Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chewing in Charleston

We’ve been on vacation in Charleston, South Carolina since Tuesday, so I’ve been neglecting my blog, not because I haven’t eaten all kinds of wonderful food, but because my hotel room doesn’t have wireless access. That means I have to sneak down to the lobby to use my laptop and my pesky family wants to do FUN things on vacation, not sit around the hotel waiting while I write. So sorry I've been negligent about posting, but I promise I have all kinds of really wonderful recipes to share with you in upcoming entries.

The reason we chose Charleston for our vacation is our daughter Melissa and her fiancé Doug live here. Melissa works at Homewood Suites by Hilton in Mount Pleasant, so she got us a nifty suite that even has a primitive kitchen, where we’ll be cooking tonight. There are grills in the courtyard so we’ll be making grilled chicken, pasta salad and tossed salad.

Charleston is a fantastic city for foodies, and we’ve eaten out at some great places downtown like FIG Restaurant where the focus is on local in season ingredients and Hank's Seafood Restaurant where they serve really fresh seafood. I took a lot of notes and plan on trying some of the dishes at home when I have a real kitchen. Yesterday we went to the totally awesome farmers market in downtown Charleston and I FILLED the earth friendly bag I bought at Whole Foods Market with all kinds of wonderful things.

Despite all the fun restaurants, I’ve really been missing cooking, so pretty much the focus of the whole day yesterday was about gathering fun ingredients for a tasty meal. I let the offerings at the farmer’s market plan my menu. There were some gorgeous oyster and shitake mushrooms from Owl’s Nest Plantation. We’ve eaten seafood every day since we arrived, so a big juicy steak smothered in mushrooms and onions sounded good to everyone. From the same farm I bought tomatoes, and baby red bliss and fingerling potatoes.

At the Rita’s Roots at Ambrose Farms booth, I bought strawberries, fresh grown white onions with long green stems, a head of lacy red lettuce, a bag of arugula and yellow beets – my favorite!

On the way home we found a nifty butcher shop called New York Butcher Shoppe and got some giant porterhouse steaks that the butcher seasoned for us. We also stopped at the Mount Pleasant Seafood Company at Shem Creek and got a pound of jumbo shrimp for our daughters who don’t eat red meat. Steve’s craving for oysters (three days running) still hadn’t abated, so he bought a dozen oysters. And just for fun and because they are in season, we got a couple of soft shell crabs.

The very friendly fishmonger lifted up the live crabs for our inspection and we chose two. Then he took them out back to prepare them. This apparently consisted of cutting off the face, pulling off the bottom flap and removing the lungs (which he said would KILL us if we ate them – or at least make us very sick.) That gave me pause, but when in Charleston…

Dinner was wonderful! We started with the oysters and some brie and rosemary sour dough bread. Then Steve sautéed the soft shell crabs, which were quite tasty, if a little odd. I roasted the fingerling potatoes and the beets in the oven with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I sautéed the beet greens and nestled the roasted beets in the greens. The steaks were juicy and tender enough to cut with a butter knife (which was a good thing because that's all Melissa had!) Add a salad with fresh greens, strawberries, toasted pecans and goat cheese. Simply sublime!

The Recipe:

Sautéed Soft Shell Crabs

2 soft shelled crabs, prepared by the fishmonger
1 lemon
1 tablespoon capers

Melt butter in a large frying pan with metal handle that can be placed in oven. Sprinkle flour on a plate and add some salt and pepper. Dredge the crabs in the flour and place crabs in frying pan top side down. Fry for about three minutes each side until golden brown. Ream the juice from the lemon into the pan and add the capers. Place pan in oven for five more minutes.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cooking Potato Salad as the Hubby Plays with Fire

My favorite summer food is potato salad and even though I have several recipes, more often than not I find myself craving my original recipe for the old fashioned potato salad of my youth. I’ve tweaked it to my own tastes, but the basics are still the same – potatoes, hard boiled eggs, mayo and mustard.

