Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mountain Delights

Derek and I were lucky enough to spend a long weekend with some of our closest friends in the mountains of western North Carolina.  One of the many perks of the weekend was the continuous supply of delicious food and drink that everyone made all weekend long.  For our part, my friend Taryn and I made a brunch of homemade biscuits, veggie scramble, a wide array of breakfast meats, and some zingy bloody maries.  Later in the weekend, Derek and I put together a dinner of plum-goat cheese-prosciutto-arugula toasts, barbequed pork sandwiches, peach-tomato-corn salad, and peach slump with burnt sugar brandy ice cream for dessert. 

Bloody Maries
The last time I was back to visit my parents, and my mom had me go through her pantry of can goods from their garden to see what I would want to take back with me, I debated for a while about taking tomato juice.  What would I use juice for that I couldn’t just use stewed tomatoes for instead?  The, it struck me, bloody maries.  How great would a bloody mary be with homemade tomato juice canned from tomatoes fresh from the garden?  No added flavors, no vast excess of sodium, no preservatives like the store-bought kind often has.  The recipe below is where that dream landed me.  I put exact amounts as a starting place, but feel free to change it up if you like yours spicier or saltier or horseradishier.  

-1 quart tomato juice (I am lucky enough to have my mom’s home-canned, but store-bought works too)
-1 Tbsp celery salt
-1 tsp pepper
-1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
-3 Tbsp horse radish
-3 Tbsp hot sauce
-1/4 c green olive juice
-juice of 2 lemons
-green olives

->Mix first seven ingredients in a large pitcher and pour over ice in glasses, leaving room for vodka.  Add vodka to your particular taste and state of mind and mix…  Garnish with green olives threaded on straws or your other favorite pickled veggies.  

Goat Cheese Toasts with Plum Jam, Prosciutto, and Arugula
These are a great quick bite to throw together as you begin cooking your main course so that you can keep your dinner guests occupied and satisfied in the meantime.  Switch up the cheese or the jam for all different combinations. 

-1 baguette
-olive oil
-4 oz goat cheese (herbed or plain)
-4 oz plum jam
-1/4 lb prosciutto

->Heat oven to 400.  Slice baguette on an angle in ¾-inch slices.  Place on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt.  Toast in the oven until golden brown.  
Remove from oven and slather with a smudge of goat cheese.  Add a dollop of jam.  Top with a leaf of arugula and a sliver of prosciutto.  Plate and use to fend off hungry guests until dinner time.  

Tomato-Corn-Peach Salad with Balsamic Glaze
This salad utilized our small late crop of sweet corn and the tomatoes and peaches that are at their peak in our area in the late summer.  The three flavors of the sweet corn, peaches, and cherry tomatoes are great compliments to one another.  The salty feta and sweet tangy balsamic glaze are a nice added contrast. Best of all, it’s not just tasty, but very easy to throw together. 

-1/2 c balsamic vinegar
-1 Tbsp brown sugar
-5 peaches, pitted and cut in chunks
-1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
-2 ears corn, kernels shaved off
-1 bunch basil, chopped
-3 oz feta cheese
-salt and pepper

-> Place balsamic and sugar in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Simmer to reduce by about half. 

Meanwhile, combine peaches, tomatoes, corn, and basil.  Crumble feta cheese over the salad and mix gently. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with balsamic reduction when ready. 

Peach Slump
This recipe is a twist on a pin[test] for a blueberry slump.  After trying it out, I would highly recommend it.  The topping is like a sweet biscuit with crunchy and chewing bits on the outside and a moist dough interior.  The fruit topping is built-in, but lives on the bottom for this dish.  The biscuit topping sops up all of the sweet peachy juices for a perfect bite every time. 

-2 c flour
-1 3/4 c sugar + more for sprinkling
-4 1/2 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp salt
-4 Tbsp butter, frozen
-1 1/4 c milk
-6-8 peaches, pitted and chunked
-juice of 3 lemons
-ice cream of choice (we used Burnt Sugar Bourbon)

->Mix flour, 1/4 c sugar, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Grate frozen butter on the largest size of your grater.  Quickly add to flour-sugar mixture.  Mix in with pastry cutter, two forks, or your fingers until the mixture is the texture of rough cornmeal.  Add milk and stir until just mixed (i.e. until all of the dry mix is wet with the milk).  Do not over mix.  Place in refrigerator until ready to use. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine peaches, remaining sugar, remaining salt, and lemon juice in a medium skillet that is oven-proof.  (If you prefer less sugar here, I think you could get away with less.  Our finished product was very sweet.)  Bring to a boil and then simmer until sugar is dissolved and peaches are tender. 

