Category Archives: Vegetables
We’ve come round the bend and into the Mediterranean Sea. We’re stopping in Alexandria, Egypt, on our way through the canal to India. We’ve been traveling by steamer all night, and are in need of a hearty late breakfast/early lunch meal that includes both lots of veggies and some protein, but not a heavy protein. The answer is shakshouka.
The word comes either from the Berber word chakchouka, which means vegetable stew, or from the Hebrew leshakshek, which means shake. Its origin is somewhat disputed; some think it is originally an Israeli dish, others insist its origin is Tunisia, and some of those think that it originated with Tunisian Jews. Whatever the origin, it is highly popular throughout Mediterranean Africa, especially in Egypt. The upshot throughout the region is that it is sort of a shaken mixture. That defines it quite well.
In any case, it is a mixture of fragrant spices, and is served with an egg poached in the vegetable stew and cut-up pitas, to soak up the juices and the egg yolk.
And it is really tasty. Here’s the recipe:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Anaheim chiles (or 4 or 5, if you like it spicy) stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 head of garlic, top trimmed off and roasted*
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes with juice, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pitas, for serving
*Roasted garlic: preheat the oven to 350. Slice off the top of the garlic head, drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil over the exposed cloves; leave the head otherwise intact. Wrap the garlic in aluminum foil and roast for 45 minutes; remove from oven, cool until warm but safe to touch.
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic (squeeze the garlic from the skins), cumin, paprika, and fennel, and stir to mix well and heat throughout, about 2 more minutes.
Crush the tomatoes in a bowl by hand and add with the liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water; reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.
Thanks to Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen for the foundation of this recipe, with which I started, but then altered just a bit after trying several varieties.
Continuing our trip around the world with friends, we next stop in Marseille, on the southeast coast of France, to where we have traveled from Spain by train. There we encounter a small restaurant that has created a velvety-smooth mushroom soup that is dressed with a “salad” of ingredients also found in the soup. It is not your mother’s mushroom soup, or anything like that concentrated product from the soup giant. This soup has a sophisticated and complex flavor that is at the same time subtle and earthy, touched as it is by fresh raw mushrooms that bathe shortly in finished soup as you partake. Try this one yourself. It is simple and elegant.
The soup is a true French creation: it’s made with champignons de Paris, or what we know as plain white or button mushrooms, and it’s inspired by a soup from the Paris bistro, Les Papilles (whose name means taste buds). At the little restaurant, the soup comes to the table in a big tureen, and you’re encouraged to dip the ladle into it as often as you like.
At Les Papilles, shallow soup plates are brought to the table sans soup but with a small mushroom “salad”: thin slices of raw mushrooms seasoned with salt, pepper, chopped chives, and parsley and topped with a tiny bit of crème fraîche. When the hot soup is poured over the salad, the mushrooms cook just slightly. You’ll get to enjoy that nice contrast between the cooked soup and the raw vegetable.
The name champignons de Paris is more honorific than correct these days. While the mushrooms did get their start near Paris — Louis XIV had them in the gardens at Versailles — they were found growing in the catacombs beneath Paris when construction for the metro began, today the mushrooms are ubiquitous in America, but they are grown all over Chester county right next to us here in Lancaster, and they are likely fresher here than almost anywhere else. I believe we could just as easily call this Fresh and Local Mushroom Soup, as all the ingredients–right down to the butter and yogurt–can (and ought to be) locally sourced.
French Mushroom Soup
For the soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ large onions, coarsely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1½ pounds white mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed, and sliced
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 parsley sprigs
1 rosemary sprig
6 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons French cognac
For the “salad”
6 large white mushrooms, wiped clean and trimmed
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Plain Greek yogurt, for serving
To make the soup: Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Toss in the onions and garlic, season with salt and white pepper, and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the mushrooms and the remaining tablespoon of butter, raise the heat to medium, and cook, continuing to stir, for another 3 minutes or so, until the mushrooms release their liquid. Increase the heat to high and cook until almost all of the liquid evaporates. Pour in the wine and let it boil until it, too, almost evaporates.
Toss the herbs into the pot, add the broth or water (and the bouillon cubes, if you’re using them), and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot almost completely, and cook at a gentle simmer for 20 minutes. Pull out the rosemary sprig (it will have lost its leaves). Add the cognac.
