Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Blog Inspirations and Improvements

Another of my cell phone pics of great pumpkins galore!

Last week I was so proud of myself for having updated the look of my little blog from summer to fall with more seasonal colors and a picture of pumpkins taken at Jones Family Farms in Connecticut. Then this past Friday's Bitten column, which I didn't see until Monday, pointed out a blog with jaw-dropping photography and food styling. Talk about food porn to drool over! Puts my little cell phone pics like the one above that I was sooooooo proud of to shame! And dammit, don't you know this blog--Alexandra's Kitchen--is so well written that my mouth was watering as I considered how I might be able to work her quiche recipe--which is adapted from the Tartine cookbook--into my rotation as I cannot wait until Sunday brunch.

Quiche though? I thought that quiche was out in favor of fritata (no crust to make, chill and roll out, right?), but now quiche is probably back in in some sort of retro way and I missed the article in the Times that Wednesday! Well then quiche it shall be, perhaps for dinner on Friday? On top of that Alexandra's quiche uses creme fraiche which is footnoted in case you might want to make your own, and who wouldn't? The food lust is taking over! You have to check out Alexandra's photography page too BTW for a veritable centerfold of food porn! My only consolation is that, like me, Alexandra doesn't necessarily post often.

Leonor de Sousa Bastos' Flagrante Delicia is another exquisite blog, this one from a Portuguese pastry chef whose work is seductively photographed by her blog partner, himself a professional photographer. Somehow Alexandra's Kitchen led me to Flagrante Delicia (perhaps via Serious Eats?) but I don't feel like retracing my history to get the exact link. The first recipe I saw was her yogurt cake garnished with pomegranate seeds that looked luminescent! I mean, yogurt cake? With pomegranate seeds? Come on! Of course I will be preparing!

So I've updated my humble little blog with some links to some other preferred blogs and food sites, as well as a search and RSS subscription. All of which is humorous to me as this blog is most likely read by a mere handful of stalwarts, so who's going to subscribe? I like Aaron Kagan's take on the whole blog thang with this quote from his blog Tea and Food:

"I don't describe this process [making steak] because I feel that it's the best, or even because I want others to follow my technique, which isn't even "my" technique but something I once read somewhere. I share this information in the democratic and confessional spirit of food blogging: this is what I do, know that, and now go do what you do."

Most people who even respond to my blog postings do so via my Facebook/Notes links, and I'm sure as many of my friends are as pissed off at my food obsessions as other friends may be intrigued. So to anyone reading this, my sincere thanks for indulging my musings and reading my indulgences!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Good-bye to Summer's Bounty: Lynn Alley's Three Sisters Stew

These three sisters--corn, beans, and squash--really rock it when they get together! I love food names like this that tell a bit of a story, like moros y cristianos for Cuban black beans and rice. The three sisters were often grown as a trio by Native Americans in parts of North America. Corn is the eldest sister who allows the beans to climb while the broad leaves of squash shade the soil, keeping it moist and blocking weeds from seeing the sun.

It was last fall, perhaps after a visit to the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian, that I first heard of the three sisters. The cafeteria in this museum is probably the best--and most expensive--on the National Mall (the National Gallery of Art also has good eats IMHO) and features regional dishes inspired by the original inhabitants of the Americas. Was it a three sisters casserole that caught my eye that day? I can't quite remember, but I began bookmarking recipes last October, mindful that I would be revisiting this dish in my future.

The recipes that I found, however, seemed too hybrid Italian. One used a sage pesto with pine nuts and another was a pasta casserole for two. But a couple of days ago a co-worker and I were discussing his love of home cooked beans from scratch vs. the can. There's really no debate. Sure it's easy to open a can and no pantry should be without a few cans of beans like chickpeas, cannelinis, and/or black beans. But cooking beans oneself from dried beans is laughably simple, not to mention healthy and affordable. So he got me thinking that I too should be economizing and making beans from scratch, especially because it can all be done in the slow cooker while I'm out for the day.

