Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Summery Supper

Dont'cha just HATE posts without pictures of the food? I know, I, too. Mea culpa! I whipped up a lovely, light summertime supper last night that I want to share with you, but I was gardening until darkness fell, and I was so tired and we ate so late that I didn't have the strength or patience for the photography before we fell on our plates and devoured said meal. So you'll have to go on faith that it was both lovely and tasty.

We started with, you guessed it, the strawberry salad that we are still so enamoured with (an there IS a picture of that in a recent post!). Then I made a yummy grilled salmon for which there is no real recipe. I simply coated a skinned, filleted half of salmon on both sides with the spicy house rub, let it "marinate" for a half hour or so, before drizzling with olive oil and grilling. Then I served the fish over a bed of green rice, another terrific recipe that I read about on Alexis Stewart's blog (6/25/08). You know, I feel an aside coming on here, but I really enjoy reading her blog. In many ways, she is her mother's daughter--her obsessive baking tendencies and her compulsions toward cleanliness and order. But whereas everything is always flawless perfection with Martha, Alexis shows you her mistakes and tells you when things go horribly wrong in the kitchen (and gives ideas for solutions to fix those problems). She seems much more approachable, and as a bonus, she is wonderfully sarcastic and irreverent. And I don't think Martha would ever dream of posting before and after pictures of HER boob job on her blog (6/26/08)! Tee hee. Don't get me wrong, I love Martha because she is Martha, but I think I could hang with Alexis.

Anyway....the green rice. Basically, you just make a huge pot of steamed, long-grained white rice (two cups raw rice, plus three cups of water, plus a good pinch of salt, brought to a boil, covered, and simmered for 15-20 minutes and fluffed with a fork). Then you make a spicy, flavorful, herby puree (not unlike the persillades and chimichurris that I've been all about lately!) to pour over the rice to make it green. Fresh, light--healthy even--and dee-licious!

Green Rice
(Source: Alexis Stewart's Blog, 6/25/08)

1 cup chopped scallions (green onions)
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
3-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 jalapenos with seeds, roughly chopped*
2-3 jalapenos without seeds, roughly chopped*
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil**

Puree until smooth in blender then mix into prepared rice.

Gina's Notes:

*When I make this again, I will start with two jalapenos and taste before I add more! I used four total this time (two with seeds), and it was too hot for my comfort, even though I like things with a good bit of heat. Also, I will use all seeded peppers.

**I would increase the olive oil to at least two tablespoons. I think it needs a little more richness, and the oil helps mellow the spice of the peppers. (Even with two tablespoons of oil, it's still quite low in fat, if you worry about such things.)

Finally, we ended our lovely meal with a slice of tart and tangy and perfectly summery grapefruit cake. Cyd had a grapefruit that was going around the bend, so I rescued it and made a recipe that I found on the delightful blog, Smitten Kitchen. It's basically a twist on an Ina Garten recipe for lemon yogurt loaf cake, but I think any citrus flavor would work. Oh, and if you want to see lovely pictures of the cake, Deb takes MUCH better photos than I do, so click the previous link. Of course, my cake had a lovely, drizzly powdered sugar glaze that she opted against, but you will still get the general idea. Here's the recipe:

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake
Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa via Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I used nonfat, as it's what I had on hand)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs (I used 4 small to medium)
3 teaspoons grated grapefruit zest (approximately one large grapefruit--I didn't get this much off of mine, but it was overly-ripe and very soft, hard to grate)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan. (I used a Pyrex loaf pan and just sprayed it with floured-added nonstick spray, and the cake came right out with barely a crumb behind.)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into one bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, grapefruit zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the grapefruit-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and grapefruit juice and pour over the cake.
(Deb says that this is superfluous, and perhaps it isn't vital, but it's the only uncooked part of the fruit used in this recipe, and I think it gives the cake a fresher taste and that much more grapefruit flavor. But you do what you need to do.)

Ok, ok, I will leave you with one picture to soothe your hostilities and perhaps make you chuckle as well. I spayed my sweet little PBGV, Prunelle, last week. She just turned seven (which I can't even believe!), so I finally had to give up the dreams of her ever finishing a championship and/or having a litter. Though the surgery went off without a hitch, she has since been licking her wound and has managed to give herself the beginnings of a nasty infection. So I took her to the vet for a follow-up yesterday, and along with a course of antibiotics, she also must now suffer this indignity...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Grilling in the rain...I'm grilling in the rain! (Sing it, people!)

