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Archive for the ‘Fruits&Veggies’ Category

Well, it’s official. I am close enough to the end of our remodeling to start thinking like a rational human again. Or at least thinking about my future rational thinking.

I am, however, a long way from cooking. Our three month project turned into the inevitable 4+ month project due to the realities of construction.

In the course of that time, I discovered I really ought not live amidst construction and hold concurrent expectations. I didn’t write well. And I certainly didn’t cook much surrounded by the dusty, crowded counters.

I managed to get a kid to school and back each day without completely losing my mind. Full stop.

But tonight, I see hope.

I see a patio door installed. The culprit of the several week back up, it is now in place and the remaining details can finally move forward.

And, I see a radish.

Yeah, that’s right, a gorgeous radish.

I love radishes. When attempting to cut back on calories, my husband and I find them a very satisfying salt conveyance. The Child, however, merely tolerates radishes. She endures them sliced sparingly in a pasta salad, and moderately condones them chopped and drenched in balsamic vinegar. But she has never had that “Oooo! More!” reaction.

Until now.

My friend, Stephany, posted the following in her Facebook status yesterday, “Let’s see how many raw radishes with salt and farm-made butter I can eat for dinner outside in this stupid beautiful weather…” I remembered seeing Jacques Pépin do a Fast Food My Way segment on raw radishes and butter. And I had just picked some up at the store.

The Child and I just had our first warm evening on the porch, with radishes stuffed with butter for dinner. She preferred hers with salted butter but no additional salt. I am a big fan of the extra salt dip. Maybe it’s not a complete dinner, but it is close enough to justify moving directly to dessert.

And why not? I have a radish-loving kid and a new patio door. Cheers!

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Nearly two weeks after Thanksgiving, and we are still eating leftovers.  Turkey sandwiches and quesadillas, french onion soup, breakfast fried mashed potatoes, stuffing frittatas, lasagna, and even a pan of turkey enchiladas.  When it comes to repurposing leftovers, we rule!  Our fridge is finally emptying out and very little has been wasted.

I splurged on a 20-quart stockpot for Thanksgiving this year.  It was a big purchase…  it’s only a cheap-o Target pot, but with cabinet space at a premium, I am still not sure where to store this monster.  No regrets, however, as a 20-quart pot meant nearly as much post-holiday turkey stock.  The old laying hen we brought home from our farm day joined it’s compatriot’s carcass, and I have enough stock to last a very long while.  It is well worth the small up front effort to have homemade stock on hand.

And where there is stock, there is soup.

Leftover Squash Soup

This technique works for any amount or type of leftover mashed veg (root vegetables or squashes in particular) and is merely an exercise in heating things up.  But there are a few basic things to consider for those new to cooking.

Put the squash in a saucepan, breaking it up with a spatula so it is not just a big Tupperware shaped lump.  Liberally season with your choice of spices.  For this go round, I used the Barbecue of the Americas spice blend from Penzeys.  It was a free sample and is a blend of salt, paprika, allspice, nutmeg, cayenne, pepper, cinnamon, thyme and ginger.  The nutmeg and allspice complement squash particularly well, it adds a rich color and a bit of heat, as well as just enough ginger for flavor without pushing it into curry territory.  *sigh* I heart Penzeys and am powerless against the crack like pleasure of Penzeys free samples.

Add enough stock to nearly cover the squash and start reheating, stirring occasionally to incorporate the liquid and keep the bottom from scorching.  A quality silicon spatula works very well for this.  Zyliss makes one which works really well.  The silicon stretches up much of the handle, which is great when you accidentally leave the spatula sitting in the pot between stirs.  (Not that I ever do that…  no…  not me…)

I sliced and toasted some garlic bread from the Gracie Baking Co.  I found a ramekin of goat cheese remnants at the back of the fridge.  Some stray baby spinach was located as well.  Sides were officially done.

Turning attention back to the soup, it had bubbled away during homework negotiations and was now more like babyfood than soup.  No problem, just add more stock until it is just shy of the preferred consistency.

Then turn off the burner before adding the dairy.  In this case I used Straus Whole Milk Plain Yogurt, but cream, half and half, or sour cream would work well too.  Fresh dairy can take a little heat and vigorous stirring, but fermented dairy products can curdle quickly if they are left to boil at this point.  Their proteins have already started to coagulate from the fermentation process and are simply more delicate.  So I just play it safe and turn off the burner before stirring in the yogurt at the end.  Another option is adding the dollop of yogurt or sour cream individually and letting The Child stir it in herself.

