Friday, March 30, 2012

Stealth Greens

Yesterday I found that our grocery store was having a meat sale.  I love it when they do that - mix and match 5 items for $20.  I got 2 packages of chicken cutlets and 3 packages of bacon (I was a little late and missed out on some of the variety).  Some of that went in the freezer, but I used 1 package of the chicken to make chicken parmesan.  I made it in 2 casserole dishes - one with nettles and one without.  I know what I can get away with as far as feeding the 6 year old, and this was not going to fly.

When adding the nettles, I pulled a little package of them out of the freezer; these are the ones I froze last fall.  I chopped it finely, still mostly frozen, and sprinkled the nettles between the layers of chicken before it went into the oven.  When my husband came home, he said, "Why is it green?"  I said, "Think of it as a florentine."

He did admit, after a few bites, "You know, nettles have a really nice flavor."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Garlic Mustard Salad

We went for a foraging outing cleverly disguised as a walk today.  I kept nibbling on things and then handing them to others in our little group, saying things like, "I think this might be shepherd's purse.  Eat it.  It tastes like lettuce."

Garlic mustard, however, is easy to spot, and it's taking over.  Knowing that no one would mind if I grabbed a lot of it, I pulled several plants out by their roots.  Once we got home, I made this salad.  The recipe is from Edible Wild Plants, by John Kallas, Ph.D.  There are actually several books with the same name, I have two; this one and a field guide.

This salad is a quick thing:  a can of red kidney beans, rinsed, some garlic mustard and raisins, tossed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  I liked it, and I have some greens left over to toss in a salad if I can do that in the next day or so.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Special Occasion

Tonight I made a special dinner for my husband to celebrate his birthday.  We ate outside, in the evening, in March, in MA.  I've said before that this was weird, right?  Yeah.  It was 80 degrees again today.

First, there were filet mignons on the grill, with grilled zucchini and pasta with a bittercress pesto.  I don't think I've made pesto since college, but I was inspired by the presence of so much bittercress in the yard.  I collected about 2 cups (packed) and a handful of the field-garlic-chive things and blended them with 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, some pepper and a little garlic, 1/2 c. olive oil and some parmesan cheese.  That made enough for 4 meals; 3 portions are now frozen for times when we need the fresh spring taste of the bittercress again.

Then the piece de resistance, the cake!  I made a sour cream chocolate cake but used coffee instead of water.  That's a trick from a Wacky Cake recipe I have.  It makes the cake even richer.  (Have you ever made a Wacky Cake?  I love them - they have vinegar and baking soda in them to make them rise.  But they are even better when you use coffee as the liquid.)  After the layers had cooled, I stacked them with doce de leite (that's Portuguese for what is essentially caramel made with milk, and my tub of it came from a Brasilian store) in between and on top.  Then came the dark chocolate ganache.  Mmm.  I set the cake on a rack over a plate and poured the ganache over the cake and chilled it.  The cake was then moved to a cake plate and I took the rest of the ganache that had cooled on the plate and piped it onto the cake and chilled it again.  If I hadn't, the whole thing would have melted.  My kitchen was so hot today!

It was terrific.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

81 Degrees!

That's how hot it was today.  In March.  In Massachusetts.  To use the local vocabulary, "It's wicked weird."

Spring also means that the nettles are starting to grow again at the stables, so after my ride today I grabbed my gardening gloves and got to work.  I picked about 3 cups of nettle shoots, generally 3-4 pairs of leaves per shoot.  When we got home I blanched them, drained them, squeezed out the water, and then things got interesting:

The nettles were sauteed in canola oil and butter, with some pepper and some of those field-garlic-chive like things.  Then when they were almost crispy they were drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  They were GOOD.

Thanks, 3 Foragers!

Spring has only been here for a day and I've been enjoying whatever little edible things I can find in the yard.  The 3 Foragers' blog has been really helpful for this, since they live in the same climate as I do.  I've been eyeing this recipe for a week and finally had a morning to make it.  I had to make 2 trips to the garden because a half-cup of diced field garlic is a lot more that I expected.  I just had my first bite of this bread and I really like it.  It's terrific!

I am copying their recipe here so I have it in my archives as well, but giving credit where credit is due, this is not my recipe!  It came from here.

