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!