The first time I made potato salad was at my Grandma Palmer’s house, so it was under her tutelage that I learned the family recipe. Ever indulgent, she let me play with the recipe and add cucumbers from my grandfather’s garden and green olives because I love them. I’ve been adding them ever since. The saltiness of the olives goes great with the bland potatoes. I love a lot of crunchy things in my potato salad so I also add a colorful pepper (yellow or orange) or sliced radishes.

I’ve never been organized enough to make potato salad early in the day so it can chill before serving, but my kitchen wizard hubby suggested a quick and easy way to perfectly chill the potatoes. I cut up the potatoes before cooking them, and when they are tender I drain them and gently pour them on a cookie sheet and give it a few shakes until they are a single layer. Then I put them in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes and voila, perfectly chilled potatoes. (Just don’t leave them in there too long – they freeze pretty quickly and potatoes get mealy when frozen).

It was just me and the boys for dinner tonight, so we just had hamburgers on the grill. The kitchen wizard decided he wanted a bacon burger but didn’t want to take the time to fry it in a pan. So the experiment of the week was, "Let's try to cook bacon on the grill." Don’t try this at home, folks!

It started off fine. He laid the slices across the grill and they cooked pretty darn fast. Once he flipped them the fat collected in pockets that then flared up in a dramatic fashion. It was a bacon flambé and the finished product was a little dark - as in black. Sometimes shortcuts when cooking work and sometimes they almost burn down your deck.

The recipe:

Old Fashioned Potato Salad

2 ½ - 3 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
4 large eggs
1/2 cup cucumber, peeled, quartered and sliced
1/2 cup yellow or orange pepper
1/2 cup green olives, cut in half
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoon country Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon milk
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Cracked black pepper to taste

Put potatoes and eggs in large pot, cover with water and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and turn down to medium high. After ten minutes take out the eggs and cool them in cold water. Potatoes should take about another five minutes. Drain potatoes and spread them single layer on a cookie sheet and put the sheet in freezer for 10 – 15 minutes to chill potatoes.

While potatoes are cooking chop the cucumber, pepper and onions and place in a bowl. Slice olives in half and add them. Peel and chop up the eggs and add them. When potatoes are cold, add them to the bowl.

In a separate bowl mix the mayonnaise, Dijon, milk, sugar, salt and pepper and whisk together. Add about half of the sauce to the potato mixture and very gently toss with a large spoon. Continue to add more sauce until it is the texture you want.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Savory Summer Salad

Even though I’ve been writing this blog for less than a week, my family is already sick of it. Tonight as my kids sat at the table waiting for dinner, I was in the kitchen carefully arranging a bowl of food so the best colors would show in the photograph.

“Are you going to take a picture of everything we eat?” my 15 year old daughter Julie asked.

“Only the good stuff,” I said as I propped up a snow pea and wiped the edge of the bowl.

“That’s so dumb. Besides, we’re hungry.”

When she put it that way, it did seem a little silly to be playing with food rather than feeding my family. So Julie is to blame for the careless arrangement of my veggies. Art takes time. But even though the photo isn’t great, the meal was.

I love to read cookbooks and recipes, but I don’t often use them. Instead I read them the same way I read novels; the ingredients become characters and I get a kick out of seeing the various combinations the author devises. But lately I’ve had spring fever and I’m bored with my winter repertoire.

When the merest hint of spring (and sunshine!) finally arrived on the Cape, I ditched the spaghetti and meatballs I planned to make and decided to cook burgers on the grill. I wanted a summer salad to go along with them and remembered an intriguing recipe from the April newsletter I get from one of my favorite grocers, Ring Brothers Marketplace in Dennis.

The recipe looked so good that I only tweaked it a little. I exchanged minced fresh ginger root for dried ginger because we love the bitey flavor and after tasting the salad we thought it needed some crunch so we added almond slivers.

Steve grilled some zucchini, summer squash, eggplant and onions and the perfect teaser of summer meal came together. Can’t wait for more!