Working in small batches in a blender or food processor, puree the soup until it is very smooth; or use an immersion blender. If you’re using a processor or an immersion blender, you probably won’t get a super-smooth soup. If you’d like, you can push the pureed soup through a strainer, but it’s really not necessary. Taste for salt and white pepper. Pour the soup back into the pot and heat it gently — it shouldn’t boil, but it should be very hot.
To make the salad and serve: Divide the mushrooms, scallions, parsley, and chives among six soup plates; season lightly with salt and white pepper. Ladle the soup into the bowls, and top each with a dollop of crème fraîche, if desired.
Arrange the salad in shallow bowls. Bring the dressed bowls to the table and ladle the soup from a tureen or soup pot into the bowls. Finish the soup with a spoonful of crème fraîche or plain Greek yogurt and sprinkle a bit of freshly chopped parsley over the top.
The soup can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days or packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.
Some of the text for this entry and the recipe, which I have altered just a bit, come from a fine cookbook titled Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan.
Here are more wonderful recipes from our Around the World in Eight Courses dinner party ten nights ago. These are three more of the tapas presentations on the platter. Mini roasted peppers stuffed with herbs and goat cheese, a terrific parsley and anchovy (that’s right! anchovy) dip that was served with slices of bell pepper, toasted pita chips, and an onion and potato torte that was cut into bite-sized pieces. The surprise of the platter was the parsley dip, with the anchovies poached in a broth of milk and olive oil. Not salty, not offensive in any way, but rather very tasty and begging to be sampled twice.
Here, then are the recipes:
Peppers Stuffed with Goat Cheese
8 ounces goat cheese
3 scallions, green parts only, roughly chopped
½ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
Red pepper flakes
Zest and juice of two lemons
12 mini red and yellow bell peppers
Prepare the filling an hour or two ahead. Place goat cheese, scallions, mint, and red-pepper flakes in a bowl. Zest and juice lemons into the bowl, straining seeds. Mix until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to fill the peppers.
Roast the peppers in a 350-degree oven, turning every five minutes, until they are blackened all over (alternately, roast them over a gas-stove flame, using tongs to keep them above the flames); then place them on a parchment-lined tray and cover with a dish towel until they are completely cool. Peel the skins gently, trying not to damage the roasted peppers.
Spoon the filling into a plastic bag, squeeze the filling into a bottom corner of the bag, remove as much air from the bag as possible, and twist the top of the bag. This forms a small piping bag. Cut a small piece of the bottom corner of the plastic bag, and fill each pepper with about 2 tablespoons of the goat cheese mixture. Place on a serving plate, and sprinkle with red-pepper flakes; garnish with spring onions if desired. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, about 1 hour.
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup whole milk
1 head garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bunches parsley heads
2-3 tsp. Lemon juice
In a small saucepan, bring olive oil, milk, garlic, and anchovy fillets to a simmer over medium; cook until garlic is tender, 8 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and add parsley. Pulse until smooth; season with pepper and lemon juice.
Onion and Potato Torte
7 tbsp EVOO
1 medium onion, ½-inch rounds
3 Yukon golds, ¼-inch rounds
Freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic
Chicory or endive
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Preheat oven to 325.
Saute onions till golden, place in bowl. Repeat with potatos. Whisk together eggs, salt, and pepper. Add to onions and potatoes.
Heat pan with extra-virgin olive oil, add mixture and cook until edges begin to brown. Place in oven and bake, covered, until set, about 10 minutes. Remove top and broil until lightly browned.
Brush bread with EVOO and garlic, toast until golden.. Toss lettuce with vinegar, salt and pepper. Scatter over bread, cover with torte, cool. Serve at room temp.
Just the mention of this tender, aromatic dish sends Italian-food lovers into spasms of joy, and often, jags of wonderful (or dreadful, I’m afraid) childhood memories. If your Grandma made this dish, you either loved it or hated it, but there’s no getting around the fact that most adults can’t get enough of this one. Having grown up in a (mostly) kosher home–some of you know about the time Dad came home, a smoked ham in one hand and a box of gifts from his favorite customers in Chester, PA in the other, and demanded the end to this craziness (his words), and kosher in our house was no more–there was no eggplant Parmesan in our house. Mom occasionally made spaghetti sauce, but it was about as far from authentic Italian red gravy as salt-water taffy.
