Why I Do What I Do

2011/01/13

Happy New Year. A lot of people ask me why I spend so much time and effort preserving my own foods when there are perfectly good grocery stores around selling quality jams, pickles, and canned tomatoes. And in the heat of August, when I am laboring in the kitchen over pot after pot of tomatoes, I often wonder myself. Given that I pay $0.49 per pound of whole tomatoes and it takes not quite a pound and a half to make one pint of canned tomatoes, I am getting a pretty good deal, but time is money, and canning is a lot of work.

This year, in addition to canning stewed tomatoes, I also made salsa, tomato paste (two tiny jars!), and slow roasted cherry tomatoes for freezing. Now I must say that these little beauties are spectacular. I roasted them at 180 degrees (the lowest my oven goes) for about twelve hours per batch, sometimes longer. The smallest ones dried out completely and taste just like sun-dried tomatoes, while the larger ones remained juicy but became oh-so-sweet. Seriously, they taste like tomato candy. But as good as they are, I only managed to get two and a half quart size freezer baggies of tomatoes. For all the chopping and electric bills involved, these seem like less of a bargain.

On nights like tonight, though, in the dead of winter when it barely ever gets above freezing, all that work seems worth it. Because for dinner tonight I made my favorite summer salad. Well, a variation of it. Actually, I have never made this salad the same way twice. The only mandatory ingredients are things I usually have on hand: avocados, mozzarella cheese, and (frozen) roasted corn. The dressing is made of two cubes each of Dorot’s frozen herbs – garlic, basil, and cilantro mixed with lime juice. Tonight I mixed it in with mayo because I had some homemade that needed using up. I wouldn’t bother with store bought mayo for this salad; it doesn’t really need it. I also added a handful of my frozen tomatoes to the salad tonight, defrosted with the corn.

This is really a “kitchen sink” style salad; pretty much anything can be tossed in. In the past I have added black beans, arugula, bell pepper, and anything else that was on hand. I bet boiled potatoes would be excellent. There is no real recipe, but I try to keep the proportions even on the cheese, corn and avocado. I overdressed it a little tonight, but it was still pretty good.

To go with the salad a made
this soup
by a href=”http://smittenkitchen.com/”target=”_blank”>
smitten kitchen almost exactly by the recipe. I ran short on cumin so I added some chili powder for depth and I didn’t want to use beef stock for obvious reasons, so I added an extra cup of tomatoes (my own of course) and then three cups of water with a vegetarian bouillon cube. The soup was really good and the flavors complemented the salad. All in all it was a tasty dinner, with plenty of leftovers.


Fiddlehead Fern Risotto

2010/05/13

Fiddlehead ferns are one of nature’s little gifts. They are only around for a brief moment every spring, and they don’t preserve very well (although I did see a recipe for fiddlehead fern pickles). If they were around year round, these curly-cues that taste vaguely like asparagus would probably be relegated to the pile of vegetables that people consider boring (Ian didn’t think there was anything special about them), but their scarcity, and the fact that most grocery stores don’t carry them so you usually have to get them from a farmers’ market, make them something to be cherished.

My fiddlehead ferns went through a lot to make it to my risotto tonight. I saw them at Wegman’s grocery store and had to buy them. Wegman’s grocery store is another story in itself. It was my first time there, and I must say I was a bit overwhelmed. Many people love this store, but it was just too big for me. Some of the things looked really good, but it was just too big, with too many things. Also, while the seasonal produce was great, I really don’t it when summer lasts all year long. I don’t want tomatoes and eggplant and peppers in May, I want the Spring bounty of greens and asparagus and radishes. Save the rest for August, when delicate lettuces can’t take the heat.

But enough ranting, I want to talk about risotto. This risotto was a little different from others I have made. The risotto I made according to the package directions, which is very simple. However, I usually make it with vegetable broth, and this time I used mushroom broth, and it changed the taste a little. I don’t think Ian was as enamoured with it as usual, although he did have a big bowl of seconds. I blanched the fiddlehead ferns first, since when raw they contain a toxin that can upset the stomach. After the risotto was finished, i mixed the fiddles and a generous amount of parmesan into the risotto. Voila! Spring in a bowl.


Favorite Things vol. 2

2010/04/11

Anyone who has shared a meal with my father, sister, and me (and paid attention) will be somewhat surprised that I would consider salt to be one of my favorite things (see the first post in this series here). While it is true that I do not pile it on everything I eat, salt can make or break a dish. But what I love most about salt (and why it makes this list) is my salt collection.

Yes, I have a salt collection.

It started innocently enough, with lovely little jar of sea salt my friend Amy brought me when she came back from a trip to Maine.

I liked it a lot, because it was a very thoughtful gift, and I put it on my table to replace the faux Sea Salt Grinder I had gotten tired of. (**note: The actual Sea Salt grinder I bought from Trader Joes had broken, so I poured the salt into an unused pepper grinder. It worked, but only so-so.) This sea salt is not too fine and not too coarse. You can tell it is there, but it doesn’t add a crunch.

Then around Christmas last year, Ian’s parents gave us a sampler of six French Sea Salts. They were all in bags, but they also gave us little jars to put them in.

From left to right, the salts are: Fleur de Sel de Guérande, Fumee de Sel (smoked Fleur de Sel), Tamise de Guérande, Velvet de Guérande, Sel Gris Fine, and Sel Gris Course. All of these salts are from Guérande in France, which is considered by many to be the best place for sea salt in the world. My favorite is the Tamise de Guérande, which has an interesting flavor and slightly coarse texture. Ian’s favorite is the Velvet de Guérande, which is a super fine grey sea salt. The smoky Fumee de Sel is also quite nice in certain dishes. I particularly like it with root vegetables.

