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.

Nature is Nurture

Sunday….a day of much needed rest.  We are getting back to the swing of things here on the farm.  Spring is indeed a beautiful time of year.  We got up early this morning to enjoy coffee in the screen porch.  It is peaceful listening to the birds waking up around us.  We are fortunate to have lake, marsh, meadow and woods on our land.  We spotted several pair of Baltimore Orioles, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Hairy, Downy, Red-Headed and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, along with Yellow and Purple Finches, Sandhill Cranes, Canadian Geese and Blue Heron.  We also have two pairs of Loons and Bald Eagles on our lake.  If there is a bird nirvana, this is it.

May is an intense time on the farm.  Tilling, sowing and transplanting are the order of the day.  This spring has been very cool and wet.  Just keeping up with the mowing can be a challenge between raindrops. (I swear you can hear the grass grow!)  The garlic and onions, along with carrots, beets, sugar-snap peas, chard, spinach, lettuce and herbs are planted.  Tomorrow we start transplanting tomato seedlings from their 48-packs to 4 1/2 inch pots.  This will allow them to beef up and receive full spectrum light before they are transplanted to our field.  Unfortunately we do not grow my favorite vegetable, asparagus.  This isn’t for lack of trying, but between our dense clay soil and accidentally tilling in our newly planted starts a few years ago, I’m happy there was an abundance of them at market yesterday!  There are so many ways to use them, whether it is breakfast or dinner.  I gorge on them when they are on, because it is the one vegetable I will only eat fresh.

One of our favorite ways to enjoy them is in a vegetable tart.  It looks impressive and comes together with ease using pre-made puff pastry dough.  A little Dijon mustard, Gruyere cheese and balsamic syrup and you have yourself a beautiful meal.

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ASPARAGUS GRUYERE TART WITH BALSAMIC SYRUP

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, thawed according to package directions
  • 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 pound fresh asparagus, washed and tough ends trimmed (about 20 stalks)
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere or Comte cheese
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar*
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. One a floured surface, roll out puff pastry to approximately 11×14 inches.  Transfer to a parchment lined sheet pan or silicone mat.
  3. Create a 1 inch border (do not cut all the way through); and then prick pastry all over the inner area.
  4. Brush evenly with Dijon mustard, leaving border untouched.
  5. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheese, and then top evenly with asparagus spears.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheese.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and tart is golden brown.  Serve warm.

*Balsamic syrup:  In a small saucepan over medium high heat, mix together vinegar and brown sugar.  Bring to a boil and reduce by half.  Allow to cool.  Place syrup in a baggie and snip a very small hole in the corner of bag.  Drizzle over tart.

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Serves 18 as an appetizer or 6-8 as an entree.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” —Margaret Atwood

When Tart & Sweet Collide

It’s one of those days that our wood burner is too warm and the doors and windows are flung open to moderate the heat.  This is what happens when temperatures fluctuate 30 degrees in 12 hours.  But spring throws her curve balls with a great deal of dark humor.  The good news is that the farmers market is brimming with two definite signs that spring is indeed here: asparagus and rhubarb!  I have to hold myself back from purchasing more than I can use, swept away in  the enthusiasm of the moment.

Rhubarb is like a red version of the green celery. … They have thick fleshy edible stalks with a crispy structure resembling that of celery. Their leaves contain a very high level of oxalic acid and are therefore not only inedible, but poisonous. Rhubarbs are often confused with being a fruit because of their sour, tart taste.  But rhubarb is actually a vegetable.  No matter.  Typically Val and I are not sweet or desert eaters; but rhubarb is clearly an exception.  Spring rhubarb with its combination of sweet and tart is just the kind of desert I go crazy over.

Rhubarb is one vegetable that not only freezes beautifully, but will allow you to stock up when the stalks are at their very best.  To freeze, simply cut the stalks in 2 inch lengths, place on a sheet pan and  freeze individually in a single layer; then vacuum seal them in two pound increments until ready to use in tarts, crumbles, pies or in this case a light and delicious version that doesn’t hide its tartness or try to cover it up.