I learned my sauce-making skills from the skilled chefs at the Epicure Market in South Beach, and refined them to a honed edge at the feet of an employer named Bud Bruno (the finest Italian chef I ever met) in his little kitchen in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. What I learned from Bud was the magic of fresh ingredients, really good olive oil, and little else–an authentic red sauce was at the same time simple and complex, with flavors that were meant to go together. And this one is light as a feather. Not much oil, no battering and frying of the eggplant, and you can eat as much as you want–it won’t weigh you down.
This recipe doesn’t, however rely on one of those long-simmered, tradition-babied, fussed-over red sauces, but rather all the elements of a perfect red sauce, blended together with love but not with much time or effort. Just toss the ingredients together in a bowl and let ’em marry in the bowl for a while. Then go.
Here’s the recipe, and be gentle. Don’t over think this one. It can’t really be much simpler.
EASY ON THE BELT LINE EGGPLANT PARMESAN
1 tablespoon good extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
2 cups fresh, coarsely chopped plum tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can find them) with their juice
2 tablespoons dry red table wine
2 tablespoons dark balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Olive oil spray
2 egg whites
2 1/2 lbs eggplant, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2″-thick slices
1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs or 1 cup Panko
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 4 oz)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
About three hours before serving, sauté the onions and garlic with the good olive oil until tender and transparent, 8-10 minutes at medium heat. In a medium bowl, stir together tomatoes and their juice, basil, parsley, wine, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, and onions (from here on I’ll call this the sauce). Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
An hour later, preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two or three baking sheets with foil. Spray the foil with olive-oil cooking spray.
In a shallow dish, beat the egg whites and 2 tbsp of water until foamy, and prepare another shallow dish with Panko. Dip eggplant into the egg whites, then into the bread crumbs, pressing crumbs into the eggplant.
Place the eggplant slices on the prepared baking sheets and spray oil lightly over the slices. Bake 30 minutes, turning over after 20 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
Spoon 4 tbsp of sauce into bottom of 9″ square glass baking dish that has been sprayed with olive oil. Place half the eggplant over the sauce; spoon half of remaining sauce over the eggplant; and sprinkle half of mozzarella on top. Repeat with remaining eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella.
Sprinkle Parmesan on top and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until eggplant is piping hot, the sauce is bubbly, and the cheese has to lightly brown.
This dish will serve 4 generously, and leave you with a couple of pieces leftover for lunches the next day.
And what, pray tell, do you think Cheffzilla might be doing on Christmas this year? Really adventurous, I might say, but mighty tasty, too. Allow me to elaborate:
I adapted the recipe from one featured on his “Good Eats” show a couple of years ago by Alton Brown, that wacky TV chef at the Food Network. It looks really good to me, so I thought I might try it. I’m a big fan of panzanella, and this recipe demonstrated to me that it’s not just a summer salad. Beautiful root (and winter squash–Alton used shredded Brussels sprouts in his recipe instead, but no one here likes them!) vegetables, a fine sourdough bread, and some fresh herbs from my garden (yes, it is still producing!) make for a really fine-looking and grand Christmas dinner, a wide stray from the usual rib roast and Yorkshire pudding from years past. Here’s what’s for dinner tonight.
Great any night.
1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/4 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries
1 13 to 14 pound whole turkey, neck and giblets removed and reserved for Giblet Stock
1 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds rutabaga, peeled and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound red onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces butternut squash, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 quart container fresh Brussels sprouts
8 ounces hearty sourdough or multi-grain bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and staled
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, finely minced
Freshly ground black pepper
For the turkey: Four days before service, place the salt, sage, thyme, black peppercorns, and allspice into a spice grinder and pulse until the peppercorns and allspice are coarsely ground, 5 to 6 pulses. Set aside.
