Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A winter "pesto"

This didn't look especially beautiful, so no photo, but it was tasty.

1. Take a couple of handfuls of sunflower seeds (raw, unsalted) and crush them up well with a few pinches of salt and several good grinds of black pepper in a mortar and pestle.

2. Zest one orange with a microplane, add the zest to the mortal and pestle and crush together with the seeds a bit.

3. Add enough heavy cream (the "olive oil of the north") to make a pesto-like consistency.

Toss with hot pasta.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Prehistoric localvorism

When I worked at a local fast food restaurant (the small Kansas chain Vista) in the early 90's, I had to wear this button on my ugly tan uniform:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Potato and chickpea curry with peanuts and garlic

This marks my first successful attempt to improvise a dish based on Indian cuisine — I'm pretty comfortable with Mediterranean, Latin American, Chinese and Japanese flavors and ingredients, but until now whenever I've strayed from recipes in making curries and dals and so forth, the results have not been so good. This, however, even my 10-year-old daughter liked.

This is based loosely on this recipe from Raghavan Iyer, but heavily adapted to what I had on hand.

2-3 medium red potatoes
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can, rinsed well)
a good handful of peanuts
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small chile pepper, minced (remove seeds if you don't like it too spicy)
1/4 tsp turmeric
good handful of cilantro
1 medium onion, chopped
canola or other neutral oil for cooking
salt & pepper to taste

1. Cut potatoes into 1/2" chunks and cook in boiling salted water until just tender (5-10 minutes). Reserve about a cup of the cooking water, then drain.
2. Remove the leaves from the stems of the cilantro; reserve leaves but chop stems roughly.
3. In food processor or mortar and pestle, whiz up or smash the peanuts, garlic, chile pepper, turmeric and cilantro stems with a pinch of salt until a paste forms.
4. Heat a little oil in a large skillet. Add onions and cook until starting to brown. Add peanut-garlic paste and cook, breaking up the paste and stirring contantly, for about a minute or two (you don't want to garlic to burn or it will get bitter)
5. Add the potatoes, chickpeas, and a good bit of the reserved potato cooking water. Reduce heat and cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to blend, adding more potato water (or tap water if you run out) as necessary to keep it from drying out.
6. Serve over hot rice or with dosas (as shown here; I use this recipe, though I substitute regular green lentils for the urad dal), garnished with the reserved cilantro leaves, roughly chopped.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Deconstructing sausage with sauerkraut

Last week we had a cookout, and, as is not uncommon, we bought too much food. Extra meats (mostly sausages) and breads (hot dogs buns and those "deli thins" for making sandwiches with grilled eggplant) could easily be frozen, but the sauerkraut, well, it doesn't really freeze well and there was no way we could eat all that sauerkraut with a little bit on each brat. So, taking a page from Mark Bittman's "reverse the ratio of sauce to pasta" approach, I decided to make a leftover dish that features the sauerkraut a little more heavily...

1. For each adult portion (our kids aren't eating sauerkraut yet), I pulled apart a hot dog bun, spread the insides with a flavorful fat (in this case, a garlic-and-thyme-flavored mixture of olive oil and chicken fat that was a byproduct of making chicken confit awhile ago), and put them fat-side down in a hot non-stick skillet.

2. Once the hot dog buns were well toasted, I pulled them out (they became the starchy base for the meal) and put in a little extra fat and a couple of sausages (in this case, those fully-cooked chicken sausages that are called "Italian" and taste good but not really at all like Italian sausages), cut on a bias into 3/4" slices, and browned them on both sides.

3. I removed the sausages and reserved, added a bit more fat and some sliced onions. Once the onions were well browned, I added quite a bit of sauerkraut and the browned sausages, heated through, then served over the hot dog buns.

It was delicious; a more liquidy sauce would have dissolved the super-processed-white-bread hot dog rolls into nothingness, but the sauerkraut was fairly dry so the toasted side of the bread stayed crisp even with all the sauerkraut and onions laid over it. The sweetness of the sausages and hot dog rolls was an excellent complement to the sourness of the kraut and sharpness of the onions. And, we used up a lot of sauerkraut.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pupusas with roasted garlic mesclun and cherry tomatoes

Pupusas are, of course, delicious with their traditional topping/side dish, a spicy cabbage-and-carrot slaw called curtido, but they are also wonderfully adaptable to other toppings. To make them into a substantial meal, I generally like to use a cheese filling, spread them with a layer of refried beans, and then add toppings to make a kind of pupusa-tostada fusion.

For 8 pupusas:

2 cups masa harina
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup warm water
about 1/2 cup shredded jack cheese
oil for frying
1 cup refried beans (homemade, or from a can)
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp lemon juice
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
several good handfuls of assorted young greens
a handful of cherry tomatoes

Make the Dressing
1.Roast the garlic cloves in a dry skillet until the skin is fairly blackened. When cool enough to handle, peel and place in mortar. Add the lemon juice and smash garlic and lemon juice into a thickish liquid. Blend in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Prep the Salad Ingredients
2. Wash and dry the mesclun, and place in medium-sized bowl. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and place in another bowl.

