Friday, October 25, 2013

Week Twenty: All Done

Sometime over the weekend, fall snuck up on me. Mostly it was the waking up in the dark all week that threw me – it makes Monday that much harder to start off when I have to fumble around the house in the dark. It also started getting REALLY cold at night… like frost advisory cold! Hard to believe that this time last year we were enjoying high 60s to low 70s and sunshiny days (and getting married! … oh, and prepping for Sandy!). 
Rainbow over Lexington Center.
We had our final pickup in almost total darkness – the farm parking lot isn’t lit (and had next to no cars in it), so I actually wondered for a minute if the pickup time had changed. But we turned the corner and there was the barn, lit up and waiting for us. We got lettuce, potatoes, scallions, broccoli, sweet potatoes, peppers, celery, a rutabaga, and parsnips. I went a little crazy with the last chance to get new stuff. The newsletter included a recipe for a yummy-sounding spiced rutabaga cake, so I definitely wanted to try that, and I’d never had parsnips before either.

The final harvest.
Last night our friend Sam had a Mary Kay party, so I needed (well, wanted!) to bring something over to snack on. This recipe for roasted broccoli queso popped up in the “other posts you might like” on Macheesmo, so of course that was going to be it! Perfect timing. It turned out pretty well, I think, although I probably shouldn’t have let it heat to nuclear temps in my tiny dipper crock pot… whoops! We still enjoyed it, though, and we had a great time getting makeovers and talking skin care and girly stuff.
Sam and the Minion!
Stay tuned later this week for a recap of the season. I may also start posting elsewhere for “other” cooking adventures, as this has been kind of fun!
We were allowed "two pounds" of rutabaga... which was, in my case, this bad boy.
 Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Queso Dip (adapted, not very much, from Macheesmo)

2 cups broccoli florets (I had about 1 cup of farm broccoli so I used up a bag of frozen broccoli)
1 four-ounce can of chopped green chiles (I did the best I could with the 7 oz can from Market Basket)
¼ white onion, grated or very very finely diced
¼ cup flour
¼ cup butter
2 cups milk, warmed
8 ounces grated cheddar cheese

Toss the broccoli with a little olive oil and salt & pepper, then roast at 350* for about 20 minutes. Stir everything around once or twice to keep from getting too brown and burn-y.

Make the queso while the broccoli does its thing:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the grated onion and chiles, and let cook about 5 minutes so the onions get nice and soft and sort of start melting away. Add the flour and whisk, whisk, whisk! Cook another 4 or 5 minutes to cook out the “flour” taste – it should be golden/tan. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until slightly thickened and warmed through. Add the cheese in stages, stirring, until it’s all incorporated.

Let the broccoli cool a little bit before chopping it up even more, then gently stir into the cheese. Serve with chips, thinly sliced and toasted bread, or veggies.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Recipe: Fennel Risotto

I love risotto. I would happily make it for dinner every night. To me it's totally worth all the "hassle" of stirring and slowly adding liquid. I always make it with stock, though, because it adds so much flavor. I picked up a bulb of fennel a couple weeks ago and realized I had no idea what to do with it... but then I thought risotto would be good. The internet provided plenty of inspiration, as usual, and I ended up with a pretty tasty dish!
Chop chop chop!
Caramelized Fennel Risotto (adapted from The Corner Kitchen)
Notes: Don't worry about the licorice/anise smell of the fennel. You barely notice it in the final dish. I panicked briefly when I was prepping because Dan hates licorice (to the point where he won't even kiss me if I've eaten black licorice jelly beans!) - but most recipes assured me that it wouldn't be an issue.

1 bulb fennel, cored and diced, fronds reserved
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 T cooking oil
1-2 T butter
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups chicken stock or water, kept warm on the side
1 c Parmesan cheese (we have pecorino Romano at the house)

Heat the butter and oil in a medium-size, deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the fennel and cook slowly until caramelized, about 30 or so minutes. I was very impatient so I didn't cook as long as I could have.
Cook faster!
When nice and caramelized, add the rice and stir to coat in the oil. Cook a few minutes until the grains turn translucent, then add about 3/4 cup stock. It will sizzle, so make sure to stir up the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir until the liquid is almost fully incorporated, then add another 3/4 cup stock. Continue stirring and adding stock until the rice is tender and creamy. Taste to make sure it's done enough for you, adding more stock or water if needed.
Almost done.
Stir in the cheese, remove from the heat, and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with additional cheese and finely chopped fennel fronds to garnish.
Finished product. It was great!

