31 December 2012

Happy New Year

It's been a year of bees.

A year of chickens,

and ducks,

and one very memorable rooster.

A year of canning,




and cooking.

We had eggs,

ice cream,

and many happy meals with family and friends.

Happy New Year from our table to yours.  May you eat well in 2013!

13 October 2012

Fall Fare

Gardening season is approaching its end, but the show is not over yet.  First, the nightshades perform their final encore. Then the squash, kale, and brussels sprout steal the limelight.  It's easy to think about the garden in the warm summer months, but the cool months provide an exciting bounty as well. 

My eggplant were the first, along with the melons, to stop producing due to frost.  I stashed several in the refrigerator to keep for a ceremonial eggplant parm dinner marking the end of the season, but I wasn't feelin' it.  Even with a fresh batch of ricotta in the fridge and tomatoes for a quick sauce, they seemed to be calling for something different, something new.  These eggplant were uppity and wanted nothing short of novel excellence that came in the form of the remaining untried recipe from My Calabria, Pollo con Melanzane, or Braised Chicken with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Pancetta.  It's beyond me how this recipe made it so long unexercised, but with a new cobalt Dutch oven barely cool from my coq au vin adventure, eggplant practically pleading for a sublime sendoff, and a freezer full of chicken, it was time to put my faith yet again in Rosetta Costantino's southern Italian brilliance.  The recipe is listed below and it is fantastic. 

My tomatoes, despite several frosts, are still producing.  Each time it gets cold I think they're done.  Then, I go outside and sure enough, there are ripe tomatoes that I couldn't possibly leave on the frostbitten and withered vines.  We've had our share of roasted tomato bruschetta and sandwiches.  With plenty canned and in the freezer, I retreated to my tomato archives to see what I could make that had an autumnal flair as tomato-basil season is long gone. Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter perfectly fit the cozy autumn profile, and given the reviews, one would think this was the king of tomato sauces.  And it's good, very good--homey, with a delicate nuanced flavor.  Its fragrance alone is reason enough to try it.  It's a lovely October meal, but no, it is not the king of tomato sauces.  It's very 'sitting next to the campfire in a cable-knit sweater admiring the New England foliage while sipping a non-alcoholic cider'.  If a sauce could have sociopolitical leanings, this sauce is definitely a WASP.  It's the Martha Stewart of sauces, which is classic, and nice.  I greatly admire and respect Martha Stewart, I'm just cut from a different and more leopard-print cloth. 

With the next batch of tomatoes, I made Rigatoni with Braised Lamb Ragu.  Now that's far more leopard print than cable-knit.  My house smelled like Greektown.   Opa!  Short of the saganaki and cold table wine, it was pretty close to a trip to Jackson and Halsted.  I've listed the recipe at the bottom of the post.  See, there's a tomato recipe for everyone:  for protestants and vegetarians, the Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter (sorry vegans, you have stumbled upon the wrooooong site); and for catholics or those that don't require higher than an SPF 15, Rigatoni with Braised Lamb Ragu.  These rules aren't hard and fast--feel free to try them both. 

The above recipes are fairly quick to assemble.  The following takes more time, but is absolutely worth it.  Lasagna with Squash and Kale is adapted from this recipe from this month's Bon Appetit.  The recipe can be followed exactly as written except for the substitution of kale for broccoli rabe.  If you are buying ingredients from the store or can find broccoli rabe at the farmer's market, by all means try the recipe as is.  My adaptation is based on the vegetables in my garden, not taste preference.  I learned several things from this recipe: 1.  Squash and kale make a quintessential fall dish in both flavor and color.  2.  Lasagna needs not fatty meat to be delicious.  3.  Bechamel should be included in every recipe.  Trust me, this is a recipe to keep in your archives.

Another simpler kale recipe is Kale, White Bean, and Sausage Soup.  I grew up with a similar dish, sausage with escarole and beans, so I've made many variation on this theme, but never according to a specific recipe.  Now seemed like as good a time as any to crack open The Tuscan Sun Cookbook from Frances and Edward Mayes.  This is a very straight-forward version of the dish, easy enough for a weeknight meal, but refined enough for a first course with company.  It is perfect for a cold autumn night when only the kale is left standing in the garden.

