Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I can't taste a thing...

...so why bother to cook?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes

I'd like to start by saying who get's sick in the summer?? Apparently me. It never fails, right around this time of year when the temperature starts flip flopping, I get sick. The achy, feverish kind of sick that makes you go stir-crazy because you know you should stay home but you're just so bored out of your mind from sitting around. Yea, it's the worst kind. The only upside is that I eat whatever I want. If that means no green vegetables for the entire duration then fine. Probably not the best way to get better quickly but hey, if I want 4 slices of sourdough toast with butter, that's what I'm having.
Even if it's not the queasy-stomach kind of sick I usually want super bland little-kid kind of foods. When I had pneumonia last November, I ate nothing but Frosted Flakes with milk and sliced bananas for at least 3 days. Other popular sick choices are plain pasta with butter and parmesan, pastina with the same, grilled cheese, saltine crackers, challah bread, and ginger ale (the kind with real ginger in it). Basically all carbs. What can I say? They're comforting and delicious. Of course there is also the trusty chicken soup - also known as "Jewish Penicillin". Usually not what I want but also the one thing I force myself to eat anyway because I know it will actually help. I wanted to kick myself when I remembered I never made it last weekend as I had originally planned. Lucky for me, there is a Ben's Kosher Deli (any of you downstate-New-Yorkers know what I'm talking about?) literally 30 seconds 2 minutes walking distance from my couch. I drank a mug full of Ben's "Penicillin" last night and now my obligation is done - at least until tonight.

Today, I wanted pancakes. With blueberries. They made being sick worth it.
Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes
Makes about 6 medium (not the gargantuan diner size) pancakes or enough for 2-3 people.
If you use frozen blueberries (as I did) do not thaw them first. I will say, fresh blueberries are better. 
I like to use salted butter to cook pancakes because the touch of salt rounds out the flavor and plays nicely off the sweetness of the maple syrup. If you prefer, you could use olive oil or unsalted butter instead. Of course, in my opinion, the only way to cook pancakes is on cast iron.

1 cup homemade buckwheat pancake mix (see below for recipe)
1 cup low-fat buttermilk (or 1 cup milk with 1 teaspoon white vinegar)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 egg 
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
salted butter or oil for greasing the skillet or pan

Combine well. 
Ladle on to a hot cast iron skillet and sprinkle some of the blueberries into the top of the pancake.
Flip pancakes when bubbles start to appear.

Homemade Buckwheat Pancake Mix
Makes 12 cups.
Since I'm only one person and I make pancakes something like a whopping 4 times a year, I quartered this mix to make only 3 cups. I also store it in the freezer because whole grain flours, especially buckwheat, go rancid very quickly due to the higher fat content. If you are a normal American family, you probably have the ability to go through a few more pancakes than me and will have no problem finishing up this 12 cup mix. On the other hand, If pancakes 4 times a year sounds more like you don't worry; I took the liberty of quartering the measurements for you as well. 

4 cups buckwheat flour
4 cups whole-wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Turbinado sugar
2 Tablespoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons Aluminum-free Baking Powder
1 Tablespoon Baking Soda

To make only 3 cups of mix
1 cups buckwheat flour
1 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cups all-purpose flour
 2 Tablespoons Turbinado sugar
1/2 Tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 Tablespoon Aluminum-free Baking Powder
1/2 Tablespoon Baking Soda

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Using a sturdy wire whisk, mix ingredients together thoroughly. Using a funnel, scoop mix into jars and top with a lid. Label and store in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

On the topic of favorites.

1. Of, relating to, or typical of country life or country people.
2. a. Lacking refinement or elegance; coarse.
     b. Charmingly simple or unsophisticated.
3. Made of unfinished or roughly finished wood
4. Having a rough or textured appearance

I'm happy the summer is almost done. There I said it. I know there are summer-lovers everywhere shaking their heads and wagging their fingers at me but that's okay. Autumn really is my favorite season. I feel like I say that about every season as it's looming, just waiting to descend on us, but this time I really mean it. Autumn is the best. Actually, the only thing better might be late-August because the entire months of September, October and November are still to come. Plus August means tomatoes. 

So. Many. Tomatoes. 
This in turn means tomato sauce. 
So. Much. Sauce.