After the crazy whirlwind that was my recent trip to Chicago, my plans for this past weekend were as follows: sleep, sleep, maybe grill something, and SLEEP! The weather was very cooperative toward my goals, as it rained like a son of a gun all weekend. Thus, I did not feel overly-compelled to go anywhere or do anything, I didn't even have to water the gardens, and the environmental ambiance was highly conducive to napping. Everyone else in these parts is griping about the lack of sunshine, but I grew up in Oregon, so no complaints from me. Between the rain spells, I did manage to get the herb garden weeded (the vegetable beds will have to wait until next weekend), and we even had a bit of a BBQ last night before the monsoons descended once again.

Usually, we like to make Sunday night steak night, but I have discovered a fabulous new pork chop recipe that gives the ribeye a run for its money. The idea for a pomegranate marinade came from looking at some luscious pictures on the website, Coconut & Lime. But I sort of made my own way with the recipe, both on accident and by design. First of all, though I easily found pomegranate-infused vinegars in my local grocery stores, the pomegranate molasses was a problem. I didn't really know what pomegranate molasses was, but I decided to buy a jug of pomegrate juice, boil it down to a thick syrup with sugar to taste, and then maybe throw in a little regular molasses, figuring that might be a close approximation to this mysterious ingredient. Only after doing this did I think to Google pomegranate molasses, and I learned that it is a staple of Middle Eastern cooking that can be purchased in ethnic groceries, but it is easily and less expensively made at home by boiling down pomegranate juice with some sugar and lemon juice! (Other than the lemon juice, I figured the rest out on instinct--yeah for me!) Despite the name, pomegranate molasses does not contain sorghum molasses--the title simply indicates a similar consistency (that is, boil the juice for 45 minutes and you have pomegranate syrup, keep boiling for an hour or more, you have "molasses"). Secondly, I do not prefer mint as a savory ingredient, so I chose to swap it out with chives the first time I made this dish, and thyme last night. I rather think you could add the herb of your choice and it would all be good. I also cut down on the ginger quite a bit, as it is so powerfully pungent, but I added lots of garlic, as is my way. Finally, I can report that this is a great marinade for any kind of pork that you might wish to grill--thick or thinner chops, steaks, country-style ribs, or tenderloin. It's absolutely delicious--a definite keeper in my grilling repertoire.

Pomegranate Pork Chops
(Source: adapted from
Coconut & Lime)

This is plenty of marinade for 4-6 large pieces of pork--chops, steaks, or ribs. Marinate for a minimum of two hours before grilling or, preferably, overnight in the fridge.

1/2 cup pomegranate-infused balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon sorghum molasses (optional, but my "mistake" was yummy)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh herb of your choice (mint, chives, thyme, what have you), chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Pomegranate Syrup or Molasses
(Source: from he who should have been my husband,
Alton Brown)

I didn't realize that I was doing it at the time, but I doubled this recipe, using the whole 64 oz. jug of pomegranate juice and one full cup of sugar, then saved the remainder in a airtight plastic container. It will keep practically forever in the fridge--or certainly throughout the grilling season!

4 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

For syrup: Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 1/2 cups, approximately 50 minutes. It should be the consistency of syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

For molasses: Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 cup, approximately 70 minutes. It should be the consistency of thick syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

For our side dishes, we had another amazing strawberry salad (we have become obsessed with this salad these days!)--this time with candied pecans and a blue cheese vinaigrette. And then I made a simple but simply FABULOUS potato salad as well. This is my basic recipe that I tweak a little every time I make it, using a different herb or type of onion or potato or kind of relish. But this is the version that I made this past weekend that was quite marvelous, if I do say so myself (and I do!).

Gina's Best Potato Salad

3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, chunked, boiled until tender, and cooled (any "waxy" potato will do--also try fingerlings or blue potatoes, or a mix of red, white and blue potatoes for Independence Day!)
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup minced Vidalia onion (any kind of onion will suffice--I often use scallions for color and their milder flavor)
2-3 heaping tablespoons of
homemade zucchini relish (soon I will try the Vidalia relish for this, but pickle relish would also be fine)
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (parsley is good, too)
1 teaspoon of ground celery* (or use celery salt and cut down on the regular salt)
1 cup mayonnaise (more or less, as you prefer)
1 tablespoon mustard (your favorite kind--I usually just use yellow)

Gently combine all of the above, chill for several hours or overnight, check the seasoning (it always needs more salt the next day!), and devour alongside grilled meats.

