Lemony Vinaigrette

January 24, 2013 § 2 Comments

This isn’t for you. This is for me. This is for my failing memory. For the pause in my sentences, in my walk across the kitchen. My forty-something brain used to run, and now it slogs through water. I must now try to remember, instead of just remembering.

Shake the dickens out of it.

Shake the dickens out of it.

No, it’s not that bad. Not that bad by a long shot. It just takes repeated (and repeated and repeated) motions or readings or hearings to imprint anything into my mind. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes a bit of humility, but the routine will eventually become routine.

I remember this vinaigrette for its lightness, its lemonyness, its bite of pepper, and that unmistakeable hint of something mysterious (you’ll learn it’s sherry vinegar). But for the life of me I can’t remember the recipe.  This vinaigrette, used as a dressing for a bean salad in the Fields of Greens Cookbook, is for me. But I share it with you. Hopefully you’ll love it enough to make it routinely.

Ingredients
2 tsp. minced lemon zest (from about half a lemon)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about one lemon)1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
1 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. salt (use kosher)
1/4 tsp. pepper (5-10 turns of a pepper mill)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

  1. First—very important!—do NOT confuse sherry vinegar with sherry. NOT the same thing. I speak from experience. You make that mistake only once.
  2. Combine everything in a jar with a tight, sealed lid (e.g. a mason jar) and shake the dickens out of it.
  3. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Induction Is Like Magic

October 5, 2012 § 2 Comments

Dainty has been absent, but I have a good .. strike that .. I have a great excuse. I’ve moved.

Not far. Just a mile or so down the road. But even if the distance was 10 feet, it’s still a huge process. Packing, unpacking. Oh, and buying the place. And dealing with a construction crew that is – even a month after moving – still on site. But they are good boys so I don’t mind them being around.

Yes, the builders are still here. And yes, this building is new construction. It’s an unusual building, too. The design is based on the Powerhaus design used quite a bit in Germany and apparently this is the first building of its sort in the U.S.

And what makes it so unusual? It’s incredibly energy efficient. Like, super super efficient. I’ll get into it in more detail eventually, but let’s first talk about how it impacts Dainty the most: In the kitchen.

I’ve cooked with gas stoves since I learned to cook. But, the question in this Powerhaus design is this: Is gas efficient? No. Apparently gas is upwards of 70% less efficient than electricity. Bleh. I hate electric stoves. I mean, fire is so fierce, you know? Fire is awesome.

But, fire fails in efficiency. So … Dainty now has an electric cooktop. To be more specific, it’s an Electrolux Radiant/Induction Cooktop. It has two radiant burners and two induction burners on its flat surface. What’s induction? You know that commercial with Kelly Ripa making a meal and her water boils in 90 seconds? That’s induction.  It’s a little like magic. But water boiling in 90 seconds? Awesome.

After about a week of avoiding all forms of cooking once we moved in, I decided to cook something on the induction burner. Or at least boil something. Can’t go wrong with boiling, right?

I boiled eggs. It’s a simple enough process: Eggs in pot, cover with an inch or so of water. Bring to a boil. Cover. Turn off heat. Let them sit for 12-15 minutes. Rinse with cold water to bring down temp. I did exactly as outlined.

And I got a soft-boiled egg.

Here’s where I went wrong: When cooking on a radiant, coiled or gas burner, it takes time for the water to come to a boil. During that time—what? maybe 5-6 or so minutes?—those eggs are slowly cooking. When using induction, that time to boil is cut drastically short and hence the cooking time is cut short. Ergo, soft-boiled eggs.

Image

Eggs boiled on induction cooktop at a 1.5 minute full boil.

I’ve gotten back up on the cooktop and tried boiling eggs again. One minute at a full boil is not enough. 90 seconds, not enough. Two full minutes, a tad too much. Plus, without a slowly firming inside the shell, the shells tend to crack when they come to a rolling boil so quickly, spilling their whites.

So, what’s the solution?

Using the radiant burner. Thank goodness it’s a hybrid.

A Sister’s Visit

February 14, 2012 § 6 Comments

I have a sister. Two, actually. The sister in question, Karen, called me last Monday.

“Ellen, we’re calling from Mom and Dad’s. No, don’t worry, nothing’s wrong with them. But since we’re so close, Chris and I thought we’d drop by for a visit.”

And by close, she means 4 hours.

“Um … uh … okay…?”

