It’s not too late: Make your own tasty food gifts

Here are some past post with food as gift ideas:
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Spicy Hot Chocolate Mix
Homemade Maple Marshmallows
Cinnamon Tincture and Liqueur
Homemade Maple Granola
Homemade Crystallized Ginger & Syrup
Spicy Mustard
Pasteli: Sesame Honey Candy
Almond Joy knock-offs
Maple Pralines (without white sugar)
Maple Turtles (without white sugar)
Peanut Butter Cups (no refined sugar)

Nourishing Gourmet, also has a great list of gift ideas!

Slow, low heat

Photo of rare roastbeefI was at a Halloween party a few weeks ago and found myself chatting with two of my favorite foodie friends. If you aren’t into food, I’m probably a pretty boring guest. Sure I can talk about current events and the weather, but food is what puts a little light in my eyes.

My two friends went on and on about standing rib roasts (with Yorkshire pudding, which is not in the least bit puddingy). Apparently the only special equipment that you need for a standing rib roast is a piece of paper, a marker and some tape so you can make a sign warning people not to open the oven. The degree of your threat is, of course, up to your creative self. You’ll also need an instant read, ovenproof meat thermometer.

I was intrigued, but the part about standing rib roasts being very expensive made me decide to hold off on that experience for a bit. Plus, I figure that I might want to practice with more budget-friendly roasts.

My friend, cookbook writer Brigit Binns, being the meat diva that she is, said that she used to turn her nose up at lesser meat cuts like top-round roasts. She thought that they were cheap, tough and flavorless. It took the guys at the Athens Volunteer firehouse to change her mind. They gave her a simple recipe, which turned a ho-hum top-round into a juicy, delicious piece of meat. The key: slow, low, heat.

I am a roast novice. I’ve never really had good luck cooking them. Sure, I’ve made something edible by throwing a roast into a crock pot, but it was more of a pot roast. I’m just not a pot roast gal. Can’t tell you why, but I’ve never been a fan. I am a big fan of a rare slice of roast beef. That’s what I wanted to cook.

As it so happened, Jimmy Bulich of Pathfinder Beef dropped off our beef order recently, which included a small sirloin tip roast. Cook’s Illustrated considers sirloin tip roast to be the poor man’s prime rib. Works for me!

Since I only buy local, pasture-raised meat, I almost always buy it frozen. It’s just hard to come by any other way. Don’t be afraid of frozen meat. I don’t mind it one bit. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that you have to plan ahead. I usually take out the meat I need for the week and keep it in my fridge. Easy enough.

According to the FDA’s website, there are three safe ways to defrost beef: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Never defrost it out on the counter.

To defrost in a refrigerator, place the frozen beef in the refrigerator. Be sure it’s on a plate or pan to catch any liquid. Ground beef and small cuts should defrost within a day. Roasts may take two days or longer, depending on the size. Once the beef has defrosted, it will be safe in the refrigerator for about 3 to 5 days before cooking.

For cold water, be sure the meat is in a leak-proof bag. Submerge the beef in cold water. Change the water about every 30 minutes. Small packages of beef should defrost in an hour or less; a 3- to 4-pound roast may take 2 to 3 hours.

I never use a microwave but if that’s your thing, just hit the defrost button. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing since it will have already started to cook.

I don’t know how I made it this far in my culinary life without knowing how to make such a delicious roast. While this recipe takes a daunting 2 or more hours to cook, it is super easy, and super worth it. It’s perfect for a Sunday night dinner. If you aren’t serving a crowd, you’ll have plenty of leftovers to get you through a few quick, week-night dinners. I plan to make Shepherd’s Pie, beef tacos, and I know my husband is hoping for a roast beef sandwich with lots of horseradish. I image we’ll even have enough left over for a small pot of chili!

Slow Roasted Beef
You’ll need a ovenproof meat thermometer for this. I love my digital probe thermometer. Since I can no longer see through my glass oven door, having the thermometer reader on my stovetop is a big help.

Ingredients
3 pound roast (if larger, cook longer, if smaller, cook less)
salt
salt pork or bacon (optional)
2-3 garlic cloves (optional)

Method

  • Set the roast out. It should be room temperature before it’s cooked.
  • Heat the oven to 450 degrees for at least 30 minutes; you want it nice and hot
  • Liberally salt the roast. If there is a fat-side, place that side up. Mine didn’t really have any fat. If you have some bacon or salt pork on hand, lay slices on the top. You can also make small incisions and insert a garlic cloves slivers.
  • Put in a meat thermometer and roast for 20 minutes. Then turn the oven off and be sure not to open the oven! It will continue to cook. When the temperature gets to130ºF, turn the oven back on to 450º. Cook until the temp is 133 to 140 degrees (stick with the lower end if you like it very rare). For a three-pound roast the total cooking time will be 1 1/2-2 hours.
  • Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

Participating in Monday Mania.