Make Pupusas
3. Mix the masa harina and salt well in a mixing bowl, then add the water and mix until the dough holds together. It will be a little on the dry side, but still workable.
4. Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized pieces, and form each piece into a ball. Push down into ball to form a cavity, fill each with about 1 TBSP of the cheese, and fold sides together to enclose cheese. Flatten on counter-top into a disk about 6-8 inches across and about 1/4 inch thick. Repeat with remaining dough.
5. Heat a flat griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Before starting the pupusas, make sure your refried beans are warm. If you're not going to be serving them right off the stovetop (my family takes each one as soon as it's done), heat the oven to 200 degrees to keep pupusas warm as they're finished.
6. Brush one side of each pupusa with oil, and put oil-side down on hot griddle. Cook until there are some brown spots on the underside, 2-3 minutes. Brush the other side with oil, flip, and cook an additional 1-2 minutes until second side also has some brown spots.
7. Once pupusas are done, spread each one thickly with refried beans. Toss most of the salad dressing with the mesclun, reserving a little to toss with the tomatoes. Top each pupusa with 1/8 of the mesclun, and add a few cherry tomatoes on top.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Eggplant and tomato curry

At long last, the recipe for which I was preparing my ingredients mise en place last Thursday night. A kind of Thai-Italian fusion; I was originally thinking about making a simple coconut-milk-based curry, but since I had all these tomatoes fresh from the garden, I went with the tomato-based sauce instead.

1 medium-to-large eggplant, cut into 3/4" dice
4 medium-to-large ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks (or I suppose you could use one 15-oz. can)
3 shallots, sliced
about 1/4 c. fish sauce
1/2 tsp red curry paste (more if you & your guests like spicy food)
1 tsp brown sugar
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 large handfuls of fresh herbs (I used regular sweet basil and citrus mint, but any combination of those and/or Thai basil, regular mint, and/or cilantro would be good)
oil (canola or other neutral oil)
1/3 to 1/2 pound of rice vermicelli

1. First, bring a pot of water to boil, add the vermicelli, turn off the heat and let noodles soak in water for 3-4 minutes. Reserve a little of the soaking liquid in a 1-cup measure, then drain and rinse well.
2. Cut everything up, and dissolve the curry paste and brown sugar in the fish sauce.
3. Heat a generous amount of oil in a wok. When hot, add shallots and stir-fry until well browned.
4. Add the eggplant chunks. They will absorb all the oil, so you want to toss them quickly so you don't have a handful of oil-soaked eggplant and the rest unflavored. As soon as wok seems dry and eggplants are browning a little, add the fish sauce mixture.
5. Stir well to distribute the fish sauce mixture, then add the tomatoes, stirring constantly to break them up. Once they start to break down, you can take a break from stirring.
6. Cook for 10-15 minutes over medium heat until eggplant is completely cooked through and sauce has thickened. If pan gets too dry, add some of the reserved noodle-soaking liquid.
7. Squeeze lime juice over curry. Roughly chop herbs and add to curry; stir well and remove from heat. Divide noodles among plates (I made this into about 4 servings), top with curry, and garnish with lime slices and/or reserved herb tops.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mise en place

Mise en place is many things: a good idea, a pretentious French phrase, and a religion among many chefs. It is nonetheless something I practice rarely, because I am (1) lazy, and (2) descended from People From the Frozen North Who Like to Cook Their Food Slowly (thus giving us plenty of time to prepare ingredients as we go).

Nonetheless, with the summer and its bounty of produce upon us, I determined that, if I were going to try to make an eggplant-tomato curry tonight (recipe tomorrow, I hope), it would be a good idea to prepare all the ingredients ahead of time:

The star of the show — eggplant from the Intervale Community Farm (our CSA).

Tomatoes, mostly from our thankfully late-blight-free garden, plus one or two from ICF.

Shallots, bought in a bundle from the Vietnamese grocery around the corner, with a lime behind the cutting board.

Rice noodles, from the same (the package bearing the label "Prime Minister's Export Award 1994").

Basil and citrus mint from the garden (being immersion-rinsed using the same pot I cooked the noodles in, to save on dishwashing...)

Fish sauce with a bit of red Thai curry paste and brown sugar dissolving in it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

By the skin of our eggplant

So today a grilled eggplant salad recipe was the featured recipe on Mark Bittman's blog, and I thought, "hey, I've got some grilled eggplant in the fridge" — but since it's been so hot and humid the past few days, I thought the whole-milk-yogurt dressing might be a bit heavy. Plus, I had some cherry tomatoes that needed a home, and wanted to make it a main dish by adding some garbanzo beans (canned, I'm afraid), so I opted for an olive-oil dressing instead.

I cut off the skins as per the Bittman recipe (it was a large eggplant from the CSA which I had grilled in thick rounds, mostly for sandwiches) and then my New England working-class "waste not, want not" complexes kicked in, and I suddenly couldn't bear to compost the eggplant skin sitting on my cutting board.

My solution? I minced the skins into 1/8" x 1/3" (the thickness of the grilled rounds) pieces, tossed them in a small bowl with plenty of salt, red wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes — making a kind of quick spicy pickle, which worked perfectly as a garnish. The skinless cubed chopped eggplant was meltingly tender, the small bits of briny, spicy skin added piquancy and a kind of olive-like chewiness.

(Seen here with the perfect side vegetable — New England sweet corn, picked that day, cooked in boiling water for exactly 60 seconds. So perfect it needs neither salt nor butter)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The cool delight of soba and silken tofu

Since summer has finally arrived in Vermont over the last week or so, I've been trying to plan meals that don't involve much application of heat, or at least whose cooked components can be cooked in the relatively cooler morning. Especially I've been enjoying the wonderful versatility of having cold cooked soba (Japanese buckwheat) noodles in the fridge.