*I do NOT prefer crunchy celery interfering with my nice, smooth, creamy potato salad. But if you do, knock yourself out--add a stalk or two, diced, with my blessing.

Finally, for dessert, we continued the strawberry theme (the high holy season has begun, dont'cha know!) with one of my favorite homemade ice cream flavors, strawberry buttermilk. YUM! Because of the lowfat buttermilk, the texture is a little more like sherbet than ice cream, but I just love it. When I'm making it for other people, I leave the strawberries a bit chunkier, but for me, I like to puree them and put them through a strainer to remove the majority of the vexing seeds. (It's a textural thing.) Plus, then it becomes such a lovely shade of ballerina pink! I highly recommend that you try it, as I know you all have a pint of berries about to turn on you or soon will!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Simple Fare After My O'Hare Scare

One of my dearest friends got married last weekend in Chicago, and it was such a joy to be there, to celebrate the happy couple and to see many old and much-missed friends. And there were good eats to be had in the Windy City, too! I don't have many pictures to show because my ridiculous friend Kurt has yet to send them to me (I borrowed his small camera to be less ostentatious in restaurants). But I can highly recommend Hema's Kitchen, a terrific, authentic, and inexpensive Indian restaurant. Kurt and I had an enormous feast (we took the "one of everything on the menu to sample" approach in our ordering), and it all came to about forty bucks. Everything was delicious, but I particularly enjoyed Hema's raita. It was unusual in that, not only did it have yogurt and cucumbers, but also chopped tomatoes, whole chickpeas, and cilantro, I believe. Wonderful stuff on those spicy curries!

Then the next day for brunch, we went to Toast, which was conveniently located just a couple of blocks from the church in Lincoln Park. We had planned on sampling some of their signature dishes, like stuffed French toast or a spicy breakfast burrito. But our server described one of the specials that we couldn't resist trying. They do a mean Croque Monsieur there (grilled honey ham, gruyere cheese, and Dijon on lovely, soft, thick bread), but one of the other staff members likes it with a fried egg (which actually makes it a Croque Madame), avocado (a California Croque Madame, perhaps?), and a side of truffle hollandaise (a California Cardiologist's Croque Madame!). Good heavens, it was SCRUMPTIOUS! It was served with chunky, flavorful home fries, and Kurt washed his down with a gorgeous Bloody Mary that was super-spicy and topped with every veggie in the kitchen--broccoli, onions, peppers, celery, etc. (This is where I wish I could show you the picture...Kurt, are you reading this? Ahem!)

After the wedding, there was a champagne reception, and the cake was delicious. (In my experience, wedding cakes are often admired more for their looks than their taste!) My friends live near the Andersonville neighborhood in Chicago, and there is a wonderful Swedish bakery there. They often order a princess torte from them that they love, so they had a larger one fashioned into their wedding cake. It was a traditional sponge, but between the bottom layers, there was a very light raspberry mousse filling, and between the top layers, there was a lemon mousse filling. And then the whole thing was covered in marzipan. Raspberries, lemon, and almonds make for a delicious, summery combination, and I really liked that it wasn't too sweet. Also in Andersonville on Sunday, we poked around a street fair called Sommarfest, and there was lots of great food to be had at all of the little stalls. Before we had a proper lunch at a nice Italian restaurant called Calo, known for their excellent pizza and, oddly, their BBQ ribs, we pre-functioned outside Ole Ole on some terrific empanadas served with this incredible salsa verde, and also some lovely, fresh-tasting ceviche (pictured here, as I used MY camera! HMPH!)

Sadly, I had to leave Sommarfest and my friends prematurely because I had to get to O'Hare to catch my flight home...or so I thought! It was bad enough that we had to sit for FOUR HOURS on the tarmac in Philadelphia on the way to Chicago (gone are the days where they keep you circling above before landing at a busy airport), but my trip back to Burlington, VT introduced me to an unprecedented level of air travel horror. My friend got me there in what should have been plenty of time to make the flight, but with all the crazy storms in the midwest that we've been hearing about in the news, there were lots of cancelled flights, so it was chaos there. My flight was split between US Air and United, and I started at the US Air counter in Terminal 2, but they said I had to check in with United in Terminal 2. So I hauled myself and my big suitcase (and my blistered heels from my wedding shoes!) all the way down to Terminal 2, only to encounter this writhing sea of humanity in several indistinct, unidentifiable lines, waiting for God knows what. I confirmed with folks in the back of one line that it was the right one for check-ins, but after waiting there for a little while, a grumpy United representative came along and told us if we had only an hour to catch our flight, to go outside and get in the skycap line or we wouldn't have time to check our bags. So I did as I was told, but the wait in that line was a half hour, and by the time it was my turn, they said it was too late, that I would miss my flight, despite the fact that I still had a half hour!

