Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Localized Gumbo

December 18, 2011

For various reasons, I missed my annual trip to New Orleans.  I love New Orleans (maybe not as much as Tim Tebow loves the church, but it’s probably pretty close).  Eating in New Orleans is like taking a cab ride in China. . . . it’s a culinary adventure being deathly allergic to shellfish and all.  Still, I’ve found ways to eat (and drink) across the Crescent City.  I laughed when a recipe for gumbo floated across the in-box this week.  Aside from the obvious miscues (roux and okra?), the processed food and urging people to buy pre-chopped goods to save time (hi, your making ROUX people. . . . you can chop celery.), I started re-formulating the recipe in my head to make a GF, shellfish free gumbo.

1 cup of olive oil or melted butter

2 1/2 cups of GF Flour (I used King Arthur’s)

1 lb of sausage

3 cloves garlic

1 quart of whole tomatoes/basil

1 tsp of thyme and basil (dried)

4 cups chopped onions

4 cups chopped celery

8  cups chicken stock

2 green onions, chopped.

meat of 1 chicken shredded

1 teaspoon gumbo file

Hot sauce to taste

Ok, making roux is a pain and lost art (check out Top Chef from a few weeks ago if you don’t believe me).  You have to heat the oil and gently stir in the flour.  Then cook without burning to your prefered shade of brown without burning.  Initially you have to stir it consistently and constantly but for the last hour (yes hour) you can stir every 5-10 minutes.  The trick is to get a deep brown color without burning; after about 40 minutes it should look like the color of peanut butter.  I bake the sausage in the oven at 400 until done while making the roux.

Remove from heat allow to cool a bit.  Here is the fun part: whisk in the chicken broth quickly to minimize clumping.  I’ve found it’s easier to minimize lumps by putting the stock on the stove top and allow to warm via the heat from the oven.  Dump in the remaining ingredients, and cook on low for several hours.  I skipped the celery because I didn’t have any.

Easy after you get past the roux: it’s easy to see why this dish is one that was used to stretch food budgets.  Wikki has an interesting article on the history of and variations on gumbo.  Suffice to say, it’s a regionalized chilli cookoff. I wound up with enough for lunches this week and froze enough for almost a second week of lunches.

Meat: 8 O’clock ranch

Produce: Nourse Farms (peppers and tomatoes preserved from the summer)

Piccadilly Farms (onion, garlic)

Shaw’s Farm (butter)

King Arthur’s Flour (GF flour)

Best laid plans. . . .

December 12, 2011

There are a million reasons I could never be a parent.  Most of them involve my utter lack of ability to plan and execute to a “normal” level.  Take today for example.  ALL day I sat around thinking “potato soup”.  I completely obsessed about it: and came home to find out that I didn’t have any potatoes. Massive #fail!  Sigh.  Fortunately, I had some onion soup left over from when my mom visited: 100% local (except the cognac).  I mean, my mom whipped this up one afternoon when I was at work. WHO whips up onion soup? (aside from the obvious?).

Onion Soup

Oh winter soups . . . .

I was so glad to have this to come home to have as my Plan B!  I spent the weekend in Atlantic City: had a good time but realized how bland commercialized food can be.  Honestly, I found myself wondering how much junk I put into my body when traveling: I honestly would have flunked tell this salad from its companion apart.  The food wasn’t bad … it just wasn’t good.  I’ve become used to the freshness of food.  Somebody remind me of this come January when I’m looking for an avocado.

So, for the soup:

Broth based on veggies from Shared Harvest CSA and beef from 8 O’Clock Ranch.

Onions from Red Fire Farm

Cheese from Grasse River B Ranch (via 8 O’Clock Ranch).

Not local: Cognac.

 

Oh Monday. . . .

December 5, 2011

A complete and total Monday.  The good: I managed to trouble shoot an issue with my car (I know nothing about cars but understand basic circuitry and figured out the positive cable from the battery was loose causing the light to come on.  My plan was to open the hood and tighten it but hey, I don’t have the grip strength to do that so off to the mechanic I go on Wednesday. Joy.)  One of my co-workers called in sick so I tried to deal with double the normal work load while pretending that the pounding migraine might just go away before oh, Christmas.  (It did after a copious amount of caffeine infusion).

