Monday, December 20, 2010

Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda

Yesterday, I began my holiday biscotti baking marathon. I make 14 to 17 batches every year: orange-hazelnut, classic vanilla-almond, and anise pignoli.(See for recipes). I didn't manage to do any baking last year, so it took me a while to get back into the groove. One of the things I forgot to do was check on my ingredients, so while he first batch was baking the second time, I ran out to Stop & Shop to pick up more flour and eggs, and to replace my almost-expired baking powder. There was a choice of single-acting and double-acting. Afraid the double-acting would raise twice as high, I opted for the former. (This shows you my screwed-up sense of logic.)

That got me to wondering. I know I learned the difference between baking powder and baking soda in high school cooking classes, but 30+ years later, it's slipped my mind. But now, in 2010, we have the internet and a quick search online answered this question and then some. Here are some key points:
  • Baking powder contains baking soda, which is simply sodium bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate is made by combining limestone and salt in ammonia. (Doesn't sound too appetizing, does it?)
  • Baking soda needs an acid to form carbon dioxide, which is what makes the baked good rise. Baking powder contains cream of tartar, which provides the acid. Usually, it also contains some kind of starch. the one I bought contains cornstarch. Adding liquid activates leavening.
  • Double-acting baking soda is so-called because it starts leavening when mixed with liquid and then again when it is heated. So when you use single-acting, you need to bake it right away, but when you use double-acting, you can wait a bit. So, I guess I should have opted for the double-acting!
  • You can substitute baking powder for baking soda (adjusting quantities), but not vice versa. However, you can make baking powder by mixing baking soda (1 part) and cream of tartar (2 parts. I suppose you could add some cornstarch, too.
  • Both baking soda and baking powder expire. I'd thought it was only baking powder. Use vinegar to test baking soda (1/4 t. baking soda to 1 t. vinegar), and hot water to test baking powder (1 t. baking powder to 1/2 c. hot water).

Well, those are the basics. I'd better go test my baking soda!

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Secret Affair

I have a confession to make - I’m a little bit in love. He’s short, cute, and has a bit of a belly. He usually keeps things all closed up inside, but sometimes he lets off steam. And he says the cutest little things in Korean.

I’m talking about my new son, right? Well, yeah, I’m in love with him too – but I’m talking about my new rice cooker.

My old rice cooker was cheap but functional. I bought it 20 years ago, at a small appliance store in West Los Angeles that’s no longer in business (I think the store left LA before I did). It cost about 20 bucks and man, I thought that thing was miraculous. How the heck did it know when the rice was done? The whole rice cooker thing, in general, was new to me.

If you don’t have a rice cooker, you may wonder what the big deal is. For me, who tends to use every pot in the kitchen when I cook, the ability to cook rice without using a stovetop burner is incredibly liberating. (This has become even more important now that I have kids and pretty much never use the front burners on my stove – too easy for little fingers to reach). In addition, the rice always comes out so much better than when I try to cook it in a saucepan. After a few uses, I was hooked.

The one drawback to my old cheapo rice cooker was its tendency to burn the bottom layer of rice. We got around this for years by simply unplugging the cooker a soon as the rice was done, but after a while (a long while) I started to think that I deserved better. After all, that burned layer of rice was wasteful, wasn’t it? Even if we got to the cooker in time and it wasn’t totally inedible, it was still stuck to the cooker and we were wasting rice. And then there was the vanity aspect. I am not much for keeping up with the Joneses (or should I say, the Kims?) but for heavens’ sake – I’m over 40, I’m on my second set of good knives (you can’t sharpen them forever, ya know), IT’S TIME TO GET A DECENT RICE COOKER.

And then paralysis set in, once I started to research all the different types of cookers. Fuzzy logic? Is that related to fuzzy math? I’d stand in front of rice cooker displays and my eyes would glaze over. Finally, a friend recommended a brand that is very popular in Korea and (even better) went to Hmart with me to pick one out.

Here it is. I think it is a fuzzy logic/pressure cooker type, but since I still haven’t read the whole manual I’m not too sure:

Isn’t it adorable? It has all these fancy functions, too, for cooking old rice, sushi rice, chicken soup, and multi-cook (which I think is like pressure cooking). The manual came with an English version, but the recipe book did not. So my friend kindly translated a few of the recipes and I have been having sooo much fun learning how to drive this puppy. It makes beef stew in under an hour! AND keeps it hot until you get home! So much better than a crock-pot, in my opinion, which I never really grokked with anyway.

And oh yeah, it makes awesome rice. The best I’ve ever made, anyway. I am blessed with children who think that seaweed and rice is a perfectly acceptable dinner (though they’d prefer if I make some broccoli, too). Since this baby has a timer, I can put the rice in before we leave for swim class, and when we get home, ta dah! Dinner is ready.

A fuuny thing, though, is that my friend who recommended it told me that she hadn’t used many of the fancy-cooking functions –she was only making rice. But now I’ve got her trying out the multi-cook thang, too. I’m not really ready to post a “recipe” because I’m still in the “getting to know you” phase with my rice cooker, but if anyone has some ideas or suggestions for what’s worked in their Cuckoo, I’d love to know.

Monday, July 5, 2010

If You Can't Take the Heat,

...make something else.

It’s hot here. Too hot to do much in the kitchen except sip iced coffee and complain about the heat. Last week, I took advantage of my husband’s absence and cooked as little as possible for myself and the kids. I made a few meals that were each followed by the highly ceremonial Much Reheating of Leftovers.

Eventually, even I got tired of seeing the same stuff. And I knew that my hubby would be especially appreciative of a home-cooked meal after eating restaurant food for a week. (An aside: you can trick people into thinking that you’re a better cook than you really are by cooking for them when they’re REALLY hungry). So I wanted to make something really tasty but without heating up the kitchen.

The answer to this problem? Thai-style garlic shrimp. There’s a bit of prep work involved, but the actual cooking goes really, really fast. The stovetop was on for less than five minutes. I served the shrimp with rice made in the rice cooker (another trick to keeping the kitchen cool) and that cucumber salad that usually accompanies satay (because we also got a cucumber in the CSA box this week). You could also serve a simple green salad, or this Thai-style slaw.

These recipes come from Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking by Nancie McDermott. It’s the first Thai cookbook I bought and remains my go-to whenever I’m in the mood for Thai food. Which hasn’t been very often, of late; I’ve been so wrapped up with learning Korean food that I neglected my first love. The Cilantro Pesto is a great recipe; although I use it often in a marinade for grilled chicken, tonight was the first time I’d tried it with shrimp. Since you can scale up the recipe to make a big batch of pesto, it’s also useful for when you get a big, beautiful bunch of cilantro in your CSA box.

Goong Gratiem (Garlic Shrimp)
From Real Thai by Nancie McDermott

Nancie says, “Thais make this dish with a lot of oil and enjoy it as a savory sauce for rice, but you could make it with just enough oil to keep everything from sticking or burning and still have a tasty dish.”

Karen says, if you want to get out of the kitchen completely, you can grill the shrimp. Just rub them with the pesto and a bit of oil right before you cook them.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons Cilntro Pesto
1 tablespoon fish sauce
A few fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Heat a wok or medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the surface. When the oil is very hot but not smoking, add the shrimp and stir-fry until they begin to color on both sides, about 1 minute. Add the pesto and stir-fry until it coats the shrimp and begins to cook, about 1 minute. Add the fish sauce and toss the shrimp for another 15 seconds to mix it in. Transfer the shrimp and sauce to a serving platter. Sprinkle with the cilantro leaves and serve. (2-3 main-dish servings).

Rahk Pahk Chee-Gratiem-Prik Thai (Cilantro Pesto)
from Real Thai by Nancie McDermott

Nancie says, “This simple combination of three intense Southeast Asian flavors is a classic seasoning of Thai cuisine…You may find yourself noticing new ways to use it, tossed with hot poasta or new potatoes, stirred into stocks, or dolloped on soups.”

Karen says, you can make this with a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor. Or sometimes I chop everything roughly on a big wooden cutting board, then get out a meat mallet and whack away at it. It makes a bit of a mess but is much more fun.

