Monday, January 31, 2011

Cranberry bean, pumpkin and sweet corn stew

This dish is one of the cornerstones of Chilean cuisine. When I saw this recipe, I thought, "Ok, another version of bean soup. Yawn." But I had some dried cranberry beans, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Wow. It was really good. I mean really. The New World trifecta of beans, squash and corn developed together for a reason. And to continue the New World-ness, I topped it with some cilantro pesto I made. It makes me want to go to Chile.

A couple of things: you can use white beans instead of cranberry, and either sweet potatoes or butternut squash instead of the pumpkin. Cranberry beans are particularly toothsome, however.

olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped (I used 5-6 canned whole tomatoes)
paprika, salt and pepper
4 cups cooked cranberry beans or white beans (soaked overnight, then pre-cooked in a Crockpot)
2 cups roasted and chopped sweet potatoes, pumpkin or butternut squash (I used two great big sweet potatoes)
Veggie (or chicken) broth
2 cups frozen corn

Saute the onion in the oil until soft, add garlic and tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes or so (until the tomatoes start to break down). Add the seasonings, beans and pumpkin/squash. Add enough broth to float the whole thing, and cook on medium for 15-20 minutes. The beans and squash are essentially already done, you just need to meld the flavors. Add the corn toward the end, cook for another 10 minutes or so. Garnish with fresh basil and cayenne, or cilantro pesto, like I did.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pizza with truffle oil and fresh mozzarella, redux

Okay, this is what that truffle oil pizza was supposed to taste like. I used fresh yeast in the dough, so it was super-risey, and bought a new fresh bottle of truffle oil. I layered on:

truffle oil
fresh mozzarella
cilantro pesto
fresh arugula
good salt and pepper
homemade dried basil
good shredded Parmesan

And man, that was a good pizza. The cilantro pesto was perfect with the truffle oil and fresh mozzarella.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spaghetti with slow-simmered squid

This is what I made to use up the rest of that package of frozen squid from Costco. I can safely say that frozen squid from Costco is not the greatest in the world. Squid can be cooked one of two ways: really fast (deep frying, as in calamari) or really slow (as in sauces). In between, it gets really rubbery, which is why a lot of people think they don't like squid--they've had poor-quality rubbery squid, and/or squid cooked incorrectly. Fresh squid, cooked properly, is a revelation.

Unfortunately, this dish was not revelatory. (Frozen squid from Costco falls squarely in the category of poor-quality and rubbery.) But it was still pretty good.

1 lb squid
olive oil
scattering of dried chili flakes
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (I used cilantro)
1/2 cup white wine
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
1 cup fish stock (but you could use veggie, too)
4 cups or so spinach (I used fresh spinach, but frozen would work too)
salt and pepper

Cut the squid into rings and leave the tentacles intact. Heat the olive oil and add the chili flakes and garlic and let cook for a minute or two. Add the squid and the parsley/cilantro and cook for another ten minutes, stirring often. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti.
Add the wine to the squid and simmer until almost absorbed. Add the tomatoes (I squish whole tomatoes in my hand as I add them to break them up) and the fish stock, a little at a time. Let that cook down for a while.

At the very end, throw in the fresh spinach. Add the spaghetti, along with a little of the pasta water. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Cost: half of frozen box of squid, $11.99, so $5.99. Around $1.50 for a 28-oz can of tomatoes, if you catch them on sale, maybe another $1 for a pound of spaghetti. I used fresh spinach from my CSA, but a box of frozen would work just as well ($1). Everything else I already had in my pantry, including the fish stock, but you could make your own veggie stock for free. About $9.50 total--let's say $10 for a restaurant-quality dish with at least four adult servings, for $2.50 per serving. Olive Garden would charge you at least $16 for the same dish. (And their squid definitely isn't any higher-quality.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Blog meet-and-greet!

For readers in the Boston area, I'll be hosting my first official housewarming party next Saturday, February 5. I'd love to meet you! If you're interested, email me at for details.

For those who can't make it, I'll be testing a new sangria recipe, which I'll be sure to post.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Green bean salad

I was going through my freezer this weekend and discovered half of a big five-pound bag of frozen green beans, in danger of succumbing to freezer burn. So I had to use them up. Obviously, fresh green beans would be super in this dish. But frozen beans weren't too shabby.