Classically, they can just be rinsed off (to remove excess starch) and then served cold with a dipping sauce, which is very good, but they also make a great base for salads. Here, they're tossed with shredded lettuce, sesame seeds and toasted sesame oil, then drizzled with a mixture of 3 parts soy sauce, 1 part mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine) and 1 part rice vinegar.

For the main protein for the meal, I opened up my favorite kind of silken tofu — the Mori-Nu boxes which have a shelf life in the pantry of a couple of months — topped with well-drained tuna packed in water (I discovered a few cans of white albacore in the pantry — from one of the rare shopping trips entrusted to H, no doubt, as I would not myself splurge on such a luxury — but it did taste exceedingly good), drizzled with the soy-mirin-rice vinegar mixture and then garnished with chopped scallions. Not exactly a recipe, but a delicious summer meal.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Waterfront Sculpture

Waterfront Sculpture

Intrigued by an article in the paper, the kids and I went down to the waterfront yesterday morning to check out the Andy Goldsworthy-esque sculpture a couple of 19- and 20-year-olds made with rocks. Most of it consisted of piles made of the unusually flat rocks down by the waterfront:


My favorite part was this path into the lake:

Path to the Lake

S decided to add his own contribution:

Adding to the sculpture

In addition to stone, it also incorporated a fair amount of the rusty metal bits that litter Burlington's once-industrial waterfront:

Table of Rusted Items

* * *

Burlington's waterfront was not always primarily a tourist destination — in fact, it was fairly industrial up until the seventies. In the 19th century, the waterfront was a huge transportation hub — Burlington was built on a bay which made it ideal for shipping goods on Lake Champlain, either north to Quebec or south to New York, and soon enough the railways came as well — just inland from where this sculpture is there is still a huge switching yard.

Vermont's economy in the 19th century was powered by resource extraction: timber, granite, marble. In the days before refrigeration made commercial dairy farming possible, commercial agriculture meant sheep farming — Vermont is actually more forested now than it was 150 years ago, as land formerly dominated by grazing sheep became reforested. Industrial production meant woolen mills. The built environment of Burlington and neighboring Winooski is dominated by 19th century mill buildings, some turned into condos and offices and boutiques, some converted to heavier industrial use in the twentieth century and now abandoned and toxic.

Like poor rural areas historically, Vermont soon attracted industry as a low-wage, non-union alternative to production in Massachussetts, New York or Connecticut. In the 1940s, organizers for the UE — the CIO union with jurisdiction for machine tool manufacturing — found machine tool factories in Springfield and Windsor where workers were making a fraction of their counterparts elsewhere in the Northeast.

Of course the bosses moved the work to poorer and more rural areas, especially after workers successfully organized. Vermont's industry moved to the US South, to Mexico, to China. And as Vermont de-industrialized, the economy turned to that other mainstay of poor rural areas (at least the picturesque ones), tourism.

By the seventies, it was clear that the potential beauty of Burlington's de-industrializing waterfront could make people wealthy. Whether development of the waterfront would be primarily public or private was one of the key issues in the 1981 mayoral race, in which the then-more-socialist-than-he-is-now Bernie Sanders broke the grip of a corrupt Democratic Party machine on Burlington's city government, running in part in opposition to a plan to develop the waterfront as private condos. As a result, we now have a public bikepath that spans the length of Burlington's waterfront, a public boathouse and large public park at the center of the bay (right by downtown), a science-and-ecology museum, and some other stray amenities such as an off-leash dog park and a skatepark, all with stunning views of the lake and, across the lake in New York, the Adirondacks. All this public land, together with the downtown pedestrian mall (also a product of Sanders' municipal socialism), no doubt create far more economic activity for local businesses than condos for the wealthy would have (there are still condos for the wealthy; they're just set back behind the public parks).

* * *

While the bike path runs along the whole waterfront, not all of it is developed. South of downtown, the bikepath runs for about a mile along the edge of the lake, while just east of the path is an industrial and former-industrial area of railyards, water sewage treatment, trucking terminals and brownfields, and at least one Superfund site. You can't get from the bikepath back to the rest of the city during this mile stretch, and the actual "beach" of small rocks where the water meets the land is filled with rusty metal.

Just south of the water sewage treatment plant (and just north of the temporary sculpture above), there is an odd, and more permanent, piece of public art which commemorates the fact that white marble was found and dug at this spot, and in fact that marble was used — along with other rock — to stabilize and create the Burlington waterfront. Several large pieces of marble are placed along the waterfront, seemingly at random, and some of them carved to look, presumeably, like the detritus of some ancient civilization, both the strange mythical lake creatures that they worshipped:

... and the curious devices that they used for transportation:

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Beet and shiitake bing with greens

I'd never made filled bing before, but everyone in the family is quite fond of green onion pancakes, which are made with the same hot water dough, so when I saw my TV chef idol Ming Tsai's episode featuring several different kinds of bing, I figured I should try it out. Then on Monday we got a nice bunch of beets with greens still attached from the CSA farm, and inspiration struck to serve the bing with greens and a sauce on top (rather than the more traditional dipping sauce).

If you want to be most efficient on time, cook, peel and chop the beets ahead of time, then proceed in this order about 45 minutes to an hour before you want to eat: soak dried shiitake (unless using fresh), make dough, make filling, prep sauce ingredients, make bing, fry bing & make pan sauce.

Hot Water Dough
2 cups flour, plus additional as needed
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 TBSP canola oil

Combine water and salt in a mixing bowl, then pour in boiling water and oil and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. Knead for about five minutes or so, adding flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to the counter, until smooth (it won't get as smooth and elastic as bread dough). Form into ball and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes.

