Saturday, October 24, 2009
"Or perhaps it's bisque", I thought as I was pouring the cream into the mix. So, once the soup was simmering, I sought out definitions for both. Chowder generally refers to a chunky soup - frequently made with seafood and cream (especially here in New England) - and bisque is a thick soup with pureed seafood and cream, so I think we're safe in calling this chowder, for no seafood was pureed in the making of this dish. With that question answered, the only thing - or general thing - left to know about this soup is that it's very darned satisfying, and comes together quickly, though it does require a bit of time at the simmer. But it is fall, and so we embrace the simmer as part of our house- and heart-warming indoor activities (I find soup-making heartwarming. If you don't share my enthusiasm or my geekiness, it's okay, think of it as simply housewarming, then.).
A few weeks back, a friend had requested a recipe for red chowder. Mulling over my budget seafood options, I had considered mussels (this got an audible "blech" followed by nose-scrunching from my friend), as well as various white fish options, but finally came back to clams. As it turns out, I couldn't completely commit to the Manhattan-style of chowder - the pull of my New England roots simply wouldn't suffer the affront - and so that bit of previously mentioned cream found its way into the pot as well.
If you've been reading along for a while, you might have noticed that I don't do very many seafood dishes here. The first of two primary reasons is the generally prohibitive cost for someone of my economic status (which is, um, not rich. At all.), though I do realize that fishing warrants the cost of the product, as it is an intensive method of hunting (or farming, depending). The other factor in the dearth of seafood recipes here is the fact that much of the ocean's stock of fish are endangered due to over-consumption. Atlantic cod is generally not a good choice, so it had been eliminated from my white fish consideration before such consideration even began, and U.S. farmed tilapia and catfish both seemed not quite right - to me, anyway - for chowder (there's that New England provincialism creeping in again). Happily, clams are a good choice for sustainable seafood eating, and I was able to purchase a pound of chopped, frozen clams (I know, I know, it isn't normally my way, but I was also going for convenience as well) for $5.99. Not a bad price for a responsible seafood selection, I thought.
JR and I happen to live in an area of New England that is heavily influenced by Portuguese cuisine, as there are many Portuguese fisherfolk who settled along the coast of Southeastern Massachusetts. Along with their fishing skills, they also brought their tradition of cured meats, so, in homage to their traditions, into the chowder went a pound of Portuguese pork sausage called chouriço (pronounced tsur-eetz locally. Definitely not pronounced chore-ick-o anywhere, fyi.). Its smoky flavor contrasts nicely with the clams and the sweet corn, but if you aren't able to locate chouriço, go ahead and substitute another pre-cooked pork sausage, such as Andouille, in its place.
Creamy Red Clam Chowder:
Serves 6 to 8
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Vidalia onion (or other sweet onion, approximately 3/4 pound), coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled, trimmed, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, trimmed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound chouriço, chopped into spoon-sized cubes 1 pound (16 ounces) frozen chopped clams, thawed, including juices
1 pound red potatoes (approximately 2 medium), chopped into spoon-sized cubes
2 cups corn kernels
1 stalk celery, halved lengthwise, then sliced 1/4-inch thick
16 ounces clam juice
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 pint light cream
freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped parsley for serving
Melt the butter with the oil in a large stockpot (at least 6-quart capacity) over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and saute until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the parsley and crushed red pepper flakes, then add the chouriço, and stir to combine with the vegetables, cooking for 1 minute before adding the chopped clams, corn, potato, and 1/4-inch pieces of celery.
Pour in the clam juice, the crushed tomato, and the cream, and give it all a good stir. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and cook until the potatoes are cooked through, 45 to 50 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve it forth, ideally with some crusty bread or corn bread on the side and a sprinkle of parsley atop each serving.
As you might be aware (ahem), I am on a budget, so while this soup is chunky, there are a lot of other items in addition to the inexpensive-for-seafood-but-expensive-for-my-general-use clams that contribute to that chunkiness. For even at $5.99 per pound, two pounds would be a budget-buster for me. If you'd prefer more clams, you can add another pound (plus juices), but also have another 8 ounces of clam juice at the ready in case you need to thin the soup. Not surprisingly, this soup benefits from standing for a day, as many soups do, so it's a perfect candidate for making a day ahead of the planned serving day - it only gets smokier and richer tasting.
Estimated cost for the pot o' chowder: $23.10. The butter costs 35-cents for 1/2 stick. The olive oil is 24-cents. The onion is approximately 3/4 pounds, and Vidalias cost 99-cents per pound at my favorite farm stand, so that's 75-cents. The carrot cost 7-cents, the celery for the whole dish cost 40-cents. The parsley would be no more than half of a purchased supermarket package costing $1.99, but you should know that it grows well, even in northern climates, and has survived the killing frost that all but the beets, lettuce, and leeks succumbed to last week at my house. So I think of it as free, having dodged the frost bullet, and all. The crushed red pepper flakes cost 3-cents, the clams were $5.99 (you know this already, but I have to list it out here to keep everything in order). The chouriço was $3.99 per pound, and the two links we received were just over a pound, so that cost us $4.14. The corn was 2/3rds of a bag costing $1.29, so that's 86-cents. The potatoes cost 99-cents. The clam juice was fancy, and cost $2.69 for 8-ounces; we used two, so that's $5.38. The tomatoes cost $1.50 (regular price, even), and the cream cost $1.40. Even at the heftier-than-usual price tag, the soup costs a mere $2.89 per serving (for 8, and $3.85 per serving for 6, though I must remind you - this soup is chunky and therefore filling. As chowder should be.)