2 pounds or so green beans
2-3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Cook the beans and toast the sesame seeds. Pour this dressing over the beans:

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
garlic powder and ginger to taste
1/3 cup olive oil

Mix the first five things together, whisking, then add the oil in a slow stream while whisking. Pour over the beans, and add the sesame seeds. Toss and serve. (This can be served cold or at room temperature, making this a great thing to eat at your desk for lunch the next day.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fresh yeast vs. dried yeast

The other day, I wanted to make pizza for dinner. When I started the pizza crust, I set the yeast out to proof and walked away to do some laundry. (Proofing the yeast involves putting it in warm water to get it going. When it bubbles, you add the flour and so on.)

But my yeast never bubbled. Hmmm, I thought. I went ahead and made the crust, but it never rose.

It was still good, but not as good as it should have been.

Then I wanted to make some bread. That didn't rise at all, either, and that batch had to be thrown out.

When this happens, you know your yeast is dead.

When yeast is dead, it's dead. Your bread won't rise. Just throw it out and get new yeast. If it's really old, or if it's been exposed to high heat, sometimes it'll die. I don't know why mine was dead, but there it was.

So instead of getting new dry yeast, I decided to get fresh yeast. Fresh yeast is, you know, fresh. Yeast. Dry yeast (the stuff in the envelopes) is that stuff, dried. The dried lasts a lot longer, and is shelf-stable. The fresh yeast will only last about a week in the fridge, but you can freeze it and it'll be good for a few more months that way.

It can be hard to find. But I asked at the bakery counter at my local Whole Foods and got a pound and a quarter slab for $4.59.

You'll need to use roughly three times as much fresh yeast, if the recipe calls for dried.

So far I haven't noticed a difference in taste or rise amount. But hey, my bread is rising again. That's the important thing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


While I had my deep fryer going the other day, making fried pickles, I decided to make some calamari as well.

I had a 2 1/2 lb package of frozen calamari from Costco ($11.99). I used about half for the calamari.

I sliced the tubes into rings, and dried them well between paper towels.

For the breading, I mixed about a cup of breadcrumbs with salt and pepper (and other seasonings, if you want). In a separate bowl, I beat three eggs.

I dredged the rings in the egg wash, coated them with the breadcrumb mix, and laid them on a cookie sheet covered in wax paper.

I put that in the fridge for a couple of hours.

To fry, get your deep fryer going to about 365 with vegetable oil (use a covered fryer if at all possible, as squid will pop terribly). Fry a few at a time, about a minute per batch. More than that will make the squid rubbery, and nobody likes rubbery calamari.

I served with a Sriracha aioli (2 parts mayo to 1 part Sriracha).

Yet ANOTHER inspired use of my deep fryer.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fried pickles

Mmmmm, fried pickles. A deep-South Southern delicacy. Usually served with ranch dressing, but I served mine with a Sriracha aioli (1/3 Sriracha, 2/3 mayo).

One of the things I got in a recent CSA box was a jar of homemade dill pickles.

I like pickles and all, but I don't usually have the need for a whole jar of them. So I decided to make fried pickles. Had these been whole pickles, I would have sliced them into pickle chips, I think fried pickles are best from pickle chips. But these were in lengthwise halves, so I sliced them into spears and fried them that way.  Plus, you can save all the pickle juice in the pickle jar. If you add fresh cucumbers to the old pickle juice, in a few days, you'll have new pickles!

Whichever way you slice them, make sure they're well dried off first. I placed mine on a paper towel, and pressed another paper towel on top.

Then mix a cup or so of flour with a tablespoon each of paprika, garlic powder, salt, sugar and cayenne. In a separate bowl, beat three eggs. Dredge the pickles in the egg wash, then coat them with the flour mixture.

Meanwhile bring your deep fryer up to 350, with vegetable oil (or do the same in a cast-iron skillet, though that will get splattery). Fry in batches, a couple minutes per batch, and drain on paper towels.

For the aioli, mix 2 parts mayo to 1 part Sriracha and mix well.

Another brilliant use of my deep fryer.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Homemade hummus costs a fraction of the stuff at the supermarket, and tastes better, too. I threw this batch together in less than five minutes.

Maybe 3 cups chickpeas, dried then reconstituted and pre-cooked in a CrockPot
1/3 cup tahini
juice of one lemon
2-3 peeled garlic cloves
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste

Whiz in your food processor until blended and smooth. Makes about 2 1/2 cups. Add cumin and cayenne to flavor, if you want.