Now I'd  like to talk about brussels sprouts.  Please don't make that face.  I tend to take brussels sprouts insults personally.  It's just about my favorite vegetable (do not let the eggplant hear that!).  If you don't like them you probably haven't had them prepared in a way that really suits their character (or you're just a jerk).  True brussels sprouts-lovers can enjoy them boiled, but anyone else must have a roasted or sauteed version.  These methods caramelize the natural sugars and create a mesmerizing crucifer. 

My go-to preparation is to trim and halve or quarter each sprout, toss with olive oil and sea salt, and roast at 350 until they have brown and crispy edges.  I could eat a platter of these on my own.  If you want to make a great side dish, add some crispy pancetta/bacon or caramelized onion.  Divine.  This week I prepared them according to the standard roasting method, but cut them finely, into almost a hash.  This creates even more crispy bits.  Rather than just eating them as a side though, they became the main entree on a pizza crust and topped with fresh mozzarella and lots of shaved parmigiano.  This may be my favorite fall pizza--there is a hierarchy of favorites depending on season and location.

We also had braised brussels sprouts.  I will admit, this may not be the recipe to initiate one's self into the world of brussels sprouts.  However, if you are already a resident, please try Cream Braised Brussels Sprouts.  They are silky, rich, and delicious.  For more recipes and, follow my pinboards on Pinterest.

Now if you're into the fall pizza idea, try Pizza with Squash and Sage.  If your sage plants are crazy prolific like mine, this is a great use of the herb.  Squash and sage compliment each other so well.  This pizza is a great lunch or appetizer.   If you want to make more of a meal of it, add some grilled Italian sausage, a great addition to that particular combo.


The days of garden-fresh produce are numbered.  There is a curtain call or two left for most fall vegetables, and the dates of the kale show may be extended depending on when we get our hard freeze.  Enjoy the garden show now.  When it's over, we'll just have frozen and canned vegetable reruns until spring.

Pollo con Melanzane
Braised Chicken with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Pancetta
from My Calabria, Rosetta Costantino
1 lb globe eggplants or slender Italian eggplants
Kosher salt
olive oil for frying
8 bone-in chicken thighs
freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 oz pancetta, chopped
3 garlic cloves, halved
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups peeled, seeded, and diced ripe tomatoes
1 small fresh hot pepper, such as cayenne of Thai, halved
3 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Cut the eggplants into large chunks, about 1 inch thick and 2 inches long.  If they are too small,  they will fall apart when cooked.
Sprinkle the eggplant all over with 1 tsp kosher salt.  Heat enough olive oil in a 10-inch skillet to come 1/2 inch up the side of the pan, about 2 cups oil.
Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels.  When the oil is hot enough to sizzle the edge of a piece of eggplant, fry the eggplant in batches until golden all over, 2 1/2 to 3 minutes total.  Don not crowd the pan.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked eggplant to a plate lined with paper towels.
Season the chicken thighs all over with 2 tsp salt and several grinds of black pepper.  Heat a 12-inch skillet or Dutch oven over high heat.  Add the extra virgin olive oil, the pancetta, and the garlic and saute until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute.  Add the chicken thighs skin side down.  Saute without moving them until the skin side is browned and releases easily from the pan, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the chicken with tongs to a plate and pour off the accumulated fat, leaving the garlic and pancetta in the pan.  Return the chicken to the pan and add the wine.  Simmer until all the wine has evaporated.
Add the tomatoes and hot pepper.  Taste and add more salt if desired.  Simmer steadily, uncovered, until the chicken thighs are fully cooked (their juices will be clear, not pink) and the tomatoes have collapsed into a sauce,  about 10 minutes.  Add the fried eggplant and stir gently to coat the eggplant pieces with sauce without breaking them up.  Continue simmering until the tomato sauce is reduced to a glaze, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the parsley and serve.

