Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Cool Yule and Crunchy Cookies

Solstice is here. Winter assembles itself from cold, wind, and the moisture that will soon become snow and slush instead of the hard rains we've been getting. The long stretch of mild weather has turned our heads a little, but the wise have already prepared for the next phase. Maybe the wiser are prepared but still enjoy the unseasonably green grass, higher-than-average temps and absence of having to shovel.

I'm not as prepped as I'd like to be: there are leaves on my lawns, raked into piles that never got moved to the curb-side where the Village would have kindly removed them, right up until yesterday. I haven't had the heart to seal the back doors with plastic, hoping for one more chance to open them and hear the sounds of the world beyond my backyard. Christmas cookies, however, have already been made, exchanged & consumed. (See the link on the recipe title to get a glimpse of the Polenta cookies).

The wheel of the years rolls quicker at the end, bringing me close to the first anniversary of this adventure in communication. It's been mostly howling in a closet, but I've learned quite a bit, and I'm staying here for the forseeable future, under a shortened title.

Next month, next year, will be different in subtle ways... I used to host family dinners, now I'm planning on getting out ever more and more, having friends in, entertaining casually. I like cooking for people whose tastes I don't know; it takes away the limits. There'll be more strident budgeting to make that all happen, which means daily food should get simpler. I can live with that.

Oh, and I'm lining up guest posters to enlarge the scope of things. As the title change will signal. It is more than just semantics, as I take stock of the first year of this blog: it's a mandate to be out there, showing by delicious example that plant-based eating is wonderful, joyous, economical and fun.

Wishing you a beautiful Solstice and a warm, cozy end to the year.

Peaceful Seasons, Mari


These lightly sweet, crunchy, yellow cookies delicately touched with lemon, bring sunny flavor to a wintertime cup of hot tea. I made them at our family holiday cookie bake & take. My notes are below the recipe.


ITALIAN POLENTA COOKIES, Martha Stewart Living, November 2005

Yield: Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Italian polenta, or yellow cornmeal*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest, (1 lemon)
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, polenta, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Put butter, sugar, and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

2. Add egg and egg yolk, one at a time, beating after each addition to combine. Mix in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star tip (such as Ateco No. 826).

3. Pipe S shapes about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide, spaced 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake cookies until edges are golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies on parchment to wire racks; let cool about 10 minutes. Remove cookies from parchment, and transfer to racks to cool completely.


*Mari's Notes-- These were a success with my family and friends, and we agreed they truly shine dipped into steaming tea, although I've since discovered they're not bad with white wine! They are, however, made from a thick dough that takes some strength to push through the pastry bag. My pastry bag is the Williams-Sonoma mechanical type; I'm not sure a regular cloth style wouldn't work better here. But even my gimpy arms made it through the process, and I made a double batch!

As to the cornmeal issue, I used 3/4 Bob's Red Mill Polenta, and 1/4 Hodgson Mill's organic white cornmeal, and we all agreed, the texture is great-- very crunchy and crisp (these are not a child's cookies!) with just enough of a crumbly edge. They demand actual chewing, but aren't tooth-breakingly hard.

You could make them more tender by going half & half on the polenta and cornmeal, or try them with medium grind. Bob's also makes a stellar medium grind cornmeal.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eating Trees

Back from my Nano hiatus, I have a couple things planned for this space: keep the Tried and Tweaked column, but lose the special day attached. This means that you get it when you see T&T in the title. There are still plenty of these wonderful recipes I haven't shared here and more coming along all the time-- I never post these unless I've made them often enough to almost forget the original recipe concept, so they are eminently usable.

Also, going through my gigundus collection of Christmas/winter holiday themed food mags for inspiration this week, I realized many of the recipes are no longer available online, they've been around so long; or else the mags may have ended, like Gourmet. So beginning now, for a new feature we'll call The Collection, I'll regularly type in with my own two hands some of the excellent recipes from bygone food eras that you probably can't get anywhere else, unless you have a similar room full of old food mags.

Today it's an appie from Food and Wine. In an article about a tree-trimming party, an occasion I've never seen the like of, I found this neat little uptake on the old standby, cheese canapes. Old school entertaining, yes, but they were good! Simple, tasty, and suitable for any holiday just by changing up the shape of the cutter used. I think they'd take nicely to other seasonings mixed into the topping, such as a sprinkle of wasabi powder or a dash of dried dill. Non-stick cookie sheets work best here.

Parmesan Trees Food and Wine magazine, December 1989

Makes 24 trees

"Use various cookie cutters to make these zesty cheese toasts, which are festive for any occasion."

3/4 C freshly grated parmesan cheese (3 oz)

1/2 C good quality mayonnaise

2 Tbsp grated onion

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

24 slices white sandwich bread (such as Monk's, or Pepperidge Farm)


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine the cheese, mayo, onion and pepper.

2. Lay the bread on a work surface and cut with a tree-shaped cookie cutter. Scraps can be reserved for making bread crumbs.

3. Spread about 2 tsp of the cheese mixture evenly onto each bread tree. Arrange trees on a large baking sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Try them on your picky eaters, or with a soup dinner.

Peace, Mari

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cheesy Friday Night

You know those days when you have to run out and shop for this, that and the other thing? Then you come home loaded down with food but too tired to cook it?

That happens to me a lot, but after keeping house for over 25 years, experience has taught me to buy something frozen or easily assembled for that night's dinner, to avoid the indignity and expense of ordering take-out after all my careful grocery budgeting.

Except for last night, when I had too many things on my mind. Oh, sure, there were edible, if unappealing, leftovers in the fridge. There were rolls that needed using, there were veggie burgers... but looking around, I got a brain wave. What if we used those rolls as dippers?

I knew we had some hard cider around; and for whatever reason, we have two fondue pots, one new and unused for several years, the other a hand-me-down, an electric one. I went searching for a recipe and found the perfect one almost instantly, thanks to the Cooking Light forums.

The original recipe is from The Melting Pot, a chain of fondue restaurants, and AZJane of the CLBB nabbed it from Recipezaar. She had jigged it around some. I jigged it further to meet my needs. It came together wonderfully easy, prompting me to suddenly desire a fondue cookbook.

The only real work here is prepping the dippers. We used lightly cooked fresh broccoli, sliced Mac and Empire apples, chopped and toasted sesame rolls, and a few walnuts on the side. Chunks of cooked potato or slices of raw fennel would be lovely, too. With a glass of wine or beer, this is a cozy little meal for two or three, perfect for a cold evening.

Melting Pot Cheese Fondue, as adapted by Mari

SERVES 4 as starter, 2-3 as a light meal.

12 ounces hard cider*
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces swiss cheese, shredded
1/4 cup flour
1 hefty tablespoon dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix cheeses with flour.

Heat cider in fondue pot until steaming.

Add garlic, mustard and pepper; mix well.

Add cheese and stir until melted. Keep warm on low setting, if using electric pot.

Serve with dippers such as sliced apples, toasted bread cubes or pretzels, crunchy steamed broccoli or green beans, and raw carrots or fennel.

*Angry Orchard Hard Cider is a nice regional brew-- I used the Apple Ginger.


Hope you have a hot, cheesy night, too. Peace, Mari

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Turkey day? I don't think so.

I found these words today, from a writer and person I've long admired:

"The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men."
--Alice Walker

Turkey day? Uh-uh.

Well, there will be one at the gathering I'm going to, because the vegetarian members of my family, several of us, give our whole family the respect we want extended to us: that is, the right to eat what we will and not be ostracized for our choices.

So we ignore the bird, and I thank my mother for making her delicious stuffing with veg broth instead of chicken broth as she did for decades. It's worth some gratitude, with slowly caramelized onions and a moist texture I love; and it's a mouthful of memory.

Thanksgiving has always been about the side dishes for me. Salad, three kinds of cranberries on the table, fresh green beans, peas or broccoli, yams-- let's not forget the ten different starches that might show up, too.

I'm lucky that our traditions have always included lots of vegetables and not just potatoes. It made going veg easier, and it makes my choice of what to "bring" easier too, now that I attend a family dinner instead of hosting. We do a potluck style meal, everyone pitching in to make a true groaning board. We've never bothered with a consolation main course for us vegheads.

For those of you, my friends, that don't have vegetarian friendly families to help them along, I hope you'll treat yourself to a nice little feast of your own. Personally, I'm bringing coffee, one of the cranberries, a dessert I have to decide on TODAY, and the recipe below.

I'm looking forward to Mom's stuffing, my older sister's roasted brussels sprouts, my younger sister's pumpkin pie, whatever awesome new taste my most experimental niece brings (the women do most of the cooking with us, but the guys can cook, especially my brothers... but most of us cook because we enjoy it), and yes, the mashed potatoes. It'll be a big, warm feast just as winter is starting to close in here in Buffland.

