Author Archives for twistedbasics

About twistedbasics

Welcome! Food is my focus, livelihood, art form and my passion. My wife and I run a 5.5 acre organic vegetable farm. Join me fellow foodie as we explore the changing seasons and the food it brings.

Shepherding In Comfort Food

When I think of comfort food, it’s usually something warm and savory that I can place in a bowl and eat out of hand in my lazy girl.  Mac and cheese fits into this category as do soups, stews and shepherd’s pies.  Traditionally, a shepherd’s pie consists of ground meat under a layer of mashed potatoes.  Mmmm….sounds a little boring doesn’t it?  In an effort to get out of that box, I was inspired by the elements of piccadio which include ground meat (in this case lamb) tomatoes, olives and spices.  My favorite home-made spice mixture called ras el hanout (inspired by North African cuisine),  along with golden raisins to add a sweet element.  Top with mashed sweet potatoes and you have a meal at once, savory, sweet and satisfying.

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NORTH AFRICAN SHEPHERD’S PIE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1  pound grass-fed ground lamb
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup green olives, pitted and halved (I use Castelvetrano)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste, plus 1/2 cup water
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat, saute onion and garlic until soft.  Add ground lamb and break up with the back of a spoon.  Add ras el hanout and brown completely about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Add tomato paste and water and combine, cooking until slightly thickened.  Add olives and golden raisins.  Stir to combine.  Take off heat, let cool slightly, then spoon into a gratin dish or 9×9 casserole dish.  Set aside.
  3. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.  Place sweet potatoes in pot with water to cover and salt.  Bring to a boil, and simmer until tender when pierced with a paring knife (about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Drain potatoes and mash with butter and half and half (adding more half and half if needed, but not enough to make it soupy).  Spread sweet potato mixture over lamb mixture for about a one inch depth (you may or may not have left over sweet potatoes).   Bake for 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
  5. Let rest for 10 minutes.  Serve.

Serves 4

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“Food is the most primitive form of comfort.”

Anyway You Slice It

I absolutely love Mediterranean food.  No matter if it’s from Italy, Morocco, Turkey, Spain or France, I love it all.  Fresh vegetables, legumes, olives, olive oil, cheese and an array of spices make for endless savory meals.  I find that if something you eat is truly satisfying and delicious, you eat less not more.  This Middle Eastern Tart can be served as an appetizer or entree, depending on whether or not you use both sheets of puff pastry, and how many you are serving.  Served with a salad, it is easily a complete meal.  It comes together pretty quickly and is showy enough for company.  The first time I made it there was left-over filling, which I stuffed into peppers and baked the next day.

MIDDLE EASTERN LAMB TART

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 or 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, choppped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (15 ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup cooked chick peas (I use canned and drained)
  • 2 teaspoons ras el hanout (page    , or alternatively 1 teaspoon each ground cumin and oregano)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a saute pan over medium heat add olive oil, onion and garlic until soft, about 3-4 minutes.  Add ground lamb, breaking up the lamb with a spoon and brown, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, olives and spices.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or until heated through.  Remove from heat and allow to slightly cool.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (two baking sheets if using both puff pastry sheets).  Roll out slightly, then make a one-inch rimmed line on the inside edges with a knife, taking care not to cut all the way through.  Prick the dough with fork all over in center area.  Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and spoon mixture evenly in the center of each pastry sheet.  Top with feta cheese, brush pastry edges with beaten egg (optional) and bake for another 8-10 minutes or until puffed and edges are golden brown.
  4. Top with chopped parsley and cut into desired portions; 4, 6 or multiple if serving as appetizer.  Serve.

Serves 2-4 as entree

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“Cooking is like love.  It should be entered into with abandon, or not at all.” –Harriet von Horne.

 

Big Bowl of Luscious

We’re expecting 2-5 inches of snow this evening.  What better than to make something warm, comforting and downright luscious; homemade Black Bean Soup.  Typically, the approach is to add savory ingredients, and a little heat.  The solution to this is garlic, wine, spices and peppers in varying amounts.  I seriously recommend using dried beans, rather than canned for two reasons:  1) Canned beans can’t absorb the subtlety of spices and peppers like dried beans over low heat and time and 2) It’s all about texture.  You want a combination of cooked savory beans and bean puree that creates a mouthful of yum.

