It may be off-season for the kids, but the school garden is still a-growing. Above is the last of the sugar snap peas. Below, bee balm is in bloom, lilies in the distance.
One of many pumpkin plants sown by the second graders.
Here's a book that was made for summer: The Coastal Table. In it are seasonal recipes and beautiful photos from the farms and shores of southern Massachusetts. I met author Karen Covey at the Eat Boutique holiday market in Boston last December, where we were promoting our respective books. In a show of local author solidarity and a mutual appreciation of local foods, we each bought a copy of the other's book. I'd been holding off on cooking from it until the good, fresh produce of summer arrived, and, what do you know, here it is!
The school garden is full of edible nasturtium blossoms in bright, sunshiny colors right now. I love using these beautiful flowers in salads or as a garnish, but I've never used them in any other capacity. That's why I decided to start with the recipe for roasted fish with nasturtium butter. This unusual compound butter has delicate bursts of lemon, salt, and the fresh, peppery taste of nasturtiums, which taste a bit like radishes. And if you know anything about radishes, then you know how well they go with butter and salt. This compound butter is a nice way to add a little flavor and color to a simple piece of fish, roasted or grilled. When the butter melts, little ribbony flecks of flower petals are scattered all over the top of the fish like confetti. Hooray summer!
I'm excited to cook more recipes from this book as the season progresses. The beach plum mojito looks divine, as does the chilled sweet corn soup with lobster. I also have my eye on her baked eggs and bacon jam. Since I think this is a book you guys will like, Union Park Press has offered to give away one copy of The Coastal Table to one lucky reader. To be entered to win, add a comment to this post telling me what you like to do with nasturtiums, or what kinds of other edible flowers you find uses for, or just tell me what you're looking forward to eating this summer, flowers be damned. This raffle will close Thursday 7/10 at 10 p.m. EST. Good luck!
Roasted Cod with Lemon Nasturtium Butter
The flavors here are simple and delicate, so make sure your fish is exceedingly fresh. Same with your butter. If you don't have access to nasturtiums, you can substitute a tablespoon or two of your favorite fresh herbs, like Italian parsley, tarragon, and chives, well chopped.
12 nasturtium flower petals
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
Zest from 1 lemon
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
(4) 4-ounce pieces of cod, haddock, or halibut, each about 1-1/2-inches thick
Swirl the flowers in a large bowl of cold water and gently swirl them around to release any dirt. Remove the flowers from the water and place them on a clean tea towel or paper towel until completely dry.
Place the softened butter, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Finely chop the nasturtium petals and add them to the bowl. Gently mix until everything is well combined, with visible flecks of flowers throughout. Transfer the butter mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a log, twisting up both ends to enclose. Refrigerate the butter until firm, at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the fish in a large baking dish and add about 2 tablespoons of water to the dish. Roast uncovered until the fish is opaque and cooked through, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the butter from the refrigerator and cut 4 slices from the log.
Transfer the fish to a plate lined with paper towels to remove any excess moisture, then transfer to a serving platter or individual plates. Set a slice of butter on top of each piece of fish. Serve warm.
Reserve the remaining butter well-wrapped for another use (like spread on good French bread with sliced radishes).
I was all ready to pack the slow-cooker away to prove that, yes, winter is finally over now that it's May, but then I remembered: We still have another month of baseball and soccer ahead of us. A whole month of practices and games, 80% of which eat into the weekday dinner hours. Maybe I shouldn't be so hasty. Crockpots aren't just for the winter, after all. With a little advanced planning, they can save us from the temptation to eat from the concession stand three to four nights a week instead of having a proper meal. Which is something I would totally do and then not tell you.
So here's one of those 8 o'clock post-game meals the kids loved. Serve these tender, sticky, sweet and sour ribs with leftover mashed potatoes and microwave peas (for example) and you'll have dinner on the table in under 20 minutes. That's enough time for both kids to emerge from the shower squeaky clean and willing to eat whatever you put in front of them. Especially when it's awesome.
Maple Balsamic Slow-Cooker Ribs
Throw the ribs in the crockpot before work and then finish them in the oven right before dinner so you get the best of both worlds: the tenderness of long, slow cooking combined with high heat caramelization.
1 3-lb. rack of spare ribs, cut between the ribs into 4 slabs
Salt and black pepper to taste
6 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh sage
1 cup water
1/3 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, smashed
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Blot the ribs dry with paper towels and sprinkle both sides generously with salt and pepper. Arrange 4 of the garlic cloves in the bottom of the slow-cooker along with the bay leaves and sage. Set the ribs on top, overlapping slightly. Pour in the water. Cover the pot and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high from 4 to 6 hours until the meat is very tender and threatening to fall right off the bone (times may vary).
Twenty minutes before serving, combine the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, remaining 2 cloves of garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture thickens slightly, 5 to 7 minutes.
Preheat your broiler on high. Carefully remove the ribs from the crockpot and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush one side with the sauce and broil about 2 minutes until glazy and caramelized but not burned. Keep a close eye on the meat as broiler times may vary. Remove the pan from the oven, flip the meat carefully, and brush the other side with sauce. Again, broil 2 minutes. If you have any sauce left, you can flip once more, apply the glaze, and broil for one minute longer, but you don't want to dry out the meat, so leave it at that. Let cool slightly. Serves 4.
Pork: Chestnut Farms, Hardwick, MA
Maple syrup: Williams Farm Sugarhouse, Deerfield, MA
I made some bratwurst from Moody's Delicatessen for dinner the other night with braised cabbage and onions. (These cold nights have us still craving winter food in the middle of April.) The 11YO finished his plate and asked for more sausage.
Me: We should probably save the last one for Daddy when he gets home.
Him: Aren't there more than four? Why didn't you buy more?
Me: Well, these are bigger than the ones we usually get. They're also twice as good. But since they're twice as expensive, I only bought half as many. Therefore, we should eat less of them while simultaneously enjoying them doubly.
(Or something like that. Isn't that the equation?)
Him: But why? If the quality is better, shouldn't we eat more?
Him: I don't understand life.
The kid has a point. I don't understand life, either. Next time, two packages of the good sausages!
Wow, it feels so nice to finally get outside and run around. Or, in my case, to rake all the leaves we never raked in the fall. Or, in Husband's case, to deal with the Christmas tree he flung out the back door right before a snowstorm, where it has remained in a heap ever since, lights and all.
Other things we enjoyed this weekend:
Local folks, if you haven't had a chance to get down to Moody's Deli & Provisions, you should do so right away. I mean it. Just take exit 26 off 128 (that's one stop north of the Pike) and go straight until you hit the city center and take a right on Moody Street. Go over the river and it'll be five or six blocks on your left. If you hit the old middle school and fire station, you've gone too far.
A few things to know: Meat is the main draw of the place. Locally sourced meat, to be exact, which is then smoked or cured or otherwise prepared right on site. We're talking salami, soppressatta, Italian sausage, chorizo, bratwurst. On one visit a few months back, they had rabbit terrine with cognac-soaked cherries and handmade pork sausages with fennel and orange. On a more recent visit, they had a country pork terrine as well as house-made lomo and coppa (tasty thin slices of cured pork from the shoulder and neck). I don't even want to know what sort of unholy nightmare the permitting process must have been to allow the meats to hang down like an old Italian butchery, but I sure am glad everything worked out. What a gem!
