Posts Tagged ‘Food’

16 September Weekly Update

September 16, 2012

Harvests this week:

Harvest 1

butter beans, field peas, the very last green beans (hurrah, we’re tired of picking and canning them at this point and they’re just relentless), cucumbers! and yellow summer squash! (in Mid-Sept!), sweet and hot peppers of all kinds.

A day’s picking from the Garden

Seeded another box of carrots this week. The box was slated to be our early spring carrot box but since the tomatoes were removed and the fall carrot box germination is less than stellar (too much August heat), we decided to go for a second fall box. It’s probably a bit late for a good fall harvest crop; so maybe they’ll have to be overwintered. We also seeded some more head lettuces in the box where heavy rain did a number on our lettuce seedlings.

Fresh lettuces

Even more

We looked critically at the watermelon and winter squash plants – they made it through this week, but the upcoming week doesn’t look good for them in our plans.  We also reseeded a few lacinato kale seeds, which are being slow getting up and running so far. One of the california wonder pepper plants started wilting all over for no apparent reason; we picked the 4 mostly red peppers and pulled up the plant.

Just yesterday we had noted that we needed rain; today it is raining.

I verbalized (in my brain) the slow-down on the cooking part of this blog this week.  In the past 3 years I’ve really refocused on my cooking – I’ve had experience cooking all my life, known some famous chef people, cooked in restaurants, done all manner of things related to it.  And I really thought when we started this blog that I’d be contributing regularly to the cooking side of what we do.  And while there have been, and will continue to be, recipes that I’m particularly fond of that I want to put up here, most of what I’d have to relay to others isn’t about recipes at all.  It’s about techniques. If you know techniques and styles, then recipes start to become superfluous.  Cookbooks find themselves at a loss for “yellow squash” recipes; but the truth of the matter is that I know a score of different ways to do a squash – but they’re all simple and should be fairly obvious to almost anyone.  Molecular gastronomy isn’t necessary for great food – in fact, my opinion is that you have to be five times the cook to get equally pleasant results from molecular gastronomy as someone else can do by steaming whatever it is you’re cooking.

Some of the fun things I know about cooking, for example, are:  a) make your own baking powder (baking soda & cream of tartar only); b) a convection oven (a real one) lets you get textures on food that you otherwise only see in a restaurant; c) bakers in bakeries use a different high quality flour that you can’t buy in your typical grocery store, thereby giving them an edge in baking, d) commercial cake mixes are one of the few processed food products that are superior to what you can typically do on your own due to the wonders of chemistry, e) small amounts of unrefined peanut oil do wonders for a lot of dishes.

I own oodles of cookbooks with recipes (actually, far fewer than I used to, but still oodles).  But honestly, I get more from the technique sections of The Art of French Cooking, from Pepin’s “Methode” and “Technique”, from the CIA’s Professional Chef than I do from any number of recipe books.

You want to make great potato salad?  Then put in a couple tablespoons of distilled vinegar when you boil the potatoes, then let them cool a bit before cutting them up – the texture will be superior and the potatoes won’t tend to disintegrate on you.  Use minimal ingredients and the style of them will shine through much more than if you add many different things.

My “southern potato salad” is pretty much:

White potatoes (not yellow) boiled in water with white distilled vinegar added.

Chop into cubes

Toss with celery seed, salt, pepper.

Add a little chopped dill and sweet pickle relish, a smidgeon of brown mustard, and a bare dollop of mayonnaise (you should need to check twice to be absolutely sure that’s mayonnaise in it).

Serve and eat.

It doesn’t need onions, carrots, or a lot of other things added to it to be good.  The best things in life are elegant in their simplicity, from my perspective. So I was thinking about all this in the past week, and decided to include in today’s blog, in case any of the regular readers wonder about the irregularity of things added to the cooking side.

You could change the above potato salad completely by putting in dill instead of celery seed, cracking a bit of rosemary over it, and going with some dijon mustard and no mayonnaise.  Or leave out the pickle relishes, mustard and mayonnaise – add some herbs de provence, a crumble of sheep’s milk feta, and use fresh celery.  Radically different dishes. And none of this is written down anywhere in my stuff (until now, oh well).  It’s all fun to do, and will free you from the tyranny of worrying about “cooking to the recipe” once you discover it.

