Counter Culture

Just stepping in briefly to say hello and give you a glimpse into my kitchen in the past month. While I haven’t been able to participate in the November Magazine Review, I have been enjoying browsing through the food magazines and drooling at the amazing line-up of recipes. Midwest Living and Cooking Light were my favorites.

One Sunday this past month we enjoyed a pork roast with a dried fruit sauce that came from Southern Living. It was simple to make and not very time consuming. The results looked outstanding on the plate.

I have a cardboard box on the floor of the kitchen filled with my stash of fall squash: butternut, cheese pumpkin, acorn, and pie pumpkin. Some of the squash found their way to the mantel for my fall decoration. We’ll eat those in December and January. The recipe below was from Rachael Ray (October I think). Butter, brown sugar, and herbs formed a sweet/savory coating on these acorn squash wedges.

Mustard greens recently came in my CSA. They looked different from the ones in the grocery store. I was so surprised to find they were mild and delicious when sautéed with onion and olive oil.

The kids and I are working on US geography this year — studying one state a week. The highlight for me is finding food specific to each state. Rhode Island was our last state and we ate “pizza strips” with “coffee milk.” I can hardly believe they call cold, sauce-less pizza a delicacy. Ours was warm, and it was good.

Something I haven’t made in many years is Cornish Pasties. I used to make them regularly for picnics as they are delicious and filling. Needing a portable dinner for a trip I decided to pull them out of the file. I used whole wheat flour for the pastry and they tasted great!

(The Picnic Gourmet)
Print this recipe

1 lb. raw beef cut into ¼” cubes
3 raw potatoes, diced
5 green onions minced (or one small reg. onion)
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
dash pepper
seasonings of your choice: garlic powder, steak seasoning, etc.

1 c. butter
4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
ice water

Mix together the filling ingredients.

Mix together flour, salt and baking powder. Cut in butter and mix with hands until small crumbs form. Add ice water to make a workable dough. Knead a few times. Divide into small balls. Roll balls into circles. Place a spoon or two of meat filling to one side of the circle. Dip your finger in water and “paint” the edge of the circle.  Fold dough over to form half circles. Seal edges. Brush with milk. Bake at 425 for one hour.

Serves 8. Easily halved.

Another recipe I recently tried recently was Butternut Squash with Pecans and Vanilla. It was nice, but next time I’ll throw the vanilla extract in at the end so we can taste it more.

The apples leftover from my orchard trip were slowly turning nasty. The answer to that problem was pies. Lots of them. Yum, yum, yum! Pie for breakfast three days in a row is such a treat! (I used part whole-wheat crust and only a dab of honey to sweeten them.)

I can’t believe I’ve had zinnias blooming up to the first week of November! They brighten our table and mix well with the pumpkins.

I hope you all are eagerly anticipating Thanksgiving and thinking ahead to what you’re going to cook!

Counter Culture

Have you ever eaten a paw-paw? I’ve heard of them in historical books but had never seen or tasted one until I saw these interesting fruits (technically berries) in our local farmer’s market. Of course I had to try them!

Paw-paws, also known as “Hoosier Bananas” are native to North America, and easy to grow organically because they have few pests. They are not widely cultivated because when the fruit is ripe it has to be eaten right away and can’t handle travel.

The texture of the flesh resembles an avocado, the color — banana, and the taste, well, something of a mix between the two with some floral notes thrown in. I would eat them again!

My kids have noted that we’ve been eating a lot of soup around here. We enjoyed this amazing corn chowder on our night to eat food from New Hampshire. To accompany it, we made a salad with apples and cranberries (also popular foods from NH), and ate pumpkin pie for dessert.

I finally purchased an immersion blender last week as I didn’t want to go through another soup season without one. We tried Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and the blender worked great. Turkey soup hit the table after roasting a turkey from the freezer and then later in the week we had chicken noodle soup.

It’s also apple pie season and this was one of the last things I made for our gluten-free diet (which is now over!!). Gluten-free pie crust filled with apples and then topped with a pecan/butter/rice flour topping. Very delicious!

