Aside from the general feeling of warmth and thanks, I think we can all agree that the holidays are really all about the pies. Isn’t that why even at the end of an enormous turkey dinner, when we’re stuffed to the gills and already thinking of our New Years resolutions to become great Adonis-like athletes and buy new running shoes, we still manage to find ourselves accepting at least three pieces of pie? And it’s always the harvest trilogy: apple, pecan and pumpkin. Why people used canned pumpkin for pumpkin pie is beyond me. We are celebrating a harvest. Don’t open a dusty can.
Harvest season makes me happy. Each year I’m so thrilled to see the bounty of everyone’s hard farming work, I’m like a really boring kid in candy store filled with vegetables. A few Sundays ago, what started out as a typical local veggie stock up turned into a massive squash spree. We picked up a few squash and other fantastically fresh veggies (Brussels sprouts, onions, leeks, garlic) at the Newburyport Farmers’ Market and then stopped in to Tendercrop Farm for some of their lovely grassfed beef and delicata squash.
Caramel apples are one of those glorious treats that come just once a year. There are loads of caramel apple recipes out there that simply call for melting caramel candies. It’s a fine option, but what do you do when you’re not the type of person who can melt caramels and call it a day? I’ve never been one for shortcuts. Also, I wanted to figure out how to give caramel a rich maple flavor. The following is a story of heartbreak and triumph in my three-week quest to create the perfect Maple Caramel Apples.
I’ve always liked lumps in my oatmeal. They’re indicative of a respectable level of imperfection. Things don’t always have to be in perfect order. Minor imperfections lend character. So why does Caprese salad always have to be a perfect fan or stack of alternating mozzarella and tomato? It doesn’t. Trust me on this. I have a BFA. Aesthetically, objects arranged at random can be very pleasant and far more interesting than perfect order. This is how I like Caprese Salad. Pleasantly disarranged.
What’s nice about this creamed soup is that, despite its super rich and creamy texture, there is no cream. In fact, the only fat in the soup comes from the two teensy little tablespoons of butter used to saute the onion, garlic and zucchini. Zucchini is such a flavor pushover, somehow just two tablespoons of butter is enough to give the whole pot its lovely, rich fragrance.
Kale is one of those foods that is so ridiculously nutritious, it’s like nature’s multivitamin. Sadly though, people tend to demure from its bold, bitter toughness, which is too bad. You’d think people would adore it, but no. I suspect there are plenty of folks out there who would prefer to nosh on a big bowl of salty, crispy potato chips, while bunches of kale whither away, forlorn in the produce department. The sad irony is that kale can be just as salty and crisp as the next vegetable.
One of my favorite things to do, apart from cooking, is to visit good local food shops and farmers’ markets to find inspiration from what I see. This Sunday, I went to my favorite farmers’ market – the Newburyport Farmers’ Market – to shop for fresh produce for the week. My first stop was Middle Earth Farm, where I found teeny green peppers called Padrone. I asked what they were and whether they were mild or hot. Turns out, Padrone can be both - these puppies get hotter as they grow.
I will admit, being from New England, I did not grow up on ribs. Until my mid-twenties, the closest we got to barbecued ribs were the hot pink, Ah-So sauce drenched spare ribs of the suburban Chinese restaurants in our area. Eventually, I grew up, moved to the big city and tried all kinds of new things, good barbecue being one of them. Not to get all highfalutin and pompous here, but I’ve traveled around a bit and there’s nothing quite like sweet, American-style slow-smoked barbecued meats.
I grew up spending summers in a New England beach town, which meant a constant rotation of sandy beach towels drying on the porch railing, endless collections of periwinkle shells and deceased starfish, and of course, lots and lots of Fried Clams.