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Happy New Year! 1 January 2012 Update

January 1, 2012

Mixed Lettuces & Broccoli

Garden:

We picked 4 little broccoli shoots/heads this week, along with 2 heads of lettuce, some mizuna, cilantro, and some general leaf lettuce.

We started 2 trays of Texas Early Grano Onion seeds in the basement on 12/27.

Eating:

We’ve been eating out of the canned and frozen preserved food categories this week.  Everything is yummy.  The salsa verde is holding up better than I thought it would, we’ve had pickled jalapenos, corn, braised greens, butter beans, cream peas, and the green beans.  I keep getting good feedback on my canned green beans from people, particularly the haricots verts.

Hunting:

The quail hunt was a lot of fun.  We had six men and a mule team with a wagon and two guides.  We spent all day hunting, with a break in the middle for grilled dogs and burgers in the middle of the woods.  I brought home enough quail for 4 meals, tired out and well satisfied.

Cooking:

I’ve been sitting down every day with my two new Jacques Pepin books or my “the professional chef, 9th edition”.  They are a real pleasure to devour and absorb.

Cilantro

 

27 Nov. Weekly Update & Post-Thanksgiving Stupor

November 27, 2011

We used celery, parsley, and lettuce from the garden this week, along with some greens; all as part of our Thanksgiving cooking.  Other garden activity has been pretty quiet.

Lettuce

We did remove the row covers after the temperature recovered.  We picked excess leaves out of the lettuce box:  we learned last year that too many leaves will cause rot on the lettuce if they’re wet.  A 2nd head of broccoli is finally forming!  More garlic got leaf mulch.

Assorted Greens

Assorted Picked & Washed Lettuces

Thanksgiving itself was wonderful.  We had a lovely time at my Aunt & Uncle’s house, and got to visit with relatives we regretfully don’t get to see as often as we’d like.

We cooked our own turkey on Wednesday.  After it had rested for several hours we removed all the meat from the carcass, then made fabulous turkey stock with the addition of celery leaves, an onion, and some water.  Gravy made from a combination of the turkey drippings and turkey stock has a flavor and character that just kicks any retail chicken broth to the curb.  In addition to the nearly 2 quarts of turkey gravy we made we also froze 6 containers of turkey stock for later.

I further refined my dressing recipe this year.  I’ll edit the changes into our posted recipe, but basically I removed all milk and eggs by pouring boiling water over the cornmeal until it was the texture of a thick non-pourable batter, then using that instead of the cooked cornbread that I’ve always used before.  The texture and flavor of the dressing this year is better than it has ever been, and it keeps much longer as a fresh “remains of the day” than it did before.  The mushroom/sage olive oil I used didn’t hurt either. And I’ll say it again:  celery you grow yourself has infinitely more flavor and snap than the tasteless store-bought stuff.  Friday we had Thanksgiving Dinner here.

Celery

We’ve been eating “Remains of the Day” all weekend — haven’t gotten tired of any of it yet.

We got a LOT of hits on Thanksgiving Day, mostly on recipes.  I guess people were doing last-minute cooking and checking things, but that’s awfully short notice.  Maybe there were just all these people going “well what do other recipes say? or “how do you really make *that* anyway”.

20 November – weekly update & Thanksgiving Pre-show

November 20, 2011

Lettuces

Minor harvests this week — lettuce and chinese kale.

Chinese Kale

She sauteed the chinese kale in about 10 minutes and it was delicious.  I’m used to seeing greens braised longer than that, and it was a nice change.

The perverse garden trolls must be reading our blog because the day after we posted about how seed packets lie and the broccoli *still* had produced no heads, a trip to the garden revealed the beginning of the formation of 1 lone broccoli head.

I think it’s because we’re trying to grow heirloom plants instead of modern varieties in an area which isn’t greatly suited for broccoli & cauliflower growth.  It’s also the only explanation I have of how southern California can grow miles of broccoli and cauliflower year-round in an area which does not qualify as “cool weather”.