We had a birthday around here this week and angel food cake was the requested cake. Some frozen strawberries and a pile of whipped cream made a nice accompaniment.

I’m gearing up to start making my own baby food. Peas, sweet potatoes, and carrots are on the menu. I steam a large batch, puree and then freeze them in ice-cube trays for easy thawing.

I hope you all are enjoying these first cool days of fall!

Counter Culture

This time of year there are a lot of birthdays in our family. This “fruit pizza” showed up for the last birthday and was enjoyed by many. A cookie dough crust is covered by a cream cheese mixture and then fruit is piled on top. This is a nice summer dessert which can be made with any combination of fruits.

Many years ago I came across my first fresh figs. I loved them and have been on the lookout since then to find more. When I ran into them at Costco several weeks ago, I bought them without a second thought. Loosely following a recipe in Emeril’s From Farm to Fork, I stuffed them with a sour-cream/whipped cream mixture, drizzled them with honey, and sprinkled them with lavender. A feast for the senses!

The colors of summer never cease to amaze me. Setting out fruit and vegetables on our table creates such beautiful kaleidescopes and I can’t resist taking pictures. I hope you are enjoying your fill because fall is just around the corner.

I made a very quick side dish this week by grating fresh beets and carrots and dressing them with Italian salad dressing. The raw taste of beets is just a bit earthy, but if you can tolerate them, they make an extremely healthy addition to your dinner plate.

Last, but not least, I made gluten-free pizza this week from an amazing recipe you can find over here at our friends Mennonite Girls Can Cook. I never thought dough this good was possible with gluten-free but look at the results!

I have several winter squash sitting in my kitchen and I can’t wait to begin cooking fall dishes. Roasted squash, butternut squash soup, pumpkin pie….the months of comfort food are on their way!

Counter Culture

Have I mentioned that my daughter and I are on a gluten-free trial diet? It’s been two weeks so far. We’ve managed to collect a few good recipes for things like muffins, waffles, and cookies.

When my youngest sister arrived back in town this week after a two month absence, we decided a celebration breakfast was in order: gluten-free buckwheat waffles with peaches, blueberries and whipped cream, and bacon on the side. The waffles were every bit as good as they look! (And if you don’t have to go gluten-free, you might still enjoy these waffles by making them with all-purpose flour instead of the gluten-free baking mix.)

Print this recipe

1 cup gluten-free pastry flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill flour mix)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. xanthum gum (if your flour mix doesn’t already have it included)
1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs, separated
pinch of cream of tartar
2 cups milk
5 Tbsp. butter, melted

Mix flours, baking powder, salt, baking soda, xanthum gum and sugar in a large bowl.

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff in a separate bowl. You will know when they are ready when the eggs stick to the bottom of the bowl when tilted. At this point, stop beating the eggs immediately — you don’t want the egg whites to be dry.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, milk, and melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour 1/4 of the fluffy egg whites into the batter and gently fold them in with a rubber spatula, then fold the rest of the egg whites into the batter as well. You can stop folding when only a tiny amount of the egg whites is still distinguishable.

Pour 1/2 to 1 cup of the batter into a heated, greased waffle iron and cook until amount of steam coming out of the iron is decreased significantly. Repeat until batter is used. Serve waffles right off the iron or put them in a 250F oven to keep them warm.

Serves 6.

Counter Culture

I finally made it to our local farmer’s market last week! Our CSA has made trips to the farmer’s market not entirely necessary.

There were so many beautiful things to choose from: peaches, heirloom tomatoes, green beans, huge melons, fresh corn, and even a few early acorn squash.

We have a fresh pasta stand as well. Fresh pasta is so superior to dried that it should almost be classified as a different food. If you haven’t tried it, you must treat yourself! Someday, I’d love to try making some myself.

The baked goods always look so enticing:

I love the creative goodies that appeal to the children.

The highlight of the whole market was the free grilled corn, donated by all the vendors.

I bought some corn and tried it the next day — absolutely delicious. In fact, I think I prefer this to boiled corn. If the corn is very fresh, you don’t need to soak it overnight. Lay the corn (husk and all) on a hot grill and cook 5 minutes on either side.