“If it’s not too much trouble of course. We’ll be there Wednesday.”

“Um … sure …” Really? Is she really asking to come visit? “Uh, yeah, that’s fine … um, you’ll get a hotel room, right? Our place is kinda small …”

“If you’ve got a spot on the living room floor, that’s fine with us – we won’t be a bother!”

Jennifer and I have lived here for eight years now. This would be the first time Karen and Chris came for a visit.

This would be the first time that any of my five siblings visited me in my adult life. And I’m 42.

I know this isn’t the norm. I know there are siblings that visit each other all the time, or at least as often as distance allows. The distance in my family is pretty expansive—and I’m not talking the distance you measure by miles. We’re not a close family, and to visit one another is just not and has never been expected.

That little girl is me. And the bride is my sister. I’m 3, and she’s a few days away from 20. When I think of my family, I think of this photo: Me, with a bag of rice, the others doing what they do, separately. In the distance.

My sister called and invited herself to sit on that step with me, a step I’ve been very comfortable occupying alone for 40 years. I’ve lived all sorts of lives there, none of it she knows, or any of the others really know. Sharing that spot on the steps seems so foreign.

Two days to prepare for the visit, but I really had much more time than that, didn’t I?

Homegrown Food Challenge—Days 6 & 7

October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

No, we did not whither away and die from lack of food after Day 5 of our Homegrown Food Challenge. We survived quite nicely, thank you very much. I’ve just not been … well … in the blogging mood, I guess. If you’re a blogger, you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down. Hey, it happens. I’m back on track now, though, no worries.

Breakfast:
Day 6—it was all the way back last Saturday. I had promised we’d kick it up a bit with something for breakfast that was more interesting than yogurt. And we did—omelets! Not an omelet, per se, but more of a flat egg. That’s what my mom called them when I was growing up. It’s just two eggs, slightly beaten and NOTHING added to the eggs, as you would were you making omelets. Just a straight ol’ egg. We added in some local goat cheese and diced homegrown tomato right at the last second, folded and called it breakfast. A slice or two of toasted homemade bread made it a filling meal.

homegrown omelet

Lunch:
After, Jennifer took off for the weekend to attend to some business, leaving me to fend for myself. Lunch was … honestly, I can’t remember. Must have been the last of the grilled eggplant paninni … yum … By the way, that post was way popular. Way. Popular.

Dinner:
Dinner was when I got creative on Day 6. Earlier in the week I had cooked up some homegrown Vermont cranberry beans. Used the pressure cooker, actually, and the process yielded some terrific bean broth. Add some homegrown leeks, homegrown carrots, and a neighbor’s small bunch of homegrown celery, and it’s the beginning of soup! I added to that the leftover Vermont cranberry beans, some leftover homegrown/homemade tomato sauce, a fading homegrown zucchini and a couple of locally grown potatoes—along with salt, pepper, homegrown oregano and sage. Soup and bread for dinner—the end of a great gardening day.

Day 7

Our weeklong Homegrown Food Challenge ended not with a big banquet ala Julie and Julia, but on a much more common, everyday note. Plans for going out with a bang—lasagna of homemade pasta, homegrown broccoli, eggplant and kale—faded with the afternoon. Instead we hunkered down, ate our soup and toasted our accomplishment with the last of the local beer.

Next year … I truly wonder what that will bring.

Homegrown Food Challenge—Day 2

October 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

One day down in the Homegrown Food Challenge, and it went quite well. A local eatery and leftovers – we eased into it. Nothing wrong with that. Day 2, as I promised, was much more exciting.

Chopping a head off a fish-type of exciting.

But, alas, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s begin at the beginning.

DAY 2

Breakfast:

More coffee from our favorite local coffee roaster, Flat Black Coffee Company, with the Maine’s Own Organic Milk.

More Stonyfield plain yogurt with half a local apple, Topsfield-produced honey and an Effie’s Oatcake crumbled on top. Hey, they’re a local company. It counts. And I’m inspired to make my own oatcakes now.

Lunch:

A big ol’ salad using:

  • lettuce and red pepper from the farmers market
  • a homegrown carrot
  • a local apple
  • a boiled egg – the eggs are local
  • homemade salad dressing – just something I whipped up, no biggie
  • my very own and awesomely tasty pickled beets. That’s right, pickled beets on a salad. It was awesome.
  • some shavings from a homegrown head of red cabbage

Filling and tasty. I washed that down with some home brewed iced tea.