Lacto-fermentation: Ginger Carrot Sticks

As I often do, I think about how people used to preserve the harvest before electricity. Drying, curing and fermenting are a few ways. While I’m interesting in all of the old fashioned ways of preserving, I have done the most experimenting with fermenting, lacto-fermentation to be exact.

Lacto-fermentation occurs when the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit are converted to lactic acid by friendly bacteria, called lactobacilli. Lactic acid is a naturally occurring preservative. The science of it all may be complex, but the practice of it is super easy. Basically, all you need to do is provide the right environment for the process to happen and then it does it all by itself.

Lacto-fermented foods are rich in probiotics. You may already know about probiotic rich foods like yogurt. Probiotics are often called “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria.” The Mayo Clinic’s website states that while more research is needed, there’s encouraging evidence that probiotics may help treat diarrhea, prevent infections, treat eczema, and reduce the severity of colds and flu.

While many ways of processing drops the food’s nutritional value, lacto-fermentation actually boosts it. In addition to helping digestion, fermentation increased the vitamin & mineral content of the food.

In “Nourishing Traditions”, Sally Fallon states that, “The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”

The great part about lacto-fermentation is that it is super easy and requires little equipment other than wide-mouth mason jars. Sure you can splurge on a $145 Harsch Gairtopf Fermenting Crock Pot (yes, this is a gift hint for anyone looking to spoil me with an expensive kitchen gadget) but I’ve done just fine with mason jars.

When picking out vegetables, go for organic or naturally grown, without pesticide. Pesticide residue can mess the whole thing up! It’s yet another on a long list of reasons to avoid chemicals on your food.

If you really want to get into fermenting, “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz is an excellent resource.

Recently I went a little crazy in the kitchen (nothing unusual). I naturally fermented carrots, beets, sauerkraut and kimchi. I don’t think I’m ready to stop. I’m going to have another fermenting session after my trip to the farmers market Saturday. So little time, so much to ferment!

Whey
Whey is often used to jump start the fermentation process. If you are a cheese maker, than you have plenty already. If you aren’t, It is super easy to make with yogurt.

Ingredients
8oz plain whole milk yogurt with live cultures (Around here RonnyBrook is a good choice and easy to find)

Method

  • Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth.
  • Set over a bowl and pour in yogurt into strainer.
  • The liquid collected is whey. You’ll get about 2-3 tablespoons from each 8oz yogurt. The left over yogurt will be nice and thick.

Lacto-Fermented Ginger Carrot Sticks
You can whip this up in a flash. I’m guessing it will take you less than 10 minutes; if you are quick with a knife, maybe less than five.

This is the easiest way to ease into lacto-fermentation. The tasty and tangy carrots make an easy and healthy snack. I always try to keep a jar on hand.

Ingredients
3-5 medium carrots, peeled
1 tablespoon whey (homemade if you don’t have any, use extra salt; do not use commercial whey or dried whey)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
Filtered water, enough to cover the carrots

Method

  • Cut carrots into sticks. Size them so that they fit in a pint size jar with about an inch of headspace at the top. Place the carrot sticks into the jar. Make sure they fit snuggly. They should be wedged in tightly enough so that none float when the water is added.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to cover the carrots. Leave about an inch of space at the top of the jar.
  • Put the lid on tightly and keep it at room temperature (72 degrees) for about three days. If it is cold, you may need to leave it out longer. You can taste to tell if they are done. If they aren’t as sour as you would like them, leave them out a little longer. The fermented carrots will last in your fridge for several months and will get better with age.

 

Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade

There is only one thing that makes the first fall frost tolerable in my book and that is green tomatoes. In the fall I keep an eye on the weather. I hope for an extended season so we can get a few more red tomatoes from our garden. The tomatoes that we were getting in late September weren’t as delicious as the summer ones (I’m guessing that they don’t like the cool nights), but they were still garden-fresh tomatoes and I was happy to have them.

With a frost forecasted, my husband and I picked all of the green tomatoes. I have heard that some people don’t wait until the frost to pick green tomatoes. They pick them mid-season when they have too many tomatoes crowding each other. So far, we haven’t had that problem. We picked a bagful of small green pear tomatoes. I still haven’t decided what to do with them, though I’ve been eying green tomato relish recipes. We also snagged a few that were the perfect size for frying.