Cost: The tahini is the most expensive thing on the list, probably $4.99 for a tub. But there's probably two cups in each tub, so maybe 80 cents for the tahini and 75 cents for everything else, if you buy the dried chickpeas and lemons in bulk. $1.55 for a huge bowl full of fresh hummus...the supermarket will charge you at least $3.99 for a container with 1/4 of that amount.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wine from my collection: Francis Coppola Pinot Noir

(I've reviewed the Coppola Petite Sirah here.) Yes, that Francis Coppola. You know him better as Francis Ford Coppola, director of Apocalypse Now and The Godfather. His winery produces thoroughly competent mid-range wines. The pinot noir retails for around $17.99, but I found it on sale for about $12.

It's a good, all-purpose pinot noir. Not the most fruit-forward, but still tasty and very quaffable. I'm not sure I'd pay full retail for this--it's not special enough, in my opinion, to warrant a near-$20 price tag--but on sale, it's a good buy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Black-eyed pea soup with collard greens and andouille sausage

One of the things I got in my veggie CSA last week was a big head of organic collard greens. A quick scan of my pantry confirmed a bag of dried black-eyed peas, so this soup was a no-brainer.

One bag of dried black-eyed peas, soaked and pre-cooked in your CrockPot
One onion, chopped
A few cloves of garlic, chopped
One bell pepper, chopped
One package of andouille sausage (or other spicy sausage; kielbasa would work, too), sliced
One 28-oz can whole tomatoes
One bunch of collard greens
Seasonings: Italian, cumin, chili powder, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper
Several cups of broth (I used a combination of veggie and chicken)

Saute the onion, garlic and pepper in olive oil until soft. Add the sausage and cook for a few more minutes. Deglaze with a splash of white wine, if you have it, and add the tomatoes. Squeeze them in your hand as you add them, to break them up. Add the black-eyed peas and seasonings, and add enough broth to float the whole thing. Let that cook down for about 20 minutes or so, then add the chopped collard greens. Cook for another 10 minutes, and serve.

Cost: bag of dried beans, $1. Andouille sausage, $4.99. Can of tomatoes, $1.59 on sale. Collard greens, let's say $2, and 75 cents for the onion, garlic and pepper. The broth I made myself. Total cost: around $10 for a big vat of soup, at least eight adult servings, around $1.25 per serving. If you left the andouille sausage out, or substituted a cheaper kind of meat, you could cut the cost substantially.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baked redfish with Meyer lemon slices

These are the redfish I got from my fish CSA, which I gutted and decapitated myself. To bake, I simply rinsed them off, and laid them on a bed of roughly chopped onions and celery. (One onion, about four stalks of celery, in an 8 x 14 Pyrex casserole dish.) I sprinkled a little Old Bay seasoning on the fish, and covered each with Meyer lemon slices. Bake at 400 around 35-40 minutes.

I served them with spoon bread and a green salad. A great healthy winter meal!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pan-grilled pork chops

Aren't those some beautiful pork chops? They're thanks to my new meat CSA, which I blogged about yesterday. I know you're thinking, "So, if this CSA is $100 a month, for three pickups those two pork chops basically cost you $33." True. But they were BIG. You can't really tell from the picture, but they were each two inches thick, and bigger than my outspread hand. And fresh, organic, free-range, 100% Berkshire heritage breed pork. You can't get that kind of quality meat shrinkwrapped at Kroger's. Look how glossy and pink they are!

Anyway, since I don't have a grill (even if I did, it was 7 degrees outside, with two feet of hardpacked snow on the ground), I decided to pan-grill them.

Heat your oven to maximum (probably 500 degrees) and put a cast-iron skillet in there. Rub a little olive oil on the chops, which should be at room temperature. When the skillet is smoking hot, throw the chops in there (you may have to do one at a time, depending on the size of your pan/chops) and return to the oven. Cook about 5-7 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the chop. Serve with salt, pepper, and lemon wedges.

That's it! I served them with mushroom risotto and sauteed zucchini:

Makes your mouth water, doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A new CSA! For meat!

I found a new CSA! For meat!

So you know that I belong to both a veggie CSA and a fish CSA already. Thanks to The Butcher Shop, now practically my whole food intake is governed by CSAs. It's pretty awesome. Granted, my grocery budget has gone up a bit. But my grocery shopping has gone way down, as I only ever need to shop for staples now (grains, rice, eggs, that sort of thing.)