1 teaspoon whole white or black peppercorns [or ~1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper]
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro roots or leaves and stems
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic

Using a mortar and pestle or a spic grinder, crush or grind the peppercorns to a fine powder. Combine the pepper, cilantro roots, and garlic and work the 3 ingredients into a fairly smooth paste in the mortar on in a small blender or food processor. If you use the blender or food processor, you may need to add a little vegetable oil or water to ease the grinding.

Makes about ¼ cup. Note: To increase the amount to 1 cup of pesto, use 1 tablespoon of peppercorns, ½ cup cilantro roots, and ½ cup garlic. Put it in a glass jar, pour a little oil onto the surface to cover it and close the jar. It will keep nicely for about 1 week in the refrigerator.

Cucumber Pickles
from...oh, you know by now where it's from

¼ cup white vinegar [I used rice wine vinegar]
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 large cucumber, peeled, cut lengthwise and seeds removed, then sliced ¼” thick
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped shallot or purple onion [or any onion]
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh hot chili [or a dash or dried chili flakes]
1 tablespoon finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
A few fresh cilantro leaves

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Just before serving time, peel and slice the cucumber. Combine the cucumber slices with the vinegar dressing, shallot, and chilies and divide between 2 serving bowls. Sprinkle each serving with peanuts and garnish with a few leaves of cilantro. [Karen’s note: I served it family-style and skipped the peanuts]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Up On A Soopbox

I’ve got something on my mind..

Exhibit A: A friend stopped by to have coffee this morning, and our conversation turned to food, or more specifically, the preparation of food. I forget exactly where we were in conversation when she made a comment that made me pause. To paraphrase, she sighed wistfully: some people just have an innate ability to know how to put things together. She then went on to say she thought that I was one of those people, whereas she was not.

Exhibit B: Flashback to Thanksgiving 2009, and the whole family is gathering for an epic feast. I offered to do most of the cooking, mostly because only me and one other family member really enjoy cooking, especially for a crowd. During the weekend, two different people thanked me for doing so much of the cooking, but then went on to say that “it’s easier for you, because you like to cook.”

Exhibit C: Flashback even farther to years ago when some people we know had children, and we did not. It was Christmastime and I brought an assortment of cookies. One person looked at those cookies and proclaimed, You won’t have time to cook like this after you have kids! (My snarky yet - wisely - unspoken reply: Yeah, well, you didn’t cook like this BEFORE you had kids).

And my point(s), to all this whining?

Cooking is a learned skill. Yes, my friend from Exhibit A, I now feel that I can mostly “wing it” even if I don’t have a recipe, but that’s because I learned by cooking FROM recipes for the last 20 years. Even someone as thickheaded as me should pick up a few things after that much time. Sure, some people have a greater interest in and talent for cooking than others, but I wish you wouldn’t feel discouraged just because you think you lack some innate ability.

Cooking is work. And although I enjoy cooking, that doesn’t make it less work! It does make the task less onerous. And Exhibit B family, I was oh so happy to hand over the dirty dishes to you – I would much rather cook than clean, but you already know that since you’ve seen my house.

Cooking is a habit. Exhibit C friend, you were right – you do have MUCH less time to cook after you have kids. The arrival of our 2nd made me even more grateful that the cooking habit had been firmly ingrained long before the children arrived. Call me compulsive, but I MUST MAKE SUPPER. I’m also grateful that my kids will eat almost anything – they’re happy with seaweed and rice for supper, though most nights I still manage to throw something half-decent together (ref. Exhibit A). I’m sure that my hubby has noticed a decline in the quality and “fanciness” of the food lately, but hey – it’s still all homemade.

So there you have it: my cooking philosophy. Cooking is a habit that takes effort to learn. Now go make something.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

And So It Begins

I'm talking about CSA season, of course. It's Week Three, which means that we're scrambling for ideas to use up greens. Actually, I signed us up for a late winter/early spring CSA, too, so we've been feelin' the green over here for a couple months already.

I prefer to eat my greens in soup. Kale and sausage is a match made in heaven, but feels too heavy in the summertime. So lately I've been making lots of Asian-inspired soups because they're quick, easy and use lots of CSA produce!
This one is based on a recipe for haddock soup from Aeri’s Kitchen and a cod, chard and potato dish. I made this tonight with flounder fillets and bok choy and it was fantastic.

Korean-Inspired Fish Soup with Greens

For variety, you can add some cubes of firm tofu to the soup at the step when you add the fish. Or place a scoop of cooked rice, some cooked udon noodles or other noodles in each person’s serving bowl and ladle in the soup. Makes 3-4 servings.

6-8 cups of liquid:
anchovy stock, fish stock, dashi, vegetable stock, or water
1 small onion, cut in half and sliced thin
~1 cup of peeled, thinly sliced Korean radish, daikon radish, or salad turnips
1 tablespoon chopped garlic, minced together with 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
1 small hot pepper or a pinch of dried chili flakes, optional
1 to 1-1/2 pounds of fish fillets, cut into serving-sized pieces
2-3 scallions, cut into 1/2” pieces
A few large handfuls of mild-tasting greens (bok choy, chard, turnip greens, Napa cabbage, etc.), washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2-3 garlic scapes, sliced very thinly (optional)

1. Bring the liquid to a simmer in a low, wide pot. Add the onion, garlic, radish and optional hot pepper and simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Add the fish fillets and simmer gently for 5-10 minutes. Skim off the foam that rises to the surface of the soup, if you wish.

3. Add the scallions, greens and optional garlic scapes and simmer for another 5 minutes or just until the greens are tender.

4. Eat and feel virtuous – you used up all those veggies, AND you ate some fish.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just Don't Forget the Wasabi

We're back! The trip was great and all went well, food-wise and family-wise. I didn't post any more food videos because we spent Thursday afternoon at the baths (and I wasn't about to record THAT experience) and were too tired to go out again that night for dinner. Friday morning was spent on last-minute errands and then that afternoon, we went to pick up Little Brother.

Sometime last year, I was telling a friend about Little Brother and how he'd be almost a year old by the time we brought him home. The first thing she said was, Gee, he'll already be speaking/understanding the Korean language. I chuckled to myself because MY first thought had been, Gee, he'll already be eating Korean food. That tells you where my priorities lie.

When I finally got to meet Little Brother, one of the questions that I asked his foster mother was, what does he like to eat? She told me that he drank formula (250 ml every 4 hours!) and had a little rice porridge - jook - twice a day. She also said that she would give him a little of whatever the family was having at mealtimes. I did not get the impression, however, that he usually ate considerable amounts of solid food.

Back to Friday - that night's dinner was takeout sushi and bao from the food halls in the basement of the Shinsegae department store. Little Brother had fallen asleep during the taxi ride back to the hotel, so Paula ventured out to forage for our supper. The Lottle Department store has a food court/food hall in its basement too, also full of wondrous stuff: kiosks with bakery, confectionery, sushi, Indian food, etc. The Shinsegae store has an upscale market within (this was the place where I took photos of seaweed and anchovies on our last trip).

Paula set out the victuals on the coffee table and we tucked in. Partway through our meal, Little Brother roused himself and declared that he was hungry. So I promptly warmed up a bottle that his foster mom had prepared, gathered him into my arms, and prepared for the first feeding/bonding moment with my new son. Who looked at the bottle, looked at me, and then...slowly and deliberately...looked at the sushi. Then he looked back at me. The message was clear: why aren't you sharing?

Since we arrived back in Boston, it's become apparent that Little Brother is, in fact, quite used to solid food. Thus far everything that's been put in front of him has gone down the hatch to varying degrees (mostly depending upon the texture of the food - sweet potato and strawberries tend to slip out of his grasp, whereas green beans provide a more secure purchase). He has no interest in spoon feeding, and while I miss that baby-bird look of openmouthed searching, it is much easier to let him finger-feed on whatever we're having for dinner. Because if I give something to Big Brother and don't put it on little brother's plate too...he notices. Oh yes, he notices.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wednesday's Snack and Lunch

A Tale of Two Toilets

We had an adventure today. We started off by taking the subway out to Suwon where we caught a shuttle bus to the Korean Folk Village. It's kind of like the Korean version of Old Sturbridge Village (or, Williamsburg, for those of you not familiar with O.S.V.): a collection of traditional building with roving re-enactors, craftspeople and entertainers.

