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.