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Chard

 

With the recent mad embrace of kale, other greens are getting lost in the fray.  I, personally, prefer Swiss chard to kale or any other green.  I find it sweeter with less mineral flavor and I cook it at least once a week sometimes with pasta or grains but most often in the following fashion –
I generally use 2 bunches organic chard which I chop into pieces.  I always use the stems too.  I heat about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil with a couple of mashed garlic cloves over low heat.  I add the zest of an orange and a couple of tablespoons of orange juice.  Then, I add the chard, cover, and steam for a few minutes.  Then, I uncover, raise the heat, and, using tongs, toss the greens until just barely cooked through.  You can also cook them until very dark green and soft but I prefer the chard to still be a bit fresh looking.

beef-vegetable-soup
All during the NY winter months soup is often on the dinner table.  There is nothing better with a tossed green salad, some homemade bread or a crusty baguette, and, of course, a glass of red.  I normally make a non-meat vegetable soup, but I had just one beef shank in the freezer so thought I’d use it to add some oomph to the vegetables.  Beef shanks are less expensive than many other cuts of beef and, because they are a cross cut from the leg which is well-used muscle, shanks need a long slow braise to melt the connective tissue and tenderize the meat.  Whole shanks are often braised in red wine rather like boeuf bourguignon or cut into pieces for use in all types of stews.  For my soup, I first cooked the shank in a combination of water and stock seasoned with leek greens, a couple of cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper until it was beginning to pull away from the bone.  I used a fairly large soup pot so I can make a big batch, part of which can be frozen for another day. I lifted the cooked meat from the broth and then stained the broth, discarding the solids.  I returned the broth to the pot and added the following with enough extra water to cover the mix by at least an inch, but you can add or subtract anything and still have a terrific pot to feed your body and your soul.  The soup needs to cook for about an hour to allow the flavors to be extracted from the vegetables.

Makes a big pot

One 28 ounce can chopped plum tomatoes
4 large button mushrooms, trimmed and sliced into small pieces
¼ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 cup frozen lima beans
1 cup frozen peas
A few large handfuls of baby spinach I had leftover from a salad
Salt and pepper

choc-bundt-cake
Every night after dinner Steve says “Do we have any cake?”  and most nights I give a negative nod.  But, once in awhile I decide to take pity on him and make a simple cake to offer with a cup of decaf.  The problem with cake making is that Steve eats one dainty slice and forgets about it while I am left to devour the remains.  I have a terrible sweet tooth which makes eating an entire cake not difficult to do – over a few days, of course.  Since I am always trying to watch my weight (and not watch it increase) this is not something I like to do so cake making isn’t often on my list of kitchen chores.  Since Steve prefers a simple cake – pound cake, angel food, spice – I can always quickly put together a plain cake from memory.  Here is a chocolate version of bundt cake that is easy to make and keeps well over a few days, well-wrapped in the fridge.  If desired, you can add a cup of chopped nuts or chocolate chips or other flavored chips to the cake or drizzle the top with a glaze or sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Makes one cake

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ¼ cups sifted flour
¾ cup sifted dark cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Lightly coat the interior of a bundt cake pan with butter and flour or with nonstick baking spray. Set aside.
Place the butter in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle and beat on low to soften.  Add the sugar, raise the speed to medium, and beat until light and creamy.
Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.  Begin adding the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, a little at a time, alternately adding the milk and one egg.  When all of the ingredients have been blended in, add the vanilla and beat to incorporate.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.  Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until the edges pull away from the pan and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and invert the pan onto a wire pan.  Lift off the pan and allow the cake to cool before cutting or covering with a glaze.

Beans-on-Toast

 

My mom was a first generation American of Scots parentage so I grew up eating a cheap and cheerful dish called beans on toast that is everyday fare throughout the once United Kingdom.  The original is simply spoonfuls of Heinz baked beans (now known as Heinz Beanz) dumped on a slice of brown bread.  Of course, over the years, cooks have devised their own versions so beans on toast can now mean many things from plain to fancy.  To be tried and true you should use Heinz Beanz, but if you have a favorite brand of canned baked beans do not hesitate to use them.  There are no real amounts to be given, just pile on as many beans as you like.  Steve, my dearest husband, loves my version which stays pretty close to the original with a few exceptions which are:
I toast the bread.
I coat the toast with strong mustard.
I warm the beans and let some of the juices cook off so they aren’t quite so sloppy before I pile them onto the toast.
I cover the beans with cheddar cheese.
If I have it, a fry a couple of slices of thick bacon until almost crisp.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Then:  I pile the beans on the mustard-coated toast, top with a few slices of cheese, criss-cross the bacon on top and place the toast on a cookie sheet in the preheated oven.  I bake for about 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the bacon has crisped.  I serve it piping hot with mustard and crisp pickles on the side.  As the photo shows for this recent version no bacon was in the house.  I lie, I did have turkey bacon but that just didn’t seem to be right!

Pom_5136

 

Caesar Salads are ubiquitous – you can find them on menus ranging from the local diner – with or without grilled chicken or salmon – to the most haute of restaurants.  I happened to love a great Caesar – just had one of the bests at Zuni Café in San Francisco.  However, sometimes it’s fun to do a different take on a classic and here is a salad that sorta mimics a Caesar but….. And it features one of my most favorite winter fruits – a juicy tart pomegranate.