The recipe:

Jasmine Salad
Serves 4

3 cups Jasmine Rice, cooked
1/2 cup Carrot, julienne sliced
1 rib Celery, small dice
3 Scallions, sliced
1 1/2 cups Napa Cabbage, thinly sliced with a knife and then cut in half again
1/2 cup Red Peppers, sliced thin
1/4 cup Snow-Peas, julienne sliced
Sesame Oil, as needed
2 Tbsp. fresh Parsley, chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, finely minced
2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
2 tsp. Orange Juice
1 Tbsp. Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp. Teriyaki Sauce
2 Tbsp. Hoisin Sauce
Black Pepper to taste

In a bowl mix together the ginger, juices, vinegar, soy, teriyaki and hoisin sauce.

Heat some oil in a sauté pan or wok. Add the carrots, celery, sno-peas and peppers and cook until softened. Add the cabbage and toss.

After the cabbage has wilted slightly add the rice and sauce mixture and stir well. Season with pepper, add the parsley and almonds and adjust seasonings.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

No More Crummy Bread

I’m quickly discovering that one of the funnest parts about having a blog is the comments from other people. In reference to an earlier entry about how complicated bread making can be, my friend Pauline Grocki sent me a recipe a friend gave her for a very easy bread.

Bread making is a skill I really want to master. First of all I love good bread more than most other foods. I’m pretty sure I could live on bread alone. Then there’s the meditative kneading and the smell of it as it bakes in the oven. All good things. But so often my bread doesn’t turn out quite like I want it to. Either it is the wrong shape (usually too flat) or the crust isn’t crisp enough. Since my husband loves bread too, in January he bought "The Bread Bible." The word “Bible” in the title led me to believe that there might be some sacred bread making secrets within those pages that would convert me into a bread goddess.

Uh, no. While there are plenty of great recipes in Beth Hensperger’s cookbook, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my biggest problem with bread making is that bread takes TIME – and planning ahead. At least once a week, I would sit down at about 3:00 in the afternoon and try to find a recipe that I could make for dinner that night. More often than not I wouldn’t have the necessary ingredients and after wasting a half an hour pouring through the book to find a recipe that I did have the ingredients for, I wouldn't have the time.

With only four ingredients, the recipe Pauline sent solves at least one of those dilemmas. I always have flour, salt, yeast and of course water. But this recipe does require 14 to 20 hours for the first rising and another two for the second rising. The recipe was quirky and I was intrigued enough to give it a try.

The dough took about 2 minutes to make, so I was off to a good start. I took Pauline's advice and added a little more salt, but the recipe only called for 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, which kind of worried me. Most bread recipes I’ve tried call for closer to 3 teaspoons. Since I'm convinced that even though cooking is an art, baking is more like science, I decided to stick to the recipe.

By the next afternoon, the dough had risen up to the top of my covered dish and looked light and bubbly. With very minimal handling and well floured hands, I scraped the dough out of the dish and onto a floured board where I shaped it into a loaf and wrapped like a Christmas present in a clean dishtowel liberally covered with first flour and then corn meal.

My first problem occurred when I tried to figure out what dish to bake it in. My only covered casserole dishes are Pyrex and at 450 degrees I worried they might shatter if I put them in the oven empty. I know from personal experience, there's nothing like a Pyrex bomb going off in your kitchen to ruin dinner. When I was first learning to cook, I had the same experience as this unfortunate couple:

To be safe, I settled on a regular metal loaf pan with an aluminum foil cover. The second problem was getting the towel off the bread and transferring it to the now hot pan. I could feel the very soft dough sagging in my hands as I peeled the towel off and when I plopped it into the pan, it was considerably deflated and had more wrinkles than a pug's brow.

To my surprise the high heat caused the bread to rise right up and the wrinkles became wonderful nooks in the crust. It looked like a bakery loaf of rustic bread.

Bread needs to be removed from the pan immediately or the steam from it will soften the crust. Even though the pan wasn’t greased, the loaf came out of the pan fairly easily after I ran a knife around the edges.

But best of all - it was delicious! The bread was delightfully chewy with plenty of nice sized air holes and the crust was crisp, just the way I like it. So thank you Pauline and thank you Carol Yindra for sharing your recipe with me!