The sandwiches are killer. I've had both the Cuban (smoked ham, pulled pork, chipotle aioli, and sweet pickles on ciabatta) and the bahn mi (crispy pork belly, country pate, smoked pork, daikon, carrots, cilantro, and sriracha aioli on a baguette). These are the kind of sordid sandwich experiences where you have to floss afterwards and then take a nap. God, I love a good sandwich! Don't forget the homemade truffled potato chips for $2. Keep in mind that the prices, which run between $9 and $14 for a lunch-sized portion, reflect the fact that the meat is raised right here in New England and prepared right there in the store. Care and craftsmanship are worth something. Yes, even today, cynical Internet. Word is that the breakfast sandwiches are amazing, too, especially the pork roll. They're also half the price.
Depending on availability, you can get local milk and cream, eggs, maple sugar, homemade stock, lard, and Iggy's baguettes. Just yesterday I found jars of preserved lemons, bacon jam, and some kind of bourbon caramel in the cases. Walk away, Tammy. Just grab your sandwich and walk away. They also have a small rotating collection of local cheeses like Von Trapp Farmstead Oma, Great Hill Blue, and Bonnieview, as well as some imported options like gorgonzola and ricotta salata. It's not as complete a selection of cheese as, say, Russo's or Formaggio, but treasures abound.
Moody's is an amazing place to stop by and pick up the fixings for a fabulous cheese and charcuterie plate with some bread, pickles, and olives. I just can't believe this place is so close to where I live! I could run there if I had to. And, at this rate, I will! So if you do stop in (what are you waiting for? gas money? plane tickets?), be sure to tell Chef Joshua Smith thanks for taking a chance on Waltham!
(Moody's Delicatessen & Provisions, 468 Moody St., Waltham, MA, 781-216-8732)
Mushroom season is almost upon us! And without any book events on the horizon, that means there's nothing to stop me from diving face first into the poison ivy. Nothing except my vanity, that is, which is inconsistent at best.
Brace yourselves for my hideous form!
In the meantime, here's a great recipe for individual mushroom strudels. I had these for lunch all week. They're like a food snob's Hot Pocket. Just pop the leftovers in the toaster oven and serve them with a little salad. (Oh, who am I kidding, there was no salad. Phyllo laughs at salad.)
I made these strudels with regular old button mushrooms combined with dried Serbian black trumpets rehydrated in water, but you can use whatever mushrooms you like. They were inspired by one of my favorite books on edible fungi, The Complete Mushroom Book by Antonio Carluccio. It's an amazing book. As Amazon reviewer Richard Powell notes, "You get the impression that you have been taken into a confidence, that you are being let in on some secrets. Reading this book is a bit like reading a dusty sacred text with golden page edges." My thoughts exactly. The beautiful photos don't hurt, either. And the recipes? Fabulous. Lots of nice pastas, risottos, and sautés, though maybe the morels stuffed with foie gras were a little over the top. I mean, if I had both morels and foie gras on hand, I might be inclined to spread out the wealth a little, maybe give them each a chance to shine independently. Foie gras stuffed inside morels in a cognac cream sauce is like the turducken of luxury foods. A little rich for a Tuesday night, but let's file that idea away for my last supper.
If you can't be bothered with phyllo dough, you can just sauté the mushrooms (omit the flour) and then serve them over polenta, rice, or the whole grain of your choice.
1 pound mixed fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 Tbsp. dry sherry
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Leaves from 1 spring of marjoram
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
12 sheets phyllo dough (9x14-inch)
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a baking sheet with butter or line it with parchment paper.
Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a damp paper towel. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and cook the onion over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes until soft. Add the mushrooms and nutmeg, and sauté for 4 minutes more until the mushrooms have cooked down and released their juices. Reduce the heat to low and add the sherry. Cook for about 2 minutes stirring now and then to evaporate the alcohol. Stir in the flour, marjoram, salt, and pepper, and remove from the heat. Let the mixture cool while preparing the pastry.
Set a sheet of phyllo on the counter, short side facing you. Brush it with melted butter. Add another sheet of phyllo on top, and brush that with butter. Top with a third sheet of phyllo. Spoon one-fourth of the mushroom mixture on the side closest to you, leaving an inch of space all around the bottom and sides. Sprinkle the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Fold the bottom edge of the phyllo over the top of the mixture, fold in the sides, and then roll it over and over into a neat package not unlike a burrito. Brush it all over with beaten egg and set it on the baking sheet seam side down. Repeat three more times.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Serve warm. Makes 4.
Source: Adapted from The Complete Mushroom Book: The Quiet Hunt by Antonio Carluccio
It's been a long winter so perhaps it's time to get together and toast a local farm that does so much for our community. On Friday, April 11 from 6:30 to 9:30 pm, Waltham Fields Community Farm is hosting its annual Sprout benefit at the Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham. Listen to live music, feast on local food from Cuisine en Locale, and bid on some fabulous silent auction items including CSA shares, hotel stays, sports tickets, restaurant gift certificates, one-of-a-kind handmade crafts, and a baking gift basket complete with a signed cookbook from a mysterious local author.
Hey, everyone, it's March 14th, which means it's Pi Day! Enjoy your allotted 3.14 pieces of pie. The great thing about a non-repeating number that never ends is that you can always have a tiny bit more pie, mathematically speaking, so enjoy the loophole while you can!
In honor of the day, I have a pie recipe for you. That's two in one week if you count the chocolate tart. The inspiration for this chicken potpie came from Joanne Chang's new cookbook, Flour, Too. If you don't know who Joanne Chang is, then you must not be from Boston because if you were, you would know her bakery and you would know it well. It's paradise. Especially when you're walking from the ICA in the fricking freezing cold with the horrible, horrible wind. The whole place just swaddles you with warmth and butter.
I pulled this potpie filling straight from the book (actually, it's chef Cory Johnson's recipe). But I already had some of my own pie dough in the fridge, so I used that instead of the cookbook version. It's a dough I've been playing around with that has cornmeal and buttermilk. The other difference is that I only had enough dough for the top crust, so I didn't bother with the bottom crust. The crisp, flaky top is the best part anyway. Plus then I didn't have to do any blind-baking (score!). If you want the full Flour recipe, well, you'll have to buy the book. But if you're willing to slum it with the likes of me, here's what I did. It's still pretty awesome.
If you just want a regular pie crust, no funny buttermilk-cornmeal business, just omit the cornmeal and sub in icy cold water for the buttermilk.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
3 to 5 tablespoons buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 small russet potato, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream
For the crust, add the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter pieces and pulse in 1-second beats until you have chunks of butter the size of peas, 8 to 10 pulses. Add 3 tablespoons of buttermilk through the feed tube, and pulse until the dough starts to clump. If it doesn't clump after 12 pulses, add a little more buttermilk, pulsing the motor after each addition, until the mixture clumps together. (You can also cut the butter into the dry ingredients with an electric mixer, a pastry blender, or your fingers. Add the buttermilk in increments, fluffing with a fork, until the dough holds together when pressed.) Dump the dough onto the counter and form it into a ball. Flatten it into a disk about 3/4-inch thick and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
For the filling, heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until it foams. Add the onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it softens a bit. Add the carrot, celery, and potato and sauté, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften. Add the chicken and continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring, until the chicken pieces start to turn opaque. Stir in the flour, mixing to coat all of the meat and vegetables, and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. By this time, the filling will start to look a bit sludgy and a brown film should be forming on the bottom of the pan. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the peas, thyme, salt, pepper, and cream and stir well. Simmer, scrapping up the browned bits clinging to the bottom of the pan, for about 5 minutes or until the filling thickens. Remove from the heat and spoon into a 9-inch pie plate or other similarly sized casserole dish.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface into a circle about 1/4-inch thick and at least 10 inches in diameter. With a bench scraper or spatula, flip one side of the dough over the top of the rolling pin, gently loosening the dough if it sticks to the counter, until it is fully draped over the pin. Center the dough over the filling and unfurl. Gently tuck the edges of the dough down into the gap between the filling and the sides of the plate to enclose. Crimp the edges decoratively if you want or leave as is. Cut a few steam vents into the dough with a paring knife. Place the pie on a baking sheet to catch any overflow. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes on the top rack of the oven until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving. Pie will keep for several days covered in the fridge. To reheat, I actually lift off the crust and heat it on a pan in the toaster oven and heat the filling separately in the microwave. Then I reassemble. That way, the crust is nice and crisp instead of soggy.
