with spinach to make the delectable filling. I actually roasted the meat and veggies the day before to speed up the process a little. And as I was grinding up the filling, I couldn’t help but eat a few spoonfuls before rolling it up in the cooked pasta squares. OK, several spoonfuls.

From all that, I probably don’t even need to go into how good it tastes. It’s probably the best-tasting meal we make. And the homemade pasta elevates it even higher.

I also made Trevor’s Valentine’s Day card. What I should have put on it was, “Valentine, our love isn’t an out-of-the-box-into-the-microwave love, it’s is a four-hour plus cannelloni love.”

Rolling up the cannelloni

Ready to be topped with more Bechamel

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Versatile Sweet Onions

Caramelized Onion Tart
I’ve been trying to use or preserve our windfall of onions from Persephone Farm before they go bad. When flipping through Canning for a New Generation, I read a great tip for using lots of onions. The author suggested caramelizing about 5 pounds of onions and then storing the onion in 1-cup servings in the freezer. I though this was the perfect idea. I love the sweet taste of caramelized onions and they are so good on pizza, mixed with bulghur, or spread on a baguette slice and topped with a sharp white cheddar cheese.

So I cooked the onions in a Dutch oven over low heat for about an hour and a half. At the end, I had sweet slices of onions that practically melt in the mouth. I tucked them away in the freezer knowing I’d find a good use for them.

A couple of days later I had the perfect excuse to get some out. Some friends had invited us over for a game night and I wanted to bring something to share. It was the perfect excuse to try a recipe for Caramelized Black Bean Butter that my friend Autumn had shared on Facebook. So I defrosted the onions for a minute in the microwave, then blended them with black beans and spices in the food processor. Thanks to the onions in the freezer, a yummy dip for tortilla chips was ready in just a few minutes with no cooking! And it was vegan.

Later in the week, I thought I’d make a Caramelized Onion Tart from the Moosewood New Classics cookbook. It’s a lovely, creamy quiche that works equally well for dinner or brunch. Or it’s a great addition to a party buffet that you can make a day ahead and serve at room temperature. And vegetarian guests will be happy you have a hearty, delicious dish for them to enjoy. Again, because my onions were already caramelized, it came together very quickly. (And not to waste anything, I made little cinnamon cookies from the pie dough scraps.)

Red Onion Marmalade
Finally I canned some Red Onion Marmalade from Canning For A New Generation. It’s sweet and tangy with a hit of cinnamon. You can serve it with roast meat. Or it’s really nice on a baguette slice with sharp cheddar or your favorite creamy cheese.

Lightly cooked onions are wonderful in a number of dishes. But when you cook them for a long time to bring out their sweetness and complexity, they become even more versatile.

Moosewood New Classics Caramelized Onion Tart

 Caramelized Black Bean Butter

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Doubling Down on Sauce

Left to right, tomato sauce and Bolognese sauce

This week my grocery list included the ingredients for mirepoix or the “trinity” — onions, celery and carrots. Because it’s winter and Persephone Farm isn’t doing any farmers’ markets right now, I’ve been getting produce from a grocery store. (Although, I still have plenty of onions in my root cellar!) Grocery-store produce just can’t compare to Persephone’s fresh-picked taste and overall goodness. Also, stuff I get from the store doesn’t last as long in my fridge, so to get the most for my money, I use the produce I buy quickly and in more than one meal.

Since I needed carrots and celery for cannelloni, I decided to make Bolognese and tomato sauce, too. I hadn’t planned on making both sauces on the same day, but I started to get out the ingredients for the Bolognese (a savory tomato sauce with ground pork and beef) and realized it’d be silly not to make both sauces at once. They both start with the trinity, so if I was going to chop up celery, onion and carrots for one recipe I figured I might as well do it for both.

Mirepoix - onion, celery and carrot
I usually don’t get out my Cuisinart food processor for chopping small amounts, but since I was doing large quantities I knew it would save time. I was following Lidia Bastianich’s recipes. But I did tweak the Bolognese recipe. I doubled the amount of mirepoix and crushed tomatoes, while keeping the amount of meat the same. I also mixed a little beef broth concentrate into to the water the recipe said to add every so often to keep the sauce around the same level.