I'll post some videos of what we ate today, but first I wanted to tell you about a different sort of experience. Involving toilets. Yes, that's crass, and has nothing to do with food (although I could argue that the topic IS food-related because what goes in...) but it's a good travel story so bear with me. (Or stop reading now - your choice).

Unlike most of the public bathrooms that I've encountered in the US, the restrooms here are pretty darned clean. Even the ones in the train station.So when we arrived at Suwon Station this afternoon, I thought nothing of making a quick stop in the public facilities.

A minor technical difficulty arose: there was no toilet paper in the stall I'd entered. Not an empty dispenser - there simply wasn't any dispenser. Fortunately I noticed this oddity prior to seating myself upon the throne. I left the stall In Search Of...and spotted a giant roll on the wall, next to the entrance. I'm not sure why the restroom was arranged that way (easier to maintain? fewer rolls to change) but, mission accomplished, we went on our way.

My second Adventure in Toileting came later this evening, in a restroom at the Doota Mall. This time it was the toilet seat that took me by surprise - it was warm.Not you-just-sat-down-after-someone-else-was-there-for an-hour warm; that seat was HEATED. Given where I live, this was downright startling. Those of you who have ever used the ladies' room in a Boston restaurant in winter know what I'm talking about: the don't bother to heat the restrooms and the seat are freezing. It's been cool here this week, so I was subconsciously preparing for a chilly voila, a heated seat! Astounding.

Here's a picture of this technological marvel:

Have you even seen a toilet that had its own control panel? I was in awe. When I finished my business, I tried to determine which button was for "flush." My first guess was the big red one: nope. None of the other buttons produced more than a pleasant, but ineffective, beep. Eventually I noticed this sticker posted above the toilet:

The arrow pointed to a plain-old lever. No autoflush, no electronic whizz-bang at all. I was so disappointed.

But at least I had a warm tushie.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tuesday's Walking Tour

A little video of foods at a small, open-air market.

Fancy rice cakes on display in a shop in Insa-Dong.

More rice cake footage...

We stopped for a cup of tea at The Old Tea Shop, a tiny little place that I'd been to on my last visit.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday's Supper

Tonight we ate at the Food Garden within the Shinsegae Department Store: 5 or 6 mini-restaurants within a nice open, seating space. There was a rooftop garden, too, but it was getting dark so we opted to stay inside.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Only Thing I Could Think of Was Tofu Stew

After a long and uneventful flight, we ventured out in search of some dinner. We asked at the front desk for a restaurant suggestion but were unable tosuccessfully navigate through the streets in the dark (yes, we have a map, but still...blame it on the jetlag).

It was ~8pm and most places were closed; those that were open were not very busy. We settled on a small restaurant that looked inviting & was relatively busy. They had an area for the traditional, on-floor seating, but we went to a table. After we sat down we realized that there wasn't an English menu (not a problem) and there also wasn't a photographic menu (definately a problem).

Our poor waiter gestured over to what we think was the menu posted on the wall...eventually my brain woke up enough to realize that (1) the table had one of those gas burners built into it, (2) we weren't really hungry enough for barbeque, but (3) the gas burner would be used for stews as well as BBQ.

Fortunately, I could remember the word for stew (chigae). Unfortunately I couldn't remember the other words to specify what KIND of stew, except for kimchee. So kimchee chigae it was!

(Note: the audio is a little quiet on this video clip. The restaurant was not very nusy, and I didn't want to talk too loudly. Also, we're still elarning how to use the camera...).

In Search Of: Dinner

Lunch on the Plane

Testing 1-2-3

In which we attempt to get all the new electronic gizmos working. And oh yes, we eat lunch.

Friday, April 2, 2010

ND Show #10 - Can You Cook Better than an 8th Grader?

Has Gary made any progress since our last visit? Join us in Gary's kitchen and find out as four young and enthusiastic cooks each teach him a favorite recipe. Featured are: Mac 'n' Cheese, Lime Rickey, Peanut Butter Cookies (with a Kiss), and Pancakes. Can this bachelor be saved?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Warning: this post has nothing to do with food.

Well, almost nothing. Soon I will be posting, hopefully a lot, about Korean food, because any day now I’ll be flying off to Seoul to pickup my new baby.

I’ve alluded to the fact that my son is ethnically Korean, but I don’t think that I’ve said straight out that I’m an adoptive mommy - until now, of course. Anyway, we just got The Call that Baby Brother is ready for pickup. So my posting may suddenly get even more sporadic than usual.

Things will play out quite differently than last time. When we traveled in 2006, my parents came along with my hubby & I, and we knew nothing about Korean food. This time the hubster will stay home with Big Brother, I’ve roped Paula into coming along and I am totally in love with Korean food.

The pre-baby shopping is different this time, too. To prepare for Big Brother, we bought a crib and stroller. To prepare for Little Brother, I’ve bought a mini-HD camcorder and netbook. The plan is to Skype daily with Daddy and Big Bro, but also to record our adventures in eating as Paula and I tromp around Seoul. A friend suggested that we also Twitter on our trip, so if I can I figure that one, out we’ll have that going for us, too. Which is nice.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Trashy Garden

A friend of mine bought her first house last winter, and she’s very excited about planting a vegetable garden. Gardening has been on my mind, too (or rather my lack of preparation for this years’ garden). Since I've been putting together some ideas for my friend, I thought I would share them here, too: tips for recycling trash into the garden.

I'm not talking about composting, although I do that as well; I mean stuff you would throw away (or recycle) that can be used in, or for, the garden. Since it's mostly things that you don't acquire every day (how often do you get holes in socks?) you need to plan ahead and set these things aside as they accumulate. I present you, therefore, with my list of Handy Trash to hang on to:

Plastic containers (like the ones that cherry tomatoes, berries, and salad greens come in): these make great (and free!) seed-starting containers. The tomato and berry ones are my favorites because they already have small slots in the bottom for drainage. The ones from pre-washed salad greens are bigger and will hold more seeds, but you may have to poke holes in the bottom.

We covered this tip in show #7, but here’s what you do: fill the containers ~2/3 full with pre-moistened seed starting mix (most seeds do better in seed-starting mix than regular potting soil, with some exceptions). Add the seeds to the depth and spacing recommended on the package. Put the filled container in the kitchen sink and gently water the seeds (use the use the sprayer attachment, if your sink has one). I like to add just enough water to "flood" the surface then let it drain thoroughly).

Keep the closed containers on a tray with a rim (to avoid drips) in a warm place until the seeds germinate. They don't need direct sunlight, but they shouldn't be in total darkness either. I leave them on top of the radiator, or above the fridge. Check the containers every day and spritz the soil with a little water to keep it moist, but not soggy. As soon as you see the seedlings begin to sprout, open the top of the container and move it to a brightly lit spot. Sunny windowsills are OK but the seedlings lean towards the light – you will have to rotate the containers every day or two. I use a homemade grow-light setup down in the cellar.

When the seedlings are big enough to transplant (usually defined as having two “true” leaves), move them into 3-4" pots filled with regular potting soil. Dump the used seed starting mix onto the compost pile, rinse the plastic containers and recycle them (with your regular recycling waste - I don't re-use them to start more seeds).

Holey socks: When was the last time you saw someone darn a sock? Do you even know what "darn a sock" means? Those socks with the holes in the toes can be turned into great ties for tomato and other plants: they're stretchy and soft, so they don't damage the plants and they even expand a little as the plants grow. (My mom always used strips cut from T-shirts as plant ties, but my family goes through socks a lot faster than we go through T-shirts).