I also just got a new salt in the Easter Basket Ian’s parents gave us.

I haven’t tried this one yet, and I still need to find it a jar, but I am looking forward to it.

Unless I am going for something in particular, however, I just use these salts for finishing at the table. For cooking, I usually use Kosher Salt.

Because the box is so big, and the mouth is wide, I keep a small amount in a plastic container and refill it as necessary.

Just so you don’t think I am salt snob, I do have a regular container of Morton’s salt.

I often use this in baking, because the crystals are regularly sized (for even distribution) and it is easy to measure.

There are still a few salts I would like to own.

Salt Wish List

Anyone else know of any interesting salts I need to try?

If you are interested in learning more about salt, read this book:

Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky. It actually extremely interesting and a great read.


Not My Egg Salad Sandwich

2010/02/27

In my life, I have made many different egg salad sandwiches. In fact, every time I make egg salad it is slightly different. That is because, despite what most delis will have you believe, egg salad is extremely versatile. Different mustards, spices, cheeses, even nuts, can create new and interesting combinations. I have made horseradish egg salad with pickled beets on black bread, curried egg salad with pistachios in pita pockets (there used to be a recipe for this on Whole Foods’ website which is where I got the idea, but I didn’t follow the recipe), and even wasabi egg salad with avocado inside rice balls. Even the bland stuff at deli can be blank canvas for tasty garnishes. At a DC area sandwich chain (whose really strange name shall remain unsaid), I like my egg salad on a spinach tortilla with provolone cheese, tomato, hot pepper rings, and sprouts. It is tasty. But I have said enough about the way I like my egg salad, because as I said in the title, the subject of this post is not my egg salad sandwich.

This egg salad sandwich belongs to someone else. A very special someone else. It was even named after her. The name of my blog would probably annoy her, but that is a different story. I am too far away today to get a real sandwich from the ice cream parlor that sells them, so I decided to make one myself.

Step 1) The Bread

I woke up to the smell of this baking this morning. Delay timers on bread machines are a good thing. This bread from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook, is called Whole Wheat Cuban Bread, although I am not sure if it should still be considered whole wheat if you use half whole wheat flour and half white bread flour. But that is what the book calls it, I call it “half wheat bread”. It was still very good, crusty outside and soft inside with that nutty flavor that wheat breads have. Also it is vegan, which I found interesting. It doesn’t taste vegan.

Step 2) The Eggs

To make egg salad, you must first boil some eggs. I have boiling eggs down to an art; my yolks are always fully set and bright yellow with not even a hint of grey, and the shells peel of easily 99.5% of the time. To do this I start by covering cold eggs with cold water in a saucepan (this is the one time that it is better not to use fresh eggs). I bring the water to a full rolling boil (uncovered) over high heat and continue to boil for 5 minutes. Then I remove the pan from the burner, cover, and wait 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, I transfer the eggs to ice water and put them in the fridge for a few minutes (**this step is very important**). There you have it. Perfect eggs every time.

Step 3) The Egg Salad

Since this is not my egg salad sandwich, I wanted to make a simple, but still flavorful salad. To do this, I mixed 2 tsp mayo with 1/2 tsp honey mustard (it is the yellowest one I have on hand) and a smidgen of minced sweet onion for flavor. Then I chopped 2 eggs in the bowl (I don’t like to waste yolk on a cutting board, and you can actually chop eggs easily with a butter knife so it doesn’t scratch the bowl) and mixed.

Sometimes a sunny yellow egg salad can lift your spirits a little.

Step 4) Assembly

Assembling this sandwich was rather simple. All I added were some Red Oak lettuce leaves I picked up at the farmers’ market this morning. Lettuce is not really my favorite accompaniment to egg salad, but this is how this sandwich should be. Then I cut it on a diagonal, because that is what I do.

It was really quite good. Thank you for letting me share your lunch. 🙂


Not done yet…

2010/02/22

There are still tweaks to be made, but the major makeover is done…for now.


A Change is Gonna Come…

2010/02/18

In honor of my return to writing, I have decided to give my blog a total makeover; title, header, layout (maybe), everything.

Stay tuned!


My First Loaf of Bread (plus an apology to my blog)

2010/02/17

Dear Blog,

I have neglected you. I am very sorry. I realize this when I read my last post about what I am doing with my summer, and look outside at all the snow on the ground. It’s not like I haven’t thought about you. There have been plenty of meals that I have wished I had photographed so I could tell you about them, but I forgot. But enough with the with the apology.

I am writing you now because of a very special event. Last night, I baked my very first loaf of bread. Mind you, I do have a bread machine (which I have had since my birthday last November; I don’t just procrastinate with blogging). I do not consider using my bread machine cheating. I am a busy woman with many demands on her time, and the bread machine will allow me to have my freshly baked bread without worrying about kneading and proofing myself.

For my first loaf of bread I followed a simple recipe: Homestyle White Bread from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook. It was easy to follow and it came out good. As Ian said, “It tastes like bread.” I didn’t want to try anything too complicated, because I was not entirely sure what I was doing.

So there it is. Yummy, right? I thought so. It made a good egg sandwich for breakfast this morning and was really tasty spread with my homemade apple butter.

The only problem I encountered was that the mixing paddle baked itself into the bread. Has anyone else had this problem? The cookbook suggested greasing the paddle first as a solution, and I will try this next time, which will be soon.

And Blog, I promise to tell you about it.

Love,

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