Covered small boxes

Plant Shrouds

It got down to the mid 20s two nights this week.  We covered up most of our boxes with row cover.  I’m very pleased that the parsley, cilantro, and lettuces on our porch rails don’t appear to be affected, and the smattering of carrots and beets that didn’t get covered up look just as good as the ones that did.

Thanksgiving preparations have begun!  The 20-lb turkey is sitting in the refrigerator on a cookie sheet, slowly defrosting.  We’ll brine it on Tuesday and cook it on Wednesday.  We have the motley collection of stale hardened bread crusts for the dressing (the not-a-stuffing we make), along with lots of dried sage from the garden.  The bread, cheese, and milk have been obtained for the making of the Cheese pudding, and we got the large bag of potatoes for the mashed potatoes.  Later this week we’ll braise the greens.  I still need to get some fresh tarragon so that I can make some bearnaise sauce as a gravy alternative.

When all is said and done we’ll be ready for hot turkey slices, turkey hash, turkey sandwiches, and if we get desperate for a change, some turkey divan

Thursday we’ll be at my Uncle’s house, an annual excursion that we delight in.  On the way we’ll listen to Alice’s Restaurant in the car (like always), and we’ll take mashed potatoes (like always).  My Aunt will have prepared a Thanksgiving dinner that can’t be beat (like always), and we’ll all sip wine and get caught up with one another.  I hope your week is as good as ours is gonna be.

Summer Squash Casserole

June 19, 2011

Summer squash is one of those yummy vegetables that is best cooked simply, preferably in season.  The problem that some people run into is that they don’t want to eat sautéed squash every night, and when you have squash coming in the garden in the summer, you end up with lots and lots of them.

Yellow & Patty Pan Squash

Squash don’t really preserve well, unless you cook, puree, and freeze them.  They lose their lovely fresh texture no matter what else you try to do with them.

We’ve been eating sautéed squash, roasted squash, steamed squash, and baked squash in the past several weeks, several times a week.

In the spirit of “variety is the spice of life” I am attaching this, my summer squash casserole recipe.  Cookbooks are notoriously unvaried on the topic of cooking squash (see paragraph 1 above, you don’t really need a recipe to cook them).  And squash casserole recipes are often loaded up with milk, cheese, butter, and eggs to the point where you are disguising the squash more than you’re accenting their flavor.

Ingredients:

3 cups cooked rice or orzo pasta

2 large summer squash (or about 2 lbs)

Olive oil (this time I used my mushroom/sage flavored olive oil) (3 tablespoons)

Salt, pepper, sweet paprika (1 tablespoon each)

½ cup whole milk

½ cup vegetable broth or chicken stock

2 italian relleno or other sweet peppers (about 1 bell pepper worth)

1 small onion

Breadcrumbs and/or cornflake crumbs

Preparation:

Grate the onion.  Grate the raw summer squash (large grating setting).

In a mixing bowl, combine the rice, olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, and stir well.  Add the chopped pepper, grated onion, grated squash, broth, and milk, and stir well.

Spoon into a buttered casserole dish, 1/3rd of the dish at a time.  Put a thin layer of cheddar cheese (I used sliced aged cheddar) across the first two layers.  I put about 2 ounces of romano cheese on the top, along with a thin layer of cornflake crumbs.   Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Squash Casserole Mix

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, then bake at 400 degrees for 15 more minutes.  Serves 6-8.

Squash Casserole - out of the oven

Southern Fried Chicken

April 17, 2011

Southern Fried Chicken, a traditional recipe:

Southern Classics:  Fried chicken, biscuits, greens, hoppin’ john, succotash, fried pies.  These are the kinds of dishes frequently identified as indigenous foods to the southeastern regions of the United States.

Many of the dishes I was exposed to growing up on the farm had more than one variety, often distinguished as “every day” and “comp’ny”, like biscuits.  Company biscuits had cream and eggs and other stuff, every day biscuits were made of lard and flour and some baking powder (nothing else).