I finally received the package from Best Buy Worst Store Ever.  Still haven’t heard from them, don’t expect to but hey, my sister’s Christmas errand is complete (trust me, I’m grateful, even if it is on my kitchen table).  Today would have been the perfect day to grab takeout, hit a drive through (ok, I do admit to hitting the golden arches today during the quest for caffeine, I hadn’t had any in a few days and was suffering …. I’d say like heroin withdrawal but that might be an exaggeration: on which side, I’m not sure) or something else.  Instead I made it 2 for 2 in my I’m not buying prepared food, I’m eating only what is in my pantry/kitchen/ and as local as possible (I do have somethings that are not S.O.L.E sourced left over that I’m not going to just toss).  What can I say, I’m drawn to the Dark Days Challenge in the sense that it forces me to think in advance about what I’m going to eat and where my food came from (couple that with the fact I’m still shaking my head at McDonald’s being an Olympic sponsor for some reason) and who is ‘profiting’ from my purchases.  Hey, I’m all for people making money: I’d just prefer it to be small businesses.  Again, based on zero scientific evidence, I do have to wonder if the increase in allergies, migraines and other expensive but not deadly health conditions is related to fillers in our food (but I’m a history major with a masters in theology, I know how to ask questions …. lots of them).

Anyway, today I wanted meatballs. Not a heavy pasta dish with meatballs.  Just meatballs (don’t ask me why).  For some reason, I had taken out some sausage from 8 O’clock Ranch this morning, grabbed an onion,  opened a jar of whole tomatoes from my CSA share at Nourse Farm I canned over the summer and mixed in some dried rosemary from my mom’s garden and mixed it with some GF bread crumbs.  I wound up freezing 1/2 into a meatloaf for later this winter and cooking the rest.  I made a sauce with some Fromage Blanc from Foxboro Cheese, half and half from Shaw’s Farm and a few leafs of spinach stirred in from the Somerville Winter’s Market.

I’m sure, oh, mid-January, I’m going to be screaming for the love of an avocado but right now, my past 2 attempts have been tasty.  The 2 items out of the radius, the meat and the rosemary.  If I make this again, I’ll add a pinch of salt: it needed a bit to offset the acid.

Meatballs and Spinach

Comfort food for a Monday

The First Week is Always the Easiest: Dark Days Challenge

December 4, 2011
Dark Days: Week One

Local: It's what's for dinner

 

We’ve been having an insanely mild start to winter in New England.  I’m not going to complain.  We had Snoctober/the Halloween No’easter/Occpy Snow but other than that it has been insanely mild.  Put it this way, I still haven’t done the where are my gloves dance at 4:30 am yet.  I’m going to guess this is going to be hard for the farmers: we haven’t had a hard sustaining freeze and the warm temps probably cause havoc on the winter crops (she says like she knows what she is talking about).  Anyway, anytime after 12/28 (when I get back home from the holidays) winter can start.

I spent some time with the fantastic writer of Vegparadise who is also participating in this challenge and we both have a lot “in stock”: canned jams/butters, root veggies, frozen/canned items from the bountiful summer.  And, it turns the same stumbling blocks: dairy.  Finding a local dairy, in 150 miles that is oh, convenient to metro Boston was confounding.    Enter the fantastic Shaws Farm and the Somerville Winter Farmer’s Market (which, I wish had its own website … but it does have a FB page).  Score.  Local creamers, butter and *bliss* ice cream that you can order to pick up at the farmer’s market.

Anyway, part of the first week is the listing of any exceptions to the 150 mile radius (aside from seasonings which area ‘given’).  My two exceptions: gluten-free flour (which I get from King Arthur Flour which is in the radius but not all items are sourced within 150 miles) and my meat which is from the fantastic 8 O’clock Ranch (which is just outside of the 150 miles but I am member of their CSA).  Yes, I could purchase a more “local” source of meat: however, I have been extremely happy with my current CSA and was unwilling to change for the challenge.

So, for dinner this week (above):

Pan fried cube steak from 8 O’clock Ranch and roasted root veggies (beets, carrots, sweet potatoes and potatoes).

My CSA ends on 12/17. Ack. That’s when it will get interesting for me!

Why I shop local, can and all those other things.

