Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rainy days call for soup.....

The weather here in NC has been less than appealing. No sunshine, just gray clouds and rain lurking in the area. Don't get me wrong. I love rain and what it brings to my garden, but after a couple days I'd like to bask in the sun.
However, the great thing about gray weather is the urge to get inside and cook. And that is what I decided to do the other day. I looked at my counter once again, overflowing with vegetables in the garden and immediately decided to throw it into a pot. And that is exactly what I did. I chopped up squash, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, garlic and allowed them to simmer together.
I would love to say that I allowed them to marry for hours, stirring it occasionally as I sat in my big brown leather chair reading. But I had work in the afternoon and only had two hours. So, I let them simmer, while cleaning up the mess. I added in some spices and tabasco to my liking, turned off the stove and went to work.
As the day went on the gray clouds let go of there condensation for a large downpour, and I thought about my chili waiting for me when I got home. I was too excited about it, but it was my first real meal of the week (I've really been slacking of in the cooking department)and I couldn't get enough.
Although, it might have been too spicy for some. I loved it. The only thing missing was some cornbread. That would have made the meal complete.

Vegetable Chili
1 zuchini chopped
1 squash, chopped
1 eggplant, chopped
1 lb or more of tomatoes
2 small bell peppers
1 medium onion
4 garlic cloves
few splashes of tabasco
salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano
extra virgin olive oil

Saute onion, oregano, and all veggies except tomatoes. After onions are semi-translucent add tomatoes. Make sure you turn down the heat, the tomatoes will add juices to the chili. Add a cup of water if it needs it and let simmer for at least an hour. After simmer add spices to your liking. Let cool a little before serving.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Localvore to a....

Well, I can't say T, but I'm pretty close. I've been even more local than I was in Austin, which is quite shocking, considering all ATX has to offer. (Confession: I spent a lot of time at Whole Foods and Central Market.) But here in North Carolina, I live off of food stands, the garden, and almost all organic staples on a budget no less.
Now I can't say that I've stuck to the budget always. It is really hard when you read Tastespotting and food magazines all the time because most of the stuff isn't local to my area. For example, I haven't bought an avocado in months because they are expensive due to "surging" gas prices. Maybe with this lower gas prices, food prices will go back down with it.
But even if prices do go down, I don't think I'll buy things that have made the trek from South America here. I just can't bring myself to buy those things anymore. Yes, I love asparagus in the winter, but a) it doesn't taste the same and b) I just made a huge carbon footprint. I'm not trying to rant or lecture, just opinionating.
And trust me it is really hard for me to stick to this whole localvore thing come winter. I can only eat cabbage so much. However, this year, I have learned the art of canning, pickling and freezing. Oh and what wonders have they brought me.
I now know how to can tomatoes (not as difficult as it seems), make pickles, and freeze squash. I am becoming Miss Martha Stewart almost. Never in my years would I imagine doing the things I've learned this summer, but it just makes me realize how easy things are to store for later. Yes, its not easy, but invite friends, make a party and can or freeze. Trust me come winter, I'll be having my canned tomatoes in my tomato sauce. Oh and my salsa!
I made and canned tomato salsa! Which is a feat in itself! It taste sooo good and it's spicy. Only one habenero, but my god does it leave the tingly sensation in your mouth. Next on my list is canning barbecue sauce made with garden grown tomatoes! Yum!

Spicy Salsa
1-1.5 pounds of tomatoes
1 habenero
1/2 medium onion
1 medium to large anaheim pepper
2 garlic cloves
salt, pepper, cumin

Blend vegetables together or chop for chunky salsa. Reduce for a hour on the stove to heat it up. Pour into sterilized jar and place in waterbath for 15-20 minutes. Make sure that you hear the pop, which means the jar is sealed. If it is not sealed pour salsa back into sauce pan, sterilize another jar and lid, place in water bath once again.
Seems so hard, but it is super simple!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Happy like a clam.....