Dinner tonight: Please see the above Creamy Red Clam Chowder description. Plus some of that crusty bread that was mentioned. The bread costs $4.29 for 3 small loaves (they're pane francese "pillows" from Olga's in Providence, RI). Let's pretend we eat an entire pillow. That costs us $1.43, plus a bit of butter - we'll say around 18-cents' worth, and our grand total is $7.39. Pretty good for a weekend dinner, methinks. And a couple of weekend lunches. And a weekday one as well (did I mention eight servings? Just checking.)
For more information on sustainable seafood choices, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium's website, where you can type in the name of the seafood in question and learn whether it is a good option, and also what better options exist.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
The area around Asti - in the Piedmont region of Italy - is most famous for its sparkling and semi-sparkling wines, notably Asti, which until 1994 was known as Asti Spumante (immortalized with the rhyme "pop off the top, and rock with my posse" for you denizens of late-1980s Hip Hop), a sparkling white which is served as an easy-going and inexpensive celebratory wine.
Nearly eighty percent of all Asti produced is exported, primarily to the German and American markets (where I certainly hope that retro dance clubs have it on the menu, and Candyman on the turntable. That's right - turntable.). Asti's more sophisticated cousin, Moscato d'Asti is slightly sparkling, as opposed to the fully bubbly Asti, and is generally produced by smaller vineyards with an eye toward quality. For this reason, Moscato d'Asti is pricier than Asti, though in many cases, it is still a good value at $15 to $20 for 350ml.
In addition to Moscato d'Asti, Piedmont produces four other aromatic, sweet wines; three reds (the sparkling Brachetto d'Acqui, and the two semi-sparkling: Malvasia Rossa di Casorzo, and Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco), as well as one additional white, Loazzolo, which is also produced from Moscato grapes, but is a still wine.
Starting around 1985, another quality wine began to emerge from Asti's hills: Barbera d'Asti, an early-ripening (as compared with Nebbiolo), yet well-structured red that, when yields are kept small, provided an alternative to the more famous Nebbiolo-based wines of Piedmont (Barolo and Barbaresco). Though Barbera had been widely planted in Piedmont (since at least 1799), as well as southern Italy, Argentina, Australia, and California, it had been used primarily for blending until 1985 when Giacomo Bologna began producing distinctive wine solely of Barbera at his Braida estate.
This change in approach to Barbera is also fortunate for we value-seeking wine consumers, as the grapes are easier to grow, being harvested at least two weeks earlier than Nebbiolo for Barolo and Barbaresco wines - therefore avoiding some of the late-season weather issues that can befall Piemontese vintners (hail, torrential rains, that sort of thing), and requiring less aging before release. We are then rewarded with interesting sweet-tart wines that fall in a middling price range, like this $13.99 bottle of Bava's Libera Barbera d'Asti 2006. Perhaps it's more of a budget splurge than an everyday wine, but for a nice, slow-cooked weekend meal - and I am a firm believer in the (relative) splurge - this wine is worth every penny. In fact, it paired beautifully with rabbit in sweet and sour red wine sauce that we had last weekend, and would also complement salumi and a stinky Piemontese cheese (such as La Tur). Don't forget the crusty bread and sour cherry or fig jam, either, okay?
The Bava family has owned vineyards in the village of Cocconato since the 1600's, with wine production from their own vineyards commencing in 1911. Today, three brothers, Roberto, Giulio, and Paolo work with their father, Piero to manage the winery. The grapes for the Libera Barbera d'Asti are from the youngest vines in their Pianoalto vineyard, and the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, avoiding the oaked flavor that is prevalent in much Barbera produced today, and yielding a clean, crisp wine.
Wine expert Jancis Robinson has noted that Barbera's flavor profile may simply be described as "blackberry" and "tart", and this is true of the Libera, though the scent of the wine is a bit more complex, reminiscent of wood, sugar, and smoke - or, as JR put it far more concisely, caramel. I did find it a bit odd that the aromas of the wine are those typically associated with wine that is aged in oak, though I didn't let that conundrum keep me from sticking my nose into the glass. Repeatedly. And boring (or possibly annoying) JR and the dog by saying, "wow," each of the dozen or so times I lifted my face away from the glass.
I found the sweet-tart flavor - that of tangy, brambly berries, as I described it at the time - quite pleasant. In continuing with his succinct descriptions of this wine, JR said that it tasted of black raspberry, and both of us enjoyed the piquant finish.
Barbera can produce more structured and pricey wines, particularly from the Alba region (Barbera d'Alba), and the famous Antonio Gaja produces a Barbera Langhe Rosso that I found selling for $56.99. Bava also produces a top-of-the-line Barbera Superiore, Stradivario, which is aged in new barriques for 18 months prior to bottling, and is named for the famous Stradivarius violin. In fact, the tasting notes recommend accompanying this wine with Barber's "Adagio for Strings" (the Bava's feel that there is a natural affinity between wine and music, which you may read all about here. And you should be forewarned that I selected a choral version of the Adagio to share, lest you were expecting the advertised strings.). Fortunately, the price on the Stradivario Barbera isn't comparable to the price on the violin of the same name, but my search found it priced around $40 (or $82 in China. Ahhh, the magic of the interwebs.). As you can see from these examples, not all Barbera can be considered a value wine, however, it is worth asking your local wine merchant about good-quality, inexpensive Barbera d'Asti, particularly if they don't carry the Bava Libera Barbera d'Asti.
Hey, and while you're there, maybe pick up a bottle of Asti - you know, for drinks before you go out to the retro (gack - the music of my youth is retro!) dance club.