People in different parts of The South have had (naturally) different ways of doing the same thing.  A lot of my family comes from northern central North Carolina and Southern Virginia, pretty much for as long as Europeans have been here.  I learned to cook from my father, as I have mentioned elsewhere.  I also learned from both my grandmothers, my grandfather, the mother of the share-cropper on my grandfather’s farm, and several old black men and women (what were called “coloured” cooks when I was just a boy though even then I was pretty much raised by my folks to be blind to the pigment of a person’s skin).  The men were mostly outdoor campfire cooks, the women were mostly indoor kitchen cooks, with the exception of my father, who could do both with equal facility.

What I’m leading up to is that there are almost as many ways to make “real” southern fried chicken as there are towns in the south.  With that acknowledgement, all of the people mentioned above made it the same way, and that way was The Way – so if you want to learn to make it some other way, there are a gazillion sites on the net that will be happy to pretend that you can make it some other way and call it “southern fried chicken”.

This is not deep-fried chicken.  This is not pressure-fried chicken.  This is not chicken with a wet thick heavy batter that you bite into and wonder if you’ve gotten to the chicken part yet.  This is not fancified chicken with all kinds of other flavors added.  It’s not Kentucky Chicken, or Kansas City Chicken, or any other place-name chicken.

You will need a cast iron skillet (or at least a stainless steel heavy skillet), as large as you can put on the burners you have.  A lid is recommended.  A grease screen is also a good idea.  You will need lard, real lard, the kind that you have to refrigerate or freeze in order to keep.  Or you can use peanut oil.  I like to use refined peanut oil, with a couple tablespoons of unrefined peanut oil for flavor.

Fried chicken, when I was a child, was better than it got in the 1980s and 1990s.  I discovered several years ago that the reason was the difference in the flavor of the chickens.  Modern large white commercial factory-farmed chickens simply have less flavor than old-fashioned raised chickens.  They also have smaller wings, legs, and thighs – while the breasts are so large that most old-timey recipes do not account for how long you should cook the individual pieces.  In this regard, chickens are like tomatoes.  Commercial grade supermarket tomatoes are tasteless faux imitations of the real thing.

The only real solution is to get pastured chickens.  If you want to get certified organic chickens that’s fine, but I am telling you that you can get the best “organic” “free-range” “cage-free” “natural” chicken on earth but the flavor isn’t going to be what the flavor of a pasture-raised chicken is going to be.  Now go and do what you will.

Procedure:

Cut the chicken into pieces.  Yes you want bones, yes you want skin.  No you don’t want boneless, skinless, fatless chicken.  I strongly suggest with modern chickens that you cut each breast piece in half, yielding four (4) breast pieces per chicken.

Add a layer of chicken pieces to a large pot, salt them, then pour a layer of buttermilk over each one.  Stack up your chicken pieces this way in the pot. You’re not trying to fill the pot with buttermilk you’re just covering the pieces as you go.  Refrigerate and leave at least one hour, and up to a day if you can plan ahead – longer is better.

Pour enough oil into the skillet to come up 1/3rd (one-third) the height of the chicken piece laying in the skillet.

Turn on the burner.  You will want the oil to get up to at least 300 degrees, but under no circumstances over 350.

Use a shallow casserole dish or even a mixing bowl.  Add 1.5 cups of flour per whole chicken, more if it is a large (over 4 lbs) chicken, or if you run out.  Add 2 tablespoons (at least) of black pepper, sweet paprika, and salt, and mix.  If you have it, add 1 tablespoon of potato starch (I don’t really use cornstarch anymore, but when I was growing up, people used cornstarch).

Set a wire rack next to the skillet, the flour mix next to the wire rack, and the pot of chicken next to the flour mix dish.  Dredge each piece on all sides in the flour, then place on the wire rack.  Fill the skillet with pieces, but don’t overcrowd, you will almost certainly have to do 2 rounds per chicken.  I like to cook the wings and legs together with maybe a thigh, and the breast and thighs together.

Cook for 12 minutes, then turn each piece and cook for 8 more minutes.  Set on another wire rack and let dry and drain.  Serve anytime.  This recipe is as good cold as it is hot, but it won’t be crispy the next day.  It is easy to calculate that in most cases it will take 40 minutes to fry a whole chicken.  I typically fry two whole chickens at once, so we have plenty of leftovers.

