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Friday, January 29, 2010

not ruining the corn chowder

last week, i ruined the soup. it was a corn and potato chowder from edible seattle, fall 2008 that i'd been looking forward to all week. i made it to the final step, congratulated myself on how quickly it came together, and then i ruined it-- i forgot to remove the bay leaf before i went at it with the immersion blender. there are conflicting reports on the danger level of ingesting bay leaves-- some say "OMG you will DIE," and others say that while some laurels are toxic, culinary bay laurel is harmful only because it can cause scratching in the digestive tract. even if i had been willing to risk death or a punctured intestine, the soup tasted of nothing but BAY. well, bay and all the salt i added to try to mask it. so, into the disposal it went, while i battled the heartache of all that waste.
last night, i tried again. seeing no need to risk repeating my mistake, i let the bay leaves remain cozily in their jar. 

while onions and potatoes are still available at the farmers markets, i had to (or, was lucky enough to) pull some ingredients out of storage. sweet corn and red peppers in january-- hoorah for summer preservation! 

i substituted fresh thyme from the garden for the rosemary (i found the rosemary a little aggressive in the first batch), and used organic 1% milk to keep it light. the soup was deee-licious, and even though we went a little bacon-crazy on the accompanying salad, it turned out to be a good let's-not-undo-all-the-progress-made-on-the-exercise-bike meal.

corn and potato chowder 
adapted from edible seattle, fall 2008 

1 cup corn
1/4 cup chopped red pepper
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into 3/4" cubes
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp butter or oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup lowfat milk

heat butter in soup pot over medium heat. cook onion, pepper, and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. add potato, corn, thyme, and stock, and simmer partially covered until potatoes are tender and beginning to break down (this will thicken the soup), about 20-30 minutes. or, cook just until potatoes are tender and partially blend to thicken.

stir in milk, and season well with salt and pepper.

corn and red peppers from alvarez farms 
potatoes from olsen farms 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

beef burgundy and three root-vegetable mash-- amongst the top 10 things i've ever cooked. maybe top 5...

me: i need to come up with an angle for my beefy post.
rob: what kind of angle?
me: you know, an intro or an anecdote-- something besides 'i made this and it was good.'
rob: 'i made this and it was REALLY good?'

that's as good a place to start as any. i made this. and it was really. REALLY. good. it was so delicious and satisfying, in fact, that when rob forgot to take the leftovers for his lunch the next day, he came home to retrieve them. unprecedented! if i had nothing to do but cook and eat and get really fat, this would be my daily meal.

we are big fans of slow-braised meats of all kinds-- wild boar ragout, lamb bolognese, elk with pappardelle-- big fans. my list of "things to learn to cook" has included a rich braised meat since the fall, and i finally took the plunge last week. i didn't suspect it would be a difficult preparation, but was concerned that there may be a trick to getting really great flavors. if there is a trick, gourmet's boeuf bourguignon from march 2001 has it.

i followed the recipe almost to the letter, even the first step of boiling the bacon. i'm still not sure what this step accomplishes, but it did appear to boil out some of the fat, which is just fine with me. the boiled bacon goes into the stew as whole strips, which i found unusual, but worry not-- the strips melt away into pure flavoring during the 4 hour cook time.

recipe link again: boeuf bourguignon, gourmet march 2001

(forgive me for not typing it out? it's kinda long, and i've got to wrap this up so i can prep the pork chops and watch michael pollan on oprah... you understand, yes?)

a few notes:
  • don't skip the deglaze with brandy-- it makes the house smell of a bacon and waffle breakfast for a few minutes.
  • i didn't have celery or parsley, so simply left them out.
  • i used baby shallots instead of pearl onions and didn't bother to blanch or boil first-- just gave them 30 minutes to an hour to cook in the stew.
  • i used dried porcinis instead of fresh mushrooms, and since i didn't reconstitute them first, i ended up having to add about 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup homemade beef stock towards the end of the cooking time. watch it, and if it starts to get dry, add a little water or stock.
  • one more thing, and this may be a controversial thing to say. i may need to eat my words one day, but... i've decided the missive "don't cook with what you wouldn't drink" is horse pucky. without hesitation i poured a $7 bottle of wine that had been open since mid-december into the pot (and not open with a wine-saver top, either!), and came back to one of the best meals i've ever made. (that said, before the bottle sat open for a month, it was something i would drink! there's still plenty of stuff i wouldn't even allow into my home, for cooking or otherwise.)
super-rich beef not your thing? maybe you'll like what i served it with, a mash of 3 winter root vegetables-- potato, carrot, and nutty sunchokes.