The heat in this soup is accomplished two ways; canned and pureed chipotles and fresh jalapenos.  Chipotles are intense, so a little goes a long way.  I use a moderate amount with the option for guests to add additional puree if they are so inclined. Every time you consider ingredients, you increase the yum factor.  So for example, homemade chicken stock to canned, Mexican oregano to Italian or Greek.  You might not think it makes a difference, but it does.  Also your garnishes add flavor in an astonishing way.  Quick pickled red onions, avocado, sour cream or Mexican crema and of course fresh cilantro.  This combination of flavors and textures are sure to create a soup of extraordinary depth and flavor.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 small (7-ounce) can of chipotle chilies in adobo
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup red wine (I use Shiraz or Cabernet)
  • 1 pound of dry black beans, soaked overnight (I like Valentine or Black Turtle)*
  • 2 quarts chicken stock, homemade if possible
  • 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • 2 teaspoons Epazote (I find mine at Penzey’s)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Red wine vinegar, to taste

FOR THE PICKLED ONIONS AND GARNISHES:

  • 1 small red onion, peeled and sliced vertically
  • Kosher salt
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Sour cream or Mexican crema
  • Whole fresh cilantro leaves
  • Sliced avocado

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DIRECTIONS:

  1.  In a small food processor, puree your can of chipotles until smooth, scape into a container, and set aside.
  2. In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Add carrots, onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 5-8 minutes.
  3. Pour in wine and let simmer until pan is almost dry and vegetables are coated; about 8-10 minutes.  Add jalapenos and cook, stirring, just until softened, about 2 minutes.  Push vegetables out to the edges of the pot and dollop 2 generous teaspoons of chipotle puree in the center.  Let fry for a minute and then stir together with the vegetables.
  4. Add drained beans, stock, oregano and bay leaves.  Stir, bring to a boil, and let boil for 10-15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partly covered, stirring occasionally and adding hot water as needed to keep the soup liquid and runny not sludgy.  Continue cooking until beans are just softened and fragrant, 1-2 hours.  Add salt and pepper and keep cooking until beans are soft.
  5. Meanwhile, make the pickled onions.  In a small bowl, combine sliced onions, lime juice and a generous sprinkling of salt.  Let soften at room temperature until crunchy and tart, about 30 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Squeeze dry in paper towels and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  6. Adjust the texture of the soup.  Remove 2 cups of beans to a quart Mason jar, and with an immersion blender puree until smooth.  Return bean puree to soup pot.
  7. Adjust seasoning by adding 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, and additional salt.
  8. Serve in deep soup bowls, garnishing with sour cream, pickled onions, cilantro leaves and sliced avocado.

Serves 6-8 with leftovers

“To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” — Laurie Colwin

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Cabbage Rolls Revisited

Once in a while I like to re-post a blog that seems particularly timely.  This originated back in 2011.  We currently have in our possession a large head of cabbage that was begging to be used in something tasty.  This is it.

I love cabbage rolls.  My mother-in-law Elsa made them for me the first time in the early 80’s.  she mixed beef and pork together with onions and rice, placed them in cabbage leaves and tied them with thread.  She called this peasant-food.  Her son John and I called it heaven.  The first time I tried making cabbage rolls I was surprise just how bad I was at getting the leaves separated from the head in one piece.  I kept saying, “It can’t be that hard!”  I decided to get out of the box and approach it differently.  Why not turn it into a casserole I thought?  It would be less time-consuming and we could enjoy it more often.  While I was getting out of the box, I decided to use ground lamb, different spices and feta for a different take on it completely.

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Assembling the ingredients

Doing the cabbage ‘rolls’ as a casserole allowed me to follow my own whimsy.  I could shake it up a bit with non-traditional spices and be able to enjoy more cabbage in the process.

Lots more cabbage!

Lots more cabbage!