In the winter, serve with mashed potatoes and brown gravy, and greens.  In the summer serve with cold potato salad and biscuits.  Bon appetit!

Chili, Vegetarian: Variant One

March 20, 2011

Vegetarian Chili – Variant One

Unlike my chili red (real chili), this vegetarian chili has both beans and tomatoes.  It is a healthy and tasty vegetarian option, and pretty easy to throw together in the morning and eat in the evening.

RECIPE:

½ Cup Dried Black Beans

½ Cup Dried Red Beans

½ Cup Dried Navy Beans

(Note:  You can vary the type and quantity of beans you use to the extent of your imagination.  Use the ones you like the most.  I like these because they’re red, white, and black and pretty in the bowl – also they’re all smaller beans, which I like.)

Dried chilis: 6 anchos, 2 pasilla, 4 guajillos, 4 chiles de arbol.  More variety makes better chili, but you can use whatever is available locally, and feel free to use additional chiles, including hotter ones.  None of the chiles here are remotely close to being as hot as a scotch bonnet or habanero.

1 large onion, chopped coarsely

3 cloves of garlic, sliced thin

Freshly chopped cilantro (separate leaves and stems)

1 large red sweet bell pepper

1-3 other fresh peppers, like Anaheim, Poblano, Bell, Cherry bomb, etc.

24-38 ounces of crushed tomatoes

1 cup of strong coffee

½  bottle of dark ale, beer, etc.  (I prefer dark, like Dixie Voodoo Blackened Lager, or Dos Equis)

2-4 cups of vegetable broth

Olive oil or butter

1 tbl hot paprika

2 tbl sweet paprika

1 tbl cayenne

2 tbls cumin

4 tlbs Black pepper

Salt to taste

 

Method:

Soak the dried beans from 2-10 hours.  If you soak them overnight, skip the next step.  If you only soak them for 2 hours or so, then add the washed soaked beans and the vegetable broth to the crock pot and cook on high for 2 hours.  Then continue.

Roast the dried chiles (anchos, pasillas, guajillos and chiles de arbol) in a dry skillet on medium for 3-4 minutes on each side.  Remove from heat and then add them to a bowl of boiling water:  let rest 30 minutes.

Saute onions, garlic, and cilantro stems in olive oil or butter until translucent and caramelizing, still in the skillet.  Deglaze with the beer and the coffee.

Pour the water off the chiles and save it.  I tend to add this in place of water when the chili needs more moisture.  This is controversial.  The best middling recommendation I’ve seen on this says to taste the chile water and if it isn’t too bitter for you, use it as a substitution in stuff you are cooking.  I do the same thing in my adobo sauce.

Add the drained chiles to the blender, and then add broth until it purees nice and smooth.  Add to pot, stir.  Add the freshly chopped peppers, the sautéed onions, garlic, and beer/coffee broth.  Add the crushed tomatoes.  Add the dry spices.  Stir until combined.   Cook in the crockpot on low for 6-8 hours.

Serve with a garnish of the fresh chopped cilantro leaves.

Ruby Myrick’s Low Country Quail Stew

March 13, 2011

“Stew” is a relative term.  In this case, it refers back to the Southern Coastal Oyster stew.  In fact, if you substitute oysters for the quail, you pretty much have the same dish.  This is not a thick stew, it is a light, rich soup with minimal ingredients.

Quail Stew

I got this recipe two weeks ago when we went quail hunting at Pine Lake Plantation in Carthage, NC.  The hunt was a present from my father, and we had a great time in addition to getting a lot of quail.  In fact, we’re going again soon.  The Myricks are great folks, and Mrs. Ruby Myrick graciously told me her recipe:

Serves 2.

Ingredients:

4 quail

1 quart water, plus

salt & pepper

celery

fresh parsley

3 tbls butter

2 cups half and half, or cream

2 tablespoons manzanilla sherry (optional)

1 small to medium potato, in 1/4 in. chunks (I added this)

Procedure:

Add the four quail to a large non-reactive pot with 2 tablespoons of butter.  Sear.  Remove the quail, and add 1 quart of water.  Scrape the fond off the bottom into the water.  Put the quail back in, and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, just until the quail are cooked.  Remove the quail from the liquid and set aside.