When peaches are ready, turn off stove, put large spoonfuls of the biscuit mixture on top of the stewing peaches.  Sprinkle with sugar.  You may want to put the skillet on a shallow pan before placing in the oven in order to catch any potential overflow.  Bake in the oven until biscuits are browned on top and peach mixture is thick and bubbly.  Top with ice cream and serve. 

TIP:  If you don’t have an oven-proof skillet (because the handle is plastic or rubber-coated), cover the handle completely with aluminum foil, and it will be safe in the oven. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Eggplant Stuffed with Sausage and Rice

I finally harvested a huge pile of eggplant from my 5 Udumalapet plants outside.  They are star producers!  Aside from a few nibbles in the leaves by flea beetles, they have given me no trouble at all and now are producing like crazy!  Their striped skin with purples, white, and yellow make a great presentation. 

I wanted to use up a bunch of small ones (each a little smaller than a tennis ball) and show off their beautiful skins, so I decided to try some stuffed eggplant.  Much like stuffed peppers, I could leave them whole and fill them with a tomato-sausage-rice mixture, topped off with generous slices of fresh mozzarella. 

-8 small eggplant
-2 Italian sausages
-1 onion, chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 bell pepper, chopped
-1 quart (32 oz) tomato sauce (we used my mom’s home-canned spaghetti sauce)
-1.5 c rice
-2 balls of fresh mozzarella
-fresh basil leaves for garnish
->  Remove tops from eggplant and a small amount from the bottoms in order to get them to stand up straight.  Use a paring knife and spoon to scrape out the insides of the eggplants, leaving about a quarter inch thick shell.  Chop up removed eggplant flesh to use later.  
Squeeze sausage from casing and brown in a skillet at medium heat.  Once sausage has browned and released enough fat to coat the skillet, add onion.  Sauté until soft and then add pepper, chopped eggplant flesh, and garlic.  Once vegetables are softened and well mixed, add rice and allow to sauté with vegetables for a couple of minutes.  Then add tomato sauce, and season with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes if you like a little more heat.  Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat.  Simmer on medium-low until liquid is mostly reduced and absorbed and rice is al dente.  
Fill carved out eggplant with rice mixture and arrange eggplant in a baking dish.  If you have extra rice mixture, tuck it in around the eggplants in the dish.  Top each eggplant with a generous slice of fresh mozzarella.  Garnish with a fresh basil leaf, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted, bubbly, and just beginning to brown. 

TIP:  One down side of Udumalapet eggplant is that they can be a little on the seedy side.  In order to reduce the seeds in this recipe and to eliminate any of the bitterness sometimes found in eggplant, I recommend the following:  As you scrape out the eggplant, soak both the scraped out eggplant “cups” and the flesh in heavily salted water until you are ready for them.  The salt water bath will keep them from turning brown and reduce some of the bitterness.  An added bonus is that much of the seeds will soak to the bottom of the bowl, but the flesh will float.  This way you can skim off the flesh from the top of the water when you are ready to use it, but leave the seeds in the bottom to dispose of or to prep for seed saving! 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thai Thighs and Broccoli Fried Rice

This meal was easy to throw together and resulted in juicy, flavor-packed chicken and a side filled to the brim with nutrient-rich veggies and whole grains.  Broccoli may just be coming into season for many of us now.  Feel free to substitute broccoli raab, cabbage, or another one of your favorite green veggies.


For thighs:
-4 chicken thighs (with bone and skin)
-1/4 c soy sauce
-1/4 c vinegar (apple cider or rice wine would be best)
-4 tbsp jam (I used plum jam)
-1 clove garlic, peeled
-1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
-1-2 handfuls cilantro
-juice of 1/2 a lime
-fresh lemon grass or lemon verbena

For Broccoli Fried Rice:
-1/2 medium union, sliced in thin slivers
-2 cloves garlic, peeled
-1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
-1 tbsp soy sauce
-1 tsp fish sauce
-3 small heads (~4 c) of broccoli, floret divided into pieces and stems peeled and chopped
-1 carrot, cut into match sticks
-1-2 c brown rice, cooked
-1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped

->Place thighs into a small roasting pan or casserole.  Coat with soy sauce, vinegar, and jam to begin marinating a bit as you prep the rest.

 *NOTE:  I used leftover brown rice for the broccoli fried rice, but if you need to cook yours, you'll want to get it going before you start with the rest of your prep, as it can take 30-40 minutes to cook. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  At this point, I placed the garlic, ginger, cilantro, lime, and lemon verbena in a small food processor to make a paste.  However, you could also just mince and chop these ingredients and then combine.  Add this paste to the marinating thighs, rubbing it under and on top of the skin.