Cabbage and Lamb Casserole:

  • 1 medium head green cabbage (about 2 lbs), core removed, halved and sliced into 1/2 inch sections
  • 1 lb grass-fed ground lamb
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large farm-fresh egg
  • 8 oz (1 cup) crumbled local feta
  • 1/2 cup short-grain rice, such as Arborio
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (11/2 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (I use our own canned tomatoes)
  • 1 cup chicken stock (I also used homemade)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease a 13×9 inch casserole dish with ghee.
  2. Cut cabbage in half, core, then slice in 1/2 inch wedges.  Place the wedges in casserole dish so they overlap each other in two rows.
  3. In a large bowl, use your hand to combine the lamb, onion, egg, rice, parsley, oregano, lemon juice, feta, cumin, fennel, salt and pepper.  Place mixture on top of cabbage, leaving a 1 inch space round the sides of the casserole so that the cabbage shows through.
  4. Combine the tomatoes and chicken broth in a medium bowl, then pour the mixture over the meat.  Cover with foil (shiny side down).
  5. Bake covered for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes.  Let stand 15 minutes.

Serves 6

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

New Traditions!

New Traditions!

“A smiling face is half the meal.”  —Latvian quote

Smooth As Silk

Val and I are not big dessert eaters; but there are occasions when it seems just right.  I love a good fruit pie or tart; and would never turn down a homemade scone or brownie.  But what will really get my attention is something that the texture alone is worth the calories.  I love Creme Brule or Pots de Creme; but the real deal is a flan.  It is always something I look for on a dessert menu; yet I have never attempted one at home.  Well, I’m happy to say, “No more!”  It is surprisingly easy to make and looks so beautiful on a platter surrounded by berries.  This can be made in a loaf pan or a 1 quart souffle dish.  You can even divide the recipe into 4 individual ramekins.  For our purposes today I will stick to a loaf pan.

One of the important things to remember is that you do have to make it at least one day ahead.  I actually prefer two days, as I find it easier to unmold and is beautifully creamy yet firm.   I also enjoy putting a tablespoon of Bourbon in it.  This adds a deep, rich element.  This optional however.  If you decide no on the Bourbon, add an additional 2 teaspoons of vanilla.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2/3 cups cane sugar
  • 2 large eggs, plus 5 egg yolks (I use farm fresh eggs from the farmers market)
  • 1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12-oz) can evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Adjust your oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. In a small heavy saucepan, stir together the sugar and 1/4 cup water until sugar is completely moistened.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until the mixture begin to turn golden.  At this step gently swirl the pan, and continue to cook until the mixture looks like the color of honey.  Remove the pan from the heat and continue swirling until the sugar turns an amber color, about 20 seconds more.  Carefully swirl in 2 tablespoons warm tap water until incorporated.  Be careful as your mixture will bubble and steam.
  3. Pour caramel into an 8-1/2 x 4 1/2 -inch loaf pan (or whatever vessel you have decided to use);  Do not scrape out the saucepan.  Your caramel will solidify in the loaf pan after you pour it (it’s supposed to).  It will soften up again as it bakes.  Set the loaf pan aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and yolks until combine.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, half-and-half, Bourbon, vanilla and salt and whisk until incorporated.  Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer over an other bowl (you will be surprised when you see your bits of egg).  We do this to guarantee that your flan will have the ideal texture.  Pour the strained custard into your loaf pan over the set caramel.  Cover the loaf pan tightly with aluminum foil.
  5. Place the loaf pan in the center of a high-sided roasting pan to make a water bath or bain marie.  Place the nested pans in the oven; then, using a tea kettle or pitcher, pour hot water around the loaf pan until it reaches about halfway up the side of the loaf pan.  Bake for 75 to 90 minutes, until the custard is set around the edges but still a bit jiggly in the center.  The custard continues to cook as it sets completely.  Carefully remove the pans from the oven,  Remove the foil and leave the flan in the water bath for 1 hour to cool.
  6. Remove the loaf pan from the water bath and wipe dry.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4 days.
  7. To unmold flan, carefully slide a sharp knife around the edges of the pan.  Invert on a platter with a raised rim (to hold your liquid caramel), by holding it upside down, then turn your platter over.  If your flan doesn’t release immediately, let sit for a minute or two.  Once the flan is released remove your loaf pan, and with a silicone spatula, scrape the residual caramel onto the platter.  Arrange berries around the flan.  Slice flan, adding sauce and berries around each slice.  Leftovers (if there are any) can be covered loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Serves 8-10