4-5 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped
1 tsp minced ginger
1 bunch of beets (4-5 small to medium), greens reserved, roots boiled until tender, peeled, and chopped
8-10 shiitake mushrooms, fresh (or dried and soaked in hot water for 20 minutes), sliced
a little canola oil
dash of soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a small frypan and sauté the scallions and ginger for a minute or two, then add shiitake and cook for a few minutes if dried; until well browned and liquid evaporates from pan if fresh. Add beets, a splash of soy sauce and a good grind of black pepper, mix everything together well, and remove from heat. Let cool.

Forming and Cooking the Bing
1. Divide the dough into 8 balls, and roll each ball out into a 6-8 inch disk, about 1/8" thick in the center and thinner on the edges.
2. Place about 1/2 cup of filling in each disk, then pull up the edges around the filling and twist to seal. If it's sticky, dust top and bottom with a little additional flour.
3. Once bing are formed, heat a generous amount of oil in a heavy skillet (I used cast-iron) with a lid. Put the bing, sealed side down, in the oil, then flip when bottom is crisp and golden-brown.
4. When both sides of the bing are crisp, with lid at the ready, pour 1/3 cup water into the skillet and cover IMMEDIATELY (otherwise you will have splattering all over). Cook until you can hear the water has boiled off, 2-4 minutes.
5. Once the water has boiled off, remove the lid and cook the bing for several minutes on each side, until crisped up again. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate.
6. Unless you have a really large skillet (or are making a half-recipe), you'll have to do this in two batches, which is OK, because the bings hold their heat quite well.

Greens and Pan Sauce
1 small onion, minced
1 TBSP minced ginger
reserved greens from one bunch of beets, washed and coarsely chopped
zest and juice of 1 orange
splash of white wine or vermouth
salt to taste
1 TBSP cold butter

1. When you're finished cooking the bing, pour off all but a slight film of oil from the skillet. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until starting to brown.
2. Add the ginger and orange zest and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
3. Add the beet greens and a pinch of salt, and cook until the greens are wilted and reduce.
4. Add a splash of white wine or vermouth, and cook until almost all liquid has evaporated.
5. Add the orange juice and reduce by half.
6. Take the pan off the heat, add the cold butter, and swirl to emulsify. Pour sauce over the bings and serve.

The filling:

The bing:

Frying the bing:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Eating the lawn: pasta with white beans and chicory

It's the season in between when the root veggies from the winter farm share run out and the summer share (or even the Farmer's Market) begins, when there's just not a lot of local produce to be had. However, the lawn is starting to green up, which means dandelions, chicory and my latest discovery, garlic mustard, are there for the picking. The chicory especially calls out, as it is still tender and relatively mild, and has not yet begun to grow its big spiky stems:

So for dinner last night, I cooked it with pasta and white beans, topped with delicious crunchy fried breadcrumbs:

Pasta with White Beans and Chicory

1/2 lb. whole-wheat pasta
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes
several bunches of chicory (or other bitter green, chopped if large leaves), washed
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed (or about 1 1/2 cups home cooked)
about 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
extra-virgin olive oil, plus light olive oil for sautéing if desired
salt & pepper

1. Heavily salt some water, and put it on to boil for the pasta.

2. While water is heating, saut&ecaute; the onions in some oil (I generally use light olive oil for sautéing, saving the extra-virgin stuff for finishing and places where you'll really taste it) over medium-high heat until soft.

3. Add the red pepper flakes and the garlic, cook for 20-30 seconds until garlic blooms.

4. Add the chicory leaves, without drying too much so they have some liquid to braise in (since I tend to wash greens, especially from my lawn, by immersing in a bowl of water, I just left them in the water until it was time to add them to the skillet). Turn down the heat a bit.

5. Once the greens have cooked down, add the beans.

6. Add pasta to water once it boils; as pasta is cooking, add small amounts (1/4 c.) of pasta water to sauce and reduce - kind of like making a risotto.

7. Once pasta is cooking, heat several glugs of extra-virgin olive oil in a small skillet and toast the breadcrumbs until they become golden-brown, oil soaked morsels of delicious crunchiness.

8. Drain pasta when al dante, reserving about a cup of the pasta water in case you need to thin out the sauce. Add pasta to skillet with sauce, toss to combine, add a little more pasta water if dry, then drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

9. Serve in pasta bowls topped with the breadcrumbs.

In addition to the chicory, I learned this past weekend that one of the invasive species we've had in the backyard for the last few years is in fact garlic mustard, and edible:

Turns out it makes a very tasty pesto, with a kind of lemony-mustardy bite, which is good, because we've got a big field of it surrounding our blueberry bushes in the back corner of the yard and, apparently, releasing a mild herbicide from its root system:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sauteed pepper salad with hard-boiled eggs and pine nuts

When the temperature reaches the upper 30s in March in Vermont, and our lawns are down to only a few patches of snow-cover left, our thoughts begin to turn to making salads of things that grow out of our own ground.

Sadly, nothing is available yet (I thought I saw the chives poking up new green shoots yesterday, but I couldn't be sure), and the endless parade of winter squash, cabbage and root vegetables that characterizes our winter farm share is getting a little old. However, my mother's recently acquired Costco membership has seduced me into buying outrageously out-of-season (but cheap and decent quality) vegetables in large quantities, including these sweet mini peppers (size of jalapeños but sweeter than bell peppers).