November 27, 2011

My friend the author of Vegaparadise, posted a link on a recent article that appeared in the Washington Post regarding the increase in of ‘urban gardening’, canning and other activities that seem to be taking hold with members of GenX and GenY . The article which you can also find floating around FB, raises a few interesting thoughts.  Are those who are participating taking a step back for “feminist ideals” (note, yes, that was a gagging sound you heard coming from me) or empowering.  Ok, how about something that isn’t a simple cliché answer.  Maybe we are the generations that aren’t interested in chasing the a 24×7 lifestyle? Maybe after a hard look at the rampant consumerism which lead to an economic collapse, we’ve decided to try to be as local as possible (let’s face it, most of us would be pretty hard pressed to live a 100% locally sourced life – especially if we take any medicine).  I’m not going to rant on the evils of processed foods (I like them … and I know they are bad for me.  Some days, really, all I want is a donut) but maybe part of the resurgence of canning/cooking/scaling down is a recognition of just trying to minimize the chaos.

Part of the “local movement” does come from my desire to support small businesses in my area. Why? It’s better for me.  Chances are a local business owner lives in the surrounding area.  Local businesses have to pay taxes to my town, county and state.  Big box retailers often receive tax abatement deals to come into a town: often with disastrous consequences for the local and state economies.  There are a series of studies that can be found here.   Maybe my decision to support local business, farmers markets and other  local initiatives is one way I can contribute back to my local economy in an easy manner.

Perhaps there is another lesson in this: maybe the GenX and GenY members, having lived through a more, more, more childhood and early adulthood started to settle down when the economy started to nosedive (pick a time), realized there was more to life than a McMansion with a pool and never thought of it is an oppressive act.  I know for me, there is a certain amount of self satisfaction in opening a jar that I canned.  I know what is in the jar.  I know the food is probably not going to be under a recall.  I know that I can pronounce every word.  When I make the decision to spend the extra $2 on fairly traded items, I know that the people involved will be compensated fairly.

Maybe for me, part of my decision to be a locavore is based on this: I can’t ship jobs out of the country.  But I can make sure that where I spend my money supports my local economy so I’m not shipping my money out-of-state or out of the country.  And another reason I like to can, for me anyway, there is something meditative about the process: about combining, mixing and creating.

But I’m 100% sure I’m not taking a step backwards for women: I’m pretty much doing it for me, for the fun and the adventure.  And it’s a small way I can help my local businesses.

Eating Local in Winter

November 19, 2011

For November . . . .

I stumbled upon the Shared Harvest CSA earlier this fall and found it to be a perfect addition to the summer canning madness (and it was madness, but I have to admit that even I find a bit of self-satisfaction with that pop of a jar I’ve canned. . . . ).  Yes, I found another slightly bat shit insane challenge to partake in (it keeps me creative in the kitchen and when you’re cooking for one …) during the winter.

Is buying 100% local the most economical: no.  Is it something I can realistically do.  No.  I’m not 100% committed to giving up citrus and avocados and those don’t grow IN New England.  Plus throw in the allergy to shellfish (only our most common protein) and a gluten-free diet, it’s not feasible.  I’m not going to rant (at least today) about the benefits of local economies, see the Occupy Wall Street stuff for that (although I could probably make a more coherent argument for the benefits of local foods, industry than some of that mess) debate.

There is a challenge floating about on the web, Dark Days of Winter Challenge, that is about one meal a week that is S.O.L.E (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical).  Will it be a challenge, yes, maybe? There are a few farmer’s markets in the winter (Wayland, Somerville, Winchester), plus the Mass Local Food Co-op.  The challenge will be finding the flavors, getting over my unrealistic fear of kale.  I’m going to try for 2 days a week for a few reasons.  First, I’m cooking for one so I don’t have to worry about kids and flavors.  Second, I did a ton of canning/freezing this summer.  Third, there is something inventive about cooking.  I cook on the fly.  While that will be possible, it will be a bit harder. And fourth, while we don’t have a long growing season here … we do have dairy.  Yup, I’ve already stalked out my local ice cream source.  Isn’t that all I really need to survive? It will be an adventure and I promise to try to post pics and recipes.

Up for tonight? Roasted potatoes, onions, carrots from the Shared Harvest CSA and round steak from my favorite place in the world, 8’Oclock Ranch  (seriously, if you are in their CSA delivery area? What are you waiting for? SIGN UP!).