 

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“Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first!”  –Jacques Torres

Chutney, Chutney, Bang, Bang

I’m in love.  With chutney’s that is.  These are marvels of Indian cuisine.  Indian chutney;s vary widely from region to region.  Chutney is a combination of sugar (sweetness) and vinegar (acidity) and is the hallmark of preserved chutneys.  This week I made Asian Pear and Dried Cherry Chutney.  We have 20 Asian pear trees on our farm.  We chose these fruit trees as they are the one fruit tree that you can grow without chemical sprays; and this is largely true if you can get past the slight imperfections on the surface of the skin.  We certainly can, as well as many of our customers.

We have two varieties of Asian pears, Shinsui and Shinseiki.  I used Shinsui for this chutney.  It is medium in size, firm even when cooked, and both juicy and aromatic.  I love this chutney so much I was drinking the juice.  Wow.  Think chicken, duck or pork.  It is easily preserved in a water bath canning system and makes a great holiday gift.

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ASIAN PEAR AND DRIED CHERRY CHUTNEY

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 heaping cups Asian pears, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar (I use Braggs)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh gingerroot
  • 1 teaspoon hot ground curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer, uncover, 40-45 minutes or until slightly thickened and pears are tender, stirring occasionally.

2.  Fill sterilized 4 oz or 8 oz canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Process in                    water bath for 15 minutes.

Yield: 8-4 oz or 4 8 oz mason jars

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“Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.”  –unknown

Autumn Leaves

It is cool and has been pouring since yesterday evening, with no sign of letting up anytime soon.  The vantage point from my desk is perfect for watching both weather and nature.  The current on the lake is from the north, and with each puff of breeze, leaves are letting go and baptizing the ground.  It is gray, and natural to turn inward; checking in on one’s feelings, hopes and dreams.

My personality is one of deep feeling.  I emote.  As a recovering DQ, you never have to guess where I’m coming from, because I will tell you, without hesitation.  I do better with small groups of like-minded people, who understand my straight forward presence.  I occasionally offend people with a perceived ‘bluntness’; yet this has been a trait that I have fought hard to adopt.  I was raised in a family that children were to be seen and not heard, leaving me with a feeling of invisibility that lasted well into my 30’s.  Harmony trumped truth in any social situation, regardless of my internal screaming.  Change is hard.

Although many people see me as strong and opinionated, I am also open-hearted, cry easily and rail against injustice, both real or perceived.  I accept that I will always be a work in progress, willing to love and be loved.  Cooking for others is my most sincere form of love.  Nourishment comes in many forms; a kind word, a compliment, or the warmth of a hug.  May we rely on each other for small gifts that are shared openly.  During this season of letting go, may I shed what no longer serves me.

STUFFED ACORN SQUASH

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large acorn squash (I like the Carnival variety)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 3 cups loosely packed, chopped greens (kale, Swiss chard or beet greens)
  • 3/4 cup almond slivers, toasted
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped for garnish (optional)

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F., and halve the acorn squashes lengthwise down the middle.  Scoop out the seeds.  Place the squash cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush halves with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and roast for about 45 minutes, or until the squash are fork tender.
  2. Meanwhile, place wild rice and water in heavy medium size pot.  Bring to a boil, then cover and turn down to a simmer.  Cook for 30 minutes to one hour, or until rice splits open and is tender.  This will be determined by the freshness of your rice.  Drain in wire colander and set aside.
  3. In a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and chopped onions.  Saute until onions are translucent.   Add chopped greens of your choice and continue cooking until greens are wilted.  Add almonds and dried cherries or cranberries, along with drained wild rice and combine.
  4. Fill each half of squash with filling, and place baking sheet back in oven for an additional 10 minutes.  Any leftover stuffing can be refrigerated and eaten as is or spooned over a salad.  Serve hot with fresh chopped parsley as garnish.

Serves: 4

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“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”
― Humbert Wolfe
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