So for lunch today I sliced up the remaining vast amount of them (I think there were 30 or so — you could probably substitute 3-4 regular bell peppers), sauteed them with some oregano and served as a flat-plate salad, topped with some pine nuts (also purchased in large quantities for cheap at Costco) and sliced hard-boiled eggs, seasoned with the fancy artisanal sherry vinegar that H bought me for Christmas this year.

3-4 bell peppers, or 20-30 sweet mini peppers (mixture of red, orange and yellow), sliced
1/4 c. pine nuts
olive oil for drying
2 hard-boiled eggs
a couple of pinches of dried oregano
a couple of pinches of paprika, preferably Spanish smoked paprika
1 tsp sherry vinegar

1. Toast pine nuts in a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant and starting to brown a little. Remove to a small bowl.

2. Add a good glug of olive oil to the skillet, wait a half-minute for the oil to heat through, then add the peppers. Toss the peppers well with the oil, then sprinkle with salt and dried oregano.

3. Fry peppers for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until soft and a little browned around the edges. Take skillet off heat and let pepper cool in skillet for 5 minutes or so. Meanwhile, peel and slice your eggs.

4. Taste peppers for seasoning; add more salt if necessary. Divide among two plates, and sprinkle pine nuts on top. Arrange the egg slices on top of the peppers, drizzle 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar over each plate, and dust egg slices with the paprika.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Whole-wheat calzone, with mushrooms and blue cheese

For a long time, I was scared of calzone — probably because of my tendency to make the fillings too liquidy (which resulted in a lot of leakage), my tendency to work too much flour into the dough, making it hard to seal (which resulted in even more leakage), and my terrible belief — no doubt due to being brought up in the midwest — that cottage cheese is an acceptable substitute for ricotta (again, resulting in lots of leakage).

Tonight, though, I managed to make decent ones. Since I had actual ricotta, I figured I could make gourmet calzones for the adults and ones just filled with scoops of ricotta for the kids, but this turned out to be overly optimistic — S didn't like the tanginess. Oh, well. As with many last-minute inventions, I didn't measure carefully, so use your judgement if you're going to use this recipe. I used about a quart of mushrooms and half of a largish onion, and it made enough filling for 5 of the 8 calzone (the rest I filled with a couple of scoops each of ricotta). As with any dough, the exact proportions will depend on the humidity, etc., so you might want to start with a little less flour and work it in as needed (though these exact proportions worked perfectly for me tonight). These would probably be more "authentic" with gorgonzola, but I made them with some Irish "ballyblue" I had on hand and they were still tasty.

Calzone dough
2 cups white whole wheat flours
3 cups white flour
1 1/2 TBSP (2 packages) yeast
1 TBSP salt
2 cups lukewarm water (I microwave 2 cups of cold water for 2 minutes)

Whisk together all the ingredients except the water, then pour the water in and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until it forms a shaggy dough. Turn out onto the counter and knead for 10-12 minutes until smooth and elastic, adding extra flour as necessary to keep from sticking. Grease a bowl lightly with olive oil and put dough in to rise for 1 hour or so.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

Mushrooms (I used crimini, but white button should be fine), cut into 1/4" dice
Onions, minced fairly fine
olive oil
thyme (dried or fresh)
salt & pepper

Heat some olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onions and thyme and sauté until softened but not quite browned. Add the mushrooms, salt & pepper and cook until nicely browned — they will release a bunch of liquid, but cook until it is nearly evaporated. Mushrooms will be a lot smaller than they were originally.

Punch down the dough, knead briefly, and cut into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into an 8-10 inch circle, and place a mound of filling on the lower half of the dough. Top the filling with some crumbled blue cheese. Dip your fingers into some water and wet the outer edge of the dough, then fold over to make a half-moon shape. Pinch the dough together well and cut a slit in the top. Place each on a baking sheet well-dusted with cornmeal.

Let the calzone rise for 30-45 minutes while preheating the oven to 425. Once they are risen, bake for about 20 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Report from 2006 World Social Forum (re-post)

This was original published (in print only) in the February, 2006 issue of the UE News. I am posting it now because Armando Robles, one of the UE delegation from that WSF trip three years ago, was one of the leaders of the plant occupation at Republic Windows and Doors last December, and just recently visited Vermont as part of the Resistance and Recovery Tour.

In January, three rank and file UE members — myself, Angaza Laughinghouse (Local 150), and Armando Robles (Local 1110) — travelled to Caracas, Venezuela to attend the sixth World Social Forum (WSF). The WSF is an annual gathering of trade unionists, community organizations and other social movements who oppose corporate globalization. The goal of the WSF is to promote a globalization based on solidarity, justice and peace, one that creates jobs rather than destroys them and improves the lives of working people. The UE has been repesented at every WSF since the second one, in 2002. As in previous years, we were part of a broader delegation of U.S. grassroots organizations organized by Grassroots Global Justice.


This year, the WSF was hosted by the pro-worker government in Venezuela. While much of the media coverage of Venezuela has focused on President Hugo Chavez, there is in fact a much broader process of social change going on in Venezuela, known variously as "the Bolivarian Revolution," "the Revolution," or simply "the process." Virtually all of the working-class people we met were supporters of the revolution, though a few were critical of Chavez personally.