And given the 3 bushels of apples?? Expect a few more canning adventure tales. . . .

Because I’m always looking for something new to drive me nuts. . . .

November 9, 2011

 

Dark Days

 

So my friend Amy over at Vegparadise found this challenge.  Since I joined her in the no grocery store challenge, she figured (correctly), I was up for the task.  Now we are up to this one: The 5th annual dark days challenge.  Ok, this one is a bit of a twist: in winter, cook one meal a week with items only grown 100-150 miles from your home.  Since I’m a pure lunatic, I’ve decided that I’m going to try for 5 days (15 meals) a week.  I’m adding one caveat: my meat and cheese will come from the fantastic 8’Oclock Ranch in upstate New York which is 300 miles from my for a few reasons: they have humanely raised, organic meats and a fantastic CSA program I’m already a member of!

Now, I did  get lucky in that I placed an order for dried beans from my current CSA from a western Massachusetts farm.  There is also a great winters farmer’s market in Somerville and a decent one in Wayland close to my place.  Finally, for staples like oh, eggs, I can rely on the Mass Food Co-op.  Still, it will be a challenge.  I mean, first, it’s New England: things like oats, rice, avocados simply don’t grow here.  Fortunately, my canning hobby addiction kicked in and I have a variety of items in jars and frozen for the winter.

For me, part of it is about supporting local farmers through the winter – but it’s more than that.  When I leave in the dark and come home in the dark, it’s easy to want to hit a drive thru and head home to curl up.  And yes, there will be pictures, it’s part of the challenge.  Have I mention yet that I created a root cellar in my storage unit? Hmmm.  What can I say? I hate the grocery store!

And while you are waiting you can get a (not so healthy) bite to eat

October 29, 2011

A few weeks ago I had to have some diagnostic testing done.  Nothing major – but there was a wait time involved and the tech said to me I could grab a bite to eat while I waited.  Since I actually was hungry (and had lost the paper that said if I could eat before or not…), I went to grab something at the Souper Salad located at my favorite HUB area teaching hospital.  I don’t know if it’s a city law (or state – things I don’t pay attention to in this area) but the calorie counts were posted and a full nutritional disclosure was available.  From their website, the restaurant claims  “Since 1976, Souper Salad has been satisfying Boston’s appetite with a healthy and delicious menu  filled with the freshest Soups, Salads, Sandwiches, Wraps, Pita Pizzas and our signature Walkabouts.”  Healthy? As in Carol Brady healthy.  I was stunned.  Normally this isn’t a blog worthy event: although I’ll admit being a bit surprised that all of the breakfast options had over 25 grams of fat and the sodium count is out of this world (I mean, we are IN a hospital people! In all fairness the other option is Starbucks which isn’t much better and is a privately owned chain.).  Thankfully, I found a Luna bar at the bottom of my bag and grabbed an over priced bottle of water.

I was thinking this was some wacko anomaly until I ran across the following post on Fooducate.  3 major children’s hospitals in this country have a McDonald’s on site.  Yup, you read that right: Children’s of San Diego, Children’s of Los Angeles and Texas Children’s.  According to Fooducate, the one at CHOP closed because of space needs.  Ok, let me think this through: you have a child at a major teaching center, chances are it’s not for putting in ear tubes.  S/he has some thing seriously wrong or (let’s face it) because of the teaching status of the hospitals, you might be on some form of Medicare/Medicaid.  What does it say about the hospital to rent out the space to a known purveyor of garbage? junk food as one of the options?  How do doctors/nurses/dietitians look patients in the face and provide advise on overcoming obesity, eating healthy with limited resources, and providing tips on foods that are better choices than fast food when down the hall sits the golden arches?

Look, I’m the first to say hospital food (for the most part) sucks.  But the one thing hospital foods (and eateries in a hospital should be) is nutritious.  Perhaps as part of their well needed awareness on the food choices people make, the medical community should examine the food available within the four walls of their institutions.  In times of need, stress many people will eat: perhaps not encouraging bad nutrition by what is available would be a good first step.

