Saturday, July 31, 2010

Of Pepper Jelly and Sauerkraut



My friend Anne stopped over yesterday afternoon with a basket of peppers from her garden. I added peppers from my CSA haul and we commenced to making Pepper Jelly.

If I do say so myself, "YUM"

Pepper Jelly: makes about 10 pints

Get your food processor out to make quick work of all the chopping.
Finely chop (mince)
1 1/2 cups red bell peppers
1 1/4 cups green bell peppers
1 1/4 cups hot peppers (I used Ancho, cherry bomb and jalapeno, seeded)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 (1.75 ounce) packaged powdered pectin (SureJell)
5 cups white sugar

Sterilize 8 to 10 (6 ounce) jelly jars and lids and bands.
Heat the water in your canner

Place all the peppers, vinegar and pectin in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. When the mixture comes to a rolling boil, the kind that cannot be stirred down, add the sugar all at once and return to a full rolling boil. Cook for exactly 2 minutes.

Ladle hot jelly into the sterile jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean cloth to insure a good seal. Put lids in place and screw on bands finger tight.

Place in canner, bring water to a boil and process for 5 minutes at boiling. Remove jars from canner and place on a clean kitchen towel to cool, listen for the pops to insure the jars have sealed properly*. Let cool 12 to 24 hours. Store in a cool, dark cupboard.

In this house we eat pepper jelly over cream cheese, then spread on crackers. My friend Anne said she topped grilled steaks with pepper jelly and received raves all around!

A Cook's Notes: If you want Hotter, Spicier pepper jelly do not remove the seeds from the hot peppers.
*If any of the jars failed to seal you can reprocess or place in refrigerator and eat within one week.

Since the food processor was already out we decided to try our hand at making homemade sauerkraut. All you need is cabbage, kosher salt and a large crock.

Two green cabbages (about 4 pounds total), shredded to no thicker than a nickel
4 tablespoons Kosher Salt (do not use table salt)

(you need 1 tablespoon of salt per pound of cabbage - so make as much or as little as your crock will hold. DO NOT use any aluminum utensils or pots)

Mix the salt with the cabbage, tossing with very clean hands until the salt is dissolved and the cabbage begins to dewater. Pack the cabbage and any juices very tightly into your crock (a plastic bucket will also work)





Keep packing the cabbage down, using your fists and some muscle power. When you get to within 4 inches of the top of your crock, stop. Press down on the cabbage, you should see brine coming up to the top. Great! If not (this happens with old cabbage) make a little brine using a cup of water and a teaspoon of salt.

Now fill a gallon ziploc bag with salted water. Place inside another ziploc bag and seal. Place the bag(s) on top of the cabbage, making sure the entire surface of your cabbage is covered. This will keep the cabbage weighted down. Cover tightly with plastic wrap - two layers. Now cover with a heavy kitchen towel and secure it with twine or rubber bands.

Put the crock in the basement or garage or somewhere where the temperature will stay below 75 degrees.  Now just walk away. Mark your calendar for 3 weeks. Check for fermentation. If the cabbage is not sour enough for you, repack and wait another week.

You can freeze or can the sauerkraut once it reaches the desired tartness. Keep in mind canning it will reduce the tartness a bit so better to go with more tart than less.

A Cook's Notes: Absolute cleanliness is important if you are going to make a good, safe sauerkraut with no mold. Sterilize your bowl, utensils and crock. Wash your hands with soap and very hot water.

I'll check back with everyone in 4 weeks as to the status of the 'kraut'. Hot Dogs anyone?

Friday, July 30, 2010

CSA Share Week 10 and Herbed Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes



OH MY.

Those were my exact words as I sauntered up to the farm to pick up my share this week. The bushel size box could not hold all the produce.

Blueberries
Peaches (10)
Green Beans (2 lbs)
Cabbage (1)
Assorted Squash (8)
Scallions
Oriental Eggplant
Green Bell Peppers (2)
Purple Pepper
Hot Peppers (cherry bomb (2), jalapeno (4), ancho (2), white fire (2), serrano (2), long hot (2), sweet banana (2) I am canning sweet/hot pepper jelly this afternoon.
Sweet Corn (8)
Bi-color sweet corn (8)
Tomatoes (4)
Cauliflower
Basil
Cilantro
Nectarines (3)
Swiss Chard
Musk Melon
Kale

I spent a little time (39 minutes, I timed myself**) yesterday afternoon peeling, par boiling and stripping sweet corn. I now have several bags, about 12 servings in all, sitting prettily in my freezer waiting for a cold winter day when I will microwave that corn and get a taste of East Coast Summer.


I like to think about the circle of life of this corn. The corn will feed my family today, tomorrow and this winter. These husks will go into my composter, which will feed my garden next spring in the form of fertilizer. The produce from my garden will feed my family next spring and summer and so on and so on and so on.


