Monday, March 19, 2007

summer in a jar

A breakfast of peaches canned from D's father's trees, with raspberries picked at Rosby's Farm and frozen: this bowl is the reason we'll be canning again this year, even though it was hot and sweaty and sticky work.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

supernaturally good granola

I've gotten a nice haul of cookbooks in the last few weeks--some for my birthday, and some as presents from me to me--so I'm planning to try a few new things out here over the next weeks.
Last week I got Heidi Swanson's new cookbook, Super Natural Cooking. I've been following her blog, 101 Cookbooks, almost since I started reading blogs (how did I live in that pre-blog darkness?) and I bought this as soon as I could. It's a beautiful book, wonderful colors, great photographs (Heidi is her own photographer), and the recipes are the kind I like best, that is, they are recipes that quest and explore.

So far I've mostly been reading it, dipping in here and there, making note of things I want to try (Raspberry Curd Swirl Cake! hibiscus-flavored Agua de Jamaica! a healthy version of Thin Mints!). But yesterday I wanted to get my hands into one of those recipes, and I chose something simple to start: Heidi's Grain-ola. I changed her recipe a little, partly to downsize it by half, partly to suit my cupboards.

Grain-ola, mostly from Super Natural Foods
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (a sub for sunflower seeds)
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup of maple syrup, plus 3 tbs of honey (Heidi used all honey, but I was almost out)
1/8 cup peanut oil (sub for coconut which I didn't have)
about a cup of assorted dried fruits (I used raisins, cranberries, and chopped apricots)
(I also left out coconut, again because I was without, and I have promised to try it with the coconut and the coconut oil.)

Heat sweeteners and oil until warm, and pour over the other ingredients, combined in a big bowl. Spread out on a cookie sheet (I lined mine with foil to save clean-up) and bake at 300 degrees for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mine came out a little darker than Heidi's, because I couldn't decide if it was done and left it in about 10 minutes longer--not a terrible mistake, because it has a nice darkly caramelized flavor. Altogether, as fine a granola as I've had, right up to my former high watermark of granolas, the kind they make for Vermont College's cafeteria (which is catered by a culinary institute): crispy, chewy, with the nice toothy softness of the dried fruits--good as a dry snack, and ambrosial in a bowl of milk.

One of the appeals of Super Natural Foods, for me, is its focus on unprocessed or minimally processed food, and on unfamiliar grains. Under Heidi's tutelage, I'm hoping to get to know teff and wheat berries in the most intimate and delicious ways.
For Amy Sherman's (of Cooking with Amy) interview with Heidi, check here.

Monday, March 05, 2007

some links, and kitchen news

Here's the best thing I read about the Oscars (1st saw it at Foodgoat); I was also thrilled that Helen Mirren won.
Some people are gardening already--I have seedling envy. My garden still looks pretty much like this, although some of the snow has melted.
Some other people (well, only one) have lost 1/2 their weight, which makes feel like a slacker for not being able to lose 10.
March 1 was National Pig Day, which I didn't know--but I'm planning on eating bacon this week anyway, in belated remembrance, perhaps in this tempting recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini, which is basically mac and cheese with hazelnuts and bacon: mmmm. (Clothilde's cookbook is coming out in May!)
I was looking for something quite different the other day (can't remember what it was), and found a site with Czech and Slovak recipes, which reminded me that I want to explore my native cuisine (one of them: I'm a mongrel). The only ones I recognized were klobasa (which we knew as kielbasi)--the beloved smoked sausage of many Eastern European countries; and palacinky, which the site described as "sweet stuffed crepes." I felt almost offended by the name--I could feel my dormant Slovakness rising up: a French name for one of the only Slovak dishes my mother made for us? Quel horreur!
But I guess they are crepes, we just didn't know it. To us they were a seldom, special treat, and everything about them was lit with magic: the way the batter gaily spread in the pan to make the thinnest of (pancakes) (crepes) palacinky, the red gleam of the jelly spread on the finished product, the powdered sugar dusted on the rolled palacinky, the squidginess of the roll under the fork, the separate tastes of egginess, jelly, sugar in the mouth.
Sometimes Mom would say, "my mother used to make these for us," for her and her 10 brothers and sisters, and that would make them taste even better, imagining my grandmother making them on the farm, and maybe even back in what we then called "the old country." Food from the past, from Europe, from where our grandfather worked as a forester, like something in a fairy tale.
Here's the best picture I could find of palacinky--it appears to be a mix for palacinky. Ours were never served with whipped cream or berries, although I wouldn't say no.

News: the kitchen is almost, almost finished. See D, left, putting a coat of primer on the ugly redness. There is a stage and a half left: the half is the refinishing of the cupboard doors, which we decided to do separately from the cupboards themselves, since it's going to involve paint remover which we'd rather do outside. The whole stage is the floor, which will be no doubt involved and awful in ways we can't even imagine, but which we won't think about before we have to.
So this weekend, my daughters and their families will come to visit and we'll be able to cook something for them in an attractive kitchen (if you don't look at the floor), free of its plastic veil--I am elated. And I can make palacinky--possibly on Saturday I'll be pouring batter, spreading jelly, dusting sugar. Can't wait.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

February is a cold month

We are still in the kitchen, meaning still working on it. Currently, it's the inside of the cupboards, which are painted a hideous shade of drying-blood red, robustly chipped (we always check for paint chips if we get out a little-used dish or bowl), which is not only unattractive but probably lead-based and therefore toxic.
Even so, we haven't mostly relied on frozen dinners, because we got so sick of them during the plastering part of the work. Some things are more easily prepared in a partially functional kitchen. Anthing that uses too many spices will cause grief, because the spices and dried herbs are dispersed far and wide, some in a blue basket, some in a giant dough-rising bowl, some in a box along with the deer's skull that used to hang between the windows (found, not shot).
Also it's not wise to embark on anything that uses too many pans, because there's sure to be cursing and banging of the available pots when you can't find the top of the double boiler, or the springform pan, or the top of the glass casserole dish. (Actually, I don't have a springform pan. I did have one, but I decided I wasn't using it and gave it away, and then became convinced that my life wasn't worth living unless I made cheesecake. So I'll probably buy another.)

Some things that have worked well:
Macaroni and cheese--of course--so simple: macaroni, milk, flour, oil or butter, cheese. The flour canister is easy to find because it's big enough to hold a five-pound bag.
Omelets: everything's in the fridge, which has not so far been renovated.
Chili: this was one of the 1st things we made after the kitchen became functional, and because we like it so much, I grouped the necessary spices/herbs on the window sill for easy access. If I want to use dried beans there's a minor problem, since there are several kinds and they're widely distributed: a giant bag of kidney beans in the cooler, along with the giant bag of rice; pinto beans in an attractive glass jar I got at a house sale; lentils in a plastic container on the dining room window seat next to our record collection; black beans in their original bag in a box on top of the fridge.
Soup: because it is so forgiving. As long as you have stock, bought or homemade and frozen, some vegetables, onions and garlic (almost always essential), meat (optional)--you're in business. One of our recent successful soups was a black bean soup with rice and corn, sensibly spicy--so simple as not to need a recipe: black beans, chicken broth, onion and garlic chopped, corn, extra veg (diced carrots this time), one potato cut up, a cup of leftover rice, a dash of hot sauce, a pinch of ancho pepper (one of the gathered chili spices), another of kosher salt. Serve with grated cheese on top (in this case, smoked cheddar).
Thank heaven for canned crushed tomatoes--a convenience food worth standing up for. And speaking of convenience foods, if you need a reason not to buy Hamburger Helper, check out Erin O'Brien's hilarious post on her HH experiment.