ROASTED RHUBARB WITH MAPLE YOGURT & PISTACHIOS 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 pounds fresh rhubarb (look for the read varieties, with crisp red stalks), cut on the diagonal in 2 inch lengths
  • 1/2 cup turbinado (light brown cane sugar)
  • 1/2 cup crisp white wine (I use Pine Ridge  Chenin Blanc & Viognier)
  • 1 vanilla bean split or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 16 ounce container Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons organic maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons raw pistachios

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Set a rack in the lower third of the oven, and reheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Put the rhubarb in a Dutch oven or other deep oven-safe pot.  Add the sugar, wine, and vanilla bean or extract, and stir to combine.  Bake uncovered for about 30-40 minutes, or until very tender, giving the pot a gentle stir about midway throught to ensure that the rhubarb cooks evenly.  Let cool completely.
  3. Meanwhile, while the rhubarb is roasting, prepare the yogurt.  Whisk together the yogurt with the maple syrup.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble.
  4. In shallow bowls, spoon 1/2 cup of maple yogurt, then top with 4-6 pieces of rhubarb.  Spoon sauce over and around rhubarb and yogurt allowing for distinction for all ingredients.  Top with a few pistachios.

Serves 4-6

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“In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” 

Mark Twain

Simple Pleasures

 

As spring continues its bipolar journey, kicking and screaming into the next season, I am warmed by our wood burner.  Our home is quiet.  A steady rain drips its cadence on the metal roof of our porch.  Val is reading; our dogs are sleeping next to each other.  I hear one of our wind chimes begin to sing.  Whenever I experience this pause in our busy life I am grateful.  There is a rhythm to the life on our farm; the days start quietly.  We make time for coffee, building fires, observing nature, watering plants, playing with dogs and of coarse conversation.

I consider it a luxury when we wake up naturally, without an alarm.  Most days are spent either on the farm or working in the soap kitchen.  There is movement, labor and chipping away at our unwritten list of to do’s.  We are never caught up, yet this does not concern us.  We stay directionally correct; always heading forward, but never completely arriving at our goals.  We aren’t driven by more, we are grounded by enough.

Most of our days are dictated by the weather; something to adjust for rather than complain about.  After our block of labor is complete, we may bring out the Cribbage board or dominoes.  We laugh, in a world crushed by endless technology, does anyone still play board games?  I write on a computer and I have a smart phone, but our time spent “unplugged” is meaningful to us.  We can’t think of anything more important than our relationships with friends, family and each other.  Overdosing on technology takes us away from our hearts, while shared activity bring us closer together.  It’s important to strike a balance between the immediate and the gradual.

We decide in the morning what we might like for dinner.  Our evening meal is always made together, with music in the background and a glass of wine in hand.  The kitchen is the heart of our home.  Nourishment comes in many forms, and we are mindful of how our labor feeds us both physically and emotionally.  Tonight we have decided on roasted red pepper, red onion,  and Italian sausage over white cheddar polenta.  One delicious bowl in a day filled with simple pleasures.

RED PEPPER, ONION & SAUSAGE WITH WHITE CHEDDAR POLENTA

INGREDIENTS:

FOR TOPPING:

  • 1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, or a combination, seeded and sliced into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 medium red onion, vertically sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup water

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FOR POLENTA:

  • 1 1/4 cup instant polenta
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (6 ounces) freshly shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped for serving

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Toss peppers and onion in olive oil; spread on large baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for 30 minutes; tossing vegetables halfway through.
  2. In the meantime, brown sausage in a skillet over medium heat, about 10 minutes or until there is no pink left.  Add tomato paste and water, combine and continue to cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 5-10 minutes more.  Remove from heat.
  3. Bring 5 cups of water to boil in a heavy medium saucepan.  Add the salt.  Gradually whisk in the polenta over moderate heat.  Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until thickened and smooth, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir the half & half and pepper into the polenta.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.  Spoon polenta onto a warm platter or individual bowls.  Top with meat sauce, then roasted vegetables.  Garnish with parsley.