While I was peeling the corn I put some Kale in the oven to crisp up. Oh, you never heard of that? YUM. Heat the oven to 400. Spray the kale with a little olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and bake for about 10 minutes. Check it. If it's crisp it's done. If not, bake for another 2 or 3 minutes. Cool. Tastes like potato chips. TBHITW likes a few red pepper flakes sprinkled on his. He's a spicy kind of guy.



This afternoon I am making my first ever batch of Pepper Jelly. I love this little relish served with cool cream cheese and spread on a cracker, it is like eating the Fourth of July! If it gets good I'll share the recipe.

My kitchen window is filling up with tomatoes and eventually I will make marina sauce that will either go into the canner or freezer but for now we haven't had our fill of fresh, garden sweet tomatoes. Having tomatoes on your window sill make dinner planning easy. Something fresh, something fast, something satisfying.

Things that make me happy, fresh tomatoes and basil

Herbed Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes: serves 4

1/4 cup assorted fresh herbs (I used basil, rosemary, sage and thyme), chopped (reserve 1 tablespoon in a medium bowl)
5 cloves garlic, sliced
3 tablespoons good olive oil
3 tomatoes, diced (try to save all the juice by cutting over a bowl) Place tomatoes in the same bowl as reserved 1 TB herbs.
12 ounces cavatelli pasta
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Pour olive oil into a small skillet. Heat over medium flame and add the garlic. Cook just until the garlic sizzles.

Immediately, remove from heat and add herbs. Set aside.

Mix the tomatoes and reserved fresh herbs in a medium bowl. Add a splash of very good balsamic vinegar. Set aside.




Now put a pot of salted water on to boil. Add the cavatelli and cook according to package directions. Drain and toss with the olive oil / herb mixture. Place in a bowl and pass along with the tomato mixture. To assemble, place some pasta on your plate, top with the tomato / herb / vinegar mixture and top with fresh parmesan. It's like a summer party in your mouth!


A Cook's Notes: You can serve this as an appetizer, main course or side dish. A simple grilled chicken breast or grilled shrimp round out this dish beautifully.

**I am not OCD. I timed myself because I was curious to see just how long processing a dozen ears of corn actually took me. In thirty-nine minutes I could not get into my car, drive to the grocery store, and buy frozen corn and drive home. Certainly the frozen, store bought corn would not be as good - both in flavor and nutrients as my homegrown, home frozen corn. Just saying....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beach Day and Updated BLT's


I spent the morning at the beach. By myself. Just thinking. Staring out into the waves.

When the sun got too warm I went for a swim to cool off. The waves were gentle swells that lifted me up and down, up and down. The water temperature was "walk in perfect". The air temperature hovered around 90 with no humidity.

Every now and then I like to spend the day by myself; alone with my thoughts, just keeping myself company. It is rejuvenating getting reacquainted with oneself. What do you do to get back in touch with you?

Updated BLT's: makes 2 sandwiches

With tomatoes now ripening in droves it is time to update a summertime classic. I used fresh mozzarella, basil, prosciutto and avocado to give the classic BLT a face lift.

6 pieces of bread, toasted
2 ripe tomatoes (preferably home grown)
6 slices prosciutto
4 leaves romaine lettuce
4 slices fresh mozzarella
10 leaves fresh basil, washed and dried
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced

Slice tomatoes and place in a shallow pan. Add mozzarella slices, basil and avocado. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Set aside.



Wash romaine and place on a plate. Set aside.

Pan fry prosciutto until slightly crisp. You may need to spray the pan to add a smidgen of oil. Drain on paper towel.

Toast bread.

To assemble:

Lay one piece of toast in front of you. Add 2 slices of mozzarella, top with tomato and basil. Top with 2nd. piece of toast. Top with prosciutto and lettuce. Smash avocado slices into last piece of toast, place on sandwich. Slice down the middle. Repeat to make other sandwiches.

I served the sandwiches with fresh picked corn on the cob and ice cold beer.


You can build the sandwich in any sequence - the flavors will all come through no matter the order.

Friday, July 23, 2010

CSA Share Week 9 and Peach Cobbler and Peach Ice Cream

My CSA Share just keeps getting better. Every week brings more and more farm goodness to my table, my larder and my freezer - all arriving just picked fresh waiting for my 'instructions' on what to become.

The first thing I do is divide the amount of produce that we can eat absolutely naked. By naked I mean 'out of hand'. Blueberries, apples, peaches, lettuces, herbs and tomatoes all fall into this category.

Next, I count out how many servings of fresh produce I can cook and we can eat over the coarse of the week.

The rest I process. By process I mean can, freeze or make into something else (ie: peach ice cream)

This week's basket of fun includes:

Lodi Apples (2 - Lodi's are for cooking, not eating fresh)'
Blueberries (1 quart)
Peaches (10)
Green Beans (2 pounds)
Sweet Corn (8 ears)
Basil
Mixed Squash (6)
Tomatoes (3)
Onions (1 each: yellow, red, white)
Mixed Italian Beans (1 pound)
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Cilantro
Bell Peppers (2)
Assorted Hot Peppers (10: 2 each: jalapenos, ancho, cherry  bombs, long hots, sweet banana)
Beets (3)
Turnips (3)
Red Cabbage (1)
Kale
Collards
Kohlrabi

Beets, turnips, kohlrabi, onions and cabbages all store extremely well so I don't have to do anything with them for a bit. Although homemade coleslaw sounds inviting on a hot summer day, doesn't it?