Week Nineteen: Samesies

I got to hang out with my favorite “other guy” this weekend while Dan was away. It was a tiring weekend – between getting up at the crack of dawn for walks, running around on the beach, and chasing the laser pointer (him, not me!), I was completely wiped out by Sunday night. Dan finally got home late Tuesday night, so now I’m happy. 
Totally wiped out. 
We’ve sort of gotten into a routine at the farm – we check in, ooh and aah over the things we haven’t used before, and get mostly the same vegetables week to week. It was actually pretty hard to pick our veggies this week. Aly had the excuse of being excited for Nationals this weekend, but I think I’m in a rut! But there’s just one more week to go, and I got some butternut squash… soup is on the menu this weekend for sure. We picked up a red onion, carrots, lettuce, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, and regular potatoes.
My squashes. I call them Bert and Ernie.
I made chicken soup for dinner last night with my farm carrots and onion. We didn’t have any celery, though, and I wish I’d added some garlic – but it was well-received! As an almost-afterthought I added the rice part of a rice pilaf mix, which I think worked well (I’ll use more next time). Small pasta would work well, too: stars, alphabets, stuff like that.
Sweet potatoes. If you were curious, my attempt at gnocchi had .... interesting results. Details to come.
Chicken and Rice Soup (cobbled together from a few different sources)

3 chicken breasts*, trimmed of excess fat
1-2 carrots, cut into ¾” cubes (I used 1.5 of my carrots)
1 small onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thin
2 quarts chicken stock, water, or a mix of the two (veg stock might also work well)
Veg oil for browning
1 cup long grain rice

Heat a small amount of oil in a big Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. When hot, add the chicken to the pan and cook until browned – you may have to do this in batches. Add in the diced vegetables and cook for a minute or two. Add the stock or water, cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, add the rice and reduce head to medium-low. Simmer about 20-25 minutes, until rice is tender.

About 5 or so minutes before the rice is done, fish out the chicken and shred or chop small on a cutting board. Add back to the pot to rewarm through, and then serve hot with crackers or cheese croutons.

*You could also do this with a whole chicken, though you’d probably need to increase the proportions of the other ingredients to account for the additional meat. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Week Eighteen: Hearty Veggies

This weekend was a success for my cooking and baking adventures. I had a couple interesting mishaps at my class (like adding about 3 tablespoons of pepper to a dish that was supposed to have a spice mix added), but my home attempts were well-received. I made gingerbread cookies, Dan’s favorite, and some rolled cookies with chocolate and plain sugar cookie dough. I’d actually meant to make those last weekend, but I forgot about the dough while it was chilling in the freezer.
Apparently I didn't take pictures of my cookie masterpieces?!
I also went to Harpoon Brewery's Octoberfest.
I also made my first successful Alfredo sauce. Just about every other time I’ve made it, I’ve ended up with a thin, weak, garlic-flavored milk sauce… but not this time! I’m not sure what I did better this time (maybe follow the recipe?), but it wasn’t too bad. I boiled up some pasta and chicken pieces, and then threw in some farm broccoli in the last minute or so of cooking, and boom. Broccoli chicken Alfredo.
Again, no pictures. I don't know what's wrong with me.

It’s a little weird to go to the farm when it’s nearly dark – and it was strangely empty last night. Maybe everyone would rather go during the daylight hours. We had a few yummy surprises this week to shake things up. We got the usual potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, carrots, and peppers. I was thrilled to find fennel – YUM – and we also got a cabbage for our friend. There were also some sweet potatoes available, so we grabbed some of those as well. Perfectly timed, too, since I just saw a recipe for sweet potato gnocchi the other day. Weekend project!
Sweet potatoes... I'm going to make pasta (ish) out of you!