Set the turkey, breast-side down, on a large cutting board with the tail closest to you. Use an electric knife or heavy-duty kitchen shears to cut up one side of the backbone. Turn the bird around and cut back down the other side of the spine. Reserve the backbone for Giblet Stock. Discard any fat pockets or excess skin found inside the turkey. Turn the turkey breast-side up and use the heel of your hands to press down on both breasts, until you hear a cracking sound and the bird has flattened slightly.
Rub the seasoned salt on both sides of the turkey. Place the turkey on a parchment paper lined half sheet pan, breast-side up with legs running with the long side of the pan. Store, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 4 days.
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
For the panzanella: Place the parsnips and rutabaga in a large bowl, toss lightly to coat with the oil, and set aside.
Place one rack in the middle of the oven and a second one far enough below so the roasting pan will fit. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Place the turkey directly on the middle rack of the oven with the legs perpendicular to the metal bars of the rack. Place the roasting pan with the parsnips and rutabaga on the rack below the turkey and roast both for 30 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Add the red onion to the roasting vegetables and stir to combine. Continue to roast both the vegetables and the turkey until a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 degrees F, an additional 40 to 50 minutes.
Remove the turkey from the oven onto a cooling rack set inside a half sheet pan and rest for 30 minutes.
Add the butternut squash, bread cubes and garlic to the roasting vegetables, stir to combine and roast for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the oven and immediately transfer to a serving bowl. Pour the apple cider vinegar in the warm roasting pan, stir and scrape off any browned bits from the pan. Pour the vinegar mixture over the salad, add the thyme and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Carve the turkey and serve with the panzanella.
Barley and Portabella Pilaf
1/2 cup fresh sliced Portabella mushrooms
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cup pearled barley
2-1/2 cups turkey (or vegetable) stock
2 tablespoons green onions (scallions)
1/4 tsp crushed dried rosemary
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in a saucepan; add mushrooms and saute’ until limp. Add barley, stock, green onion, and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 45 minutes, or until the barley is tender and the liquid is completely absorbed. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over pilaf and toss to mix well. Garnish with a little more Parmesan and some fresh-chopped green onions.
We’re serving this with fresh green beans sauteed in butter with sesame seeds and cranberry-orange relish.
This is going to be a short note about canning and tomato sauce.
I know…I know…there are a billion places on the web where you can get canning advice, and there are even more tomato-sauce recipes, likely you make your grandmother’s recipe (or your mother’s recipe, or a neighbor’s recipe, or Alton Brown’s recipe or…or…or…
I’m going to add one more voice to the Greek Chorus, and while these are probably the most overused food-column subjects on the planet, I humbly suggest you actually try this one, because it is so bloody simple and so bloody tasty that I may actually influence you to give up your day-long adventure in kitchen drudgery, which most tomato sauces tend to be–no self-respecting grandmother I know would ever subscribe or give props to a sauce that doesn’t simmer all day, and which likely takes even longer to clean up. Besides, the longer you simmer, the more sugar you’ll have to add, because long simmering makes tomatoes bitter, not better (notice there’s no sugar in my recipe? Just a little in the ketchup to offset the vinegar a bit. Is there sugar in your recipe?).
No sir or ma’am, I don’t roll in that direction. If you’ve read this space before, you know that perhaps only second to fresh and local, I am all about quick and simple. I have teen-age daughters. I don’t have time to spend all day in the kitchen. And don’t bother removing the skins and seeds from the tomatoes unless you have all the time in the world. I don’t. There is grass to mow, shopping to get done, laundry to do, trash to take out, swimming (or, currently, field hockey) practices to drive to, dance classes (soooooo many dance classes)…so who has time to give an entire day to a tomato sauce?
Not me. And in this recipe it really doesn’t make that much of a difference. And the seeds will signal to your guests that it really is garden-fresh sauce.
So here, I’m going to give you a simple variation on the marinara sauce with which I am most familiar–the one from South Beach.
It’s spicy (but not too spicy), sweet (but not too sweet), garlicky (but not too…oh, hell, yes it is…), and made with a surprise: white wine instead of red. Heresy? Sure. But just wait till you taste.
And then, I’m going to suggest that you can the sauce, so that you’ll have plenty of fresh-ingredient sauce all winter. I just know that by now, you have too many tomatoes in your garden, and people are leaving more and more every day on the break-room table, right? So you look right past them, thinking, “Oh, God, not MORE tomatoes!!!”