We stopped into Willow Rest in Gloucester today for some local veggies and whatever else might catch our fancy, since I’m often inspired by the fanciness we find there. Fanciness caught. We found buffalo butter! Not from Buffalo, New York, but from an Italian buffalo. Or Bufalo. I found it quite bufal, myself, in fact. Spying some of Willow’s fantastic ribeyes, it occurred to me that the buffalo butter was begging, to be turned into a compound butter and melted over a steak. Positively begging.
Pan con Tomate is a traditional Catalonian dish that’s essentially just mashed or grated tomatoes on toast. It’s like bruschetta, except less 1997 and without as many variations. What makes it special is that in parts of Spain it’s served for breakfast, which is brilliant. I’ve never been one for a sugar spike first thing in the morning, so jam on toast has never appealed to me. Tomatoes, garlic and olive oil on the other hand? Oh, that’s hearties. Especially if it’s made with luscious, freshly picked tomatoes.
For years I wasn’t a fan of watermelon. Not sure why, but I’d see watermelon and think, “Meh”. This summer, for some reason, the watermelon called to me. How sad that for years I’d been missing out on its sweet, refreshing and rehydrating, drink-like qualities. Now I can’t get enough. A bowl of watermelon cubes for breakfast on a hot summer morning? Divine. Slices of watermelon for a beach snack? Cooling and lovely. Watermelon with feta cheese in this salad? Refreshing and hearty at the same time. See where I was going with that?
The first batch I made of this expanded in the ice cream maker to the point where it began to overflow. Faced with a slow-moving flood of frozen something-or-other, my husband and I had no choice but to pause operations, bust out the safety spoons and commence a preventative rescue effort. How is it that we found ourselves in this most precarious of ice cream making predicaments?
Borage is a fuzzy plant with small purple flowers. It’s grown as a companion plant in gardens to attract pollinating insects, and to ward off some of the pests that bug plants like pumpkin and tomato. We’ve planted some in our garden this year and whether it works remains to be seen. Either way, our little borage plant is quite the prolific producer of purple flowers, which are edible. In fact, the whole plant is edible – its prickly greens can be used in stews.
There is a problem lurking at the end of every good charcoal barbecue. A dilemma involving dwindling embers and rapidly escaping heat. It’s a shameful waste that is the scourge of any good-natured charcoal briquette or fragment of hardwood lump charcoal. What is this demon and how can it be stopped? It’s the hell-fire that still rages on – or quietly sputters on it’s last leg – after the final burger and sausage have come off the grill. The solution is to harness that fire’s energy and not let it go to waste, by roasting something that’s not too finicky about times and temperatures. Something that doesn’t mind a low heat for a while. I give you the eggplant.
We’d been experimenting with whole grains over the past few months. Then, after reading Mark Bittman’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times on Cara Ebbeling, PhD and David Ludwig, MD’s study comparing low-glycemic, low-fat and low-carb diets, published in June in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we decided to keep up the good work in the whole grain department.
Back in the day, my husband and I used to go to a vintage burger joint near our old apartment for the most ridiculously juicy burgers. Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Harvard Square has been around since 1960. I grew up going there in high school and decided early on that their burgers would be the benchmark to which I would hold all other burgers. I recall going there with friends on my 17th birthday. Oh what a fine time we had.
I found something beautiful when we traveled to Spain in March. Aside from Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and the marketplace in Tarragona. What we found – or rather, tasted – that really stood out was the Sangria. It was made without apples. No apples. No peaches. No grapefruit. No weird imposters. No goji berries. Just elegant slices of citrus, casually hanging out with the ice cubes.
I’m Italian. Not really, but my grandparents and great grandparents moved here from Italy. While I have traveled to Italy, I can’t really say I’m from Italy. I did, however, absorb bit of the language from five years of studying Italian in school. Does this qualify me as an expert on Italian cooking? Absolutely not, but Italian Rum Cake is really more of an Italian-American thing than an Italian thing anyway. Not surprising when you think of it. How many rum producers originate from Italy? Mmmnot that many.