Lovely peppers on top of the fennel fronds.

Chicken Broccoli Alfredo (sauce adapted from AllRecipes)
This fed four of us with leftovers, but I would have liked some more broccoli and chicken. And more sauce; this wasn't quite enough to give a nice thick coating.

2 chicken breasts, cut into ¾” or 1” pieces
1 lb pasta (I used mini wheels since that's what we had)
2-3 small heads broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (stems optional, but peel them before cutting into pieces if you use them)

3 T butter
3 T flour
2 c milk
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or mashed
½ - ¾ c Parmesan cheese, grated (I used the Romano we have in the fridge)
Salt and pepper to taste
Grate or two of nutmeg (optional)

Put a big pot of water on the stove to boil. Once boiling, add the chicken and cook for a minute or two. Add the pasta and stir to keep everything from sticking. (Add a drizzle of olive oil if you want.) When the pasta is almost done, add the broccoli to the pot. Drain and return everything to the hot pan, off the heat.

For the sauce:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then slowly whisk in the flour. Whisk over medium heat to make a roux. Add the garlic and cook briefly. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened. Mine took about 8 minutes, I think. Add the cheese and keep whisking until the sauce is the right consistency for you. Taste, and if the sauce is bland, add salt until it tastes like cheese. (And/or add more cheese!) Pour the sauce over everything in the pasta pot and stir to combine.

Serve with additional cheese on the side.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Week Seventeen: Early Nights

I can’t believe it’s October already! I’m still bummed that the nights are coming faster, but I’m loving the extended summer weather we've been having. I had to go into Boston yesterday morning and ended up walking a little over 2 miles around the city in what was probably the perfect “walking” weather: not too cold in the shadows but not too hot in the sunlight. (I’m only a little sore today.)
Cruising down Route 2 this weekend.
For the first time in ages, we didn’t walk around the picking fields – so hopefully we didn’t miss anything good! We’ve had decent luck with the raspberries, as I’ve said before, by just strolling through and snacking on what looks good. The harvest is starting to get smaller, but I’m looking forward to some yummy fall squash soon! You can probably guess what we picked up this week – we’re creatures of habit, I guess: tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, peppers (red bell and sweet frying), leeks, and broccoli rabe (new!).

It’s been a busy week so I tried to focus on “easy” veg – last night was my big cooking night. I made “Shallot Surprise” and sautéed the broccoli rabe for a side. This weekend I need to find a way to use up all of my potatoes (about 3 or 4 pounds)… maybe gnocchi? I’ve got lots of extra scallions, too, so will need to do something with those. Yikes!

“Shallot Surprise” (a riff on Rachael Ray’s “That’s Shallotta Flavor Pasta”)

~1 lb shallots
1 lb pasta
Olive oil
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c Romano cheese (grated)

Peel and slice the shallots. (I hate this part – my eyes water like crazy! I have to do this right next to the stove with the exhaust fan on high, but that doesn’t always help very much. I’m told you can also do this with your gas stove on very low heat, to burn off the sulfur fumes.) Heat a couple tablespoons each of butter and olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté til it’s fragrant, then add the shallots.
I was too weepy slicing these to get a picture!
Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the shallots start to caramelize. Meanwhile, cook pasta per the directions on the box. When almost done cooking, add about a cup or so of the water to the skillet (it will sizzle) and add the cheese. Add the drained pasta and carefully toss to coat with the cheese and shallots. Add more cheese and/or water as needed to evenly coat pasta with the sauce.

Serve hot with additional cheese and freshly ground pepper.