I say, TAKE ‘EM! Make sauce. Keep making it until your fingers ache. This is such a simple recipe you’ll make it over and over and over. The hardest part s chopping the herbs–there are lots and lots. But give this a try. Then can as much as you can. If you don’t have canning supplies, spend thirty bucks on a cheap canning set: a large pot, a set of canning tools (look ’em up on Google or at the website of one of the big boxes. A dozen pint jars cost about eight bucks, quart jars about ten. Compare this to the cost of one quart of decent sauce at the store. You’ll be converted, because it’s so simple, and it is so much better.
Here’s the scoop:
CHEFFZILLA’S MARINARA SAUCE
Fresh tomatoes; it takes about 2 1/2 pounds of tomatoes per pint (5 pounds per quart) of finished jars. This recipe is for six pints. 15 pounds of tomatoes; I like San Marzanos, but use any kind, just make sure they’re ripe.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced fine
1/2 to 1 cup minced garlic. I know it’s a lot. But trust me here. It makes a difference. You can actually use garlic from a bottle sold in the grocery store’s produce section. I didn’t, because I had lots of garlic laying around from Caitlin and EmmaKate’s CSA at Blue Rock Farm
1 cup good quality dry white wine (don’t use cooking wine or cheap table wine–buy decent wines to cook with
1/2 cup each fresh parsley and basil leaves plus a few whole branches of basil
1/4 cup each fresh oregano and thyme
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Wash the jars and lids in the dishwasher with just a little bit of soap; or hand wash. Set the jars in the canning pot and fill with water until there is about 1 inch of water above the tops of the jars.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees; wash the tomatoes, cut them in half (quarters if they are large), lay them out on a baking sheet or two, lay the basil branches over the tomatoes, spray with a bit of olive oil spray, and roast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to “handling” temperature.
3. Chop all the herbs together into a large pile until they are all mixed up and finely chopped.
4. In a large heavy enamel or stainless-steel pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers, turn down the heat to medium, and add the onions, stirring occasionally until they soften and turn translucent, about 15 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the minced garlic and stir constantly for 60 seconds. NO MORE! Add the wine to the onions and garlic, stir to mix well, then add the herbs and stir again until fully mixed. Turn the stove down to medium-low and allow the wine, herbs, and aromatics to simmer until the wine is reduced by two thirds.
5. While the wine is reducing, place the tomatoes, in batches, in a food processor and pulse four or five times, until the tomatoes are chopped fine, but not so they are completely pureed. When the wine is fully reduced, add the tomatoes to the pot, add the ketchup and vinegar, stir well, and reduce the pot to low-medium, bring to a simmer, and reduce the heat further, until the pot is just bubbling lightly. Stir every fifteen or twenty minutes and cook for two hours.
6. A half hour before the sauce is finished, bring the pot and jars to a boil. When the water is boiling hard, set the timer for 10 minutes. At the end of this time, turn off the heat but do not remove the jars. Add the lids and discs to the pot.
7. When the sauce is done, remove the jars, one at a time (do not touch the inside or the screw threads of the jars), pour out the water, and fill with sauce to within 1/4 inch of the top. Be sure to leave 1/4 inch at the top of the jar. Remove a lid from the water, screw it on tight, and place the jar back in the water; repeat with the remaining jars, removing enough water from the pot to ensure that the pot doesn’t spill over (If you have any sauce remaining, use it right away, even if you must simply dip good bread into the sauce and finish it yourself). Be sure there is at least an inch (two inches is better, three is even better) of water above the top of the jars.
8. Bring the pot back to a boil and set the kitchen timer for 35 minutes for pints or 40 minutes for quarts (add five additional minutes for each 1000 feet above sea level your kitchen is). When the timer beeps, remove the jars from the water and set on a towel to cool, keeping them separated enough that they don’t prevent each other from cooling. Allow to cool completely, to room temperature, listening all the while for the lids to pop as they cool. All the lids should pop inward and they should be snug. If a lid doesn’t pop, place it back in boiling water for an additional 35 minutes and repeat the process. If it doesn’t pop again, use the sauce immediately.
These jars should keep in a cool, dry place for a year or more, but the sauce is so good, they won’t last that long. Trust me.