Some times, you have to go back to the kitchen

October 6, 2011
Pork and Spicy Peach BBQ

Pork and Spicy Peach BBQ

I’ve had a lousy week.  Sunday night, I found out a long time family friend died of lung cancer.  She had a wonderful life just a not so happy ending.  I tried to find something poignant to put on the flowers I sent to my mom but came up with “some days just suck”.  At least my mom laughed: I know her friend would have had she received the flowers.  The day of the funeral I had to deal with my condo association and their inability to follow a procedure from point a to point b thus causing me to be inconvenienced.  My mom and her friend are both retired school teachers.  The one thing that entered my mind (because I couldn’t be 1/3 of the way across the country at the funeral like I wanted to be) was “Lack of planning on your part, doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part”.  The cliché of the poster pretty much sums up how I feel about my condo mis-management firm.  Always a fire drill.

So, on this miserable rainy fall Tuesday night, I cooked.  A fresh ham (not smoked … really you could substitute a pork roast) from the fantastic 8’Oclock Ranch and some homemade peach bbq sauce that I made this summer.  The following is the recipe I used for the zesty peach bbq sauce:

6 cups finely chopped pitted peeled peaches (about 3 lb or 9 medium)
1 cup finely chopped seeded red bell pepper (about 1 large)
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 large)
3 Tbsp finely chopped garlic (about 14 cloves)
1-1/4 cups honey
3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsp hot pepper flakes
2 tsp dry mustard

(It’s adapted from the ball canning book:  I skipped the salt and Worcester sauce).  And I somehow used the wrong kind of hot pepper flakes so mine as an extra layer of heat (suffice to say, cayenne pepper is a tad hotter than hot pepper flakes: oops).  This makes about 4 pints.

I preheated the oven to 380.  Dumped a pint of the sauce all over the roast and cooked until done (ok, so the cooking time depends ON the weight of the roast so that you have to look up. . . .).  I served it over rice.

Finally it’s fall . . . and I get to cook.  And enjoy the rewards of my hot summer nights in the kitchen

Needing That Alone Time? Day 21. . .

September 5, 2011

SalsaSpend time alone. See this
list
of ways to free up time for yourself — to spend in solitude. Alone time  is good for you, although some people aren’t comfortable with it. It could take
practice getting used to the quiet, and making room for your inner voice. It sounds new-agey, I know, but it’s extremely calming. And this quiet is necessary
for finding out what’s important to you.”

Ok, truth time: this is one I thought I had mastered.  I’m a singleton (unless you count pawed creatures), my family is flung out from here to there (seriously, my closest relative is 8 hours away, my closest nuclear family member is 16 hours away) and truth be told, I’m pretty introverted.  I can blame my introversion on lots of things plus a dash of genetics.  I can be social but when I’ve had enough, I leave.  I don’t do well when I’m forced to be “on” for more than about 8 hours a day.  I don’t draw energy from other people …. a weekend with the nieces and nephews leads me craving quiet and sleep.

I realized while I am often “alone” it’s not recharging time.  It’s a factor of my life.  Meditation . . . not really my thing (I blame that on the unused seminary degree).  Art, eh. It’s a winter activity when I’m trying to refocus but not something renewing.  I found myself pondering this as I randomly decided to make pickled beets (ok, I had 3 pounds of beets from my CSA share and couldn’t figure out to do with them!).  Somewhere in the untangling of my thoughts I realized that my “alone time” was in the kitchen.  My culinary adventures and misadventures, canning, picking berries all have a point of rejuvenation for me.

I have a great little sous chef (the smell of boiling vinegar is a sirens sound to him).  I realized that during my cooking time, I decompressed.  I let go.  I played.  The benefit is, of course, a load of canned organic items for the winter (now what exactly I’m going to do with 5 pints of green heirloom tomato chutney is really beyond me).  Yes, I’ve found a bit of satisfaction in looking in my faux-pantry and seeing jars of items that I made but it’s more than that.  I found a place to rest my mind.  What I’m doing now will create interesting meals over the winter.  Since it’s just me, I don’t mind experimenting and can always ditch back to cereal for dinner if it’s really gross (hey, it’s easier to toss 1 meal without hearing the people are starving all over the world lecture from my grandmother in the back of my head!).

I realized while spending alone time, I’ve struggled with renewal time.  I’ve found something that I enjoy.  But seriously? What am I going to do with 8 pints of pickled beets?

Berry Picking