So with tears welling, I now assumed the dreaded position in the "missed and cancelled flights" line. But before I waited an hour a half only to find out that I was in the wrong line, I called US Air. They told me to get out of that line and go back to US Air in Terminal 2. So I did, and of course, US Air told me that they had no more flights left that evening, so I was better off going back to United to see if I could get on the last flight to Burlington at 9pm. After another grueling trek back to Terminal 1, I stood in line for an hour and a half, and despite giving me attitude about being "late" to the airport (um, I was an hour and fifteen minutes early--more than they say you need for domestic flights!), she put me on stand-by for the 9pm flight, and assured me that I would get on, as I was #1 on the list. As a bonus, because they just switched my ticket at the last minute, I had to have the extra-special treatment by security (getting felt up without even being asked to dinner first!). Then I hauled myself down to the farthest gate in the airport and waited and prayed to be assigned a seat. No such luck. Despite the counter agent's reassurance, I somehow fell from #1 to #11 in priority, and there were only three open seats. Now my bag was on the way to Vermont, and I was stuck in Chicago. I didn't have the heart to call my friends and make them do another round trip to O'Hare, so I found a cheap, crappy hotel room about 20 minutes from the airport, got some tideover toiletries from the front desk, washed my underwear in the sink and dried them with a hair dryer, then slept in my clothes for about fifteen minutes before I had to be back to the airport to start the madness all over again the next morning! Friends, with the economy the way it is and gas inching toward $5/gallon, air travel as we used to know and experience it is no more. In fact, forget about travelling on the weekend, unless you know that you won't get fired for missing work Monday morning, which is all but inevitable. You know, I don't expect hot towels for my face or even a meal, and I will soon come to accept having to pay to check my bag and for a measly can of soda during the flight, but can someone PLEASE treat me with some compassion as a fellow human being? I guess that costs extra, too. (Sigh.)

By the time I finally got home on Monday afternoon, after waiting 20 minutes in line in Burlington to retrieve my bag, then making the hour-and-a-half drive home, I was demoralized and EXHAUSTED. But Cyd took care of all the pets and watered my garden for me while I was away, so I owed her a pumpkin pie (her weird summertime request). Plus, she had some extensive dental work done the week before and still couldn't chew much without pain, so I tried to devise a meal that was quick, easy, and not too crunchy. I made one stop on the way back from Vermont at a certified organic farm for the first breathtaking, super-sweet, red-all-the-way-through strawberries of the season. And of course, the one thing we have plenty of right now is lettuce. So I made a salad with fresh greens, sliced strawberries, crumbled bleu cheese, slivered Vidalia onion (red would be good, too), sliced almonds and raspberry vinaigrette. It was SO yummy, although at some point in the very near future, I am eager to try a version with pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette, too. Delish! The entree was a super-simple pasta dish with tuna and capers that I read about on Alexis Stewart's blog. It's supposed to have raisins also, but as I hate them, I substituted some sun-dried tomatoes. It's a tasty dish, and you can have the "sauce" ready by the time the pasta is done. It's perfect for those days when you can't face too much kitchen duty. Finally, for dessert, I honored my pumpkin promise, but instead of pie (far too autumnal!), I made lighter, cooler, prettier little pumpkin parfaits that hit the spot and didn't take long to make. That was good, because after my O'Hare ordeal, I headed to bed early that night before dragging myself back to work on Tuesday. I had so much fun in the Windy City as I always do, but I'm glad to be home!