The way the meat CSA works, it's $100 a month for a half-share, and each month is a different kind of meat. This month was organic, free-range, Berkshire pork from the Finger Lakes in New York. There was a demonstration, butchering the pigs, and then we each took home our first week's share: two beautiful big loin chops. Next week we'll get bacon and ham, the next week sausages, head cheese and chicharron (pork cracklin's). Next month will be veal. I'm totally excited already.

Here are some shots from the demonstration:

Mmmmmmm! Look at all that beautiful fresh pork!

Tomorrow I'll show you what I did with the chops.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pizza with truffle oil, mushrooms and fresh mozzarella

Before I tell you the story, let me just say this was still an exceptional pizza.

Here's the moral of the story: truffle oil eventually loses its truffle smell.

Yesterday, I was searching for pizza inspiration. I wanted to use some of the fresh bufalo mozzarella I found at Costco. I also had some baby portobello mushrooms and a handful of spinach. Then I saw the tiny bottle of truffle oil, and I thought YES. TRUFFLE OIL.

When I opened it, it smelled like regular vegetable oil, gone slightly sour.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck, I thought. All the nice truffle smell has evaporated. Apparently it pays to pay attention to the expiration date.

Well, no matter. I used it anyway, but fresh truffle oil would have been so much nicer. I poured what was left into my jug of olive oil and swished it around to mix it in. It's still oil, even if it isn't so truffley anymore.

So, truffle oil pizza:

1 pizza crust
A few tablespoons of truffle oil
Two balls of fresh bufalo mozzarella, thickly sliced
Two handfuls of mushrooms (preferably wild), sliced
A handful of fresh spinach
A scant handful of fresh parmesan, grated

Drizzle the oil over the crust. Gently saute the mushrooms in some butter until browned; throw the spinach in at the last minute and cook together until just wilted. Add both to the pizza. Top with the cheese, good salt, and fresh pepper. Bake at 475 for 15-20 minutes.

Another caveat: the cheese melted all over my oven. Be sure to add a cookie sheet or something under the pizza stone in case this happens to you.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cookbook review: The Family Dinner by Laurie David

The Family Dinner is less a cookbook (though it is) and more a reference manual on how to have consistent, fun, healthy family dinners where your kids eat what's on the table and everyone talks without fighting. (It is possible.) Laurie David was married to a famous TV producer; when they divorced, she wanted to maintain the family dinner structure at all costs, and this book is the result of that. Fortunately, it works just as well for us lesser mortals, even if we don't have Steve Martin over for dinner.

There are plenty of recipes, and also plenty of recipes your kids can make. There are creative conversation starters, games to play, things to read out loud, as well as chapters on how to bring all this together. It's a great book to have on hand if you want to start a family dinner routine, or if you've gotten out of the habit and need some ideas to bring your kids back in line.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cookbook review: Forgotten Skills of Cooking

Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen is a great book, if you're into that sort of thing. A lot of people could care less on how to raise and slaughter chickens, or how to make sausages from scratch, or how to build a cold smoker. And that's cool. But I find that stuff fascinating, even though I have yet to make sausages and my husband gives me the stink-eye every time I mention chickens in the backyard.

There are plenty of great recipes for everyday cooks, as well. But one day I hope to be able to forage compentently for wild mushrooms, to make my own blackberry jam and duck confit and apple cider, to smoke my own bacon. I'm not there yet, but books like this remind me of that goal. It can't hurt to build a reference library ahead of time, right?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cookbook review: The Sriracha Cookbook

If you don't know about Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, you need to.

It's a Thai chili sauce that comes in a bottle with a rooster on it (hence the term "rooster sauce"), and is pretty much the most awesome condiment ever. Outside barbecue sauce, anyway. It was named Bon Appetit's Ingredient of the Year. It's sweet, garlicky, and really hot all at once.

The Sriracha Cookbook shows you all the billion different ways you can use this sauce. My favorite is to mix equal parts Sriracha and mayo for an impromptu aioli, served with sweet potato fries. You can also mix it with ketchup for a kicked-up version of ketchup; served with regular fries, you'll never go back to plain ketchup again.

But there are other things you can do with it--make Sriracha pesto, Sriracha-sesame vinaigrette for salads, cheddar-Sriracha swirl bread, bacon-Sriracha cornbread, even make a peach-Sriracha sorbet. (That's in addition to putting it on your sandwiches, ribs, burgers, etc.)
I'm gonna be using a lot more Sriracha in the near future.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What my pantry really looks like

My dear friend L came over to housesit/catsit for me while my hubby and I were visiting relatives over Christmas. It was the first time she'd been over to our new house, and the first thing she said when she came through the door was, "I want to see your pantry."