About ½ loaf peasant bread, cut into chunks
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Sea salt and pepper
¼ pound slab bacon, cut into cubes
¼ pound feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
Juice of 1 small lemon
Seeds of 1 small pomegranate
1 head romaine lettuce, cut, crosswise, into thick ribbons
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Line a baking sheet with sides with a silicone baking sheet.  Set aside.
Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl.
Combine 2 tablespoons of the oil with the garlic in a small bowl, stirring to blend completely.  Pour the garlic oil over the bread cubes, add salt and pepper, and toss to lightly coat each piece.
Pour the seasoned bread cubes onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading out in an even layer.  Transfer to the preheated oven and bake, tossing occasionally, for about 12 minutes or until nicely toasted.  Remove from the oven and set aside.
While the croutons are toasting, place the bacon into a medium frying pan over medium heat.  Fry, stirring frequently, for about 8 minutes or until well browned and crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a double layer of paper towel to drain.
Combine the cheese with the yogurt in a small mixing bowl.  Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil along with the lemon juice.  Season with pepper and stir with a fork to blend well, leaving some of the feta crumbles.
Place the lettuce in a large salad bowl.  Add the dressing along with the croutons and half of the pomegranate seeds, tossing to blend well.  Sprinkle the remaining pomegranate seeds along with the bacon lardons over the top and then garnish with a good sprinkle of Pecorino Romano cheese.  Serve immediately before the lettuce loses its crispness.

Blessings of the season and peace, warmth, and joy in 2015

Christmaslights_1244

sauerkraut_5172

 

Makes 1 quart or as much as you like

Fermented foods seem to be headed into becoming the next big culinary trend.  This is truly a case of everything old is new again as fermenting was one of the earliest methods of food preservation.  For years, once fall comes I have made sauerkraut as one of Steve’s favorite cold weather dishes is pork roast braised in white wine with sauerkraut, onions, and potatoes.  Sauerkraut is easy to make and keeps almost forever.  So, if you haven’t experienced fermenting in your kitchen here is an easy recipe to get started.  Later, I’ll give you the recipe for the braised pork.
You can use the sauerkraut at any point in the fermentation process.  Early in the process it will be more cabbage-like and crunchy; later it will be softer and have a stronger, more sour flavored. To add different flavor, add caraway, dill, or mustard seeds or chopped fresh dill to the fermenting mix.
Cabbage ferments very quickly at room temperature (about 70°F) and is usually ready to eat in a week.  You can also refrigerate it from the start, but fermentation will occur very slowly; however, the end result will be crisper.  If kept at a temperature over 80°F, it will quickly turn dark brown and spoil.  If this occurs, discard the sauerkraut and start again.

2 ½ pounds cabbage (preferably organic), cored with any wilted or damaged outer leaves removed
3 teaspoons sea salt

Shred the cabbage into coarse threads using either a food processor fitted with the shredding blade, the large holes of a hand-held box grater, a mandoline, or by hand with a large, sharp chef’s knife.  To ensure correct fermentation I recommend that you weigh the cabbage after you have removed the core and any wilted or damaged outer leaves.
Place the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt over the top.  Using your hands, begin massaging the salt into the cabbage working until the cabbage exudes a substantial amount of liquid.  The time required will be dependent upon the freshness of the cabbage and the strength of your massage and can range from a couple of minutes to 30 or so.
Pack the cabbage and the liquid into a clean, sterilized container, such as a 1-quart glass canning jar with a clean, unused lid.  Using your fingertips, a smaller jar or glass that will fit down into the larger jar, or a potato masher, press down as firmly as you can to allow the liquid to rise up and cover the shredded cabbage.  You should leave about 1- to 2-inches of space between the cabbage and the top of the jar to give the cabbage space to expand as it ferments.  If the mixture has not created enough liquid to cover add enough cool distilled water to completely cover.
Place a bit of cool water into a small resealable plastic bag, pushing to eliminate all air.  You need just enough water to create a weight to keep the cabbage under the liquid.  Seal the bag and place it on top of the cabbage, pushing down to insure that the water-bag is serving as a weight.  Place the lid on the container and seal tightly.
Set aside in a cool, dark spot for 5 days.  Check the fermentation process daily to make sure that the cabbage has remained covered with liquid.  If not, add distilled water to cover.
After 2 days, begin tasting the sauerkraut.   Remove the water-bag and set it aside.  Remove and discard any scum or mold that has formed, noting that it is not harmful, just unappetizing.   Using a clean fork, poke around in the jar and pull out a small taste.  This allows you to follow the fermentation process and determine when the cabbage has reached the point that is most desirable to your taste.  Just be sure to push the sauerkraut back down into the liquid, place the water-bag on top to press it down, tightly seal, and set aside as before.
Depending upon the temperature in its resting place, after one week the sauerkraut should be a bit bubbly and have a tart, sour aroma.  Whenever the sauerkraut has reached the flavor and texture you desire, transfer the jar to the refrigerator to impede the fermentation process.  The kraut will continue to ferment, but at a much slower pace.

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