Redneck Paisana note: if using an entire chicken in pieces, be careful note to overcook the breasts.

Rigatoni with Braised Lamb Ragu
olive oil for frying
flour for dredging
1 lb boneless lamb pieces for stewing
fresh rosemary spring, leaves removed and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
Preheat oven to 350.  Pat lamb pieces dry, salt and pepper, dredge in flour.  Heat oil in a Dutch oven (out enough oil in Dutch oven that it come 1/4 inch up the sides).  Fry lamb in batches until nicely brown.  Transfer browned lamb to paper towel lined plate.  Fry garlic until golden.  De glaze Dutch oven with white wine.  Use a wooden spoon to work the browned bits on the bottom of the pan into the wine.  Add tomatoes and rosemary, bring to a boil.  Taste for salt.  Add lamb pieces, cover Dutch oven and bake in oven for 1hr 45 minutes to 2 hrs or until lamb pieces are very tender and falling apart.  Serve over rigatoni.
Kale, White Bean, and Sausage Soup
from The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, Frances Mayes and Edward Mayes
Serves 12
2 Italian Sausages , casings removed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 quarts chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp dried
1 bunch kale, stalks included, washed and chopped
1/2 tsp salt, plus additional to taste
1/2 tsp pepper
4 cups cooked cannellini beans
In a stockpot over medium heat, brown the sausages in 2 tbsp of the olive oil, breaking them up with a wooden spoon.  Remove to a bowl.  Add the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil with the onion and garlic, and cook on medium-low heat until translucent.  Add the chicken stock and wine, and raise the heat to medium for 15 minutes.  Stir in the thyme, kale, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and lower the heat to simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the sausage and beans, and simmer another 10 minutes.  Taste for salt.
Autumn Pizza
Redneck Paisana
pizza dough
olive oil
cooked vegetables (roasted brussels sprouts, roasted squash slices)
chopped herbs (sage for squash pizza)
1-2 oz fresh mozzarella di bufala
1 cup shaved parmigiano reggiano
Preheat oven to 500.  Roll out dough and fit into an olive oiled cookie sheet.  Lightly brush olive oil on dough, especially crust.  Sprinkle with herbs.  Arrange roasted vegetables on dough leaving a 1/2-1 inch border for crust.  Dot with small dices of mozzarella.  Sprinkle with shaved parmigiano, salt, pepper.  Cook for 10-12 minutes or until edges of pizza are crispy.   High heat creates crispy edges with a chewy center.

04 October 2012

The Rooster's Last Crow

We never intended to have a rooster.   In our order to the hatchery, we requested fifty Cornish Cross meat birds and fifteen heritage laying hens.  As they grew, one bird didn't clearly fall into either category: it was white, like a Cornish Cross, but small, like a heritage breed.  We would have assumed it was a runt, but its blue legs and only fourteen other identified hens indicated heritage lineage.  Time went on and the Cornish Cross all grew to proper slaughter weight.  We processed them and what appeared to remain were fifteen colorful hens scratching and pecking in an ample chicken run.  Then the mystery bird began to crow and his sex was no longer a mystery. 
We deliberated for several months as to whether we should keep him.  His crow was incredibly charming and, at first, so was his machismo.  He would stand at the top of the ramp to the coop and proudly flap his wings and call his ladies.  Then his, let's say charisma, got out of hand.  On several occasions I witnessed acts in that coop that I didn't feel I was yet old enough to see.  He was a strict rooster, and he punished my darling hens.  We were harboring our own poultry version of Fifty Shades of Grey in the backyard.


Then, he started to think Vivienne and I were also part of the flock.  He tried punishing us too.  He went after Viv on several occasions.  He earned a watererer to the side of the head one day when he attempted to spur me.  This was becoming a lot of drama for eggs.  Oh yes, and he was obviously going to fertilize my eggs.  I'm not squeamish, but finding blood in my eggs will definitely put omelet production to a temporary halt.  He had to go.  Needless to say, he wasn't happy about it.  Really, he was getting exactly what any guy banging fourteen chicks at the same time deserves.
Before one slaughters a rooster, one must catch him first.  Cue the Rocky theme.