Serves 4

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“Happiness is an inside job.  If you can be happy with simple pleasures, you will discover the joys of slowing down, and being present.”

 

Getting a Little Nutty

So let me ask…..how many of you have vegetable gardens?  How many of you frequent farmer’s markets?  Until I lived and worked on a farm, I was pretty clueless about growing food.  So why should we be concerned?

Food gardens and orchards were once common in the western world, but have been replaced by manicured lawns and a few ornamentals.  How is this possible when surveys show gardening as our favorite pastime?  Yet when it comes to whole food, the closest most of us get is the local produce section of our grocery stores.  The enlightened might venture out to the farmer’s market and hopefully spend their food dollars with a genuine farmer.

Not long ago we were an agricultural rather than industrial society.  Most farms were family farms until the 1940’s.  These farms were not mono-cultures, but grew and raised a variety of vegetables, fruits and livestock.  These were largely self-sustaining farms that grew their own feed grains to feed their livestock, using field rotation and organic methods.  They would compost and return their manure to their fields to fertilize the soil.  Pests were controlled by having multiple crops in smaller fields.  Although it was labor intensive, the hoe and the plow were the weed control methods of the day.

Enter WWII.  Many left family farms to serve, creating an exodus to the cities by many who no longer valued agrarian life.  There was opportunity in the city.  With this change came the battle cry of bigger is better; mono-crops replaced the thoughtful and common sense approach to farming.  Cheap petroleum, along with new science, created the world of pesticides, to address the new push of agribusiness for mono-crops.  Commodities replaced food.  Herbicides were the preferred weed control method.  Free range animals were sequestered into feed lots, resulting in the need for preemptive antibiotics.  Chemicals were more cost-effective than manual labor.  The family farm was lost.

Rachel Carlson was before her time when she wisely commented: “Future historians may well be amazed at our distorted sense of proportion.  How could intelligent human beings  seeking to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”

Our food system is more fragile than we realize.  Dr. Vandana Shiva stated, “Seeds controlled by Monsanto, agribusiness trade controlled by Cargill, processing controlled by Pepsi and Phillip Morris, retail controlled by Wal-Mart–is a recipe for food dictatorship.  We must occupy the food system to create food democracy.”

As these concerns play out, organic farming and the local food movement has tried to respond by educating the consumer about how to change our food system to become more sustainable.  Concerns about quantity over quality, profit over sustainability and the environment, will need to be seriously addressed in our lifetime.  Our current industrial practices are not sustainable.

I had never put up food before I came to the farm over 12 years ago.  I would simply purchase whatever I needed whenever I needed it.  I was not conscious of the connection between food and health.  When fresh became my motto, I learned that if I planted it, raised it and harvested it, it’s going to taste better than if I bought it.  Fresh herbs and whole foods became my passion.

These days I am driven to put up the food we grow.  You might ask, “How in the world do you find the time?”  My response to that is twofold; one, we are NOT television watchers, and two, it’s a labor of love.  The flavor of home-grown vegetables is so superior, I literally find the time.  Since doing this we have cut our grocery food budget by more than half, saving thousands of dollars annually.  But the monetary savings is only one form of wealth.  We are so much richer for the life on our farm.  The sound of birdsong, the physical labor, the smell of fresh earth, the excitement of watching seeds grow into mature plants, which produce vegetables so good that you close your eyes when you eat.  This is not a need for nostalgia, but a prayer of gratitude for seeing with new sight.  Knowing what is possible when food is home-grown or grown locally, makes me want to sing its praises and encourage others to dynamite their lawn and put in a food garden.

Family relationships become deeper when you work together and a family food garden is a great place to start.  When seeds are planted, there is a sense of purpose; a stewardship of your plot of land.  With attention to what’s needed your efforts will be rewarded with food grown with your own hands for your own table.  I know each spring when row after row of seeds are sown, there is nothing quite like the thrill of seeing rows of tiny green seedlings breaking ground and reaching for the sun.  It’s a birth and there you stand like a proud parent.