Linguine with Tuna, Capers and Raisins
(Source: Gourmet, Dec. 2005, via

1 lb dried linguine (I used mini-penne)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (you could get by with as little as half of this, IMHO)
1 cup frozen chopped onions (from a 12-oz bag) such as Ore Ida brand (um, WHY?? chop some onions your own damn self!)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
*I added a good pinch of red pepper flakes
2 (6-oz) cans tuna in olive oil, drained
1/3 cup drained bottled capers (packed in brine; from a 3-oz jar)
3/4 cup golden raisins (I swapped out slivered sun-dried tomatoes)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I drizzled mine with leftover
chimichurri instead)

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta and return to pot.

While pasta cooks, heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking and cook onions and garlic with salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in tuna, capers, raisins, parsley, and reserved cooking water. Add tuna mixture to pasta, tossing to combine, and serve immediately.

Pumpkin Parfaits
(Source: Adapted from someone with the moniker,
"Papa Mike")

4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
pinch of salt

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup + 1 tablespoon cold milk or half and half, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups whipped topping, thawed

2 pkgs. (4-serving size) vanilla instant pudding
15 oz. pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine the melted butter, chopped pecans and salt. Sprinkle a little of the nut mixture into the bottoms of eight parfait glasses. Set aside.

Mix cream cheese, one tablespoon of milk, and sugar with wire whisk until smooth. Gently fold in whipped topping. Divide evenly into parfait glasses and top with another layer of the chopped nuts.

Pour one cup milk into mixing bowl. Add pudding mixes. Beat with wire whisk until well blended, one to two minutes. Let stand three minutes. Stir in pumpkin and spices; mix well. Divide evenly into parfait glasses and once more, top with nuts. Cover parfaits with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours. Garnish with an additional dollop of whipped topping.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Too hot to cook (much)!

Was it or was it not me who was just griping about a frost advisory AFTER Memorial Day? Well, no sooner than we had taken the insulation materials down from the old, drafty windows and dispelled the darkness from our tomb of a house, we are now looking at covering up the view once again with an air conditioner! The heat wave that was promised came, and came with a soggy, muggy vengeance! We tried to suck it up and live without the AC last night, but by the wee hours of the morning, it was a pitiful scene down in the living room: Cyd was passed out on the couch, I was on an Aero Bed on the floor with at least one dog on my feet, and the other two hounds were sprawled out on the floor--all of us in front of the ginormous air hanger-sized fan, trying just to live through it! UGH! I hate it so much! And as they say, it's not the heat, it's the humidity--you know, where you shower but then your skin never does dry off afterward? ICK! It's too early for this, I say--TOO EARLY!

(Sigh.) Ok, I'll stop shaking my pudgy little fist in the air and try to calm myself down enough to discuss the food projects of the weekend. Of course, there weren't many, because I still had to get the vegetable gardens planted. I tried to finish them before the sweltering heat descended, but I was rather less than successful. After spending Thursday and Friday just planting the tomatoes (all 70 different kinds--YIKES!), by Saturday, my back was saying (as Amy Winehouse before it) NO NO NO! Plus, it was yucky and hot, and I just didn't want to! So that left Sunday to finish everything else. I didn't, of course, but I did manage yellow squash (both straight and crookneck), zucchini (both grey and some Italian thing called cucuzzi, which sounds quite vulgar!), eggplants, and four different kinds of sweet corn that each matures at a different rate. So that still leaves the pepper patch to be done, but I rarely plant more than 20 of those (tee hee), so I suppose I can tuck them into the last available space in the planting bed sometime this week if this merciless heat will ever let up and I can do it between thunderstorms!

Because of the hideous heat and my physical paralysis, I wasn't really feeling like cooking much on Saturday either, but I have to share one recipe that is quick and quite delicious. I may seem like I'm going a little relish-crazy over here (having just made nine pints of Vidalia relish), but someone over at the Harvest Forum recently inquired about a commercial product called "Miner's Relish" that she enjoys and would like to be able to make at home. She listed the main ingredients, and it was essentially a sauerkraut-based relish. I did a quick internet search and found a recipe that I thought I could use as a jump-off point, and I think it turned out really well. We had it with grilled smoked sausages on toasted buns with some sharp cheddar cheese and chopped Vidalia onions, and not only was it visually striking, it was scrumptious stuff! Having a jar of this in the fridge might tide me over until the Vidalia relish is ready (I like to wait a month for pickled things to develop their full flavor).