Here’s what you do: cut the toe and cuff ends off of the sock, then cut the sock into rings ~1/2” wide (see my artful schematic). Cut each ring open to make a flat strip. If you don't want the cloth strips to be obvious in the garden, use black or brown socks. (I prefer white socks because it's easier to locate the strips at the end of the garden season – I cut them off and throw them away. If you wear 100% cotton socks, you can put the used strips in the compost pile).

Newspapers: save the regular print pages, not the glossy-paper ads. Newspapers can be used as mulch in the garden, either shredded into strips, or laid down flat. (If you lay them flat, make sure you use at least 5 pages thick to suppress the weeds). You can add a layer of mulch on top of the newspapers to diminish the trashy look.
Shredded newspapers are also great for adding "carbon-rich" material to a compost pile, or as bedding in your worm bin (I haven't set up a worm bin yet, I'm still accumulating newspaper).

Paper and/or plastic milk cartons: use 'em as "plant protectors." Cut the tops and bottoms off, and when you put your tomato seedlings into the ground, slip a milk carton over it. Push the carton into the ground an inch or so. The carton will protect the plant from cutworms, and if you get a late frost you can gently pack a little shredded newspaper into the carton to add insulation.

Wine corks: put them in the bottom of pots for drainage. They weigh less than rocks, and I know that they take a VERY long time to break down because I tried adding them to the compost pile. Three years later I am still finding intact corks in the garden. Of course, you will have to drink an awful lot of wine before you accumulate enough corks to make a 2” layer in an 18” pot, but these are the sacrifices that must be made.

That's it. Try it out...if nothing else, a bucket of wine corks and pile of socks on the back steps is a sure-fire conversation starter for visitors.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What's Up? Garden Edition

Last week it was unseasonably warm and sunny. I took the opportunity to run around the garden, pulling off mulch and searching for signs of spring to come. Now that the weather has retunred to reality (40 degrees F and raining), I'm glad that I took these pictures. Knowing that something is happening out these will sustain me until I can get into the garden again.

This is sorrel. Do you know it? It's a hardy perennial that can be used as a salad green, which is why I planted it. Here in zone 6, by the end of March it has usually revivied enough to start spiking salads with its lemony/sour flavor. Later in the year I cook it with spinach, or make sorrel soup.

I use fallen leaves as mulch in the veggie beds - a tip that I picked up from my sis-in-law, Sue. My son "helped" me take the leaf cover off, and what did we find lurking there? A few mache plants (pronounced "mosh" - aka lamb's lettuce, aaka corn salad) planted last fall and apparently forgotten. That mache is some tough stuff.

Another surpising find under the mulch - the chives are sprouting. Well, beyond sprouting and into sprouted. The garlic chives are a little behind them; nothing photogenic yet.

And finally, another perennial (ha, ha) favorite - alpine strawberries. These little fellas rival mache for their toughness. Can you see the reddish crown? By June the plant will be making tiny, fragrant berries continuously until late October/early November.
That's it for now - but all in all, not bad for a very early spring garden. Off to read seed catalogs, and dream.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We've Got the Beet

Do you know what red beet eggs are? Here's a clue:

In addition to the glorious fruit I bought last summer, I bought 10 lbs of beets. Why? Well, Hubby Dear loves to have salad for lunch everyday, and also loves pickled beets as a salad topping. Since I am trying to eat more "local" food year-round, making my own pickled beets seemed like a good idea (and one that would assuage my guilt at packing his grown-in-California-and-shipped-across-the-country-salad for lunch every day. Yes, I want greenhouses; no, I don't have them yet).

I'll post the recipe if anyone really wants it (but who would that be? Does anyone besides MY Hubby Dear truly LIKE pickled beets??) but the jist of it was as follows: roast beets. Make tremendous mess that permanently stains hands whilst peeling beets. Prepare brine with vinegar and salt and a few other flavorings. Choke on fumes of simmering vinegar, then quarter beets, add to hot canning jars and fill with vaporous hot brine. Process in a boiling water bath in the heat of August while you question your sanity over the decision to revive home canning as a domestic pursuit ( if the hour of roasting at 400 F doesn't get you, the boiling cauldron of water for processing will).

I bought 10 lbs of beets because my recipe said that 10-12 lbs would give me 6 pints of pickled product. Not true...just half of the beets filled up 6 jars on their own. I had to to do the whole thing over again, ending up with 11 pints and change. That, my friends, is a lot of pickled beets.

There is a bright side, well actually two bright sides. The first is that I did, in fact, accomplish my goal: hubby has been happliy eating locally grown, organic beets on his salads all winter long. The other bright side is that some small part of my brain recalled that my mother used to make red beet eggs. I don't know exactly how she did it, but every so often a jar would appear in our refrigerator which contained a few hardboiled eggs and a slice or two of cooked beets.

I decided to try "repurposing" the vinegar brine from the pickled beets to make red beet eggs. It worked out great...after I finsih up a jar of beets, I add as many hard boiled eggs as will fit into the jar (usually just 3-4 eggs). I let them sit in the fridge for a few days, and them...the eggs shrink slightly in size (due to water loss in the salty brine?) and turn a glorious, shocking pink color (see photo above). They also taste great - the vinegar is not overpowering, the salt is just right. Sliced up, the pickled red beet eggs are also great on a salad. And, as I've just discovered tonight, they make a great snack when a martini has made you feel peckish.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Garden Variety Leftovers

I got a little carried away last fall.

Throughout the growing season, our veggie CSA gives you the opportunity to purchase certain items in bulk. This is a real perk for those of us who love pick-your-own operations but are unable to patronize them due to our toddler’s wanderlust in the orchard. I was, therefore, quite happy to buy raspberries by the flat, peaches by the peck and tomatoes by the ton, all summer long. (Just kidding. I only bought 20 lbs of tomatoes).

The CSA also offers items for winter storage in bulk. With visions of a well-stocked root cellar dancing in my head, I bought a bushel of apples, a bushel of butternut squash, 25 lbs of carrots, 5 pounds of celeriac, 50 pounds of cabbage, 10 pounds of parsnips, 50 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of onions, and a half-bushel of sweet potatoes. I told you, I got carried away.

Lugging all that food into the car and into the house was an exercise in, well, exercise. I didn’t attempt to store it all – most of the apples were shortly turned into applesauce (which was frozen), a third of the cabbage was sliced up for saurkraut, and ~12 lbs of potatoes were drafted for emergency duty at Thanksgiving. Still, I had a lot of food on my hands.

The CSA website has some good ideas for stashing veggies around the house. I’d also read Root Cellaring (a book that makes me drool and wish for a real root cellar) so I had some ideas about where to put what. I’d already established that the unheated closet room on the north side of the house was ideal for squash. Root Cellaring recommended that the sweet potatoes be kept in a relatively warm & dry spot, so they went to the top of the cellar steps; the onions prefer cooler conditions and so rested at the bottom of the same steps. That left me with the Four Vegetables of Cold and Wet Conditions: carrot, turnip, celeriac and parsnip.

I set up a veggie storage area inside this scary-looking closet in our cellar:

I suspect that this cupboard was originally built to be a root cellar. (We tried using it as a wine cellar but we kept drinking up all the wine). It’s not quite cold enough in there for carrots – the temp never gets below 40 degrees F, even in the dead of winter. Still, I thought it was worth a try. I’d read that carrots and the like can be stored in damp peat moss, so I bought some cheap styrofoam coolers, loaded 'em up with veggies and covered it all with peat moss. Then, every week or so I poured some water over the peat moss to keep it moist.

Here’s what the setup looked like (this pic was taken a few weeks ago):

How did it work? The veggies kept surprisingly well. I think they would have kept even better had we not experienced unseasonably warm temperatures in November, right after I loaded up my cellar with produce. It was over 50 F in the closet for several weeks before things finally chilled down outside.

I could not fit all of the carrots into the big cooler so some of them went into a plastic bag in the fridge; surprisingly, the carrots stored in the peat moss held up better over time. Another surprise was that the mice that live in the cellar (the house is 130 years old; there’s going to be mice, people) didn’t eat the veggies at all.

You may have noticed - the carrots have begun to sprout. I think this was again due to our warm fall, and the approaching spring has hastened the process. So I am in a rush to use everything up. But what’s everything?