Dinner tonight: Stuffed winter squash with rice, apples, raisins, and an apple cider-cream sauce, served with grilled sweet Italian sausage. Estimated cost for two: $7.27. The squash weighs just over 1 1/2 pounds, so at $1.19 per pound, that's $1.90. The rice is one cup from a 4 1/2 cup bag costing $3.59, so that's 80-cents. The apple is one from a bag of my neighbor's not-so-perfect (says it right on the bag, people) apples. Those cost $2.50 for 6 pounds. This one apple weighs around 7 ounces - heck, we'll just call it a half pound, and that's a whopping 21-cents (or 50-cents if you purchased farm fresh perfect apples for 99-cents per pound). The raisins cost $1.99 for a bag containing 1 1/2 cups. I'll use 2 tablespoons, so that's 17-cents. The cider costs $3.99 for 8 cups, I'm using 1/2 cup, so that's 25-cents. The cream costs $2.99 for two cups, I'll be using a half-cup at the most, so that's 75-cents, and I'll throw in some sage from the garden - just a leaf or two to infuse the sauce, and a bit of butter, which we'll estimate is 1 tablespoon, and that costs 9-cents. The sausage was on sale for $3.99 per pound, we'll be having about 1/2 pound, so that's $2.00. We may follow this up with a scone - I have to be honest, the scones are breakfast and dessert, so that adds $1.14 to our nightly total.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Scones are a tricky baked good. Some can be like biting into the ledge that New England sits upon; brittle bits of slate-like crumb, dry, yet dense - tempting us to dump their remains into bags labeled "Quickcrete" and then to plot how we can resell them as such at our local home improvement store.
However, after a Poor Girl Gourmet Board of Directors meeting - a very official, two-member event that took place between JR and me following a pumpkin scone scoffing session - the Board has decided that these need to be shared. Now. No waiting for a future book. I mean, Thanksgiving is coming. We all need this recipe, which results in light and fluffy scones. Even my doubts were overruled (always doubting, I am). Following my speculation that perhaps the texture was slightly more cake-like than true scone-like, JR belted out, "Like hell it is. These are scones." And even if the truth lies somewhere in between, I do agree with JR that keeping them from you is just plain mean.
Many of us have been raised on pumpkin puree in a can - it materializes around this time every year at the end of the supermarket baking aisle, stacked such that its pie-slice label art calls to mind Warhol in 3D - but making your own pumpkin puree, from a pumpkin that you or your local farmer grows, is quite easy, and once the puree is made, you can measure it out into commonly called for amounts - 1/2 cup for scones, 3 or more cups for pumpkin butter, whatever it takes for your favorite pumpkin bread or muffins. You get the idea, just check your best-loved pumpkin recipes and dole out the portions you need - then place those measured bits into freezer bags (that you label with the quantity, of course), and freeze them until you need them. The 5-pound sugar pumpkin that I bought at my favorite farm stand yielded about 6 cups of sweet, flavorful puree. It's sure to be a pumpkinpalooza of baking activity at my house this week, without a doubt. And for weeks to come.
When shopping for your sugar pumpkin, the first, and probably most important thing to know is that sugar pumpkin is not the same variety as your friendly neighborhood jack o' lantern pumpkin. Sugar pumpkins are smaller, with sweet flesh that more closely resembles butternut squash in texture than carving pumpkin flesh, which is quite fibrous (as I'm sure you are well aware from past carving activities). Look for smaller sugar pumpkins - those smaller ones tend to have sweeter, more delicate flesh - and ones that are heavy for their size. I picked through a few pumpkins before finding one that looked like it should weigh less than it did, and when it pulled my arm toward the ground with its unexpected heft, I knew it was the one. For this week, anyway.
Once you and your pumpkin arrive home - and you're ready to cook with it - peel the pumpkin using a vegetable peeler. Remove the stem (if it can be done easily. If not, for the next step, cut not quite in perfect halves), cut the pumpkin in half, and then scoop out the seeds. The seeds can be toasted just as you would your jack o' lantern seeds, and seasoned to your liking for snacking, or, say, pumpkin soup garnish. Toasting the seeds also keeps us from having food waste, because, heck, you've already paid for the pumpkin, why not get a nearly-free snack out of it as well?
Once peeled, cut the pumpkin into 1-inch cubes - a 5-pounder will give you around 10 cups of cubed pumpkin - then boil the cubes in water until they're softened and easily pierced with a fork. Drain the pumpkin well and allow it to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before pureeing. I pureed my pumpkin in the food processor; each batch took less than a minute. Transfer each completed batch to a bowl, and then parcel out your measured puree into freezer bags (or other airtight containers) as we've discussed, and freeze them for future use, or refrigerate for more immediate use.
When making scones, it is important that the butter not melt into the dough, lest you end up with that Quickcrete fodder - the little pieces of butter within the dough melt as the scones bake, creating air pockets and therefore flakiness, so all ingredients must be kept cold during the mixing phase. Ideally, you'll puree your pumpkin the day prior to the scone-baking, and then refrigerate it overnight. If you haven't the time for that sort of thing, put the puree in the freezer until it is chilled (but not frozen), approximately 15 minutes, before proceeding with the recipe.
And if you're using canned puree, be sure that you've got plain puree, not the spiced and sugared pumpkin pie filling variety. That would be a lot of competing, and very sweet, tastes.
Pumpkin Scones with Ginger-Honey Glaze:
Makes 8 scones
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold (as in, butter that has been in the freezer for 10 minutes prior to using it)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons dried cranberries, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have a 10 by 15-inch rimmed baking sheet at the ready.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, mixing well to evenly distribute all.