Notice there isn’t a measurement of any ingredient through any of this.  This is leftover squash soup.  You start with what’s leftover, you add liquid until it looks right, and then you serve it.  We polished off the squash, the last of the yogurt, some goat cheese, and spinach before any of it went bad.  I love that feeling of rescuing food just before it’s about to go south.  Plus, the entire loaf of bread is now sliced and in the fridge, making garlic toast with eggs much easier next morning before school.

The Child turned her goat-cheesed garlic toast and salad into a spinach sandwich and proceeded to dunk it into her mug (punning about squashing it into the little cup of squash soup).  Then she asked for seconds on everything, even the spinach, and double-checked I didn’t skimp on refilling the soup.

I love it when a meal comes together.

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Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year for our little family.  The Spouse and I each have a long history of preparing feasts open to any and all friends in need of a cozy place to go.  Long before we dated, we were friends on opposite ends of the state consulting each other on menus, recipes, and cooking methods.  Once engaged, and finally in the same city, Vagabond Turkey Day was born.  For ten years, it has been about opening our home to an array of interesting people and watching them all connect.  Nothing fussy or fancy, just old friends and new sharing food, drink, games, and conversation well into the evening and often through the next day as well.

Day Two has, in fact, become an event unto itself.  Traditionally, the stock simmers all night while stragglers stay playing games through the wee hours of the morning.  As guests raid the fridge, bones are added to the bubbling cauldron on the stove.  Then on Friday, we make Jacques Pépin’s recipe for French Onion Soup (from his book The Apprentice).  Typically a few folks crash for the night, and a few decide to return the next day.

We added experimental doughnuts to the mix this year.  It was quite a draw.  Throughout Friday we had a constant full house.  French Onion Soup quickly became a ‘deconstructed’ stockpot of stock and onions while getting a few friends to pot luck lasagna and salad.  We were low on savory items, but were overrun with desserts.  The onslaught of sweetness muscled in on counter space – squeezing out most of the traditional game play.  But we will have to rejigger and perfect our strategy in years to come because the doughnuts were an unmitigated success.

There will be doughnuts again.

Oh yes, there will be doughnuts again.

The Spouse attempted these once before, after watching Chris Cosentino recommend Dynamo Donuts on an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  The Second Try was better still, and The Spouse has already posted the recipe.  But they were so good they merit repeating here.

The Child punted on helping out this time.  There were friends over with bikes and games outside.  So her dad brought out a fresh plate of warm doughnuts for all the kids.

Best.  Dad.  Evar.

Maple-Glazed, Apple Bacon Doughnuts – The Second Try

(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Yeast Doughnuts)

For the doughnuts
•    1 1/4 cup milk
•    2 tablespoons apple juice
•    2.5 oz shortening
•    2 packages instant yeast
•    1/3 cup warm water
•    2 eggs
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
•    1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
•    23 oz all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
•    2 medium apples (gala or fuji)
•    1 lb bacon
•    1/2 – 1 gallons peanut oil

For the glaze
•    3 cups powdered sugar
•    4 tablespoons of maple syrup
•    2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

(Will make approximately 50 doughnuts)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bacon a rack inside a foil-lined half sheet pan. Cook bacon for 15-20 minutes, until crisp. Reserve rendered bacon fat. When bacon has cooled a bit, dice bacon and split in half.
Warm milk in sauce pan until hot enough to melt shortening. Pour milk over shortening and stir until combined.
Place yeast in warm water for 5 minutes.

Peel and finely dice apples. Place 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat into a frying pan and saute apples over medium heat. Keep diced apples moving constantly until they give up some liquid and pick up a hint of color, about 5 minutes. Remove apples and any remaining bacon fat from pan and add to milk/shortening mixture along with 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat.

Lightly beat eggs.

Combine water/yeast, apple juice, eggs, nutmeg, milk/shortening/apple mixture, nutmeg, sugar, salt, half the bacon, and half the flower in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Mix on slow speed until flour is incorporated, then increase speed to medium. When well mixed, stop mixer and add remaining flour. Again, slowly increase speed until well mixed. It will be very sticky.

Switch to dough hook and mix on medium until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a shiny ball.

Move the sticky, elastic dough to a bowl and allow it to rise for one hour, until it has doubled in size.