The peaches look so amazing. I bought a big box of seconds for $5 and we ate and ate and ate for half the week, including 2 peach pies.

Another thing we tried on the grill this week was grilled eggplant rolls. We grilled slices of eggplant brushed with olive oil and then filled with a feta and mint filling. Very good!

And that resulted in this delicious salad of leftovers for lunch the next day:

I thought I’d put my menu from last week down, just so you can see what we really eat:

Monday: leftover steak that was tough, turned into Chinese Beef over brown rice

Tuesday: this pasta dish of squash, bacon and pasta

Wednesday: lentil soup from the freezer (busy day!)

Thursday: caprese salad, sautéed potatoes, kale chips, and sweet corn

Friday: homemade pizza with sautéed eggplant and sausage (the pig I ordered arrived this week and my freezer is full of sausage, hams, roasts, and bacon!)

School starts on Monday! Life will continue to be busy — just in a different way! There’s still plenty of summer food left. If you haven’t visited your local farmer’s market, why not give it a try!

Counter Culture

Summer is a beautiful time in the kitchen. There are so many fresh, colorful, delicious foods to set on the table. Here is a pictorial tour of what’s been happening on my counters:

Fried Squash Blossoms: these are a once-a-year treat! Stuffed with ricotta, garlic and herbs, and then fried in a mesa flour batter, they are an amazing appetizer. One hint: pick your flowers early in the day before they close up! Otherwise they are just too hard to stuff.

Grilled Pizza: I did go ahead and try Bobby Flay’s recipe. We all loved it. The grilled pizzas did take a lot longer than I hoped. First we had to cook enough flatbread for 8 people, then we had to put on the toppings and get them all back on the grill.

Once I resigned myself to this being an “event” rather than just a quick dinner, things went a lot better. It’s an ideal meal to make with company on your back patio with a beautiful evening to enjoy.

Kale Chips: You may have noticed that Kale Chips are all the rage on the internet this year. When a large bunch of kale arrived in our CSA produce recently I decided to join the crowd. Surprise, surprise! The kale chips were absolutely amazing and I’ll be making those again! (Here is a recipe to try.)

Jam: One day a friend came over and we made jam: peach, peach-ginger, strawberry-rhubarb, and mint jelly. The sheet that comes inside the pectin boxes has just about any basic recipe on it and we followed that for most of what we did. For the peach-ginger jam, I added chopped crystallized ginger to the peach recipe. (In case you are wondering what’s wrong with the mint jelly — the jar pictured was the leftovers in the pot, including the scum.)

I finally harvested some rainbow swiss chard from my garden!

It seems once a summer we sit down to an all yellow meal!

I hope you all are also enjoying the delicious produce of summer!

Counter Culture

My sister and her family are staying with us just now and so together we are having plenty of fun in the kitchen. Our cooking styles are very similar, except for the fact that my sister, Christina, must stay gluten-free. That’s not hard to do when there is so much summer produce abounding just now. Meals are simple but bountiful, full of salads, fresh veggies, and sometimes even homemade ice-cream.

Have you ever wondered what’s the big deal with fava beans? I have. And, when I saw they were available as an “extra” at our CSA this week I grabbed a few handfuls of the green-beans-on-steroids-looking-things. Later in the week my sister and I pulled them out and began shelling the beans. That’s when I remembered that favas have to be “double-shelled”. Once they are out of the bean husks, the favas must then be taken out of a further, tough-skin that surrounds the actual beans. That’s big deal number one about favas — they take a lot of work.

We dumped the handful of beans we accumulated into the steamer and let them be for a few minutes before placing them on a dish and dressing them with butter, salt, and pepper. Then we took our first bite. We knew instantly why favas are a big deal. Wow were they good! One by one we popped them into our mouths. The texture was amazing. I’m comparing it with the reason I like Macadamia nuts so much: that buttery, melt-in-your-mouth feel. Favas have that. What did they taste like? Something very mild, nutty, a bit like a buttery green bean. Now I’m hoping there will be more next week at the CSA.