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe (based on Rachael Ray's)

1 lb broccoli rabe, stems trimmed
1-2 T cooking oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice and zest of one lemon

Bring about an inch of water to boil in a large, deep skillet. Coarsely shop the broccoli rabe, then add to the boiling water and reduce heat to simmer. Salt the water, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Drain the rabe really well, then put the pan back on the stove. Add the oil, garlic, and some of the zest and cook over medium heat for a minute or two, then add the drained rabe to the pan. Sauté a couple more minutes, and transfer to serving dish. Toss with lemon juice and remaining zest to serve.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Week Sixteen: Autumn Harvest

It's officially here. The equinox has passed and now the days are getting shorter for sure. The days are still nice, but I can feel a chill from somewhere (or maybe that's just the A/C at work?), and the nights are getting downright cold. I don't feel bad about having pumpkin beer now - especially beer that was brewed with pumpkins from the farm! (I do wish that there had been a touch less cinnamon in this sugared rim, though... talk about major dry mouth!)
Watch City Brewery's Pie-Eyed Pumpkin Ale. More sugar on the rim, please!
We were treated to a stunning sunset last night at the farm... I'm bummed that they're getting sooner, but they're so darn pretty that they almost make up for the early arrival:
Hashtag no filter! (See how silly we are here)
We had a good time at the farm again this week. The raspberries, happily, are hanging in there, so while we haven't been collecting our allotted half-pint each week lately, we do take a stroll through the rows to pick what looks good. It's totally worth it for the few perfect berries we find. Back in the barn, we got more leeks, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and beets. 
Leeks, tomatoes, and peppers
I was happy to have the pick of my "regular" haul again, mostly for pickling. We got frying peppers and bell peppers, which I sliced up to have with the carrots. I really do miss the cucumbers... but I made do! I was rather disappointed in my previous batch of pickled goods, where I'd used radishes. They weren't quite as yummy as I'd hoped.
Lettuce and broccoli
We'd split the leeks last week, so we had a double repeat for dinner tonight: potato and beet cake with bacon and leek risotto. I used the stock I made from my roasted chicken for the risotto - delicious! It's really cool to see what I can make with just the local veg - we're considering joining a meat share this winter, so that would be an interesting next step!
Both kinds of peppers, broccoli, and the ends of my carrots
I didn't realize until I started scrubbing my beets tonight that only one of them was a standard "stain everything the juice touches bright red-purple" beet - I had two pink and a golden, too! It's really hard to tell when they're dirty, in my defense... like I care. And so I leave you with these pictures of beet-and-potato cake in the making.
Psychedelic beets!
It's ok if you question the sanity of the food processor in the sink.
I've had a bad experience with splattering, so I opted to try and save my clothes...
They're like an art project.

Shredded potatoes. This took approximately four seconds.

Rainbow beet shards!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Week Fifteen: The Cold Begins!

The weather continues to be all confused: nights in the high 30s/low 40s and days that just seem to do whatever… yesterday (Tuesday) was 64 and today is in the low 70s. Friday may hit the near-80s. I guess it’s time to take the A/C out of the window and relocate it to the attic! I've got some grand plans for this week, including roasting a chicken for dinner tonight (with local veg, of course!), making stock and at least one kind of soup, and freezing some stuff for later. A small offshoot of the freezing task is to assess and organize what’s already in the freezer… how fun! Must be the onset of fall putting me into hibernation mode – I just wish I had more sunlight to work with ;)  
Good time to break out this candle!
This week at the farm was pretty chilly, but the harvest is still going strong. I picked up some leeks, scallions, potatoes, kale, and celery – the lightest bag I've had since June! We've definitely turned the corner back into “leafy things”. Aly got tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, peppers, and broccoli. I almost got some kohlrabi (it looks like a purple alien turnip thing – and we had no idea what to do with it), but then the scallions came out so I scrapped that. We took a short trip through the fields to grab some dill and snack on some raspberries. They were delicious, as usual.
Celery and scallions.

Kale! To be chipped, souped, frozen...

I still had my melon from last week, and I finally got a chance to cut it up. I’d looked up how to de-seed a watermelon, but I think the technique is better used on the ginormous ones you get at the grocery store – I don’t think there would have been much left of my little round one if I’d gone along with this plan completely! I don’t have any pictures, unfortunately (it’s really messy!), but here’s a link to the guidelines I used.