Beans, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, the greens, tomatoes and peppers will all get eaten fresh, along with some of the peaches and the blueberries.

The rest of the peaches (I bought an extra 1/2 bushel) are getting turned into:
Peach Salsa (canned)
Sliced Peaches (canned)
Peach Cobbler (dessert tomorrow night)
Peach, Cinnamon and Maple Ice Cream (for the cobbler)

We are having guests for dinner tomorrow night and my goal is to serve ONLY food that has been sourced locally. We are having roast squab (NY) with gingered currant sauce. On the side I am serving wild rice and Lodi Apple stuffing. The bread basket will feature Corn Fritters. Steamed broccoli and cauliflower medley will round out the dinner plate or perhaps I'll feel more like steamed green beans, we'll see. For dessert I am making peach cobbler with peach ice cream that has been sweetened with maple syrup and scented with cinnamon.

If you are coming, bring your appetite and a bottle of wine.

Peach Cobbler: makes 6 to 8 cobblers depending on the size of your ramekins


For the filling:
2 cups peaches, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons sugar

Wash and peel the peaches. Slice each peach into 8 slices, place them in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. This will bring out the natural juices. Set aside (at room temperature)

Cobbler Dough:

2 cups all purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup whole milk - cold
1/2 cup heavy cream - cold
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder and stir with a fork to blend. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender or pulsing a few times with your food processor. DON'T CUT THE BUTTER TOO SMALL. YOU WANT SOME CHUNKS

Combine the milk, cream and vanilla. Pour into the dry ingredients. Using a spatula, FOLD the milk mixture into the flour - gently. The dough should be very wet and sticky with visible lumps of butter.

Place a little butter cube in the bottom of each ramekin. Spoon peaches over. Tear off tablespoon size pieces of dough and place several on top of each ramekin full of berries. It's okay to not cover completely. Sprinkle with a little sugar. 

Place ramekins on a cookie sheet (preferably with a rim - for cook-over)

Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until top is golden brown and berries are bubbling. Serve warm with ice cream of your choice.

Peach Ice Cream (sweetened with maple syrup and scented with cinnamon)

1 1/2 cups 2% milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups peaches, peeled, cut into small pieces)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Place peach in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup sugar and macerate with a fork. Let stand at room temperature about 45 minutes, using fork, smash peaches every 15 minutes or so. Set aside.

Pour milk into a large bowl. Add maple syrup and whisk to combine. Add cream, vanilla and cinnamon and stir to combine. 

Pour milk and cream mixture into your ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's suggestion. The last 5 minutes of processing, add the peach and any syrup that accumulated. Process for 5 more minutes. Freeze until desired consistency.

Serve with warm peach cobbler.

Dinner starts at 7:00 pm.

What are you doing this weekend? How will you incorporate your local produce into your meal plan this week?

Ice cream waiting for the addition of peaches


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Flowers and Minted Pea Crostini

I love to grow flowers but have never been talented at arranging them in a vase.

Of course, when Mother Nature supplies the beauty even I can't screw them up.







Minted Pea Crostini: Makes about 1 dozen

1 loaf french bread, sliced on the angle, 12 pieces about 1/3 inch thick
2 cups fresh peas
4 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
juice of one lemon
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat broiler.

Arrange french bread slices on a cookie sheet. Broil for 30 to 60 seconds, just until the top of the bread is golden. Set aside.

Place peas in microwavable dish, add 1/4 cup water and microwave for 4 minutes. Drain and cool slightly.

Place peas, mint and lemon juice in bowl of food processor, process until almost smooth. Add goat cheese and process again until smooth.


If puree is too dry drizzle some extra virgin olive oil into the bowl and process again using on/off bursts. Add salt and pepper to taste, process.

To serve:

Turn bread over so that toasted side is on the bottom. Pile minted pea puree on untoasted side and serve as crostini. OR serve with tortilla chips and a variety of raw vegetables. The pea puree also makes a beautiful bed for grilled shrimp, scallops or fish. Makes about 2 cups.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.


I am taking this to my sister Jen's house today. Sister M is meeting me there where we will sit around the pool, eat crostini, drink margaritas and talk sister talk. That's the kind of day I'm having. How about you?
What kind of day are you having?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Land Update and Angels on Horseback

We took a trip up to our land yesterday to measure and stake the footprint of our barn/workshop that is going up this week and next.

This is what happens when you leave a meadow to Mother Nature:


We waded through maidenhair fern and larkspur and wildflowers as well as plants I have yet to identify. The meadow has turned into an ocean of plants, birds and grasshoppers. All the trees have leafed out and it is unbelievably beautiful.