There are few foods that say “Southern” as much as fried green tomatoes. Turns out there’s a bit of a debate as to where fried green tomatoes originated. Food historian, Robert F. Moss, asserts that they were originally a Northern dish. Combing through cookbooks and newspaper articles, the first mention that he could find was in an 1873 Dayton, Ohio Presbyterian Cookbook. He also found recipes in several early 20th century Jewish cookbooks.

Mosses blames the 1992 movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” for the misplaced notion that this dish is Southern in origin. A quick trip around the blogosphere and you’ll see that everyone claims them, lots of people vehemently so. I enjoyed reading all of the accounts of people remembering their grandparents’ stories of eating fried green tomatoes. People traced their families fried green tomato lineage. I love when people get all up in arms over food origins.

I don’t remember the first time that I had them but I do remember the first time I really appreciated them. It was several years ago in New Orleans at Liuzza’s. As with many things, they do fried green tomatoes differently in New Orleans. The green tomatoes are lightly dusted with cornmeal, fried and topped with a tangy shrimp roumalade. Delicious. My husband does an excellent version and was kind enough to share his recipe.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade
Use the largest, firmest green tomatoes you can find.

Ingredients

1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
A few dashes of hot sauce
Vegetable oil, enough to add about an inch in the bottom of your frying pan (we use coconut oil)
12 slices of green tomato, approximately 1/2-inch thick (3-4 tomatoes should do it)
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup cornmeal, lightly seasoned with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning (or salt, black pepper and a dash of cayenne)
One pound small to medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and chilled (see below)

1 cup chilled remoulade sauce (see below)
Mixed greens

Method:

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg and hot sauce.
  • Heat oil in a large frying pan over moderate heat.
  • Lightly salt and peeper each tomato slice.
  • Dip each tomato slice first in cornstarch, then in the egg mixture, then coat with cornmeal. Be sure to coat both sides with all three dips. Place tomato slices in the pan with heated oil in a single layer. Do not crowd. Cook over moderate heat until golden brown on bottom. Turn and brown on other side. (Total cooking time is 3 to 4 minutes.) Exterior should be golden brown.
  • Place cooked tomatoes on a plate lined with paper towels.
  • Toss cooked shrimp with the remoulade.
  • On individual serving plates, place a handful of mixed green. Top with two slices of fried tomato and top with shrimp remoulade.

Makes 6 servings (as appetizer)

Remoulade Recipe

Ingredients
2 cups chopped celery
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon horseradish, grated
1/2 cup ketchup

Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasonings to taste (or salt, black pepper and a dash of cayenne)

Method:

Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until mixed. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Boiled Shrimp

Ingredients
4 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1 lemon, quartered
36 small-medium shrimp (about 1 pound)

Method:

  • Fill a pot with 4 quarts of water, add Old Bay seasoning and lemon quarters. Bring to a boil; add shrimp and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, peel and devein. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Salsa, the new sunscreen?

If you catch me smiling, it’s probably because I’m a little giddy thinking about tomatoes. Sure there are other things to be happy about in August, like corn, peaches and a cool dip in the creek, but fresh tomatoes are what I get excited about.

There are many reasons to love tomatoes: BLTs, panzanella, Caprese salad and gazpacho to name a few. Recently I’ve been hearing that eating tomatoes, especially cooked ones, can provide skin protection from the sun.

I have been interested in sunscreen ever since my high school science fair project. I tested the effectiveness of the sunscreen, based on the photosynthesis of isopropyl alcohol benzophenone (I didn’t make this up). I added alcohol and benzophenone to test tubes, sealed them, brushed them with sunscreen and set them under a sun lamp.

After a few hours, crystals formed. I then weighed the crystals. The more crystals, the more sunlight that got through and therefore the less effective the sunscreen was. I’m sure my 11th grade experiment may not have been completely accurate, but with the help from the art department who did an excellent job painting my beachscape backdrop, my project won first prize.

Sunday, I accidentally conducted another sunscreen test. My husband and I went to his company picnic. It was hot and sunny and due to an oversight, we didn’t have on a drop of sunscreen. However, we did drink a glass of tomato juice that morning. I can’t say exactly how long we were out in the sun, since I did try to stay in the shade, but I burn easily and the more than an hour of sunlight we certainly got would have normally turned my skin rather pink if not right out red.

No red, no pink, no tan, no nothing.

I came home and did a little research. Seems like everyone from USA Today to AccuWeather sourced a Universities of Newcastle and Manchester study more info

that showed eating tomato paste could help protect against sunburn.

Whenever I keep reading the same study cited over and over, I like to go to the source. PubMed (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) is the place to do this.