Basically, you cut the ends off the melon, and then cut a wedge into the long side (not all the way to the middle). You can then break off that chunk – the seeds will come out with it. Keep doing that all around the melon until you get back to the beginning, and then you’re left with the delicious “heart”. You can cut the seeds out of each long slice, and then use the flesh as you normally would. It seemed exceedingly wasteful to do that with mine, so I did my best to scrape out the seeds and chunk up the rest for freezing.
Filthy dirty leeks - who let them out of the barn?!

Bacon, Leek, and Egg Risotto (via Smitten Kitchen)
I usually halve this recipe because I feel it makes plenty for a side plus leftovers, but I've made it for a meal and been happy.

6 cups low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable broth, plus some extra to thin out the rice
1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped bacon (about 4 slices) or pancetta (I would never halve this!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large or 3 smaller leeks, quartered lengthwise, cleaned*, and chopped small
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more to fry eggs
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups arborio, carnaroli, or another short-grained Italian rice
1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish if desired
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 large eggs, you’ll want one per serving (I don't usually use them)

Put the stock in a small pot and heat gently - it should be warm but not yet simmering. Heat another pan, about 3 quarts, over medium heat, and cook the bacon until just crisp and the fat is rendered. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and put aside. Add a splash of oil to the pan if needed, then cook the leeks on medium/low for about 10-12 minutes. Scoop out and add to the bacon.

Add the butter to the same pan and cook the onion until translucent and tender, 5 minutes or so. Add the rice and saute about 4 minutes to lightly toast. Add the wine/vermouth and cook until almost gone. Add about a cup of the warm stock to the pan and simmer while it absorbs. Stir frequently. Add the rest of the stock in 1/2 cup increments, stirring, until the rice is done. This usually takes me 20 minutes or so for al dente. Keep tasting to check for your personal version of "done". When you're happy, add the bacon and leeks back into the pan, then stir in the cheese. Add salt and pepper if desired, then serve.

If serving with fried eggs: Melt about a teaspoon of butter in a small nonstick pan on medium/low heat. Crack an egg into the pan and cook gently until the whites are set - you can put a lid on the pan to speed this up if you'd like. Cook to your preferred "done" - this recipe calls for sunny-side up, but if that's not cooked enough for you, keep on cookin'. Transfer to the first bowl of risotto and add more cheese and seasonings if desired.

* To clean leeks: Shake over a sink to get the easy stuff off, then peel back a couple of the dirtiest leaves if needed. Quarter lengthwise as directed, then slice thinly. Have a big bowl or pot of cold water handy. Dump the sliced leeks into the pot or bowl and gently swish them around to loosen up the dirt. Let everything sit for a couple minutes for the dirt to settle, then carefully skim off the floating leeks. Dry in a towel or salad spinner.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Week Fourteen: Mixed Bag of Weather

Over the past few years, I’ve been finding September to be a very strange month. The days leading up to Labor Day are hot and sticky, and then on that darned Tuesday everything gets all confused about what season it’s supposed to be. Do the leaves start to fall now? Do I need to keep blooming? Should it get cold at night? How hot are the days, again? Does it rain, or should it hail instead?
Seriously. Please explain.
We had beautiful days and cool nights this weekend. Friday I had to dress for two seasons: fall on top (sweater and fall-colored nails) and summer on bottom (skinny jeans, sandals, and pink toenails). I can’t say I minded; it really was a beautiful day. I unfortunately wasn't able to post last week, but don’t worry, nothing exciting happened. We got more of our usual: carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, lettuce, and so on.
More tomatoes, including a few "orange blossom", this week.
This week we got a bunch of good stuff: peppers (two kinds), broccoli, collards, a melon, tomatoes, beets, radishes, onions, and carrots. I pickled the radishes, half an onion, and a couple of the peppers... can't wait to try those! Unfortunately it does seem that most of the “delicate” summer veggies are going away for the season since the weather’s turned cooler… thanks for everything, cucumbers! It was great while it lasted
Collards and broccoli (!)
I signed up for some “techniques of cooking” classes over in Cambridge, and the first class this past weekend was knife skills – so I’ve been practicing the proper grip and slicing technique. I’ll try to play with (and document!) my newfound skills and cuts as I get more stuff to slice up. My immediate takeaway from the class was that I have a weird mental block about using the “claw” grip… I totally get that it’s supposed to protect you from slicing off your fingertips, since you have your knuckles out in front, but then I worry about slicing my knuckles off. Even though that’s not supposed to happen at all!