Wishing you calm nourishment, whatever you do this week--

Peace, Mari



Cauliflower Cheddar Gratin with Horseradish Crumbs

Gourmet | November 2002 (how I miss Gourmet!)

Makes 8 servings


3 lb cauliflower (1 large head), cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch florets
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk (I'll be using unsweetened soymilk)
6 oz sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (2 cups)
1/2 cup finely chopped scallion greens
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
20 (2-inch square) saltine crackers
2 tablespoons drained bottled horseradish

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Cook cauliflower in a 5- to 6-quart pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain cauliflower well in a colander and transfer to a buttered 2-quart baking dish.

While cauliflower is cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat and whisk in flour. Cook roux over low heat, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a slow stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce heat and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, 8 minutes. Remove from heat and add cheese, scallion greens, salt, and pepper, whisking until cheese is melted. Pour cheese sauce over cauliflower and stir gently to combine.

Coarsely crumble crackers into a bowl. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and stir in horseradish. Pour over crumbs and toss to coat.

Sprinkle crumb topping evenly over cauliflower.

Bake gratin in middle of oven until topping is golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall Clean-Up!

We can’t say we’ve had the swiftest turnaround in the weather here— it’s been chilly, brusque and windy for weeks, except for that day and a half of come-hither temps (70’s? in October?) that popped in out of nowhere and left just as quickly.

Still, it was shocking to see snow yesterday. Today Crosby Field behind my house is coated with deep crunchy frost, and my trees, which weren’t even fully turned to their fall colors yet, are yellow and dropping their leaves in a constant flow; all in a day.

I’m not ready for winter!

We always feel that way, but November usually gives up space here to plan for it. Instead, I’m looking at the grill I didn’t finish putting together and lamenting that I didn’t wash my screens while the sun was still hanging around in a useful manner. I’m wishing I’d canned some dilly beans while I had the chance. At least the radiators got vacuumed so they don’t smell like burning dust as the heat comes on, and the sun is out. But we haven’t laid in firewood yet and I can’t get the cat to realize that the back screen door isn’t likely to be opened soon. I never got around to spring cleaning.



Let’s do a little clearing here, then, on the brink of November.

1.) For those brave enough to go full raw all winter remember this tip from Renee Loux Underkoffler’s book, Living Cuisine: you can preheat the serving bowls with boiling water, hot water, or by placing them in a medium oven for a few minutes if they’re oven-safe. You can also heat your raw soup ever so gently, not over 104 degrees, and then place it in a warmed bowl for a still raw soup that is warm and nourishes your need for comfort in the cold.
Me, I’m keeping to my half-raw state as well as I can; but there’s no getting completely away from baked goods in the winter, in my family, in Buffalo NY. I’ll be eating more living oatmeal, marinated vegetables and maybe some raw breads and sauces for the raw portions of our meals. Those extra vitamins and the flu shot my doc made me get should help keep me from my yearly bout of bronchitis, with any luck.

2.) The Merge Restaurant will serve a vegan and raw-based menu around Thanksgiving, something to be truly thankful for. And The Buffalo Vegan Meetup Group at Merge will be having a dinner there, on November 22. It’s never too late to join.

3.) This blog will be taking a short hiatus as of November 1st or 2nd, while I do my NaNoWriMo (check the link!). During NaNo, writing can become a 22-hour a day habit, and I tend to eat badly. I’ve decided to live on Aldi's frozen onion soup this time, to get some nourishment, but I’ll have nothing useful to say about food, life, foodie-ism. Sometime during Thanksgiving week there should a special post, but other than that, after this weekend you won’t see anything new here till the first week of December, when we should be back and cooking, dining, chilling in good form. Do check out some older posts if haven't read them all, and leave a comment-- I will get it, and answer it, one way or another. Here's a list of links to some good ones from this first 10 months:
Cold and Raw
Hot Friday
Barbecued Spam
Ghosts of an Appetite
Pasta & Wine Anytime

4.) Do yourself a favor and soak some beans today, then cook them on low in the crock-pot in fresh water all night. Tomorrow morning you’ll have a fresh start on a meal with no extra prep involved, and much less sodium than canned beans. I’m soaking some organic soybeans to make the soy spread from Laurel’s Kitchen— recipe soon.

Enjoy the sun! Peace,
Mari

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Making the Most of it All...

The fruits of fall are something we do well here in WNY-- apples, pears, pumpkin are ripe now and full of flavor. I dare anyone to eat a fresh picked NY Macintosh and not love it; that sweet-tart, crisp white flesh also makes any apple recipe more interesting, to me: tangier is better, and Macs give great crunch.

I've been cooking up some of my seasonal favorites the last few days, with my recent haul from the Farmer's Market (of course) where there is still, incredibly, fresh corn, tomatoes in green and red, peppers galore, and many lovely squashes to be had, among the apple-filled aisles. Even a few plums!


But last night saw some frost, I think, there's snow mixed with rain out there now, and we won't be getting any more local 'matoes for a while. Each month we have to say goodbye to another taste. Sigh.

While you can:

Do yourself and any children that hang out at your house a favor and pick up a few little decorative gourds. Leave them out all month on a platter or other tray and let them dry out inside-- not all of them make it, but those that withstand molding give alot of percussive fun! Several that sit on my table throughout the season are from the last two years. (below, how they added to my minimalist Solstice celebration last year)


I wipe them with a dry cloth to shine them up first, but don't wash; they have a natural protective coating, like all fruits and veg, that inhibits mold. It helps them turn from pretty decorations into intriguing instruments that anyone can play.

So the other night, the golden pears in my silver bowl called to me, and I answered by making some of them into muffins, using a recipe we've enjoyed for some years. It was only the second or third recipe from Vegetarian Times magazine I'd ever honestly liked; their food has gotten better in the last 8 or 9 years. These muffins are a prime example-- they're healthy as good muffins can be, and too satisfying for anyone to think about that while eating them. And I can tell you, they make as good a midnight snack as they do a breakfast treat.

My giant muffin tin loves this recipe; the batter holds up in the bigger cups without a problem, but regular sized work too. I've made them with soymilk or dairy milk, and yesterday used Almond Breeze Vanilla, with a good squirt of lime juice to clabber it.

Almond milk doesn't always provide as high a rise in quick breads (in my experience) as soymilk, but clabbering seems to have done the trick-- they were perfect. Even though I had run out of whole wheat flour and had to-- or did, anyway-- sub an even mix of wheat bran and Aldi's cut-rate rice crisp cereal for the WW. Never let them see you sweat!


Pear and Walnut Muffins
Vegetarian Times, March 2006, adapted slightly by Mari
Makes 12 regular or 5/6 large muffins

"These tender muffins wowed every one of our testers. They have a great nutty taste and are studded with chopped fresh pears. You can also make them with apples."

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar (or you can use a generous 1/2 C of white)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (reduce to 1/4 tsp if using prepared plant milks of any sort)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, or a mix of cinnamon and ginger
1 1/4 cups finely chopped ripe but firm pears (about 2 to 3 medium pears)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted*
3/4 cup reduced fat milk (I use soy or almond, clabbered)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I use Olive oil)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or a few drops almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Coat 12 standard muffin pan cups with cooking spray.

2. Combine both flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in medium bowl, and whisk to blend. Add pears and walnuts, and toss gently to coat.

3. Combine milk, oil, and egg and extract in small bowl; stir to blend. Make well in flour mixture, and add milk mixture, stirring just until moist (dough will be sticky).

4. Divide batter evenly among prepared cups. Bake 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pan**, and cool on wire rack.

*To toast walnuts:
Spread walnuts evenly in small baking dish or pie pan, and bake at 350F until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring twice, 6-8 minutes.


These muffins seem to prefer sitting in their pan for five-10 minutes first. It sets them and helps keep their shape nicely, no matter what VT thinks. Oh, they ARE good with apples, too-- and you can spice them anyway you like. I often add a little five spice or ground coriander to the cinnamon or in place of it.

Enjoy our last bit of October, and eat something good tonight!

Peace, Mari

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guest Post: Far From Home

Today I'm lucky to have a a beautifully written post. I can say that, because I didn't write it-- Canice from the CLBB did. I've long admired Canice's clear communication skills and her savvy at choosing excellent recipes and then taking them up a notch using her own fine-tuned palate. She's smart and funny and a damn good cook.