Take your very cold butter out of the freezer, and cut it into cubes. Place the cubes into the bowl with the flour mixture, and using either your fingertips (not your palms, as they are warmer than your fingertips and may melt the butter as you work it into the flour) or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the pieces of butter are approximately the size of peas. Stir in the dried cranberries and crystallized ginger.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, cream, and the egg yolk, mixing well. Pour the puree mixture into the dry mixture. Using a wooden spoon or other large, sturdy spoon, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until you no longer have any dry spots remaining in the dough. This requires a little bit of effort - 2 to 3 minutes of mixing with a spoon - so don't go reaching for additional puree or cream in those first 30 seconds, the dough will come together.
Place a rectangle of parchment paper that is approximately 10 by 15-inches on your work surface and dust it with flour. Lightly dust your hands and a rolling pin with flour, adding more as necessary during the rolling out process. Transfer the dough from the mixing bowl to the floured parchment paper and roll it out to an 8-inch round that is about 1-inch deep. We'll be baking the scones on the parchment, so the next step is to transfer the parchment paper with the dough round to your baking sheet.
Brush the top of the dough with the cream for the wash. Using a sharp knife or pastry scraper, cut the round into 8 as-equal-as-you-can-get-them wedges. Spread the wedges out around the baking sheet so that they are not touching one another and have at least 1-inch between them. Bake until the scones are just starting to brown at the edges, 18 to 20 minutes. The tops will still be slightly soft to the touch at this point, but all is good. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for at least 10 minutes before glazing.
While the scones bake, mix together the confectioners' sugar, cream, honey, and ground ginger in a small mixing bowl until you have a creamy frosting. Once the scones have cooled for that minimum of 10 minutes, use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the top of the scones. Then, sprinkle the chopped dried cranberries and crystallized ginger over each scone, and serve them forth.
Estimated cost for 8 scones: $4.41, or 55-cents each. I'll be making 16 for Thanksgiving breakfast, big spender that I am. The flour costs 48-cents for 2 cups. The brown sugar costs 16-cents for 1/4 cup. The baking powder costs about two cents. The salt we never factor in, so there's that. The cinnamon costs 6-cents, we'll estimate the remaining spices at 12-cents, including the ginger for the glaze. The butter costs 70-cents for one stick of Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value brand. The pumpkin puree was 1/2 cup from 6 cups that cost $2.50, or 42-cents per cup, so 1/2 cup is 21-cents. The cream cost $1.89 for 16 tablespoons, so the total cost of cream here is $1.06. The egg should cost no more than 26-cents (factoring in the whole egg, though you should refrigerate the white or freeze it for future use - up to 2 days in the fridge or 1 year in the freezer). The dried cranberries cost 42-cents for 7 tablespoons, the crystallized ginger costs around 50-cents. The confectioners' sugar costs 17-cents, the honey is 25-cents, cream and ginger have already been factored in.
Dinner tonight: Whole Wheat Linguine with Roasted Macomber Turnip and Acorn Squash. Estimated cost for two: $6.37. The linguine cost $1.99 for a 1-pound bag, we'll be using half of that, so $1.00. The oil for roasting costs 36-cents, the oil for the saute portion of the preparation costs the same. The roasted garlic costs around 11-cents. The turnip cost a whopping $1.83 and the acorn squash is from our garden, but it weighs only a pound, so if purchased, that would be 89-cents. The butter in the dish costs 70-cents, and the sprinkling of cheese is 25-cents. I'm going to toss some crumbled bacon over the dish, so two slices of fancy Black Forest bacon cost around 87-cents. Not quite a meatless Monday, but low-meat, anyway.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
A writer friend of mine has been suggesting that I set up an "Ask Amy" section of the blog, an idea that I like, but that I feel should be its own separate space here, and as my dance card only just cleared out yesterday (I delivered the copy edited PGG cookbook manuscript back to my editor at Andrews McMeel at 11:59am - I said I'd have it there Monday morning, and I wasn't going to make a liar of me), I haven't yet figured out how to hack my Blogger layout. Oh, but I will, don't you worry.
In the meantime, I got to thinking about how I promised tips when I first started this blog just over a year ago, and while I like to think that I include them in my posts, sometimes one's attention span might not be quite robust enough to read through the essay portion of the post to the recipe wherein a tip may or may not be found. For that reason, I present to you - on a random and completely at-my-whim basis - Poor Girl Gourmet Pointers. You know, ideas and discoveries to help save us money. They'll generally just cut to the chase - but for this first one, I felt it warranted an introduction. But without further ado, I present to you the very first Poor Girl Gourmet Pointer:
Buy Green Tomatoes.
Yep. That's it.
Seriously, though, now that many of us are experiencing cooler weather, if you'd like to extend your local tomato eating time for another month or two, buy some green tomatoes now. At my favorite farm stand, they cost $1.75 less per pound than the ripened field tomatoes do - that is, they sell for one measly dollar per pound. I bought 2 pounds nearly two weeks ago (about 4 medium tomatoes), and one of them is nearly red enough to top off that pasta with collards, white beans, and bacon that I'm so excited about, to the point that I can barely wait for my cheapo green tomato to ripen in order to make it again (but that I won't post until I'm pretty sure you've forgotten about the pasta with kale, white beans, and sausage post).
As I learned while ripening my rescued-from-late-blight tomatoes, green tomatoes do well placed in brown paper bags (leave the tops open to allow for ventilation) and set in a cool, dry spot. Check on them from time to time to be sure they are dry (to avoid rot), and use them just as you would vine-ripened tomatoes.
Green tomatoes will also keep in a 55 degree Fahrenheit root cellar (at 85 to 90% humidity) for up to 2 months (though this article by Mike and Nancy Bubel, root cellaring experts, says that if they're kept cool and dry, they can last all the way until spring). Once the tomatoes begin to show signs of ripeness, move them to a 65 to 70 degree location to speed up the process.
