Category Archives: dinner

Stave Off Winter’s Fury

It may seem odd to be thinking about winter here in the dog days of summer, but I suggest this is the exact right moment for it (and I have thousand of years of history to back me up on this).  If there is one thing that Jason and I have learned in our nearly ten years of living in NoVa, it is that we do not do winter well.  As children of the hot southern sun come late in life to the realities of cold, we have not adapted easily.  I know, I know, the idea of Virginia’s winter is laughable to some of you, but let me make my case.  If you live in a truly cold place you at least have the benefit of a usable cold (ice skating, snow, sledding, snow. . .lots and lots of snow :) ).  Here, it is just nasty: wet, cold, dirty, slushy.  I digress.

Well, this year I finally had the opportunity to bottle up a little summer comfort to see us through the Dark Days.  Last year, you may remember, we spent the majority of the summer traveling or recovering from travel (see Australia).  One of our favorite things to have in the winter is tomato soup (this one, right here), but the canned stuff just isn’t any good (and usually isn’t any good for you), and winter tomatoes are almost as depressing as soggy turnips; we won’t even talk about how much they cost.  So two weekends ago I scrambled down to our neighborhood farmer’s market and came home with 20 (yes, TWENTY) pounds of tomatoes, an humongous bunch of basil, and a pioneering spirit!  This is how I spent my day:DSC_0062

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Roughly eight hours later I had thirteen beautiful quart jars of soupy goodness ready to go in the freezer (I don’t have a pressure canner, so this is my only option) and a little store of lessons learned:

1. 10-15 pounds might really be my comfort zone. . .twenty verges on the absurd

2.  Get an immersion blender. . .no, really, just do it

3.  Food processors and blenders fail epic-ly with hot liquids in large quantity

4.  Do yourself a favor and sit down to process the tomatoes, or get a gel mat. . .or prepare for pain :)

5.  Peeling garlic in these quantities can burn your fingers every bit as badly as cutting up chiles–beware!

If you want to do something crazy like this yourself, here’s what you’ll need:

  • white vinegar
  • lots of water
  • large sink or bowls
  • 20 lbs. tomatoes
  • 5-6 heads garlic
  • 6 large white or yellow onions
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 quarts chicken or veg. stock
  • 10 bay leaves
  • 24 TBS (!) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tightly packed cups basil leaves
  • 2-3 very large stock pots (8 quarts or larger. . .larger)
  • roasting pans
  • parchment paper
  • a big dang spoon
  • immersion blender (trust me)
  • 12-14 freezer-safe quart jars (depending on how full you want them) or an equivalent volume of quarts and pints

Fill sink or bowls with cold water and a cup of vinegar (for the whole quantity of tomatoes).  Soak tomatoes in water for at least 10 minutes.  Clean, remove any bad spots, and transfer to kitchen towels to dry.  Prepare the soup with this recipe.  Wash jars in dishwasher on sanitize setting.  Place lids and rings in bowl and cover with boiling water.  Fill clean jars with soup (leaving at least a 1/2 space at the top), screw dried lids on loosely.  Allow to cool on counter for no more than two hours.  Place in freeze and pat yourself on your sweet, tired back!

Soup of the Day: Summertime Black Bean Soup

I don’t know about you, but growing up in the south soup was not a summer food.  At least not in my house.  We ate cold food whenever possible, and my mother did her best to forget that we owned a stove (not a judgment, just the facts: she is the best mother in the world and she will be the first to tell you that she gets “hurmpy”– hot grumpy).  Given that background, I was surprised to find on our recent trip to Mexico that soup was served every day.  Yes, in Mexico, during their hottest season, delicious, delectable soups were offered every evening: beet soup, lentil, vegetable, chickpea, onion. . .they were varied and, despite the heat, perfect.

Well, I suppose Jason took a liking to the idea; in spite of the 90 degree plus weather here in Virginia he has requested soup a few times since we came home.  The one I’m going to share with you today we eat as a full meal, rather than a soup course, but I imagine you could make it fit beautifully into a larger menu.

This recipe is inspired by a long time favorite from the Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon, Cuban Black Bean Soup Santa Fe.  If you are on the lookout for a fantastic and healthy cookbook that you will turn to again and again, I highly recommend this one.  Beyond that, I suppose both our recent trip and the beautiful, abundant produce available at the market just now are responsible for the evolution of this soup.  Doing the Allergy Elimination Diet?  This soup is a great option for you.  Enjoy.  (Please forgive the rotten pictures; I just can’t seem to work the camera properly these days :S ).