Huge can o' tomatoes
With the intent to make sauce, I picked up a huge can of crushed tomatoes from Costco, where I go every few months to stock up on things such as toilet paper and dish detergent. (I normally don’t buy much food from Costco since we don’t eat a lot of processed food.)
The tomato sauce finished cooking first. The Bolognese cooks for two to three hours, so I’d just give it a stir every once in awhile and add broth as needed.
The Bolognese turned out perfectly. It was meaty and rich. We could have skipped the gnocchi and just eaten it with fresh-baked bread and grated cheese. We’ll put both sauces in the freezer and cut off chunks as needed to sauce fresh pasta or spread on pizza crust. So I saved time by making both sauces at once — and money by not letting produce go to waste. This also means that in the future we’ll have delicious, healthful meals with a slow-cooked taste in the amount of time it takes to defrost the sauce and cook pasta. Double the sauce, double the bonus.
The Bolognese simmered for three hours

Lidia's Bolognese

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Noodling Around

I’ve had my eye on the Kitchen-Aid pasta roller and cutter attachments for quite some time. And thanks to the generosity of my in-laws, we finally get to enjoy fresh homemade pasta.

Since I had some spicy, peppery arugula from our surprise Persephone Farm delivery, I decided to make some pappardelle noodles with my new toy. We’d made Summer Pappardelle with Tomatoes, Arugula, and Parmesan from Cooking Light before and I decided to adapt it to become a winter dish.

Making the pasta isn’t hard, but it’s time consuming. After initially kneading the dough, it has to rest for at least an hour before you can roll it out. I followed the pasta recipe from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen and used Martha Stewart’s Cooking School as a visual guide because it has such lovely step-by-step photos. The recipe called for four eggs, and I had one Persephone Farm egg left, which I used. If you look at the photo of the yolks, it’s easy to spot which one is from a chicken that roams around eating organic grass and bugs. It’s obviously a much richer yellow.  

Rolling the pasta out with the attachment was fun and I was able to do it quickly by myself. I used a pasta cutter that looked like a mini-pizza cutter to make 1-inch wide pasta ribbons. (This cutter also has a fluted-edged cutter that I’ve used for ravioli — and Trevor and my dad have used to seal a window screen, but that’s another story.)

Also, I cut some large pasta squares that I’m drying and will use it to make cannelloni for Valentine’s Day. Lidia’s homemade cannelloni is one of the reasons I wanted to get this pasta roller. I rolled out pasta by hand with a rolling pin for that meal and will never do that again!

Once the pasta was cut and rested, I made the quick sauce. Instead of using out-of-season cherry tomatoes, I used about 1 ½ cups of homemade garden tomato sauce that we usually have in the freezer. And I sautéed the arugula to wilt it slightly. I really can’t say enough about the homemade pasta. It’s completely different from commercially made dried pasta. It was flavorful, silky and light, and really let the flavors in the sauce shine. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to pasta from a box.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Old World Ways

Deep inside me lives a grandmother from the Old Country. She comes out when I’m cooking. She doesn’t let me waste anything — a chicken carcass, gizzards, tops of leeks, wilted celery and carrot peels become rich stock. She reminds me when people had less, nothing could afford to be thrown out. So I mix in a tablespoon of rendered chicken fat from the stock with mashed potatoes and discover it produces the most flavorful potatoes ever! She also insists homemade is much better than store bought.

This week my inner grandmother is from Korea. She emerged when we received a surprise bounty from Persephone Farm: a burlap sack of potatoes along with more sacks of red onions, yellow onions and garlic — and several heads of cabbage, some leeks, a loaf of sweet bread, farm-fresh eggs and winter braising greens. I saw the lovely wrinkled leaves of the Napa cabbage and knew kimchi was in my immediate future.

I can vividly picture what this inner grandmother is like. Mrs. Kim carries a navy blue umbrella with lilac flowers printed on it. She’s tiny, but fierce. And refuses to eat the commercially prepared kimchi her sons’ wives try to serve her. She only eats her own kimchi that comes from a giant crock that once belonged to her grandmother. She once had the recipe on transparent, faded paper that since has disintegrated, but by now she knows the recipe by heart.

So at the urging of Mrs. Kim, I’m making kimchi — a salty, spicy, fermented condiment made from cabbage — for the first time. (With the rest of the cabbage, another inner grandmother from Italy will take over to make a cabbage, leek and sausage pasta dish — she looks a lot like Lidia Bastianich.)

I’m following the recipe from Canning for a New Generation. I hunted down Korean chile powder and daikon at Fubonn, a giant Asian grocery store nearby. After soaking the cabbage and daikon in brine overnight, I followed the directions and mixed up the anchovies, garlic, ginger and chile powder. Then I tossed it in with the drained cabbage. I now have two jars of kimchi-in-the-making sitting on my counter. After a week, it’ll be ready to eat. I’m already planning on making pork-and-kimchi dumpling, also from Canning for a New Generation. I think my inner Korean grandmother will approve.