Jennifer had the rest of the leftover pasta and a local apple.

Dinner:

This is where the fish head comes in. Or I should say, where the fish head comes off. Realizing there was way too much to say about last night’s dinner, I posted about the fish and side dish separately. (Click on the lick to check out the dish.) On the menu:

Broiled bluefish with smoky mayo and roasted romanesco

  • Cape Ann-caught broiled bluefish with a homemade smoky mayo
  • Roasted romanesco
  • A glass of white wine. Okay, okay, it was Tohu from New Zealand. BUT, it had been opened a few days earlier ans was in the fridge. That counts as a leftover, right?
  • I may or may not have had a handful (or two) of kettle corn purchased at the Topsfield Fair. It was popped on site! That’s local, right?

Day 3 is already two-thirds complete, and I’m happy to say we are both still on track with this Challenge. Tonight’s dinner is just an hour away. Grilled pizza is always a fun thing to make.

Pickling Green Cherry Tomatoes

September 1, 2011 § 3 Comments

What does a gardener do when a little thing like a hurricane is imminent? She cleans out the garden of all ripe, nearly ripe and totally unripe tomatoes, that’s what she does.

pickled green cherry tomatoes

pickled tomato scrumptiousness

Ripe tomatoes have been dispatched to salsa, gazpacho and pizza toppings.

Somewhat ripe tomatoes are on a tray and ripening, possibly for a sauce.

Ripe cherry tomatoes are … well, in a bowl and thinking of what they want to become. Possibly tomato cobbler. We’ll see.

The unripe tomatoes – interestingly all cherries – are destined to be pickled.

I know what you’re thinking: Pickling is soo sooo very trendy. Maybe it is. BUT … I’ve been pickling green cherry tomatoes since 1994. My housemate at the time – Lou – had been pickling since forever and shared the recipe. Pickle the cherries at the end of the season – right as you’re grabbing them off the vine before the first frost – and they are good and pickly and presentable as hostess gifts for fall dinner parties. Oh, that Lou.

A couple of notes:

1. Pickling green fruit is key here. Too much red ripe deliciousness and they cherry will swell and burst, making a jar full of mush. But, I do try to add a cherry or two to the jar that is turning just a bit orange. It’s pretty. So so pretty.

2. Would it be okay to cut green slicing tomatoes into chunks and pickle them? Well, yeah, maybe. I’d remove the pulp and use just the flesh. We want to avoid mush.

3. And with the pickling spices, garlic clove and sneaky pepper, they taste just fabulous. Ohhhh …. yum.

Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes ala Lou

  • 21 8oz. jelly jars with new lids and rings
  • 8 cups white distilled vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup salt

-Don’t have enough tomatoes to fill 21 jars? Work the proportions for the number of jars you can fill. I quartered the recipe and it filled 6ish jars.

-Boil the above and let cool.

Pickling spices

Fill'r up with pickling spices.

To each jar, add:

  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 chili pepper, aka “a sneaky pepper”
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 garlic clove

-Add tomatoes to each jar, filling to within about 1/4-1/2 in. of the rim of the jar. Don’t jam them in too tightly – they may burst if forced.

-When the liquid has cooled, fill each jar to cover the tomatoes. Place a lid on each jar and tighten the ring. Let sit out overnight and then place in the refrigerator.

What about preserving them with canning? It’s definitely doable! I’m not the one to tell you how to do it. Really. Even though I witnessed my mother can jars and jars of everything from apricots to zucchini, none of it stuck in my head. And if something goes wrong … like when that jar of canned tuna wasn’t sealed properly … it can go terribly wrong. And I’m not gonna be responsible for your botulism.

filling jars with green tomatoes

I couldn't help myself - I made one jar more red than the others.

This Morning’s Harvest, Next Week’s Meals

August 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

Okay, so I’m rushing for two reasons: 1) A big storm’s a-brewin’ and 2) leaving town for a week. What’s that mean? Gotta hit the community garden plot this morning and harvest.

Tomatoes are gonna get whipped in the storm. Pair that with the fact that they look like hell anyway (I think we have blight – that’s like having lice to me), I decided to harvest all the tomatoes except a few very green ones and rip up all the plants except the best two.

What else is on the list? Here it is:

Harvest it all! A hurricane's a-comin'!