It has been dry here in the Northeast and we were anxious to see if the stream was still running.

It is.


Holly Bear found the whole adventure absolutely invigorating and we were delighted to spot fish in the stream!


Sometime within the next 2 weeks our first "out" building will be completed. We will then have the electric company run electric up the side of the meadow and will have the workshop/barn wired. Power! This will allow us to camp on the land and will eventually serve as our builder's staging area. Next steps, well, septic, house.

In the meantime I am contracting with a local farmer to bushwack the meadow, then plow out a section.  Next spring I will be able to begin planting.

And so it goes.

Angels on Horseback: 1 dozen serve 2 as an appetizer

I love oysters in all types of preparations but TBHITW likes them one way, and that's this way.

1 dozen oysters
1 bunch fresh greens (spinach, arugula or collards.. whatever is in season) cooked, drained, then chopped
1 lemon
Tabasco sauce
12 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
4 pieces bacon, cut into 3 pieces each

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Shuck the oysters, keeping the oyster meat on on half shell.
Squeeze lemon juice over each oyster
Place a few drops Tabasco sauce on each oyster
Top each oyster with some greens
Top each oyster with 1 tablespoon panko
Top each oyster with a slice of bacon

Bake for 10 minutes, then run under broiler for 30 to 60 seconds to crisp up the bacon.




A Cook's Notes: Boston Blue Point Oysters are among my favorite variety of oyster. They are plump, firm and sweet. If you are not familiar with opening oysters, ask your fish monger to do it for you or to show you how. You will need to purchase an oyster knife. It is not hard to master once you open your first couple bivalves. You insert the knife in the valve (the hinge) at the back of the oyster. Once it is inserted, you just turn the knife and the valve is broken. Then, sliding your knife through the oyster, the top of the shell just falls away. Really. You can do it. If I can start a small farm at my age, you can open an oyster!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Growing Pains and Personal Pizza

When my oldest bouncing baby boy graduated from high school he immediately enlisted in the United States Navy.

College did not interest him even though a wresting scholarship was within his grasp. Instead, he dreamed of becoming an air traffic controller. In the civilian world you have to be 21 years old to be accepted into a training program. Happily, he was able to graduate high school several years before turning 21. :-)

So off to the Navy he went where he could receive training in air traffic control before the age of 21 AND see the world and do all manner of sailorly things.

After his initial four year tour he re-enlisted for another two years; Navy life apparently suited him. During those six years of service to our country I dutifully drove or flew to many ports to witness the spectacular vision of a returning air craft carrier group.

I can't begin to describe to you the emotion of standing on a dock with thousands of other family members waiting for our sailors to come ashore after months of sea duty. Five thousand plus sailors line the deck of the carrier - all waiting for the order to begin their leave.



It is Navy tradition that new fathers off board first (those whose babies were born while they were at sea) next, by rank come the enlisted men, then officers, by rank, with the last man on board the Commander.

Witnessing the reuniting of families, months separated by water and sometimes conflict, is one of the most emotional, gut wrenching, fulfilling moments of my life and I can assure you, not a dry eye can be seen on that dock.

Anyway, after six years of service, my boy had grown up. All on his own. On a base, on a ship, in a foreign port he went from gangly teen to competent man. I was not there to witness his slow ascent into manhood. The Navy was his mother and father for those years.

After six years he was honorably discharged and decided to continue his education using his much earned GI Bill. During this time he moved back in with me.

When a grown man who has travelled the world (several times) and has served his country well moves in with you, there are really hardly any rules that can be applied. The one rule I did have was that his evening dates not show up at my morning breakfast table. He more or less followed this rule. Ahem.

The point of this post is that I have never lived with a 20 year old going through the growing up into manhood stage. Until now. Jacob is now 20 years old and is, um, growing up. He has a new relationship with a lovely girl from our hometown. He is, as TBHITW put it, thoroughly smitten.

Jacob has informed us that he and "L" are going on vacation this August together (remember my lamenting about family vacations?)... Oh. He 'informed' us by the way, he did not ask us for permission or ask if we thought this was a good idea.

Double Oh. He told us they were thinking of driving to Montreal for a few days to 'see the sights'. Hmmm.. Let's review:

You live in my house during the summer and all school breaks and sometimes come home on the weekends during the school year.
You drive a car that is registered to me. (ie: I bought it)
You go to college during the winter and your father, TBHITW and I dutifully pay a $gazillion dollars a semester in order for you to attend.
You take all your meals from the refrigerator in my kitchen. You put nothing into that refrigerator other than your hand.
When you need clothes, shoes, books, etc. you use the American Express card in your wallet whose bill comes payable to your father (TBHITW) and I.
Your health insurance, car insurance, cell phone, etc is all part of a "family" plan - payable by, you guessed it folks - TBHITW and myself.
Double Hmm..

Does anyone else have a problem with this 'vacation plan'? Playing house is all well and good when you are out and about and responsible for yourself. But the way I see it, this 20 year old is NOT responsible for himself. He is living off the fruits of our labor still. I am not complaining about that, we gladly accept the responsibility of providing for him while he is in college and educating himself in order to SUPPORT HIMSELF.