Not only can you ripen green tomatoes so that in a few weeks, or a month, or two, you have a ripe, local tomato (can you say "Caprese" for a Thanksgiving appetizer?), you can also fry these bad boys up or make piccalilli. For nearly 60% off the price of vine-ripened local tomatoes, it seems silly not to make use of them. Silly, I say.
I hope you've enjoyed this very first Poor Girl Gourmet Pointer. Feel free to share yours as well, okay? I'm always after new ways to keep cash in my pockets!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Collard greens seed starts were a last-minute impulse purchase at the farm stand this spring. Though I am generally prohibited by my frugal philosophy from impulsive spending, I figured that acquiring six plants for $2.60 was a reasonable gamble. After all, even if I chopped down each of the plants in its prime and ate them, I'd have made up for my purchase nearly five-fold. And so into the woven plastic flat they went, next to the peppers, leeks, and acorn squash.
Now, nearly six months later, I can make an informed assessment of collard greens. And I have this to say: Those things kick arse. Not only are they prolific producers, they mind not a little neglect, and though the slugs are quite enamored of them, it's easy enough to pick those little slimy things off. Add to that, one can quickly harvest enough leaves for a meal in short order, and, still, the leaves keep coming, all season long. It wasn't until the end of last month that they showed evidence of cabbage loopers (or inchworms, as I have always known them), which is to be expected, as that is the loopers' time, yet I simply fed those to the hens (along with the slugs, which the hens have now come to expect), and order was restored.
So maybe I wasn't successful at getting ALL of the pests off all of the time. What's a few holes in your collards? Eat around 'em.
Collard (a.k.a. collard greens, or collards) is a member of the Brassica family, a genus that contains an enormous number of edible plants, including broccoli, cabbage, and kale (to say nothing of the decorative landscape-plant branch of the family tree). They are prolific in the South, but even here in the Northeast, there was a report of a grower on Cape Cod who was harvesting collards - unprotected from weather - until February one year. Collards are high in vitamin C and soluble fiber, and, man, are they tasty. Many times, that soluble fiber gets washed down with a little smoked meat, as it did in our dinner last night - pasta with spicy collards, white beans, tomatoes, and bacon, which is perilously close in concept to the kale dish I posted last week, and yet, I think I may still post it - in a week or so, once we've all forgotten the similarity - because JR and I both swooned over it.
This pie is also swoon-inducing, and yet, there is not a bit of meat to be found. For Christmas every year, JR gets me an Italy-themed calendar. I don't mind the predictability, for I love my husband and we both love Italy. And when one can't go to there, why not ogle a picture or two hanging on the wall? This August, in the photo-a-day calendar that was 2008's gift, there was a very tempting-looking greens pie - alas, no caption or recipe followed, so I decided to do my best to replicate what I thought it might be. I gathered up two pounds (or so) of collard greens - leaving an abundant crop behind in the garden - washed them diligently, as they tend to pick up quantities of soil, slugs, and the occasional inchworm, and then proceeded with constructing this very hearty pie.
Collard Greens Pie:
1 sheet puff pastry (I was feeling a bit too lazy to make my own crust, and the puff pastry worked well, so we're going with it)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 medium onion
2 pounds collard greens, well washed, woody stems removed, and coarsely chopped (if buying bunches at the grocery store, they weigh approximately 1 1/4 pound each, save that half pound for sauteing another night)
1 cup fresh ricotta
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling over the finished pie
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9-inch tart pan or pie dish with unsalted butter.
Roll out the puff pastry dough on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch approximation of a circle (the corners of the once-rectangular sheet are a bit difficult to round, after all). Transfer to the greased tart pan, tucking the dough into the pan and curling the dough edges back over themselves to form a crust. If there are areas that could use a little more crust, simply trim any excess dough (this can usually be found at the corners that we were unable to round out), and patch the dough where desired using a bit of warm water to adhere it to itself. Pierce the bottom surface of the crust all over with a fork. Set the crust masterpiece aside (I won't tell it was from the freezer section if you don't).
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and crushed red pepper, and saute until the onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the collards and saute until they are wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, Pecorino Romano, and eggs, and whisk to blend. Add the cheese mixture to the collards and stir well. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the greens into the pastry shell, pushing down on the greens to compact them. Have I mentioned that this is a dense pie? Yes. Well, those greens will come right up to the edge of your crust, or pretty darned close to the edge of your crust.
Bake the pie until the crust is golden brown and you can see that the cheese and eggs in the greens are lightly browned on the top of the pie, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow the pie to cool for at least 10 minutes before digging in. Sprinkle the remaining Pecorino Romano over the greens, and then cut away.
Estimated cost for one pie: $12.48. And you will get twelve slices out of it, for it is robust. That's $1.04 per slice. The puff pastry costs $4.49 for two sheets, so one sheet runs us $2.25. The collard greens cost $2.49 per bunch at Whole Foods, though I have seen them for 79-cents per pound in my regional grocery store. We'll still figure on the $2.49 price because that gives you a little flexibility to hit the farmers market instead of Whole Foods if you'd like. The olive oil costs 48-cents, the crushed red pepper costs 12-cents, the medium onion is 38-cents. The ricotta costs $3.00 (1/2 of a 1 pound container), the Pecorino Romano costs 75-cents, and the eggs should be no more than 26-cents each.
Dinner tonight: Roasted chicken with romano pole beans and collards. Estimated cost for two: $6.51. The chicken will cost around $5.00. I haven't yet purchased it, but I seem to be hovering around the five-buck mark with my recent chicken choices. JR will get the leftovers for tomorrow's lunch, so $2.50 is what we add to tonight's bill. The beans and collards are both from the garden, so they are free, but if you were purchasing them, let's say it would be about 1/2 pound of beans at $1.75/pound, and one bunch of collards at $2.49. The olive oil will cost 48-cents, the crushed red pepper 12-cents, and the garlic will be around 10-cents. However, with the garden still producing, our actual cost is $3.20.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
okay, so these aren't garden chairs, but they seem like a place where one might have deep thoughts about career changes, don't they?