  • Cherry and slicing tomatoes in all stages of ripe- and unripeness
  • Vermont cranberry beans
  • Green bean
  • Lettuce
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Yellow and green chard
  • A cabbage
  • A big ol’ purple carrot
  • A zucchini – full disclosure: It’s not mine – another gardener gave it to me.

*Missing from this list are a handful of Hungarian wax peppers and a yellow squash. They were camera shy.

All of this will be processed in some form or another – along with a boat load of beets I harvested last week – in the coming week. Stay tuned!

Any suggestions? Anyone have experience frying sage leaves? What should I do with a huge purple carrot? Leave a comment, let me know.

Food Trucks: Lefty’s, Bon Me & Roxy’s

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our neighborhood has this gem of a Sunday market—the Sowa Open Market. With our summer travel schedule – both work and pleasure –  it’s a not a place we get to a whole heck of a lot. And that’s a darn shame. We definitely are able to get there during the “shoulder seasons” – spring and fall. And if you like to explore all the artsy-craftsy stuff going on in Boston and New England, this really has been the place to go for the last eight years.

More recently – maybe in the last couple? – they’ve also had a pretty nice array of food trucks. I put a question mark down there because, like I said, we don’t get there a whole heckuva lot. With the food truck craze that’s traveling in the left lane nowadays, it’s probably one of the major draws of the Market.

And considering that one of their usual food trucks is participating in the second season of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, we decided to take one of our atypical in-town weekends are check out Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, among the other dozen or so trucks parked within the Sowa Open Market.

Of course, I scheduled only an hour (including walking time) between my various work-related activities to check out the food trucks. Seriously, not a smart move.

We decided to divide and conquer. We didn’t get far.

I stood in the Roxy’s line while Jennifer stood in the Bon Me line. Guess which line was longer? Jennifer decision to hit the Vietnamese street food truck was smart. My standing in the ‘order waiting to be picked up’ line at Roxy’s was not.

Jennifer was already chomping on her tofu and shitake mushroom banh mi (aka a sandwich on a baguette) before I decided to abandon my chance to nibble on a TV star. She shared, of course. Excellent flavor in the marinated tofu and mushrooms, a nice pickled topping. Great filling. Bread? Not the best, but I’m a bread snob. I’d definitely line up there again.

I was determined to have my own food truck experience, so I lined up for Lefty’s Silver Cart for a specialty sandwich. What drew me to that one? Pressed for time, it was close by, the line wasn’t long, and I judged a book by its cover—I really liked the old-timey font they used. Menu items were intriguing, too. It took me a good couple of minutes to realize they had a vegetarian menu, that’s how fun their combos were. I was torn between the Granny-B-Good – a grilled cheese with Vermont cheddar and Granny Smith apple – and the Figment, which was baguette with truffle-dressed mixed greens, goat cheese and fig jam. LOVE fig jam, so ordered the latter. Can’t go wrong with fig and goat cheese, and putting it on bread makes it a very healthy thing, I’m sure. Very happy with my order. Plus, Lefty’s baguette rocked. Now, if Bon Me had that baguette, they’d kick it up a notch. The difference? Baking technique, definitely. More steam produced a better crust for whoever is making Lefty’s bread.

Dainty Rates: 4 Dots.

If you’re around Boston Sundays through October, take a walk down to Sowa. Save room for lunch.

Pasta Dough: It’s Easier Than You Think

August 10, 2011 § 5 Comments

Mmmm … fresh pasta.

Fresh linguini

Fresh linguini - the flour lightly dusts the pasta, keeping it from sticking together.

Have you ever had it? I mean fresh pasta. The kind someone has just made right there in the room. Not the stuff you buy in the refrigerated section of your local grocer. Okay, so that’s not dry pasta—but it’s not fresh fresh either.

What? Are you saying, “I don’t have time for that … “? Or, “Oh, that’s soooo complicated …”? It’s not. If you liked to make mud pies as a kid (and who didn’t?), then you can make fresh pasta.

Of course, I say this not having made fresh pasta myself. Jennifer is the pasta maker in our household. And she makes it look easy. She says it’s because it is easy. She first made it in a cooking class last year, and the technique below is from that class. The recipe comes from The Food Network’s Anne Burrell.

Try it. The only way you can screw it up is by making a horrible sauce.