sunchokes, also called jerusalem artichokes , are nothing like globe artichokes that top your pizza and go into cheesy spinach dip at the bar n' grill. they look like ginger root, or extraterrestrial larvae, and are the tuber of a kind of sunflower. their texture is much like a water chestnut or crisp apple, and they have a fresh, earthy, and incredibly nutty flavor. i've read several accounts of them causing intestinal distress for certain people, but so far i've not noticed any side effects, though we are eating them in small quantities, and almost always mixed with other roots.

this mash was a flavorful alternative to pure mashed potatoes, and probably a little healthier, too.

from gourmet, december 1993
(serves 2)

1 carrot, peeled
1 russet potato, peeled
1/2 lb sunchokes, scrubbed clean and peeled (peeling optional-- but if you try it, just scrape off as much as you can. no need to be thorough.)
salt and pepper

chop vegetables into uniform chunks. cover with cold water and cook 20-30 minutes over medium heat, covered, until they are all tender. drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.

transfer to bowl and mash together, or use mixer or food processor and mix to desired smoothness. add reserved cooking water to thin, if it's too thick. season to taste with butter, salt, and pepper.

stew beef and potatoes from olsen farms
most delicious bacon ever from skagit river ranch
onions from willie green's organic farm
dried porcinis from foraged and found edibles
carrots from nash's organic produce
sunchokes from stoney plains organic farm
baby shallots from pipitone farm

Friday, January 22, 2010

it's not fancy, but it is meatball soup.

i've been making this soup for years. i change it up here and there, using whatever is on hand, but the basic formula remains: meatballs, broth, leafy greens, and pasta. it was inspired by escarole and little meatball soup, epicurious oct. 2003, but i've changed up the basic measurements just a bit.

this time i threw in some tomatoes from my freezer. not bad, though i think next time i make it with tomatoes i'll go much further with it. this was more or less a soup with some tomatoes, and i think it should be either a clear broth or a serious tomato base with some italian herbs.

the meatballs take a little time to form, but otherwise this soup comes together really fast. it's the thing i make when i don't feel like cooking, though admittedly that feeling for me may be a little different than it is for some people... :) i use a pound of beef, and freeze half of the meatballs for later use. 'cos, ya know, i like to freeze things... anyway, it's filling, satisfying, and even if your thing is campbell's, this soup will deliver. as i said, not fancy, but meatball soup.

tiny meatball soup

for meatballs:
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
1/4 cup minced onion
1 egg 
salt and pepper

combine all ingredients in bowl until well mixed-- use your hands. shape mixture into tiny meatballs, about the size of one of those small balls you hang on the christmas tree, or a cherry tomato. set half aside for the soup, and freeze the rest for later.

for soup:
2 medium carrots, chopped 
1/2 bunch kale, tough stems removed and chopped (any green works-- spinach, broccoli raab, chard, escarole, bok choy... cooking times vary)
1 leek, white and light green parts only, cleaned and chopped (optional)
2 cups diced tomatoes (optional, or add more)
1 qt (4 cups) chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
1 handful (about 1/2 cup) small pasta
salt and pepper
parmesean cheese to serve

heat stock and tomatoes (if using) over medium heat in soup pot. add carrots, leeks, and kale, and simmer until the carrots are almost tender, about 20-30 minutes. (if using a less hearty green, like spinach, add it with the meatballs.)