The potatoes are pretty much gone, as are the onions and turnips. I’ve already told you what happened to the squash. What I mostly have left is lots of carrots, parsnips, and celeriac. They are still edible, though the quality has suffered a bit since they’ve been stored in a too-warm area. I don’t want to throw it all onto the compost heap, therefore I am making a really BIG batch of vegetable stock.

Will I do this again next year? Probably. When the coolers are empty, I’ll bring them out to the garden and use the peat moss to mulch my blueberry bushes. I suppose I could re-use it in the cellar but it seems safer to recycle it and give the coolers a good cleaning. I’ve learned that 25 lbs of carrots is entirely too much, so I’ll try to grow them myself instead of doing the bulk order. Also, bulk sweet potatoes AND squash is more beta-carotene than my family can consume, so I’ll grow the squash and order the sweet potatoes. Unless I can convince my hubby to build me a real root cellar, of course.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Two Great Tastes Don’t Always Taste Great Together

I decided that I need to share more of my misadventures in the kitchen. As I’ve gotten more experience with cooking, they don’t happen as often, but oh yes they do happen. Tonight’s dinner didn’t turn out quite as I’d envisioned – but that’s OK. It was educational! In this case, I tried out two recipes that worked out just fine, they just didn’t work well together.

Recipe #1 was the pork chops with vinegar peppers that Paula posted recently. It was very tasty, just as she promised, and quick and easy to make. Recipe #2 was a baked risotto with butternut squash.

Why, exactly, did I think that the squash risotto would be good with the peppery pork chops? To be honest, I didn’t think it would be good. I didn’t think that it would be bad, either. I had risotto on the brain because I’m trying to clean out my pantry and I had a little arborio rice, and also because I’m trying to clean out the cellar and was making vegetable broth. I also had some squash puree on hand because I’d already cleaned out my closet. And finally, I wanted to try a baked risotto because the stove was tied up with vats of boiling veggie broth.

I poked around on my beloved Internet and found a recipe that looked pretty good. Because I ended up modifying it quite a bit to use the ingredients I had on hand, and because it turns out that some people we know have no love for the Food Network, I’m not going to bother to post a link to the original recipe (unless you really, really want to see it – in that case, click here).

I haven’t tried baking risotto before. I suppose that it can’t possibly be as creamy as the real, laboriously-stirred version, but this was pretty darned good. The squash and the crème fraiche gave it a really creamy texture. It was too sweet and rich, though, to pair well with the vinegary peppers on the pork chops. Next time I’ll try it with chicken or a nice beef stew. I think a pork stew would be OK, maybe this one with fennel. Or that pork confit. Mmmmmm.

Baked Risotto with Squash
(Makes 4 side-dish servings, based on the fact that hubby and I ate half of it for dinner)

2-1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, chicken broth, or water
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup pureed cooked winter squash or pumpkin
~1/4 cup vermouth or dry white wine, optional
~1/4-1/3 cup crème fraiche (or mascarpone cheese, if that's in your fridge)
Salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg
Grated Parmesean or other cheese, optional (Gruyere would be nice)

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Heat the broth in a saucepan on top of the stove, or in the microwave, to warm it up.

Place 2 cups of broth, the rice, squash, and vermouth into a 2-quart baking dish or casserole. Stir well and cover with the casserole lid (or use aluminum foil).

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. If the broth is boiling too vigorously, turn the heat down to 325 F. Bake until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.

When the rice is cooked, stir the risotto. If you are not serving it right away, pour the remaining ½ cup broth on top and set aside (I put it back in the oven, with the heat turned off, until the pork chops were done cooking). When you are ready to eat, stir in the remaining broth, the crème fraiche, and a pinch of nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Eat (preferably NOT with vinegar peppers).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nintendo > Squash

1. We are awash in squash over here. I had ordered a half bushel of butternut squash from our CSA last fall, and we’d eaten our way through two-thirds of it before I hit a wall and we took a little break from it.

2. My 3-year-old son has had a nasty cold all week. Not bad enough to actually slow him down or induce long naps, but sufficient to meet his school’s criteria for “keep your snotty-nosed kid at home.” So yesterday afternoon we were looking for things to do, and I decided it was time to clean up the house a bit. (This is an Event. I Cook a lot, but I don’t Clean very often).

3. In addition to the nasty cold, my son has some sensory processing things going on. He loves the vacuum cleaner, and it turns out that vacuuming is a “heavy work” activity which improves the vestibular sense. So, for my son, vacuuming is therapeutic. Woohoo!

Yesterday morning, after we’d vacuumed nearly the whole house, we moved on to the little room at the top of our stairs which has housed squash for the last few months. It’s unheated, and if I keep the door closed the ambient temperature hovers around 55 degrees – perfect for squash storage (but a little chilly for ironing, the other major function of the room).

While we were cleaning out the closet room I noticed that some of the half-dozen remaining squash were starting to “go.” Not wanting to waste them, I decided to cook them and freeze the puree for later use. My son very helpfully carried the squash downstairs, one at a time (more heavy work!) and had great fun playing with them in the kitchen. When I cut open the squash, he noticed that the seeds and strings looked a lot like sea anemones (another of his favorite things). I scooped the seeds into a bowl and let him rub his hands in them for - still more - sensory input. (Note: I’m onto something here. The sensory potential of vegetables is completely ignored in “The Out-of-Sync Child has Fun”).

I put the squash in the oven to bake, and while my son napped I scraped the flesh into a bowl. Later, he had great fun helping me make the squash puree by pressing buttons on the food processor. We used some of the puree to make a “pumpkin” pie, and he enjoyed mixing all the ingredients together.

My point? My boy spent almost *all afternoon* playing with butternut squash in its various forms, and had a fine time doing so. This isn't anything new for him, though, as he has akways had a love for vegetables since all he sees mommy doing is cook (remember? I don't clean).

This morning, my son mentioned that a little boy in his class (we’ll call him Benjamin) had a nifty toy with him before school one day. Then he said “Take squash with us.” (We didn’t cook all of them– two specimens are still intact). I asked, Do you want to bring a squash to school to show it to Benjamin? He nodded yes. This was something of a milestone because up until now, he hasn’t really paid much attention to the other kids in his class, let alone wanting to share a squash with them. (Truthfully, I don’t know if he wanted to share the squash, as in “Isn’t this cool!” or show it off, as in “Nyah nyah, I have a squash and you don’t”). At any rate, Mommy got all choked up. My baby is becoming social!

(Aside: hubby just read a draft of this post and suggested that I play up the “milestone” aspect even more. It was a big, big thing that our little boy wanted to interact – in a positive way - with a kid at school).

So off we went this morning, my son proudly carrying his squash into school. As we walked through the doors, he began calling “Benjamin, Benjamin!” in a sweet, pleading voice. He was just sooo excited about the squash!

And where was Benjamin? With a group of five or six boys, clustered around somebody’s older brother who had brought in …a Nintendo DS.

Splat. No contest.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Show #9: A Valentine's Feast

Join us in professional chef Petal Joseph-Seale's gorgeous kitchen where we learn to make a Valentine's Day feast fit for a romantic dinner for two or the entire family and how to set a beautiful table for the occasion. Featured recipes include: Lobsert Brulee with Piquillo Peppers; Seared, Herb-Crusted Pork Tenderloin garnished with Sweet and Sour Red Onions; Spaetzle with Chives topped with Swiss Chard; and Nutella-Filled Crepes with Raspberry Sauce. Mmmm.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mary Had A Little (Ground) Lamb

The first time that I found ground lamb in the delivery from our meat CSA, I thought, Oh boy, lamburgers! Well, that’s not entirely true; I did think “lamburgers” but not “oh boy.” Lamb patties were in the regular supper rotation at our house when I was growing up. Simply fried up in a skillet and served without buns, I remember them - not fondly - as a little dry and not terribly exciting. I let my little packet of ground lamb languish, therefore, in the freezer for a few months…

…until I was perusing my Indian cookbook and thought, DUH. LAMB.

