How to Have Your Jack-o-lantern and Eat It Too

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When I read Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones and Butter a few years ago, one passage that resonated with me concerned a technique she learned about getting every last ounce of egg white out of the shell by swiping it with her thumb. It’s a frugal maneuver. Fail to wipe the shell clean, and you’re wasting food.

I store just-about-empty bottles of salad dressing upside down and take a silicon spatula to the sides of mayonnaise jars to get every last bit, behavior that my husband Andy points to as proof of my New-Englandness. So I have always had mixed feelings about Jack-o-lanterns.  Continue reading

The Freshest Salsa

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I’m sure I ate pico de gallo before the mid-1990s. But I always associate it with the Mexican restaurant my husband and I frequented when we were living in Silver Spring, Md. We had bottomless pico and chips to soak up the margaritas while we waited way too long for our enchiladas.

We moved away, and I made my own pico. It’s sort of a no-brainer. This recipe makes about 3 cups.

Salsa Like It’s 1995

Ingredients
2 lbs tomatoes (you can use any tomatoes, but plum tomatoes are the least watery)
1/2 to 3/4 lb white onions
1 or 2 jalapeños or more, depending on how hot you want it
salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon)
optional: a lime, and a bunch of cilantro

Peel the onions and cut into large chunks. Cut the jalapeños into chunks (remove ribs and seeds to reduce the heat). Slice the tomatoes in half, remove the seeds and cut the halves into a few more chunks.

Put the onions and jalapeños in the food processor and pulse four or five times. Add the tomatoes, cilantro leaves (if using) and salt, and pulse until everything is chopped fine. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Adjust the salt. Eat it right away or let the favors meld for a bit.

The classic pico de gallo recipes also calls for lime juice. If you don’t have a fresh lime, it won’t ruin the salsa to leave it out. But if you do have one, it’s better.  Squeeze in the juice from half once you transfer the salsa to the bowl, stir, and taste before you decide whether to add more salt or the juice from the other half of the lime

Bonus: if you seed the tomatoes over a bowl, you can catch the juice and strain it into a glass to drink. You may only get enough for a sip or two. But still.

Sneaky Tacos

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Our CSA gives us lots of greens: Swiss chard, collards, spinach, several varieties of kale. But the people who live in my house do not love greens unconditionally the way I do. Fortunately, we agree on tacos (and taco toppings). Last summer, I found a  recipe on Food52.com that cleverly sneaks Tuscan kale into bean tacos. This recipe also works with chard, and I will probably try it with collards at some point. The beans and spices tame the assertive flavor of the greens. Wrap the filling and toppings inside flour tortillas with cooked rice to make burritos instead.

Black Bean and Greens Tacos

Ingredients

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups Tuscan kale or Swiss chard, stems removed, sliced into ribbons (remove the stems and ribs first)
2 cups cooked black beans (or a 15 oz can)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 corn tortillas

For the toppings: Sliced scallions or diced red onions, avocado slices, chopped cilantro, hot sauce or salsa, grated cheese.

Heat the oil in a pan over low heat. Add garlic and greens. Stir briefly to combine.

Cover the pan for 1-3 minutes, or until the greens wilt and turn bright green  (Swiss chard will take less time than kale).

Add beans, spices, 1/2 cup water, and sea salt. Turn up the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until the moisture has mostly evaporated and the beans are soft and sizzling.

While the filling is cooking, warm the tortillas: wrap them in a clean, damp towel and microwave on high for 20-30  seconds. Keep wrapped until ready to serve.

When the filling is cooked, put it in a bowl next to the tortillas and toppings so people can fix their own.

Inspiration From the Pantry

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I recently finished reading My Pantry by Alice Waters. I picked it up because I was curious about what she keeps on hand. It gives me a little thrill that we stock some of the same things—beans, tahini, yogurt, spice mixes (including za’atar, which I love sprinkled on fried eggs and greens).

It’s unlikely that I’ll start saving apple cores as she does to make my own apple cider vinegar. But after my first season having a vegetable CSA last year, I’ve been collecting ideas for preserving, as well as for using stems and peels and scraps. I made pickles (cucumbers, using Bon Appetit’s brine recipe, and watermelon rind, which is surprisingly good with cheese on whole-grain crackers, and daikon radish). Also sauerkraut. There’s a gallon bag of carrot peels, leek greens, mushroom stems, and those leafy celery tops in my freezer that I’ve been using for stock. I owe it to myself to try Waters’ recipe for salt-preserved kumquats.