Dump dough out onto well floured surface. Flour your hand and gently flatten dough until 3/4″ thick. Flour a 2″ and 1″ biscuit cutter. Carefully cut out 2″ disks and move to wax paper, the use the smaller cutter to cut out the holes. When done, cover with more wax paper and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.

In a heavy stock pot, add enough peanut oil to fill to 2-3″ deep and heat to 365 degrees.

Prepare the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and 6 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat.

Working in batches of 4-6 doughnuts, fry doughnuts until golden brown and delicious on both sides, about 1 minute per side, using chop sticks to gently flip the doughnuts. When done, transfer to cooling rack and let cool for about a minute before dipping in glaze. Return to cooling rack and sprinkle with bacon from the other half you reserved.

(This works best with two people, one frying, one glazing.)

The most difficult bit will be giving the glaze about 5 minutes to set up. Doughnuts will still be warm and delicious!

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Apparently my plan to get through a week without The Spouse is to compensate via over-scheduling.  I have not stopped zipping from one thing to the next since he left.  Volunteering at the kid’s school, errands, and keeping ‘just behind enough’ on the housekeeping so as not be on a disturbing reality show.  Just barely.

I can’t complain.  It is all fun stuff this week.  Today The Child had a half day of school, so we went to the park with friends all afternoon.  The weather was glorious!  The reality of to-do lists could wait another day while we took in some well enjoyed park time.

The day does go a bit smoother when I have thought of “what’s for dinner” in advance of actual dinner time.  Lucky for me, today I had the plastic tub-o-leftovers.  It had been waiting for the fetching of appropriate condiments for optimum enjoyment.

Borscht is good.  But borscht with a dollop of sour cream is awesome.  And The Spouse’s freestyle Goat Borscht with Radish Greens is an out-of-this-world bowlful of pink win!

So there was no cooking this evening.  There was merely zapping in the microwave.  And there was standing in front of the machine quoting Homer Simpson, “D’oh! Isn’t there anything faster than a microwave?”  A few slices of garlic bread and two glasses of milk later, and we were done.

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Knowing in the back of my mind that there would be a Day 2 to follow Day 1, you’d think I would have put more advance planning into our meals today.  But it was another whirlwind day.  No tears over homework, fewer scrapes, and I even remember all the productive things I did today.  Today was a definite win over yesterday.  The house still looks like a tip, but no worries, it will have to be dealt with soon.  I have taken surefire measures to ensure it is tidied, inviting a pack of friends over Friday night.

Plus, I wasn’t as concerned about dinner tonight.  I had a rough plan in mind this time.  The Child was looking forward to polenta leftovers from the weekend, we had two leftover bockwurst, and I just needed to pull together a vegetable.  The weekly delivery from spud! came  this afternoon so there must be some fresh veg in there to whip up.  I wasn’t quite sure what was coming as I had spazzed customizing my order before the deadline.

I cracked open the Rubbermaid tub of veg from spud!

Oooooo-kay.  That’s a whole lot of lettuce. We’re looking for comfort food here.  Salad seemed like work.  It all looked good but I came away with “blah” for ideas.

Spying the lowly zucchinis I decided to roast them with some onion to top the polenta.  Totally last minute.  Complete freestyle.  Stabbing the pre-cooked sausages with a fork, they took a minute zapped on high in the microwave.  The polenta followed suit.  Scooping the roasted zucchini, onions, and paprika’s olive oil from the pan gave the other bland components of the plate some color and flavor.

Roasted Zucchini & Onions

2 small zucchinis, sliced into thick rounds
1 medium onion, roughly frenched
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, and paprika

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Chop veggies.  Toss with olive oil, and spread out on Silpat lined half-sheet pan.
Season liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika
Roast for ~20 minutes

Rejected…  Sorta.

The Child made clear that the zucchini was not her favorite, and that frankly zucchini is never her favorite.  She was quite adamant about it.  But she ate it all.  She was hungry.  Had I not cooked it gorgeously I would have let her get away with leaving it, but this was really good.  Besides, the polenta, onions, and bockwurst were excellent pairings.  Sometimes it’s a spoonful of polenta that makes the zucchini go down!  She tried every combination of bites on the plate.  In the end she was making jokes about how pairing zucchini with another zucchini was her favorite while cramming two giant rounds in her mouth at one time.  She ate it all and asked for seconds on the onions.