"I don't know about you, but I think of fall as a new beginning," JR said one evening last week as we sat in the garden. "Yeah, me too," I exclaimed, surprised as much that we shared this philosophy as I was that after six years of marriage, and nearly twenty years of our lives intertwined, that this was the first time this had come up in conversation. "That's exactly how I feel. Summer's over, and now it's time to get serious, start new things."
A year ago today, as that philosophy compelled me to do, I started this blog. Looking back now at that first, tentative entry, I was surprised at how clear the idea seemed - JR and I are going to eat food that meets our standards even on a budget - given that I was hesitant about launching my thoughts out into the world on their own little rocketship (it's small and squat, sort of rounded rather than missile-shaped, and has a big blue star on it, fyi. When I have more money, I'll get it a paint job and put the Poor Girl Gourmet blog header on it.).
As a child, and all the way through college, I was a writer and artist. Everything that I undertook involved writing, designing, drawing, and painting. Yet, in the years following graduation, I lost my way, my sense of self. I think that it happens more frequently than we'd all care to admit. After all, how many people are really doing the one thing they've dreamed about, or are passionate about, for work? At last check, most of my television colleagues - at least most of the ones that I like - seemed not to be living their dream (birds of a feather? Perhaps.). For me, this was acutely true. In the sixteen years between college and last fall, I had become a beancounter of sorts. A manager of schedules, budgets, people, and machines. Daily, I faced the not-so-subtle reminder of my job responsibilities: creative thoughts were not my domain. Yet for most of my life before I started my career, creativity was a normal and natural part of every day. Not surprisingly, I was miserable at work. A malcontent, as it were.
By the time the economy screeched to a halt at the end of last summer, I was exhausted and uninterested in schmoozing those people who I needed to schmooze in order to find more tv gigs. Little work was available to begin with, and my disdain of peddling myself didn't magically gain me any new clients. Odd.
Change is difficult in the most ideal of circumstances. Ask any new mother or father you know, or someone who just bought a house, or got a fabulous promotion. I hadn't done any actual planning for a career change, and thought, really, that I'd be back to work in a month or two. Still miserable, but with my normal income, and possibly refreshed having had a couple months off.
The work never came, but perhaps I had asked it to stay away. To let me get back to being me. In place of that work and its money, the richness of creativity returned; writing again after too many years away, becoming more creative in the kitchen, photographing food, talking about food, and growing food. This blog combines all of my creative passions. I couldn't ask for more, though it has given me more.
Long hours and a two-hour commute often left me trying to jam enjoying my husband, my house, my dog, my life, into weekends. Weekends are short, you know. I rarely saw my garden during the daylight even in the summer - many nights I arrived home from work at 8:30 or 9pm.
For the first time in my adult life, I've been able to appreciate the ebb and flow of the seasons, each and every day. Today is stunning. I had my coffee outdoors. The leaves on the hundred year-old maple tree in front of our house exploded into a firey red just yesterday, and today the clouds are small stretched cottonballs dancing around in the bright blue sky. I would never have noticed those details when I was working, and I would never have had the time to enjoy them as I do now. My work has changed. It pays less, but I've spent months writing a cookbook, experimenting in the kitchen, shooting the photographs for the book, learning about a business that is completely new to me. I am finally doing something that I really love, that challenges me, and that I thoroughly enjoy.
Before JR and I finally settled into our relationship, we had what could be referred to in the kindest of terms as a rough start. During this phase, a friend queried me, "Why aren't you dating?" "Because I'm waiting for JR," was my reply. My friend furrowed his brow, "really?" "I see no point in dating someone just for the sake of saying I'm dating someone. If it doesn't work out with JR, I still won't date simply for dating's sake." This headstrong approach happened to work out for us in the end. Unfortunately, it's difficult to take such a stance regarding one's job. After all, everyone has to work, unless, of course a substantial trust sustains them or they've recently hit the lotto (and secretly, too, so that their second-best friend from fourth grade doesn't resurface looking for a loan, along with everyone else who they knew in grade school and beyond). Circumstances - some beyond my control, and some likely well within - propelled me into this situation, pushing me to take time away from my job, trust-less and lotto-less though I am.
And without either of those two rare forms of income, JR and I are decidedly less well off financially than we were a year ago, though overall, I think we're happier. We live on what we have; I suppose it's a make-do approach we've taken on. Raising chickens for meat - we already had hens for eggs - growing more food in our garden then at any time previously, putting up what we can't eat right away so that we have it for eating during the winter. Don't get me wrong - when I start making money again, I will probably run right out and buy me some shoes, or a handbag, or some other thing that I don't necessarily need. I'm not intentionally practicing asceticism, though this experience has shown me that by regaining my me-ness, I don't need things the way I used to think I did. I'm no longer jealous. Or worried what other people think. I'm just me. And I write, design, draw, photograph, and cook.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
A fennel seed-rosemary-garlic rub for last night's pork roast and the cake that is the subject of this post have confirmed for me that the return to fall cooking has officially begun. If the flavors of each weren't enough of a statement that it is so, surely the desire to roast and bake, plus make tomato chutney and jar it up for holiday gifts, all in the course of one rainy Saturday afternoon, must serve as verification. At this early stage of October, I'm even feeling as though I have a jump on holiday gift-making, which is either fabulous, or completely delusional, and if delusional, sometime around December 15, I'll begin to panic and engage in marathon baking sessions until the 24th.