The book, along with a comment from a friend about cooking through the odd jars in her pantry, sent me to take inventory. For a week, I based dinner on at least one pantry (or freezer) ingredient. Here’s a list, and the dishes that included them:

  • Panko crumbs: Pan-fried chicken cutlets breaded with panko crumbs. It occurred to me after I made this that it is similar to the chicken schnitzel my mother used to make. Make cutlets from two large chicken breasts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Beat an egg. Dip each cutlet into the egg, then dredge with panko crumbs. Fry in a neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola, turning once. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.
  • Potato rolls, chiles: Lucky Peach Lamb Burgers. In the fall, the CSA put out the last of the chile harvest in a “take all you want” bin. So I did. After a few months in a vacuum-sealed bag in the freezer, they’re too fragile to use raw, but they’re still perfect for cooking. I had the ground lamb in the freezer, too.
  • Red lentils: Masoor Dal with rice. Half the recipe feeds 4-6. It’s less complicated than it looks. And it goes pretty quickly once you’ve made it a couple of times. I served it this time with the pickled watermelon rind in place of chutney.
  • Pesto: Pesto Orechiette with Chicken Sausage. I can never find orechiette, but this recipe is good with any short pasta, (medium shells work well). Also with any Italian-style sausage. I used bulk turkey sausage. The ground meat isn’t pre-cooked, so I sauté it in step 2. This dish nearly finished off the stash of pesto that I made and froze back in September with basil from the CSA.

If you have some extra red lentils, they’re great over a baked potato for lunch. (In fact, the first time I had Masoor Dal, before I knew what it was called, may have been at SpudULike, the British potato restaurant, when I was in college). If you have pesto leftover, spread some on top of a slice of cheese pizza.

 

 

 

 

The Great Tzatziki

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It started in the spring, with snap peas. Raw. Dipped in tzatziki. I couldn’t get enough.

I love how the earthy, grassy crunch of the pods gives way to the sweet peas, possibly better than I like the peas by themselves (also, I’m usually too lazy to shell them). I also love fresh dill and always struggled a bit to use up the huge bunches from the store. Tzatziki, made with strained (Greek) yogurt and flavored with dill, also includes ingredients I usually have on hand–cucumbers, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and salt.

It’s just a little bit magical: put a bowl of tzatziki next to a plate of raw vegetables–peas, celery, carrot sticks, sliced peppers, broccoli, whatever–and watch those vegetables disappear. You can also use it as a sauce for kebabs or fish or dip bread in it. When my daughter had some friends over recently, I put out vegetables along with tzatziki and some ranch dressing. I don’t think anyone touched the ranch dressing.

My recipe is adapted from one by The Shiksa in the Kitchen.

The Great Tzatziki

1-2 c plain Greek yogurt (I prefer full fat, but use low fat if you like it better). To make your own Greek yogurt, instead of paying a premium for it, strain regular yogurt. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and let it sit over a bowl in the refrigerator for a few hours.
1 medium cucumber, or half an English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and finely chopped
1-2 tbl chopped fresh dill
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed in a press
1 tbl lemon juice
3 tbl olive oil
1/4 tsp salt

Wrap the chopped cucumber in cheesecloth or a couple of layered paper towels and squeeze out as much water as you can. Mix everything together in a bowl. Taste to adjust seasonings. You may like it more or less garlicky, or lemony, or salty. This version is fairly thick and chunky. To make it a little thinner,  add some regular (unstrained) yogurt. To make it less chunky, dial back the cucumber.

Red Applesauce and Fried Green Tomatoes

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I love September because it’s apple season, but tomato season isn’t over yet.

Apple-picking has been a fall ritual for me since I was a kid, climbing the trees and sneaking fruit to eat right there. There’s a small orchard about 10 minutes from where I live now, and if I can get over there, I’ll pick a variety to eat fresh and for cooking or baking.

Last fall, near mid-October, one of the vendors at the farmer’s market was unloading what remained of his crop of McIntosh in 20-pound boxes. I took an afternoon and made several quarts of applesauce–red because I cooked it with the skin on–then froze it in quart-sized jars to eat all year. There’s no grocery-store applesauce that comes close to homemade, either in texture or flavor. I’ve made apple butter, too, but that takes longer, and is a bit fussier.

If you have a well-positioned garden plot–and it isn’t too gray and rainy–tomatoes will keep growing here into September. My own garden loses the afternoon light pretty quickly after Labor Day, however, and any fruit still on the vine usually fails to ripen. So I harvest it and put it in a basket on the counter. Green tomatoes keep at least a couple of weeks that way (they may ripen slightly), and I slice up a few at a time to dredge in cornmeal and fry as a side dish (they’re not bad on sandwiches, either).