There is no doubt that this process is benefiting the working people of Venezuela. While many speak of the process as being a "revolution," it is peaceful and democratic. There is no political repression — indeed, the opposition flourishes in wealthier areas, owns all of the private press and media, and in fact organized a large (and extremely well-dressed) anti-WSF march at the beginning of our time there. The "process" seems to primarily consist of using government resources to assist communities and workplaces with self-organization, whether it is around jobs, health care, education, public safety or other concerns. As a result, the access to health care, quality of education, level of public safety and so forth seem to be improving throughout Venezuela, in marked contrast to the U.S. where we are constantly fighting defensive battles. Furthermore, what we in the UE would call "rank and file control" is a central principle of this process; a common slogan was "the revolution is giving power to the people." The new provision of services in neighborhoods is directed by neighborhood committees, and, most inspiringly, factories and other workplaces closed by their owners are being re-opened by the workers (see below).


For many decades, workers in Venezuela have been represented almost exclusively by a labor federation known as CTV (Venezuelan Confederation of Labor), which was and is corrupt, undemocratic and tightly connected to both employers and the old political parties (before Chavez was elected, politics in Venezuela were controlled by a two-party system very much like our own, with both parties representing bosses' interests). The CTV is extremely hostile to Chavez, and was involved in both the Bush-instigated coup against Chavez in April of 2002 and the "general strike" (really a general lockout called by employers) which attempted to force Chavez from power later that year. It is one of the few labor federations in the world enthusiastically supported by the Bush Administration.

In the last five years or so, rank and file workers have created a new labor federation, the UNT (National Union of Workers), which has become the dominant federation in the private sector and has also recently gained the affiliation of the key construction unions. In contract to the CTV, debate and discussion flourish inside the UNT; while the UNT membership is overwhelming in favor of "the process," there is a vigorous debate over whether the labor movement should be close to Chavez or strive for political independence.

Another issue of great discussion and debate in the UNT is "co-management," the process by which many closed factories and other workplaces in Venezuela are being re-opened under worker control. We met an electrical utility worker from the UNT who could barely contain his pride that he and his co-workers were now running the shop without bosses. "We run it now," he said.


At a workshop co-organized by UE and the Southwest Workers' Union (SWU), which represents school support staff workers in southern Texas, WSF delegates from Venezuela, Colombia, Europe and the U.S. heard Local 150 Executive Board member Angaza Laughinghouse describe the struggle of public sector workers in the U.S. South for collective bargaining rights through the International Worker Justice Campaign. At another workshop organized by SWU on the general issue of workers' rights in the U.S., Armando Robles (Local 1110) also described the struggle of workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago for a democratic union.

Participants from other countries, who often hear the U.S. government defend its military adventures or interventions against pro-worker governments like Venezuela's with rhetoric about "democracy" and "rights" were shocked and appalled to hear how the U.S. denies the basic democratic right of collective bargaining to millions of workers. All three of us were also interviewed by a radio journalist from Quebec, who broadcast a story about the U.S. denial of collective bargaining rights over the WSF's own radio station while we were there and also recorded a program to be played on Montreal radio when she returned.


We all returned inspired by how workers in Venezuela, and throughout Latin America, are organizing and making improvements in their living and working standards. We were also impressed at how clearly they saw that American workers were not their enemies, but their brothers and sisters in a struggle to improve the lives of all workers, even though our government has been working to undermine their achievements. We returned committed to telling the truth about how Chavez's democratic revolution is benefitting the workers of Venezuela, and to prevent Bush from intervening in Venezuela.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Roasted salsify soup with black bean-garlic oil

I had some salsify on hand from the winter farm share, and was trying to think of something interesting to do with them. Since its taste is vaguely reminiscent of oysters, I started thinking along the lines of great seafood dishes, and eventually hit on Chinese clams with black bean sauce.

This soup had a great mouthfeel — the creamy richness of pureed root-vegetable soup, broken up by the varied textures in the garnish: crispy salsify-ends, spongy black beans, and, well, mushroom-y shiitake mushrooms, all bathed in a rich garlicy olive oil.

I started basically with Oven Roasted Salsify Soup. If you've got salsify that are quite large at one end but taper at the other end, then roasting them whole presents a bit of a problem — after 30 minutes the tapered ends were charring but the large ends haven't cooked through. Not a big deal; just chop them up and finish cooking in the soup water (takes longer, of course). I found that the roasted salsify, combined with the garnish, was flavorful enough to be able to use water rather than stock in making the soup.

The amounts are pretty inexact. I used two hulking salsify (the biggest ones I've ever seen in fact), each the size of a large juice carrot, supplemented by one medium-sized potato, and it made two servings each of which was a light lunch.

A good amount of salsify roots, or mixture of salsify and potatoes
a few dried shiitake mushrooms (1 for every two servings)
about 1 clove of garlic per serving, minced
about 1 TBSP of fermented black beans per serving, chopped but not too finely
plenty of olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Peel salsify (and potatoes, if using), toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in small baking pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cover the shiitake mushroom with hot water and let soak.

3. Mince the garlic and chop the black beans a bit, but not too much. Combine with plenty of extra-virgin olive oil (remember, you're making a flavored oil, not sautéing something) in a small saucepan. About 10 minutes before the salsify come out of the oven, place saucepan on lowest possible heat.

4. Remove salsify from the oven and chop. Tapered small ends will be crispy; chop these fairly small and reserve for garnish. Chop remainder of salsify into 1" pieces and put in pan with water to cover; bring to a boil.

5. Drain and mince shiitakes, reserving the soaking liquid. Add the minced shiitakes to the black bean-garlic oil; strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter and add to soup.