 

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Summertime Black Bean Soup with Roasted Corn and Avocado Salsa

makes 5 -6 main course servings

Soup Ingredients:

2 cups dried black beans, rinsed, picked over, and soaked in water to cover

2 bay leaves

2 Tbs cumin seeds

1 large jalapeno, chopped with seeds

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large white onion, medium dice

2 green bell peppers, medium dice

6 cloves garlic, sliced or uniformly chopped

Salt

Pepper

Directions:

Soak beans overnight in enough water to cover (four cups is a good starting number).  In large pot or slow cooker, combine beans with soaking water, cumin seeds, jalapeno, bay leaves and 1 tsp of salt.  Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and bring to a simmer, cooking, partially covered, until beans are tender, roughly 2 hours.

In a large skillet add olive oil and garlic and turn to medium heat.  When garlic becomes fragrant, add diced peppers and onion.  Season with salt and pepper (start with no more than half a tsp of salt. . .you can always add more, but you can’t take away).  The goal here is to sweat the vegetables, not brown them, so keep the heat gentle as you sautee then until softened.

When the beans are tender and the vegetables are softened, using an immersion blender or food processor, blend half the beans (being sure to include the two bay leaves) and 1/4 to 1/3 of the vegetables together until thick and smooth.  Add this and the vegetable mixture to the remaining beans in your large pot.  Stir thoroughly to combine and taste for seasoning.  Simmer for another 20 minutes.  Serve garnished with roasted corn and avocado salsa.

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Roasted Corn and Avocado Salsa

Ingredients:

2 ears of corn

2 ripe avocados

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

lemon or lime

1/8 tsp. chipotle chili powder

Directions:

Set oven to broil.  Line baking sheet with foil.  Remove husks from corn; cut avocados in half and remove seed.  Rub corn and avocado lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Broil, turning as needed until uniformly charred.  Avocados will finish before corn.  When cool enough to touch cut corn from cob, remove avocado from skin and cube.  Combine corn, avocado, cilantro, chipotle chili powder and the juice of 1 lemon or lime.

Hot Wings and the State of Things

Hello again.  It has been awhile, but this time I make no apologies.  We have been busy: working, nesting, living, grieving.  We are now firmly planted in our new apartment, and loving it more every day.  We’ve built bookshelves, sold furniture, scouted Craigslist in vain for a sofa small enough to fit up the staircase, enjoyed evening strolls around the neighborhood, and Saturday mornings at the farmers market.  We lost a very dear friend to the darkness of PTSD. In the aftermath we have spent time enjoying one another, making the most of every moment we are blessed to have together.  We have been reminded to appreciate our friends and family, and to invest in those relationships more intentionally.

The transition from winter to warmth, combined with the hectic and the sad, has brought inventive cooking to a standstill.  I have again fallen back to the well known, the easy to produce, comfortable in familiarity.  Though it isn’t earth shattering, I thought I would take a moment to share one of those easy everyday recipes with you, something you can throw together when all you really want is time to enjoy the people around you, while providing a good meal.

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I served these wings with Toasted Millet Salad with Arugula, Quick Pickled Onion and Goat Cheese by Sara Forte as seen at My New Roots

If you are already familiar with processing chicken wings, feel free to skip down to the recipe.  For the rest of you, we are venturing back into the somewhat scary territory of poultry here, but stay with me.  In this post about Herbes de Provence Roasted Chicken we addressed some of the concerns sometimes felt about working with meat and poultry.  If you are new to cooking meat, wings can be far less daunting than a whole bird.  Many stores offer the wings already cut up into two segments, and if time or knife skills are a concern, go for these.  But the whole wings are really easy to process and usually a good bit less expensive.  Here’s what you do:

First, find the joint between the lower wing and the wing tip (the pointy bit with no meat on it).  Find the point where the joint flexes and cut in between.  It may take a few tries, but you will know you’ve found the right angle when the knife doesn’t meet much bone resistance.  Now, same with the upper wing and lower wing.  Flex the joint between the two.  Start cutting through the flap of skin, aiming down toward the knob at the bottom of the upper wing (the part that looks like a miniature drum stick).  Once you’ve gotten there, you will see the elbow joint, a rounded white knuckle of bone.  Cut under that.  Now, practice!  Heck, if you don’t get it right with the first full batch (or five), the things are still edible.  Just make sure you don’t have any little bone fragments attached to your cut pieces.  Rinse, if necessary, and pat dry.

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Hot Wings

Ingredients

garlic powder

cayenne pepper

olive oil

chicken wings (I made about 20 full wings here)

butter

hot sauce (like Franks, Red Hot, etc.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425.

Line large baking pan with parchment; do not use foil because the meat will stick and tear.  Dust prepared wings with cayenne and garlic powder.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Turn oven down to 375; bake for an additional 20 minutes.  Check for doneness (no pink).

Meanwhile place 1/2 cup hot sauce and 1.5 tablespoons of butter in a large pan.  Heat over low to melt butter and combine.  Remove wings from oven and transfer to pan.  Toss (or carefully turn) in sauce to coat.  Heat until sauce is slightly thickened and wings are fully coated.  Serve with lots of napkins!