The study, titled “Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photo damage in humans in vivo: a randomized controlled trial” was tiny, comprised of only 20 particpants. Over a 12-week period, one group ate 5 teaspoons of tomato paste a day and the control group did not. The people who ate the tomato paste were a third better protected against sunburn than the control group. According to the study, the conclusion was “Tomato paste containing lycopene provides protection against acute and potentially longer-term aspects of photo damage.”

Another study showed that using lycopene topically provides UV protection. I personally, would rather eat a tomato.

Raw and cooked tomatoes both contain the phytonutrient lycopene, but cooking seems to increase the amount of lycopene that can be absorbed by the body. Vitamin C decreases with cooking, so I like to include both cooked and raw tomatoes in my diet.

I wouldn’t take this study to mean that you can replace the sunscreen in your beach bag with a bottle of tomato juice, but it looks like eating tomatoes can boosts your skins own sun-protection.

My sun strategy: stay in the shade, wear a big hat, and eat plenty of tomatoes!

Fresh Homemade Salsa

No need to grab a jar of salsa this summer with all the fresh produce available. Throw in a ripe peach if you are feeling adventurous.

Ingredients

4 large tomatoes, chopped (I add a few yellow cherry tomatoes for color)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño or serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped (I like to use a sweet onion, but any will do)
2-3 tablespoons lime juice (about one lime)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Method

In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Let sit for about an hour for the flavors to meld.

Kale Salad…yes it IS delicious!

Last year, I bought kale seedlings for our garden. The kale that I was familiar with had large, medium green leaves with ruffled edges. The kale I was growing had very narrow, dark green leaves. I thought maybe I had mixed up my seedlings.

My friend Ellen tipped me off to the fact that I was growing the trendy Lacinato kale, also known as Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale or cavolo nero (black kale, since the leaves are such a dark green they are almost black). It’s slightly sweeter than curly leafed kale and has a more delicate flavor. It’s now my favorite type of kale.

I rarely see Lacinato at the grocery store, but often see it at farmers’ markets, so keep an eye out for it.

No question about it, kale is a nutritional superstar. One cup of cooked kale has almost 200 percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A 88 percent of your vitamin C and is off the charts with vitamin K (1,327.62 percent to be exact). Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting and building bones.

Kale also contains many phytonutrients, a fancy word for a class of nutrients, other than vitamins, that is obtained from eating plants. Carotenoids, flavonoids, sulfides and a bunch of other things of which I’ve never heard (saponins for one) are phytonutrients. They are much touted for their health benefits and kale contains a boatload of them. Its organosulfur compounds are of particular note, as they are purported to lessen the occurrence of a variety of cancers.

The spring and the fall are the best times to get kale. Its leaves are a little sweeter in cooler weather. Kale is ninth on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen,” which is a list of the most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables. So talk to your farmer about his/her pesticide practices or pick up an organic bunch.

Jan’s Kale Salad
This is adapted from my friend Jan’s recipe. And she got it from a friend. No telling where the friend got it, but I’m guessing each person adjusted it a bit.

Ingredients
1 small bunch of kale (lacinato preferred)
1 cup bread crumbs (to make your own, crumble a piece of very dry toast)
1/4 cup sliced almonds (Jan uses pine nuts)
1/4 chopped dried figs
1/2 cup or more crumbled feta cheese

Dressing:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons shallot, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Method

  • Wash kale and discard stems. (Toss them in your compost!)
  • Cut the kale into thin ribbons (chiffonade). Stack the leaves, roll them into a long tube, then slice into thin strips. If this sounds too fussy for you, just chop it.
  • For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, shallots, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  • In a large bowl, toss kale with dressing to coat. Add the feta, figs, bread crumbs and almonds and toss. Salt and pepper to taste.

How not to make a (blueberry) burger

I had a bad cooking day. It happens sometimes.

It all started with blueberries and expectations. We had some lovely house guests recently who showed up with a big bag of blueberries and a beautiful blue and white pie plate from Burlington, Vermont. Needless to say, I was very excited. I wanted to cook something special with them. I had high hopes indeed.

Of course I would bake a pie — got to test out the new equipment, you know. But I also wanted something savory.

My first thought was to revamp my sour cherry ketchup into blueberry ketchup. I followed my recipe except I substituted blueberries for the cherries and currents for the golden raisins.

It was okay, the sour cherry ketchup is miles better. I put it in the fridge with the idea that it would be good on chicken. It wasn’t a total disaster but no homerun either.

Having tossed cherries into a hamburger before, I thought blueberries might be an interesting addition. A quick Internet search revealed that I wasn’t the first one to think of this.