Serendipitously I found a recipe in The Gourmet Slow Cooker Volume II for a three sisters stew, full of New World ingredients (i.e. Mexican) only. The other thing I liked about this recipe is that Lynn doesn't recommend soaking the beans overnight nor doing the quick soak (bring beans to a boil for a couple minutes then turn off the heat and let sit for an hour or two). While it's not a big deal to remember a day ahead that tomorrow is bean cooking day, I may not know until I've gotten up in the morning that I want beans for dinner that night so the soaking window might be closed.

There is debate among the culinary cognoscenti about the necessity of soaking anyway. Any authentic Mexican cookbook will not recommend the soak. Recipes I've seen from Europe as well as conventional wisdom usually insist on the soak. Rick Bayless scoffs at the idea and he's got the whole of Mexico to back him up. Without the soak, the beans may take longer to cook, but cooking beans isn't like cooking pasta in that the cooking time may vary widely depending on the beans themselves and how old they are anyway (older beans may take longer to come to doneness). I wasn't concerned though because I put the beans in my six quart slow cooker at 8:00 in the morning and knew that I wouldn't be home until after 6:00 so ten hours had to be long enough and it was.

Perhaps my beans were a bit overdone because some of them had given up a lot of starch and really thickened the stew beautifully IMO, but I could still see whole beans. That might also have occurred because I used both black beans and pink beans and probably different types of beans cook at different paces. If I were making a dish where most beans had to be kept whole, the super long cook might have been an issue, but that didn't matter for making a stew. In fact I was tempted to add a chopped up square of baking chocolate a la Tyler Florence to add even more silkiness, but refrained since I was interested in trying the dish as written since it was my first time preparing.

A lot of Amazon reviews for Lynn's slow cooker recipes criticize her for adding steps of grinding spices or browning meat or sauteing onions and garlic on the stove top. When slow cookers first became popular in the 1970s in the heyday of "convenience cooking" (when I was growing up incidentally), the "dump in all your ingredients in the morning and come home to your delicious dinner at the end of the day" was the selling point and this mentality has persisted to this day in some quarters. However, the slow cooker is not a magical cooking vessel. The end result depends on the quality of your ingredients and the steps taken to ensure a delicious result. This may often necessitate doing part of the preparation on top of the stove. Anyone who's made chili in a slow cooker is probably used to this idea as ground meat always has to be browned before adding. And if you're using preground spices, I'd just use the same amount as for whole. Whenever I measure whole seeds, I never level so a rounded teaspoon of whole seeds approximates closely enough a level measure of the same spice in my experience.

Now I'm going to sound like a hypocrite because I did not follow my own recommendation! I did not brown the onion at all, but just added it right in with the beans and chicken stock in the first step. The Three Sisters Stew is nearly a dish that follows the 1970s ethos of dump it all in and come home to a delicious meal. This was a move of pure laziness as I was trying to get to work and hadn't given myself enough time to saute the onion. I can't say that the dish suffered at all, but I'll attribute half of that to the quality of my spices and other ingredients from the farmers market. But browning meat? That is a step that should never be omitted.

Finally, this recipe defied other bean hegemony in addition to the no soak. I added marinara sauce to the beans from the beginning. Now I'd always heard that cooking beans in acidic liquid keeps them from reaching doneness, so I was skeptical of cooking the beans with a tomato based sauce, but no worries, mate! Perhaps ten hours was enough to overcome the situation, perhaps it was never a problem to begin with!

