COMFORT IN A PAN

Surprise, I’m posting again! I apologize for my hiatus; 2018 turned into the most difficult year of my life.  Thankfully, we survived and are better for it.  We treasure each day and are moving forward with renewed purpose and gratitude.  So far  winter has given us daily  options to grapple with, from freezing rain and ice, to wind, and drifting feet of snow.  This has not been a  problem, as it gives us ample reasons to stay home and do what we enjoy:  cooking, reading, writing and playing games (we love cribbage and dominoes); not to mention working steadily on soap production for the next market season.  The good news is I’m making significant headway on my next cookbook: Twisted Basics: Rethinking Food.

While during some research I came across a staggering statistic: 70% of Americans don’t cook.  That’s right.  Most Americans eat out at least 4 times a week.  We heat up, microwave or assemble food; but cooking from scratch is becoming something of a novelty.  I asked myself, “are we really that busy?”  I couldn’t imagine not cooking regularly.  For me, it’s my most sincere expression of love.  I also started wondering if people understood what they were missing.  The kitchen has always been the heart of the home; a place where intimacy takes place, both in the preparation of food and the sharing of it around our table.  As I was contemplating this, I felt as though we’ve been sold a collective bill of goods.  As we scramble to meet our financial needs, we are forgetting some of the fundamental, simple pleasures of life:  cooking fresh food, with love, for our friends and family.  Isn’t it time we break bread together?

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Vegetable Lasagna:

  • 1 quart pasta sauce (Full disclosure:  During tomato time on the farm, I can dozens of quarts of roasted tomato sauce.  I have never tasted a deeper, more intense sauce that literally screams of summer.  The method for this will be in the new cookbook, and it’s way easier than it sounds!)
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and shredded on coarse setting of box grater
  • 1 medium zucchini, shredded on coarse setting of box grater
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen spinach, (if fresh, wilt in large skillet with 1/4 cup water) either way, make sure you place it in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out all excess moisture
  • 1 container (16 ounces) whole milk ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 cup Parmesan or pecorino, finely shredded
  • 1 farm-fresh egg
  • 1 12 ounce package sliced provolone
  • 1 cup mozzarella, shredded
  • 1 box of no-boil lasagna noodles

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DIRECTIONS:

  1.  In medium bowl, combine the ricotta, pecorino, thyme and egg.
  2.  Place 1/2 cup sauce in bottom of a 13 x 9 deep-dish lasagna pan; position 3 no-bake lasagna sheets evenly spaced.  Spread ricotta mixture on top on each section.  Then top each ricotta  section with zucchini and carrot mixture; followed with one slice of provolone, cut in half for each section.
  3. Next, top each section with a no-bake lasagna sheet, 1/4  cup of sauce per sheet and repeat with ricotta mixture.  Then top with chopped and drained spinach on each section, two 1/2 slices of provolone, and continue with lasagna sheets for each section.  Sauce again, ricotta, zucchini and carrot mixture, provolone cheese and lasagna sheets.
  4. Sauce again, then sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese on top.  Cover with foil.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake for 30 minutes covered; 30 minutes uncovered.  Let rest for 15 minutes before cutting into six servings.

Serves 6

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“Italian food is all about ingredients, it’s not fussy and it’s not fancy.”

                                  —- Wolfgang Puck

 

Smoking Kale Salad

Kale is often considered a bitter green, appropriate for soups, stews, even smoothies that allow you to break down the leaves in some way.  Being vegetable farmers, we sell a lot of kale at market in late summer and early fall. The most familiar variety is Tuscan or lacinato.  But why limit yourself to this one variety?  There is also curly, redbor, red Russian or Siberian, scarlet and winterbor to mention a few.  There are times I have to really pitch these additional varieties to our customers, but they are every bit as delicious.

Kale was once something most people used as a garnish around other foods, but now it’s the darling of health conscious consumers.  And why not?  It has so many good things going for it.  It’s low in calories, high in fiber, iron, Vitamin K, C and A not to mention loaded with calcium and powerful antioxidants.  Personally, I’m all over kale salads, particularly during the fall and winter months when quality lettuce is sometimes challenging to find.  I am crazy about kale Caesar salad and prepare this as much as I do  the more traditional one made with romaine lettuce.  It’s simply nice to have some flexibility.

When using raw kale in a salad it’s important to macerate the leaves so that they are supple, tender and easy to chew.  There are a couple ways of approaching this objective. One way is to rub olive oil into the leaves with your hands then let it sit for 20-30 minutes.  Another way is to use ground nuts  to break down the cell walls by massaging those into the leaves.  Both techniques work well depending on the additional ingredients you are using.

