Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Putting some Ho Ho Ho in the Ho-lidays

Now is the time for entertaining, and because now is also the time for multitasking stress, here are some hints for elegant simplicity. And of course, for maximizing the resources of your winter farmers' market.

If you're having a cider or cocktail or tea party, try this spread:
1) a platter of local cheeses with a basket of local breads, and decorate the cheese plate with dried figs.
2) Chinese tea eggs : see How to Fix a Leek...  Set them out on a bed of bright greens (spinach, kale, mesclun) sprinkled with fresh cranberries.
3) A wooden board covered with sliced smoked salami, pepperoni and other delicacies like smoked chicken, with a lovely bowl of local mustard in the middle. And don't forget toothpicks although I find most folks will happily swipe meat with their hands.

That should be more than enough. But if you want to go further or are vegetarian, try this:
Get a loaf of dense white bread--pre-sliced is best-- and a Christmas tree cookie cutter. Cut "trees" out of the bread, put them on a baking sheet and bake at 325º until they are light brown and crisp like "melba toast." Coat the trees with basil or coriander or parsley pesto and then drape one thin pimento over like a garland. Presto! Mini Christmas trees!  Or you can cover them with red pepper hummus and decorate the "tree" with olive slices.  Or you can cut stars out of the bread, bake them and cover with quince paste. Possibilities are nearly endless.

If you need a light meal, try a salad. Here's one can be served warm or room temperature: wild rice, dried cranberries, smoked chicken, roasted pecans or almonds, the sections of a clementine or satsuma mandarin, chopped parsley and a hint of red onion. Dress it with raspberry vinegar and olive oil (2 oil to 1 vinegar).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tiz the season...

That joy to the world, the winter farmers' market, is now available everywhere, and amazingly enough, more so than summer markets. One town that had two regular markets has three winter ones! And all are action packed with music, tastings and artisan foods like pickles and smoked meats you won't find in summer.

The ratio of crafts to veggies has reversed. Instead of eggplants and corn, you can by repro vintage aprons and hand-carved salad bowls. But between the bakers and crafters are farmers with mesclun mix, Hakurei or salad turnips, leeks, potatoes, winter squashes and kale. There's plenty of artisan cheese, organic eggs. fish and maple syrup. Plus more meat than ever, much of it smoked into bacon, salamis and pepperoni. All perfect for heavier eating at this cold time of year.

My prize for creativity at this season goes to Treats for Tweets at the Brunswick Winter Market in Maine: cookies and cakes made of birdseed and flowers. Take a peek at what to peck:

Yes they were relatively pricey and yes we live in troubled financial times, but you have to admit these cakes make you smile. So joy to the world! Even if it's for the birds.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Giving thanks for the turkey trimmings

Better late than never to talk about THE MEAL and the menu that dare not be messed with. But there are plenty of fun, tasty and interesting dishes to go with the turkey.

Chief among them would be a winter squash stuffed with kale and mushrooms; it's on the Kale page of How to Fix a Leek... . This is not only great with roasted or barbecued or even deep-fried turkey, but a great offering to vegetarians.

I am always foolish for celeriac puree with roasted turkey and that recipe too, direct from my French "mother", is in How to Fix a Leek. Couldn't be easier or more low cal.

Another super easy and tasty dish is roasted sweet potato. And thanks to global warming, you can now find sweet potatoes at farmers' markets in the north. Just peel and slice into disks about 1/8-1/4" thick. Line a baking sheet with foil and turn the oven to 450º. Whisk together in a small bowl equal amounts of olive oil and soy sauce. Dip the sweet potatoes in. Set on the baking sheet and bake 12-15 minutes until they are lightly brown and soft. Serve as hors d'oeuvres or a side dish.

This year friends of mine are going to slow grill the turkey stuffed with Brussels sprouts, shallots, carrots, potatoes and turnip. Some of that veggie mix goes into the cavity while the rest goes under the turkey as bedding; both ways the veggies roast in the turkey juices, sucking them up. A lot of lemon juice, a pile of fresh thyme, tightly wrap the turkey and put it on a covered grill for hours.