As big of a food snob as I am, (this is my new name at work), I haven't been culinarily adventurous in my life. I haven't had true lobster, brussel sprout, oysters, uni, beet, and many other foods that never crossed the table. Why?
One most of my family doesn't like seafood, which is sad because they are missing out, but that means more for little old me!
Two, I don't know if my parents even like most of them, and I wasn't a kid who would go out of there way to try a new food until college. So... that means I have a lot of making up to do.
Of course, I began this catch up maybe a year or two ago, but I'm still behind. I only just tried mussels for the first time a month ago, and now I can scratch clams of my list.
Oh, I'll admit, I had this once before in Alabama with the ex, but they were on his plate not mine. So I'm not counting that. You can if you wish, but I'm not.
Clams aren't that hard to find in N.C. most seafood markets I visit have them that was the easy part. And I knew that clams in a white wine sauce was popular, so at least I had an idea of a cooking method.
On Saturday, I traveled north to Virginia Beach to go to the Old Beach Farmer's Market. The market is off of Cypress right as 264 turns into a road. It has 9 vendors, all local and I believe all organic. I felt like I was back in Austin. It was small, but had that vibe. I can't describe it well, but I hope you know what I'm talkin' about.
And to my surprise they had clams. The clams were came in 25/50/100. I chose the 25 and paid the vendor. No going back, I had them. I spent the money. It was a sink or swim now.
Of course I didn't go straight home. I made trip to Trader Joe's, the bookstore, and Macy's. I had to get my coffee grinder, o.k.? At each stop, I think to myself, I'm going to kill my clams. By the time I got home 5 hours later, I had a sinking feeling they were dead.
But I wouldn't know until I cooked them. So I found a recipe, opened a bottle of wine and followed the instructions. Five minutes of steaming and some mouths were open, but not all.
My stomach sunk. I killed the clams. I wouldn't be having dinner. I would starve. So I opened my Joy of Cooking to find that they can be steamed for 5-10 mins. So, I reheated them and sure enough a couple of minutes later they were all open.
I hadn't killed them in the car, which was a relief. Plus, they didn't scream in the pot. I liked them enough, but am a bigger fan of mussels. Not to say that I won't cook them, again. Because next time they will have a shorter joy ride.

Clams with garlic and roasted tomatoes
(adapted from Heart of New England)

24 littleneck clams
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup roasted tomatoes

½ cup dry white wine, such a Sauvignon Blanc
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried oregano or marjoram
Freshly ground black pepper

Place clams into a strainer and shake under running water to remove loose shell debris.

Heat a large sauté or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, oregano, and garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic starts to color. Add wine and bring to a boil, then add clams and tomatoes. Raise heat to high, cover pan and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until clams are opened (5-10 minutes). Discard unopened clams.

Serve immediately with the sauce. A salad and crusty bread for the sauce completes the meal.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A snap and a crunch

When the vegetables started to pile up on my counter last week, I knew I had a problem. There were and still are 4 squash, which has turned into 10; 4 peppers, magically now 9;
5 cucumbers, now 2.
Now I know what you are asking? Where did the cucumbers go?
Well, I decided to do some pickling. Yes, I know, me with all my "oh my god, the kitchen is going to explode" episodes, decided that she would pickle. And no there was no damage to myself or my kitchen.
Actually, I thought about pickling two years ago, when I was a vegetarian. My mom actually sent me my great grandmother's recipe. However, the procrastinating college student, I was never got around to it, and eventually had to throw the cucumbers out. I know it was a waste of food, but I had yet to realize my food impact.
So last week, when I had the abundance of cucumbers, I decided to give Homesick Texan's pickle recipe a go. It sounded easy enough. There was no boiling of ingredients, just the sterilization of the jars, which I've done before. And in 4-6 days I'd have pickles. So I gathered ingredients, sterilized the jars, which splattered water all over my stove. I then mixed the brine added the cucumbers and placed them in the fridge. There they sat for 5 days, haunting me.
Of course, I shook them everyday and everyday was tempted to steal one, but I waited. And then today I broke and opened one of the jars. And when I bit into that first pickle spear, I died a little. That is because the pickle was so good. It had that right acidic bite and it was still firm. I had one than another than another. Finally, I just put them away before I ate them all.
Now I know the difference between the store bought pickle and homemade ones. Today when I opened up one of the jars of pickles and took a long spear out, put it between in my teeth, I felt the snap and heard the crunch. Before I even tasted it, I knew it was a great pickle because of the crispness of it. Sure you can get that from store bought, but you taste the dill more in homemade and you miss out on it being truly something you had created. The store bought ones just take away all the fun. So this is added to my list of recipes. Now what to do with the rest of the vegetables?