Although I was unable to post this as soon as written, it's as timely as could be, as you'll see. Enjoy what's she's dishing up!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------


I’m a long-time acquaintance of Heavy Hedonist, and another enthusiastic home cook and lover of soup. When she asked whether I’d be interested in writing a guest entry for this blog, my first thought was “Sure! But I know nothing of summer in the East; what can I contribute that would be authentic?”

After more thought, I concluded that the only truly authentic view I can contribute is my own, natural one - that of a Bay Area native who’s spent her adult life in San Francisco, where the main purpose of the summer barbecue is to give the guests a place to find warmth against the cold, damp weather.

That’s the down side to summer living in the City by the Bay. On the plus side, there’s not a day of the week that there’s not a farmers’ market being held somewhere in this small city - often a number of markets. There’s the large, well-known Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, featuring gorgeous, (mostly) organic produce, each stall carefully marked with a card showing the farm’s location in California, miles to market, the number of people employed full time, and information about the owners.

On that same day, across town, is the much older (dating to World War II) and much more down-home Alemany Farmers’ Market, with low prices, rangy setting, and more ethnic produce, owing to the large Hispanic, Hmong (and other East and South Asian) farmer populations in California’s San Joaquin Valley. And many small, neighborhood markets in between.

No matter the size or location of the market, though, one thing you can count on in August is fresh, local corn. And I’ve always considered it a blessing that corn and fog are peak-of-season together, for that means I can enjoy fresh corn chowder with all of its sweet, warm comfort against a damp grey night.

There are endless permutations of corn chowder, of course, and I love that, too: corn chowder with a fresh tomato salsa; or with diced summer squash, garnished with cheery squash blossoms or bright herbs. Vegetarian or vegan, it’s delicious, and is a fine match to shellfish of many sorts, for those who so choose.

No matter the style, one thing I insist on including in all of my corn chowders is peppers, up to five or six sorts of fresh, and always some hot pepper sauce, for not just heat but also for the nice acid kick that helps balance out flavors. I recently made a summer corn chowder with peppers and a tomato-basil garnish, and it struck me what a wonderfully New World dish that really was, featuring three of the Americas’ greatest contributions to world cuisine: corn, tomatoes and peppers.

And then, the very next day, in my inbox was the monthly newsletter from Rancho Gordo, the amazing little company in Napa, California, dedicated to promoting the consumption of heirloom beans of many, many types, and to preserving them by collecting beans from small Mexican and South American producers and growing them in Northern California - as well as via direct imports from small family farms. But it’s worth noting that the company isn’t “Rancho Gordo Beans” but “Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Foods” - they don’t limit themselves to beans - and in that newsletter was a recipe for a corn chowder that also called for quinoa, a long-time staple of native peoples of the Andes, and amaranth, another Incan staple. While my version of corn chowder may have been “wonderfully” New World, it wasn’t “perfectly” New World - and this one came close!

The recipe provided by Steve Sando (founder and president of Rancho Gordo) is based on an out-of-print book called “Spirit of the Earth: Native Cooking from Latin America” and Steve had this to say about the recipe:



Everybody seems interested in whole grains these days, thanks to the good work of people like Heidi Swanson, Lorna Sass and the gluten-free movement. Grains like amaranth and quinoa are high in fiber, protein and flavor and it's been fun finding ways of incorporating them into a modern diet. Amaranth is particularly hard as it gets a little gooey when cooked. In Mexico, you mostly see it popped and in a sweet treat called Alegria, if at all.



I took some liberties with Steve’s interpretation of the recipe and came up with this deep, nourishing summer soup.



Corn Chowder with Quinoa and Amaranth


Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1 cup finely diced celery

1-1/2 cups finely diced fresh peppers - poblano and red bell

1 1/2 cups finely chopped leeks (white and light green parts)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup amaranth

4 cups water, divided

1/2 cup quinoa, well rinsed

1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1teaspoon dried

4 cups corn kernels (from 4-5 ears), divided between 3 cups and 1 cup

1 Tbsp hot sauce

Juice of half a lime

1 cup half-and-half or whole milk

1/4 cup minced fresh herbs for garnish: basil, Italian parsley, or chives



Directions

In a large, heavy pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Stir in celery, peppers and leeks. [If using dried thyme, add it here.] Sprinkle salt over and stir frequently until the vegetable are soft, 3-5 minutes.


Stir in the Amaranth and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the Quinoa and [fresh] thyme. Return to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook at a gentle boil, partially covered, for 10 minutes.


In a food processor, puree 3 cups of corn with the remaining cup of water. Stir the corn puree and the remaining 1 cup of whole corn kernels into the soup. Add hot sauce and lime juice. Simmer 5 more minutes or until the Quinoa and Amaranth are tender.


Stir in the half and half and remaining tablespoon of butter. Add salt or other seasoning, according to taste. Divide into portions and garnish with fresh herbs.


Note: The soup may thicken on standing; thin as needed with water, milk, or vegetable stock.


Links related to this article:

Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market

http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/farmers_market.php


Alemany Farmers’ Market

http://sfgsa.org/index.aspx?page=1058


Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Foods

http://ranchogordo.com/


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I have a pot of this soup starting right now-- Peace, Mari

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tis the Season...

For writing! For baking! For drinking Sangria outside one last time-- as many times as you can.

I'll be having a fun guest post from my CLBB friend Canice in a day or so, & enjoying the lovely weather we're having here. Canice is also a big fan of shopping the Farmer's Market, but she gets to do it in California.

Today, I'm not even jealous of that. It's beautiful enough to have the windows open, airing out the house, but cool enough to make lasagna. And maybe a pie. If you've never cooked a fresh pumpkin to put into pies or muffins, do it this Autumn. It is too easy, and the taste and color are well worth the minimal effort.

Use a small, firm pumpkin. Wash it, cut in half. Scoop out the seeds and scrape the stringy stuff out of the middle, then stick it in a roasting pan or large baking dish with a half cup of water on the bottom. Throw that into a medium hot oven for 35-50 minutes, depending on size.

It really doesn't matter if you cook it skin up or skin down. It doesn't matter if you cook it at 350 F, 375, or 400. It will become tender after a while-- just check around 30 minutes, and then again every ten. Take it out of the oven when it is cooked through.

Let it cool. Pull the flesh off the skin and puree it in your food processor or blender, and you'll have the most psychotic bright orange pumpkin puree you've ever seen! It's wonderful in muffins, breads, pizza dough, Ice cream, smoothies, pie or pancakes. It makes good soup, cooked with some rosemary and onion in a bit of olive oil and seasoned with salt. It can be used to thicken or enrich chili or other soups, and it makes a killer lasagna.

But here's one of my simple favorites for using pumpkin, fresh or not--
a giant, well-spiced muffin that showcases the flavors of fall. We love these big treats, but you can make it into a nine-inch square cake or regular sized muffins, too. Or several small mini-loaves. Adapted slightly From Bon Appetit magazine, Dec. 2005.

*Note-- if using fresh pumpkin puree, use 1 3/4 C in place of the 15-oz can. That's what I do! If your homemade puree is a little watery, put it in a fine strainer for a few moments to drain away some of the liquid. It'll be fine.

Giant Pumpkin Muffins with Molasses-Ginger Glaze

yield: Makes 6 giant muffins or 15-18 standard muffins

Ingredients

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger & 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin (or about 1 3/4 cups fresh pumpkin puree)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon mild-flavored (light) molasses
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger, divided

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons (or more) water


Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 6 giant (1 1/4-cup) muffin cups or 18 standard (1/3-cup) muffin cups with nonstick spray. Sift flour, ginger, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer**, beat 1 cup sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition. Beat in pumpkin, 1/2 cup molasses, buttermilk, and 1/4 cup crystallized ginger. Stir in flour mixture until just blended.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes for giant muffins and 30 minutes for standard muffins. Transfer muffins to rack; cool completely.

Whisk powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons water, and 1 tablespoon molasses in medium bowl, adding more water as needed to form thick glaze.

Dip muffin tops in glaze; transfer to rack, allowing glaze to drip down sides. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crystallized ginger. Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour.


** I always beat this by hand. Who wants to get out a mixer if you don't have to???


Aside from pumpkin pancakes with walnuts or leftover cold pie, these muffins are probably our most coveted fall breakfast. What are you eating as the leaves turn?


(Farmers market on the Village green, in Autumn: the source of my pumpkins.)



Peace, Mari

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

MYOSITIS AWARENESS DAY

I have to post a special column, today. After you read it, you might be wondering What is she talking about? Please follow this link:

http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00198


About 4 years ago today, I was in full relapse with Dermatomyositis. I'd spent the previous 2 years struggling back from absolute weakness-- the inability to stand, wash, dress, leave a chair or the house without help, among other things. In those 2 years of healing I'd developed 'moon face' and a blood clot from the treatments, lost my income, social life and all casual friendships, and had amassed a pile of medical bills I couldn't pay.