"My pantry?" I said.

"Yes, I want to see your kitchen and pantry and all. I've been reading your blog all this time, I want to see it."

"Well, ok," I said, and gave her the tour.

"You should totally post pictures of this on your blog," she said afterward.

"I should? Why?"

"Because it's all so normal," L said. "All this time I've been picturing some crazy professional setup, but your kitchen looks like mine, just with more stuff. You've got the bottomless pit of mismatched Tupperware, the refrigerator door full of condiments, you should let people know that your kitchen looks just theirs does."

So here you are, dear readers: my kitchen and pantry.

The wall of cookbooks, along the back of the dining room, adjacent to the kitchen.

Bowls of things.

Flours, grains, etc.

Which are next to the pans, which are above the prep table, which is filled with the fixings for several projects. Plus my cat.

China cabinet.

The refrigerator. Note bulk quantities of things, and the prevalence of Tupperware. What you can't see: all the broth in the back.

The cheese drawer, just after a trip to Costco. It's full.

The freezer. Note all the fish stock up front. You can also make out a couple boxes of butter, several containers of ground turkey (shrink-wrapped, up top), some nuts, some puff pastry, some frozen vegetables. There's a lot of other stuff crammed behind. My freezer is always full, and always in danger of being booby-trapped--things falling out on your foot whenever you open it.

The pantry, next to the stove. Flours, canned stuff, Tupperware, bakeware on the bottom three shelves.

The spice cabinet.

Next to the spice cabinet.

The countertop. The butter stays out at room temperature, so it's spreadable.

More countertop.

Next to the stove, under the spice cabinet.

So that's it! My crazy, unorganized kitchen, which is bigger than any kitchen I've ever had before, by a factor of about seven.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wheatberries with roasted root vegetables

I picked up some wheatberries for the first time the other day. As the name indicates, these come from wheat--ground up, they make flour. They're sort of like a chewier quinoa.

1 1/2 cups wheatberries
2 quarts salted water
2-3 lbs worth of winter vegetables: I used some purple potatoes, a big turnip, a butternut squash, several carrots, and a beet. You could also use parsnips, rutabagas, celery root, whatever.
1 onion
dried cherries or cranberries

Bring the 2 qts salted water to a boil and add the wheatberries. Cook until done (chewy with just a hint of crunchy), 30-60 minutes. Drain. Meanwhile, peel chop the vegetables into a small to medium dice. Toss with olive oil, and roast in a 400-degree oven until tender all the way through. Mix the wheatberries and roasted vegetables together, season with salt, pepper and thyme, and add the dried fruit. Stir together. Serve hot or at room temperature. Yum yum.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Salt-baked whole fish with Meyer lemons

This is a great way to cook fish, and looks really pretty for a dinner party or something. Caveat: make it for people who don't care about the final presentation, as it's tricky to pull off clean fillets. For me, anyway. When the fish was done, I ended up with a plate full of fish pieces. Which, fine, they taste just as good, but clearly I'm going to need some practice in table-side fish dissection.

The fish doesn't taste salty at all--the salt forms a crust on the outside of the fish, locking in moisture. The fish turns out really tasty and juicy, and the salt crust cracks right off when it's done.

Take a whole fish, any kind, head, tail and skin still on. Rinse and pat dry.

Line a big roasting pan with kosher salt (you'll need a couple of pounds of kosher salt, total) and a couple bay leaves, like so:

Then lay the fish in there.

(This is a haddock, btw.)

Quarter a Meyer lemon, and stuff the inside cavity with the quarters.

Isn't that cute?

Then pour more salt over the fish, like so:

Bake at 400 for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the fish. This one was pretty big, probably at least 2.5 or 3 pounds.

When it's done, it'll look like this:

...which is pretty much exactly the same. Crack off the salt, peel back the top layer of fish, and remove to a plate. Grab the tail and pull toward the head--the tail, skeleton and head will all come off at once. Drop that into the trash can. This is what it looks like after that:

Then remove the bottom layer of fish to a plate.

There. Done. Juicy, fresh, whole fish with a minimum of effort. Squeeze more lemon juice over, and enjoy.