Thursday, June 25, 2009

Martha Doesn't Live Here (Thank Goodness!)

I'm a bit embarrassed to show this picture, because it's kind of garish and sloppy (notice the gravy on the thrift store placemat), but it's a plate that makes me proud, reminding me of the home-cooked meals of my red clay South Carolina youth.

First up, fried chicken, using the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook recipe for Extra Crispy Fried Chicken. The technique is brilliant - first, a buttermilk brine, then a small portion of buttermilk poured into the flour and seasonings just so it makes shaggy crumbs. The buttermilk-soaked legs and thighs are then dredged in the shaggy crumbs, yielding a very crispy poultry product. I use the gravy recipe from the same cookbook - it's my go-to. My one exception to the gravy recipe is that I use exclusively chicken broth rather than both chicken and beef, that is a combination that confuses my palate. The gravy is simple: just sauteed mirepoix vegetables in butter, a bay leaf, some thyme; let cook down for at least 15 minutes, add flour, then broth and adjust seasonings. Strain before serving.

The pear salad is a riff on a Southern classic - canned pear half, with low-fat yogurt instead of mayo, and a cherry, which gives it a gaudy glow, to be sure, but guess what the kids ate first? You got it, the healthiest thing on the plate, the fruit.

This blog isn't one of the beautiful ones, the thoroughbreds put out by food stylists, photographers and chefs. It's real food by a real mom working in an average kitchen with Oprah on the tv in the background and the kids sitting at the counter reading, painting, coloring, nagging, nibbling. A little red clay on their knees would complete the scene.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Not the most original or inspiring title ever, but, honestly, that was the cry of joy from Laura when she read over the packing list to this week's CSA box. We haven't had fresh Georgia blueberries in nine months.

The box also included beautiful green and purple Romano beans, that will go to my Mom's house tonight - a thank you for babysitting. She'll probably cook them in typical Southern style. If they were lingering, I'd either make a bean and tomato braise or perhaps soupe au pistou, a recipe from a recent Gourmet magazine. It's a summer soup featuring green beans, tomatoes, summer squash, potatoes and pasta.

And there's some beautiful summer squash, a fair portion, tender and ready for either the pistou or maybe the summer squash soup from Scott Peacock's Gift of Southern Cooking. I made squash casserole last week, and I loved it, but, amazingly, it's not a big hit with my family. I rarely casserole anything, so it's treated with deep suspicion a la maison. (that French just keeps slipping in.)


1. Two cukes to join the pair already in the crisper. I suspect a cucumber salad is in my future.

2. A pretty garnish portion of purple basil, including the flower. I can use the farmer's market basil to make pesto and use this basil on the top of the pasta. A blog-worthy picture, to be sure.

3. A lovely head of butter lettuce, my favorite. I rinsed and spun it dry, salad-ready.

4. A couple of sweet potatoes. These will keep, so I can amass a collection for a pie, or perhaps roast them to serve with a simple supper.

5. A purdy bunch of purple and white radishes. The greens were past their prime, so I lobbed them off, rinsed the roots and put them in a container of ice water. This is my proven method for prolonging the freshness of tender roots vegetables like radishes. I'm longing to try the braised radishes in Gourmet Cookbook, or perhaps in something like egg salad. I can't stop thinking about egg salad on whole wheat bread and finely chopped radishes are divine in egg salad.

The only miss this week was a slimy bunch of broccoli. Frankly, it looked like it was picked too late - the yellow buds were a dead giveaway. In the interest of reduce, reuse and recycle, I trimmed off the slimy buds for the compost pile and saved the stalks for some sort of stock or maybe in a cheesy broccoli soup or maybe slaw, we'll see.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rutabagas: To Know Them is To Love Them