Source: Filling adapted from Flour, Too by Joanne Chang
Chicken: Chestnut Farm, Hardwick, MA
Carrots: Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham, MA
Butter: Cabot, Cabot, VT
Buttermilk: Kate's, Old Orchard Beach, ME
Cream: High Lawn Farm, Lee, MA
It was my dad's birthday over the weekend, so the kids and I drove out to his neck of the woods to wander around Old Sturbridge Village for the afternoon. You know how much I love those old-timey reenactment places. They have to drag me out of Plimoth Plantation every year. It's embarrassing for everyone.
But first we needed lunch. My dad's a meat and potatoes guy, so I thought it would be a good time to check out B.T.'s Smokehouse for some true barbecue. I've been hearing murmurs about it, paranoid whispers really, so I figured it had to be good. The place is easy to miss, seemingly tacked on to the back of a gas station, but you can smell it as you drive by. Even with the windows up, there's no mistaking the smoky scent of succulent meats. If you're lucky, you'll bank a hard right turn and squeal into the parking lot without incident.
We all got the pulled pork. One of us maybe should have gone with the brisket, but none of us wanted to miss out on the pork. I stand by my decision. I didn't even apply any barbecue sauce. The pork was so good on it's own, it didn't need a thing. Barbecue perfection as far as I'm concerned. The fries were delicious, too, lightly spiced, and the coleslaw was feral with vinegar. That North Carolina-style tang worked well with the rich meat, I thought. The meal was so good.
If you're headed to western Mass. or New York or wherever you people go in your free time, you'll want to stop by and get yourselves some barbecue for the road. Seriously. You do NOT want to find yourselves starving in the middle of nowhere with no other options than a fly-infested McDonald's inside of a Walmart. Trust us. You will not be sorry. Just head west on the Pike and take one quick exit on 84. Or, if you live nowhere near here, why not try making your own? Crockpot pulled pork is never the same as real barbecue, but it'll tide you over.
B.T.'s Smokehouse, 392 Main St., Sturbridge, 508-347-3188
Photo by Peg Mallett
Last month, I spent several weekends hanging out at some of the winter farmer's markets in the area. The reason I was there was to try to get my winter dessert cookbook into the hands of the people who might like it best: local food lovers. Plus, the ingredients for the recipes could be obtained right there on the spot: apples, squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, maple syrup, honey, cheese, cornmeal.
I've been a frequent shopper for years at the Wayland Winter Market held inside Russell's lush (and, more importantly, warm) greenhouse, but I had never visited the ones in Cambridge or Somerville. I really enjoyed seeing the different spaces and vendors while chatting with people about my favorite subject—food. But perhaps even more fun was eating my way through the stalls.
In the past, I've limited myself to buying only raw ingredients at farmer's markets. I'd pick up a bunch of veggies from Red Fire Farm or Winter Moon, a bag of apples from Apex, and a carton of eggs, but I rarely bought anything pre-made besides cheese. This time, though, when lunch rolled around, I was hungry. I wanted food and I wanted it now. I also had plenty of cash from selling my books (talk about eating my profits). So here are a few of my favorite vendors, some of which can be found at more than one market, some at all three, and some on alternating weeks (check ahead to make sure they'll be there when you are):
Mandy's Seafood Chowder: This is the real deal: Actual seafood—shrimp, scallops, clams, fish—in lobster stock with just a touch of cream and zero gluten. Absolutely delicious by the cup, she also sells little pouches you can freeze and then heat up in boiling water for dinner. The kids love it. Market: Wayland.
Hosta Hill Crimson Relish: Specializing in fermented foods like sauerkraut and tempeh, I fell hard for the crimson relish, a lacto-fermented salsa made with cabbage, onions, carrots, daikon radish, garlic, and a healthy dose of dried red pepper. Great on sandwiches or to snack on with crackers or pita chips. Markets: Cambridge, Somerville, Wayland.
Wolf Meadow Farm Cheeses: Cheesemaker Luca Mignogna makes a mean mozzarella. Ricotta, too. I ate his cheese straight out of the container with a spoon and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. My only question is where is he in the summer when the heirloom tomatoes are out? Market: Cambridge.
Q's Nuts: Fresh roasted nuts? Yes, please. These tasty snacks come in dozens of exotic flavors, but the ones I fell for were the chocolate-orange-cardamom almonds. Markets: Somerville, Wayland.
Tamales from Tex Mex Eats: I got a tip from the woman who runs the Cambridge market to try the tamales. She was right. Chef Amanda Escamilla makes traditional pork tamales that will knock your socks off and put them right back on again. So goddamned good. Market: Cambridge.
Valicenti Organico Fresh Ravioli: Sensing I might be too tired to cook that night, I bought a package of ravioli filled with porchetta, fennel, and chili. I boiled it up and served it straight up with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Delicious! The kids loved it, too. Valicenti Organico has an incredible selection of handmade pastas and sauces made with local ingredients from their New Hampshire farm. They have dozens of seasonal flavors like Pear, Prosciutto, and Gorgonzola, and Roasted Pumpkin with Brie, which can also be ordered online. Market: Cambridge.
Only a few more weeks until the winter is over. Don't forget to visit these markets while you still can. There's local fish and meat for sale at all three locations. Soluna Garden Farm offers hot tea and spices at all three as well. The Somerville market has two doughnut vendors and kombucha. Wayland has gelato (and this Saturday is Cheese Day!). Cambridge has locally made dog biscuits. Go!
Wayland Winter Farmer's Market, Russell's Garden Center, 397 Boston Post Rd., Wayland, MA, 10am-2pm thru March 15 (parking in the rear)
Cambridge Winter Farmer's Market, Cambridge Community Center, 5 Callender St., Cambridge, MA, 10am-2pm thru April (on-street parking for Cambridge residents or cheap parking at the Green St. garage)
Somerville Winter Farmer's Market, Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Ave., Somerville, MA, 9:30am-2pm thru March (parking in the rear)
I've had a nice little break from book events over the past few weeks, but then I looked at the calendar and realized that winter is almost over. Yes, indeed. Only seven short weeks of fricking freezing weather until the first day of spring. GREAT NEWS! Except that once we hit mid-March, nobody will even be able to entertain the notion of a winter-themed cookbook without feeling the urge to stab the author in the neck with an icicle.