Frying peppers, bell peppers, and onions.
Little radishes and another melon.
I got an “all vegetables all the time” cookbook from my aunt for my birthday (wohoo!), so I’d been eager to try out one of the beet recipes in there. I got a chance to try it tonight – it’s sort of a beet and potato latke thing. I’ve also kept up (of course) with my regular pickled things… the frying peppers I got a couple weeks ago were great, and last week’s tiny bell peppers were, too. 
Golden beets this week
Crisp Beet and Potato Cake (from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop)
We halved this recipe since I was making something else alongside... and I'm very glad! I'm sure we would have had too much for the pan if we'd used the full amounts. I think next time we'll try draining the beets a little bit; the outside seemed to be overly crisp and the inside a little mushy, although it still tasted great! It had the potato-y goodness of a latke and the "red" taste of the beets, which I thought made a great combination. Confession: Most of (okay, all) the hard work of washing, grating, and mixing was done by Dan, so thanks, honey!

1 lb russet potatoes (we used farm potatoes, no idea what kind)
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 medium beets (we used one red and one golden in the halved version)
1/4 c fresh snipped chives (subbed in leeks instead)
2 T butter

Peel the potatoes and grate with a box grater (don't forget your safety glove!) or a food processor. Toss with the salt. Peel and grate the beets, then mix with the potatoes. Throw in the chives and mix well.

Melt 1T butter in a wide (10-inch) nonstick skillet. Once the butter stops foaming, add the beet-potato mixture to the pan and press down to spread in an even layer. Cook over medium heat about 10-12 minutes until the bottom is nice and crispy. Press down with a spatula every now and then.

This is the tricky part: getting the cake out of the pan, onto a plate, and flipping it back into the pan so you can cook the top. Once the bottom is cooked, carefully slide the cake onto a big plate (ours wasn't quite done so it didn't slide very nicely). Melt the last tablespoon of butter in the pan until it stops foaming. As I'm re-reading the recipe now, I realize there is a much easier way to have done this: flip the cake onto another plate and then slide back into the skillet. (In the heat of the moment I just asked Dan for help, since I was stirring risotto and he happened to be there. He saved the day.) Cook the second side another 8-10 minutes until crisp on the bottom.

Slide onto a plate and serve in wedges.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Week Twelve: A New England Stir-Fry

What a great weekend. Dan and I were in Newport, RI for our annual trip with a bunch of friends for beaching, polo, and relaxing. We had perfectly sunny weather (as evidenced by my sunburn) for all of the above. I’d cut up half my watermelon from last week and tossed it with a chopped cucumber for a beach snack – unfortunately, though, it did not make it into the beach cooler. I was surprised to discover that it was a white watermelon – normal on the outside but bright yellow flesh inside. So pretty! Tastes just the same as a red watermelon, and the rest of it froze up nicely to put in my water.
Sunset over the polo grounds.
We didn't go for our usual Tuesday pickup this week, and we learned that Thursdays appear to be a lot busier than Tuesdays! With a lot more kids running around being cute. I picked up my usual carrots and potatoes, some Italian (I think) peppers, arugula, and another watermelon. Aly got more tomatoes, some eggplant, lettuce, bell peppers, and collards. We also got a half-pint of raspberries... time-consuming but worth the effort!
Peppers and arugula.
Now I know why they're so darn expensive at the store!
I also took a walk through the herb garden, which I haven’t done in ages. I made a conscious effort to pick stuff I thought I’d use, so ended up with chocolate mint, regular mint, lavender, dill, Thai basil, and purple basil. I had grand plans for a lavender or chocolate mint mojito, but my hopes were dashed upon discovering that we had no seltzer in the house. (I settled for some Newport Vineyards merlot instead. Way more local than Caribbean rum!)
Another yummy watermelon.

Clockwise from top left: Dill, chocolate mint, mint, purple basil, Thai basil, lavender.