As I do when I’m working on a recipe, I search for existing recipes, compare, and then go off on my own. For blueberry burgers, maybe I should have stuck a little closer to the playbook.

I started with a cup of blueberries. A cup of berries with a pound of ground beef sounded good to me. I dumped the blueberries and a few garlic cloves into the food processor and gave it a whirl. There was a lot of liquid but without thinking too much about it, I added the mixture right to the ground beef.

Only I didn’t have a pound of ground beef, turns out I only had half a pound. I just made a big sloppy, grass-fed mess.

Recognizing that I might run into problems when cooking the burgers, I made a tiny test patty and fried it up. It immediately fell apart. I’m glad I didn’t test it on the grill.

I wondered if other people had problems with the burger, so I went back to the online recipes. I often find the comment section very helpful when troubleshooting recipes.

My problem became apparent when I glanced at the recipes. Eating Well’s recipe only called for a third cup of blueberries, plus they used breadcrumbs to bind everything together. Serious Eats called for a half of a cup of blueberries to a pound and a half of ground beef. Oops.

And here I was stuck with my mess of a burger that had more than six times the amount of blueberries their recipes called for. What to do?

One thought was to make tacos. Add a little chili powder, some onion, cook it up, wrap it up in a soft corn tortilla and be done with it. That sounded pretty good and is something I might try still.

But I wanted a hamburger on a bun and I wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Following Eating Well’s lead, I decided to add some binding agents.

I added an egg and breadcrumbs. I also decided to bake it. The thought was I wouldn’t have to chance it falling apart by flipping and hoped that some of the juice would evaporate. Seemed to work.

An ordinary burger might have dried out, but my super-soaked one did just fine, unless of course you wanted yours medium rare. These were cooked enough to make any food safety inspector proud. Cooked any less and I’m certain in wouldn’t have made it to the bun in one piece.

Taste wise, once topped with an onion slice, three condiments and put on a bun, I was hard pressed to taste the blueberries.

Our two burgers sported a half of a cup of blueberries each. That’s a healthy dose of the berries’ powerful antioxidants. I think that is what this burger is all about—taking a summer staple and upping the nutritional value. If you want something fruity, stick with a pie.

While my mess of a burger ended up tasty, I’m clearly not the one to relay any blueberry burger recipes. For that I would go to either www.serious eats.com/ or www.eatingwell.com. Or just wing it — only wing it with much less blueberries than I did!

My fingers are crossed that the pie comes off without a hitch!

Shakshuka and Bell’s

Shakshuka at Bell'sWhen we moved to Catskill, NY, we had only been to the town three times. We didn’t research the area much. As foodies, you would have thought that we would have done our due diligence in the food department, but we didn’t. We were charmed by the town and in love with the house and that was enough for us.

As we got to know the area, we felt like we lucked out food-wise. The grocery store was much better than the one in our old Brooklyn neighborhood, there was a weekend farmers market and we could walk to Bell’s Café.

Bell’s Israeli inspired menu focuses on locally sourced ingredients. Their beef and poultry are sustainable, grass fed, antibiotic and hormone-free. That’s right up my ally, so I am happy it’s just a few blocks away from us.

The first time we went to Bell’s we decided to stop in for a quick bite before we went to the movies next door at the Community Theater. We learned that Bell’s isn’t the place to go for a quick bite. Once we got our dinner, we quickly forgot about the movie and focused on the delicious food. With dishes like duck tacos with a chipotle sofrito, mussels in a spicy basil and coconut broth, Moroccan spicy fish and brie & crispy shallot burgers, you want to savor it and you definitely want to stay for dessert!

Chefs Yael Manor-McMorrow and Keith McMorrow were nice enough to invite me into Bell’s kitchen and teach me how to make shakshuka.

Shakshuka is a classic Israeli dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s traditionally eaten for lunch or dinner. Yael told me that in Israel, hummus is more common for breakfast than eggs. Personally, I’d eat this delicious dish any time of the day.

Yael’s French Culinary school training started to show as soon as we stepped into the kitchen. She doesn’t measure ingredients, is quick with a knife and cleans as she goes. When I asked her what insider culinary graduate info she could pass on to the average cook, she paused, lifted her knife and said, “Start with a good knife.”

She also recommended a well-stocked pantry. She always stocks brown rice, coconut milk and curry paste. For produce, Yael buys what is fresh and in season, which ensures she is getting the best quality and the best price.

“Cook less and use the ingredients more,” she said. Fresh food does the work for you and is traditionally how people cook in Israel.

To accompany our shakshuka, Yael quickly made a chopped salad. In Israel, every meal, including breakfast is served with some type of fresh salad. For ours she used fresh grilled corn cut off the cob, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, fresh mint, basil, and dressed it lightly will lemon juice and a little olive oil. It tasted just like summertime and was the perfect cooling counterpart to the spicy shakshuka. Yum!