Hubby-man & I moved to back my hometown of Buffalo NY, thinking I was finally in remission. I'd planned on getting a job or two and then gradually starting my own business. But I caught a cold somewhere on the way from Indianapolis to Buffalo that lasted a month, and in a few weeks, found myself unable to unpack the boxes and set up our new home properly. The second income we'd counted on, didn't happen-- I could barely walk a few feet, much less drive or get a job. My health insurance from hubby-man's job hadn't kicked in yet, either.

I was forced to apply for help and have myself declared disabled, at 43, so that we wouldn't become homeless. 4 years later, my progress towards health has been slower. I'm still not back to where I was when I moved, and even then, I had bad days of fatigue and other symptoms.

Now, at this moment, I've been taking steroids for the better part of 6 years. I'm in a pre-diabetic state from the meds, and my blood pressure, once excellent, ranges into hypertension any time I'm not extremely careful with my diet. I've been a semi-shut in for most of my forties. I still have a mountain of unpaid bills, and every month we struggle to meet our basic needs.

I know I will probably never be able to go back to my old plans. I know I will have to go through this horrible process again-- feeling better, putting my life together, and having it pulled away from me. That's what having Myositis has done for me, and I don't have anywhere near the worst case-- I'm luckier than many.

What I've done with Myositis is to take stock of my time, and learn how to spend it better. Some of it I spend helping families that need it. Some of it I spend writing: three novels and hundreds of songs so far... something I didn't have much time to do when I worked three jobs. That's what we do-- make the best of it.

Because having any form of Myositis puts you through the School of Hard Knocks. This is long, and I apologize. Yet I've left out so many things, so many losses. There's no words for the emotional, the mental pains that come with this yo-yo pattern of illness and false gains/temporary recovery. And there's no cure, yet.

Learn about it, please. Then we might have a chance at a cure. I appreciate you taking the time to read this.




Peace, Mari

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chili Autumn Days? Bake Some Cornbread...

It's cool and sunny in Buffland today, perfect chili weather. And to my mind, you CANNOT have chili without a nice bread alongside, and my choice 99 times out of 100 is cornbread.

There are so many recipes I've tried, but after a couple decades I haven't found one better and more adaptable than Marilyn Moore's Buttermilk Cornbread. It shifts as it needs to fit my mood, my pantry leftovers and the soup or chili I'm serving it with... my only problem is, there's hardly ever any left for the next day! And it's a huge hit with vegheads and meatheads alike.


Buttermilk Corn Bread

Adapted slightly from The Wooden Spoon Bread Book by Marilyn Moore


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 9x12-inch glass baking dish*. Sift together and set aside:

2 C unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

Beat together in a large bowl:

2 eggs
3/4 C sugar
2 C buttermilk
1/4 C (half stick) melted butter, slightly cooled
1 C stone ground yellow cornmeal (I like Bob's Red Mill Medium Coarse Grind)
2/3 C cooked & drained or fresh corn kernels, optional

Sift the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture. Mix gently, fold in corn kernels. Turn into prepared pan. Bake at 400 F for 25-30 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm or room temp with chili, soup or salad**. Makes 12 servings.

*I use a 10-inch iron skillet or a square pan and some muffin tins.

This recipe works almost no matter what you do to it-- out of buttermilk? Use milk/soymilk with some a tsp of vinegar or lemon juice in it, or mostly milk and a little yogurt or sour cream. You can use oil instead of butter, too, but butter is the BEST.

You can cut the sugar by 1/4 C without problems. As is, it is slightly sweet and very moist. It keeps well if airtight for a couple of days.

Add fresh herbs and a little chopped tomato, scatter small cubes of cream cheese on the top. Or grate 1/3 C carrots or zucchini or apple into it, and add some spice if you like. Add grated cheeses and oregano. Substitute 1/4 C Whole Wheat flour for an equal amount of unbleached. Or forgo the corn kernels, add chopped nuts and a little maple syrup, and decrease the sugar a little. It is just a delicious and easy to make cornbread.

[NOTE-- I don't sift, personally, just stir the flour before measuring and then lightly spoon it into the cup.]


**I remember when the old Buffalo Rome restaurant at Elmwood & Hodge used to have an unsweetened, Southern style cornbread on the menu-- they served it with fresh tomato salsa and raw sliced moons of red onion. It was dynamite, and this bread tastes good served the same way, even if you don't decrease the sugar.

Whatever way you try it, it's satsfying and 1000 times better than the boxed mix stuff. And it's quickly put together-- I'm making it now, and going out to PeopleArt Coffeehouse for this season's Open Mic night later.

I wish a you beautiful fall evening! Peace, Mari

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The More Things Change...

The more we want to eat the same. There's never a lack of new restaurants destined to close within two years, here. Enthusiastic entrepreneurs open their sub shops, pizza parlors, ethnic restaurants and diners with high hopes.

Hopes that are too high, actually. More than ten years ago, I read in a trade journal that the minimum cost for opening a successful restaurant that would last beyond five years was 2 million dollars. And it's a given that a restaurant needs to be able to operate at least two years firmly in the red if it's going to make it. That's a helluva lot of capital to acquire, and you can see from a brief history of our area that such advice goes unheeded. I'm remembering the lovely Coffee & Tarot place on Delaware Ave. that closed after barely a few years, to be replaced by a pizza joint that lasted, oh, just over a year, I think.

It's not a horrible location, but it doesn't stand out to the eye, either. And though I visited both incarnations several times each, I still can't recall the name of the cross-street. Which says to me that even though there's a decent parking lot behind it, this place isn't gonna fly as an eatery unless there is major time for it to become entrenched in the local viewfinder, and a majorly good product/service as well.

Sad. That's just one corner of Delaware Avenue... If we looked at Main Street near Winspear, we'd have too many sad tales to tell of sub shops closed, hopes and bank accounts drained. The problem is, folks, you have to have more than a few great recipes and some moxy to make a lasting impression on the Buffalo food scene. You need experience in running front and back of house, working both too. A great location is paramount. But above all, you have to have operating capital; it gives you time to work out the kinks.

For those of us not interested in prepping, but just in eating, there's a clear message: get it Now, before it's gone. If you've been meaning to check out the Palace of Dosas, El Palenque, Falafel Bar, do it. Enjoy it while you can.

And don't forget the old standbys that may be just barely standing by--- I'm sure the neighborhood people thought The Cameo restaurant would never close, but it did. Who knows when the next long cherished taste will disappear? Whether it's a bakery you love, a sweet shop, or the place you know you can always get a great sandwich, don't take it for granted-- eat something good tonight!

Peace, Mari

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tried and Tweaked Thursday-- Stoned Fruit

Peaches, that is, and plums. We haven't gotten freestone, yet, but they're coming, the gal at the FM assures me.

Maybe the West Coast had their peaches in July, but we're getting ripe local peaches now, and it's just in time to bake them into pie or peach cake with our heatwave subsiding. Mixing the seasonal offerings by sticking peaches in an oatmeal cake is always good, but then so is peach ice cream.

However you eat them, have as many as you can, while you can. I'm up to two a day, and Saturday I found not only the average fuzzy orbs but also white peaches at our village FM. Outstanding.

Speaking of West Coast, we are working on having a guest blogger from Cali soon, so be sure to check back for that... it's going to be a treat.

While we're talking treats, there's a breakfast dish we all (meaning hubby-man, I, and any small children that happen to be around that day) think of as a treat, and look forward to.

Yes, it's oatmeal. But it's better than average oatmeal, far better in taste and health profile than either those tiny organic cups you zap in the office microwave or those hideously high in sugar and sodium packets you need two of to make a decent bowlful. Compared to Peach Oats Brulee, that stuff isn't even food. And now that September is here for real, this recipe is back in rotation.

I originally took it from Moosewood Restaurant: New Classics, by The Moosewood Collective. And the method they use is wonderful: old-fashioned oats, such as you can buy at Aldi's for less than $2/very large container, cooked on the stove for a few minutes in boiling peach juice, then baked in the oven and finally topped with a little butter and brown sugar that is broiled into a slightly crunchy coating. Marvelous, but does require about 40 minutes or so of cooking and prep, which doesn't work when you have to have breakfast on the table at 3:45 am.

I tweaked it for the slowcooker for overnight cooking. Switched out broiling for microwaving the topping-laden bowl, although that's not strictly necessary. Realized that fresh peaches on top or cooked along with the oats were a welcome addition. As is, or when you want spice, with a touch of cinnamon or ginger thrown in.
MMMM.