Am I old fashioned? Hopelessly unaware and behind the times? Is it me who is experiencing growing pains? What would you do? What would you say to the vacation with girlfriend plan?

Quick Pizza for Two:

Two store bought personal pan pizza shells
1 large ripe tomato (preferably home grown), sliced thinly
6 ounces buffalo mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil, roll up like a cigar, then slice thinly.
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Lightly brush each pizza shell with olive oil
Divide tomato slices evenly among the pizza shells
Top with basil, then both cheeses.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes directly on the oven rack until crust is crisp and cheese is bubbling.


A Cook's Notes:  The day after 9/11, instead of going to his graduation ceremony,  my oldest re-enlisted in the Navy explaining to me that our nation, now more than ever, needed experienced men. He continues to serve in the United States Navy to this date. Yes, bouncing baby boy, you are all grown up and this mama is mighty proud of you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Check Up and Pan Fried Trout

I had a check up today with my cardiologist.

No, I have never had a heart attack. Or a stroke. And my heart is healthy and happy residing in my chest.

Four years ago my family physician became concerned about a slight elevation in my blood pressure and an audible 'extra beat' in my heart. Because of a family history (my dad and his dad before him) of heart disease she sent me to a heart specialist for a check up.

Dr. F, my cardiologist, is a very thorough doctor. He ordered a stress test and echo and blood tests and ultrasound of my heart. He poked and probed and asked many, many questions. He had me meet with his in house dietitian and also enrolled me in a long term study of people who:
1. have a family history of heart disease
2. do not currently have heart disease
3. are genetically predisposed for heart disease (yes, there is a blood test that can determine your genetic predisposition to heart disease and stroke)

The purpose of the group study is to determine if early intervention through diet and exercise and screening can prevent heart disease and/or stroke.

I had a stress / echogram this morning as part of my yearly exam and am happy to report that after four years, I am STILL healthy and showing no signs of heart problems. In fact, my heart is HEALTHIER today than it appeared to be on the echo four years ago. My blood pressure is excellent - in fact, just a tad low which we will discuss during my next visit.

I believe, truly believe, that adapting a local, seasonal, organic (where possible) diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, omega rich fish and grass-fed, free range animal products has contributed to a clean bill of health.

What do you think? What do you do to contribute to your overall wellness on a daily basis?

Pan Fried Brook Trout: (2 servings)



Sustainable, economical and locally caught rainbow brook trout, what could be better?

2 fresh trout fillets
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup corn meal
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
olive oil spray (or other spray type oil)*
1 lemon, quartered

Rinse and pat dry your trout fillets. Lay fillets out on your work surface, skin side down. Run your finger down each side of the fillets feeling for any bones. Using a needle nose pliers (I keep one in my kitchen drawer just for fish) pull out any bones you may feel.

Mix flour, cornmeal, dill and a sprinkle of salt and pepper in a shallow pan. Spray MEAT side of fish (not skin side) with olive oil. Lay meat side down in flour/cornmeal mixture, pressing down to adhere flour to meat.



This is what your fillets will look like once you have them coated (meat side only)


Heat butter and olive oil in a pan, preferably cast iron until very hot, add trout coating side down and cook over medium high heat for about 4 to 5 minutes or until fish releases easily and coating is crisp.


Turn and continue to cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Serve meat side up with lots of fresh lemon wedges. The tender fish meat will pull right off the skin.

A Cook's Notes: I served the trout fillets with a simple salad of ripe tomatoes, basil, olives and fresh mozzarella cheese with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

*I bought a sprayer (called a Misto) and fill it with whatever type of oil I want to use. A few pumps and voila! no more store bought cans of spray oil. Economical, reusable and able to use a variety of oils.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Family Vacations and Warm Duck Salad with Gingered Currant Sauce

Many of you may recall that my youngest is away at summer camp in a counselor in training program (CIT) for four weeks this summer. This is the same camp he has attended for the past five years only this year, instead of being just a camper, he is learning to work with children as young as seven years old and also earning his lifeguard, CPR and first aid certifications.

If all goes well, the camp will hire him next year as a junior counselor; a paid position. I have fully supported him in this quest and it seems very likely he will be hired on full time next summer. The other counselors and the camp director have all indicated that they like him, he is responsible and a great candidate.

What I didn't fully realize until yesterday when I took him back from his weekend 'laundry' break is that next year, full time means the ENTIRE summer. From the first weekend after school breaks until the last weekend before Labor Day.

This brings me to the sudden realization that our last 'family vacation' was our last family vacation. I want that time back! With one grown child, two kidadults in college and our youngest in his last two years of high school everyone is running on their own schedules. This past Easter was the first time we went on a 'family' ski trip minus one member. This year, we will be down two members and next summer? All three 'not growns' will be doing their own thing... I am used to the married one being out on his own, but this is getting out of hand. All of them? Leaving us?