Shakshuka

This recipe is my interpretation of Yael’s version. I was taking notes but if it doesn’t taste as good as hers, you’ll know whom to blame.

Take this basic recipe and run with it. Add any vegetable or herb that you have on hand. Summer suggestions: add bell peppers and zucchini.

Note: Harissa is a mixture of hot peppers, coriander, red chili powder, caraway, and other spices. It can be found as a paste or powder. Look in the ethic section of your grocery store. It’s worth seeking out.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
5-6 fresh large tomatoes, quartered, the juicier the better
2 tablespoons harissa (More or less depending on the amount of spice you want.)
1-2 teaspoon sea salt (more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or other fresh herbs, divided)
4 large eggs

  • In a medium-sized frying pan heat oil, garlic and tomatoes over medium heat. Stir in harissa and salt. Continue to heat until tomatoes break down. You want a nice bubbly sauce. Turn heat down and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on how much juice your tomatoes have.
  • Stir in half of the parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning. Gently crack eggs into the pan, giving each a bit of room. Simmer until eggs whites are set but yolks remain runny, about 8 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle remaining parsley. Divide into four bowls, each getting an egg and serve with warm pita bread or baguette.

Serves 4

Bell’s Café Bistro is at 387 Main Street in Catskill, New York. Hours are: Dinner from Thursday through Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.; Brunch from Friday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 518-943-4070

Corn!

Corn at the farmers market is a sure-fire signal that summer is in full swing. If you ignored the 90-degree weather, you could tell it was summer by the piles of sweet corn filling up the tables the farmers markets and roadside stands.

As a kid, I had to shuck bushels of corn. It was not my favorite chore. The worst part about it was not knowing if I would find a big fat worm at the top of the ear chomping away at the kernels. I only really minded the worms if I accidentally touched them. Yuck. I developed a technique that minimized that risk. I folded the long green husks over the sliks to provide a barrier before I would shuck the ear. Sometimes they still slimmed me. The sweet taste of corn was certainly worth any potential critter encounter. I guess the worms and I both knew a good thing when we tasted it.

The sugars in corn starts to turn to starch after it is picked, so eat it fresh. My mom always liked to start to boil the water before she picked the corn. Now, that is fresh corn!

Since I am a frugal gal, I was happy to see that you can use the whole ear of corn; the cob, husk, silks and all. I usually toss it all the leftovers in the compost, but here are a few ideas:
– save and dry the husk for tamales;
– use dried husk to make dolls, stuff a mattress or use as packing material;
– make corncob jelly;
– make a therapeutic tea out of the silks;
– whittle yourself, or next winter’s snowman, a corncob pipe.

My, my… and you thought corn was just a summer side dish.

My favorite way to prepare corn is to simply boil it. I like to give it a quick dip in boiling water for only three minutes. Then, of course, I slather it in butter, and often eat more than one ear. I always start with this straightforward approach, but as the summer progresses, I venture to other corn recipes.

Black Sour Cherry Vodka

Until we moved to the Hudson Valley, I had never heard of black sour cherries. Apparently they are a big deal. Last year, we went to Cherry Ridge Farms in Hudson to pick red sour cherries about a week before the black sours were ready. We were firmly warned to stay away from the black sour trees and that if any forbidden cherries found their way into our basket, we would be charged triple the price. I expected to see armed guards protecting the trees.

If their goal was to build hype about the black sour cherries, it worked on me. I had to have some. I marked opening day on my calendar and worked out our schedule around it. Unfortunately, we got there too late. I guess they weren’t kidding when they said they went fast. By 11:30 a.m. on opening day, Cherry Ridge Farms’ trees were bare.

While standing around with our empty pail, we heard that Fix Brothers still had some, so we raced over there. As we turned up the winding road to the orchard, we started noticing cars parked on the roadside, lots of cars.

There was a bit of a frenetic energy in the air. Scores of people were scurrying around the trees, loading their buckets. I happily joined in the frenzy.

The trees were dripping with big, dark-red cherries. I started grabbing handfuls. To me, it was like the opening scene to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — magical and gluttonous.

I asked people what they planned to do with the cherries. There were a few people, like us, who were just picking because it seemed like the thing to do. With this many people clamoring for the dark-red orbs, they must be something special. Others were picking with purpose and that purpose was black sour cherry liqueur. Prized as an elixir of sorts, the homemade beverage is a staple in many Eastern European countries, which explained all of the head scarves being worn and hard consonants being spoken.