Carol Yindra’s Simple Bread

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water

Mix together dry ingredients. Add water, mix, cover and let rise 14 – 20 hours.

Flour a board. Dough will be wet. Flour hands and fold dough into a bread shape. Put into a dish towel that’s covered in flour and then corn meal. Fold dough in the cloth and let rise for 2 hours.

Put cold casserole dish into cold oven and set temperature at 450. When hot, put dough in casserole, cover and bake for 3 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 20 to 30 minutes. draft 4:55:0

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Cast

The Kitchen Genius and Me

We live on Cape Cod and love everything about food and cooking. One of our favorite pastimes is meeting in the kitchen at dusk to talk about our separate days as we create a meal for our family together. I work as a freelance writer and mostly write about my two passions: food and books, as well as the Cape Cod art scene and anything else my editors desire. My husband, dubbed the Kitchen Genius because he hated it when I called him "the hubby" on this blog, is the executive chef at a local restaurant chain. So yes, he is actually pretty good in the kitchen.

Daughter Number 1 and Company

Our oldest daughter, her boyfriend, and our granddaughter, otherwise known as Jess, Scott and Skylar. They currently live on Cape Cod, but plan to move to Boston this summer to try life in the city while Jess works on her Master's Degree in Macro Social Work at Boston University and Scott pursues his dream of acting.

Daughter Number 2

Our Southern girl Melissa lives in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and is an Assistant Manager at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Hotel. Our most adventurous child, she is determined to make her own way in the warmer climate of sunny Charleston. Even though we miss her terribly, we're very proud of her.

Daughter Number 3

Our teenage daughter Julie is trying to decide between being a hairdresser or a dental hygenist (because those things have so much in common???) She spends all of her free time with her boyfriend Gary, who we now consider one of our kids because he eats dinner at our house every night and even does dishes. They are budding chefs themselves and love to bake together in the afternoons.

The Boy

Our son, Tommy, is 13 and the most laid back kid we have. I can never tell if this is a boy versus girl thing or just his personality. He is our pickiest eater, but now that he is growing inches daily he has actually started to eat food that would never cross his lips a year ago. I believe there here is hope for him yet.

Other Writing

Here's a sampling of my favorite articles from my professional writing life

Mom's Recipes - Gift that Keeps on Giving

Peking Duck for the Year of the Ox

The Many Faces of Farming (Part 1)

The Many Faces of Farming (Part 2) Vineyard Farmers Feed Their Community)

"The Future of Food" Filmmaker Visits Cape

There IS a Free Lunch

In Poetry Author Finds Way to Express the Horror of 9/11

Salem Author Takes Unusual Path to Publishing a Best-Seller

Mameve Medwed's Meddlesome Mothers-in-Law are Hilarious

With "Certain Girls," Weiner Returns to Popular Character

In "Fire to Fire," Doty Gathers Poems That Reflect Recurring Themes

Joan Anderson's "Sea" Changes

Under Construction

Coming Soon...

Ten Hour Beef Stew is Child's Play

On weekends my husband loves to cook complicated meals that we don’t have time to make during the week. This morning the sound of hailstones and thunder woke us up. The day looked so bleak, Steve decided to make Boeuf Bourguignon using some boneless short ribs he picked up at his favorite butcher shop, Hilltop Steakhouse and Butcher Shop in Braintree. Before we even ate breakfast he pulled a package of beef marrow bones from the freezer. Soon he was browsing Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking with me looking over his shoulder.

Gnarly foods like marrow bones aren’t really in my repertoire, but Steve loves that kind of thing. First he roasted the bones in the oven with salt and pepper for about an hour, explaining that this will make his stock really rich and brown. Then he added them to a stock pot half filled with water, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary and whole peppercorns. He also threw in a piece of leftover pork because, “Julia Child said meat adds richness and flavor.”

After simmering the stock for about three hours, he strained it and began to cook his Boeuf Bourguignon. Since short ribs tend to be fatty and the marrow certainly was, he decided to leave out the bacon. The short ribs were three long strips of marbled beef that he cut into thirds, leaving decent sized chucks of meat. He didn’t have the cookbook open in front of him, but he assured me he was sticking to the essence of Julia Child’s recipe.