Now, I know what you're thinking; who wants to peel all those tomatoes? Well I have two words for you: don't bother. Thats right, ignore all those cookbooks that insist you must peel and seed your tomatoes, forget that fussy ice bath, and just toss your chopped up tomatoes right into the pot. It does yield a pretty chunky sauce, but I like it that way. If you prefer a smoother more uniform result, just quickly take a stick blender and smooth it out. Some might call this the lazy way to do it but I'm going go ahead and call it rustic - which by the way, while were on the topic of favorites, might just be my favorite word. 

So here it is, the most charmingly simple, unsophisticated tomato sauce. Now you have no excuse for buying that jarred red goop that wishes it were pasta sauce.

Rustic Tomato Sauce
This is more of a guide then a recipe, there really are no right or wrong measurements. If you don't like onion, use less; If you really like onion, use more. You get the idea, feel free to play around with the proportions and don't be afraid to taste it as it cooks. There is no need for sugar here because of the sweetness from the carrot and grape tomatoes. Be generous with the salt, it will round out the flavor. Tomatoes can be quite costly from a supermarket even when they are in season however this can be a very inexpensive recipe if you seek out ingredients from your local farmer's market or better yet the actual farm. Makes about 1 quart of sauce.

Olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 small head of garlic, chopped
1 carrot, chopped in large chunks
~3 pounds Roma tomatoes, chopped course
1/2-1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I like Brad's organic)
garlic powder
onion powder
dried oregano
juice of 1/2 a lemon
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
fresh basil and parsley, chopped course

Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Add a swig of olive oil and wait for it to heat up.
When a drop of water makes the oil splatter, add the onion and carrot. Saute until onion is softened then add the garlic. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Be careful not to let the garlic burn.
Next add the chopped tomatoes and grape tomatoes. Cover and turn the heat up to high. 
The tomatoes will begin to release their juices and break down. When a liquid starts to form add the tomato paste, a few large pinches of dried oregano and a couple shakes of each garlic and onion powder. Stir to combine, turn the heat down to a simmer and replace the cover.
Let simmer until the tomatoes have mostly broken down, add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the lemon juice and replace the cover. Continue to simmer covered (about an hour and half or two hours from the time you added the tomatoes.
Taste and adjust the salt and pepper.
If you want a smoother sauce, blend it at this point with a stick blender or in a regular blender (this can be dangerous with very hot liquid so be careful). You can choose to blend it just part of the way leaving some chunks or smooth it out completely. I chose not to blend it at all. (If you go this route remove the carrot - I ate it right out the pot and burnt my tongue). If you put the sauce through the blender return it to the pot.
Add the coarsely chopped basil and parsley. Stir to combine, cover and cook another couple minutes.
Spoon sauce over pasta, use as a hot bruschetta on thick, crusty slices of bread or freeze it in ball jars for later use. Relish all the time you saved not peeling your tomatoes.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pickle Failure

It seems like everyone has pickle story. Some have long been singing the praises of all-things-fermented or brined and some are just learning to like them but never-the-less, recipes are popping up everywhere.

If you follow me on flickr, you saw my pickles in their early stages. Plump, kirby cucumbers - nestled together with spices - working hard to ferment themselves. What you did not see coming (and neither did I) was the mold. That's right, I pulled my pickles out a week ago only to discover a thick layer of fuzzy mold on top of a thin egg-white-looking layer blanketing the top of my pickles (too much information?).

I peeled up the mold and examined my pickles to see if they were okay underneath the white layer - they weren't. They were soft and squishy and definitely not something I wanted to eat. Sigh. 
Finally, I dumped the whole jar and sent an email to Shannalee to see if she could figure out what I did wrong. We both decided that I let them ferment for too long (two weeks). I also read numerous sites that said to put the jar in a dark place while they ferment - which is what I did and I think that helped the mold along as well. Oh well.

I bought another bunch of cucumbers from the same farm and started a new jar. This time I put them on the counter where I could keep an eye on the sneaky little mold-producers and I only let them sit 6 days.
This afternoon, I pulled one out, cut it open and took a bite.