Sauerkraut Relish
(Source: adapted from a recipe in 150th Goshen Church Anniversary Country Cookbook, 1837-1987)

2 pounds sauerkraut, washed (and chopped if the pieces are very long)
1/2 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped (you can use all red pepper as I did, but the different colors would be pretty--next time, I may swap this out for some jalapeno for a little kick!)
1 medium onion, chopped (I used a Vidalia)
1 cup carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup granulated sugar (if you prefer a sweet relish, you can take this to a cup or even a cup and a half)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup vinegar (I used white but cider would be good, too)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons ground celery (or celery salt)
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
good pinch of salt (omit if you used celery salt)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Wash sauerkraut, chop vegetables and put all in non-aluminum bowl.

In a non-aluminum saucepan combine sugar, salad oil, vinegar, and water.

Bring ingredients in pan to a low boil. Remove immediately and pour over vegetables and kraut in bowl. Add seasonings, mustard, and parsley and stir gently to combine. Let mixture cool to room temperature. Refrigerate.

Yield: about two quarts or four pints.

I have one more gorgeous recipe to share from the weekend, another savory item (yes, Cyd has been grumbling that there are no sweets in the house!) called Gruyere-Stuffed Crusty Loaves. I received a copy of this recipe in a newsletter from King Arthur sometime back in March, but it took me this long to get around to trying it. In the meantime, a Yahoo group of bakers (a subset of the Daring Bakers, I believe) had their way with this bread, and the consensus was that the bread was INCREDIBLE--and I concur! I used my special KA Sir Lancelot (hard wheat, high-gluten) flour that I hand-carried back from Vermont last year before the price of flour went through the roof. The flour has been languishing in the freezer until now, waiting for just the right occasion. This was it. The outside of the bread is crackly-crisp, the inside is tender but punctuated with craggy craters of melty cheese which also comes erupting out of the top of each loaf. What's not to like? This bread is amazing as is, but I could also envision versions with different cheeses, garlic, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, or jalapenos--the sky's the limit! Trust me, this bread is worth heating up your oven on a hot day for!

Gruyère-Stuffed Crusty Loaves
King Arthur Flour)

1 1/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour (I used Sir Lancelot)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cool water

all of the starter
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (9 ounces) to 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) lukewarm water*
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

*Use the greater amount of water in winter, when conditions are dry; and the lesser amount in summer, when the weather is humid. (It was humid as all get out yesterday when I made this, and I needed all the water, and perhaps two or three tablespoons more--that darn Sir Lancelot was thirsty!)

2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese, or the grated/shredded cheese of your choice (I used closer to three cups--two of baby swiss and one of aged provolone)

To make the starter: Mix the 1 1/4 cups flour, salt, yeast, and 1/2 cup water in a medium-sized bowl. Mix till well combined. Cover and let rest overnight at room temperature.

To make the dough: Combine the risen starter with the water, salt, flour, and yeast. Knead—by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle—to make a smooth dough. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it’s nearly doubled in bulk.

Gently deflate the dough, and pat and stretch it into a 3/4"-thick rectangle, about 9" x 12". Spritz with water, and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Starting with a long side, roll it into a log, pinching the seam to seal. Place the log, seam-side down, on a lightly floured or lightly oiled surface. Cover it and let it rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until it’s puffy though not doubled in bulk. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently cut the log into four crosswise slices, for mini-breads; or simply cut the dough in half for two normal-sized loaves. Place them on one (for two loaves) or two (for four mini-loaves) lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, cut side up. Spread them open a bit, if necessary, to more fully expose the cheese. Spritz with warm water, and immediately place them in the preheated oven. Bake for 20 minutes (for the mini-loaves), or 35 minutes (for the full-sized loaves), or until the cheese is melted and the loaves are a very deep golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool on a rack.

Yield: four mini-loaves or two standard-size loaves (I made the "minis" though they were still a good size. We ate one straight away, we'll have another soon, and I froze the other two for the near future--a good option when there are just two of you.)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Ready for their close-up...

I have been remiss in sharing a big event that has recently occurred at my house. WARNING: incoming cute overload! Now, I know that this is primarily a food blog, but if Anna can post hourly photos and video of her new corgi puppy, I guess I'm allowed to follow suit. ;-)

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was outside with a couple of the neighbor boys who I had bribed to repair the fence to the chicken pen. And as I was sitting there, a sweet little kitty started figure-eighting her way around my ankles. Then she jumped up in my lap and compelled me to give her the love while she purred and purred. As I petted her, I realized that she was GREAT with child! I asked the boys where she came from, and they said that she was someone's house cat, but they dropped her off at the barn when she became pregnant. (Dont'cha just love people sometimes?) Well, she was so sweet and so beautiful--a lovely, long-haired calico--that I couldn't bear the thought of her having her babies in the barn where kitten life expectancy is tragically low. So we brought her inside, and though she wisely steers clear of the dogs, she gets along with the other cats just like she belongs here.

