Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Project #226 – Forest Edibles Hike

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Hello! Come into the woods with me today where we shall dine on the dew and fairies of the hills of West Virgina. I’m told that fairies are quite tasty when dipped in honey-mustard.

Continuing my decade-long quest to uncover new sources of free food, we now turn to the forest, specifically the fungus-covered part of the forest. I’ve been researching wild mushrooms and sometime yesterday I convinced myself that I had enough just enough knowledge to find some of the easier to identify ones without getting us killed.

We used a remote state park in West Virgina to test my mushroom hunting skills. We neither saw nor heard one other person during our entire hike. I pulled up some mushroom identification web pages on my mini-laptop while we were still at the B&B so we could use them as a reference guide on the path.

Of course, the laptop restarted on its own and we were suddenly left without any external guidance. I think these could be chanterelles (tasty!) or they could be false chanterelles (blech!). It’s almost like every edible mushroom has an evil twin! Mushrooms are jerks.

These bracket mushrooms were one of the first big mushroom specimens we ran across. I’m pretty sure that these are oyster mushrooms, and luckily, there are no poisonous look-alikes in North America. However, after researching at home it seems that there are some untasty imitators out in the woods. I have a small sample of this mushroom in my fridge, but I’m a little scared to try it out. They do smell really, really tasty, though.

Okay, I am positive that these are turkey tails, as they have no look-alikes. Aren’t they lovely? They smell heavenly, just like the oyster mushrooms (?). They are a little too tough to be eaten, so they are usually consumed by steeping them to make tea. I’m told that they are good for fighting off cancer.

I found them after wandering off of the path and down a slight slope to investigate some fallen logs. We took just a little so that the patch would have a chance to continue growing.

I found these little puff balls growing on the same log. We left them as they were, but it looks like something has been nibbling on them.

I also found this adorable moss patch on the same log. It was about the size of a quarter. Most people probably don’t think it is possible for moss to be cute. Those people are wrong.

We also found wild blackberries on the trail. They were so ripe and perfect that we couldn’t resist having a few.

Later that day, we took a trip over to the Dolly Sods, mostly because I heard a rumor that there were still blueberries and huckleberries growing over there. We found neither, but the environment was so unique it was still worth the ride up some scary, blind dirt roads.

The Dolly Sods covers a plateau on top of a mountain. Over the last century, the area was extensively logged, ranched nearly to death and then set on fire for nearly a decade. After that, only ferns and lichen could handle the soil, so the cattle moved on. Now the land was only good for one thing, blowing it up with mortar shells by troops in training for World War II. Today it is part of the Monongahela National Forest.

Still, despite the abusive history it’s a pretty place and home to plant and animal life that is not found anywhere else in the area.

Project #223 – Strawberry Shortcake Cookies

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Oh, Martha. Usually I can depend on you to publish recipes that turn out exactly like the picture. I’ve even made all of your candy recipes from last December’s issue without breaking a sweat. How could it be that the one recipe that would throw me off would be one for a simple cookie. Your cookies look like fruity delights and mine look like…biscuits with dried fruit bits.

Still, thank goodness I have a husband who isn’t picky about snacks.

Project #220 – Homemade Noodles

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Here is something I will never, ever do again. I will never make handmade pasta during a dinner party where I am expected to feed 10 people again. Ever.

Pasta sounds like something that would be so easy to make. It’s just two ingredients: eggs and flour. The recipe I used called for three eggs for every two cups of flour. Mistake #1: deciding to make three batches of pasta, each out of a different kind of flour. We were going to make wheat flour pasta, semolina four pasta and bread flour pasta. If we had taken the, oh I don’t know, 12 hours to roll out all of the dough it would have made enough pasta to feed 60 people.

And really, making the dough is misleadingly simple. Just pour out the flour into a bowl and make a divot. Crack three eggs into the divot and scramble them without disturbing the flour. Then mix the eggs and flour together, finally kneading to form a stiff dough.