New England Stir Fry
I made up this recipe name based on the ingredients and cooking method: a little New England boiled dinner, a little fun stir fry. We grilled some chicken sausage and the ear of corn, tossed the carrots with butter and sugar/cinnamon, and then plopped the potatoes into the peppers’ fry pan. Yum.

1 package chicken sausage (we used precooked Sweet Apple)
3 or 4 small bell peppers, cut into 1” pieces
6 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and then crosswise
2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed, and cut into chunks
Oil for frying, about 2 T
1 ear of corn per person (we only had one on hand, which we decided at the last minute to use)
2 T butter
1-2 tsp cinnamon (to taste)
1 T sugar (to taste)

Put the potatoes and carrots in a pot with plenty of salted water and bring to a boil. Test the carrots for done-ness first, as they cook faster. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and put into a bowl. Mix in the butter to melt, and then add cinnamon and sugar. Cover and keep warm. Check the potatoes – they shouldn’t be too mushy. Fry the peppers in the oil in a big frying pan until nice and crisp. Drain the potatoes and add to the pan with the peppers to finish.

Hot peppers!
Almost-candied carrots.

Meanwhile, grill the sausage and corn (keep most of the husk on but get as much silk off as you can). Alternately, you could probably cook the sausage in the pan with the peppers, adding them later to let the sausage cook through. And the corn could probably be broken up and added to the potatoes and carrots.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Recipe: Beef Stew for Steak & Ale Pie

Beef stew is one of my favorite things, especially in the winter. And so easy. I mean, browning the beef is technically optional, but I like the extra flavor, so once you get past that all you have to do is throw chopped veggies in a slow cooker, add liquid, and wait 4 to 8 hours. And then the house smells like comfort food goodness and I know what we're having for at least one meal a day for the next two to three days.
Cutting up the beef
I think the best part is that it's so flexible. The recipe I use make my estimates from is for a 3.5 - 4 quart cooker (mine is 6), so I just ramp up the amounts of stuff I like and reduce what I'm less fond of. I use beer instead of water, and no green beans, handfuls and eyeballed amounts instead of cups. And it turns out great every time.
So many little potatoes!
Potato peelings, thanks to my crank peeler.
I normally don't peel the potatoes, but they were really dirty, despite my best efforts!
Old-Fashioned Beef Stew (from Better Homes and Gardens' Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes, Volume 2)
These are the amounts given in the cookbook, but I've added my notes, because like I said, I increase and decrease due to my tastes and the volume of my cooker.

2 T all-purpose flour (this has never been even close to enough for me)
12 oz beef stew meat, cut into 3/4" cubes (I usually end up using close to 2 lbs)
2 T cooking oil (again, never enough)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 c cubed potatoes (about 3 medium)
1 1/2 c frozen cut green beans (I skip these)
1 c frozen whole kernel corn (I use more)
2 medium carrots, sliced (more! more!)
2 c vegetable juice
1 c water (I use beer - something not too bitter - a 12-oz bottle/can)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 t beef bouillon (instant)
1 t dried oregano (I skip this)
1/2 t dried marjoram (and this)
1/2 t black pepper (more of this)
1 bay leaf

Dredge meat in flour. Shake off excess and brown meat in hot oil in a big saucepan (not nonstick) - work in batches so you have space to turn the pieces. Put the meat on the bottom of the slow cooker and layer the vegetables on top. If you'd like you can deglaze the saucepan with some of the beer. It will sizzle like crazy, but let it calm down and stir up all the yummy browned bits from the bottom. When the liquid has reduced a little, add it to the slow cooker with the rest of the beer. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 5-6 hours (our cooker is still pretty young, so I can usually get away with 8 to 8.5 hours).
Carrot peelings!
For the pie, I skipped the onions - since we had the jam - and poured everything from the slow cooker into a big Dutch oven. Dan rolled out the crust onto the top, and we baked the whole thing for about 30 minutes at 350* - just so the crust was done. If we do this again I'd like to see if we can make individual pies - we've done apple pies like that with pretty good success, so I imagine we could have good results with the stew.