So thank you to everyone who bought WINTERSWEET this fall and winter, especially those of you who bought multiple copies! It is my best work (not counting my kids), and I really appreciate your support. A few more events are coming up in case you haven't been able to get your hands on it. For those of you who don't eat sugar, don't need any more cookbooks, can't spend any more money, are on a diet, don't bake, can't read, don't really like the cut of my jib, this is what I suggest so you can feel good about yourself in the morning: buy the book, read it through, and then regift it next Christmas. Or better yet, Valentine's Day. Who's to ever know? Surely you must know someone who does eat sugar, could use a few more cookbooks, can't spend any more money but would happily spend yours, isn't on a diet, is on a diet but not likely to stay on one, does bake, learned to read, or might actually like the cut of my jib. I'd be willing to bet this book would make that someone very happy.
Here's where you can find me:
Sunday 2/2, 2pm: West Falmouth Public Library, 575 West Falmouth Highway, West Falmouth
Saturday 2/8, 10am-2pm: Wayland Winter Farmer's Market, Russell's Garden Center, 397 Boston Post Road, Wayland
Saturday 2/15, 10am-12pm: Somerville Winter Farmers Market, Center for Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville
Saturday 3/1, 10am-2pm: Cambridge Winter Farmers Market, Cambridge Community Center, 5 Callender Street, Cambridge
Thursday 3/13, 7pm: Barnes & Noble, Shopper's World, 1 Worcester Road, Framingham
Now's your chance to get your very own signed copy and perhaps do a little farmer's market shopping while you're at it. You can also purchase the book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie bookstore (e.g., I just signed a bunch of copies for the New England Mobile Book Fair this week).
My fallback plan whenever there's nothing in the house but some ground meat is to make a simple hash with onions and potatoes. It's something I remember my mother making when I was little and something my kids now love, too. In fact, the 11YO loves it so much, he's become rather picky about what's supposed to be an unfussy dish with ever-flexible parameters. Observe:
Him: This isn't as good as last time.
Me: It's a little different. Last time I used sausage. This is ground beef.
Him: The sausage was better. The chunks of meat were bigger. And the potatoes weren't so small. And they were squares.
Him: Don't worry, you'll get it right next time!
I'll get it right next time? Looks like someone's going to be learning how to make his own hash in the very near future!
If using plain ground beef or pork, I like to add a mashed clove or two of garlic and spices like garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, and maybe a pinch of ground ginger or cloves. Sometimes I'll add some dried thyme, sage, or fennel seeds. You can also season it with Worcestershire sauce, which is what I remember as a kid.
2 tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil
1 lb. ground breakfast sausage or any other ground meat of your choice
2 to 3 medium starchy potatoes, like Yukon gold, unpeeled
1 yellow onion, chopped
Salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce to taste
Heat 1 tablespoon of fat in a large skillet and brown the meat, breaking up the pieces into mini-meatball nuggets, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Cut the potatoes into large chunks and add them to a blender. Fill with enough water to cover the potatoes. Pulse the motor several times until the potatoes are cut into smallish shards. You're not trying to puree the potatoes, merely chop them small. They smaller they are, the faster they cook. Keep the potato pieces in the water so they don't turn brown. (You could also just chop them instead.)
Heat the remaining tablespoon of fat in the same pan and cook the onions for 4 minutes until they're translucent and lose their crunch. Pour the potato mixture through a strainer over the sink to drain the water. Add the potatoes to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Return the browned meat to the pan and add the seasonings of your choice with plenty of salt and pepper. Cook 10 to 15 minutes more until the potatoes are done and everything smells delicious. Serve with some kind of vegetable. Any leftovers made a great pizza topping or frittata filling.
Early last week, I stuck a large maple-cured ham from Chestnut Farms into the crockpot on Tuesday morning and let 'er rip for 8 hours until we arrived home from soccer practice that night. I tugged a few pieces off for dinner and the rest went into a big bowl in the fridge. For the rest of the week, anytime anyone asked for food, I directed them to the bowl of ham. Plenty of ham, kids. Just go grab some ham. I may have heated up some frozen edamame or made a half-hearted salad over the course of the week, but mostly, it was just ham. Dessert, you ask? Get a spoon and scrape some maple glaze off that ham! (For someone who was baking cake after cake, I sure was stingy with the sweets. I did save them some hermits, though.)
So I'd like to thank the pig that made last week's party preparations possible. Needless to say, the kids are happy things are back to normal again. Except for the day I came home with Brussels sprouts from Brigham Farm. It didn't take long for my younger son to yearn for the good old days of the ham bowl!
Toast some slices of baguette brushed with olive oil. Spread each slice with goat cheese and season with black pepper. Select a pint of fresh, ripe figs. Cut each fig in half and then into thirds or quarters. Arrange the fig wedges on top of the goat cheese, three or four to a slice. Drizzle with local honey and sprinkle with fancy sea salt. I also dusted them with fennel pollen, which I realize is a totally random thing to have in your spice collection, but sometimes I get a little out of control at Formaggio Kitchen. You could also use crushed fennel seeds in small amounts or a pinch of lavender buds or nothing at all. Serve immediately.
Keep in mind that fresh figs are very perishable. Don't buy them more than a day ahead of time or they risk moldifying. Soft ones are best—gently squeeze them to assess their firmness. Wilson Farm in Lexington and Russo's in Watertown have had some nice-looking figs lately, just FYI. Dried figs won't have the same delicate flavor, so save those for something else.
I can always tell when the wild mushrooms are out because at least one of my shiitake logs will start producing. They like heavy rains and major temperature changes. This stump is usually my worst producer, but it gave me mushrooms the size of salad plates last week. One of my other logs produced several shiitakes of a more reasonable size.
For lunch over the weekend, I made a stir-fry of Asian eggplant, shiitakes, garlic, scallions, and basil.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
I've spent a fair bit of time over the past few weeks helping to get the kids' school garden cleaned up and productive. A lot of the weeding involved removing mint bent on world domination. I thought of saving it to make pesto, but it was the wrong kind of mint. This tasted more like peppermint. While peppermint pasta doesn't appeal, I couldn't see throwing all of that perfectly good mint into the compost. Plus all that weeding makes you hot and sweaty. Soon I was craving something cool and refreshing. And minty.
Mint chocolate chip was always a favorite flavor of mine growing up, but I'd never made it at home. Turns out, there's nothing to it. Tear up the mint leaves and steep them in hot milk until cool, strain out the greenery, and proceed with the usual steps. Drizzling some melted chocolate over the churned mixture as you pack it into a container to freeze gives you instant chocolate chips (you get to use your favorite chocolate, too). It's a nice reward for an honest partial-day's work.
I make my ice cream the old-fashioned way: with organic raw eggs. You are not required to do the same. If you're worried about salmonella, your options are many: Use pasteurized eggs instead. Or leave out the eggs entirely for a very serviceable Philadelphia-style ice cream. Or pull out your favorite cooked custard-style ice cream cookbook (like David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, for example) and modify this recipe using egg yolks and a thermometer. Or pull out your favorite cornstarch-based, egg-free, gelato-style ice cream cookbook (like Jeni Britton Bauer's Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream at Home) and modify, modify, modify. It's your kitchen after all.