 That was one nimble rooster.  Nick finally cornered him inside the coop.

A few last words of thanks:


And it's time.

It was a swift death.

One might think this is the end of the rooster tale, but the slaughter is the very beginning of turning a rooster into dinner.  There's the scalding, the defeathering, and the cleaning of the bird.   It's quite glamorous:

I decided to make the traditional French dish, coq au vin, literally translated as rooster in wine.  Typical meat birds are slaughtered at about six weeks of age because the meat is tender and mild.  This rooster was almost six months old.  The meat was tough, dark, and very fragrant.  French peasants created coq au vin particularly to make good use of an aged rooster.  First I had to break him down, which still takes me twice the time I expect.  Note the color of the meat along the backbone and breastbone in the upper right corner--much darker than standard chicken.

I used Molly Stevens coq au vin recipe, which is featured here with step-by-step photos.   I wish I had better photos of the final product, but by the time we sat to eat it,  we were two bottles into the night.  Here's what I managed to capture:

And luckily, our guests took a plated shot.  Please pardon the haphazard (read: tipsy) presentation.

Neither do the dish justice.  In my opinion though, no photo could.  I don't believe a more delicious entree has ever graced my dining room table.  Thank you, rooster aka Russell Crowey aka Roosty Rooster aka coq au vin.  Merci beaucoup.

27 September 2012

September 'Stead

The fields are brown.  It's harvest season.

The september garden is abundant: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melon, squash. 

Fall greens are in full swing too.  I am in love with this deep burgundy cultivar, Lollo Rossa.

The most exciting news: our hens just started laying.  The first egg was a double yolk--a sign of good luck for sure. 

The Aruacana, or easter eggers, are laying too.  The light blue-green eggs are so pretty.

We've had our first frost.  It killed the melon plants, but about a dozen melons were saved.  We are enjoying this orange-fleshed watermelon, the Orangeglo.

The chickens are enjoying the imperfect melon and squash.

We've had a prolific pepper season.  My sweet Italian peppers were delicious in this peperonata recipe from Molly Stevens.  The cayenne and serrano peppers provided a large batch of hot sauce.  My recipe is simple---boil cleaned and trimmed peppers with water and sugar, almost ruin the entire batch when the sugar caramelizes because the 2-year-old is throwing a massive tantrum, save it with more water, add cider vinegar, cool, blend with an immersion blender, and pack in jars and refrigerate. Note: wear gloves.

Here's how that looks without sarcasm:

1 lb cleaned/trimmed hot peppers with seeds
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups cider vinegar

Boil peppers with sugar until soft--water will reduce. Watch so sugar does NOT caramalize. Turn off flame once soft and add vinegar. Once cool, blend with an immersion blender or transfer liquid to standard blender. Pack in very clean jars and refrigerate.

The tomatoes are still kickin' despite the loss of some vines to the frost.

The tobacco plants bloomed late, but are beautiful as ever.


Autumn is here.

11 September 2012

Autumn Prelude

I'm sneaking away from my water bath canner for a few minutes to give a quick 'stead update.  For the past several weeks I have been canning my can off.  In that time the ducks have flown the coop, the hornworms have appeared, it's greens season again, and the nightshades have started producing, which means I'm finally getting my pepper and eggplant fix.

eggplant, poblano, sweet banana, and cayenne peppers

The cooler weather has allowed some great roasting and braising experiments.  Most noteworthy is Molly Stevens' End-of-Summer Braised Green Beans (listed below) from All About Braising.  If your plants are still producing or you can find them at your local farmer's market, give it a try.  It's perfect for tougher late-season beans.  And don't be scared of the anchovies.  They make the dish.