Not saying we never do the baked version-- we do, when it's cold enough to welcome turning on the oven to warm the kitchen, and we have a relaxed morning to enjoy the whole deal. It's not exactly a tough dish either way. But sometimes, when you have to be up early, you need an extra reason to crawl out of bed. A precooked wholesome gourmet-flavor breakfast is one good reason.

PEACH OATS BRULEE Adapted for the slowcooker from Moosewood's New Classics


Equipment: 1 1/2-2 qt. mini slowcooker, and a wooden spoon.

Ingredients

about 2-2 1/2 C whole oats: old-fashioned oatmeal, not quick oats*

4 C peach juice**

2-3 Tbsp unsalted butter or your favorite substitute, divided

2 Tbsp brown sugar, for topping

Diced peaches for topping/cooking, optional

Turn on slowcooker to low. Add 1 Tbsp butter to bottom of cooker.

Read directions on your box of oats to determine how much you need: I use the same ratio of water/juice to oats that they specify for regular cooking, plus a smidge extra 'cause I like it less creamy. This works to about 2, 2 1/2 C oats to 4 C juice for my 1 1/2 qt cooker. So put in the juice before the oats, put in the smaller amount of oats, and just make sure that they come up about halfway-- add a little more if they don't.

Add 1/2 C peaches, or chopped dried apricots if you like, and put the cover on the cooker. Cook overnight, or for 6-8 hours.

In the morning, give a good stir to the oatmeal, and adjust the texture if needed.*** At this point, you can either throw the remaining butter and the brown sugar on top in the slowcooker, cover a moment and let it melt, or you can dole out bowls and add the toppings evenly (butter first, then sugar) and stick them each in the zapper for about 20 seconds or so. Eat happily, no milk required or desired here.

Serves 3-4, by our helpings.


Mari's Notes

*You can use quick oats in a pinch, but you'll need more-- add an extra 1/4 C after you get the oats measured up as it says above. Or you could go the other way and use Steel-cut oats, in which case you'll need somewhat more oats than the package recipe calls for. I use a hefty 1 1/2 C oats-to-4 C -juice for steel-cut.

** I use Welch's Peach Medley because it's widely available and inexpensive; any of their peach blends would be fine. Of course, After the Fall, or any other peach blend, works well too.

What also works is Dole's Peach/Pineapple/Orange blend, though it's a brighter, tangier taste. And to completely change the flavor, use apple juice or cider along with some Apple Pie Spice and chopped fresh apples or chopped walnuts on top. Same measurements as above. MMMM.

***All slowcookers have their own heat settings, and differently stored oats soak up different amounts of liquid, so the first time you make this, give yourself an extra few minutes before you need to serve, so you can adjust the texture to your liking, for your cooker.

If it's a bit too liquid as is, grab a handful of oats and rub them smaller, then add to the cooker and stir. Cook on high for five minutes, and you should be able to proceed with toppings as usual. Or you can throw in a cup of prepared granola or other whole-grained cereal to absorb the extra juice, stir and proceed as usual. Ground flax seed is also a great thickener, so you could add a few Tbsp of that and let it thicken for a few minutes before getting on with the toppings.

If the oatmeal seems too dry instead of fluffy and creamy, add a few Tbsp hot water, stir in, and let cook a few more minutes.
The next time, you'll have a better idea how your cooker works with oats.

Do feel free to send in your favorite ways to soak up September... I'd love to hear it.

Happy September 1st! Peace, Mari

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tried and Tweaked Thursday for the Perpetually Unaware

I'm not saying I didn't know yesterday was Thursday. I'm just saying I didn't know it until about 9:30 pm. I've been living in a bit of a fog lately, but I'm hoping the cooler weather will bring better sleep and greater available brain power.

Hoping.

But I do have a wonderful recipe to share, one I've made dozens of times through the years. It's nutty, it's seasonal, and it's PIE. What could be better?

Well, for one thing there's no fruit to worry about, except a touch of lemon that you can leave out or fake if needed. It's good warm, room temp or cold, with or without ice cream or whipped cream, it's easy-peasy to make, and it's based on pantry ingredients. Plus, a slice in the morning for breakfast beats even croissants for decadent satisfaction, and it's more nutritious anyway from the nuts.

I've been craving it for a few weeks, and finally the air is cool enough to let me bake it. It's taken from a Southern Living magazine recipe that was itself an attempt to tweak traditional Pecan Pie into something other. They added lemon for freshness, switched to maple syrup from corn syrup, and used the bitterly delicious, elusive black walnut in place of pecans. A magnificent tweak!

Sadly, you rarely see black walnuts available here, and when you do, they're outrageously expensive and never look very fresh. Doesn't matter for this-- to sub, I've used both straight walnuts and walnuts touched with black walnut extract, and either way works beautifully.

(BLACK) WALNUT PIE, adapted slightly from Southern Living, Oct. 1997

3 lrg eggs

1/3 C firmly packed brown sugar

1 C maple syrup*

1 tsp EACH fresh lemon juice and grated lemon rind*

1/2 tsp vanilla extract*

1/8 tsp salt

3 Tbsp butter, softened

1 C walnut pieces

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust in 9-inch pie plate*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat eggs and sugar at medium speed w/electric mixer* until smooth. Add syrup and next five ingredients (lemon juice through butter), beating until smooth.

Place walnuts in pie shell, pour filling over nuts.
Bake pie at 375 F for 35 minutes (center of pie will not be set.). Cool completely, serve with sweetened whipped cream.


*Here's the tweaks-- first off, I like this in a 10-inch pie crust, so that it doesn't overflow in the oven. You could also leave the lemon out altogether and bake it in a chocolate crumb crust for an extra dimension of flavor. In any case, I'd advise putting a cookie sheet under the pie plate while baking.

Another thing-- I didn't have any kind of mixer the first few times I made this, so got into the habit of using a whisk instead.

Fresh maple syrup instead of corn syrup was a great idea on the part of SL; but in a pinch, if all you've got or can afford is the average maple-flavored table syrup (which is mostly corn syrup itself) use it: I have.

For those sparky touches of lemon and black walnut bitterness, you can sub another citrus rind and juice, and a drop, singular! of black walnut extract. Or use extra rind and no juice, or a teensy drop of lemon or orange extract for the rind/juice combo. It will still be good, but use restraint with any extracts.

If you've got citrus rind & juice but no black walnut extract, you can leave it out or sub a few drops of rum extract or a drop of almond. This is an adaptable sort of pie-- my favorite type of recipe, as you've probably guessed by now.

There's nothing on earth to stop you from topping it with any chopped fresh fruit you think will go with nicely, either. I hope you try it; I know you'll enjoy it as much as we do.

Peace, Mari

Monday, August 22, 2011

Once-A-Year Pleasures

Saturday I saw the loveliest, dark violet blue Italian Prune Plums at the Farmer's Market. I wanted them desperately, but decided to wait till next weekend. It was too hot then to use them the way I wanted to-- roasted and then baked into a gorgeous silky custard, each serving bathed in their fuschia juices.

Today I regretted waiting, since it's been cool enough to bake. I asked at the market if they would be available next week and they said yes, but still... There are so many rare tastes nowadays, things you may only get once, twice a year; tastes that capture a season, or more accurately are captured by the season. Tastes like the watermelon salad I posted Friday, or a perfect honeydew, or Thanksgiving pie or fresh rhubarb, or these sweet-tart plums that come to market maybe two or three times in a row. Maybe.

I could buy canned plums, but it won't be the same. Their season here is brief and tricky, and their quality can vary week to week. But I'll snap them up if I see them again, no matter what. I can't bear to wait another whole year.

Here's the recipe, from one of my favorite cookbooks:


ITALIAN PRUNE PLUM CUSTARD

Softened butter for 2 baking dishes

Filling:

1 lb prune plums, halved and pitted (cut plum lengthwise, twist, remove pit)

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/2 C sugar

grated zest of 1 lemon (I use an orange for the zest & juice sometimes)

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Custard:

2 large eggs

3 Tbsp sugar

2 Tbsp flour

1 tsp vanilla

1/3 C half-n-half

1/2 C cognac or kirsch (optional)

whipped cream to garnish-- optional

Place the oven rack in the middle position, preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter a medium baking dish.

Filling:

Arrange the plum halves skin side down in the baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining filling ingredients and bake for 15 minutes, until the plums are tender but hold their shape. Lightly butter a 10-11-inch baking dish and transfer the fruit from the first dish; reserve the juices.

Custard:

Raise the oven temp to 375 F. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and sugar to blend, then whisk in the flour, vanilla and half-n-half. Continue whisking until well blended. Pour the mixture over the fruit** and bake custard in the upper third of oven for 20-25 minutes, until it has puffed and browned slightly.