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed. They are just barely pickled yet the tops of one or two are already slightly soft and threatening to turn to mush. Leaving them out to ferment a bit longer is not an option...I can sense them just daring me to leave them one more day so they can grow that thick mold again. Gross. So my question for you is, what now? Am I expecting too much from a pickle without vinegar? Maybe this is how they are supposed to taste. I don't know, I guess I'll try again.

These fussy, little, good-for-you bacteria better get it together or I'm going to ditch them for their better-tasting cousin, yogurt. We're already good friends anyway.

Failed (or not?) Lacto-Fermented Pickles
Adapted from Food Loves Writing

Pickling cucumbers
Kosher Salt
Caraway Seeds
Whole Black Peppercorns
1/2 of a white onion, peeled and chopped in large chunks
3 garlic cloves, peeled

Fill a quart size mason jar about a quarter or a third full with water, and add two tablespoons of sea salt, 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds, 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns, three garlic cloves and the onion chunks. Add in cucumbers, as many as will fit comfortably, and then fill the rest of the jar with water, leaving a little room at the top. Cover and set on the counter for 5 to 8 days (I left mine for 6). Put them in the refrigerator when they are done fermenting or when you sense they will turn moldy if don't. 
Hopefully yours turn out better than mine!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lisa's Rainbow Black Bean Salad

Lisa's Rainbow Black Bean Salad
I made this salad up based on the brightly colored rainbow peppers I found at the farm stand last week. After I served it at a bar-b-que Sunday night I had a few requests for the recipe so I thought I would post it here. If you can't find rainbow peppers, replace them with a mix of red, yellow and orange bell peppers. Cilantro would also be a nice addition here if you have it on hand.
Serves 4-6

15oz cooked black beans (or 1 can rinsed well)
2 small rainbow peppers, diced small
½ small onion, diced small
1 large handful blanched string beans, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 large scallion - green and white part, chopped
fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped course

Juice of one lime
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon honey
⅛-¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped course

Whisk the lime juice, oil, cumin, salt, honey, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl
Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.
Refrigerate at least one hour to let the flavors combine.
Salad will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Not my best idea.

If you had been in my kitchen last week, when I was grating up a zucchini, you probably would have said "Hey, putting zucchini in your chocolate chip cookies is not one of the best ideas you've ever had", and you know what? You would have been right. However, I had a lot of zucchini to use up when I stumbled across this recipe from Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (not one of the best books I've read either). The idea seemed interesting and I did want to get rid of that zucchini. She swears it's completely undetectable and even kid tested. I don't know what kids she's been feeding these to because, I have a high tolerance for odd, healthy things in my baked goods and I certainly taste the zucchini. That being said, I don't really mind it. It tastes like chocolate chip zucchini bread in the form of cookies. In fact, even the texture is fairly similar; A little too soft and cake-y for my taste (although some people like soft cake-y cookies so that's not necessarily bad). 

Would I make them again? Probably not. I don't actually like zucchini bread all that much. If zucchini bread is your favorite summer cake - these cookies were made for you. If you prefer to keep your vegetables out of your dessert, try making my favorite chocolate chip cookies and click here for an easy way to use up that zucchini.

Lucky for me, I have the best friends in the world (aka. hungry boys who will eat anything that fits the criteria 'free' and 'homemade' and most things that don't). Either they really did like them, or they are just good at being supportive because they ate every last one.

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Makes about two dozen

1 egg, beaten
1⁄2 cup butter, softened
1⁄2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 tbsp. vanilla extract 
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1⁄2 tsp baking soda 
1⁄4 tsp salt 
1⁄4 tsp cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup finely shredded zucchini 
12 oz chocolate chips Stir these into other ingredients, mix well. Drop by spoonful onto greased baking sheet, and flatten with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350°, 10 to 15 minutes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

With eyes toward tomorrow.

"All the bags are checked
And the reasons why
Yesterday lingers on
That’s the piece you keep when you say goodbye".
- Conor Oberst (Monsters of Folk)

Just like realizing you've out grown snow days, discovering you no longer have a place in a city you previously called home, is a hard pill to swallow. It may be a gradual realization or it may hit you head on when you return for a visit, either way it's your  first step in going forward - especially if you've been dragging your feet as much as I have.
Above picture courtesy of Max Horowitz
I went back to Binghamton this weekend to go to Spiedie Fest and to spend a night out with some friends before we scatter to all parts of the country, including Alaska, South Carolina, Georgia and New York.