And one more thing:
Talking Fresh has taken a left turn. I hope you will stay with me, because I find this new phase of the column liberating.
A bit of history:
Talking Fresh came about as the result of a conversation I had at church one Sunday morning with Jen Kopf, one of the editors at the erstwhile “Lifestyle” section of the Lancaster Sunday News. I admire Jen and her remarkable writing, her sense of the history and culture of Lancaster, and her obvious love for Lancaster. I asked her why the paper didn’t have a restaurant critic, and if they would be interested in entertaining the idea. I pointed her toward my blog so that she could get a sense of my writing, my style, my sensibility, and my slight leaning toward anarchy (I should point out that before I gave her the URL, I had to clean it up a bit—I’d been blogging for a couple of years at that point, and I tend to write in frenetic bursts, thinking that everything I write is just what everyone else wants to read—my bad!).
A few weeks later Jen got back to me with several reasons why the paper didn’t think a restaurant critic was on their radar, and admittedly, the reasons were sound. But she liked what she read on the blog—she actually used the word “interesting.” I was ecstatic. But not yet a published writer here in Lancaster.
A couple months later I got an email from another editor at Lifestyle, Lynn Schmidt Miller, who suggested that they might be interested in running a semi-weekly column if I could present it just as I present entries in the blog.
“Why sure I can,” I responded. Ulp. Suddenly I’m a food writer in Lancaster, with you all and the rest of the county as my readers, and I owe a column every other week.
No matter what.
Of stuff I made myself.
But I took up the challenge, went in to the offices of the paper on King Street, got a photo taken of my former fat self, balloon chin and all, and suddenly I’m a columnist in Lancaster.
In the same newspaper as Gil Smart and Louis Butcher and Larry Alexander and Jeff Hawkes and Tom Murse and all the other fabulous writers we are blessed with in this town.
For me, because Lynn asked me to write the column just as I had been writing my blog, I took that to mean that I was wanted as much for my writing as for my recipes. The truth is, I always considered the blog—and now the column—as an outlet for my writing, and the recipes were simply the device to get people to read the entries. To this day, I don’t know, and don’t really care, whether they were more interested in the writing or the recipes.
Being on a word count made it all the more challenging, but for me it was always about the essay up front. My wife always reminded me that the column had to be about something.
“What’s it about?” she always asked.
When space was tight and the columns got edited, it was always the writing that got snipped, which made me feel a little sad. But I understood—still do—the demands of space in the paper, and half a recipe is worthless.
Which brings me back full circle to this column, which is that I now feel liberated, because the restriction of word counts is off, and now my only task is to be interesting and produce wonderful food and recipes. If I bore you half way down the column, that’s on me.
But I’ll continue to write the column, and continue to love doing it, and hope you continue to read it and to share it with your friends—Facebook and otherwise—so that maybe I can gather some steam for the column and gain some readership.
As I’m writing this, I munching on one of my all-time summer favorites, a Mexican Bean salad Ellen conjured up from her little tin recipe box about which I’ve written more than once. This salad is a killer. It’s cool and spicy and flavorful and filling and simple and festive and…for now I’ve run out of adjectives, but suffice it to say make it, and it will become one of your go-to summer dishes. Lots of ingredients, but lots of flavor. It’ll win raves!
Mexican Bean Salad
1 15-oz can black beans
1 15-oz can red kidney beans
1 15-oz can cannellini (white) beans
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
1 medium spicy yellow banana pepper, cored, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
2 ears of corn, lightly steamed, cut from the cob
1 10-oz package frozen corn, defrosted
1 red onion, diced
2-3 scallions, white and light green parts only, 1/2-inch chop
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoons white sugar
2 cloves finely minced garlic cloves
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 dash (or more—wayyyyy more) red pepper (read: Tabasco) sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
In a large bowl, combine beans, peppers, corn, and red onion.
In a small food chopper, add all remaining ingredients and pulse until they are well mixed. Pour dressing over salad fixin’s and toss well to coat. Chill thoroughly and serve cold.