Place in oven to roast until the thighs reach 165 degrees in internal temperature and/or juices run clear (about 30 minutes).

->  While thighs cook, start the the broccoli fried rice.  Bring a large skillet or wok to medium heat, and coat with oil.  Saute onions until tender, and then add garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and fish sauce.  Allow to cook until onions absorb the sauces.  Add broccoli and cover to steam until almost fork-tender.  Just before broccoli is ready, add carrot.  Saute for a short while more until carrots and broccoli are just tender.  Add rice and toss.  Top with chopped fresh cilantro.

TIP:  Because I was lazy and left my broccoli in the refrigerator without placing it in a bag first, it had gotten a little floppy.  I soaked my chopped broccoli pieces in some ice water before cooking to bring them back to life, making them crisp and new again.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stone Fruit Can Jam!

This past week, I risked buying 50 pounds of stone fruits before checking to see if there would be anyone to can it with me, but luckily, I found a few friends that were interested!  Four of us all chipped in to turn 25 pounds each of white peaches and damson plums into a delicious array of jams, butters, and syrups...  and then divvied up the bounty.  Below you can see our various stations - a good way to keep a kitchen from getting too crowded with several people all cooking multiple recipes at once!

Below I'll go through a few of our jam, butter, and syrup superstars from the day's efforts...  

Follow these instructions using any of the ingredient lists for the jams and butters below:

->  Bring all ingredients except vanilla and/or spirits (if used) to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.

B:  If making a butter, cook fruit until just soft, and then process in batches in a food processor or blender until to the desired smoothness.  Return to pot.  

J:  If making jam, let simmer, stirring and mashing frequently with a potato masher.

Then continue to simmer either until mixture begins to thicken.

When you notice the mixture beginning to thicken, you can test if it has reached the jellying point in one of two ways:  (1) Use a candy thermometer to determine when the jam has reached 220 degrees F.  (2) Place a ceramic plate in the freezer until very cold.  Place a spoonful of jam on plate and return to freezer for about 30 seconds.  When removed from the freezer, if the jam wrinkles when you push it across the plate with your finger, it is ready.  If not, keep simmering!

Once jellying point is reached, remove any whole spices (if using), and add vanilla and/or spirits (if using).  Process in sterile jars.  You can use a pressure cooker for this (10 minutes at 5 lbs) or just a hot water bath (10 minutes at a rolling boil).  


Bourbon Peach (and Plum) Jams
-4 lbs peaches (or mix of peaches and plums), rough-chopped
-4 c sugar
-1/4 c lemon juice
-1/4 c bourbon
-1 tsp vanilla
-pinch of salt
~*Note:  This recipe would also be tasty with brandy or amaretto in place of the bourbon.  *~

Spiced Plum Jam

-5 c plums, washed, pitted, and rough-chopped
-1 1/3 c sugar
-2 tsp cinnamon
-6 cardomom pods, cracked and placed in a tea strainer or cheese cloth (for easy removal later)
-1 tsp vanilla

Plum (or Peach) Butter
-4 lbs plums (or peaches), rough-chopped
-3 c sugar
-2 tsp cinnamon
-zest and juice of 1 lemon
-1 tsp vanilla
-1/2 c crystalized ginger, chopped
-2 tsp bourbon 

 Chocolate Plum Sauce*

-5 c plums, chopped
-3 c sugar
-1/2 c honey
-1/4 c cocoa powder
-2 tbsp lemon juice
-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
-1 sprig sage

*We called this a "sauce," as it seemed a little too runny to be called a jam, but you can follow the same instructions as are listed above for jams.  It just won't set up to the jellying stage.  I think I may get more use out of it in sauce form anyway.  It was more amazing than I even imagined.  

I hope you find a few friends and enjoy the can jam experience just as much as eating all that jam!  It's a great way to spend an afternoon.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Butternut Squash and Lamb Curry

This is probably the best curry I've ever made.  The lamb we've been getting from our CSA boxes is deliciously tender as long as you cook it long and slow, perfect for curry.  The addition of the butternut squash adds a slight sweetness and a velvety creaminess as it starts to melt into the curry as it cooks.  I highly recommend the combination, especially as we begin to usher in fall and all of the winter squashes it has to offer.  
-2 tsp cumin seeds
-1/4 tsp cardamom 
-1/4 tsp cinnamon
-2 tbsp garam masala or other good quality curry powder
-1/4 tsp cayenne
-3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
-1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
-1 lb lamb kabob meet, cut in 1-2 inch cubes
-4 cups broth
-3 tbsp ghee 
-1 1/2 c brown jasmine rice
-1 butternut squash

->  Toast 1 tsp of the cumin seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, and garam masala over medium heat in a dutch oven or large pot until fragrant.  *Do not add cayenne yet or it will get into the air and will not feel very nice when you breath it in.*  Crush spices together in a mortar and pestle.  Add cayenne, garlic, ginger, and two good-sized pinches of salt.  Continue to grind into a paste using the mortar and pestle.  