1 cup mint leaves (or more), packed
1-1/2 cups milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Tear up the mint leaves and add them to a small saucepan with the milk. Heat the milk until little bubbles form around the edges. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit until cool. Refrigerate until ready to use (the longer it sits, the more flavor becomes infused). Strain the mixture into a medium bowl, pressing on the leaves to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the leaves.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar a little at a time, then whisk for 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and minty milk, and whisk for another minute until the sugar is dissolved. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions (usually spin for 25 minutes).
While the ice cream is churning, heat the chopped chocolate on top of a double boiler (if you don't have one, improvise your own by setting a metal bowl atop a smallish saucepan with an inch of simmering water; the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water). Stir the chocolate until melted and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer the churned ice cream mixture into a freezer-safe container in layers, messily alternating big spoonfuls of soft ice cream with drizzlings of melted chocolate. Freeze until firm, at least 8 hours.
I've only camped a couple of times in my young adulthood, and both times were with people much more experienced than I, people whom I felt confident could wrestle a bear if it came down to it, so that I might have a chance to run away. In a family camping situation, though, I'm pretty sure the bear-wrestling responsib-ilities lie with the parents, and so I put it off and put it off. Until our trail-savvy neighbors invited us to go camping with them for two nights in New Hampshire. Their bear-wrestling potential was off the charts according to my calculations, enough to cover two families easy, and so I felt comfortable finally taking that leap.
We camped at Gilson Pond Campground at the base of Mount Monadnock. As soon as we arrived on Friday evening, nature made itself known with a symphony of birdcalls not often heard in our backyard: eastern wood-pewee, hermit thrush, ovenbird, northern parula, black-throated green warbler. The 7YO knew them all and was immediately in his element. Meanwhile, the 10YO wasted no time taking inventory of the various caterpillars and moths on display. Check out this giant luna moth:
Caterpillars were everywhere: on the bathhouse walls, dropping from the trees. By the end of the trip, we were literally coated in caterpillars. The three boys got busy building them a mossy habitat out of sticks, leaves, and clumps of ground while we set up the tents. I know the little leaf-eaters are bad for trees, but they're so much fun for kids. Gypsy moth caterpillars in particular are so fuzzy and lively, like tiny tubular kittens.
Speaking of tubular, dinner that night consisted of a variety of extruded, pre-cooked meats like hot dogs, bratwurst, and some andouille sausages from North Country Smokehouse. The latter I bought on a whim because: a) their bacon is delicious; and b) they're made in New Hampshire. Eat like the locals, right? The sausages were fabulous. Spicy and awesome. Perfect camping food. We also had blueberries and slaw I shredded up from my farmshare veggies the night before. Afterwards, we toasted marshmallows and made s'mores because we would be fired as parents if we didn't have s'mores on our first family camping trip.
Tucked into their sleeping bags that night, both boys declared the past four hours to be the best camping trip ever. But there's more, I said, and began detailing our plans for the next day. They didn't hear. They were already asleep.
Mother's Day got off to a great start this year. First, I was treated to a homemade pancake breakfast courtesy of Husband, which included his famous blueberry pancakes, bacon, and fresh fruit. The kids presented me with some sweet handmade cards (I find it interesting that my youngest still draws me with short cropped hair even though it's been down to my shoulders for a while now). We spent most of the day at the park kicking a ball around, and then we decided to go out to dinner at Mulan, the new Taiwanese restaurant that opened in Waltham where the old Beijing Star used to be. It's the second outpost of the original Cambridge location, which had received favorable reviews from Husband and his lunchtime companions.
Things weren't looking too good at first, as we stood on Main St. outside Mulan. The line was long, which always makes Husband antsy, and the kids were requesting things that weren't on the menu. It was starting to look like mutiny. In this case, mutiny would take the form of dinner at the Ninety Nine Restaurant instead. Now, don't get me wrong, I'll take the Kids Eat Free special at the Ninety Nine once in a while when the Red Sox win, but not on Mother's Day. I refuse. So I scolded everyone into submission, knowing that it meant one more strike against a potentially good meal.
But what actually happened is that we got seated within the 20-minute window they predicted. I've never seen anyone so competently manage a crowd as the woman running the hostess station. Friendly is not the word I'd use to describe her demeanor, nor entirely rude, but she got the job done efficiently. When she barked her orders, everyone listened, and that place moved like clockwork.
We got a big table right in the middle of the room, where the kids proceeded to devour the salted peanuts and pickled vegetables set in the center of the table. They sampled the tea, and liked it. Because we ordered our food while we were still waiting outside, the dishes began arriving 5 minutes after we sat down, which meant the kids had no chance to even think about whining. The boys are somewhat adventurous eaters at home (not necessarily by choice), but we haven't challenged them too much when it comes to restaurants. We've gone to a few Chinese or Thai places over the years, but mostly we opt for the typical kid-friendly fare, like pizza at Flatbread or a burger at the Warren Tavern after the 10YO's soccer win in Charlestown. Our thinking boils down to this: When we go out to eat, we don't want a fight. Also: If we're going someplace exotic, let's not bring the kids! On the other hand, they're old enough to try new experiences, and the older one actually seems to enjoy it.
The garlicky green beans arrived first. There were no utensils in sight, so the kids grabbed the chopsticks and started practicing. I feared it would devolve into angry frustration and possible tears, but they always managed to get the food into their mouths somehow. The older one got the mechanics down pretty quickly despite the awkward logistics of a left-hander trying to teach a right-hander how to do anything. The 7YO developed his own style where he clutched the chopsticks down by the tips and kind of wedged the food in between them. It worked just fine. It helped that they absolutely loved the green beans.
Next, in quick succession, came the eggplant with basil, scallion pancakes, chicken wings, crispy salt and pepper pork chops, crab rangoon, and big bowl of noodle soup for the 10YO. (Yes, we ordered way too much, but it was Mother's Day, damnit!) The kids absolutely devoured the chicken wings and pork chops. The scallion pancakes and crab rangoon weren't their favorites. No problem. More for Husband and me. But, aside from the green beans, it was the eggplant with basil and chilies that absolutely blew my mind. I have GOT to try to make this at home. They used the miniature fairy tale eggplants we get in our CSA and it was absolutely fantastic. Even the kids said it was "okay" (the kids have never liked eggplant).
Everyone had a great time, the prices were good, and the kids enjoyed reading their fortunes. Best of all: we had leftovers enough for a whole other meal the next night so I didn't have to cook. Both kids even asked for chopsticks!
Mulan, 835 Main St., Waltham and 228 Broadway, Cambridge (Kendall Square), MA
Who got married? Nobody, yet. I'm making a wedding cake for a friend in November and let's just say I need a little practice. I've never made a wedding cake before. I've never had any desire to make a wedding cake before. But you do crazy things for friends, so I thought I'd better do a few test runs so I don't ruin her wedding by mistake. (Sure, she says she doesn't care how it looks—only how it tastes—but take it from the woman who ended up buying two wedding dresses because she thought, who cares about the stupid dress? You WILL care. You'll care a lot.)
Test Run No. 1 was last week's Waltham Fields fundraiser. They needed dessert to feed a crowd and I needed someone to eat 100 pieces of cake—someone that's not me—so it worked out well. Since it was a farm fundraiser, I stuck to vegetable-themed cakes, for which I have many awesome recipes if I do say so myself. The bottom tier was carrot cake, the middle tier was chocolate beet cake, and the top tier was butternut squash cake, all slathered in cream cheese frosting. Waltham Fields donated all the veggies. I donated many, many curse words as I attempted to assemble the whole impossibly heavy thing and then fit it into my refrigerator.