I was smart enough to make some of the dough in advance. Mistake #2: not making all of the dough in advance. I wanted to give my guests a chance to make their own pasta because it sounded fun. The pasta dough making wasn’t too bad for everyone, however, dough needs time to rest (~15-30 minutes) so there was a little while where I couldn’t work on the pasta at all.

Here is the heart of the problem. I stupidly thought that running the dough through the pasta press would be one simple step. Mistake #3: stupidly thinking that running the dough through the pasta press would be one simple step. Actually, it’s six steps. You have to feed the dough first through the sheet pasta press, starting with the widest setting. Then you feed the sheet through again and again, setting the press one degree narrower each time. After doing that five times only then can the pasta be run through the noodle cutter.

But how hard could that be? It’s just turning a crank, right? Well, first, you need two people, one to turn the crank and the other to feed in the dough. By the last run through the little ball of dough we started with has grown into a sheet more than a yard long. The good news: that sheet will be enough to feed one person. The bad news: it took almost 10 minutes to make. Multiply that by 10 people…and you start to see the problem.

To compound that some of the party guests took too much and a few people didn’t get any. Between Clark and myself we made about 7-8 dishes besides the pasta, so there was plenty to eat, but some people were still disappointed that they didn’t get to try the dish of the evening. I was far to worn out to continue cranking, so those people are just going to have to be satisfied with rain checks.

Despite the trouble, fresh pasta is really, really good. I’ll just make it far in advance next time.

Project #218 – Chocolate Milk Mix

Monday, August 31st, 2009

The local fancy-schmancy grocery store is only good for one thing: really, really good chocolate milk. Even Mormon missionaries can’t resist when I offer them some*. However, today I made a special trip only to find that the store only had regular milk and regular milk sucks. I prefer to get my calcium only with added flavorings.

However, it is possible that I can do my own flavor magic and step up the chocolate milk to butter-rum chocolate milk. I could have just used real butter and rum, but I have these flavorings and they’re going to get used for something, dammit.

Here is the secret to hot chocolate mixes: they are essentially half sugar and half cocoa. That is all you need to know.

*If anyone knocks on my door in order to evangelize, it is always my policy to offer them something to drink, no matter what religion they are selling. No one has ever taken me up on my offer unless chocolate milk was on the table. BONUS: people tend to leave faster for some reason, hopefully not because they think I’m going to poison them and put them on top of the stack of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the basement.

Project #213 – Japanese-Style Beet Salad

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Clark and I stayed with a friend in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan last fall. She served us the beet salad every morning for breakfast during our stay. While it might sound to some people that beet salad would make for a pretty miserable breakfast, it was actually one of the culinary highlights of our trip. The beets themselves were even grown with love in her own rooftop garden.

Stupidly, I forgot all about that wonderful treat until I purchased a carton of beets from the farmer’s market yesterday. Clark and I had to scrape our respective memories in order to reconstruct the recipe, but I think we did a reasonable job.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 pounds of beets (~10 small ones)
  • 2 tbsp dried wakame
  • 1/8 cup chopped chives
  • 3 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 3 tbsp Ponzu

I scrubbed the dirt off of each beet, chopped them into smaller pieces and placed them on a cookie sheet. I baked them at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until they were nice and soft and then let them cool enough to be handled. Finally, I rubbed off the remaining skin on each beet slice and then diced them into even smaller pieces.

I then added about 1/2 of water to the wakame in a separate bowl and gave it 15 minutes to hydrate.

While waiting on the seaweed I roasted my sesame seeds. I placed them in a thin layer at the bottom of a small pan and ran it over my stove flame on high until the seeds started to turn brown and crackle. You’ll want to keep the pan covered, because the seeds will pop just like pop corn and get all over the kitchen. Shake the pan so that everything cooks uniformly; it will only take about 20-30 seconds to roast them to a golden brown.

I then crushed the roasted seeds into a powder using my mortar and pestle.