We have been blessed with many wonderful, happy memories of travels as a family. Camping across this beautiful country together; rafting the Grand Canyon, riding on horseback into the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, hiking Acadia in Maine and watching the sunrise at the first sunrise spot in the country, atop Mount Cadillac. Iceland - land of opposites, sailing among icebergs in a harbor, bathing in hot springs, hiking a glacier in the land of the midnight sun. South Carolina summers, digging in the sand, laughing as we all tried our hand at surfing, big family BBQs on decks overlooking the ocean - skiing out west and long lazy weekends sliding down slopes here in the north east. Fantastic memories all. Why didn't I know that each and every trip would be leading up to a last trip.

I want my last family vacation back. Had I known it was the last time we would all be together I would have savored it. I would have watched them all more closely. Maybe stayed up later with them. Sang louder at the campfire. Been more patient about clothes and wet towels strewn everywhere. I would have held it all closer in my heart.

With each ending I know there is a beginning, I just have to find the new thread and start it.

Hmpf.

Warm Duck Salad with Gingered Currant Sauce (serves 2)

2 boneless duck breasts*
salt and pepper
1/2 pint currants
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
6 to 8 pieces chrystallized ginger
4 cups mixed greens

Take duck breasts out of the refrigerator one hour before cooking. Score the skin on the diagonal, then score again, cutting across the first diagonal to form diamonds. Be careful to not cut into the meat, only down to it. This will aid in releasing the fat under the skin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.


Wash and spin greens. Plate with two cups salad on each plate. Add any other vegetables you like. I added matchstick carrots, baby heirloom tomatoes and sliced radishes. Set aside.

Pour water and sugar into high sided saucepan and bring to boil. When sugar is dissolved add currants and ginger. Continue to boil for about 5 minutes or until mixture is syrupy and reduced by half. Place in a bowl with a small ladle.



Now place a frying pan over medium high heat and add duck breasts skin side down. Turn flame down to medium and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes. Have a heat proof bowl ready. Pour off the fat as it renders out of the skin and continue to cook until skin is dark and crisp. Turn.



Cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Meat should be a rosy pink; medium to ensure it is tender and moist.

Plate duck breasts and let rest for 10 minutes. Tent to keep warm.

Slice duck breasts on the diagonal and arrange slices on top of greens. Spoon currant sauce over meat and serve immediately.



Savor the meal and every moment you get to spend with family and friends. Everything happens in a blink of an eye.

*A Cook's Notes: I like Hudson Valley Cage Free Duck Breasts. And no, they didn't pay me or give me duck breasts to say that - they are just reliably flavorful and moist with an added plus of being humanely raised.

Friday, July 9, 2010

CSA Share Week 7 and Summer Pie

Woo-wee! It is getting to be something around here.

This week's box of goodies contains:

Sweet Corn (fresh picked corn on the cob!!)
Blueberries
Peaches
Currants
Gooseberries
Kale
Kohlrabi
Green Beans
Summer Squash
Broccoli
Tomatoes
Collards
Garlic
Cauliflower
Cabbage
Sugar Peas
Cucumbers
Sugar Plums

I am canning peaches and peach salsa this afternoon and am going to pickle some cauliflower as well. I now have two heads of cabbage so I'm thinking of coleslaw this weekend. The beans, tomatoes, peas and other greens we will eat fresh. Same goes for the blueberries and any peaches left from canning (there should be about a half of a dozen left). I am going to make a currant sauce for some duck breasts I have which will be dinner Monday or Tuesday. The gooseberries will keep in the freezer for sauce at another date. Since this is the last of the currants and gooseberries (it is just too hot) I'll feel good having some 'on hand' in the freezer.

Now about all these summer squashes coming into being. I made this pie last year and it was a hit, I've tweaked it a little bit over the winter and think it will be even better this time around.

Enjoy. And don't forget to visit a local farm this weekend, buy something new and send me an email at thegoodcooknj@comcast.net for Ask Me Monday. Who knows, come Monday evening dinner you could just fall in love with a brand new fruit or vegetable dish.


Summer Pie  serves 8.

2 baby yellow squash
2 baby zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1/2 sweet onion (such as Vidalia)
3 ounces Goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced thinly
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup marina sauce (optional)

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups flour (I use 3/4 cup white and 3/4 cup whole wheat, but you can use all white if you want)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
3 tablespoons shortening, cold
3 tablespoons ice water

Place flour, salt, pepper, butter and shortening in food processor. Process until it looks like cornmeal. Add ice water, process until dough forms ball. Shape into disk and refrigerate 30 minutes. 
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out dough and fit into a 9 inch pie plate.

Filling:

Using a mandolin (or if you have really good knife skills) slice squashes 1/8 inch thick.
Slice onion into half moons
Slice red pepper into very thin strips.