I tried out this little recipe for Kashmiri-style meatballs and Oh boy! for real. These are really wonderful. The recipe is easy to do and can be made ahead of time, then re-heated. So, it’s a great recipe for when you have a hankering to make a big Indian feast. The only real problem is that these meatballs taste so good you will wish you had made more of them.

I’m going to give you the recipe verbatim from the cookbook, but just so you know: I don’t really do it this way, because the sauce came out so oily. Maybe it’s just me and I’m doing something wrong, or maybe it’s just supposed to be oily. So what I did was: (1) make the meatball mixture, (2) fry it in a little olive oil, (3) add some water, garam masala, salt and pepper and (4) simmer. I didn’t have any dried milk, either. So maybe I didn’t really make Kashimiri Kofta Kari. But whatever it was, it sure was tasty.

Kashimiri Kofta Kari (Curried Meatballs, Kashimiri Style)
The Complete Asian Cookbook, by Charmaine Solomon

1-1/2 pounds lean minced lamb
1 teaspoon finely greated ginger
2 fresh chilies, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons salt [note: I only used about ½ teaspoon]
½ cup yogurt
3 tablespoons ghee [or olive oil]
1 tablespoon dried milk or khoa
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Put the lamb into a bowl with the ginger, chilies, coriander, chili powder and 1 teaspoon each of the garam masala and salt. Add 1 tablespoon of the yogurt to moisten the spices and help distribute them evenly. A teaspoon or so of the ghee can be added if the lamb is very lean. Mix well and form into small oval shapes.

Heat the ghee in a heavy saucepan, add the dried milk, sugar, remaining yogurt, garam masala and salt. Fry gently, then add a half cup of hot water, bring to the boil and add the koftas. Simmer, covered, until no liquid remains. Turn koftas over, add a half cup more hot water and the pepper, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed once more. Sprinkle the dish with cardamom and serve with Indian breads or rice. Cover after adding cardamom so its fragrance will not dissipate.

Serves 6. [6? 6 what??!? Small children, maybe. The hubby & I polished it off all by ourselves].

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Confit Me

Is there a 12-step program for addiction to pork products? I sure hope so – after eating this pork confit tonight, I may need professional help to keep me from making it every week.

It began innocently enough. I had a small package of country-style pork ribs in the freezer and a pint of lard in the refrigerator. The pork was from our meat CSA; the lard, well, that was an impulse buy at the Polish market when I was shopping for Vigilia in December. I didn’t really know what to do with country-style ribs, but the lard got me thinking: meat…fat…confit.

Have you had duck confit? Artery-clogging, hypertension-inducing confit? Sometimes restaurants put “confit” on the menu, but the plate arrives containing a poseur: true confit is very salty, a little dry, and a bit chewy. Heaven in a duck leg, and it’s pretty good with pork, too. I’d first encountered the pork version on a pizza in Boston. I don’t remember the name of the place, and I don’t know if they’re still in business, but this place near the Brigham made an awesome pie with pork confit.

So I decided to have a go at making pork confit. I used Mark Bittman’s recipe as a guideline, but reduced the amounts of juniper and allspice berries in the brine because even I don’t keep a bucketful of those spices on hand. (I did have a bucketful of fennel seeds, though). The recipe calls for ½ cup of salt, but doesn’t specify kosher vs. regular salt. It matters because kosher salt is “fluffier” and is generally used in greater quantities than regular salt for brining purposes. To complicate matters, I was out of kosher salt and wanted to use up my kimchee salt. So I guessed: I used about 1/3 cup of kimchee salt, which I estimate is a little coarser (and a bit “wetter”) than plain table salt.

I let the pork soak in the brine for 48 hours. In retrospect, 24 hours of brining would have sufficed since I was using country-style ribs instead of a whole pork loin or shoulder. I also could have gone with a shorter cooking time: after 2-1/2 hours, the juices had completely evaporated and the meat began to caramelize a bit. So, 2 hours would probably have been enough time for the pork to become tender.

And oh, how tender it was! I started this last week – put the meat into brine on Thursday, cooked it in the fat on Saturday, then let it cool and stored it in the refrigerator. Today I scraped it all out into a pan and warmed it over low heat, then poured off most of the fat (saving it for the next batch of confit, don’t ya know) and added about 3 cups of drained, homemade saurkraut. (This time, it’s the fresh stuff – I never got around to canning this year’s batch of kraut). Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until the kraut is tender. Eat and swoon.

And try not to do this again next week…

Sunday, January 31, 2010

On Meats and Beans

In addition to the vegetable CSA that I joined last summer, we’ve been doing a meat CSA. For the most part, I love it: we get pasture-raised beef, pork, chicken and lamb (with an option to purchase an Heirloom Turkey at Thanksgiving) on a monthly basis. They charge a flat rate per pound, and you choose the total number of pounds that you want to receive each month.

I won’t get into all the reasons that we decided to go the CSA route for meat – that’s an entire post (or two) in its own right – but I will say that it’s definitely exacerbated my hoarding tendencies. If I’m gonna pay eight bucks a pound for meat, I’m gonna be darned sure that I get as much out of that meat as possible. Every scrap of fat and bone, therefore, gets saved or re-used in some way. It makes for an odd assortment of baggies in the freezer, but that's another story....

…which brings me to Dec 29th, 2009, on which I contemplated a menu for New Year’s Eve. I decided to go with a soup-based meal, since our guests would be arriving at different times and I didn’t want to be locked into the kitchen trying to Make Dinner Happen. I pulled out my favorite soup cookbook –
Soups and Stews, by Bernard Clayton Jr.- and began to peruse recipes. The Seven Bean Soup caught my eye because (1) it could be made a day ahead, (2) I had a lot of dried beans on hand and (3) several teenagers were coming to the party and Bernard described the soup as “a large recipe that will feed a boy Scout patrol, a young football team or a crew freshly returned from a sail.”

(Here I will digress about dried beans: I love them for the vegetable garden, because they are soooo easy to grow. Plant them. Water them. Wait for the vines to die off in the fall, then harvest them. I choose which varieties to grow based mainly on what will look pretty in glass jars on the pantry shelf. Oh, all right, I do read the descriptions of taste, too, in the catalogs, but mostly it’s all about the pretty.)

In the pantry, I had some
Hidatsa Shield Figure and Good Mother Stallard beans that I grew myself, some Jacob’s Cattle beans from the veggie CSA, and a few other organic varieties that I bought at Whole Foods (black beans, cannellini, and chick peas). I also had a lamb bone in the freezer, leftover from a small leg roast, that I thought would work okay in the broth-making step for this recipe – Bernard says to use veal bones, but I didn’t have any, and there’s another recipe for a lamb and bean stew that made me think the lamb bone just might work here. Some people don’t like the flavor of lamb, but I figured that all the smokiness from the ham hocks and sausage would hide any “game-y” character.

If you don’t have the exact types of beans that are called for in the recipe, you can substitute others, or use different proportions of the cited beans, though the soup does look pretty with all the different shapes and colors. As for my heirlooms, I found that the Hidatsas and the Jacob’s Cattle truly are very tasty beans. The next time I make this I will probably add a little more sausage so that it has a greater presence in the bowl.

Since you make the broth from scratch, it takes a while to complete this recipe. You can do it in stages, however, over the course of a weekend: start soaking the beans and make the ham broth on Friday night, cook the beans on Saturday, and put it all together on Sunday. This soup was really delicious…and it did indeed make enough to feed a crew freshly returned from a sail.

Seven Bean Soup
Adapted from Soups and Stews, by Bernard Clayton Jr.

½ cup of each dried beans: navy beans, pinto beans, cranberry beans, kidney beans, black-eyed beans, garbanzos (chick peas), lima beans
2 smoked ham hocks
1 pound soup bones, preferable veal [or whatever you have in the freezer from your meat CSA]
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, chopped finely
2 medium carrots, chopped finely
4 stalks celery, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup vermouth or dry white wine, optional
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, including the liquid
1 pound of garlic sausage (Portuguese liguica, Italian sausage, Polish kielbasa or other)
Salt, if desired or necessary [it wasn’t]
Black pepper to taste

Combine the beans in a large bowl and rinse them in cold water, taking care to remove any stones or grit. Add enough water to the bowl to cover the beans by 2” and let them soak overnight.