canning tomatoes

Also, it's high tomato season.  That means we are eating more than our share of caprese salads, tomato based sauces and braises, and Margherita pizzas--there is nothing like a Margherita pizza with homegrown tomatoes and basil, nothing I tell you!  It also means my baby girl is practically making herself sick on cherry tomatoes straight off the vine.  She knows not to pick the green ones yet.  I'm not sure if that is from telling her that they're not ripe several hundred thousand times or if she learned that in her private experiences with the tomato plants.
the Margherita
It also means my water bath canner is getting a workout after a brief respite from pickling season.  I'm putting away the standard tomato puree, but I also found a few new recipes that made me excited enough to put in more hours in my canning kitchen.  I love making jams.  Unfortunately, I don't eat that many items that call for jam.  A dollop on oatmeal or the rare piece of toast is great, but the majority of my jams are destined for gifting and holiday desserts like sour cherry bars or black raspberry tarts.  But, I came across a few savory jams that have proven quite delicious.  Savory jams are great for appetizers; they pair well with brie or goat cheese.  I was looking specifically for sandwich jams, something that compliments a burger, pulled pork, or roasted chicken.  I don't do ketchup, I find most mustards barely tolerable, and standard mayonnaise is made with industrial vegetable oils that are forbidden in our household.  So, I put giardiniera on almost everything that calls for a condiment, which can get pretty boring, until now.  Marisa McClellan, the canning genius behind Food in Jars, has several savory jams.  I used my sweet cherry and yellow teardrop tomatoes to make this Tomato Basil Jam and this Orange Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika.   They've already been sandwich tested and approved.


how bout them apples?

Also in canning news:  we were lucky enough get the opportunity to collect as many apples as we wanted from a wonderful relative in the next town.  She has four apple trees that produce more than several families could need.  My sister-in-law and I, and our families, collected hundreds of pounds of apples.  Talk about hitting the jackpot: an overflowing abundance of local, delicious, chemical-free apples.  After several days of sorting them, we have bags of unblemished apples for fresh-eating and ten half-pints of this apple butter each.  Additionally, I spent a day canning fifteen quarts of applesauce for this winter along with several pints of this apple jelly.  And, of course, there was pie.

apple pie--not my prettiest crust
All of this means fall is upon us.  Even if the produce didn't tell me, I would know by the browning of the cornfields, the new autumn-toned wildflowers by the creek, the crispness of the air, the mice droppings in my kitchen, my sudden inclination to listen to Dave Brubeck's Time Out, and my husband's relentless need to build campfires.  Before the season is in full-swing, I plan to take advantage of as many sun-warmed tomatoes as humanly possible and figure out where the hell one gets a Pumpkin Spice Latte in an area of the country so rural that Starbucks has yet to grace a non-existent mini mall.       

jerusalem artichoke by the creek

End-of-Summer Green Beans Braised with Tomatoes
Molly Stevens, All About Braising
Serves 4, Braising Time: about 1 hour

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 anchovies, minced
1 lb green beans, topped and tailed
1 1/4 cup chopped ripe tomatoes or one 14 1/2 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup water
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  The aromatics:  Heat the oil in a large lidded skillet (12 to 13-inch) over medium heat.  Add the garlic and saute gently until it releases its fragrance and just begins to show touches of gold on the edges, about 2 minutes.  Do not let the garlic brown.

2.  The braising liquid:   add the anchovies and oregano, smashing the anchovies with a wooden spoon to blend them into the oil, and saute for a minute longer.  Immediately add the green beans, stirring and tossing to coat them with the oil and seasonings.  Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Add the water and season with pepper and just a pinch of salt, keeping in mind the saltiness the anchovies add.

3.  The braise:  Cover, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and braise the beans, stirring occasionally and checking to make sure that they are not simmering too energetically.  If they are, lower the heat a notch or place a heat diffuser beneath the pan.  Continue to braise gently until the beans are completely soft and are beginning to wrinkle but not splitting open or falling apart, about 1 hour.

4.  The finish:  Depending on the beans and tomatoes you used, there may or may not be a lot of liquid remaining in the pan.  If the beans are swimming in sauce, remove the lid, increase the heat, and boil for 3-5 minutes, until the sauce is the consistency of a loose tomato sauce that generally coats the beans.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Serve hot or warm.