Black sour cherries are more tart than the red ones. The tartness makes them perfect for baking or making brandy or liqueurs. Fix Brothers’ black sours are Morello cherries, which range from a medium red to a dark mahogany red. The longer they stay on the tree, the darker they get.

Like blueberries and other purplish-red fruits, sour cherries contain anthocyanins, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The darker the cherries, the more anthocyanins they have. Cherries are purported to relieve painful inflammatory conditions such as gout and arthritis. Plus a cup of fresh sour cherries has 40 percent of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin A, 26 percent of vitamin C; 2 percent of calcium and 3 percent of iron. No wonder liqueur made from black sour cherries is prized!

My husband had to drag me out of the orchard. This year, I will try to remember that we will have to pit all of the cherries we pick. Maybe that will get me out of the orchard faster.

Sour cherries are easier to pit than sweet cherries. I don’t use a cherry pitter, mainly because I don’t have one, but I also don’t think it’s necessary. Pitting sour cherries is a little messy, since they are full of juice. Wear an apron and rubber gloves if you don’t want to have to scrub your cherry-stained fingers.

After I wash the cherries, I set out two large bowls. Over one bowl, I squeeze the pit out. With a little practice, you’ll be able to remove the pit without squirting yourself with cherry juice. Then I place the pitted cherry in the second bowl. Both bowls will accumulate lots of juice. Keep that! When I’m all done, I strain the juice from both the pits and the cherries, sweeten it a tad and drink it.

Sour Cherry Infused Vodka

My husband made this last year. This year, we are tripling the recipe! If you are a teetotaler, just omit the vodka, add a bit of seltzer after straining and enjoy your homemade cherry soda!

This recipe is adapted from New York Magazine.

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh black sour cherries, washed and pitted (you may add a few stems and leaves for flavor)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 cups vodka


Method

  • In a large jar with a lid, add cherries, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Crush the cherries with a wooden spoon. Seal the jar and store for a week in a dark, dry place.
  • Add vodka, reseal and shake well. Infuse for a month in a dark place, giving it a shake every three or four days.
  • Strain through a cheesecloth. Add a few cherries to a bottle or jar and fill with infused vodka.
  • Serve in small glasses, over ice or neat, either as an aperitif or a digestive.

Should keep for years, but ours didn’t last a month (which is why we’ll triple the batch this year).

To your health!

EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Hot off the press: the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

I printed the handy wallet guide, which fits nicely next to my Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Pocket Guide.

The Dirty Dozen (I either buy organic of these or do without)
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

The Clean 15 (These have the least amount of pesticide residue.)
1. Onions
2. Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Michelada

MicheladaAs soon as the mercury pushes past 60º F, my husband and I migrate to our back porch. It’s our favorite place for morning coffee and evening cocktails. This spring, I have a new favorite cocktail, the Michelada (pronounced mee-cha-lah-dah), if you can call a drink made with beer a cocktail. I can’t bring myself to call it what some people call it, a beertail.

I had never heard of or tasted this south-of-the-border quaff until my friend Bill made me one last December. Bill was excited about them and showed up with a six pack of Pacifico, Clamato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, a couple of secret ingredients and a big grin. His delicious Michelada set a high standard by which all subsequent ones would be judged.

Since then, I’ve been seeing and hearing about Micheladas everywhere. It’s hard to say if they have risen in popularity or if they have been there all along and I’m just starting to notice. I like to think it’s the former, but will concede that I may have just not been paying attention.

“So, Michelada is the new Mojito,” my friend Paul said after I explained the suspected sudden rise in the drink’s popularity. Maybe so. Mojitos quickly went from obscurity in the ’90s to being quite the beverage rage in the early 2000s. Maybe it’s time for Micheladas to take over.

There are many different interpretations of Micheladas. The commonalities between most of the recipes I found are beer, lime juice and a salted rim. A good many recipes called for soy sauce. Maggi seasoning was another popular addition. Some use tomato or Clamato juice and others don’t, though I’m told that those without are technically called cheladas.

To get this recipe just right, we had to do a lot of testing. I ask a lot of my husband and this task, “Test Michelada,” was just one of many items on his honey-do list. The dear didn’t complain once, even when I kept adding “Test Michelada Again.” He’s a keeper.

I just discovered a southern magazine called “Garden & Gun.” Yes, there is a magazine called “Garden & Gun,” with articles about cocktails, popsicles, fishing and lots of dog photos. The current issue has an article by one of my favorite authors, Roy Blount Jr., titled, “The Trendiness of Worms.” I am thinking about subscribing.