Life is good, and Day 2 of fending for ourselves while Daddy travels was not a disaster.  So…  tired…  Zzzz…

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It was unbelievably hot this week.

The Child and I were flying solo on dinner and I did not have it in me to cook.  Having been home less than a week, the cupboard was still really bare.  Unless somehow I was going to work magic with evaporated milk, a can of crushed pineapple, and a little lonely leftover baked chicken thigh from the night before… we were out of dinner options.

But our produce delivery from spud! had arrived the day before.  I had one nectarine which seemed ripe enough to eat, one heirloom tomato left, and a single scallion.  Found some flour tortillas and some lettuce in the fridge, and I set to work chopping, muttering lines from The Princess Bride, “Why didn’t you list those among our assets in the first place??”

A quick salad was born of nectarine, tomato, scallion, and a minuscule amount of leftover chicken. It was lovely.

Nectarines and tomatoes are prolific at farmers markets this time of year, and I highly recommend giving this combo a try.  Child loved it, and she beat me to the single second helping.

Nectarine, Tomato & Scallion Salad

1 Nectarine, chopped
1 Medium to Large Heirloom Tomato, chopped
1 Scallion, chopped
1 Cold Chicken Thigh, chopped (any small amount of leftover protein will do – pork chop, steak, crumbled bacon, etc. – even canned black beans – or leave the protein out altogether)

Chop.  Salt.  Mix.

Serve as is, or wrapped in warmed, buttered tortillas with some chopped romaine hearts.

Makes about 3 wraps.  Feeds one mom and one ravenous kid.

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Shopping at the local Northwoods grocery store is a bit challenging.  We get local items when we can, but when it comes to most things that is not an option.  Our area is historically trapping, logging, and mining country, not farming country.  The growing season is too short, and the soil quality is poor.  Most quality-raised food has to travel much farther than we are used to in California.  Sometimes shopping here is about choosing the least of several processed evils.  This is after all, a part of the world where it is socially acceptable to buy and serve Velveeta.

For the summer we cook like we’re camping.  We try to make careful choices while remembering that, sometimes, food is just fuel.  And without a dishwasher, one-pot meals with off the shelf ingredients have distinct advantages.
Since this cabin is typically occupied by someone in the family throughout the year, the cupboard and freezer are often filled with groceries other people have purchased.  The kind of food men buy on a fishing trip.

But no amount of Michael Pollan-esque food guilt can allow me to waste food.  I may not make the same purchasing decisions, but when the might-as-well-be-generic brand of canned peas (yes, canned peas…  shudder) are taking up space in the pantry, they ought really be eaten up.

The nice thing was that I had both bacon and a ham steak from the meat purveyor at the local farmer’s market.  I had bought a chicken from him as well and roasted it earlier in the week, so I had homemade chicken stock in my arsenal too.

Futility Farms sends a nice guy with a truck full of freezers each Thursday to sell their grass-fed beef.  Thanks to their neighbors raising animals with similar philosophical bent, there are also conscientiously-raised chicken, pork, and lamb.  The meat comes all the way from Gilman, Wisconsin.

I remembered my father mentioning my grandmother’s recipe for my favorite pea soup is made with canned peas.  And although that soup is beef based with drop dumplings, I decided to freestyle with some pork products, chicken stock, and my forsaken canned peas.

Finished in less than 30 minutes, it was fabulously cozy on a stormy, grey evening.  The Child had seconds, and requested leftovers the next day.  Like all pea soups, this one gets better each day in the fridge.

She wondered why we’d never made this before.  Good question, honey.  Turns out we will be putting canned peas on our pantry staples shopping list from now on.  Cheers to not wasting food and taking a chance.

Canned Pea Soup

1 ham steak, diced
1-2 rashers bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cans, canned peas, drained and rinsed
Homemade chicken stock
Pepper to taste

Saute the onion, bacon, and ham.  No extra oil or salt is necessary to saute as the pork bits provide sufficient fat and flavor.  When the onions are cooked through and beginning to brown on the bottom of the sauce pan, add the drained and rinsed peas.  Stir to combine and add chicken stock to cover.


Stir occasionally while the soup heats through. Some of the peas will break up on their own, and I suppose some folks might like to take a potato masher to it at this point, but we liked leaving our peas intact.

Served dinner for two, leftovers for a day or two, plus half the batch in the freezer for a rainy day.

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