The next day, place the ham hocks and soup bone(s) with enough water to cover them by 2” – about 10 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, partially cover the pot with a lid and simmer over low heat for 2-1/2 hours. Skim off any brown film as it collects on the surface.

While the broth is simmering, drain the beans. Transfer them to another saucepan and add water to cover by 2-3” – about 4 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour or until the beans are cooked al dente – definitely not mushy. Drain the beans, reserving some of the cooking liquid in the event it is needed to thin the soup later.

Cut the sausage on the diagonal into ¼”-thick slices. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat and add the sausage slices. Cook until the fat is released and the sausage is browned, about 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a bowl lined with paper towels and discard any excess fat in the pan.

Add the butter to the soup pot and let the foam subside, then add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are translucent, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the vermouth, if using, and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid is mostly gone. [At this point, you can turn off the heat and wait for the ham hocks to finish simmering].

When the ham hocks are cooked, turn off the heat and remove the hocks from the pot. Let them cool a bit and then cut the meat off of them, removing the layers of fat. Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and add to the soup pot containing the cooked vegetables. Discard the fat and bones (if you are preparing the broth a day ahead, you can chill it overnight and remove the fat from the surface the next day. Otherwise use a gravy separator to easily de-fat the ham broth).

Pour the ham broth into the soup pot that contains the cooked veggies. Add the tomatoes and the drained, cooked beans. Add the sausage slices, bring to a boil and simmer over medium-low heat for 30-45 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Salt cautiously, if at all, because the ham will have made its contribution. Add black pepper to taste. Serve with a green salad, a nice country bread, and plenty of butter.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What's for Breakfast?

This post wanders about a bit, but bear with me. There is a point.

You all know that I'm obsessed with breakfast. Not just what I eat, but what everyone else eats all over the world. A while ago, I posited that cultures in which a hearty breakfast was the norm tended to have more skinny people than, say, cultures in which you can find no less than three donut shops within a half-mile radius. (Don't belive me? check out this map. Yes, I live in the donut epicenter of the earth). I set out to test this by eating - you guessed it - a hearty breakfast, hoping that it would fill me up and decrease my consumption for the rest of the day.

The scientists among you will note that my study design is flawed because (1) I did not do a power analysis to determine what the appropriate sample size is to detect a statistically significant different and (2) I'm supposed to attempt to disprove my hypothesis, so what I really should have done was eat nothing at all for breakfast. But, (1) since the Great Computer Crash of '09, I lost all of my bookmarks including that handy sample size/power analysis calculator and (2) since my son started going to preschool every morning, I'm really enjoying the luxury of making myself a nice breakfast after I drop him off.

So what's on my menu? Fried eggs with brown rice, spicy seasoned radish, and roasted seaweed. The radish and seaweed were purchased at Hmart and can I just say, I have become a complete seaweed junkie. It's salty, crispy, and (if you buy that version) a little sweet too. The perfect snack food, and realy, really yummy with a fried egg.

Now I know some of you are thinking, oh Yawn, you just discovered
kimchee and eggs? Get with it, will ya! But yes, I did just discover it, and now I'm totally addicted. I see it as a measure of how far I've come: not so long ago, I would have looked at this and thought, What the heck is that? Now I look and start to drool...

I promised you a point to this post, so here it is...actually, there are 2 points. (1) I'm getting better at the food photography thing - I at least have figured out to place the dish on a non-reflective surface, and (2) I have lost no weight whatsoever, despite all those Hearty Breakfasts. I'm not giving up, though...maybe I just need to extend the study for a few more weeks.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Better Late Than Never, and More On That Pancake

Christmas morning dawned at our house with a pile of presents, eggnog lattes, and total computer meltdown. My poor sister-in-law sat down at the desk to Google something; moments later she was heard to exclaim, “Should the computer be making that sound?” as an ominous warning tone sounded the death knell of our motherboard.

At first, I thought that Santa was playing a trick on me – had I been too naughty this year? Then I suspected my dear husband, who has been wishing for a new computer lo these many months. Finally I chalked it up to bad luck, and the short but happy half-lives of motherboards.

What this has to do with you, dear readers, is that it’s taken us several weeks to recover from the rebuild. (You don’t realize just how many programs you run on a daily basis until you have to reinstall ALL of them). Fortunately, no data were lost; some files just went missing for a while. Like the pictures I took of our Vigila feast. (And upon review, I realize once again that I am a lousy food photographer. Trust me, this all tasted better than it looks). So here you go:

First course, mushrooms stuffed with a mixture of crabmeat, goat cheese, and some panko (Japanese breadcrumbs).

Second course, crabcakes on a bed of baby greens dressed with a Balsamic vinaigrette.

Third course, Korean seafood pancake.

And that’s where the photos end, possibly because I’d had too much wine and couldn’t find the camera, but more likely because, as I mentioned in a previous comment, we got full. I made two of the pancakes and, unbeknownst to me, the Men of the Family had stopped off at a local watering hole for a game of pool and Hearty Appetizers while my sis-in-law and I were out for a nice sushi luncheon. So after we ate up the pierogies, I went ahead and made the seafood stew but we didn’t actually eat it until lunchtime the next day.

After all that food, even the dog was too full for seafood stew.

But more on That Pancake. Oh, how we love the pancake! I’ve made it four or five more times since Christmas Eve – we just can’t get enough of it. I’ve had it at restaurants, and it was good, but it tastes even better when it’s hot right out of the skillet. So get thee to an H-Mart, pick up some mix and try it for yourself. (Of course, you don’t need to buy Korean pancake mix. There are plenty of recipes out there on the ‘net that you can try instead).

Even though most recipes don’t direct you to cook the veggies and/or seafood first, I’m still to chicken to try it that way. So I use cooked, frozen shrimps and whatnot (thaw and drain them well) and saute the veggies until soft. When I have fresh seafood I saute it first, then take it out of the pan before cooking the veggies so the seafood won’t overcook.

I posted a quick version of this before, but because you know I love to be wordy, I’m gonna post it again! With even more instructions!!

Korean Seafood pancake (makes 12” pancake, serves 2 for dinner or 4-8 as an appetizer)

1 egg
¾ cup water
1 cup Korean panckae mix
2-3 tablespoons of oil
1 generous cup of miscellaneous cooked seafood, left whole or cut into bite-sized pieces: shrimp, scallops, shelled clams or mussels, langoustines, fish, calamari, etc.
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallot
About 1/3 cup of carrot and/or bell peppers (any color), sliced into thin strips about 3” long
About 1/3 cup of sliced scallions
About 1 cup of finely sliced Napa or regular cabbage, or red cabbage, optional
¼ to ½ cup garlic chives, cut into 1” sections, optional
1 clove of garlic minced (skip it if you are using garlic chives)

Since I’m usually making more than one pancake, I like to have all the veggies arranged in little piles on a large plate. I combine the seafood in a small bowl and mix it all together. Call it the lazy cook’s mise en place.

Place the egg and water in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add the pancake mix and stir well until the batter is smooth. Get out a large cookie sheet that has one side without a raised edge that you can use to flip the pancake (you can also use the backside of a sheet that has a raised rim all around, or a pizza pan).

Heat a nonstick, 12” skillet over medium high-heat. Add the oil and onion, carrots and peppers; saute for a few minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the scallions and optional cabbage and chives, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage wilts. Stir in the garlic and seafood and distribute the ingredients evenly around the pan.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape the pancake batter out of the bowl and into the pan, covering the ingredients completely. If your spatula is also heat-proof, use it to gently wiggle the ingredients a bit so that the batter gets under everything.

Reduce the heat to medium and wait. Let the pancake cook until the top is no longer shiny and “wet” in appearance, about 10 minutes. Shake the pan gently and make sure that the pancake slides about freely; if it doesn’t, lift up the edges gently with a spatula and drizzle a little more oil underneath, then let it cook for a couple more minutes.