A mere two weeks after the passage of summer, I am kept up at night thinking about my favorite holiday of all, Thanksgiving. I'd like to think I could get past Halloween before I start posting recipes for the big day, but I can't guarantee anything. Especially because I know that I'll be making this cake - perhaps two - to bring along to my brother-in-law's for the Turkey-in-a-Hole-in-the-Ground celebration. It serves dual purpose, breakfast and dessert, and with twenty or so people packed into his house for three days, we'll eat our fair share of both. But does it count as an official Thanksgiving recipe if I make it every weekend from now until the end of March with apples from those 6-pounds-for-$2.50 bags my neighbors sell on their front lawn (and that I'll surely be hoarding in the basement this winter)?
While cutting into the cake before it has cooled won't be a problem for me at Thanksgiving, as I am making the cake before we travel the three hours to Vermont, it is important to let it cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting into it. Particularly if a cleanly cut slice of cake is a priority, otherwise it will crumble. However, I have been known to sneak a crumbling slice of cake a mere 10 minutes into the cooling time on weak self-control days. It happens. Kind of like me posting what amounts to a Thanksgiving recipe during the first weekend in October.
3 medium apples (approximately 1 1/4 pound, I used Gala and Macoun), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups fresh ricotta
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together to make cinnamon sugar. Place the apple slices in a large bowl, add the cinnamon sugar to the apples, and stir to evenly distribute the cinnamon sugar. Allow the apples to macerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter (the remnants on the wrapper from the softened butter are good for this task).
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until it is creamed. Add the ricotta and vanilla extract and mix until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated.
In a second bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, stirring well. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and mix until fully combined. Add the apple slices and any accumulated juices, and gently stir them (also known as "folding" them) into the batter.
Bake the cake on the middle rack until the cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour.
While the cake bakes, combine the apple cider, cinnamon stick, and maple syrup in a medium saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, and cook until reduced by three-quarters (so that you have 1/4 cup of liquid remaining), 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes. Once cooled, remove and discard the cinnamon stick.
Combine the apple cider reduction, 3 tablespoons of maple syrup, and sifted confectioners’ sugar in a small mixing bowl. Stir together until all of the confectioners’ sugar is absorbed into the liquid. Set aside.
Once the cake has cooled, remove the outer ring of the pan, using a knife to carefully free any cake that has adhered to the sides of the pan before pulling the outer ring away. Place the cake on a large plate or platter. Spoon the cider-maple glaze over the cake, starting in the middle and working out to the edges. Allow the glaze to seep into the cake for a minute or two, and then dig in. As the cake sits, it will continue to absorb the glaze, which, for me, makes it an ideal dessert or (somewhat decadent, but that's how we roll at Thanksgiving) breakfast option.
Now, if you prefer a topping more akin to frosting over a seeping-into-the-cake glaze, possibly because you simply cannot get enough sugar with your cake, which may sometimes happen to me, you could whip up a maple syrup glaze instead:
2/3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used Grade A, though if you wanted a more intense maple flavor, you could use Grade B)
kosher salt to taste (I found that around 1/8th teaspoon worked well to balance the sweetness out)
Estimated cost for one cake, which provides you 8 to 12 slices (that's 8 hefty slices, 12 normal slices): $7.95, or 80-cents for each slice, using the slice-per-cake median of 10, and rounding up. I use my neighbors' not-so-perfect apples for this cake, and those cost around 40-cents per pound, but at the farmers market, you should be able to get yourself a pound for 99-cents. Or, if you're feeling fancy, $1.49, though 99-cents will do the trick, so we'll add $1.25 for our 3 apples here. The granulated sugar for the whole cake costs 19-cents. The cinnamon costs around 12-cents. The butter costs 70-cents, the eggs 52-cents. The ricotta will run us $2.25. The vanilla costs around 6-cents. the flour adds 36-cents to our tally, and the baking soda costs just less than 2-cents. The apple cider costs $3.99/8 cups, so the one cup costs us 50-cents. The cinnamon stick costs around 45-cents, and the total maple syrup runs us around $1.31. Lastly, the confectioners' sugar costs 23-cents. If you go the thick glaze route, the cost jumps a whopping 36-cents to $8.31.
Dinner tonight: Hey - even though I'm all gung-ho on Thanksgiving, roasting, and baking, there is still corn available at the farm stand, sirloin tips were on sale for $4.99/pound at Whole Foods, and I got me some green tomatoes leftover from yesterday's chutney-making extravaganza. Grilled Sirloin Tips, Steamed Corn, and Fried Green Tomatoes. Estimated cost for two: $9.88. Not bad for the Sunday Splurge meal. Which, of course, if you were feeding four it does cost more than $15, and that's how I define a splurge these days. But, come on - there's grilling and early fall corn and tomatoes. It's worth it. The corn costs 55-cents per ear. There is no question that JR will insist on cooking up 4 ears, and if they're as good as they were last weekend, we will eat them all. Into the tally goes $2.20 for those. We'll have butter, too - and it's hard to know exactly how much, but to be safe, we'll call it a half a stick, so that adds 35-cents (Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value store brand is what we're using). The sirloin tips cost $5.78. Green tomatoes cost $1.00 per pound at my favorite farm stand. I will only use one, and the chosen tomato weighs around 1/2 pound, so that's 50-cents. Egg, flour, and breadcrumbs for the frying cost 26-cents, 6-cents, and 25-cents each, and the oil for frying will be in the 48-cent range.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I think, sometimes, that I must be prejudiced in my love of this time of year because my birthday falls within it. But it is just so gorgeous, with the wispy white clouds, crisp air, and sky in that perfect shade of blue. While I do miss the heat, and bemoan the fact that we didn't have much of a summer in New England this year, I also look forward to fall for cooking.