6. If the salsify were cooked through in the oven, you can puree the soup as soon as it comes to a boil. Otherwise cover and simmer until salsify pieces are completely tender.

7. Puree the soup in a blender (or use an immersion blender, which is way easier). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into serving bowls.

8. Add reserved salsify bits to black bean-garlic oil, stir to combine, then scoop out some solids from the oil to make a mound in the center of each bowl. Drizzle remaining oil over soup.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

After a nor'easter, we are visited by aliens

Our Weber grill always becomes a perfect spaceship after a big snow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Our ability to see each other is the greatest threat to the status quo"

At the time, I was a little too stressed out about logistics and workshop facilitation and so forth to fully appreciate how excellent this event was. The workshops were, for the most part, even better than the speeches, but the speeches were pretty good:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Butternut squash napoleon with red beans

Me: Mmmm, vegetable-based dinner

H: yeah, with lots of butter

I was trying to think of something to make tonight with the massive amount of cooked butternut squash I have on hand. I had a build-up of two large squash from the winter farm share sitting on the counter, so over the weekend I cooked them — cut in half, cut-side down on a baking sheet with a rim and about 1/4" of water, covered tightly with foil, at 375 degrees for an hour and a half until completely tender. Scoop the flesh out of the skins, line a colander with a clean dish cloth, and drain with a weighted plate on top for a couple of hours to get rid of excess liquid.

I thought about experimenting with empanadas, but making and rolling out pastry dough seemed a little much for a weeknight, so instead I eventually hit upon the idea of making a napoleon with biscuit dough.

For biscuits
1 1/2 c. white flour
1/2 c. wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
5 TBSP butter, cold
3/4 c. milk

Preheat oven to 450.

Whisk the flours, baking powder and salt together. Cut butter into small pieces, then cut into flour with two knives or a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal, with pea-sized chunks of butter. Add milk and press together into a rough dough.

Because I wanted to split these for serving, I rolled them out twice the size I wanted (about 6" x 12") and then folded in half, then cut into four large (3" x 3") biscuits.

Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet and cook for 12 minutes.

1-2 cups cooked butternut squash
1 small onion, chopped fairly small
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
red pepper flakes

Heat olive oil in saucepan, add onion and cook until just browned, seasoning as it cooks with red pepper, salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook for 20-30 seconds, then add squash puree. Turn heat to lowest setting and cook until heated through, seasoning to taste with salt and a generous amount of black pepper.

For serving
1 cup red beans (roughly)

Once biscuits are nicely browned, remove from oven and split in half. On the bottom half, layer a good spoonful of butternut squash filling, top with red beans and salsa, then with the top of the biscuit.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Luscious garlic tofu with pork and walnuts

This was inspired by and roughly based on "Tofu with luscious chili oil" from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet — a recipe from the Yunnan province of China. I made it less hot and used more Italian flavors, and served it over barley, though I imagine it would be good with pasta or rice or on its own with good, crusty bread. It is, as Naomi and Jeff say of the original, a good mid-winter meal, when quality seasonal vegetables are in short supply (or when you're a little tired of all your quality seasonal vegetables being root vegetables and winter squash...)

1. Make your garlic oil — put several tablespoons (or what Jamie Oliver would call "a couple of good glugs") of extra-virgin olive oil in the smallest saucepan you have, add 2-3 peeled cloves of garlic, and cook over the lowest possible heat for 8-10 minutes, until garlic is just slightly golden on the outside. Remove garlic and some of the oil to a mortar and pestle, smash well, and season with salt, pepper, and a few pinches of red pepper flakes.

2. Put a small handful of walnut pieces in a dry wok, and toast over medium-high heat until it smells of, well, toasted walnuts. Remove the walnuts and return wok to the heat.

3. Add 1/4 c. ground pork and stir-fry, breaking into small pieces, until completely browned (ground pork should have plenty of fat in it, so no need to add any oil first).

4. Push pork to the sides and add about 8 oz. of tofu, cut into largish (3/4" to 1") cubes. We're not trying to make the tofu brown and chewy here, so no need to press it beforehand. Add the walnuts and a small handful of kalamata olives, chopped. Toss all this together for 30-60 seconds, to heat through.

5. Remove wok from the heat, add the garlic-oil mixture and some or all of the garlic-flavored oil from the saucepan (leave it out if you're looking to be more low-fat, add it all if you're looking to be more luscious). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Local/not so local

My friend Dan, who grew up working-class in Burlington, used to catch smelts in Lake Champlain when he was a kid and sell them to Ray's Seafood to supplement the family income. I don't know whether the smelts that usually show up in the grocery stores in winter are locally ice-fished or not, but they are cheap ($4.29/lb yesterday) and tasty, especially when fried:

I don't cook them too much because H is not too keen on the small bones (which are totally edible, and good for you to boot) and the kids are squeamish about eating fish that, well, looks like a fish. To spruce up the rest of the meal, and try to pretend it isn't winter, I went in a tropical-fruit direction — serving the fish with a little leftover Cranberry-Mango Vinaigrette I had in the fridge:

... a brown rice salad with pomegranate seeds and pineapple:

... and the cabbage salad with golden raisins and almonds — dressed only with extra-virgin olive oil, salt & pepper (no vinegar) — which is the best nutrition-into-kids delivery mechanism in our house (here made with napa cabbage):

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Soup and salad

Beautiful, isn't it? An easy weeknight meal only because I had many of the ingredients prepared and sitting in the fridge (squash was roasted, pomegranate seeds prepared, etc.)