1/2 c. warm water
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast (about half an envelope)
1 c. small curd cottage cheese
1/2 c. chopped field garlic
1 egg
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. all-purpose flour

1. In a large bowl, mix together the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Let it sit for 15 minutes until the yeast is foamy and active.
2. In a small saucepan, warm the cottage cheese up to room temperature. Add the chopped field garlic, and add to the yeast mixture in the large bowl.
3. With a large spoon, mix in the egg, salt, baking soda, and flours into the yeast and cottage cheese mixture. Mix until there is no more dry flour visible. The batter will be thick, but too wet to knead.
4. Cover the bowl and let it sit in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours to proof.
5. Heat the oven to 350° F. Grease an 8" x 4" loaf pan, and pour the bread batter into the pan, spreading it evenly.
6. Let the loaf rise for about an hour, or until the loaf has doubled in size. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the loaf is browned. Cool for 20 minutes and remove the loaf from the pan. Serve the bread sliced, toasted, and smeared with cream cheese.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Garden Salad Takes on a New Meaning

A few days ago I mentioned hairy bittercress and that it was growing in my yard.  Since then I've checked back on The 3 Foragers' blog and found that I was not using it to its full potential!  Yesterday we had friends over for dinner so I tossed some into a salad of regular lettuce, cucumber, mango, tomato, and goat cheese.  It was very good, but the peppery taste of the bittercress was lost.  So today, following their example, I made an entire salad of just bittercress, plus a couple of young dandelion leaves, and goat cheese, drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  It was sharp and a little stronger than anticipated.  Perhaps there is a happy medium somewhere?

For last night's dinner we also marinated 2 pounds of shrimp in a cup of the Mango Blackberry BBQ sauce and grilled them.  The shrimp were excellent!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day!

In honor of Pi Day, I made a pie.

If I hadn't remembered it was Pi Day 2 hours before I had to be somewhere, I would have made a pie crust and everything.  I would have been prepared.  But I decided, spur of the moment, that we needed a pie.  Fortunately I had a frozen pie shell and a jar of apple pie filling.  I added a pint of brandied peaches (drained) on top of the apple filling and then made a streusel topping:

1/3 c. butter
3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Cut together with pastry cutter and sprinkle over the top of the pie.  This was baked at 375 for 40 minutes.

This evening we warmed it up and served it with a topping of Brasilian "Table Cream" which seems to be unsweetened condensed milk.  While not the best pie I've ever made, it was good pie.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chicken Stock Cordon Bleu

We've been taking some basic cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu.  Last weekend was Braising and Roasting.  It's a little chaotic, as you might expect when 30 students are in one large kitchen trying to prepare the same 4 dishes:  beef stew, chicken fricassee, ballotines de poulet grandmere, and roast chicken with pan gravy.  They divided us up into groups of 7 or 8 and then we paired up to make the various recipes.  I decided I'd watch everyone do the braising recipes and I'd pair with my friend's mother to roast the chicken.  I learned:  how to truss a chicken, how to cut up a chicken into 8 servable pieces, that the combination of onion, celery, and carrot is called mirepoix and it's used in most French cooking, and that cooking the mirepoix before making soup releases more flavor than just dumping carrots, celery and onion into the boiling soup.  Oh, and that they use white pepper in France so we should, too.  At least if we're cooking French dishes.

We ran out of time, so we didn't eat the roast chicken.  In fact, I wasn't entirely convinced it was done enough, so I brought the whole thing home and figured I'd do something with it.  Today I had time for the "something" and made chicken stock, chicken noodle soup, and chicken salad.  I pulled the meat off the chicken, took off most of the skin, and used it thusly:

I have been inspired by An Everlasting Meal to think about using the scraps of vegetables for stock rather than waste them.  So I took the scraps from the soup vegetables (onions, carrots, and celery, our mirepoix, see below) and tossed them in a pot with the chicken bones, 9 pints of water, kosher salt, pepper, parsley stems and a bay leaf.  This simmered for 2 hours and was strained, some of the fat was skimmed off (there wasn't much) and 9 pints of stock are now in the pressure canner - 20 minutes at 10 pounds.

Chicken salad:
I took the white meat from the chicken and chopped it.  I mixed this with chopped celery and dill pickles, Miracle Whip, salt and pepper.  This may be dinner tonight, depending on how late we get home from the 10-year-old's band concert.

I made a mirepoix by chopping onion, celery and carrots and then frying them in canola oil.  ("No olive oil!  It smokes too much," says Chef.)  It seems that the vegetables should be cut brunoise, which is an 1/8-inch dice.  But for soup, I wanted the pieces chunkier so I left them bite sized.  See how many new terms I've learned?  To this I added diced chicken (everything which didn't go in the chicken salad), 5 pints of water, kosher salt, pepper, bay, thyme, and fresh parsley.  This simmered for about an hour then I added half a bag of egg noodles and let them cook.  I discovered, after reading this blog just this morning, that I have bittercress growing in my front yard - so I picked some and used it as a garnish.  I added the rest of the bittercress to the pot before putting the soup in the fridge.  No canning for this one, as the noodles will expand too much.  It is tasty!