There are a few foods that I never ate until I married a native son of Macon, Georgia. For starters, I thought that pimento cheese was the regurgitated neon glop sold in small tubs by the luncheon meat at the supermarket. I changed my mind when I tasted my mother-in-law's homemade minner (as DH calls it) spread on whole wheat bread, a revelation, some might say. Served with fried chicken in Macon. I don't know why, but I'll eat it.
I never even considered rutabagas until married life, either. For the uninitiated, they are large yellow-ish turnips, found in the produce department near cabbages and root vegetables. They have a thick wax coating and a tough exterior that requires serious prep work, but after that, cooking is a breeze and the cook is rewarded with an earthy side dish, perfect with ham and greens and steaming skillet of buttermilk cornbread.
We usually eat rutabagas (or root-a-beggers, according to DH) in the winter, and they're always served at Thanksgiving. But this week, the produce department had a bag of three enormous rutabagas for $1. That's right, UNO. Chump change. Cheap eats. Just add water and pork seasoning, and bob's your uncle, a tasty, homecooked, el cheapo dinner is on the table. And here is how I did it:
(Above) A sharp knife is needed to cut through the thick, waxed skin.

(Above) Employing the nearest hammer-like implement to separate the halves.

(Above) Cubes simmering in salted pork stock.

(Above) Earthy, golden goodness.

Rutabagas Cooked in Pork Stock
1. Fill a large pot with water and add pork seasoning, country ham scraps, or smoked turkey parts. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil.
2. Using a sharp knife and possibly a rubber mallet or hammer, peel and cube the rutabagas.
3. Carefully place the rutabagas in the boiling water, add a moderate amount of salt - be careful, this will cook down and you will greatly regret excessive salt. Let the vegetables come to a boil, then cover and simmer for at least an hour. The whitish raw rutabaga turns yellow-orange as it cooks. The rutabagas are done when they are soft, very much like a non-starchy boiled potato.
4. They need just a bit of pepper to taste, and pepper vinegar or hot sauce may be required. Prepare to add another vegetable to your "like" list.

Homemade Strawberry Jam

(Above) Red Ripe Strawberries

(Above) "Hey, Mom, do we really get to do this with our hands?"

(Above) Laura's Strawberry Jam, Ready for Gift-Giving.

During summer days, when the girls are out of school, it's essential to have a few activities to keep little hands busy. Making strawberry jam is an easy and rewarding project that has passed my personal test -- it's perfect for both a 10-year old and 3-year old to do together and each girl feels like they made their own contribution.

If I were a total granola mom, I would begin at the U-pick farm, but these berries came straight from the Kroger produce department. I bought six quarts and had a couple cups of berries left over, which isn't a problem in this house, we put them on top of yogurt or in cereal or eat them out of hand with a bit of sugar or balsamic vinegar (that's really for the grown-ups, though).
I used the Ball brand envelope for Freezer Strawberry Jam, just one envelope to four cups of crushed fruit, plus one and a half cups of sugar. I'm no fool, so each girl got her own cutting board, bowl, fruit, pectin, sugar, and jars. I like the Ball plastic freezer jars, but used the new-fashioned canning jars, too.

The girls hulled and sliced the fruit, Laura using a paring knife and Lindsey using a plastic knife. The genius of the strawberry is that a little one can use a plastic knife and actually do the job efficiently and cleanly. After the slicing, the girls got their hands into the mix, smushing the berries between their fingers, then employing a potato masher to smash the berries more. After the sugar and pectin were added, we stirred for three minutes (excellent opportunity to use the kitchen timer), then spooned the mixture into the jars.

Within an hour, we had eight jars of homemade strawberry jam. I included a jar in a welcome basket for our new pastor's family. Homemade buttermilk scones and strawberry jam should make a tasty breakfast.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Sea of Green

(Above) Fennel, with Cher Hair.

(Above) Chard and Cucumbers.

(Above) Red Leaf Lettuce.

This week's CSA box from Farmer's Fresh was filled with green. Cucumbers, chard, lettuce, a bundle of lovage and dill, and a fennel bulb with a ridiculous mane of fronds, reminiscent of either Bob Marley or Cher in all their glory.

I'm becoming pretty adept at cooking greens like chard, using the steam/sautee method that Pam Anderson writes about in "How to Cook Without a Book." Put some olive oil in a skillet, place the greens inside, let them wilt, toss in a minced garlic clove or more, sautee for a minute or so, then serve. The sauteed greens can be saved for other leftover-friendly foods such as frittatas, quesadillas and calzones.