Juno, as Cyd appropriately dubbed her, was very skinny, despite her basketball of a belly, so we started trying to fatten her up so that she would be strong enough for the birthing and able to feed her babies properly. Even though she looked like she was about to burst, she didn't seem in a big hurry to have her kittens. Then last Thursday, I came home from work early, and found her curled up in the middle of a big pile of clothes on a vanity/dresser. I reached out to pet her and realized that I was petting three still-damp little heads! Mamacita Juno proceed to pop out two more tiny creatures before all was said and done (ruining a shirt in the process--sorry, Cyd!), and I'm happy to report that mother and all five babies are doing fine. We set them up in an old, soft-sided dog crate with a heated pad underneath, and the fluffy little parasites are quite happy to alternate feeding off the host and sleeping all day long.

The babies are just SO CUTE, I can hardly stand it! They are going to at least be medium, if not long-haired. There is one enormous orange one, one nearly-black tabby, two tabby and white, and perhaps the most darling thing of all, one little "mini-me" calico just like mama. We think we have three boys and two girls (the darkest one and the smaller of the two tabby and whites may be girls, if we can tell what we're looking at, which is quite doubtful). They were a week old yesterday, and at least three of them have their eyes open, and despite their wobbly legs, the little monsters are starting to become too mobile for my comfort level! So I think we're going to have to construct some sort of kitten confinement structure with an exercise pen soon. It's very hard to get good pictures of them because they're so wiggly, but I like these two shots that I snapped today where at least one kitten in each picture seems to be yelling, "Hey! Stop blinding my newly-opened eyes with that %$#@ camera flash!" Tee hee. So if anyone in the greater Plattsburgh area needs to enhance their family with a cute little kitty, I can hook you up toward the end of July.

I wish I could make this food-related, but the most exciting thing coming out of my kitchen right now is leftover stuffed pizza from our favorite place in town, Pizza Bono. You see, I am trying to get all of the planting done before a reported heat wave reaches us this weekend. They are saying it could hit 90 degrees! Isn't that crazy, when people were out covering up their plants last week to protect them from frost? So weird! Anyway, since yesterday afternoon, I have managed to plant 70 (yep, you read that right) different kinds of tomatoes out in the corner of the pasture that the nice dairy farmer behind me lets me use and my next-door neighbor tills for me. So that leaves tomorrow to do the pepper patch, some squashes, and maybe some corn just for shiggles. We'll see how hot it gets and how much my back and legs will withstand--it really sucks to get old. In the meantime, I will leave you with a picture of the gorgeous poppies that are just starting to pop open all over our neighborhood. I hope all of you have gardens to enjoy at this vibrant time of year!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Get Your Garden On!

Ok, I think we're finally past our last freeze (fingers crossed). For those of you in southern climes who are chuckling, I'll have you know that we almost got down to freezing temps last Thursday night! No now comes the mad dash to get everything into the ground so that we have enough time to make it to harvest before the first snows (sometimes in October). Gotta love the North Country! I haven't done the big vegetable garden(s) yet, though my amazing next-door neighbor has already done the rototilling for me--bless his heart! But I did manage to finish weeding and restocking the herb bed this past weekend. It really was a sad sight. Since I was so busy with the farmer's market last year, the herb garden was shamefully ignored, and the crabgrass took over and crowded out more than half of my established herbs and all of my beautiful little wild strawberries that I babied on the plane all the way home from California many years ago. BOO HISS! Oh well, that'll teach me. But now I've almost got it back to a semblance of its former glory. I'm currently growing:

basil--Italian large leaf , Opal (purple), spicy globe, Perpetual Pesto (variegated), lemon, and African Blue
chives--regular and garlic
English lavender
fernleaf dill
golden sage
Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
lemon balm
mint--orange and Kentucky Colonel (the traditional mint julep mint)
oregano--Greek and hot & spicy
thyme--lime and golden