Like any gal raised in New England, I’ve had my fair share of trips to Florida. The temptation for a snowbound New Englander to hop on a convenient three-hour flight to a lush, green and sparkling land called the Sunshine State is next to unbearable during our seemingly relentless winter months. And with each trip, along with a good dose of sun and coconut scented sunscreen, there has to be a slice or two of Key Lime Pie thrown into the mix.
Rice, tomatoes, saffron, spicy sausage heartiness = yummy comfort food. I’m calling this one Non-Paella because I don’t want to insult the real thing. Either way, meat and seafood combined is what I think most people outside of Spain think of when they think of paella. This one turned out to be fantastically satisfying and reminiscent of our trip to Spain.
This is another post inspired by the bounty of our winter farm share, which consists of root veggies from the farm’s root cellar and lots of fresh greens and herbs from the farm’s little greenhouse. Despite it being a mild winter, it is still a nice retreat this time of year to walk into a greenhouse where the air is thick with the scent of soil, the light is bright and even, and brown chickens wander in and out.
Winter farm share = turnips, turnips, celeriac and turnips. I’d never put much thought into turnips until we joined this winter share. I’d mostly seen them in the supermarket in their huge, gray, unappetizing form. Now we get them from our farmer’s root cellar, which sounded soooo romantic on that balmy day back in December when we signed up. Isn’t that how the Puritans survived rugged winters in 17th century New England?
As you are well aware, lasagna has a few components. It’s a very complicated dish, dear reader. A lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous. A lot of strands to keep in one’s head. Not really. It’s just a lot of layers. Pasta, tomato sauce, ricotta mixture, cheese and whatever other fillings – in this case it’s reconstituted dried mushrooms and steamed, chopped spinach.
What do you get with you put together quite a bit of leftover holiday ham, quite a bit of leftover holiday eggnog, and quite a bit of holiday vacation time? A Ham and Eggnog Quiche experiment that could turn out to be either brilliant or vile. Fortunately this turned out on the brilliant side of things.
We recently joined a terrific farm share and it is so fun. Each week we go on a little road trip to the farm a few towns away where we get to pick our own vegetables. The variety is actually really great, despite it being December. So far there have been plenty of leeks, cabbage, greens, some fantastic Brussels sprouts, squash, turnips and radishes, as well as apples and pears that have been growing on the farm since the 17th century. The vegetables just seem so happy. There’s something rejuvenating about going to a place with beautiful soil, sunlight and adorable animals, as opposed to a fluorescent-lit, linoleum-tiled supermarket.
We are former city-folk and this was the first blessed summer that I’ve had the opportunity to grow a vegetable garden since growing up in the ‘burbs (I don’t count the tomato plants I had on my fire escape in college). I was so eager to get started that I planted the seeds in little peat pots in early April and coddled them along on our porch.
When we first moved into our new place a few months ago, the garden was looking pretty dead. A closer inspection found dirt and little brown, dead-looking shoots sticking out of the ground everywhere. The following two months were a whirlwind of final papers, commencement activities, and art shows (M.Ed., thanks for wondering) and before we knew it, the garden was filled with fresh, fragrant mint. Those little brown shoots were mint, which I quickly learned is an extremely invasive weed. When it came time to plant other things, I had no choice but to thin the mint, and one wheelbarrow full of fresh mint and plenty of minty-muddled glasses of water later and I had the idea for this recipe.
So, I know I’m like two years late on the whole ramps trend, but I’ve never been one for following the herd (though I do love imagining the sound a tiny herd of ramps would make… shuffle shuffle shuffle). Ramps are known as one of the very first vegetables to come out of the ground in Spring. They are just as much a harbinger of the bounteous warmer months as a clam shack reopening on a 45 degree April afternoon.
As you may have noticed, YC’s been on hiatus for a bit here. Winters are rough, I’m finishing up graduate school, working and living my life. I don’t want to be one of those cliche bloggers who says, “Oh dear me. I’ve totally neglected my blog,” but here you have it. Whatever. Blogs are cliche anyway, so no harm done.