Okay, so the Sunday News won’t be carrying my column anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t access my kitchen. I plan to continue writing Talking Fresh, and hope all of you Facebook friends will Like Jeff’s Kitchen here, and share my posts with your friends, and encourage them to like my page as well. It takes a village, and all those six degrees and such can turn this into a movement, if you’re willing.
That said, I’m also going to put up a post on opposite Sundays featuring what I get in my CSA bag from Caitlin and EmmaKate at Blue Rock farm. Today I got lettuce, mustard and beet greens, beets, fresh dill, a perfect head of garlic, one yellow squash, snow peas and mixed (pole or bush?) beans, and chard.
Here’s what I’ll be making for supper tonight, all the fresh ingredients coming from the young women’s wonderful little farm in Willow Street, PA.
Thanks indeed to Martha Stewart for the inspiration for this recipe. I’ve altered it a bit from her original to make it my own, and to feature the fine ladies of Blue Rock Farm. By the way, it is wonderful cold, and reheats beautifully.
Please enjoy responsibly.
French Lentil and Swiss Chard Risotto
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh thyme plus 2 teaspoons leaves
1/3 cup French green lentils
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 cup finely chopped onion and the onion greens
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
1 ¼ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup freshly ground white pepper
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup freshly shredded chard or beet greens, for garnish
1. In a medium saucepan, combine 6 cups water, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes; add lentils, reduce heat to low and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain lentils and set aside; discard the rest.
2. Wash chard and remove stalks; slice leaves into very thin 2-inch strips, and dice the smaller stems into ¼-inch dice. Discard the larger stems. Sauté with a bit of olive oil in a large skillet, tossing constantly over high heat until just wilted; set aside in a colander.
3. Finely chop the onions and slice the greens into ½-inch rings.
4. Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and keep at a bare simmer.
5. Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, onion greens, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently until soft but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add rice and thyme leaves and continue stirring until the edges of the rice become translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the wine, stirring constantly, until nearly all the wine is absorbed.
6. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the salt and pepper and ½ cup stock and cook, stirring constantly until nearly all the stock is absorbed. Repeat this process, adding ½ cup stock at a time, until the rice is creamy but still a little firm, 15-20 minutes.
7. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the lentils, chard, and Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper, plate and serve immediately garnished with the shredded greens.
This week I met my farmers, and I walked the ground where my spring, summer, and autumn vegetables will grow. We joined a CSA this week, so we will be receiving regular bags full of produce—from mustard greens to watermelons to butternut squash and virtually everything in between—from a tiny but growing farm in Willow Street called Blue Rock Farm. And the farmers, Caitlin Brady and EmmaKate Martin are not what you’d expect.
Caitlin Brady, 22, is the creative force behind the Blue Rock Farm. She was raised in Missouri on a 2000-acre farm that grew corn, soybeans, sorghum, and tobacco, using large machinery and production-farm techniques that are common to business farms all over the country (not that there is anything wrong with that). She’s been to five different colleges (currently Millersville University as a foreign-language major—Spanish, French, and Italian), she’s lived in several countries; and in big cities (Chicago) and small farming communities like Lancaster.
Caitlin started Blue Rock a couple of years ago and sold her products at several of the local farm markets—this year she will have a stand at the Eastern Market on East King Street on Saturdays.
EmmaKate grew up on the land she and Caitlin are currently farming. In fact, the land has been in her family for 6 generations. She graduated from Penn Manor High School and is now working the same land her father and her grandfather did, and further and further back. EmmaKate is also passionate about the land we all live on, and works with a volunteer organization that holds concerns for the environment as acts of faith.
In a conversation with her spry 94-year-old grandfather, Park Mellinger, the other day, he told me how pleased he was that she and Caitlin were doing this kind of work. He told me that the plot they were currently working in was plowed under for planting for the first time since 1899—it’s been backyard to the farm house for generations.
Blue Rock farm is totally organic; the fertilizer is compost and the water is rain water collected in large containers all over the property and fed into the gardens through drip hoses. Caitlin and EmmaKate are making a serious go of this small family farm, currently having 15 half- and 6 whole shares in their CSA, which will deliver food weekly to three Lancaster County locations. A limited number of shares are still available.
The New York City chef Dan Barber, a loud and passionate advocate for small, local, organic farms—he runs one himself in upstate New York that produces for his restaurant—encourages consumers to “get to know your farmer and your fishmonger,” so that you will know exactly where your food comes from and on what it’s been raised.