I used to sauté shallots, leeks, celery carrots, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms with tons of thyme and sage. Then I blended the cooked vegetables with rice that had been half cooked in chicken broth, added chopped parsley, and stuffed the mixture into all the turkey cavities to roast. This stuffing was always a huge hit, a delightfully light and tasty alternative to leaden bread stuffing.

Consider stuffing apples with pureed butternut squash or yams, blended with coconut milk and cardamom, studding the apples with cloves and baking them on a cookie sheet at 350º until soft, about 45 minutes. Or you can microwave them in 4 minutes.

Consider braising a red cabbage with onions, caraway seeds, apples and balsamic vinegar for a really flavorful, colorful foil for that turkey. There's a recipe on the winter cabbage page of How to Fix a Leek that can serve as inspiration.
Don't forget the blueberry chutney, cranberry preserve with walnuts and raisins and a lovely crunchy salad of chopped fennel and pomegranate arils dressed with olive oil and a hint of balsamic vinegar.

Bon appetit to all! The eat goes on.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From France with chives

It's cold and dreary here in France but the farmers' markets are still cheerful. What's most in season locally in the north are radishes, leeks, winter squash, lettuces, fennel and cabbage.

My French "sister" whose mother was my cooking teacher brought home a big bunch of those lovely French radishes that are cylinder shaped, pink fading to white. The bunches here are twice what they are in America and happily the radishes are small too, which makes for the best eating. Marie-France's way of preparing them for a first course was to mix soft, fresh goat cheese with a mass of chopped chives, a bit of parsley and lots of sea salt. Then we dipped the cleaned radishes in. The taste and texture combination was sensational and the preparation couldn't have been any easier: it was all in the shopping.

Marie-France and her husband have a 17thC farmhouse and cook in their massive fireplace, usually fish and duck. But I insisted we roast the leeks and they were a huge hit. I simply cleaned and halved them both ways because they were large, drizzled olive oil on them, sprinkled sea salt and wrapped them in foil to put on the fire. Twenty minutes on the coals gave us meltingly sweet leeks to eat with our grilled salmon. Its just as easy to perform this magic 15-20 minutes in a 450 degree oven on a baking sheet without the foil.

Again couldn't have been simpler: twas all in the shopping.
Farmers' market are the ace place when that's the case.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hot Under the Collards

Collard greens, a Southern favorite, are going strong in the frozen north, being a tough cool weather crop. Don't ignore them.  These may top the nutrient crop of all the cruciferous greens. They beat all in lowering cholesterol and do a very impressive job of keeping cancer at bay. Plus they're really tasty. So grab a bunch.

You'll have to strip the leaves from the tough stems and chop them coarsely. After that, you can do  simple, yummy things. Easiest is to boil those chopped greens in heavily salted water for 15 minutes, then drain them well.  Heat olive oil and a touch of butter in a large skillet, toss in the greens and three cloves of minced garlic. Saute 5 minutes over medium to medium low heat. Season heavily with fresh black pepper and salt and serve.  This preparation is great with saucy meat, especially barbeque sauce.

Another equally simple option is to boil the greens 20-30 not with salt in the water but a ham hock or piece of smoked ham. Drain. Shred any ham meat.  Then saute the collards and ham in olive or corn oil for 5 minutes. Season with fresh pepper and serve.  This is seriously good with fried chicken.

I've seen recipes where people boil the greens and then saute them with soy sauce and sesame oil.

For a quick, colorful and seriously nutritious dish, I've chopped the greens more finely and boiled them 15 minutes. While they are draining, In a large deep skillet, I sauté in half butter half olive oil one diced onion and two minced garlic cloves until the onion is soft. I add a chopped tomato, sprinkle in red pepper flakes and stir in 1/4 tsp ground chipotle chili plus 1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves. I put the greens in the skillet along with a 13 oz can of cooked black-eyed peas with their juice and cook over medium heat 5-10 minutes. Seasoned with fresh black pepper and about 1 tsp of salt, this is comforting food. Try it with a pork roast.