I followed him around taking notes on every step of the process until he finally looked at me and said, “You do realize how annoying you’re being, don’t you?”

I offered to clean his mushrooms to compensate. Mushrooms should never be washed in water. Instead, using a soft bristled mushroom brush, gently wipe off any dirt. The trick to sautéing mushrooms is to use a fairly high heat setting so they brown before releasing any of their juice. If you have a lot of mushrooms (like here) sauté them in small batches or they will steam, rather than fry. For this recipe, Steve “brown-braised” the onions and sautéd the mushrooms separately until they were tender. They got added to the braised beef and broth at the last minute.

Ten hours after Steve began this odyssey, I was washing the last dish reflecting on whether the meal we ate was worth the time it took. The broth was rich and complex and the mushroom’s earthy flavor was a perfect match for the beef. We served it with a side of mashed potatoes and some sautéed Swiss chard. Even though this is one of the most time extensive recipes I've seen in a while, I guess I would have to agree with Julia that “this is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.”


Steve’s Boeuf Bourguignon

2 1/2 pounds beef short ribs or rump pot roast cut into 3 inch chunks
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed with blade of chef’s knife
2 cups red wine
2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon thyme
20 pearl onions, peeled, but left whole
20 small white button mushrooms, stems trimmed and halved
15 baby portabella mushrooms, stems trimmed and halved

Dry the meat with paper towels so it will brown. Season chunks of meat with salt and pepper and dredge them in flour. In a Dutch oven pan, sear them in a little olive oil over medium high heat until brown. Remove from pan, add carrots, onion and garlic and sauté for three minutes. Add red wine, beef stock and thyme. Taste broth and add salt and pepper as needed. Simmer for two and a half hours, turning the meat occasionally and skimming fat off as it rises to the surface.

At this point sauté the pearl onions in a tablespoon of butter, lightly rolling them in the pan until lightly browned and then add 1/2 cup of your stew broth to the pan and braise the onions until they are tender and broth is mostly gone, about 30 minutes. Put the onions in a bowl and wash the pan so you can use it for the mushrooms.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in the pan and when the butter is hot, sauté both types of mushrooms in small batches until they are lightly browned and tender. Add to the bowl with onions.

Add the beef chunks to the same bowl and strain the thickened broth. Pour it back into the Dutch oven and add the beef, onions and mushrooms. Gently reheat for about five minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Can Too Many Cooks Spoil the Chowder?

When I moved to Cape Cod straight out of high school, I did not eat clams and thought the idea of shellfish in a milk based broth was pretty gross. Working as a waitress at Friendly’s in Orleans, every time I had to lift the lid of the chowder pot to serve a cup, my stomach would turn.

In the years since, I have not only learned to appreciate clam chowder, but have become a connoisseur. Every time my husband and I go out to dinner, we order at least one cup just to see how it measures up to our favorites. Our two younger children have joined in the critique. Even our youngest, Tommy (who is just like Mikey in the old Life Cereal commercials – he doesn’t like anything) actually loves chowder, especially when it is served in a bread bowl.

We eat chowder out often enough that we rarely make it at home. But when I saw a recipe for clam chowder in Yankee Magazine that used real clams to make the broth instead of bottled clam juice, I simply had to try it. To up the ante, I decided to make homemade bread bowls too, using the Vienna Bread recipe from our newest cookbook, The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger.

This supposedly simple meal took hours to make and the bread was way more time consuming than the chowder. First I had to make a “sponge,” which is a starter that serves as the first period of fermentation that was (hopefully) going to develop the glutin and give my bread a fine texture. An hour later, I had to make the dough and then let that rise until double in bulk. The recipe said two hours, but I really only had time for one because it still needed another rising (an hour) and then I had to bake it (25 – 30 minutes).

At some point I began grumbling, “Who on earth has four hours just for bread?” The funny thing is I chose this particular recipe because it was one of the fastest. Some of the recipes take four days!