The beet salad can be made in a big bowl and dished out in individual portions if you’re feeding more than one person. Otherwise, I like to keep the ingredients separate until I want a bowl for a snack or with dinner. They’ll keep by themselves, covered, for up to a week. Just mix them together at the desired proportions and enjoy.

This is one of the tastiest ‘healthy’ dishes I’ve ever eaten. It’s one of Clark’s favorites and I’ve been giving him stern warnings not to eat it all.

Clark’s Projects – Zuchinni with Ground Lamb

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

A few days ago we received an email from my brother-in-law, Jon, with the subject title “Best. Dinner. Ever.” It included the following recipe:


1 large zucchini – cut about 1/3 off of top (lengthwise) and scooped out seeds until there was only about ½ and inch of flesh all the way around. Sprinkled garlic salt and pepper and some cayenne on the inside of that

Sautéed 3 cloves garlic chopped, about ¼ cup of onion and ¼ cup of green pepper in olive oil for about 4 minutes until cooked, but not soggy. Put in a bowl

In same pan, I browned ½ lb of ground lamb. Drained and seasoned with thyme, paprika, pepper, salt and added sautéed veggies. Cooked for another 3 minutes.

Stuffed inside hollowed zucchini and kind of heaped it up on top.

Baked at 375 for 35 minutes, covered loosely with tin foil.

Removed and sprinkled gorgonzola cheese over the top and baked for another 5-10 mins uncovered.

LET COOL for 5 mins.

FANTASTIC!!!!!!!

Of course, we had to try it for ourselves. As usual, Jon managed to hit foodie gold. The tastes and textures of this dish seem really complex, but after eating a few bites it starts to feel like comfort food, high-class comfort food, but still warm and cozy.

Clark was a little worried that I wouldn’t want to try it because he has been operating under the mistaken notion for years that I dislike lamb. It’s quite the opposite; lamb is one of my favorite meats and I would be happy to add it to the regular dinner rotation. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a terrestrial meat animal that I didn’t enjoy in one way or another.

I was also pleased that we finally had a use for my caveman-club-sized zucchini. I think this is the first time we’ve used a whole one in one sitting.

Project #210 – Picnic Dinner

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Today was a good day. I spend most of my days working from home silent and alone. I love being by myself, but I do find myself anticipating the arrival of my husband home from work starting in the early evening. I was kind of climbing the walls from not leaving the house much this week, so as soon as Clark got home I packed a dinner and dragged him back out of the door almost immediately. I wanted to go somewhere with trees and a place to swim outside of the city limits. South Park fits that description and has a wave pool open until the late hour of 7:30 pm.

We arrived at the wave pool just 30 minutes before closing. Because there was just one wave cycle left we got in for free! I love teenagers who just don’t care that much about enforcing the rules! This was absolutely the best way this scenario could have worked out for my black, cheapskate heart. The pool was huge and nearly empty so I was able to wear myself out diving and swimming around. Clark is still trying to find a way feel comfortable swimming in the deep end, especially when the waves are churning, so I waved a lot to him from the 8′ section. He always seems amazed at how long I can swim without resting, which is funny because I can’t run anywhere near as far as he can. Though it does make me feel like deep down I’m an aquatic mammal.

I’m always ravenous after a good swim.

I packed tomatoes, salami, really good prosciutto, plantain chips, a peach, soft cheese, cuban crackers, baklava, almonds, a bottle of water, and a nice bottle of cherry soda.

I like eating outside.

Project #205 – Gazpacho

Monday, August 17th, 2009

It is really freakin’ hot in my house and there is no way that I am going to turn on my oven. Still, I have mountains of fresh vegetables from the garden and only so much I can do with them without heat.

Curious, I looked up some recipes for gazpacho, the famous chilled tomato-based soup, and I was relieved to see that not only did it not require any heating, but that all of ingredients needed to make my own were in the garden or the fridge.

I pulled my ingredients, mixed them according to this recipe and left them to chill in the fridge overnight.