Then it starts.  You read, you experiment, and you want the best for those seedlings.  How much water is too much; how much too little?  Those little seedlings will inform you whether or not you are on the right track.  You will weed and weed again.  Each day you will observe.  Didn’t it grow twice as big after the last rain?  You will curse the cut-worm or slug that caused it to fail.  You will take it personally.  You will uncover your creativity and discover solutions for problems and challenges.  All the while, each of you will be invested in the outcome.  With shovel and hoes in hand, your investment will bare fruit as you slowly become closer to the earth and each other.  You will find that you do indeed reap what you sow.  If your space is limited, you might consider incorporating vegetables in your perennial garden as borders or backdrop.  Many vegetables offer both color and texture to the aesthetic eye.

So start now.  Whether it’s a few pots on your balcony or deck, or planning a small 10 x 10 plot; learn what it takes to grow food.  The learning curve is immense, but the reward will more than match your efforts.  What I have learned about farming and growing food is not planted in the soil, but in the heart.  In these fields of plenty, we are all asked to the table.

I’m sure there are as many pesto recipes as there are cooks; in this recipe almonds are front and center rather than herbs.  I love the texture difference, and this works great on any fresh bean.  This recipe makes enough for a crowd, but you can adjust the amount of beans for your family.  The pesto will easily keep in the refrigerator for a week or more to use as needed.

HARICOT VERTS WITH ALMOND PESTO

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 pounds haricot verts (or as we call them: Skinny French Girls)
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) whole almonds, toasted and cooled
  • 1 1/4 ounces Parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil + extra for drizzling

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Trim green beans and blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes.  Remove beans with tongs and plunge them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.  Allow to fully cool.  Drain and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
  2. In a food processor, place almonds, cheese, garlic, thyme, and and pepper in bowl and pulse 6-8 times or until they are a coarse paste.  Add vinegar, and pulse again.  Place contents in small mixing bowl and stir in olive oil.
  3. Toss cooled haricot verts with some of the pesto.  Place beans on a platter, and drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil.

Serves 6-8

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“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”  –May Sarton

The Magic of Diversity

When I think about cooking, I can’t help but think about all the different cultures that bring excitement to the food in my kitchen.  When we sit around a table to break bread together, it follows that our differences as human beings flows into our food.  In this way we see how ethnic diversity adds richness not only to our society but to the food we eat.  Life would be so very boring left only to our own approaches to cooking.  As a country loaded with immigrants, we have all brought our recipes with us from our past.  Each culture adds so much to life’s pleasures, through color, texture and flavor.

I enjoy making eggs dishes that can be served for breakfast or dinner.   This Green Shakshuka is no exception.  Traditional Shakshuka (a North African and Israeli dish) is made with tomatoes and peppers.  This is a riff using any green of your choosing.  This morning I used kale, Swiss chard, green onions, green garlic and parsley.  I often make it with my favorite combo of spinach and arugula, but alas this is what I had available.  Experiment!  Flexibility and adventure is the key.  Use any combination of greens, from turnip, to beet to herbs.  You really can’t go wrong;  just make sure to place your firmer greens in first before your more tender greens.  This comes together quickly and can be made as easily for two as it can for six.  Don’t forget the feta!  If you want to really sing, dribble a little herb oil like chive or basil over eggs.

GREEN SHAKSHUKA

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound mixed greens of your choosing (chard, spinach, arugula, kale, etc.), chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 shallot or 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons Zaatar
  • 1 bunch cilantro, parsley or chives (think tender herbs)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4-6 farm fresh eggs
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 1/2 avocado, thinly sliced for garnish (optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Put olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat; add firm greens first and wilt slightly.  Next add garlic, shallots, cumin, Zaatar and water, along with your more tender greens.  Toss to combine; cover and steam for 3 minutes.
  2. Remove cover and cook off any additional water in pan.  Add any herbs you are using.  Make wells for your eggs with a spatula.  Carefully crack an egg into each well.  Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Remove lid and sprinkle feta over greens.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve garnished with additional herbs and avocado.

Serves 4-6

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“I’m a fierce advocate for diversity in all it’s colorful forms, and I always will be.”