We raised our glasses and celebrated with those who are leaving to settle in a new place and commiserated with those who don't know what to do next. We made promises of visits and tucked loose questions into neatly packaged answers wrapped in promises not to fall out of touch.

Saturday night blurred into Sunday morning without skipping a beat. The sun rose, as it always does, and brought with it a new relief and nothing left to do but head off in our various directions.

The drive back down state was three hours longer than usual but somehow underlined with a sense of calm;  the monotony broken up by a roadside farm stand in Monticello. A small sign on the highway lured me off with the promise of local peaches but I left with no less than two pounds of tomatoes, 2 onions, 2 green peppers, 4 ears of corn, 1/2 pound of string beans, 1 pound of white peaches and 1 and a half pounds of the best apricots I've ever eaten. The farmer was friendly and talkative as were his customers and suddenly nothing seemed as important as his local produce. The traffic and roadwork became irrelevant and the uncertainty of tomorrow faded in the presence of a plump, imperfect tomato. After that, I opted to avoid the main thruway for as long as possible, instead choosing a winding state road that meandered through small towns.

When I finally walked in the door at 9pm, I turned one of my farm-stand tomatoes into bruschetta, topped with basil from our backyard. The simplicity of it was familiar and comforting and I ate it on the back patio in the cool, dark night. Afterwards, I folded myself into bed and set my eyes toward tomorrow.

Farm-stand Bruschetta
Serves 1-2
1 Large beefsteak tomato; washed and chopped, seeds removed
1-2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing on bread
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
fresh basil
1 large clove of garlic
2 large slices thickly cut bread

Toss chopped tomato with 1-2 teaspoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.
brush both sides of bread lightly with olive oil. place in oven or toaster oven on 375 degrees or grill on medium until golden. Remove and rub garlic clove on top side of bread. 
Top with tomato mixture and garnish with basil.
Add another grind of salt and pepper if desired.

Click here for more pictures from the weekend.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

An August Sun.

Have you ever noticed how the sun feels different in different seasons or even during the same one. Sometimes it's a gradual change and sometimes it's a quick flip flop. You go to bed one night exhausted from the humidity and wake up the next morning to the forgiving dry heat of late summer. The air is less heavy, the sun is in a different place and, oh my, there is a breeze! Green tomatoes turn red, stone fruits are suddenly sweeter, and basil continues to grow in abundance. The sun is a little lower in the sky than it was at the same hour just a month before, but that's not all; somehow, some way, it's just a little different. You can't quite explain why, it's just different than it was a few days before.
Last saturday, that is precisely what happened. It was still just July 31st but I woke up to an August sun.
For me, August is the summer that I love. It's the month of fresh tomato salads and more local corn that you thought you could ever possibly eat. It's zucchini from one of the only two remaining farms in Nassau County. It's homemade pickles (recipe soon!), long bike rides and ice cream after rock climbing (soft serve please!). Best of all, it's the month of assembling foods instead of cooking them; because the best way to eat foods this fresh, is with minimal alteration.

I stumbled across Shannalees's post about peaches and basil and the recipe looked so good that it was the very next thing I ate. Coincidentally, I seem to want a cool blob of  ricotta cheese on everything that I eat these days and that's exactly what was dropped on top of her open-face sandwich.

Because I have to be difficult, I made a few of my own changes like, adding arugula, leaving off the butter and honey and swapping the sourdough for whole seeded rye (it's what I had at home). I also swapped the peach for a nectarine because, again, it's what I had at home.
Nectarines and Basil on Toast
Adapted from Food Loves Writing
Serves one.

One large slice whole rye bread (or whatever sliced bread you like)
Small handful baby arugula or baby spinach
One nectarine, sliced
A couple leaves of fresh basil (I picked it from my garden!)
A few blobs of ricotta (If you're near NYC I like Colabro brand the best)
Sea salt and black pepper

Toast bread. Top with arugula then sliced nectarine and basil. Drop small blobs of ricotta on top and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. 
Enjoy immediately!

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