Quail on a plate

To the pot of liquid, add 1/4 cup of fresh celery, or celery leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried celery or celery seed.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  Add up to 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley.  Chop a small potato into 1/4″ cubes, and add to the liquid (optional).

Simmer for 45 minutes.  In the meantime, remove the quail meat from the bones and chop it into even pieces.

30 minutes before you want to serve dinner, add the quail meat and the half & half.  Bring the heat up, but Do Not boil the broth & milk mixture.  You want it steaming, but not boiling, and you may have to nurse it, stirring constantly but gently.  With 10 minutes left, add the sherry, stirring gently.

Put 1/2 tablespoon of butter into the bottom of each serving bowl, and serve the quail stew over it.  I recommend crackers, croutons, or garlic bread.

It was delicious.

Valentine’s Day, post-action report

February 27, 2011

For Valentine’s Day I made dinner for the two of us.  The menu was as follows:

 

Grongnet Champagne, Blanc de Blancs, NV

1st Plate

Shrimp Cocktail

Main Plate

Chicken Cordon Bleu

(with Gruyere and Country Ham)

Asparagus with Béarnaise Sauce

Cheese Soufflé

Dessert

Chocolate Cake

Lemon Mist Cake

 

The desserts came from our local (but famous) store, A Southern Season.  The champagne I learned about from my best local wine folks, currently at 3Cups.  The shrimp were caught off the coast of NC and/or southern VA.  The chicken is from a local farm, just up the road.  The country ham is from A.B. Vannoy Hams, right here in NC and some of the best country ham you can get in this day and age.

The cheese soufflé is something I’ve been making for 30 years and I’ve always followed Julia Child’s recipe.  Ditto the béarnaise sauce.

 

Bearnaise sauce

I learned how to make my version of chicken cordon bleu from a chef in a Baltimore Maryland establishment in the 1980s.  The major things to note are:

 

1)      After pounding out the chicken breast, soak it in buttermilk for a bit, then dip both sides in the flour / breadcrumbs / cornmeal seasoning.  I use black pepper, salt, and lots of sweet paprika in the seasoning.

 

Prepped chicken

2)      Then layer on the thinly sliced gruyere cheese (go ahead and get a good cave-aged one, you’re not going to use a lot of it anyway), then the razor-thin country ham.  Roll it up and pin with toothpicks.

 

3)      Bake (yes, bake) in the oven on a bed of the rest of the seasoning mix and a little oil.

We had a grand old time for dinner, and just wanted to share our fun menu with you.  A few of the cooking process pictures I shot didn’t come out, and we plain just forgot when I pulled the souffle out of the oven and we immediately sat down to eat.

Braised Venison Steaks

February 6, 2011

Braised Venison Steaks

Ingredients:

Venison steaks (2)

1/2 onion, sliced and sweated in butter

Braising sauce:

2 tbl tomato paste

¼ cup Fig balsamic vinegar

¼ cup Red wine vinegar

¼ cup unrefined peanut oil

¼ cup melted butter

Sweet paprika, salt, black pepper

Stir and mix the sauce ingredients together.  Sear the venison steaks on 1 side in the same pan where you sweated the onion.  Add the steaks and the onion to the crock pot.  Pour the braising sauce over this, and turn the crockpot on low for 8-10 hours.

Remove the steaks, scrape out the onions.  You can use the remaining liquid in the pan as au jus or make a gravy from it.

The oil & butter are added to the sauce because venison is such a lean meat.  I sweat the onion in a covered skillet in butter at low heat for 12-15 minutes.  I use the tomato paste in a tube because it’s easy to keep and use whenever you like it.  Other oils and vinegars can be substituted for a different approach, but the fig provides a nice fruit accent that goes well with venison.  Other fruit flavors that are good with venison are apple or currant or raisin.

I did this recipe once with a sliced apple, some good grassy Italian olive oil, and white wine vinegar and it came out great.

These are fork tender and the flavor of the venison comes through without dominating.  We served them with our own cream peas, braised kale, and green beans:

Venison & Veggies