Zorba the Sheet….Pan

Ok.  We’re all pressed for time aren’t we?  Sheet pan dinners get it on the table not only quickly, but deliciously.  They come together in short order, you place them in a hot oven; it even gives you time for a cocktail while it’s cooking.  I say it’s a win, win.

Have any of you seen the movie Zorba the Greek (1964)?  It’s a classic in every sense.  An uptight British writer travels to Crete on business, and finds his life forever changed when he meets a gregarious Greek named Alexis Zorba.  I LOVE this movie.  It demonstrates how if you open your heart to the unfamiliar, you can be altered when you face it head on.  Stream it; you’ll love it.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen….each culture has distinct flavors.  Greek food has its roots in Mediterranean cuisine.  It makes wide use of olive oil, wine, meat (in this case chicken) vegetables, olives and cheese.  It’s savory, distinct, herbaceous, and authentic.  Personally, anything from the Mediterranean is fine with me.  And as the Greek’s would say: “Gia sas!” (cheers)

GREEK SHEET PAN DINNER

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 red onion, cut in half lengthwise, then into sixths
  • 2 cups red cherry tomatoes
  • 1 can baby artichokes, drained and cut in half
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 lemon, cut in half lengthwise, then into sixths
  • 4-6 bone-in, skin on, chicken thighs
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cups kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup feta, crumbled

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. In a large bowl, add peppers, onion, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Toss, and then place on baking sheet, leaving space in the center for chicken.  Save the oil and vinegar that falls to the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Salt and pepper the chicken and place in center of sheet pan.  Brush with some of the oil and vinegar from bowl.
  4. Sprinkle the cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, lemon sections and garlic over vegetables.  Place herb sprigs on top of chicken.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until chicken reaches 160 degrees when tested with instant read thermometer.
  6. Remove herb sprigs.  Place chicken on platter, and  surround with veggies; then sprinkle olives, capers, feta and basil over everything.  (I like to finish this with a little homemade basil oil; see page  )

Serves 4-6

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“You can knock on a deaf man’s door forever.”   —Nikos Kazantzakis

Eggs with Tomato-Pepper Sauce & Feta

As I practice alternate fasting days, I want the days when I do eat loaded with everything delicious.  This skillet egg concoction fills the bill perfectly.  Those of you who have followed my blogs for a while will notice this is yet another way to use the Roasted Tomato Sauce you put up last summer (if you have any left!).  This is also when I’m happy to have a well stocked pantry.  The roasted red bell peppers are a great marriage with the tomato sauce.  Add onions, garlic, za’atar, feta and eggs and you’re golden.  This works well in a 10-inch skillet for 2-4 eggs, or a 12-inch skillet as you increase the amount of eggs for a gathering.  The recipe below serves 2, but can easily be doubled or tripled.

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Eggs with Tomato Pepper Sauce and Feta

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pint homemade Roasted Tomato Sauce or 15 ounce can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, pureed in a blender
  • 2 jarred whole roasted red bell peppers, drained, patted dry and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon za’atar
  • 3 ounces (about 1/4 cup) feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2-4 farm fresh eggs (crack each of these into ramekins)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives or parsley, minced

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DIRECTIONS:

  1.  Heat a 10 or 12 inch non-stick oven-proof skillet on medium-high.  Add olive oil and onion, saute until onion is soft and translucent about 3-4 minutes; add garlic saute for 1 minute more.
  2. Add tomato sauce and roasted bell peppers, and then sprinkle with za’atar.  Simmer until hot about 3-4 minutes more.  Meanwhile preheat broiler on high with oven rack about 4 inches below.
  3. With a silicone spatula, make wells in the sauce for your eggs.  Gently place an egg in each well.  Sprinkle with crumbled feta.  Place skillet under broiler for 2-3 minutes or until egg whites are set, but yolks are still loose.  Watch closely.
  4. Serve with minced fresh chives or parsley.

Serves 2

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“Hope makes a good breakfast.  Eat plenty of it.”  –Ian Fleming