Other things to consider when working with raw kale is contrasting textures.  In this salad you not only the the crunch of the nuts, but also their smokiness.  Putting shallots or red onions into the dressing allows them them to soften and pickle slightly.  Pan toasting flavor packed fresh breadcrumbs with garlic, thyme, paprika and cumin adds interest along with a slight crisp crunch.  I had one friend ask if there was bacon in the salad.  Amazingly enough it’s vegan!

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KALE SALAD WITH SMOKED ALMONDS AND TOASTED BREADCRUMBS

  • 1/2 cup shallots or red onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons local honey
  • 1 cup smoked almonds
  • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3-4 slices crusty white bread, cut into 1″ cubes (I use sourdough)
  • 1 garlic clove, grated with a micro-plane
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves,  chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 bunches kale of your choice, stemmed, washed, spun dry and thinly sliced (about 10 cups)
  • 1 cup lightly packed mint leaves, chopped

 

  1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the shallots or red onions with the sherry vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Let sit for 15 minutes.  Whisk in the honey, 5 tablespoons of the olive oil and a few grinds of pepper; set aside.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until coarsely chopped, about 8-10 pulses; transfer them to a large bowl.  Add the kale to the bowl with the almonds and massage the kale until it softens and darkens.  About 30-40 seconds.  Set aside.
  3.  Add the bread to the processor and process to rough crumbs, about 30 seconds.  Add the garlic, thyme, paprika, cumin and additional salt and pepper.  Process until incorporated, about 15 seconds.  Add the additional 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Process 10 seconds more.
  4. Transfer the crumb mixture to a large skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp and browned, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a plate to cool.
  5. Add half of the dressing and onions to the kale.  Toss to combine.  Add 1/2 of the breadcrumbs and chopped mint.  Toss again, adding additional dressing and/or breadcrumbs if needed.  (Kale will have reduced in volume after macerating leaves).  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper.

 

Smokey, healthy and delicious!

 

“Salad can get a bad rap. People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”

–Marcus Samuelsson

 

The Beet Goes On

Until I moved to our vegetable farm I absolutely hated beets and avoided them at all costs.  Yet here I am staring out at the drifted snow and frozen lake with a bowl of borscht in my hand.  The smell alone is enough to make you swoon.  I feel a sense of gratitude for learning to love the darn things.  Our farm is committed to growing vegetables without chemicals (which can significantly alter their flavor) so when I tried them again I was surprised by their inherent sweetness.  What was I thinking?  They are one the best things you can eat; full of essential vitamins and minerals.  They are low in calories and sodium along with assisting in the reduction of inflammation in the body.  They also support heart, digestion and brain function.  So what’s not to like?  There’s nothing like a bowl of warm goodness to set you straight.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium leek, cleaned and sliced thinly (make sure you use the light green part as well)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4-6 carrots, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite size chunks
  • 6 small or 3 large beets, peeled and cut into bite size chunks
  • 3 cups of thinly sliced red cabbage
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • 8 cups organic vegetable stock (or homemade of course)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • Greek yogurt to serve (optional)

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1.  Heat the olive oil in a soup kettle or Dutch oven on medium high heat.
  2. Add leek, garlic and red onion.  Saute until soft and translucent.
  3. Add sweet potato, beets and grated carrot.  Cook for 5 minutes stirring frequently.
  4. Add red cabbage, dill and vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer for 30 minutes or until beets are soft when a paring knife is inserted.
  5. Add red wine vinegar off heat.  Serve in bowls topped with a dollop of yogurt if using and sprinkle additional fresh chopped dill on top.

Serves 6-8

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“Soup fills us, nurtures and comforts us.  Soup is the song of the heart and the home.”

Unfolding Success

I have cooked many things in my 60 plus years and rarely shy away from a challenge except one: phyllo dough.  I’m not sure why, after all what’s the worst that can happen; you throw the whole thing out! No harm, no foul, just a lesson learned.  I confess that I absolutely love the look of a freshly made Spanakopita (spinach and feta pie), so this time rather than stepping away from the challenge, I embraced it.  I researched recipes and combined the elements of a few into something that suited my desire for a savory, salty rendition.

I realized straight away that I had a choice of two fundamental approaches. The first one was to decide on whether or not to use fresh or frozen spinach.  Being a vegetable farmer, I opted for fresh.  Next was whether to use butter or olive oil to coat the phyllo sheets.  I stayed with the Greek tradition of olive oil.  There were a few minor considerations such as herb choices: I used dill and mint) how many eggs and how much cheese.  These were decided using my usual sensibilities: gut instinct.  The result was beautiful and I have a new and unleashed appreciation for phyllo dough.