In addition to the herbs, I also have lettuces at each end of the bed--green leaf, ruby, red oak leaf, and Boston/bibb--and everbearing strawberry plants along the sides. Then to fill in the gaps, I will sow some carrots and radishes in and among everything else. It really is a lovely planting bed that gets a lot of use during the season--truly, my kitchen garden. In fact, to celebrate its rebirth, I decided that we needed to have something for dinner that really showcased several of these wonderfully fragrant, fresh herbs. So I excavated one shelf of the big freezer and uncovered two flat-iron steaks which I thawed and marinated in equal parts olive oil and lime juice, lots of the house steak rub, extra cumin, and fresh minced garlic (marinate for at least two hours, though four would be better, and overnight would be best). Then we grilled them up, let them rest for ten minutes, sliced them very thinly, and served them with a fabulous mixed herb chimichurri that was not unlike the persillade I made all last summer. Along with the gaucho flat-irons and chimichurri, Cyd sauteed a big mess of fiddleheads, I did a Greek-style lemony roast of my La Ratte fingerlings, and that made for a simply scrumptious spring supper!

To make the chimichurri, I mixed in the blender:

2 cups fresh herbs (it can be all parsley, but I also added chervil, basil, oregano, and cilantro)
1 cup olive oil (start with 1/2 cup and add as much as you need/prefer from there)
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4-8 garlic cloves (4 for normal people, 8 for us!)
juice of two lemons (about 1/2 cup--next time, I may try swapping this out with red wine vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste

Store leftover chimichurri in an airtight container in the fridge.

Working in the garden put me in the mood to start harvesting and canning, but alas, there ain't much to put up yet. But you know what IS in season? V-I-D-A-L-I-A-S! While I watched the semi-finals of the National Spelling Bee as I do every year (yes, I AM a nerd and a former spelling champ myself..."Can you use it in a sentence, please?"), I made nine pints of the most rocking Vidalia onion relish that is going to be SO GOOD on all those burgers and dogs that we grill out this summer. It would also be good mixed into tuna salad, potato salad, devilled eggs, and so on. I proclaim it the condiment of the summer!

Zesty Vidalia Onion Relish
(adapted from
The Official Vidalia Onion Website, my changes/notes in red)

1 1/2 gallons (that's 24 cups for the math-impaired) ground Vidalia onions (16 to 20, about 10 lbs.)
1/2 cup canning /pickling salt
1 quart cider vinegar
1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar*
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons pickling spice
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

8 oz. roasted red pepper strips (or pimentos), chopped
1 teaspoon powdered ascorbic acid, optional**

Grind or use food processor for enough Vidalia onions to yield 1 1/2 gallons (I used 17 big ones and 3 small ones), add salt and let stand 30 minutes. Squeeze juice from mixture and discard juice. (I drained mine in a big colander and pressed the mash to remove most of the liquid.) To onions, add vinegar, sugar, spices and red pepper. (You can add the spices in a cheesecloth sachet or tea ball, but I like the look and the flavor of the spices floating around in the final product.) Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, stirring often.

Pack both onions and cooking liquid to cover in sterilized jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. Add 1/8 teaspoon of ascorbic acid to each jar (if using), and stir it in all the way to the bottom, removing air bubbles as you do. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes about 8 pints or 16 half-pints (I got 9 pints).

*The original recipe called for 4 1/2 cups of sugar, so if you prefer a sweet relish, go for it! But I like my pickles and relishes much less sweet, plus the onions are sweet enough on their own, especially after cooking them for a half an hour.

**Others who have made this relish reported that it sometimes oxidizes and darkens in color over time. So I added a little bit of ascorbic acid to each jar to prevent discoloration. It might work...we'll see.

You'd think all that gardening and canning would be enough for one (long) weekend. But Cyd pointed out that there was no chocolate in the house and how wrong that was. So while I watched the finals of the spelling bee, I made some awesome giant chocolate, toffee and walnut cookies from Bon Appetit that I recently spied and drooled over on the website, Cream Puffs in Venice. I encourage you to make some for yourself, but I advise either halving the recipe, or do as I did and keep the dough in the fridge, baking off only a few cookies at a time as you "need" them. YUM!

Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies

(Source: Bon Appetit, March 2000)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar (I might cut this back by as much as a half cup next time)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath or Skor), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped (I might increase this to 1 1/2 cups next time)

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper (I used Silpats). Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto sheets, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 15-17 minutes. Cool on sheets.

Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.