I also came by some peaches in the last week. A friend is away for the summer and said I could have the harvest from her peach tree. The apricot-sized peaches arrived in between the July 3rd  parade and two afternoon celebrations. They were so ripe that they were going bad by the hour. That first night I salvaged what I could from the bad ones and the next day I blanched, peeled, and chopped the rest. Some of the peaches are destined for jam — those I chopped fine and froze in batches of 2 cups for easy conversion later on. The rest of the peaches will probably end up in smoothies and homemade ice-cream.

I am so excited about grilled flatbread right now. A friend made it for us over the 4th of July weekend and I saw how easy it was to make and grill. The taste is amazing. We ate the flatbread with bruschetta and olive tapenade from Trader Joe’s. But, it’s easy to just turn it into a pizza by spreading foil on the grill after you’ve cooked the flatbread, placing the flatbread on top of the foil and then layering on your pizza toppings. Here’s Bobby Flay’s pizza dough recipe that was used.

As we all know, it’s zucchini season. The recipe I always fall back on is the one I’ve been eating since I was a child. We saute zucchini (and sometimes onions too) in some olive oil. About half way through we throw in some fresh, chopped tomatoes and cook until all is tender. Sprinkle on some basil, oregano and garlic powder and then a good handful or two of shredded cheddar cheese. Good. Good. Good.

One of the delights of zucchini season is fresh fried squash blossoms. Oh yum! I’m eyeing my plants right now, checking to see how many blossoms I have and how many I can sacrifice. Any day now I’m going to make them….

Counter Culture

My counters have been busy this week: from the stacks of china and glass to be put away after my daughter’s baptism dinner to the mountain of baking on my to-do list, and then the testing of our new ice-cream machine! Yes, we are now the proud owners of a Cuisinart Automatic Ice-Cream Maker!!! This was our first attempt:

The kids decided on mint chocolate chip and we happened to have the chocolate and green chocolate chips to add. We all loved the results and the next night we tried raspberry frozen yogurt — also very delicious. Making one’s own ice-cream means you can control the ingredients, especially the sugar. So far we’ve been using about 1/3 of the amount called for in ice-cream recipes. No doubt ice-cream recipes will begin to appear on The Cooks Next Door.

Getting my CSA each week is something I really look forward to. I love the challenge of using the vegetables we get.

Here’s some of what we’ve eaten recently:

Swiss Chard — I made this Swiss Chard Lasagna and it was so good I hope to make it again soon
Kohlrabi — a relative of the cabbage, I added mine to coleslaw
Peas — we ate the sugar snaps raw and the boys shelled the shell peas to be steamed for dinner
Cabbage — we all love coleslaw and that’s what we did with our beautiful cabbage
Kale — I made an amazing Italian sausage, white bean and kale soup which I plan to make again this week
Mustard Greens — I used these greens in place of spinach in a Greek rice salad
Herbs — we’ve been given a lot of “cutting celery” which I’ve never heard of before. It has the appearance of overgrown parsley but tastes more like celery. I’ve been using it in salads and as a substitute for parsley.
Basil — I came home with a shopping bag full of basil and decided pesto was in order. The recipe I found gave options for freezing, which was perfect for me. Seven little jars found their way into the freezer.

(Food Network)
Print this recipe

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (I left these out)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Combine the basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in the cheese.

Makes 1 cup.

Last, but not least, the children and I went black raspberry picking in the nearby woods last week. When we got home we made handpies with the berries we found. It made me think of my childhood and the memories I have of berry picking. Hopefully my children will someday look back and remember the fun we had (even though we all ended up being eaten up by bugs!!).

Counter Culture

Here in my kitchen we’ve begun to enjoy the first produce from our garden: radishes of course, and the peas have started as well. The lettuce has been ready to pick for some time, I’m just waiting until I need it!

I started my garden last year, dug in the terrible, clay-filled soil of my backyard. I have dumped in straw, peat, and manure, but from what I’ve been told, it is going to take a number of years to get the dirt in good condition. Right now I have to rely on Miracle Gro if I want anything to stay green and actually grow. As time goes on I hope my dirt will develop so I won’t need that.