Put on a pair of oven mitts and get the cookie sheet ready. (If you have a gas stove, either turn off the flame or do the flipping over the table). Slide the pancake out onto the cookies sheet, then turn the skillet upside-down over the pancake. Put your oven-mitted hand in the middle of the skillet, your other oven-mitted hand on the cookie sheet, press your hands together and flip the whole thing over. Take the cookies sheet off the top and hope for the best. (If the pancake has ripped, push it back into place with a spatula).

Return the skillet to the stove and cook a few more minutes over medium heat. Slide it out onto a large serving platter or cutting board, cut into wedges and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kapusta, Baby!

I know, I know – I’ve been promising to post this recipe for, like, ever. When I made it for Christmas this year, I finally remembered to make some notes as I went along, although I apparently got distracted halfway through and didn’t write down the entire process. Nonetheless I will attempt now to recount it for you in great detail.

This method is based on what I observed my father-in-law doing on one Vigilia years ago, with a few tweaks stolen from other cultures’ cuisines. (Frying the caraway seeds in oil is straight out of Indian cooking). The exact amount of ingredients is not critical, but I generally aim to use roughly equal proportions of cooked cabbage and saurkraut to keep the sourness in balance. From what I can remember, a 2-lb cabbage cooks down to about 5-6 cups.

It’s a little time consuming but doesn’t require a lot of attention. You can make the kapusta one day, bake it with the kielbasa the next, and serve it on the third day.

I usually prepare this as a component for a main course (baked kielbasa and kapusta), but you can serve it on its own as a side dish. Of course, if you do bake it with the sausage, it begins to resemble choucroute garnie, and if you add another four or five types of meat, presto! you’ve just made bigos (Polish hunter’s stew). So this kapusta is a versatile thing.

Bernie’s Kapusta and (Optional) Mushrooms

1 to 4 tablespoons fat (ideally, rendered bacon fat or lard, but schmaltz or olive oil will do)
Up to 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 pinch of cumin seed, optional
1-2 big onions, cut in half and sliced from top to bottom
A fresh green cabbage, cut into 2” wide wedges then sliced crosswise into 1/3” strips
about 1/2 cup dry Vermouth or dry white wine
Saurkraut, ideally homemade, or at least fermented (look for the stuff in the plastic bags), or in jars from the Polish market
Optionsl: 1-2 oz dried mushrooms soaked in hot water until soft (Polish ones are ideal but porcinis will do)

1. Heat the fat or oil in a very large pot. Add the caraway and optional cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until the seeds start to “pop” in the hot oil.

2. Add the onions and stir. Lower the heat and cook until the onions are soft, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Here’s a picture of the seed-onion mixture, just after adding the onions, to give you an idea of the relative seed-to-onion ratio that you’re aiming for:

3. When the onions are soft, add the cabbage and stir well. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is completely wilted and soft. This may take a while, 30-45 minutes. If the cabbage gives off a great deal of liquid you can take the cover off of the pot and raise the heat a bit until the extra liquid boils away.

4. Now it’s time to add the saurkraut. Drain it (I don’t bother with rinsing) and add it to the cooked cabbage/onion mixture in an approximately equal volume. Add the vermouth, too. Stir well, cover the pot and simmer for a few more minutes until everything is well heated. There should be a bit of liquid in the pot – it shouldn’t be soupy, but not completely dry either.

5. If you’re serving this as a side dish, it’s time to eat. You can make it a day or two ahead of time and reheat – it’s just as tasty. But if you’re planning to make baked kielbasa and kapusta, read on…

I’ve made this five or six times and I’ve finally learned to use a LOT more sausage than I think I should. People love kielbasa…so buy an extra pound and find a way to fit it into the pan.

Bernie’s Kielbasa and Kapusta

At least 2 lbs of smoked kielbasa (Bernie uses Hillshire Farms. If you want to go lower-fat, try Hillshire Farms low-fat or Trader Joe’s Turkey Kielbasa)
A vat of kapusta

1. Transfer the kapusta to a large covered baking dish or pan. When I make a really big batch, I use my roasting pan.

2. Cut the kielbasa into sections. If you are making this for a party, cut the sausages into 3” lengths and slice them lengthwise, for ease of serving. If you are cooking for the family you can leave the sausages intact for single-sausage servings.

3. Arrange the kielbasa on over the kapusta, nestling the sausage into the cabbage as needed to make it all fit into the pan.

4. Cover the pan with the lid, or with some foil, and bake at 350 F for 45 mintues or so, until the kapusta is bubbling hot and there are little browned bits around the edges of the pan.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Don't Check that Email While Cooking!

In my last post, I mentioned that the pork chops were accompanied by braised red cabbage. What I didn't tell you was that I burned the cabbage. I mean really burned the cabbage.

Those of you who watch Neighborhood Dish might have noticed that I always set a timer. Why? Because I'm easily distracted. I often interrupt one thing to do another. For instance, since Starting this, I've already answered 3 emails, taken a shower, and done the lunch dishes. I chalk it up to preferring Intuition the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Registered Trademark).

And I did set a timer for the cabbage before checking my email in another room. Really, I did. However, there's something addictive or compulsive about email, and the computer in general. I heard the timer going off. But "Let me just finish this sentence" turned into "Let me just finish this message" to "Let me just see what this person is emailing about." And before I knew it, there was a nice crust -- about 1/4-inch thick -- of burnt red cabbage on the bottom of my nice braising pan! There was enough to salvage on top, which was tasty, although my dinner guest said, "Did you burn the cabbage or something?" It took me two days of soaking and boiling some water in the pan to finallly get it clean.

So, if you're anything like me, the moral of the story is: Never check your email while cooking!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pork Chops a la Ex

We get something out of every romantic relationship: I got a love of The Who from my college boyfriend, Keith, an introduction to Jazz from Donovan, and a better understanding of Texans from Kevin.

I've always avoided buying and cooking pork chops. They always seem to come out dry and tasteless when I make them. But I received some pork loin chops in my recent meat CSA haul and thought I'd give them a try (well, I didn't have much choice!). But not without the help of an ex-boyfriend.

Ricky, like most Italians, is obsessed with food. He drove me crazy asking me first thing in the morning what I wanted to have for dinner. And like many people obsessed with food, he's an excellent cook. He often served up some wonderful dishes, such as his Lobster Fra Diavolo or Liguine with Clam Sauce (which unfortunately taught me that I can't digest clams). A dish I particularly enjoyed was his pork chops with vinegar and cherry peppers. So I gave him a call (we're still on speaking terms) and asked for the recipe:

Ricky Chiozzi's Pork Chops with Vinegar and Cherry Peppers


Olive oil

3-4 vinegar peppers (You can find them jarred in the Italian food section of your local supermarket. I used Pastene.)

3-4 cherry peppers (see note above)

1 clove garlic

2 pork chops



Coat a fry pan with just enough oil to cover. Chop the garlic and the peppers with just the liquid that comes along when you spear them out of the jar. (They will give off more juices in the pan.) Saute the garlic for a minute or two on medium heat, until it starts to color. Add the peppers and saute for another minute or two. In the meantime, flour the pork chops on both sides. Fry the pork chops in the pan with the oil, garlic and peppers on medium to medium-high heat so that a nice crust forms on both sides. (Not moving the pork in the pan helps this, too.) Remove the pork chops from the pan and keep them warm. Add enough water to the pan to deglaze it by scraping the bits on the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour the resulting sauce over the pork chops and enjoy!


It was every bit as delicious and tender as I remembered. I love taking up a pepper with a bite of pork. I wish I'd thought to used the grooved side (groovy side?) of my new bamboo cutting board when cutting the peppers to collect the juice. The proportion of cherry peppers to vinegar peppers and their amounts are my own. Experiment according to your own taste. I served this with two recipes I got from the Back to Basics cooking class I took at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts last spring: Braised Red Cabbage and Quinoa (a word I always mispronounce "kwi-no-a" instead of "keen-wah") with Carmelized Onions and Sauteed Mushrooms.

Now I can't wait to get more pork chops at my next CSA pick up!