Once the bread dough was formed into four round loaves, I began the chowder. As I steamed the clams, chopped the veggies, and fried the bacon, my husband wandered in. While I was slaving over the bread, he was fishing (note to readers: not hard fishing, he’s a catch and release guy who does it just for fun).

He glanced at the recipe on the counter, opened the spice cabinet and threw a dash of something into my chowder. I shrieked calmly asked, “What are you doing?”

“Adding some thyme," he said. "Chowder is better with thyme.”

“That’s not what the recipe says,” I insisted, even though I rarely follow recipes. It was too late to take it back, so I let it go. A little while later as I was making a salad, I noticed that Steve was attacking my chowder with a potato masher. This time I could not let it go.

“What on earth are you doing to my chowder?”

“Your chowder was a little thin,” he said. “Mashing a few of the potatoes creates a thicker broth.”

His calm authority made me want to throw the tomato I was holding at him. But I didn’t because the timer went off and the bread bowls were done. Or rather bread platters. They never reached a roundness that would allow them to be called “bowls” but I did cut off the top, scoop out the inside and ladle the chowder into the cavity.

The homemade clam broth added a sublime level of brininess that made me swear off bottle clam juice forever. It’s just too easy to make your own and the flavor is so much better. Even though the bread was a little flat, it did have a wonderful texture, flavor and crumb.


Our Revised Version of the “Down East Clam Chowder” from Yankee Magazine

4 dozen little necks or 3 dozen cherrystones
8 slices of bacon
1 large onion, chopped small
2 stalks of celery, chopped small
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
2 cups milk
2 cups light cream
5 tablespoons butter
A few turns of freshly ground black pepper

Wash clams and put them in a large pot with 2 cups of water. Cover, bring to a boil, and cook just until shells open, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then shuck clams and chop them in half or quarters (depending on what size clams you began with) and set aside.

Pour broth through a strainer lined with a coffee filter to eliminate all sand and sediment.

In the meantime, chop the bacon and cook the bits until crisp. Drain on a plate covered with a paper towel and then pour off half the fat. In the remaining fat, sauté the onions and celery. When crisp/tender add the potatoes and enough clam juice to cover the potatoes. Add water if necessary to cover the potatoes. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Add milk and light cream, bring to a simmer. Add clams and butter, and simmer a few minutes more until clams are heated through and butter is melted (too long and the clams will be tough). Taste the broth and add salt and pepper if needed.

Serve in soup bowls and top with reserved bacon bits.

Writing A Cookbook For My Kids

A few years ago my mother created a handmade cookbook of family recipes that she gave each of her four children for Christmas. It was one of my favorite gifts ever. The small three ring binder has a photo of the farm where I grew up on the front and a photo of our barn on the back. Each page has a little story, a photo from my childhood and a recipe. The recipes bring back memories of the dinners and celebrations with my parents and three younger brothers, my grandparents and close family friends. Even though I don’t often cook them myself, they are a treasure to me.

My husband Steve and I both love to cook, and most nights we cook together and then sit down with our children for a family dinner. Now that our two oldest daughters are grown, I have received many phone calls from them as they grocery shop. “Mom, what do I need to buy to make the butternut squash soup,” Jess might ask. Or, “Mom, what do I need to make that strawberry rhubarb pie Doug loved so much last summer?” from Melissa.

I’d give them the grocery list and then send them the recipe by email so it would be waiting when they got home, ready to cook their own family favorites. These (frequent) phone calls made me resolve to follow my mother’s example and write my own cookbook for my kids. But despite my good intentions, somehow I’ve never found the time. As a full time freelance journalist, there are always other things to write, and other deadlines to meet.

Recently, I realized that’s just what I need for this other writing project – a deadline! I decided a blog would be the perfect way to create a deadline for this cookbook project. Eventually I will do what my mother has done and collect these recipes into a cookbook, but in the meantime my kids will have at least one recipe a week from home. If anyone else wants to stop by for a peek, all the better. Good food and good recipes are meant to be shared.