The most fun thing about the garden right now is that it has brought many, many birds to our backyard, including a pair of mallards who fly in each evening to peck at the leftover birdseed (and hopefully not at my little plants). The golden finches are finding the beet greens to be very tasty.

Each week I eagerly anticipate my CSA pickup. It’s kind of like getting a pile of presents to open. Swiss chard was among the recent arrivals. I often marvel at the amazing colors we get to enjoy while working in the kitchen. Food can be so beautiful! Just look at this PINK color. And look how it is paired with green (the natural complement of pink/red) to make a stunning combination.

I chopped the chard stalk and sautéed it with onion until soft then added in the cut greens and continued sauteeing until all was soft. A little balsamic vinegar finished it off.

Last Saturday was my annual day for  garage-saleing.  I’m always on the hunt for new things for my kitchen. I found the red-checked tablecloth which will be perfect for summer, and a few different antique china platters (50 cents each) as well as a beautiful green glass bowl.

I was most happy to find a brand new salad spinner for $2. The spinner I have been using was a wedding gift and had served us faithfully since then. The spinner happened to break the same week as my washing machine and I did feel as though my trusted tools were falling apart around me! (Especially since the dishwasher was also broken.)

I hope you all are enjoying the beginning of summer and all the lovely produce that is beginning to be available. If you have the chance, check out your local farmer’s market — it is always very inspirational to me, even if I can’t buy much. One of these weeks I’ll have to take you on a tour of our local market…

Counter Culture

I’ve spent a lot of time in my kitchen this past week. The result: we’ve eaten some really good food. Not only have I been preparing recipes for the blog, but I’ve been working hard to make good use of the produce we’ve received through out CSA. And, as always, I haven’t just been cooking, I’ve been cleaning up too. All that cooking generates an amazing mountain of dishes. Our dishwasher has been out of commission the last two months and will continue to be so for awhile. That means dishes by hand, the old-fashioned way.

Here’s a picture of what we’ve received through the CSA this past week:

We’ve gotten strawberries the past two weeks and I could hardly wait to pick up our share and get the berries! I could smell them from afar — that smell I remember from the hot strawberry fields of my childhood when mom took us for our yearly berry-picking. I contemplated long and hard what to do with the berries, since they were superior to the kind obtained at the grocery store. Finally I decided on scones, strawberries and cream for breakfast (with tea of course). Everyone loved it!

I’m amazed at the amount of greens we’ve been getting and I’ve tried to use some creativity in making our nightly salads. One evening I threw this together, hindered by little time and few ingredients. I tore up a head of lettuce, sliced a cucumber (from the store) and sprinkled over torn tarragon. My easiest dressing consists of 1/4 cup whipping cream, one tablespoon water and one tablespoon red wine vinegar with salt and pepper.

We’re also eating plenty of Kale, and enjoying the fresh asparagus. The radishes and chives head straight into salads and I’ve been especially enjoying having so much fresh mint, peppermint, tarragon and oregano around. It certainly adds a different dimension to cooking when you can add flavor and color with herbs.

And, here’s a nice little recipe we tried recently that makes a hearty lunch or a light supper (perfect for summer):

(Everyday Food, May 2010)
Print this recipe

4 cans (5 ounces each) solid white tuna packed in water, drained
1/3 cup mayonnaise, plus more for spreading
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
4 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained (I left these out)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled between your fingers
4 slices crusty bread
8 thin slices tomato
4 slices provolone

Heat broiler, with rack in highest position. In a medium bowl, combine tuna, mayonnaise, onion, capers, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oregano and stir until thoroughly combined.

Arrange bread on a baking sheet and spread a little mayonnaise on each slice (I toasted my bread on each side first — using the broiler). Divide tuna salad evenly among slices, then top each with 2 slices tomato and 1 slice cheese. Broil until cheese is golden brown and bubbling, 3 to 4 minutes.

Serves 4.