The farm stand selection in September and October is so incredible that sometimes I wish that there were more than seven dinners a week. During my fall shopping trips, I struggle to buy only that which is on my shopping list. But then it starts. My internal voice chattering away while my eyes dart from colorful fruit to colorful vegetable, "Oh, look at the peppers. I should stuff peppers. You know, I really should roast some pork with local plums. What about that peach brulee I was talking about making? I should get some peaches." On and on it goes.
This past week, there were olives in need of curing at the farm stand that I frequent, and for only $2.99 per pound. Yet, I stood firm, and didn't buy them, though my fingers are crossed that when I return on Thursday, there are still some available. They're on this week's shopping list, you see, and I've stocked up on salt for the brine. That's the thing about the shopping list, it's easily modified to suit one's desire from week to week, so long as it seems as though one is planning ahead.
Aside from winter squashes, the arrival at the farm stand of kale and other Brassica kin - collards, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts among them, signals to me the arrival of that eagerly anticipated fall cooking season. And though our temperature is alternating between hot and crisp here in Massachusetts - it's time to start weaving these vegetables into our repertoire, even if the weft to their warp is an insalata Caprese or a watermelon salad on those warmer days.
My lacinato kale seedlings are taking a beating so far this fall. The slugs appear to be getting the better of them. And with the shorter duration of evening sunlight (evening being when I am normally found in the garden), I'm not as effective at collecting them from my garden beds and tossing them to the waiting laying hens as I am during the longer days of summer. Nonetheless, the laying hens eagerly gather in the corner of their run nearest to the garden once word spreads that slug-tossing humans are in the garden (I'm not sure how they do it, but believe you me, they spread the word, and quickly at that). With no homegrown kale in sight, I purchased some curly kale to make this dish - it was on the list - and will certainly find both curly and lacinato varieties on my shopping list throughout the fall and winter. Unless, of course, my newly concocted cold-frame kale seeding can be kept slug-free, in which case, I will blissfully harvest kale until that first ice storm hits. Please let that not happen until February. Please.
Rigatoni with Sausage, Kale, and White Beans:
(for this dish, either curly or lacinato ("dinosaur") kale will do, or you could substitute collards, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens - you get the idea)
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves roasted garlic, finely chopped (fresh garlic will give a different effect, but it's okay to use it if you have not a bit of roasted garlic on hand)
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 bunch (approximately 3/4 pound) kale, woody stems removed, and cut into 1-inch strips
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
This type of meal is far and away my favorite quick-prep weeknight meal. You might have noticed in the Gemelli with Tomatoes and Pesto post how quickly that dish comes together. This follows in that same vein. Start the pasta water to boil, just before the pasta goes into the water, start cooking the saute part of the meal. Here goes:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until the pasta is al dente.
Preheat the broiler. Place the sausage links on a broiler pan or 9 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet and broil until browned and cooked through. While you could pan cook the sausage while the kale cooks, I like the additional flavor that broiling imparts.
Just before the pasta goes into the pot, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the garlic becomes aromatic. Add the kale, and cook, stirring frequently, until the greens are wilted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the beans and their juices, and stir to combine. The bean juices will thicken as they cook, so once the pasta is cooked to al dente, you'll add 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water to thin it out a bit.
Using tongs to hold the cooked sausage (because it is hot), cut the sausage crosswise into 1-inch rounds. Add the sausage rounds to the pan with the kale and beans.
Once the pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving that 1/2 cup of cooking water we discussed a paragraph ago. Add the pasta and the cooking water to the pan, and cook for 2 minutes more to meld the flavors. Remove from the heat, salt and pepper to taste, and distribute evenly on each of four plates. Sprinkle a tablespoon of Pecorino Romano over each, and serve them forth.
Estimated cost for four: $9.22. I bought my rigatoni on sale, and therefore, it cost me $1.00. The sausage was on sale for $3.99 per pound. The olive oil costs 36-cents, the crushed red pepper 3-cents, the roasted garlic approximately 11-cents. The kale costs $2.49 per bunch, and the beans are 99-cents per can. The Pecorino Romano will run you around 25-cents, and nearly as quickly as the meal comes together, I have done the math for this dish. It almost never happens like that. If you're just two people, like JR and me, you get two lunches out of this as well for $2.30 each. Not too shabby. Not too shabby.
Dinner tonight: Well, it's not exactly as warm outside as it was yesterday, but I bought a watermelon at that favorite farm stand of mine for the express purpose of making Watermelon Salad with Chicken and Basil, so that's what we're having. Estimated cost for two: $9.62. Turns out, this is bordering on a splurge if you're buying all of the ingredients. The watermelon cost $5.00, and I haven't weighed it yet, but I'll wager it weighs around 6 pounds. Let's say that I'll use half of that between cubed watermelon and the watermelon dressing I'm making, so that costs $2.50. The chicken cost $3.29 for a whole chicken breast at our local poultry farm (we didn't slaughter any chickens this weekend, so we had to buy). I'll use half of that, so that's $1.65. The lettuce will come from the garden, as will the basil, but if you purchased them, the lettuce would cost around $1.99 and the basil would be about a quarter of a purchased bunch - it's just an accent here - so that's 50-cents. I'm adding some fresh ricotta to the mix in order to use it up after making last week's collard greens pie, so that adds around $2.25 to the total. There will be about 48-cents' worth of olive oil in the dressing, and probably 25-cents in honey as well. Because the lettuce and basil are coming from the garden, the cost comes down to $7.13. Perhaps a bit pricey still, but here in New England, the opportunity to eat local watermelon must be seized when it presents itself.