While the dessert is baking, warm the reserved juices in a small pan with liqueur if using. Serve the custard warm or room temp, accompanied by the warmed juices and sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

**At this point, the unbaked custard can be covered with plastic wrap and refigerated for up to 8 hours. Bring to room temp again before baking.


You can see how easy this is-- I barely even measure the ingredients, it's so natural to throw together. I use whiskey or even sweet vermouth if there's no Kirsch or brandy-like liquids to be had; but use less as those are so much stronger flavors. You could a splash of light wine, instead. For a baking dish, I generally use one of my larger pie plates, like a 10-inch. Serves 3-4, depending on how strong your willpower is.

from Barbara Lauterbach's THE SPLENDID SPOONFUL

Peace, Mari

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feeling it

The pleasures of a given season are hard for me to deny myself, and I can deny myself a lot. But the seasonal lusciousness of summer in Buffalo, which for me is part literary, part culinary and wholly sensual, is too much to forgo. Apart from the overbearing heat and the sudden busy-ness, underneath the glossy bullshit snapshot of these few short months that would have us all grilling huge hunks of cow and swimming in waterproof mascara (and not much else) is the real thing: sweet, soft wind and the green smell of mown lawns, music trailing from car windows, melons and berries and real tomatoes and extra time and light everywhere.

Reading and writing have a different quality in the summer, a freer feel— less serious, more flowing. You can put down a book and come back to it without worry, or decide to ignore the other things you’d normally do and just read (or write, or play guitar) all day. It’s a pleasure I give in to often, but I could let it go— it’s harder for me to let go the special tastes of summer, like a chilled Perfect Margarita at El Palenque, or a Raspberry Craze smoothie at Anderson’s. You may be able to have them in November, but they won’t taste the same any more than good eggnog will in August. You have to enjoy them now, and I am a sucker for the taste of a moment.

One special collection of flavors I haven’t been able to get to, yet-- and it’s driving me mad-- is Nigella Lawson’s Watermelon, Feta and Black Olive Salad. I keep buying most of the ingredients and then not being able to find fresh mint, which is a key element. You can use a different onion, you can use almost any kind of black olive, but you can’t leave out the mint and have it taste the same. It’s cooling, sweet, salty, juicy; a bright and sharp mouthful of the best of summer.

You probably made it years ago when Forever Summer came out, or tried some more recent celeb chef interpretation of the concept; but if you haven’t already fallen in love with it, here it is. You’ll never eat anything fresher and more perfectly suited to an August afternoon. It’s a meal in itself for several people, 4-6 at least with baguette on the side, by my serving size. I’m determined to find some fresh mint, somewhere, and eat a plate of this under the shade of the old maple in the backyard, because the nights are getting cooler fast, and this pleasure won’t wait.

Nor does this salad hold up over time— make it not long before you mean to eat it, and share it or halve the recipe—it won’t taste great tomorrow, just now.
Adapted slightly from Nigella Lawson’s FOREVER SUMMER.

WATERMELON, FETA and BLACK OLIVE SALAD

INGREDIENTS

• 1 small red onion (hard to find here-- use half a large)
• 2-4 limes, depending on juiciness
• 3 ½ lbs. sweet, ripe watermelon
• 9 oz. feta cheese
• Bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
• Bunch fresh mint, chopped
• 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 4 oz. pitted black olives (I use Kalamata when I can)
• Black pepper

METHOD

1. Peel and halve the red onion and cut into very fine half-moons and put in a small bowl to steep with the lime juice, to bring out the transparent pinkness in the onions and diminish their rasp. Two limes' worth should do it, but you can find the fruits disappointingly dried up and barren when you cut them in half, in which case add more.
2. Remove the rind and pips from the watermelon, and cut into triangular chunks. Cut the feta into similar sized pieces and put them both into a large, wide shallow bowl. Tear off sprigs of parsley so that it is used like a salad leaf, rather than a garnish, and add to the bowl along with the chopped mint.
3. Tip the onions, along with their pink juices over the salad in the bowl, add the oil and olives, then using your hands toss the salad very gently so that the feta and melon don't lose their shape. Add a good grinding of black pepper and taste to see whether the dressing needs more lime.

The above recipe has been a part of my late summer routine for years-- and that brings me to a new "feature" here on what I am starting to joke about as being the least read blog in the multiverse: for the new few months, I'm going to set aside Thursdays as a day for recipes, those that I truly rely on.

I'd call them Tried & True, for a catchy TRIED & TRUE THURSDAYS theme, but with me, it's more like tried & tweaked... what they will be, though, is recipes that are used so often, I don't measure or look at the book/clipping/scrawled notes anymore. I'll get myself posting regularly, and give out the friendliest, easiest, most affordable veg recipes from my decades of cooking in the process. Other days will remain a jumble of possibilities: reviews, reflections, diatribes, questions. Whatever living the veg life in Buffalo NY is about, as experienced by a foodie with more taste than money.

If you'd like to contribute a guest post, please contact me:
mkakitchenwitch@gmail.com

Peace, Mari

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Roasting in August

Isn't it lovely? The wind is high and soft, the air cool and glistening... a perfect day to roast food, after months of using the oven as storage space for too many (unused) pans.

I think my plan of skipping over the end of Summer to early Autumn is working.

Time to turn up the heat and roast whatever is left in the crisper and vegetable bins-- chunked green pepper, lemon, potatoes, onion, garlic. Thrown into an iron skillet with a few Tbsp. of olive oil, a bay leaf or two and a smattering of rosemary. High heat, 425 degrees F or so. Stir after 20, 25 mintues. Continue roasting till everything is browned and cooked through; probably another 20 minutes or a little more. Sprinkle with sea salt or crumbled feta as soon as it comes out of the oven.

MMM. I love a day warm enough not to need a jacket but cool enough to make pie crust or roast potatoes. If Spring in Buffalo was like this, it would still be my favorite season. Sorry, Spring-- It's early Fall for me, now.


Tonight I'll be heading out to the newfangled Cafe Allegro for my writer's group and the Open Mic afterwards; alot of talented musicians and the occasional poet show up to perform, regularly. Nice evening for it, rain or no, and they have a fantastic selection of teas.

Enjoy the day! Peace, Mari

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Watermelon Gazpacho and other things I used to buy...

My local Dash grocery store has a watermelon gazpacho I adore-- it's simple, but wonderful on a hot day. Thin, slightly sweet, spiced lightly with ginger and cooled with a touch of mint and seeded cucumber, it's a perfect starter, or on a ridiculously hot day such as we have been having lately, a meal with some crackers or pita on the side; if I'm spoiling myself, a crusty baguette. It wouldn't be bad as dessert either, but I like it for lunch or a starter best.

The problem is, I've seen it in the store all of three times since I discovered it three summers ago. In desperation, I made my own yesterday, after making the veg relish I posted about.

It was better than theirs-- Ha! Sadly, I can't give you an exact recipe, but let's be honest-- it's not difficult and you get to make it perfectly this way, for your own tastes.

How to do it: fill your food processor with chunks of seeded watermelon. If it's not sickening sweet, add a tablespoon or two of sugar or one of agave syrup (raw if you're doing the Raw Thing). The sugars help juice it up, too. Then a squeeze of fresh lime, a half tsp of fresh grated ginger, a shake of salt and a few shredded mint or basil leaves, or some of each; I used both. Blend till it's watery with barely any chunks, add another few cupfuls of melon and a grating of lime zest and blend again till pretty smooth and liquid.

Taste and add: more mint, lime, a splash of white wine, ginger or sugar to taste, remembering that the flavors will blend further as it chills. Pulse to mix, add a handful or so of finely chopped, seeded & peeled cucumber. Chill at least two hours. Taste for seasoning before serving. I like this refreshing brew the way I first had it, slightly sweet and deeply cooling with plenty of mint. But you could go another way, make it sweeter or less sweet and add more salt, add diced peaches as a garnish, use more ginger...

It's gonna be good as long as it's cold. It's not the kind of soup that holds well, though, so eat it in a day, day and a half after chilling for best looks and flavor. I'm having leftovers for breakfast right now, with a plum on the side; as baguette weather is not yet upon us, that will have to wait.

Keep Cool! Peace, Mari

Monday, August 8, 2011

SEPTEMBER IS THE NEW AUGUST

Here's the truth: I'm done with Summer. D-O-N-E done. Haven't experienced much of it... While being sick for most of June and all July, I went to the parties, showers and weddings that fill up my calendar every summer no matter how antisocial I've been the rest of the year, sitting through the swelter in a cough syrup induced hallucinatotory state. What I ate, I can't tell you. I haven't been cooking either. Eating in this humidity/heat is a challenge, one I've failed at miserably most days, even with the help of raw cookbooks and the everlovin' crockpot. Today being a little cooler so far, I've thought about food in an interested way for the first time in some time. I've watched Julie & Julia, I've looked at old Bon Appetit and Food and Wine magazines, and then-- I decided to skip over August and go straight to September.