The soup is a butternut squash soup, not unlike this one, garnished with sliced onions fried until nicely browned in olive oil and generously salted, and a few drops of the artisanal balsamic vinegar H got me for xmas this year.

The salad is baby spinach, dressed with a wee amount of some no-fat raspberry dressing I found in the fridge left from a mother-in-law visit some time ago — augmented with a couple of good grinds of black pepper, then topped with smoked salmon and pomegranate seeds, and, to finish it off, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Broiled sichuan-pepper tofu with greens and lemon

Take two with the sichuan pepper, and this time much more successful.

1 TBSP kosher salt
1 tsp sichuan peppercorns
silken tofu, about 3 oz. per person (I used the Mori-Nu that comes in a box and keeps well in the pantry)
1-2 heads baby bok choy per person, or equivalent amount of other greens
1 TBSP fresh ginger per person
vegetable oil
lemon juice
cooked brown rice, for serving

1. Start your rice (if you're using white rice, you might want to make the pepper-salt first).

2. Make the Chinese pepper-salt: toast kosher salt and sichuan peppercorns together in a small, dry skillet until the kitchen is fully aromatic. Then grind together in a mortal and pestle. This will make more than you will likely need, unless you are making of lot of this.

3. Preheat the broiler. Brush the broiler pan, or a baking pan (lined with foil if you like) with a good amount of oil. Slice the tofu into thick slices, place on pan, and sprinkle each slice with a goodly amount of the pepper-salt. Put the pan under the broiler. I used my toaster-oven:

4. Bring a pot full of well-salted water to the boil. Wash the greens well. If you're using greens that have thick stems (bok choy, chard), separate them so you can blanch the stems for a bit longer. When water comes to the boil, add stems (if necessary) to cook for a minute or two, then leaves for 15-20 seconds. Remove to a cutting board with tongs and cut into manageable pieces. Drain.

5. Heat a little oil over medium-high heat in a wok. Add ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds or so; then add greens and stir-fry until they start to develop brown spots. Meanwhile, the tofu should be getting slightly golden on top and well heated through. Remove from broiler after about 10 minutes.

6. Plate up with a generous portion of rice, topped with the greens, topped with a couple of tofu slices. Squeeze a little lemon juice over all.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

My new favorite band

I was going to blog about either a) the incredibly depressing thoughts I had during another attack of insomnia last night, or b) how much (and why) I hate Borders, but I'll spare the internet my angst and spite for today and instead give props to my new favorite band, Firewater (whose latest CD I purchased at the aforementioned corporate media chain today):

(I was originally entranced by them when stumbling upon a couple of videos of them playing live at KEXP in Seattle, while browsing the "giveaways" section of the Bloodshot Records website)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Ice sculpture and anolini update

These of course melted last weekend (when it was in the 50s, for cryin' out loud! in Vermont!), but we were downloading the Christmas photos off the camera and thought we'd share these with the internet. Made from the 30-50 pound blocks of ice that slide off our roof and our neighbors' roof on occasion:

The butternut squash anolini that I made yesterday with the kids (see previous post) were quite delicious, mostly because, hey, anytime you make something out of your own homemade pasta it's probably going to be delicious. Yeah, it might have been a little better if I'd made a fancy filling like this one, but I just mixed together some cooked butternut squash, some leftover canned pumpkin that was needing a home with some softened butter, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a couple of pinches of nutmeg. The pastas were very good, topped with some brown butter with dried rubbed sage. However, I learned two things, more by error than by trial:

1. If you're going to mash up softened butter with something straight out of the fridge, let the something come to warm temperature first, or microwave a bit to warm it up — otherwise, it will re-harden the butter into chunks as you try to mush it all together. In fact, if you keep your house at 62 in the winter like we do, it's not a bad idea to microwave it to a bit over "room temperature," since butter isn't as softened at 62 as it is at the temperature of warmer rooms.

2. My various cookbooks were a little vague on how to store filled pastas for a couple of hours between when you make them and when you cook them. So I, um, guessed, and kept them on plates on the counter, covered by saran wrap. This was fine for the anolini that the kids made for themselves, filled with small chunks of pepperoni and mozzarella, but the moister squash filling made my pasta all soggy. They tasted fine once cooked, but getting them off the plate and into the water was a bit of a challenge — I ended up having to kind of scrunch them off with a spatula, which made them all crinkly and brain-looking. Next time, we'll try drying them on a rack or something.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Starting to get the hang of this pasta making thing

I made fresh pasta and homemade ravioli on Christmas eve, and ever since S has been begging to make them again. This afternoon, we did. He helped not only with rolling out the dough and assembling the ravioli this time, but also helped make the dough (the big where you stir up the eggs in the well of flour with a fork, slowly incorporating the flour into the eggs — he wasn't quite up for the kneading bit).

Anyway, rather than irregular and large rectangles, we actually used a biscuit cutter. If these were smaller, I think they'd be anolini ("small coins") instead of ravioli. I don't know what they are if they're 2 1/2 inches across uncooked, maybe anoloni? (since "tortelloni" are bigger than "tortellini"?)

Haven't eaten them yet; I'll post a recipe for the filling if it's good.

One of the by-products of cutting rounds of pasta out of the big sheets was some pretty funky-looking farfalle, with crinkly edges and most of them wider on the top:

This one was my favorite:

I have some nice shots of the kids helping (E actually did most of the squash-stuffed ones for the adults); maybe we'll post them on H's facebook page (for folks who know us) later today.