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INGREDIENTS:

FILLING

  • 20 ounces fresh curly leaf spinach, stemmed
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 5 scallions, sliced thin using both white and green areas)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh mint
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Zest from one lemon, plus 1 tablespoon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of both salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash of cayenne pepper

PHYLLO LAYERS

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • One box of 14 x 9 phyllo dough, thawed
  • 3/4 cup Pecorino cheese, finely grated
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds

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FOR THE FILLING:

  1. Fill your kitchen sink with water and submerge the spinach to wash it.  Pick it up by handfuls or tongs and place it in a large skillet having sides and a lid, with as much water clinging to it as possible.  It will be a mound, but it cooks down quickly.  Place your lid on the pan to way down the spinach and set burner to med-high heat.  The lid with cover the pan as the water on the leaves steams the spinach.  This takes about 4 minutes.
  2. Place a colander over a large bowl.  Remove the steamed spinach with tongs to the colander and with a silicone spatula press as much liquid out of the spinach as possible.  Then place the spinach in a kitchen towel and wring out any additional liquid.
  3. Transfer spinach to a cutting board and chop coarse.  Stir spinach with remaining filling ingredients, until thoroughly combined.  Set aside.

FOR THE PHYLLO LAYERS:

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the area where you will place the phyllo sheets with oil.  Layer one phyllo sheet on parchment paper (while keeping the rest of the phyllo covered with a damp kitchen towel).  Repeat with 9 more layers, brushing each layer with oil.  You will have a total of 10 layers of phyllo.
  2. Spread spinach mixture evenly on phyllo, leaving 1/4 inch border on all sides.  Place a phyllo sheet on spinach mixture and oil it.  Next sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the Pecorino.  Repeat this 5 times until you have six sheets.  Lay two more sheets, brushing each one with oil.  (these sheets will not have Pecorino sprinkled on them).
  3. Gently press on the pie to remove any air pockets.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Using a sharp knife, score spanakopita through the top 4 layers of phyllo into 8, 9 or 12 pieces.
  4. Bake until phyllo is golden and crisp, about 25-30 minutes.  Let spanakopita cool for 15 minutes or up to 2 hours.  Slide spanakopita with parchment onto cutting board or platter, then carefully slide spanakopita off parchment.  Cut pieces along scored squares and serve.

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“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”  –Julia Child

 

Bloody Kim

Tomato time on the farm is supposed to be winding down, and I still find myself buried in tomatoes!  I have made 30 quarts of roasted tomato sauce, 12 quarts of tomato stock, 6 quarts of roasted cherry tomato soup, several half pints of puttanesca relish, not to mention endless fresh sauce, salads and BLT’s.  I wait impatiently each year for the taste of our homegrown tomatoes and although slightly weary, I refused to let any of these delicious gems go to waste!   Solution: Bloody Mary’s!!

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I hadn’t even considered making homemade tomato juice before, so why not double dip and do both juice and Bloody Mary Mix?  We have a customer at the farmers market that always brings us a pint of his pickled Brussels sprouts and now I could return the favor by giving him something tasty to put them in!

So let’s start by recommending an inexpensive tomato juicer food mill.  We use the CucinaPro which runs about $30 and is well worth the investment.  It allows you to separate the pulp and juice from the skin and seeds, combining several steps.  You simply attach it to your counter top, cut your tomatoes in manageable pieces and turn the crank. The pulp and juice go into one container, while the skin and seeds go into another.  What could be easier?  In the end, I split the end product by canning half the juice for its own delicious self and adding the additions for the mix, then canning those. After all, at our farm there are two times of the day that are sacrosanct: coffee hour and cocktail hour!

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 bushel of tomatoes (half paste or Roma and 1/2 regular)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt for each quart of juice

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Core and cut the tomatoes into manageable pieces and place in the hopper.  Turn the crank to separate the pulp and juice from the skin and seeds.  I fill the hopper twice, then put the juice in a large stock pot and the skin and seeds in a wire strainer set over a bowl.  Press down on these with a spatula, making sure you also scrape the outside of the strainer with the spatula for the accumulated pulp.  Doing this extra step yielded an additional two quarts of juice!
  2. Bring juice to a rolling boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon salt to each sterilized quart jar.  Ladle hot juice into each quart leaving 1/2 inch head space.
  4. Place quarts into water bath canner and process for 25 minutes.