Refrigerator dill pickles
(from Homesick Texan)
6 Kirby cucumbers, cleaned, stemmed and halved, lengthwise
1/2 cup of white vinegar
2 tablespoons of salt
1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of fresh dill

Place salt, peppercorns, coriander seeds, garlic and dill in a sterilized 1-quart Mason jar.
Layer sliced cucumbers in jar, leaving 1/2 inch at the top.
Pour in vinegar.
Fill jar with water, seal with lid and shake for about a minute.
Refrigerate for six days, shaking daily.

Makes 1-quart jar of dill pickles. This simple recipe, however, can easily be multiplied.

Note: I divided the recipe in have for 1/2 pint jars. They are a little sour, but that is the way I like them.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Going bananas.....

I don't remember if I've ever had banana pudding. I don't remember ever making it as a child or having it. But then again, I don't remember the first time I had peach cobbler, but my dad does. So more times than not I don't trust my memory.
This week a friend's daughter wanted to make banana pudding for a pot luck, but she didn't know how to make. I told her we could make it together over the weekend.
So the daughter and I set a date. Her father then inquired if I was going to make the custard based banana pudding or the fake stuff? A little confused, I replied that it would be the custard based. Then I told my father and he told me the proper way was to layer vanilla wafers and bananas along with the custard. Boy was I thrown in a loop. To many demands and requests that I didn't know how to answer.
Most of the week goes by before I look for recipes finding one from Food Network that I was going to do. Then I am told that the original recipe is on the wafer box. But since I had found the food network one, I did not worry about the box recipe.
The day of I write down what I need from the food network recipe and go to Walmart for ingredients. Upon finding the wafers, I see the box recipe. I see that it is easier and simpler for me and the seven-year-old to make. And with that the food network recipe went out the window.
The girl and I made the recipe. She learned how to separate eggs and how to temper them. She wasn't allowed near the oven or stove so I had to do the stirring and the baking. But she was enthused about the end result and kept asking if it was done when it was baking. I replied she had to be patient.
But her enthusiasm for the pudding and her want to do everything was uplifting. It is good to know that some children want to be involved in cooking and I guess when it comes to sweets most do.
The pudding was eaten after dinner and every morsel was scrapped up by everyones spoon. I don't believe there was any leftovers to be had. And whether or not I've ever had banana pudding, doesn't matter anymore because I've learned that I am a fan and I'll make it one day, again.

Banana Pudding
(adapted from Nilla wafer box)

3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Dash salt
3 eggs, separated
2 cups milk
NILLA Wafers
5 ripe bananas, sliced (about 3 1/2 cups), divided

First, layer wafers and bananas in pot of small brownie pan. So after pudding mixture is made you can pour it over quickly.

Mix 1/2 cup sugar, flour, milk and salt in sauce pan. Once it is hot, temper eggs and then add them to milk mixture. Once mixture is thick pour part of mixture of wafers and bananas.

Cover with another layer of wafers and a layer of sliced bananas. Pour about 1/3 of custard over bananas. Continue to layer wafers, bananas and custard to make a total of 3 layers of each, ending with custard. Or how ever many you get.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form; gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Spoon on top of pudding, spreading evenly to cover entire surface and sealing well to edges.

Bake at 350°F in top half of oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until browned. Cool slightly or refrigerate. Garnish with additional wafers and banana slices just before serving.