add meatballs and pasta and simmer until until the pasta is cooked, 15-20 minutes. alternatively, cook the pasta in a separate pot until al dente, and stir into the soup at the last minute, after the meatballs are cooked through. simmering in the broth, the meatballs cook in no time, but they don't mind simmering longer than they need so timing isn't a big issue.

season with salt and pepper, and serve with grated parmesean and crusty bread.  

ground beef-- skagit river ranch 
carrots and kale-- nash's organic produce 
eggs-- woodring northwest specialties (caity)
leek-- full circle farm 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

french onion soup and a salad for all seasons

last thursday was soup and salad night. the soup was french onion, about which i promised to report since i was making it with my first batch of homemade beef stock. i'm happy to say it was wonderful! i followed this recipe from gourmet, december 2006, cooking the onions for about an hour and 15 minutes until they were amber colored and super creamy. topped with a cave-aged gruyere (oh my gawd, we love cave-aged gruyere so desperately!) and left off the parmesan, but only because i forgot about it... 

i admit i was a little nervous about this soup since it's success, best i can tell, depends on a well-flavored stock. thankfully, the flavor was there! it also felt good to know i was taking in all those minerals coaxed out of healthy, grass-fed bones. just got more bones from skagit river ranch-- 2 lbs for 3 bucks will make over $20 worth of stock!

now to the salad. it was another PCC natural markets recipe, warm roasted root vegetable salad with hazelnuts, chevre, and aged balsamic. the recipe calls for carrot, parsnip, turnip, beet, and yam on salad greens. i used carrot, parsnip, butternut squash, asian pear, and baby shallots on winter spinach. the pear was an experiment, but it roasted right up and caramelized like a champion. 

it wasn't until we were in the middle of dinner that i realized this salad was the wintry doppelganger to my
grilled summer vegetable salad with goat cheese crostini! what can i say-- i like what i like! i'm already thinking of a spring version-- asparagus, radish and green onion, anyone?

recipes again:
french onion soup, gourmet dec. 2006 
warm roasted root vegetable salad with hazelnuts, chevre, and aged balsamic 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

winter greens gratin-- you should probably make this right away.

i tried and tried to get this post out yesterday, but i simply could.not.focus. i'd add a link, type three or four words i thought might eventually make it into a sentence, and wander away from the computer. i'd come rushing back thinking, "just write it! just get it done!" and then find myself in the dining room again. this continued until i gave up and did laundry.

rob theorizes my trouble came from having half of a bottle of coke rather than "a good breakfast." i'm sure he's exactly right. this morning i've had a cup of herbal tea and a shower, which is as close as i've really ever come to "breakfast" in the last 36 years, so i'm ready to go!

i've been digging around in the PCC market recipe collection and have found several dishes that will be great for the winter crops now available at the farmers market. we started sunday night with this one-- organic winter greens with caramelized leeks parisienne. basically, a scrumptious kale gratin that will almost certainly make it into the rotation!

there's not a lot to say about this dish. it's a gratin. it scratches a similar itch as would a goopey, cheesy casserole or a mac n' cheese (especially with that buttery crunch on top), yet is much lighter and packed with the some of the heartiest and most healthful greens any season will produce. 

i followed the recipe almost exactly, with these minor changes and observations:

recipe link again: organic winter greens with caramelized leeks parisienne
  • i didn't have any chard, so substituted with more kale, using both purple and lacitino kale. (kale from nash's, winter spinach from willie green's organics, and leeks from full circle .)
  • the kale was some of the woodiest that i've ever seen, even with the stems removed. i therefore cooked it down closer to 30 minutes than the 3-5 the recipe calls for before adding the cream mixture and baking.
  • for the topping, i separated the cheese from the butter and panko, sprinkling the cheese on top of the greens, then topping with the buttered crumbs.
  • because i had so much kale, the leek and spinach were completely lost. i'll add more of each next time, and cut back a little on the kale.
  • the recipe calls for beecher's flagship which has become one of my favorite all-purpose cheeses of all time. use any cheese you like, anything you'd add to a casserole-- cheddar, mont jack, swiss, gruyere...
  • leeks require a thorough cleaning (come to find out)! a good tutorial on leek prep here.

i served the gratin with sweet potato gnocchi from the freezer, tossed with a little butter. and it was DELIGHTFUL!