My favorite month, September-- you get cooler days and warm days with cool nights. It's the best month for eating outside, hiking, baking pies, drinking cocktails in the backyard, and brewing beer. There's great vegetables at the Farmer's Market and in the stores. Red wine feels right, cinnamon starts to seem alluring again. So, although the baking part will have to wait, I'm skipping the reality of summer and subbing my idealized version that is called early Autumn by most.

I'm also making use of a cabbage that's been knocking around in my crisper for two weeks. Thank goodness it keeps, because lately I've survived on salads and sandwiches-- and the Tried & True vegetable relish recipe I'm using makes the best addition to a sandwich ever. It's a standby for 20 years, now, a gem taken from Laurel's Kitchen. Which, if you're looking for a first vegetarian cookbook for someone, would be my first choice hands down. It's family friendly, not full of overly rare ingredients or overly artful recipes: real everyday eating. Most of the recipes I've prepared from Laurel's have become standbys, in fact. And the beautiful quality of the writing keeps me reading it for inspiration as well.

Here's the relish-- it's needs to sit overnight before using, but then it keeps for weeks and weeks in the fridge, and makes an awesome Reuben style sandwich; I like to use smoked tofu sliced and sauteed for the filling, along with mustard instead of Thousand Island dressing, and some mild cheese, though it works without.


QUICK VEGETABLE RELISH

2 C shredded green cabbage, packed

1/2 C grated carrot, packed

1/2 C very thinly sliced red onion (use any onion you have)

1/2 C very thinly sliced green pepper**

2 tsp salt

dash pepper

6 Tbsp distilled vinegar***


Combine all ingredients, then pack into a pint-sized jar. Add enough water to cover, if needed-- about 1/4 cup. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Makes 2 C (the vinegar shrinks the veggies). Store in refrigerator.

**you can also use some red bell pepper for some of the green; or for a spicier touch, a small amount of thinly sliced chili along with this, but use sparingly-- the vinegar carries the heat.

***Red or white wine or even cider vinegar works too, the red of course tints the relish.

Use a big tablespoonful of this on any sandwich to add crunch and zest, or serve it in small amounts on the side of something rich, as a pickle.

Here's to cooler breezes and crisp days! Peace, Mari

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SIY--Smooth it Yourself

The continual heatwave has made us into cold breakfast people; a smoothie a day keeps the oatmeal away. And starts us out cool when the house is still too warm from being shut up during the night... so our cat won't pull out the screens and go off on a prowl. He's the Houdini of Cats, so we have to watch it.


Not that we don't let in a little air through the night-- we just don't keep the windows open enough for him to fit through if he should pull off the screens.

Cold smoothies for breakfast are a good way to get in lots of fresh raw fruit, nuts if you want them, protein powder if you use it.

I don't. Nor do I use all those wonderful smoothie recipes that fill family magazine food pages throughout Spring and Summer. I use a method instead, and it's perfect because it lets me adjust to what is in the fridge, fruit basket, and pantry at the moment of making. And it can be vegan, raw, half raw, gluten free, nut-free; whatever you need.

First, I like to start with some frozen fruit-- it removes the need for ice, which helps when you have a food processor instead of a blender. But if having complete raw is your thing, just refrigerate some of your fruit overnight. About a third of the 11-cup processor bowl gets filled with cold or frozen strawberries, blueberries or mixed berries, and any bananas that might have gotten thrown in there to keep them from dying a moldy death. If the fruit is big, chop it in half or thirds with a sharp chef's knife, even for a blender.

Process until the fruit is very small or pureed, then add the fresh fruit, washed, chopped, pitted & peeled as needed. Apples I peel, peaches I don't. I use as much fruit as I can, and as little of anything else as possible to make a rich, creamy drink. Any fruit is good, but some combos are better than others-- berries and banana work together, banana/plum/peach/nectarine and nuts with some nut butter and/or apple are good. Cherries are great with any other fruit. If you can afford the exotics, you likely know how to mix them. Melons work with berries or apples, but are more watery and better with soymilk than yogurt, so a thickener like ground flax or a handful of raisins or craisins is helpful.

If I'm going to be adding sweetened yogurt, almond or soy milk to the mix, I won't sweeten till the last blend. But this is a good place to add soaked, drained nuts, or flax seed, or a drop of vanilla. For almonds, you can let them soak in cool water on the counter all night, or soak for 6 hours before bed and stick them in the fridge, drained. An hour or so for softer nuts, then drain, etc.

Get the whole thing smooth, taste, and add just enough of any of the above liquids or yogurt to thicken it to your ideal mouthfeel. Or use a splash of any juice you have on hand to thin it a bit, and add more flavor too. A dash of spice like ginger, fresh or dried, or ground cinnamon or coriander, can be nice. We like it simple, most times.

Sweeten to taste with agave, maple, honey (warming this slightly in the microwave helps it dissolve in the cold smoothie) or a little sugar if you want, and process again till fluffy and thick, stopping to swipe the chunks down from the sides of the bowl towards the blades if needed.

You'll have a great cool smoothie without fuss or having to measure things in spoons & cups before your coffee. It makes about three good drinking glasses full, when the old FP is 2/3 or a little more full of smoothie. Add more to make more-- there's just two of us, since the cat doesn't like fruit, and I'm happy with one glassful.

Maybe you'll be more adventurous-- if we had a juicer, we'd be getting veggies in there too, and now that I think of it, some zucchini would easy to hide in a cherry-berry smoothie. Hmm. The hubby-man would never know. Think I'll be trying that tomorrow. Keep Cool!


Peace, Mari

Friday, July 15, 2011

Eating by the numbers...

Mid-summer, daily cooking is a numbers game: if the thermostat reads above 80, I'm not using the stove. No matter how many pictures I see in July food mags of grilled this and baked that, it doesn't work for me. And if there isn't a breeze, forget the crockpot, too.

That's when eating what I can chop and throw together in ten tiring minutes or less is not a choice but a necessity, if I'm going to avoid expensive takeout that is probably too heavy and greasy anyway. All we want around here during superhot days is a good salad, or a cool, crusty sandwich and some iced tea.

It's imperative to have plenty of fresh veg on hand. I still end up making runs to the grocery for a little bread, or cheese; whatever can help me turn a few odds and ends into a real meal, cool and crunchy and satisfying without being too weighty. Like Panzanella, or Taco Salad.


My Taco salad tends to look different than, say, what you'd get at Chili's. (Okay, not as different as the picture above, which I took for another purpose). I might use raw taco nut meat, or just scads of shredded veggies and salsa, or torn pita for the tortilla part. Panzanella might be simple, just bread, tomatoes, olive oil, herbs and cheese. Or it might be crazily full of grilled and raw veg.

You have to use what is on hand, make the most of the best and use up the worst before it wilts. That's everyday cooking, even when you're not applying heat. But there are a few things that make any salad or even supper sandwich into a meal: avocado, sliced or mashed with garlic and fresh citrus of any kind, red bell peppers in thin slivers or big juicy chunks, a crunch of almonds sprinkled with shoyu or vegan worcestershire, a dollop of fresh fruit salsa, a homemade garden relish or pickled onions, cubes of marinated feta, olives tossed with lemon zest, perfectly ripe tomatoes, chickpeas in lemon and olive oil.

Put a few of those together with some slivered zucchini, spinach or lettuce and a drizzle of viniagrette and you have a salad or sandwich filling that beats the heat. It's the no cook, no recipe way to get through days like today, and tomorrow, and half of August. Eat something cool tonight, and don't forget, the Italian Heritage Festival is happening now, and tomorrow, on Hertel Avenue between Elmwood and Colvin. Big, and delicious!

Ciao, Mari

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chillin' in BuffLand

A cool day in Buffland gives you time to get ahead-- tomorrow it could and likely will be hot, too hot to cook. Too hot to grill, unless you love standing next to fire when you're already sweating. I don't.

Today is a perfect baking/stewing/crockpot day. It's also a good time to make gazpacho, since my favored recipe tastes best when it sits overnight to gather its flavors. The recipe is simplicity itself, but the best I've tasted anywhere. Do serve it no later than the day after you make it: the fresh 'matoes make it gel. But it's good on the day of, too, provided you chill thoroughly-- 4 hours at least. Luckily it takes about five minutes prep!