Meanwhile, coat bottom of dutch oven with oil.  While oil heats, season lamb with salt and pepper.  When oil is hot but not smoking, add lamb and brown.  Then add spice paste and stir.  Allow to cook for a few minutes.  Then add broth and 2 tbsp ghee and bring to a boil.  Reduce and simmer for about 30 minutes.  

While lamb simmers, prepare the rice and prep the squash.  

For rice, toast remaining 1 tsp cumin seeds over medium heat in medium pot.  Once fragrant, add rice and toast rice with cumin until it gives off a nutty smell.  Add 3 1/4 c water, a pinch of salt, and remaining 1 tbsp of ghee.  Bring to a boil, stir, and then cover and reduce to low.  Allow to simmer gently covered until all water is absorbed (30-40 minutes).  

For butternut squash, peel and remove seeds.  Cut into 1-inch cubes.  Add to lamb after the lamb has simmered for 30 minutes.  Allow to simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until broth has reduced to a thick gravy and squash is fork-tender.  Check broth for seasoning and adjust if needed.  

Serve over rice.  Feel free to garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.  

~*TIP:  Double the ingredients for the paste, and save half in the refrigerator for another curry recipe in the future.  Use within two weeks.  Any longer and the flavor will fade too much for it to be worth it.  *~

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Well, after a week in the great north, I decided it was time for a little detox.  Detox after a week in pure, pristine, natural wilderness?  Yes.  The air and water might have been clean and pure, but cooking for 11 leads to a lot of convenience meals, and an attitude of "I'm on vacation," contributes to a habit of constant indulgence.  Besides, with my semester about to start, this seemed like my last chance for the summer before things start to get crazy!  Below are three of my favorite juices from my two-day juice detox.  They were so good, in fact, I was almost sad to see the second day come to a close.  But I'm sure I'll be revisiting these three on a more regular basis.  

*Note:  You will need an electric juicer for these...

Beet-Ginger Refresher
-1 bunch of medium beets (approximately 5-6 beets), tops included
-1-2 inches of fresh ginger
-1/2 lemon, peeled

--> Roughly chop the beets and greens to a size that easily fits in your juicer.  Run all ingredients through, and stir!  That's all.  If the pulpy foam bothers you, you can skim it off, but I just drink right through it.

Spicy Virgin Mary
-1 clove garlic, peeled
-1/2 shallot, peeled
-1/4 jalepeno, stemmed and seeded
-1/2 bell pepper
-6-7 tomatoes, depending on size
-1 small cucumber
-1/2 lemon, peeled
-cayenne and coriander

->Chop all all veggies small enough to fit your juicer.  Run through the juicer.  Stir the resulting juice.  Garnish with a sprinkle of cayenne and coriander.  Drink up!

Waldorf Zinger
-4 ribs celery
-3-4 small-medium apples
-1-2 inches fresh ginger
-1/2 lemon, peeled

->  You guessed it...  Chop all veggies into pieces small enough to fit into your juicer.  Run through the juicer, stir... and refresh yourself!

~*TIP:  I recommend peeling your lemon because juicers can have trouble with the pithy skin of citrus, and we don't want miss out on any of that lemon juice!  It will really point up the flavor of just about any juice you make.  *~

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Scavenging in the Great North

Derek and I just returned from a week in the great north, i.e. a cabin my family has on the Ottawa River in Canada.  I have been going there just about every year for my whole life, and Derek has joined for the last two years now.  The weather was a bit gray all week, but it was a welcome respite from the Carolina heat we're used to...  
This week gave me a chance for some genuine wilderness foraging rather than the urban foraging that has now become my custom.  Since I was a little girl, I remember picking teaberry leaves and berries and chewing on their wintergreen flavor.  There are also often wild blueberries, red raspberries, and blackberries.  This year, the blueberry crop was nil due to lack of rain in the area...  but I was able to get a pretty good crop of blackberries.   
 I gathered as many blackberries and teaberry flowers, berries, and young leaves as a could.  These delights were then frozen to come home with me for a future as who knows what?  Minty berry jam?  Black Teaberry Syrup?  It could be anything, but it will make an appearance on S&P soon enough.  I also picked up a few pine cones along the way for some Christmas decorations this winter.
Finally, our food production up there was not just limited to gathering, we also did a bit of fishing and have a few nice bass filets, including the ones from this fella right here.  
Keep an eye out for how we use all of our great delights from the great north in the next few weeks!