Mushrooms Prefer to be Left Alone

Or so it seems.

For Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a blue oyster mushroom log.  (She knows me very well!)  When I got it home, I set it up, and tended it carefully.  I checked the water level daily, added drops of water to the top to keep the humidity correct, did everything it said and.... nothing.  Nada.  Zip.

I left it in a corner of the sunroom and ignored it.  I figured eventually I'd just toss it outside and see if maybe the mushrooms would grow in the outdoors.  But last night the 10-year-old discovered this:
Wow!  Look how big they are!
This morning, I fried them with some onion and made an omelet.  With fresh eggs from my co-worker's chickens.  We split it 3 ways; of course the 6-year-old was not interested.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


We were in Montana a few weeks ago for a Wilderness Medicine conference for me and skiing for everyone else.  I skied, too, but since the optional workshops at the conference are so cool, I didn't want to miss them and so I didn't ski as much once it started.  But the skiing was wonderful, and the workshops educational.  The highlight was when we simulated a hotel fire and climbed out of a hotel window, with smoke and everything and stood up to see... the pool.  With my husband and the kids in it.  Saying, "Hi, Mommy!  What are you doing here?"

(In case you're wondering, that workshop was "Urban and Travel Survival."  I also took "Backcountry Dentistry" and "Ropes and Knots.")

Anyhow, one of the things that happened when we were there was we had an amazing dinner at a fondue restaurant.  It was a themed thing, with an emcee dressed in lederhosen.  Each of the 6 tables was a team and we basically had to amuse the emcee for points.  It was rowdy and loud and amazingly fun!  In between shouting out things and singing and even getting up for acrobatic tricks, we ate cheese, oil and chocolate fondues.  I was reminded how much we love fondue and resolved to make it when I got home.  Which I did.  Two nights ago.

For the cheese fondue, I made a roux with a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of flour.  Then I added 1 cup of boiling white wine.  Once that thickened I added 8 oz. cheddar, and similar amounts of gruyere and emmentaler.  Then I stirred and stirred and stirred and stirred until the cheese was melted and the fondue was thick.  I left it on the stove, over very low heat, and stirred it occasionally to keep it smooth, while I made the chocolate fondue and get everything ready.

The chocolate fondue is essentially a ganache.  There's that word again.  Ganache... OK.  I'll stop.  I heated one and a third cups of light cream to almost boiling then whisked in 10 oz. of dark chocolate chips and 10 oz. of milk chocolate chips.  Whisked until it was all smooth and then kept that warm while we ate the cheese fondue.  I could have cut that recipe in half, we have so much left over...

Believe it or not, I had a fondue pot.  My aunt gave us all fondue pots one year for Christmas, and I tucked mine away.  I remembered I had it about a month ago, so found it again and it was perfect!  Thanks, Auntie!  With the cheese fondue we ate bread, chicken nuggets, and steamed broccoli florets.  With the chocolate fondue we had strawberries, raspberries, marshmallows and 'Nilla wafers.  It was amazingly good!

Oh, and that competition?  We won.  Here is our trophy:

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Freshly made goat cheese on toast with peach-orange marmalade.  'Nuff said.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Feeling Inadequate

Have any of you read An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler?

I haven't finished it yet, but I feel remarkably inadequate in the creative cooking department as I read about how economical she is with her food.  Not financially economical, although that's part of it, but waste-economical.  She saves every little bit trimmed off everything and uses it for something.  Croutons, bread crumbs, parsley stems for stock, other vegetable odds and ends.  It's inspiring and scary and all the more impressive in that she makes it seem so simple, really.

This week, in response to her book, I purchased a bunch of parsley.  And I've been using it - mainly on baked potatoes and broccoli (drizzled with olive oil, not melted butter, another suggestion straight from the book).  The 10 year old has gobbled up everything I have presented.  The 6 year old, not so much.  Although the lasagna I made yesterday was a hit for the first time.  Usually pasta needs to be plain, with butter and parmesan cheese only.  I was shocked to see the empty bowl when I got home!

Today I made a sausage-kale soup.  I browned 5 sweet Italian sausages, removed from the casings, with chopped onion and celery in a little olive oil.  I then added 2 pints of chicken stock, 2 cans of cannelloni beans with their liquid, 2 cans of water, and half a bunch of kale, chopped.  I even added some minced parsley stems.  I did not add any salt or pepper because the sausage was spiced enough.  This simmered for about a half an hour and then I added some ditalini pasta and let that cook.  It was nice and stew-like and we ate it with chunks of fresh bread.  And a bowl of blueberries.  Because I suspected (correctly) that the 6 year old wasn't going to eat a lot of the soup.  We just picked out the pasta bits....