Friday, January 8, 2010

winter vegetable gougere-- not exactly delicious, but maybe the beginning of something good?

on wednesday i encouraged rob to have a big lunch. it was a courtesy suggestion because i knew i was planning on doing some experimentin' in the kitchen for dinner that night. the selection is getting lean at the farmers market these days, and it takes some creativity to keep the deliciousness coming. i have no doubt there are countless cream-of-pureed-vegetable soups in my not-too-distant future, but this week i wanted to try something new. so i did. i made a winter vegetable gougere.

a gougere is, according to wikipedia, "a savory choux pastry with cheese." often made as smallish individual puffs (think doughnut hole or beignet), they can also be made larger and filled with meat or vegetables. i decided to try one using carrots, parsnip, yukon gold potato, onion, celeriac and tomato (still had a small handful from the garden, and got the rest from the freezer). i also left out the cheese, which possibly renders my calling of this dish a "gougere" inaccurate.

as a general rule, it takes me 4x longer to cook something than it should. my kitchen pace is just really slow for some reason. (probably because i enjoy it and want to extend the experience!) but, this came together remarkably fast, which makes me think anyone else would get it together at hummingbird speed. the dough in particular is super simple-- as a choux pastry , it rises from the steaming of the liquid in the dough rather than from a leavening agent, making it less tricky than other doughs. 

winter vegetable gougere


1 carrot
1 parsnip
1 yukon gold (or other waxy variety) potato
1/2 celeriac (celery root)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
fresh grated nutmeg
fresh ground black pepper


1 1/4 cup water
5 Tbsp butter
1 cup flour, sifted
3 eggs
pinch of salt
chop vegetables into chunks or coins a little less than 1/2" thick.

combine water and butter in a saucepan over med-high heat and stir until melted and combined. add to sifted flour with pinch of salt and mix well, until glossy and pulling away from sides of bowl. at this point it's a little thinner than the consistency of homemade playdough.) 

allow to cool slightly. add eggs, one at a time, and stir until each is well incorporated. (at this point, the dough was much thinner than i thought it would be, almost like a batter.) set aside in fridge until ready to use.

saute the onions in a little olive oil over medium heat until softened. add chopped vegetables and cook about 5 minutes, just to soften a bit. add tomato puree and stir well. add cinnamon, cumin, curry powder, salt and pepper, and grate in a small amount of nutmeg. mix well, cover, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to thicken slightly. taste and adjust seasonings.

at this point, the dough is allegedly spread around the sides of the baking dish, but mine ran straight into the middle. add the vegetable mixture to the center of the dish, leaving some dough between the veg mixture and the edges of the dish.

bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes until risen and golden, and vegetables are cooked through.

here's the thing: this was not delicious. my experiment worked, and it was good, but it was, well, weird. first off, the eggy dough plus the cinnamon in the filling had the house smelling like i was making snickerdoodles. (by the way, M and T, the snickerdoodles that you made at christmas were soooo good! i'll totally come back to georgia for more of that action.) second, the filling lacked a certain depth, a certain pizazz, a certain je ne sais quoi. was it the texture? did it need more liquid, perhaps from more tomatoes, or the addition of mushrooms? was it the seasoning? for the dough, i was hoping for something closer to a flaky pastry. did it need more butter? less water? was leaving out the cheese a critical misstep? overall, does this dough just not work with these flavors?

all in all, i liked it fine that night, and had some leftovers for lunch the next day, when i actually liked it a little better. i keep saying, "i liked it," so i guess it's true, though i still can't quite articulate, even in my own head, exactly what i thought of it. i've never been so confused about something i've cooked in my life! 

i know this-- i'm going to keep working on it. the pastry, the filling-- i feel like there's real potential here, but it ain't there yet. if any of you have suggestions for improvements (technique, ingredients, anything!), please chime in. winter is just getting started, after all!