Rustic Gazpacho
(from NYC's Marichu restaurant, originally published in Food & Wine magazine, May 1999)

6 ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks (riper than those in the pic below-- that was two days ago)
1/2 large cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, chunked
1 green pepper, seeded and chunked
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 C water
1/2 C olive oil
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar (I use red wine vinegar)
salt
pinch of ground cumin or ground coriander, optional-- Mari's touch
hot sauce, for serving

In a blender or food processor, blend all vegetables, water, oil and vinegar till coarsely pureed. Put through a food mill afterwards for a smoother soup if desired. Add salt and chill well, serve with hot sauce on the side.

I love this soup; I'll eat it without any sides, but a slice of focaccia isn't bad. Fresh fruit pie afterwards doesn't hurt either! I'm a bit under the weather though, so I'll have to leave the baking to someone else today.

Don't let me stop you from putting something in the oven. Remember: there's never a bad time for cornbread.


Peace, Mari

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Of Parsley and Palm Trees.. and their closing.

As we're having a few days of real summery Summer here, a review of the new-ish Mediterranean restaurant Palm Trees on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore seems a grand idea. There are not many cuisines better suited to balmy days in the garden than the offerings you'll find at places like the Palm Trees, Falafel Bar, Kosta's or Amy's Place.
Today we're under Palms, though--

My man took me there for dinner Valentine's day; we were skimming it a little, cashwise, meaning we saw a coupon for 15% off our check, and decided That was the place to be!

V-day is rough, hard to find a good meal that isn't based on bigger-than-usual hunks of dripping meat, so a place that serves stuffed grape leaves was a welcome change.

The food was wonderful-- G-man did have his meat, a Gyro dinner, and it looked like the juiciest plate of grilled anything I've ever seen. The Tzatziki sauce was rich and cool, a perfect foil, G-man said.

There were options for me beyond a bowl of Hummus, of course, though not many entrees-- Falafel, served also as a wrap. Virtually all of the appetizers are vegetarian, with an option to add beef to the grape leaves (yuck!) Everything looked good, (as does the spare, clean-cut dining room) but I chose the Tabbouli Salad and an appie of Hummus.



Some serve Tabbouli as more of a bulgur salad, but I like it in its herbier incarnation, as it was served here-- parsley heaven, lightly dressed and full of flavor and texture. Refreshing enough in February, I can't wait to try it again in the next (hot) month or so.

The Hummus was outstanding-- a small but deep bowl, topped with what I feared would be too much fruity olive oil, and a dusting of tart sumac; the amount of oil ended up being perfect when swished around with freshly toasted pita (and that was some tender-but-chewy pita, I'll tell you). The dip itself was creamy and dense but not too heavy, with the rich flavor that comes only from scratch-cooked chickpeas that aren't over-seasoned to hide their savoury goodness.


It would serve several people amply as an app-- I even let the G-man have some of mine. We asked for and received extra pita with no problem, and I made a good meal of it, as you can see above. Satisfaction!

Palm Trees doesn't serve alcohol at this time; we had big cold glasses of Pepsi. There is a children's menu, which is based on standbys like hotdogs, spaghetti... they do serve American food to grownups too, but why bother? You can get that anywhere-- this place has something better for you. They have specials as well:

"Ask About Our Daily Specials! 716-877-7797" ***

Check it out! And look in the local papers and saver inserts for coupons: they've been running them frequently, and it's a good excuse to look in on the new kid in town.

Peace, Mari

***Note-- I'm slightly embarrassed, as I found out hours after posting that this restaurant closed three days ago, and is now an Indian restaurant. Slightly, I say, as I had called them to double-check something pre-post, mentioned that I was reviewing them in my blog, and was not informed of any change in the ownership. Well, it's a pretty post, anyway.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Missing my old FM



Farmer's Market, that is. Today, and yes it later in the month than we would like, is the first day of Kenmore Village Farmer's Market.


And I am too sick to go! It's a small, friendly market with several farmers providing good basic veg and fruit and a few rarer items, such as last year's elderberries. The other vendors range from people selling flowers and herbs to Koop's Hot Sauce to local honey, syrup and jellies to handmade Nigerian jewelry and carved utensils to delicious baked goods and New Day Coffee Roaster's fresh roasted beans in a wealth of flavors.


In other words, it's wonderful. The bounty shown above is half of what I brought home one weekend last August, for about 20 bucks. Yeah, half.


The Market is open on the Village Commons at the intersection of Delaware Rd. and Delaware Ave. every Saturday, rain or shine, from 8am to 12:30 pm, until November. Go and get some real veg-- it makes all the difference to your tastebuds, not to mention your budget, and our environment.
Good stuff all around-- hope to see you there next week. I'll be the one in the black dress with a streak of violet in her hair and full bags of veg weighing her down.


Peace, Mari

Monday, May 30, 2011

Skip the Barbecue: I'm going Raw, Ma!

My family isn't happy I'm skipping the Memorial Day Chiavetta's Chicken barbecue... and it's not because my (deceased) father was a WWII vet, either.

But trying to eat healthier, and work ever more raw food into my diet, has left me with not as much patience for being served a perfunctory pasta salad (that I probably have to bring) or corn on the cob for dinner while most of the rest have a six course feast. My family is one third vegetarian, too, so we're pretty good about those BIG dinners... I feel for ya if you're having a harder time of it. That's why it's natural for us to hang together, or with "friend" families on holidays. With the people that want to share what you are, all the way down. Maybe even explore your serious interests.

So I'll make my own feast! Or just Sloppy Lentils on wheat buns with a chopped salad. It's close enough to barbecue for me, today. And I can always marinate tofu, Boca burgers or pepper strips in Chiavetta's marinade and griddle them. That stuff makes grilled onions like heaven. A beer, and some shade under the tree in the backyard... who needs the smell of chicken charring?

What was that about eating more raw food???, you're asking? It's a transition. Frankly I don't see us going %100 for good, in Buffalo. Even with Renee Underkoffler's tips about heating soup bowls to make a warming meal without heating the food enough to kill the nutrients/enzymes. I hope to get up to half raw, at least, and I'm hopeful that doing so will improve my health by more than half. If you are full raw, great. I don't see how having more raw than I used to can hurt me. Planning on firing up the dehydrator this week, and looking forward to the Kenmore Village Farmer's Market starting up soon.

I will say, I'm feeling like simpler is better for me-- trying raw cheeses made from nuts, fermented or not, and drying breads for 12 hours in the dehydrator is an experimental phase. In the end, I'll probably be eating just more fresh raw food mixed with smaller amounts of non-raw, non-vegetable (but always veghead) food. Let's keep an open mind, though. I might love starting meal prep 3 days in advance. Might. If you do, tell me; and about how you manage it.

Oh, quick note if you've ever read the first couple of posts; I have tried Ani Phyo's Rawmesan Cheeze, which is made with cashews.

Here's my take: The book notes that all nuts should be soaked before using, but mentions it almost in passing. Later, in a separate section, there are soaking times. There's not a word about soaking times or nuts being soaked in the recipe section, so I tried the recipe HERE, in several ways.

First I made it with soaked cashews, then unsoaked. then I blended even amounts of the two types, and that had the best flavor and texture by my taste. Make of it what you will. It won't stand in in a Caesar, I'm afraid, but we'll see. Since a good Caesar (sans 'chovies) is my favorite thing to eat in the world, and something I crave all summer, I am determined to find a perfect vegan and raw substitute.

Here's to starting the week off right, with sunshine! And speaking of starters, this is the recipe we've been eating for most of our breakfasts-- raw and an energy booster that kicks! From Renee, above; nabbed from a log ago issue of Vegetarian Times. Enjoy!


LIVING OATMEAL (4 servings)

2 C oats groats (steel-cut oats, often called Irish oats-- such as McCann's)
soaked 8-12 hours in cool water, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 C raisins, soaked 1 hour in water to cover, save soak water

2 C chopped fresh fruit such as bananas, apples papayas

1 tsp ground cinnamon

In food processor, combine oats, raisins and their soak water, and process until almost smooth. Add 1 c chopped fruit and cinnamon. Pulse 30 seconds to blend.
Transfer to individual bowls, top with the remaining fresh fruit and extra cinnamon if desired.

***Mari's notes-- we love this! It needs no sweeteners or milk. Our favorite mixture ( we make half the amount above) is half a banana and half an apple blended in, the rest on top with the addition of strawberries or peaches. You can also add some raw almonds that have been soaked overnight like the oats, then rinsed and drained, though I like them best soaked for a half hour. Pumpkin pie spice on top is good, also.

This recipe originally appeared in Vegetarian Times, June 1998; the author is Renee Underkoffler.



Look at these beautiful peppers from last year's market!