Three Sisters Stew
Adapted from Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Slow Cooker Volume II: Regional Comfort-Food Classics
Makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 2 cups dried pinto, Anasazi or red beans, rinsed [I used a half pound each of black and pink beans]
  • 8 cups water or stock [I used chicken stock]
  • 1 cup tomato or marinara sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive or corn oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon canned chili in adobo sauce, with sauce
  • 1 poblano chili, seeded and chopped [I used two poblanos]
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped [I used 5 cloves of roasted garlic that I happened to have on hand]
  • 1 pound chorizo sausage, sliced [I used 12 ounces of chicken and turkey habanero sausage, obviously not included for a vegetarian stew]
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed [next time I'll toast the spices before crushing]
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 3 ears corn, cut into 2-inch lengths [I trimmed the kernels off the cob instead because it's easier to eat that way]
  • 2 zucchini squash, sliced [1 pound of trimmed mini patty pan squash would do nicely here as they hold their shape after prolonged cooking]
  • 1 cup beer
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped cilantro, optional
  • sour cream, optional

Combine beans, water and tomato sauce in the slow cooker. Heat oil in large saute pan over medium-high. Saute onion for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. [I’m a total hypocrite for not doing this step but I was pressed for time!] Transfer to the slow cooker; add chilis and garlic. [Next time I might just add the whole sausages at this step to let them steep in the stew, but maybe they would add too much salt and/or acidity] Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours, until the beans are very tender.

Brown chorizo in a saute pan over medium-high heat, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain. Add the chorizo, cumin, coriander, chili powder, corn, zucchini and beer to the cooker and continue cooking for 1 hour, until the zucchini is tender and the corn is cooked. Season to taste with salt. Serve hot, garnished with cilantro and sour cream.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chris Kimball's Sweet and Sour Apple and Fennel Coleslaw

This past Saturday in Washington, DC was rainy and reportedly a record cold day, but that didn't stop me from getting up early and eager to hit the farmers' market after a four week hiatus. Having recently "eaten down the fridge," I had every excuse to replenish my stocks and as unseasonably cold as it was, the slow cooker would be part of the plan. I made a small list and looked up some recipes and found one that I'd made more than a year ago (Carolina pulled pork barbecue) and one that had been on my mind for over a year (three sisters stew).

The three sisters stew (corn, squash, and beans) is something that I will blog about more extensively after preparing the dish, but suffice it to say that I was very glad that so late in the season I was still able to get corn and zucchini. The pork shoulder for Carolina barbecue had to come from my favorite meat purveyor at the market who has actually spoiled me as far as pork products are concerned. Farm raised and succulent, I imagine his pork products taste the storied way pork used to taste before the pork industry decided to lean pork out and market it as "the other white meat." I know that I'll be building my pork and bacon reserves over the next four weeks because once the market finishes for the year the weekend before Thanksgiving, I won't be buying any pork again until the spring. Sniff!

Having spent the long Columbus Day weekend in Asheville, NC and enjoying some really good Carolina and Texas barbecue at Ed Boudroux's, a place in the heart of Asheville recommended by a friend, I was happy to come home and try my hand once more at a very simple slow cooker preparation. This provided an excuse to make my signature hamburger buns and my favorite coleslaw recipe using apples and fennel. Chris Kimball's coleslaw recipe always gets rave reviews because it has some ingredients that people aren't expecting like apples. He has another Asian coleslaw recipe that I also like to make that has a spicy peanut flavored dressing.

Kimball caused a bit of a stink in the food blogosphere recently regarding his take on the demise of Gourmet, which was published in the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times. Personally I've never had a problem with the man, having enjoyed his appearances on morning television and NPR on various occasions, and America's Test Kitchen is an old school PBS stalwart of a cooking show that's all about the technique and not about the glam. But he really dissed the current state of food writing and concluded his piece with a decidedly elitist tone and even had the nerve to presume the views of the deceased Mme. Child after name dropping that he was a neighbor and frequent guest at her home. Since I'm not in the big leagues with my personal little blog space, I can's say that I took offense, but others certainly did and Amateur Gourmet as well as Serious Eats had pretty good rejoinders old guard vs. the new.

Kimball's opinions on the publishing world vs. the blogosphere notwithstanding, his coleslaw recipe is pretty simple and never fails to impress. The technique of using salt to draw out the moisture and wilt the cabbage is one I first saw in Japan in a cooking class I took there. Having made this slaw so many times over the years, I have adapted certain parts of the recipe to make it my own, the most significant being the use of dill instead of tarragon, and the addition of bell pepper, carrots, and radishes, which just makes the slaw more flavorful and visually appealing.