Just don't walk away from those bunches of flat leaf collard greens now at winter markets.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kale and Hearty

Now that the leaves have hit the ground and frost has turned the lawn brown, a bit of green on the table can cheer the soul. And if it's kale, the most nutritious green in the garden, it can actually fortify you for the onslaught of winter. Since the most common question i get is: "what do i do with kale?", here are a few hearty preparations for right now.

For Pasta: Kale with lemon, garllic and parmesan for 4-6 
This is surprisingly rich. And the recipe is very flexible as to amounts.

1 bunch curly kale, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil (minimum)
1 lg red onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 lg or 2 sm lemons
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano or Asiago cheese
salt to your taste
1/2lb penne pasta
optional: 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms and/or 1/2 cup canned pigeon peas or black-eyed peas, drained

Prepare the penne to boil in a large pot of salted water for whatever time the package says.
While that's happening, put 1/4 cup olive oil in the bottom of a deep large skillet and warm over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic and cracked pepper and saute on medium heat until onions are soft and translucent, maybe 5 minutes.

Grate 1 tbsp lemon peel and add to the skillet. If you are using mushrooms, add now. Put the kale on top of everything and continue cooking over medium heat until it wilts. Then blend it in and stir. If you are using the canned beans, add now. Cook 2-3 minutes until kale is soft and shiny, beans are hot.

Add the juice of the lemon and salt to your taste. Blend. Simmer until penne is ready.
Drain the penne, keeping 1-2 tbsp of the cooking water. Salt the penne slightly.
Add the cooking water to the kale. Combine the skillet contents and the penne.
Add the remaining olive oil and cheese, mixing everything evenly. Add more olive oil if needed so the penne glistens.

Buttercup Squash stuffed with Kale, Rice and Black Beans for 4-5
I made this out of leftovers and everybody scarfed it right up.

1 large buttercup or Kabocha squash
1 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups cooked Basmati rice
1 purple onion, diced
1 lg garlic clove, diced
1 poblano pepper, roasted, skinned and diced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
5 kale leaves, stems removed, leaves chopped
1/2-2/3 cup canned black beans, drained
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
salt to your taste
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup milk (skim or lo fat or regular)
Instead of the egg yolk and milk you can use 1/2 cup grated provolone or Jack or Havarti cheese.

Soften the squash in the microwave for 4-5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut off the top to make a lid and clean out the interior. If you have the time to clean and roast the seeds to add to this please do. Spread the butter around the cleaned interior of the squash. Add salt and pepper to your taste.
Preheat oven to 350º.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium flame. Add black pepper, oregano, onions, garlic and poblano pepper. Cook 3-5 minutes until soft. Stir in the kale, rice and beans. Continue cooking over low heat until kale wilts and rice is hot. Stir in the cheese if you are using it, the cilantro leaves and salt to your taste. Turn off heat.

Whip the egg yolk into the milk if you are using them instead of cheese.

Stuff the squash with the rice/bean/kale mixture, pushing it in tightly til it comes just to the top. Pour in the egg/milk mix. Put the lid on the squash, put the squash on a flat baking sheet and bake at 350º for 40 minutes or until squash is soft enough to eat. Remove and let stand for 5 minutes.

Remove lid. Cut the squash in quarters or smaller wedges to serve. If you are not vegetarian, serve with grilled/sauteed linguiça or kielbasa sausage. Everybody can serve this with cornbread for a really colorful, nutritious and delicious dinner.

Raw Kale Salad
The recipe for this, kale with dried cranberries and other tasty tidbits, is in my book Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.  Serve it with roast chicken or turkey or pork loin.

You can also make a hearty soup from kale, potatoes and linguiça so don't stop here.