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INGREDIENTS FOR BLOODY MARY MIX (PER QUART JAR):

  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoon ground horseradish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I use Maldon)
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I use Cholula)
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups homemade tomato juice

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place all ingredients except tomato juice in sterilized quart jar and mix thoroughly.
  2. Ladle hot tomato juice into jar leaving 1/2 inch head space.
  3. Process in water bath for 25 minutes.

FOR SERVING:

  • Pint canning jar or glass of your choice
  • Ice
  • 2 ounces vodka
  • Garnish with any of the following:  pickled Brussels sprouts, salami, olives, celery, cubes of cheese or dill pickle spears

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 “A world without tomatoes, is like a string quartet without violins.”

Butternut Squash and Lentil Chili

What is it about one pot meals that is so satisfying? I mean, when I smell something simmering on the stove, its essence wafting through the house, I am driven to pre-dinner cocktails, wood burners and general goodwill.

Meals that take time to prep, simmer and deepen are the ones that hook me.  Fast, quick and reheated do not interest me.  When cooking is your passion, method and alchemy are paramount.  This does not mean complicated.  It does mean that quality and seasonal ingredients lend themselves to satisfying results.  In the fall, squash and legumes naturally create a bowl of awesome.

When it comes to “chili” the approaches are endless.  There are no hard and fast rules. The first time I served this I was asked what kind of meat I used.  Without exception it was a surprise that it was sans meat.  Several carnivorous family members decided that I didn’t need to make any other chili!  Who would have thought…..

Butternut Squash and Lentil Chili:

  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 head garlic, minced
  • 1 large bell pepper (any color) chopped
  • 2 cups dry brown lentils
  • 2 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 dry bay leaf
  • 8 cups canned or homemade chicken stock
  • 4 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 2 (15 oz) can dark red kidney beans
  1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic and chopped bell pepper; saute for 5-6 minutes or just until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add lentils, cumin, oregano and salt.  Cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and stock.  Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered for 20 minutes or until lentils are soft.  Add butternut squash and continue to simmer for an additional 15 minutes.  Add beans and cook additional 5 minutes or just kuntil beans are heated through and squash is knife tender.
  4. Discard the bay leaf.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.
  5. Serve hot with your favorite toppings, such as chopped fresh cilantro, green onions, sour cream, shredded cheese or chopped avocado.

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“Soup is a lot like family.  Each ingredient enhances the others;  each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to reach its full flavor.”  –Marge Kennedy

Second Wind

There is a significant difference between summer and fall.  In summer  I sit down after working on the farm and fall asleep; in the fall I sit down after working on the farm and I want to cook all sorts of wonderful meals. Humidity and temperatures lower and rather than sapping my strength,  I am rejuvenated and energized.

The larder is full of the foundation for many savory meals; the freezer abundant with grass-fed lamb, pork and chicken.  Being a vegetable farm we eat 3-4 vegetarian meals a week.  I love root vegetables and all winter squashes.  They are so versatile  and can be used from soups to entrees.  We stock up on butternut, spaghetti and acorn squashes, along with beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic. When I consider what to make, I think about contrasts and textures.  If a squash is naturally sweet, do I want to magnify its sweetness or contrast it with a savory ingredient?  I love to use spaghetti squash to replace pasta as it compliments many sauces.  However it also can stand on its own as a satisfying entree.

When considering ingredients I think of many traditional combinations.  Tonight, rather than use the squash as a pasta substitute, I wanted it to stand on its own.  Sweet, salty, fatty, rich are all elements of this dish.  A simple salad of greens tossed with a vinaigrette and you have a satisfying and balanced meal.

Savory Spaghetti Squash:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 lb. bacon, diced
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 cup scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 3-4 oz. Bleu cheese (I like Roquefort)
  • 2 Tbs. clarified butter
  • 1/4 cup curly parsley, chopped
  1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut squash in half length wise and scoop out seeds.  Brush cut sides with olive oil.  Place on rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cut side down.  Bake for 50 minutes or until paring knife slides easily into flesh.
  2. While squash in baking, fry bacon in 12-inch non-stick pan until crisp.  Drain on paper towels. Set aside.
  3. Place pine nuts in dry non-stick pan over medium heat.  Toast until brown, shaking pan frequently.  Remove from pan and let cool.
  4. Once squash is done, let cool slightly.  Take a fork and scape flesh into a bowl.  Add bacon, pine nuts, scallions and clarified butter.  Toss to combine.
  5. Arrange in bowls and top with Bleu cheese and parsley.  Serve.

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“There is nothing as stable as change.”  …..author unknown

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