The cucumbers will most likely be used in salads, but I'm tempted to try something new like a cool summer soup with yogurt. If I had tomatoes and a nice stale baguette, they could be tossed in a panzanella (bread salad). Perhaps there's a quick pickle to be made. We love pickles in this house. My grandmother would keep a small glass container (remember the days before Tupperware, when cooks used glass containers in the fridge?) that held a sliced cucumber covered with vinegar, what she called salad oil (vegetable oil), salt and pepper.
The fennel will require an education for me. From what I have read, the bulb is the money part, and the fronds are a nice garnish, but the stalk is best for stock. I have a stash of frozen leek greens that will soon get an addition of fennel stalks, just waiting for stock-making day. Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" features many fennel recipes, salads, braises and soups, I think that's where I'll head for inspiration.

Dill is one of my favorite herbs and I will probably use it in a homemade buttermilk ranch dressing and possibly with some tuna that I'm cooking tomorrow night. Lovage is new to me, but it smells and tastes quite like celery, so I'll probably toss it into the stockpot and maybe into the salad, too.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Opposite of Convenience Food

Mom loved last week's CSA box contents and we loved our week at the beach. Sun, sand, seashells, putt-putt, and copious amounts of steamed seafood. Heaven, sheer heaven, or at least, this redneck girl's idea of heaven. Back to mom: upon our return, we were given the pecans from last week's box. I guess this means I need to invest in a nutcracker. My very generous neighbors gave me a five-pound bag of unshelled pecans that's been sitting in the pantry for a couple of months, so between the two stores, I should have enough nuts to make a pie or something pretty special.

Just perusing the cookbooks on my desk, and have come up with a few ideas. From "Beans, Greens and Sweet Georgia Peaches," recipes include a Salad with Apple, Pecans and Clemson Blue Cheese; Baked Apples with Bourbon and Pecans (the author, Damon Lee Fowler, must keep the Maker's Mark next to the breadbox, it's called for quite frequently); Brown Butter Pecans (which I think would be luscious in home-churned vanilla ice cream); and Pecan Pie and Pecan Shortbread. All very tempting.

My favorite 1,000-page book, "The Gourmet Cookbook" suggests a Bananas Foster Cheesecake, or Catfish Fillets with Pecans and Butter Sauce. Sables and Cheddar Crackers have a certain savory appeal. The recipe for Inside-Out German Chocolate Cake sounds like a winner. Coconut, pecans, ganache, dulce de leche, how can you go wrong?

But, first, to the hardware store for a nutcracker and some quality nut-cracking time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Of Radishes and Rothko

If Rothko designed vegetables, these watermelon radishes from Farmers Fresh would be the result. Stunning magenta interiors, encased in white and celadon. The raw bite is peppery; thin slices add punch to an otherwise ordinary suppertime salad. Sauteed with a bit of butter and finished with salt and pepper, they are earthy, more like beets.

I decided to add them to a slaw, made with carrots and last week's kohlrabi. The dressing was simple: three tablespoons white wine vinegar, one teaspoon Dijon mustard and one teaspoon honey (from the CSA New Member pack, Wally B.'s honey). I think that's a trifecta, isn't it? Using three CSA items in one dish?

The peppery radish taste got lost in the slaw, which I consider a good thing. Check out the bowl of color: orange carrots and magenta radishes with creamy white Kohlrabi matchsticks.

This Week's CSA Post: TBA

One of the cool problems/opportunities of a CSA membership is what to do when you're planning a trip out of town. Do you extend the membership a week? Do you completely forget about it and let the kind drop-off site person take it home? Or, do you ask a friend to pick it up and enjoy it? And, if so, which friend?

This is how I got hooked on a CSA membership. My neighbor, Susan, offered me her box last April while she was out of town. I loved the coincidence that the drop-off site was the home of someone I'd known for 25 years, but hadn't made the CSA connection with. Just one afternoon of pulling vegetables out of a bag, and I was hooked. I signed up within a week.

Anyway, this week, my mom will be the lucky recipient of the CSA box. I've shared items before, especially the greens beans and heirloom tomatoes from last summer. This week's box should include lettuce; cabbage, turnip roots or radishes; onions; pecans; squash or sugar snap peas; herbs and possibly strawberries (or as the weekly menu posts it: " Strawberries ??"). I'll post next week how Mom fares as a CSA cook.