Applesauce the Way It Should Be
As long as you use fresh fruit, I don’t think it’s possible to mess it up

Ingredients:
Some apples. About five pounds if you want enough to last more than a day. You can find many charts online listing apple varieties to find out which ones are best for sauce, but don’t think it really matters. Just use apples that you like to eat raw. I usually use McIntosh, because they cook down quickly, or a mix of whatever I can find.
A cinnamon stick, or other flavorings (optional)

Core the apples, peel them if you like, and cut into large chunks. Put them in a pot. Add about 1/2 cup of water per 5 pounds of apples, along with the cinnamon stick or other flavoring. Cover the pot, and using moderate heat, cook until the water starts to boil. Uncover, stir and cook until the apples turn into sauce, (about half an hour) stirring again occasionally and lowering the heat if the apples begin to spatter or burn. When it’s done, remove from the stove to cool. At this point, if you’ve peeled the apples–or you don’t mind pieces of cooked peel–the applesauce is ready to eat. I’m usually too lazy to peel them at the start, and I like the color they give the sauce. I bought a food mill so I could extract the peels after cooking. If you don’t have one, you can also push the applesauce through a strainer, though that takes more time.

Fried Green Tomatoes
I didn’t know about these until I was in my twenties, and I lived in North Carolina for two years. Southerners I know might not consider this version authentic; Southern Living has this recipe calling for egg & buttermilk batter. Mine aren’t as crunchy, but I like them this way better.

Ingredients:
4-5 medium sized green tomatoes
1 c  cornmeal
Salt & pepper
Oil for cooking

Slice the tomatoes in 1/2-inch slices. Mix the cornmeal, salt and pepper on a plate. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a skillet. When the oil is hot, dredge the tomato slices in the cornmeal mixture and fry until golden, turning once so each side of the tomato slices cooks evenly. Drain on paper towels and eat as soon as possible.

Time to Break Some Eggs

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When I was six, my family ate breakfast together on weekend mornings, and the highlight, for me, was a soft-boiled egg, served in an egg cup with the shell still on it. I learned to slice off the top with a knife, scoop out the runny yolk, then scrape out the white. Now I sometimes think that, as long as I have eggs (OK, and chocolate), I’ll be happy.

Eggs are also great in a hurry. Recently, friends from Texas, in town to run the Boston Marathon, came for lunch. Though we knew a day ahead that they’d be over, I really only had about an hour to pull off a meal. So, eggs to the rescue: in this case a frittata with asparagus and potatoes, along with a plate of smoked salmon and some matzah (it was Passover, otherwise we’d have served bagels) and a fruit salad.

I had been making Tortilla Española for years before I realized it’s a potato frittata and started adding (or substituting) other ingredients. Asparagus this time because it’s spring, and we all like it. Plus a little smoked Gouda cheese. The exact quantities of fillings and eggs are not crucial. You want a sufficient ratio of fillings to eggs so that the fillings sort of float in the eggs with some space between the pieces and the egg binds it all together. The mixture should fill the pan, too.

Asparagus and Potato Frittata for Eight

1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (I used russet)
Half a bunch of asparagus, woody stem ends broken off and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces (about 10-12 spears)
1 dozen eggs
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used smoked Gouda)
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°F. On the stove, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a 10-inch, ovenproof skillet on medium heat Add potatoes and asparagus, and cook until potatoes are soft enough to pierce with a fork and asparagus is tender, stirring occasionally to prevent potatoes from sticking to the pan (you may need to add a bit more oil). While potatoes and asparagus are cooking, break eggs into a bowl and whisk together.

When the potatoes and asparagus are cooked, scrape any browned bits from the pan and add oil enough to coat the bottom (2 Tbl ought to do it, but use your judgement. You want enough oil so the eggs won’t stick to the bottom of the pan.). Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables, sprinkle the cheese on top and stir very gently so the fillings are spread evenly in the pan. When the edges start to set, stick a silicone spatula between the eggs and the side of the pan and lift carefully, tipping the pan so some of the uncooked egg runs underneath. Repeat in another one or two spots around the edges of the pan, as you would do when making a plain omlette. Now place the pan in the oven and cook until the top is set (it may get a little bit brown).

Remove the pan from the oven. Let it cool for a few minutes, then slice into serving pieces. I find squares are easiest to lift out without breaking.