I have gotten to know my farmers and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. I know that my family will be eating some of the best, healthiest food available in Lancaster County, a place where there is more healthy food (and some pretty unhealthy stuff, too) than almost anywhere else in the nation.
Blue Rock Farm. Check it out!
I was in the Asian market today picking up fresh sprouts for a batch of pad Thai I plan to make for supper tonight, and another customer in the store asked the clerk if anyone in the market had a recipe for lo mein. When no one in the market could give her an idea of how to go about it, I offered to help her out. Not my favorite dish, although I do love a good plate of vegetarian lo Mein, here is a simple recipe for the noodle dish for beginners. There are certainly other, more complex recipes, and had I time (today is “Free Rita’s Day” here in Lancaster), I’d produce a recipe with much more complex flavor, but most neighborhood restaurants don’t go for complex, they go for fast and tasty. Here is one I got from a neighborhood restaurant in Alexandria, VA, when I lived in the Rosemont neighborhood. If you don’t know Rosemont, you haven’t lived. This is a wonderful, simple dish made with vegetables. It can be augmented with chicken, Chinese roast pork, shrimp, or tofu, and will taste even better.
This recipe comes from Grace Young’s The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing. In the book, Grace says: “Vegetable Lo Mein is one the easiest dishes for a beginner to make. The mastery comes in correctly slicing the vegetables and not overcooking the noodles. You will find a variety of fresh egg noodles in the refrigerator section of most Chinese food markets. The best noodles for lo mein are about 1/4 inch thick, and come either uncooked or precooked. Either noodle can be used and will require one to three minutes of boiling, follow package directions.”
1-pound package Chinese narrow, flat egg noodles (resembling linguine)
6 dried Shitake mushrooms
1 small can Chinese straw mushrooms
1 medium onion, halved and sliced in half-moon rings 1/4-inch thick
2 stalks celery, one-inch slices, sliced diagonally
1 broccoli crown, florets separated
6 Napa cabbage leaves
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
1 cup julienne carrots
2 scallions, finely shredded
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
Optional: 1 chicken breast, trimmed of fat, cut in half lengthwise then sliced crossways into small strips; or 24 31- to 36-count (medium) shrimp, peeled and deveined; or 1/2 pound extra-firm tofu, pressed dry, marinated 1/2 hour in 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice-wine vinegar, and 1 teaspoon sesame-seed oil; or 1/2 pound Asian-roasted BBQ pork, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
In a medium bowl, soak the Shitake mushrooms in 1/4 cup cold water for 30 minutes, or until softened. Drain and squeeze dry, reserving soaking liquid. Cut off and discard stems and thinly slice the caps.
Wash the cabbage leaves in several changes of cold water and allow to thoroughly drain in a colander until dry to touch. Trim 1/4 inch from the stem end of the cabbage leaves and discard. Stack 2 to 3 cabbage leaves at a time and crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide shreds.
In a 4-quart saucepan, bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Add noodles , return to a rolling boil, and boil 2 to 3 minutes. Rinse under cold water and drain the noodles thoroughly. Transfer to a medium bowl, add sesame oil and 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and mix well. Set aside.
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch flat skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil and ginger, and stir-fry 20 seconds. Add the onions, celery, carrots, scallions, and mushrooms, and stir-fry 1 minute, or until vegetables are just limp. Transfer vegetables to a plate.
Add 1/4 cup water and broccoli; cover and steam 3 minutes, then drain and place on the plate with the other vegetables.
[Add protein ingredients here if you choose–see note*]
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and cabbage, and stir-fry 1 minute, or until cabbage begins to wilt. And the cooked carrot mixture, noodles, and reserved mushroom soaking liquid, and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, or until noodles are heated through. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce and oyster sauce and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
* Note: If you choose to add protein ingredients such as chicken, shrimp, tofu, or pork, stir-fry them until just barely done after stir-frying the vegetables but before the cabbage. Set aside on a warm plate. Then resume the recipe with with the cabbage and continue until hot and well mixed. If you add protein ingredients, double the oyster sauce and increase the soy sauce by 1 tablespoon.