“Garden & Gun” had an article on Micheladas, referring to it as “the mysterious Texas concoction.” The magazine interviewed a bar manager, who said, “We don’t measure the ingredients. You have to feel the Michelada — make it by touch.”

With all of the variations and need for getting the right feel for Micheladas, you can see why we needed to do a lot of testing.

Since I love to get a dose of veggies wherever I can, I prefer a version made with vegetable juice.

Teetotaler? Never fear, replace the beer with seltzer water. It’s a delicious twist on a juice spritzer.

In the interest of perfection, I think we should test another batch. “Una mas Michelada, por favor!”

Andrew’s Michelada

Ingredients
1 part vegetable juice (such as V8; substitute Clamato or tomato juice)
Juice of half of a lime
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch of Cajun seasoning (such as Tony Chachere; substitute salt and chili powder)
1 dash Tabasco sauce (or more)
1 pinch black pepper
3 parts beer (any will do but, to be festive, you may want to pick up something Mexican; Lagers preferred).

For the Rim:
Cajun seasoning or coarse salt with a dash of chili powder

Method

  • Cut a lime wedge and rub it around the rim of a pilsner or other tall beer glass, then dip it into the salt/Cajun seasoning.
  • Fill the glass with ice.
  • Add one part vegetable juice, lime juice, Worcestershire, Cajun seasoning, Tabasco and pepper to the glass and give it a stir.
  • Pour in three parts of beer, stir, garnish with a lime and serve, adding more beer as you sip.

Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich)

When I told my friend Joan that I was going to make Vietnamese sandwiches or, bánh mì (pronounced bangh me), her eyes lit up and a big smile came across her face. “Oh, I would send you to Saigon to a tiny place that makes the most incredible sandwiches.”

Joan grew up in Vietnam and returns frequently, so she would know just where to send me. She fondly remembers the unique sandwich wrapped in newsprint that she would buy as a kid. And it’s also one of the things she looks forward to getting on her return trips.

This culture clash of a sandwich can be traced to the French colonization of Indochina. It combines ingredients from the French (baguettes) with the Vietnamese (pickled veggies) and results in a multi-culture match made in heaven.

Joan gave me enthusiastic but slightly vague details. She said that she loved the combination of the crispy bread, spicy sauce, tangy pickled vegetables and savory meat.

Her vagueness had to do with the meat. Joan told me that meatballs aren’t in an authentic Saigon bánh mì, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on exactly what the meat was. She and her husband finally decided that it was somewhere between pâté and bologna. Both agreed that whatever the meat is, the sandwich is delicious.

Turns out that there are lots of interpretations of the proper meat for the sandwiches, including roasted pork, ham, pork pâté, grilled chicken, meatballs and even tofu.

Joan has several Vietnamese cookbooks, but she wasn’t able to find the sandwich in any of them. The thought is that bánh mì is primarily street food and not something many home cooks make. I don’t think this is because it is difficult, but rather that the sandwich, at least in Vietnam, is ubiquitous and cheap.

Joan doesn’t know it, but I plan to sit in her kitchen, comb through her cookbooks and pick her brain about other delicious Vietnamese dishes. Stay tuned!

Ingredients

Quick Pickled Vegetables
1 carrot, julienne
1 cup coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish, substitute a regular radish)
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (or honey)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Meatballs
1 pound ground pork
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil for cooking the meatballs

Spicy Mayo
1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer homemade)
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)

Toppings

Cucumber slices
Jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
Cilantro sprigs
2 large French baguettes (or four small baguettes)

Method

Quick Pickled Vegetables:

  • In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, salt and vinegar and bring to a boil.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add sesame oil, carrots and radishes, mix well.
  • Marinate for 30 minutes or store in the refrigerator overnight.

Meatballs

  • In a large bowl, mix all meatball ingredients, except the sesame oil. I roll up my sleeves and mix this with my hands.
  • Using a tablespoon on the mixture, form a one-inch meatball.
  • Heat the sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add as many meatballs that will comfortably fit in the pan and sauté until they are cooked through, flipping occasionally. You want them browned, but not burnt. Repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.

Spicy Chili Mayo

  • Stir all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill.

Sandwich Assembly

  • Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cut the baguettes in half; you will have four pieces. Slice the pieces length wise, but not all the way through. You want it to open like a hot dog bun. Hollow out some of the bread in the middle to make room for the meatballs (save for breadcrumbs or feed the birds).
  • Place baguettes on a baking sheet and bake until hot and crusty; about five minutes.
  • Slather the insides with the spicy mayonnaise. Place cucumber, jalapeños and cilantro on the bottom. Top each sandwich with a quarter of the meatballs, followed by the pickled vegetables (drained).

Serves four.