Place goat cheese crumbles and basil in bottom of pie crust. Lay tomato slices over goat cheese and basil. Arrange vegetables around edge of pie shell, 2 yellow, 2 green, 2 red pepper, 2 onion slices. Repeat around pie, continue in middle until shell is filled. It will look like this:



Drizzle olive oil over top, season with salt and pepper and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until crust is golden and squashes are soft. Serve with warmed marina sauce on the side that can be spooned over the warm slices of pie. Can be enjoyed warm or at room temp. 

The best part besides being colorful and nutritious? It's only 245 calories per slice when cut into 8 wedges. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Birthday and Fresh Peach Salsa

TBHITW had a birthday this week.

He is the hardest man in the world to buy a present for or to surprise. Really, he is. It's not that he HAS everything - it is that he doesn't WANT anything.

This year I was bound and determined to give this wonderful man something he would really enjoy. Something he didn't already have. Something he would remember.

I finally pulled it off.

TBHITW likes jazz music. He listens to it all the time. One of his favorite jazz bands is Spyro Gyra. He has never heard them perform live.



I found out that Spyro Gyra was playing on a dinner cruise around Manhattan FOR JUST ONE NIGHT. ON TBHITW's VERY BIRTHDAY.

I arranged for a car service to pick us up at the house and drive us to Chelsea Pier in New York where we boarded The Spirit cruise ship for sightseeing, dinner and live music. After the cruise the same car service picked us up and drove us home. No traffic worries, no train schedules, no parking woes. It was a perfect evening full of all the beautiful city sites that living so close to NY we tend to forget.

And TBHITW was happy and relaxed and glad to have a birthday surprise.

Is there a more beautiful skyline?


See the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance, past the sailboats?


It was a perfect evening for sailing.

Is there a more glorious site than our Lady Liberty?

Happy Birthday Husband. Let's spend the next 100 or so together! 


Peaches are IN! Fresh, plump, sweet, juicy and fragrant. Eating a peach on a hot summer day is one of life's simple pleasures. Peach Salsa runs a close second.

Fresh Peach Salsa: makes about 2 cups

2 local peaches, peeled, pit removed and diced. Try to catch all the juices by peeling and cutting over a bowl.
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 large ripe tomato, deseeded and chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled, deseeded and chopped
2 scallions, chopped, include some green
1 small jalapeno pepper, deseeded and chopped fine (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Mix all the ingredients together. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to meld flavors. Serve with cold boiled shrimp, grilled salmon, pan roasted halibut or simple pita toasts.

Have you ever been able to pull off a really good surprise? What was it? Who was it for? Don't you just love it when a plan comes together? Don't you just love making someone you love happy?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Word Cup, A Psychic Octopus and Calamari





From the NY Daily News:





CAPE TOWN, South Africa - All of Germany is in an uproar about what an octopus picked for dinner, and that does not bode well for the country's national team.
Paul the octopus selected the container that had the flag of Spain on it Tuesday, picking the Spaniards over the Germans in Wednesday's semifinal encounter in Durban.
Paul has been on target in his previous five choices for Germany. The selection was considered so important that two German TV networks interrupted regular programming to televise his decision.
"We were all a little bit shocked when Paul picked Spain," said Tanja Munzig, a spokeswoman for Sea Life in Oberhausen told Reuters. "To err is not only human; animals can also make mistakes. Let's hope Paul got this one wrong."

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/worldcup2010/2010/07/07/2010-07-07_paul_the_prognosticating_octopus_selects_spain_over_germany_in_world_cup_semifin.html#ixzz0t0h0jfEr




I'm thinking that if Paul doesn't change his pick he could end up as tonight's special pick. If you know what I mean. 


Calamari with Pineapple and Peanut Dipping Sauce: serves 4 as an appetizer






1 pound fresh calamari, cleaned, in rings and tentacles
flour for dredging (about 1/4 cup)
2 eggs, beaten slightly, seasoned with salt and pepper
corn meal for dredging (about 1 cup)
oil for frying (I like peanut oil for this recipe but feel free to use canola or vegetable)


One four ounce can pineapple tidbits, drained and chopped (reserve juice)
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, roasted* and chopped slightly
1 jar your favorite salsa


*To roast peanuts, place in a small fry pan over medium heat. Toss and turn until slightly browned and fragrant. 


Place salsa in a shallow bowl and add chopped pineapple and peanuts. Add some pineapple juice a tablespoon at a time until dipping consistency. You want a slightly 'wetter' salsa than what you would use for chips. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve. If not using within an hour or so, refrigerate and bring to room temperature before serving. 


Pour flour in a sealable plastic bag and season with salt and pepper. Toss in the calamari and shake to coat the calamari evenly.


Working in small batches, shake excess flour off calamari and dip in egg, then in cornmeal. 


Fry in batches, removing golden calamari to drain on a rack placed over a rimmed cookie sheet. Serve hot with the pineapple / peanut salsa on the side. 


Leftovers? All bets are off when you serve your guests this. 


A Cook's Notes: If you want to ensure your calamari is tender, not chewy or rubber band-like, buy only fresh calamari from a reputable fish monger. Don't freeze it and use it within 1 day of purchasing. Make sure your oil is very hot (375 degrees) and fry quickly. 





Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Day Off and Vodka with Bitter Lemon and Lime

After much cajoling (aka nagging) I convinced TBHITW to take the day off from work yesterday.

I told him the rest of the country was taking the day off and he should too.

Reluctantly, he agreed. He also agreed with my pleas that we should go to the beach for the day. A real day off. No lawn mowing, no filing, no laundry, just a relaxing day reading and swimming by the sea.

Uh, did I mention yesterday that the REST of the country took the day off too?


In addition to a crowded beach it also happened to be the hottest day of the century. OF THE CENTURY*

*I don't know if this is true, but it was HOT. Like 100 degrees HOT with no breeze, although there could have been a breeze but with so many people how would you know?

After about 3 hours on the very HOT and very CROWDED beach I began to sing my death knell. My death knell sounds something like this,

If I don't get a gin and tonic right now
I'm sure I'll die.
If I don't get a vodka and club soda with a lime right now
I'm sure I'll die.
Die, die, die.

It didn't take long before we packed up our meager beach supplies:


And headed to the nearest watering hole. 

Did I mention that I have third degree burns on the bottom of my feet from the HOT sand? Did I mention that I was wearing shoes when I got those burns?

Anyway, we dragged our scorched, sweaty bodies back to the car lugging our meager beach supplies behind us. The car was only parked 7 or 8 miles from the beach and across a causeway and down an alley but we prevailed. Sometime around mile four I began singing my death knell again. 

If I don't get a gin and tonic right now
I'm sure I'll die.
If I don't get a vodka and club soda with a lime right now
I'm sure I'll die.
Die, die, die.

After stowing our stuff we headed to the nearest bar we could find. Forget luxury. I was on the LAST verse of my death knell. 


Salvation, at last. 

Until we realized that the entire area was suffering from a black-out from an overloaded electrical grid due to the oppressive heat wave. No service. Anywhere. 

We dragged our dehydrated, sweaty, hot, suffering bodies back to the car and headed home. HOME! To central air! To vodka and club soda and tonic and water and shade. 

Forty minutes later I was in my perfectly cooled kitchen. Two glasses lined up on the counter. Vodka, chilled. A fresh bottle of Bitter Lemon at the ready. I reach into my freezer and discover that we have no ICE. NO ICE. Someone has neglected to fill every stinking ice cube tray in the freezer. 

TBHITW went back to work today. He may never take a day off again. 

Vodka and Bitter Lemon with Lime Wedges. (serves two)

A LOT OF ICE
2 large (16 ounce) glasses
4 ounces chilled vodka
1 quart bitter lemon tonic water
1 lime, cut into wedges

Pack both glasses with ice. 
Pour 2 ounces vodka into each glass.
Add 2 lime wedges to each glass.
Pour bitter lemon tonic water into each glass to the rim. 
Stir gently. 
Rest, relax, sip. Never leave home again. 


A Cook's Notes: this is an actual bar. It is called St. Mark's Place.

St. Mark's Place:

A seedy almost-landmark on St. Mark's Place between 1st and 2nd Avenues, the misleadingly named Holiday Bar (it's not exactly that inviting a spot on the inside) is renowned for spectacularly slow and/or poor service from its octagenarian bartender. He will happily pretend not to hear or see you and ignore or entirely snub you if he doesn't like the look of you, which is more often than not. Don't come here if you're really in need of a quick drink. There's a brief scene in the arguably flawed cinematic adaptation of Jim Carroll's "Basketball Diaries" shot here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Count Your Blessings and Your Freedoms - and get tarted up with Cherry Tart

Happy Independence Day.

Let's not forget the sacrifices made by so many for our multitude of freedoms.

We, as a nation, are blessed.

And if you are so inclined, get a little tarted up for the 4th.



Cherry Tart: (makes four, 5 inch tarts or 1 big pie)

Your favorite pie crust (for a two crust pie)
4 cups fresh cherries, washed and pitted (halved)
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
big dash cinnamon
pinch salt

Stir the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, corn starch and salt into the cherries. Let rest 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350.

Line your tart pans or pie pan with dough.

Spoon cherry mixture into pan(s). Top with other half of dough. Cut a decorative pattern out the scraps and 'glue' them on the top crust using some milk or cream.
Make a few slits in the top crust to vent the steam. Brush top of dough with milk or cream.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until filling is bubbling and crust is golden.

A Cook's Notes: 


The Pledge Allegiance: 

I pledge Allegiance to the flag 
of the United States of America 
and to the Republic for which it stands, 
one nation under God, indivisible, 
with Liberty and Justice for all.


When was the last time you recited these words? When was the last time you really thought about the meaning behind the words? I PLEDGE my life, my support, my loyalties to the United States of America. I salute her flag - and all that she stands for. We are ONE nation (black, white, Asian, Arab, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, et al) We are strong. AND we believe and we SWEAR that in our land, there IS liberty and justice for everyone.

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