Coleslaw with Apple, Fennel, and Dill
Adapted from Chris Kimball's Sweet and Sour Slaw with Apple and Fennel as demonstrated on Martha Stewart's old TV show

Makes about 10 cups

  • 1 pound (about half a medium head) green cabbage, finely shredded [savoy or Chinese cabbage works nicely because they hold the dressing nicely]
  • 1 medium head fennel, thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 2 large carrots peeled and thinly sliced in rounds
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped [I used a whole onion]
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons rice-wine vinegar [I used apple cider vinegar]
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed [my addition]
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces [any firm apple will do and I don't necessarily bother peeling]
  • 1 sweet bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow) cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 6 radishes thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves [replaced by 1/3 cup chopped dill]
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Toss cabbage, with salt in a colander or large mesh strainer set over a medium bowl. [Chris just has you wilt the cabbage with the salt, but I like to also wilt the fennel and carrot at the same time] Let stand until cabbage wilts, 1 to 4 hours. Rinse under cold running water (or in large bowl of ice water if serving slaw immediately). Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. (Can be stored in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerated overnight.)
  2. Stir together honey, vinegar, oil, mustard, and celery seed in a medium bowl and set dressing aside.
  3. Toss the cabbage, fennel, carrot, apple, pepper, radishes, and tarragon [I prefer dill] with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper. [You probably won't need much salt.] Cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New look for the blog!

The look of old

Inspired by a page over at the Smitten Kitchen and after a friend told me that some of the pumpkin pics I'd taken with my cell phone looked like magazine quality, I decided to change the look of the blog to go with the season. Summer veggies are out and the fall look is in!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Kim O'Donnell's Eating Down the Fridge Challenge

Readers of this blog might remember a couple of posts about "eating down the fridge." The idea first came to my attention via Kim O'Donnell, formerly of who used to host a weekly chat and blog about all things food related. Kim has moved on to another cyber space called True Slant where she continues her mission.

In the spring of this year Kim challenged her Post readers to eat down the fridge by foregoing the weekly shopping ritual--except for essentials--and making meals from the contents of the fridge, freezer, and pantry. "Essential" is subjectively defined: my essentials (coffee, milk, OJ, yogurt, olive oil) might not seem like a requirement to someone else, but the point is to minimize the weekly grocery haul and just consume what you already have on hand.

For the fall EDF challenge Kim invited guest bloggers to write about their EDF challenges and perspectives, and yours truly was the Friday blogger. You can read my dispatch and then think about how to incorporate the EDF ethos into your own weekly shopping and cooking habits. EDF is a money saving idea in these hard economic times, but it's also a way to clean out the kitchen clutter and start afresh. Think of it as fall cleanup as we transition from summer's dwindling abundance of corn, tomatoes, peaches, and zucchini to fall's harvest offerings of butternut squash, brussel sprouts, and apples. As you eat down your own fridge/freezer/pantry, substitutions are indeed encouraged (no fresh oregano for that sauce? try some dried thyme instead).

EDF dinner with with wine

My own experience of the latest round of EDF was to host a French inspired dinner last Saturday using mostly contents from my freezer: boeuf bourguignon using a beef sirloin tip roast, parsley buttered noodles from frozen homemade pasta dough, haricots verts using green beans bought at a Connecticut farmstand, and tarte tatin using frozen homemade pie crust and apples picked two weeks earlier. I also extended my focus to my wine cabinet and opened a special bottle of 1997 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon in the spirit of the WSJ wine writers' "Open that Bottle of Wine Night." Every year they challenge readers to stop saving that special bottle and open it to share with friends and loved ones. We finally got to enjoy a bottle we'd bought seven years ago and it was a sheer pleasure enjoyed with good friends over a delightful evening that cost next to nothing as we made dinner from ingredients we mostly had on hand.