I’d love to know: What is your favorite meal to share with family and friends?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

 

Black Rice Jewel Box Salad via www.oneishungry.com

Black Rice Jewel Box Salad

For a whole host of reasons, we are not having a Christmas tree in our condo this year.  First, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, we only have half a floor.  Second, we are making a long visit home to the land of cotton blossoms for the holidays.  Third, there is a distinct possibility that I am allergic to them (usually that would not be a factor for consideration, but this year, as my doctor put it yesterday, I’m already behind the eight ball!).  Finally, all of our Christmas decorations are in storage, as we eagerly anticipated the possibility of having sold our condo by now.  By the way, yes, the whole losing our floor bit really put a damper on our plans to get this place on the market in a hurry.  On the plus side, we know we will be passing on a mold-free, beautifully re-floored and re-doored apartment to the eventual owners, and that is a nice, cozy feeling!

Because we don’t have any holiday decorations up, my soul has been longing for some traditional seasonal color and sparkle.  Say hello to Christmas on a plate!

Black Rice Jewel Box Salad via www.oneishungry.com

Aren’t the colors gorgeous?  We had a bit of black rice left over in the pantry from the last time we made Broiled Salmon with Spicy Greens and Black Rice, and green beans that didn’t all make it into this fabulous dish.  Tiny clementine segments and small diced red onion are fantastic, but the star on top is the pomegranate seeds.  Breaking into the luscious, glimmering interior of a pomegranate is an aesthetically satisfying experience for me.  You can see why some scholars believe the fruit in the  garden that tempted Adam and Eve was not an apple, but this glorious jewel box of an hundred rubies.

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A light vinaigrette to pull all the flavors together, and your salad is complete.  We had ours with garlic crusted lamb chops; how would you serve it?  Do you have a food that sings “Happy Holidays” to your soul?  Leave a note in the comments below, and tell me all about it!

This recipe is great for those on the Allergy Elimination Diet. IF you are testing for citrus (i.e. have eliminated citrus from your diet) be sure to substitute another fruit or veg. for the clementine slices!  Fresh carrot slices would give the same beautiful color and a fantastic crunch to boot!  This salad opens itself to a world of easy substitution; play around and make it your own.

Black Rice Jewel Box Salad

serves 4-6 as a side

Salad

2 cups of cooked rice, cooled slightly

1/4 of a small red onion, small dice

2 clementines (or carrots), segmented (or slices)

handful of fresh green beans, sliced on the diagonal

pomegranate seeds

Vinaigrette

1 Tbs sherry or red wine vinegar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp dijon mustard

1/2 tsp maple syrup

2 1/2 Tbs olive oil

Assemble salad. Place vinegar and salt in mason jar or bowl, and agitate until salt has dissolved.  Add mustard and maple, and shake or whisk to combine.  Now add oil, and shake it like a piggy bank!

This Is How They Do It Down Under: Aussie Burgers

Can you be homesick for a place you have never called home?  I miss Australia. I miss the smell of the air, the sounds of the voices, the quality of the sunlight, and the amazing wildlife.  To try and assuage my longing a bit, I decided to make a very Australian version of an everyday food: the humble hamburger.

An Australian hamburger has several key elements that differ from the typical American variety:  sliced, cooked beets, fried eggs, and capsicum, a condiment made from bell peppers  and spices that is used as a sandwich spread.  Also, rocket, a play on the French rocquette or arugula, is typical rather than lettuce, at least in restaurants.   I wasn’t able to find any capsicum on short notice, but the beets, egg, and arugula were enough to bring a cozily reminiscent taste to the meal.

Of course, every burger needs a fry, just ask my husband.  His food wish is my command, so here are two recipes for the price of one.

Oven Thyme Fries

serves 4-6

2 med.-lg. russet potatoes, cleaned (and peeled if not organic), and cut in 1/4 to 1/3″ thick stick, or wedges, or whatever you like

olive oil

kosher salt

fresh or dried thyme

Preheat oven to 450.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Toss cut potatoes with olive oil, salt and thyme.  Cook in oven, turning over gently once, until goldeny brown or done to your liking.  Check at 15 minutes and again every 5 minutes after.

Aussie Burger

serves 4

1+ lb. ground beef (or turkey or your meat substitute)

kosher salt and pepper

bacon optional (a really, really good option)

rocket/arugula

red onion

tomato

1 cooked beet (canned or boil it yourself with water and a touch of vinegar), sliced

1 egg per person

capsicum (or condiments of your choice)

buns optional

Heat cast iron pan on medium heat.  Separate ground meat into four equal portions and, manipulating it as little as possible, form into patties.  Salt and pepper the outside of the meat.  Place on hot pan and cook to desired doneness.  Fry eggs in a bit of olive oil or butter (just a touch).  Layer on your goodies and enjoy this, perhaps unusual, treat!