The process of baking the cakes went fine, though six cakes in one day was a new record for me. The assembly is what takes forever. You have to trim the cakes to be perfectly flat and level, shaving off microscopic crumbly layers over and over because you keep making things worse. You have to whip up at least five batches of frosting. Each tier is a double layer cake, so you fill and frost two stacked cakes for each tier. (Some bakers cut each layer in half horizontally so each tier has four layers, but I was suicidal enough as it was. Plus, that's the wrong frosting-to-cake ratio in this case.)
I like to apply a crumb coat to layer cakes, which means you apply a really thin coat of frosting all over to trap the crumbs and then refrigerate the cake until the frosting stiffens to lock them in. Then you can apply a final crumb-free coat afterwards. Sounds easy, right? NOT!!! It's really hard to get the frosting to be completely flat and wrinkle-free. It doesn't want to be that way at all. Every time you lift up your icing spatula, it leaves a mark. And every time you set it down to erase the previous mark, it leaves another mark. It's an endless maddening cycle, but, whatever, I did the best I could.
Here's the real problem, though. Once you get all of your cakes nicely frosted and you're feeling fairly proud of yourself, how the fuck do you then stack 20-pound cakes on top of each other, all perfectly centered, without leaving draggy marks in your nice frosting job as you pull your fingers out from underneath? Can somebody please tell me? Because I'd really love to know.
The other problem was that the finished cake was so heavy, I literally could not lift it. I couldn't do it! You may remember how much trouble I had carrying a regular-sized carrot cake a short distance last year. I've been working out, I swear, but the cakes keep getting bigger. I don't know how much this cake weighed (my kitchen scale doesn't go up that high), but here's a quick estimate based on the ingredients I used: 10 pounds of sugar, 5 pounds of cream cheese, 4 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of vegetables, 3 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of oil, 2 pounds of eggs, 1 pound of nuts, 1 pound of chocolate, and the board weighed 3 pounds. If I know simple arithmetic, that means the cake must have weighed at least 455 pounds. Luckily, Husband is strong. (I'm pretty sure he was sore the next day, but he'll never admit it.)
Here's another thing I learned: disassembling and serving wedding cakes is an unbelievably messy process. There's a reason why they take the cakes in the back to slice them: There's cake and frosting flying all over the place. I think the caterers who observed my amateur cake-wrangling skills were horrified. Once you take the tiers apart to slice them (and you need to do that or else you'll end up with an engineering disaster), the frosting in between the tiers gets suctioned right off by the cake directly above it. That means half the pieces end up with no frosting at all. Mind you, I had a GIANT bowl of leftover frosting back at the house that I could have used, but I didn't think I'd need it. None of my Wedding Cakes for Dummies books I took out of the library mentioned the bald cake part. They were all, bring a little frosting for last-minute touchups!, so I brought my little sandwich baggie of frosting that I then had to smear across 45 pieces of cake in a nearly invisible layer.
This is why you need test runs.
Anyway, all three layers were moist and delicious, and the cake as a whole didn't come out half as hideous as I thought it would be. I went for the rustic, spackled look, as you can see, adding a little texture to the sides to hide imperfections. I should probably practice piping frosting embellishments one of these days, but, for now, I'm just glad I have another 3 or 4 months before I have to do this all over again for Test Run No. 2.
(and, if you're wondering, no, those are not Martha Stewart's stupid truffle eggs. They're Jordan almonds, the ubiquitous Italian wedding favors, which just happen to work perfectly for springtime cakes.)
I think we could all use a party to lift our spirits, don't you? If you happen to be in the Boston area, Waltham Fields Community Farm is having their annual fundraising fete this Friday 4/26 at the Charles River Museum of Industry. There will be local food, wine, music, and a silent auction for all kinds of great stuff, like restaurant gift certificates, local art, shares at nearby farms, and sports tickets. It's like eBay but for a good cause (and what you buy doesn't turn out to be a piece of crap!).
This year, the food will be prepared by JJ Gonson and friends of Cuisine En Locale, and I will be making some kind of giant cake for dessert. What kind of cake? Well, I guess you'll have to come to find out. It's always a good time. For more information or to buy tickets, click here.
You know what I'm talking about. Back in high school, everything is poised to get better. The braces will be pried off soon. The glasses can be traded in for contact lenses, maybe even the kind that turn your muddy eyes a cool shade of aquamarine like a mood ring. You're finally easing up on all the Aqua Net (step away from the can of hairspray, Tammy). The ugly duckling becomes a swan and all that crap. Meanwhile, you're making a little cash throwing together sandwiches on the weekends and you feel real smart with that diploma in your hand.
The world is yours for the taking!
In high school, you can't wait for college. In college, you look forward to getting out of college because all this studying is putting a damper on your social life. Plus, you want a fun job with a decent paycheck. You want a mode of transportation besides your own two feet. Dates at fancy restaurants. A place to live that's not a dump. Vacations. Soon you have some stuff, and you like your stuff, but you want something more. You want love. You want a family of your own. Then you get a family of your own and, for the whole first year, you can't believe what a horrible mistake you've made. No more dates at fancy restaurants. Your place becomes a dump. Vacations take on an entirely new and unwelcome meaning. Sometimes you wish you'd just stayed home.
But then you learn to stop being so selfish all the time and things gets better. Your family becomes your whole life. Does anyone else have kids as awesome as yours? NO WAY! IMPOSSIBLE! And then you realize something. Your kids are halfway through their childhood already. They're going to spend the whole second half hating you. And then they're going to leave.
They say you get better with age, but in what way specifically? Nicer? I don't think so. If anything, I'm getting more crotchety and even less charitable behind the wheel of a car. Wiser? Uh-uh. By my calculations, I'm getting stupider by the day. I've always been a wee bit forgetful, but this is ridiculous. I left my coat somewhere last week. At the library? At Walgreens? Where? How did I not notice my coat was missing? True, it felt colder, but all that ran through my head was: That's New England for you. One minute you're toasty warm in your nice winter jacket and the next minute you're shivering by the parking meters fumbling for change while the icy wind sucker punches you in the spleen and there's no logical explanation for it whatsoever. (I still haven't found it, by the way. My coat. It's puffy and gray with a big hood.)
The other night I looked in the mirror and realized that it's all downhill from here. This is as smart/healthy/attractive as I will ever be for the whole rest of my life. And, I'll be honest, the bar didn't seem very high.
Is this what a midlife crisis looks like?
This recipe is stupefyingly simple. I don't even use stock anymore, just water. It's silky and surprisingly sweet. Snip a few chives on top and you have something tasty and healthful to warm you up on a chilly spring day when your coat is nowhere to be found.
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups water (or veggie stock)
1 pound parsnips, peeled, cored*, diced
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Sauté the chopped onion and celery for 4 to 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Don't let the vegetables brown. Add the garlic and sauté for 15 seconds until fragrant. Add the water or stock and the parsnips. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the parsnips are soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool and purée in a blender or with a stick blender until perfectly smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 2 or 3. The recipe can be doubled (just be sure to purée the soup in half-batches if using a blender).
*Some parsnips have a woody central core that runs from top to bottom. To remove it, I usually just slice the peeled sides right off the core, which is a slightly different color. (Then chop up the sides and discard the core.) But if you're not sure exactly where or how big the core is, you can also quarter the parsnip the long way. Then you can see it a lot better. Just trim along the interior edge of each quarter with a paring knife to remove it.