Homemade Pasta Dough (from Anne Burrell)

  • 1 pound all-purpose flour (get yourself a kitchen scale!)
  • 4 whole eggs plus 1 yolk
  • 1/4 cup evoo
  • kosher salt – about 1 Tbs
  • 1-2 Tbs water or more

-Set yourself up on a clean and dry work surface with plenty of room. Pile the dry ingredients (flour and salt) right on the work surface, and create a hole or well in the flour, making a doughnut-shaped ring about 8 inches wide.

-Crack all of the eggs and the individual yolk (I always do this in a separate bowl to catch the occasional shell) and add these to the well along with the wet ingredients—olive oil and water.

-Use a fork to beat the wet ingredients together. Then, you’re going to pull in the flour bit by bit into the egg mixture. I say bit by bit because you don’t want to pull too much of the flour into the center and break the ring’s side walls. Then your egg leaks out and it’s a big mess. As soon as the egg mixture has enough flour in it is no longer runny, you can put aside the fork and get your hands in there. Your hands are the best tools to combine everything completely.

forming pasta dough

Incorporating the flour into the egg mixture

-When the mixture is completely combined, it’s time to start kneading the dough. Use your muscles! Get the heels of your palms in there push the dough away from you, stretching it but not tearing it. Push, fold, turn. Push, fold, turn. Put your weight into it, girl! Your goal is to create a dough that feels smooth and looks smooth. Warning: Eat an energy bar beforehand because you’re going to be kneading for 15-20 minutes. No kidding. But doing this by hand is the best way.

kneading pasta dough

Knead it, girl!

-When you start thinking that perhaps you’re done, take a knife and slice the dough in half. Look at the inside of the dough—does it have small bubbles in it? Yes? Then keep kneading. You want the dough to be smooth throughout.

pasta dough

-Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour. Put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use, or use it right away.

What next? Get rolling! Usually this is done with a pasta roller. There are ones you can attach to your counter and crank by hand. We have one that fits on our Kitchen-Aid and turns automatically—so much easier. Either way, what you want to do is cut that ball of dough into quarters or eighths, pat it into a bit of a square shape of even thickness, add a touch of flour to make it less sticky, and run it through the pasta roller starting on the thickest setting—usually the number 7. Roll it through twice, then take it down one thickness, and so on, patting it with flour now and then. We usually go down pretty thin, usually to a number 2. As it gets thinner, it gets looonger. We usually cut it in half to make it more manageable, especially if you are cranking the roller by hand.

Going through the roller you end up with a flat sheet. Perfect for making lasagna or raviolis. Or, take that sheet and run it through the spaghetti or linguini cutter (an add-on that usually comes with the roller). Separate the noodles, lay them on a platter, sprinkle with dusting of flour, and toss to prevent sticking. Do one flat sheet at a time this way, each time dusting with flour.

And to cook, all you have to do is drop that pasta in boiling water for 2 minutes, max.

Now, that’s great pasta.

Hiking Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s been a long, long spring and summer. All work and no play makes Dainty a very sad and tense Dot. Good thing we scheduled vacation for this week.

We typically vacation in Provincetown and spend the whole time lying low—as in low on a beach towel. But, as crazy as this is gonna sound, being on a beach towel soaking up the sun can be a bit boring after awhile. Our solution for that is taking a hike.

This time around, we headed to Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s a Mass. Audubon sanctuary on the western edge of the Cape Wellfleet Bay Wildlife SanctuaryCod forearm, right on Wellfleet Harbor. Lots of marsh grass and sandy soil, lots of Cape woodland, lots of birds and wildlife, so bring a camera. And there’s lots of green head flies and sand flies, so arm yourself with repellent and you’ll be fine. There are … let’s see … close to 4-5 miles of hiking trails, so pack a light lunch and enjoy it while watching the shore birds at the end of the boardwalk.

The folks at Mass. Audubon must have gotten some inspiration of Groupon deals, because when we arrived at the nature center they were offering a “half-price sale” on membership. $10 would have gotten the two of us into the sanctuary for the day. For just $29, we could have a year-long family membership that would give us free admission to the 50 Mass. Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries throughout the state. And, it feels pretty terrific to support an organization that is protecting our state’s natural habitat.

Somewhere along this hike my eye decided to focus on the little things nature had to offer. Except for a couple of spectacular angiosperms, I mainly captured slime molds, lichen, fungi and the occasional gymnosperm. (Look at me, throwing around fancy botanical references. I feel like I’m in college again!) The vistas at Wellfleet are beautiful, but some of the coolest things are underfoot.

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