Monday, January 4, 2010

quillisascut farm's bean, kale, and chevre soup

in desperate need of new reading material a few months ago, i picked up this book. it turns out to be one of the best purchases, desperation or not, i've made in a long time. it chronicles a year in the life of a holistic and integrated goat farm in eastern washington, quillisascut farm. broken down by season, the book beautifully details how each season is dependent on the previous, and contributes to the next, in the garden, in the kitchen, and for the farm residents, both animal and human.

not only is quillisascut a working goat farm and artisanal goat cheese producer, they host the "quillisascut farm school for the domestic arts" where chefs and food staff from all over come to study the life cycles that eventually put food on the table. (seattle chef's collaborative raises money every year for a student chef to attend, so keep an eye out for their fundraisers!)

i knew right away that i would love this book-- i am truly enamored with the subject matter, and the poetic photography of harley soltes perfectly tells the year-long story. (plus, there are tons of photos of goats! just knowing goats exist in the world brings me more delight than perhaps all else. i keep declaring that i want some one day, which i'm sure has rob plotting that we will never live in a place with a piece of land larger than a postage stamp...) but, best of all, quillisascut's book features recipes for each season, using fresh ingredients, and preserving fresh ingredients for the pantry to be used in meals long after their season on the farm has come to an end.

at the ballard farmers market about a month ago i noticed several varieties of totally charming dried organic heirloom beans from full circle farms. i'd never heard of any of them, and selected one variety based solely on it's lovely wine-stained skin-- heirloom cranberry beans.

as luck would have it, the winter chapter of chefs on the farm has recipes using cranberry beans, as well as jacob's cattle beans, a variety also available from full circle farms. quillisascut's cattle bean, kale, and chevre soup sounded like a perfect use for my cranberry beans, though i suppose i should have been prepared for the soup to turn a little pink! no matter-- this is a delicious, hearty soup that definitely belongs on a big ol' farm table. and i'm so glad to learn that goat cheese has a place in bean soup!

jacob's cattle bean* (or cranberry bean), kale, and chevre soup
authors shannon borg and lora lea misterly
used here with kind permission from skipstone publishers
serves 8

(their note: canned beans won't work for this recipe because as the dry beans cook, they make their own stock.)

2 cups (12 oz) jacob's cattle beans or other white beans, rinsed and soaked overnight. 3 parts water to 1 part beans, soaking water reserved (i used cranberry beans)
2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups tomato puree (i used 2 cups of diced tomatoes)
1 cup chopped roasted red peppers
1 bunch kale, about 8-10 leaves stemmed and chopped
2 dried bay leaves
1 Tbps dried thyme
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 cup heavy cream (i used less)
1 1/2 cups (about 3/4 lb) soft goat cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

in large stockpot, bring soaked beans and soaking water to a boil over medium-high heat. skim foam. reduce heat, add 2 Tbsp salt, and simmer gently for about 1 hour, until the beans are creamy and soft. add water if necessary to keep the beans covered. (start checking them after 30 minutes to make sure to not overcook. also, beans cooked at anything above a simmer will split and become mushy, so be patient.)

in small saucepan, melt butter and saute carrot, celery, onion, and garlic until softened, but not brown. add the tomato puree, red peppers, and kale, and cook 5 minutes over medium heat. season with salt.

when the beans have finished cooking, add the vegetable mixture , bay leaves, thyme, and chili flakes. simmer soup for about 20 minutes, then stir in cream and goat cheese. taste and season with black pepper and salt.

it's pink, but it's also tangy, warm wonderfulness on a soggy winter night. use tomatoes and roasted peppers from your summer preservation and you can probably find the rest fresh!

* p.s. this is what cattle beans look like, if you're interested.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

dried peas

after my sweet peas were all finished up in the backyard garden, i left the vines in place to dry out, intending to harvest the dried peas for this spring's seeds. there really weren't very many, and i'm not even convinced that we'll grow peas again this year. but, the dried pods are so beautiful that i have to document.

so, i don't have much to say about it, just wanted to kick off winter, a season whose quiet, unique beauty is often portrayed in dried things, by showing off my peas. so pretty.