I love the public library for many reasons, one of which is free access to a huge collection of cookbooks. I take great pleasure in parasitizing old and new releases alike, serendipitously latching onto a select few food titles and not letting go. Sometimes they're not exactly what I expected once I get them home, but other times, they're so much more.
Such was Rustica: A Return to Spanish Home Cooking. I have a soft spot for Spain, having spent a formative period of my life exploring its less famous corners. The food in this cookbook is not necessarily the food I remember. It's more the style of the food that strikes me now, so in tune it is with the seasons and the local bounty. Not everything appeals to me (Cold octopus terrine? No, thank you.), but much of it does. White beans with wild mushrooms. Shrimp fritters. Simple tomato salad. Quince pies with ricotta and honey. I ended up flagging so many pages that I finally made Husband buy it for me for Valentine's Day (nothing spells love like a list of demands).
Last week, I made the goat cheese ice cream (helado de queso de cabra). I spooned some dried cherries soaked in anisette over the smooth, rich custard. Whoa. This ain't ice cream cone material. Save it for something special. One small scoop in a fancy bowl with a spoonful of cherries is all you need. Amazing!
Goat Cheese Ice Cream with Dried Cherries and Anisette
The original recipe called for fresh cherries, but, since they're out of season at the moment, I substituted dried tart cherries and macerated them in anisette. It's lovely, but if you're not fond of anisette's licorice flavor, feel free to substitute brandy, red wine, or water.
5 large egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
8 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
3 oz. dried cherries
4 oz. anisette
In a large bowl, mix the egg yolks and sugar until combined. (Save the leftover egg whites in the freezer for macaroons or pavlovas.)
Pour the cream into a small saucepan and heat it over medium heat. As soon as it comes to a boil, remove the pan from the heat. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream into the egg mixture to temper the eggs and prevent them from scrambling. Slowly whisk the egg mixture into the pot of cream. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Do not let it boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the goat cheese. Let cool completely. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Pour into a container and freeze until scoopable, 6 to 8 hours.
For the cherry topping, simmer the dried cherries in the anisette in a small saucepan for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the cherries are soft and the liquid is reduced to a syrup. Remove from the heat and chill until cold. (I like the resulting subtle anise flavor, but for a stronger hit, add a splash of anisette off the heat.) Serve a scoop of ice cream with a tablespoon or two of cherries and syrup drizzled over the top.
Source: Adapted from Rustica: A Return to Spanish Home Cooking by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish
Goat cheese: Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery, Websterville, VT
Cream: High Lawn Farm, Lee, MA
Eggs: Chip-In Farm, Bedford, MA
This was supposed to be part of my Tuesday Tease series of lazy photo posts, but then it suddenly became Friday. No problem—I changed the title to Friday Freeze. Seemed apt. Then Friday came and went. Now it's Saturday. Saturday Sneeze strikes me as too disgusting of a post title to be paired with a bowl full of yellow snow, so you're stuck with the outdated title (and an image in your mind that you probably wish you didn't have). You're welcome!
In my forthcoming cookbook, there are several recipes for homemade snow cones. And by homemade, I do not mean pouring a package of powdered Kool-Aid over the snow. While the Internet assures me that this is a perfectly delicious way to enjoy snow cones, the Internet disappoints me sometimes. After experimenting with various homemade syrups, I came up with some excellent alternatives using seasonal winter fruits like citrus, pears, and quince (pictured is tangelo). I stored them in jelly jars in the refrigerator and then waited for the snow to come.
And waited and waited and waited. Mind you, this was last winter (2011/2012). The winter before that (2010/2011), we got 80 inches of snow. Last year, nothing. Well, maybe a few dustings here and there, but only enough to make one pitifully small grassy snow cone flecked with dirt and debris. Not appetizing. I thought about driving up to the mountains with a cooler. Instead I pulled out the blender. Bad idea. You can't make snow cones with a blender. Not with my blender anyway. Not unless you like soupy slush cones studded with frequent whole nuggets of ice. Yuck!
Finally, I broke down and bought a cheap $20 shaved ice machine. It worked well for testing purposes, producing an acceptable snow-like accumulation in small quantities. But I had yet to try my syrups over the actual cottony stuff from the sky. Until recently, that is. And, oh, it's such a treat!
One of my favorite chapters to write in my cookbook was the cheese chapter. This is not just because I adore cheesecake, though let's be honest, that was a large part of it. It was also because it gave me a perfectly legitimate excuse to fan out a large wad of cash at my local cheese shop and not feel guilty about it in the least. The good folks at Formaggio Kitchen steered me toward more than a dozen local cheeses I hadn't tried before. Then I coerced friends and family to help me work my way through them all. Here are some of my favorites:
Tarentaise, Spring Brook Farm, VT: I could not stop eating this cheese to save my life. This was a surprise since I'd never heard of it before. But I'm a sucker for Gruyere, and this alpine-style raw cow's milk cheese was practically a dead-ringer. Call me head over heels for its irresistible nuttiness. I'd love to try it in fondue except I keep eating it all before I can get it into a pot!
Hannahbells, Shy Brothers Farm, MA: Pictured above, these tiny thimble-sized, soft-ripened cheeses are made in the French style from cow's milk on the southern coast of Massachusetts. They taste great, creamy and bright, but the cute factor is an added bonus when putting together a special cheese plate. Even I, with my stone-cold heart, couldn't help cooing over them a little. (The farm also makes a delicious fresh tangy curd called Cloumage, similar to creme fraiche or quark, that is very worth trying.)
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Cabot and Jasper Hill Farm, VT: We buy Cabot cheddar all the time at the local Hannaford—the kind you melt in grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas. This is not that kind. These aged 34-pound wheels of bandaged cheddar are a special project between Cabot, a large local dairy cooperative; Kempton Farms, the small family farm specially selected to produce the milk; and the singular artisan cheesemakers at Jasper Hill Farm. The cheese is brushed with lard (vegetarians take note) and aged for at least 10 months to produce a toothsome, complex, nutty cheese that flakes and crumbles and fractures like shale under the knife. It wins awards almost every year, and this year I finally tried it for myself. It is astonishingly good. With caramelized leeks spooned on top, it was perfection. If you want to experience how amazing cheddar in this country can be, this is it.
Other cheeses I enjoyed: Pillowy fresh goat cheese from Hillman Farm in Colrain, MA was spectacular warmed in the oven, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Ada's Honor, a semi-firm, mold-ripened goat cheese tomme from Ruggles Hill Creamery in Hardwick, MA, was served with local blueberry preserves and made everyone at the table very happy. The brie-like Moses Sleeper and washed-rind Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farm had many fans, as did the assertive Mossend blue from Bonnieview Farm, VT.
Any of these would be a great addition to your holiday cheese plates. After all, the best way to ring in the New Year is with ample amounts of cheese.* **
*Unless you're vegan
The temperature is dropping, my fridge is full of root vegetables, my counters piled high with squash: it's about time I shared with you my new favorite fall dish!