I had a bowl with dinner and as I sipped it I just felt wrong. It tasted just fine, but like a room temperature glass of milk or an uncooked but apple from a warm room, it just felt weird in my mouth. I really wanted to warm the soup on the stove.

Okay, so maybe cold soups are not for me. I do like dips and this would probably go well with a bowl of tortilla chips. I’ll stick to popsicles if I feel hot.

Project #201 – Ground Cherry Tarts

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

I didn’t know it a few weeks ago, but there are still fruits left in this country that I have yet to try. There was a peculiar berry at the farmer’s market I attended in Columbus last week. They were about the size of a marble and ranged in color from lime green to cantaloupe orange. They tasted at first like pineapples, but the aftertaste resembled a strong vanilla. Most distinctly, each came covered in a papery husk, like a tomatillo, and with the same kind of seeds.

Those were ground cherries I was eating. A close relative of the tomatillo and tomato, the fruits look like mini versions of their close cousins, but have a taste on a whole other level.

I saved some seeds from a few of the better fruits a few days ago, a super-benefit of buying organic occasionally. They’re supposed to be able to grow anywhere tomatoes grow, so I hope I have a backyard full of them by next year.

By some miracle I managed to keep myself from devouring my whole carton of ground cherries and save enough to make dessert for my friends. The crust for this recipe is the same as the one for my mixed berry tarts.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups husked, halved ground cherries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp tapioca pearls
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick of chilled, diced, unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup of chilled water

Combine the fruit, sugar and tapioca. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Mix the dry ingredients and use a fork to cut in the butter until the mixture looks like graham cracker crumbles and there are no pieces of butter bigger than a pea remaining. Add the water slowly and while rolling up the dough into a ball. Separate into six pieces and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Roll the dough into 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick disks touching them as little as possible with your hands. Working quickly, Place each disk on a cookie sheet and add 2 tablespoons of the fruit mixture into the center of the circle and fold up the sides to form a boat.

Put the tarts in the fridge for another hour. Preheat and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Top each with a little fresh cream or butter and serve.

Project #200 – Garden Dinner

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Every year that I’ve had a garden I’ve thrown some sort of a dinner party so that my friends could have an opportunity to share in the bounty. The first year, I was just able to contribute herbs for omelettes, but this year I’m trying to make most of the dishes with 50% or more ingredients from the yard.

We made chilled cucumber soup, bruschetta, scalloped tomatoes and grilled chicken (with garden herbs).

The chilled cucumber soup, sadly, was not a hit. I think most Americans aren’t very familiar with chilled soups (myself included), and it feels a little odd to be gulping down a bowl of vegetables and cream. I desperately wanted to find a carrot of bag of chips to dip into my soup instead of drinking it. I usually love Martha Stewart Recipes, but this is one I probably won’t be making again.

Still, it was satisfying to harvest two 1/2 cup measures of herbs without denting my total supply.

The tomato topping for the bruschetta was a super simple mixture of diced tomatoes, basil leaves, and a pinch of salt. The bread was a loaf of my favorite, the daily baguette.

I also roasted half a peeled garlic bulb in the toaster oven for 15 minutes, or until the cloves were translucent. I mooshed the cloves with a fork into a paste and had guests treat it as a spread. I should have made more because the dish of garlic was scoured clean after less than 30 minutes of serving as an appetizer.

I should probably get the recipes for the remaining food from Clark, as he made the scalloped tomatoes and grilled chicken. The scalloped tomatoes are especially beloved in our household and it’s worth getting the actual recipes correct from the beginning.

Sadly, we ran out of time to grill the giant zucchini. I pulled it out of the garden this morning, but now it’s going to have to spend some time in the fridge taking up most of the veggie drawer.

It’s so big that it’s an appropriate size for a vegetarian version of ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’. You know, I could bludgeon someone to death with it and then feed it to the detectives investigating the murder. I’m going to keep that one in my back pocket…just in case.