I'm calling it a cobbler, because I'm still in dessert mode, but it's basically a vegetarian pot pie or savory casserole. Tender chunks of autumn vegetables scented with tomato, garlic, and marjoram are topped with a cheddar biscuit crust. I used carrots, celery root, and acorn squash, but you could sub in a parsnip or two for some of the carrots, and use any other kind of winter squash you like. This recipe is based on one from Bistro Cooking at Home, a book written by Boston's own Gordon Hamersley. I had many a fine meal at Hamersley's Bistro back in the day when I wrote the food column for the South End News. Since then, this book has allowed me to engage in a little fine dining without having to pay for a babysitter or try to remember where the hell to park (reminder to self: NOT on Washington Street).
Anyway, this dish isn't fussy, but it does require a fair amount of cooking time to get those veggies to be so meltingly tender. Plan accordingly. I've had several requests for the recipe at a recent dinner party, so here it is.
Autumn Vegetable Cobbler with Cheddar Crust (print-friendly version)
Don't be alarmed by the amount of liquid you add to the vegetables. It looks like too much, but it's not. Trust me, it will absorb and thicken into a lovely gravy-like sauce. I think fresh marjoram is absolutely perfect here, but you could also use fresh thyme or a teaspoon or so of dried marjoram, thyme, or oregano.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch rounds
1 medium celery root, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 acorn squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups water (or veggie or chicken stock)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 to 1-1/3 cups heavy cream
1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
Pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese (not shredded--you want small flecks)
Heat the oven to 400°F. In a large sauté pan, heat half of the oil and half of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery root, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are browned, about 7 minutes. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a 13x9-inch casserole dish or roasting pan. Melt the rest of the oil and butter in the hot skillet. Add the acorn squash and sauté until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes, then add to the casserole dish.
Increase the heat to high and add the white wine, tomato paste, and water (or stock) to the sauté pan. Bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, lower the heat, and simmer for about 3 minutes. Add this liquid to the casserole, sprinkle with marjoram, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the vegetables are just tender, about 30 minutes.
While the vegetables are baking, make the topping. In a food processor, whiz together the flour, salt, and baking powder until combined. Add the butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal (20 to 30 pulses). Empty the contents into a bowl and stir in 1 cup of cream, garlic, and pepper. If the mixture is too dry, add more cream. Mix in the grated cheese just until it holds together. Let rest. (You can also make the biscuits by hand, cutting in the butter with two knives or a pastry cutter.)
Remove the veggies from the oven and take off the foil. Using a large spoon, dot the surface of the vegetables with Ping-Pong ball-sized dollops of biscuit dough. The topping should be lumpy and bumpy. Return the casserole to the upper third of the oven and bake, uncovered, until the topping is cooked and browned, about 25 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
Source: Adapted from Bistro Cooking at Home by Gordon Hamersley and Joanne McAllister Smart.
Onion, carrots, celery root, squash, garlic: Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham, MA
Butter, cheddar: Cabot, Cabot, VT
Cream: High Lawn Farm, Lee, MA
Marjoram: My plant that I somehow managed not to kill this year
Okay, people, I've been wanting to share this recipe with you for years, and I can't wait any longer! I had hoped to get better at barbecuing first. I've been waiting and waiting until I could competently maintain low, smoldering coals for six hours at a time without letting the fire go out. But it always goes out. Then I overcompensate by building a flaming inferno that rages on seemingly forever, until I grow bored and start doing something else, and then the fire goes out again. It would seem I don't have enough stamina for the slow-burning fire marathon that is southern barbecue. I can get the coals really, really hot or really, really cold. There is no in-between.
I was skeptical the first time I made pulled pork in a slow cooker. Wouldn't it be a shadow of its barbecued self? But you know what? It's great! It's fantastic! On a scale of 1 to 100, awesome minus 2 is still awesome! Yes, it's not as wood-smoky as it otherwise would be. I added a little smoked paprika to the spice rub to help out with that. Yes, it still takes a looong time to cook, but you don't have to DO anything. No coals to tend, nothing. It cooks all day while the cook's away/at play/on the bidet.
This time, I cooked up two pork roasts at the same time. I knew we'd eat it all and we did. The 9YO is over the moon for this stuff, and ate three big piles of pulled pork after deciding the roll was interfering with the full meat experience. Then he threatened to sneak downstairs at midnight and eat some more. He won't get too far, though, because my money's on Husband to beat him there, hiding in a dark corner of the dark kitchen, hissing, eyes aglow like a startled raccoon. Me, I won't try to compete. I can eat all the pulled pork I want in my dreams and never have to leave the bed!
So, it's up to you this Labor Day if you want to cue up the BBQ and do some actual labor or cue up the crockpot and labor ironically. Either way, you're in for some good eating!
Cheater's North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork (print-friendly version)
Start the night before by applying the dry rub and shaking together the barbecue sauce for best results. However, I've thrown it all together that morning and it still comes out great. I'm partial to the vinegar-based barbecue sauce for which North Carolina is known, but if you have your own favorite sauce, feel free to sub it in. Serve on a roll with coleslaw!
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika (I like to go half and half with sweet and smoked paprika)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
3- to 5-pound pork shoulder or Boston butt, bone in or out
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional)
Shake together all the sauce ingredients in a mason jar until the salt dissolves. Refrigerate.
Mix all the spices together in a small bowl. Dry off the meat with paper towels and rub the spice mixture all over. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. If you don't have that kind of time, proceed to the next step.
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil until hot. Brown the meat on all sides to get a tasty outer crust. Again, if you're in a hurry, you can skip this step. (It does make it better, though.)
Transfer the meat to a slow cooker. Pour about 1/2 cup of the barbecue sauce over the meat. Cover and cook 4 to 6 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low. The meat should be very tender when poked. Remove it to a cutting board. Pour the liquid in the slow-cooker into a measuring cup and let it sit undisturbed. Shred the meat with a fork, pulling it apart and place it in a large bowl. Pour off the fat from the top of the liquid in the measuring cup, and reserve the dark sauce below. Pour a few tablespoons of the dark sauce over the meat and toss (not too much, as it can be salty from the rub).
Make sandwiches by piling pulled pork onto bulky rolls, dressing with the remaining barbecue sauce or more of the brown pan drippings, and topping with homemade coleslaw.
The Barbecue Method
If you want to try your hand with the barbecue, here are my notes. This should work, theoretically, if you're diligent about adding enough coals every hour. It does take some practice, but if the fire does go out, just throw it in the slow cooker on high and call it a day!
Soak 4 cups of wood chips in water for 30 minutes (I use hickory). Preheat the grill (I use a chimney starter filled 3/4 of the way up with charcoal, bottom stuffed with newspaper, and lit from underneath with a match). Once the coals are ashy (about 20 minutes), dump them onto the bottom grate on one side of the grill. Place the cover on the grill, poke a thermometer through one of the holes in the vent, and close the vent a bit to get the temperature down to 300°F. Once there, add some soaked wood chips to the coals and replace the top grate.
Add the meat to the grill on the opposite side as the coals. Try to maintain a grill temperature between 200° and 225°F. Don't let the fire go out (haha, have fun with that!). To get the temperature higher, open the vent more. To get the temperature lower, close the vent more. Every hour, add 10 or so more coals and another handful of wood chips (grill grates often have hinges that allow you to lift up one side to add more coals/chips). Baste the meat with barbecue sauce and replace the cover immediately. Smoke 5 to 6 hours. When the meat is tender and nearly falling apart (an internal temperature of 190° to 195°F), remove the meat from the grill. Let rest. Shred the pork.
Pork: Chestnut Farms, Hardwick, MA