Monday, September 28, 2009

Old Fashioned Microwaved Oatmeal

Old Fashioned? Yes. Microwaved? Certainly. So, it's old fashioned, microwaved oatmeal. For one person. Hearty, heart-healthy, and guaranteed to get you through the morning. Ready? Here's how.

Into a large microwave safe bowl, put:
  • 1/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats (don't bother with that quick cooking stuff - it's pustulent!)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 small to medium apple - peeled, cored, and thinly sliced - less than 1/8 inch thick slices. any thicker, and the apple won't cook!
  • a dash each of salt, cinnamon, and freshly grated nutmeg (not too much of don't really want to taste the spices. you just want them to enhance your apple)

Microwave the above at 2 minutes on "high". let rest for 10 seconds, stir, then let sit for one minute.

Microwave again on "high" for 3 minutes.

Stir in a few tablespoons sugar, honey, or whatever is your sweetener of choice. Mine is Splenda. Three packs. Not old fashioned, but I like it. Stir well. Put into a serving bowl. Top with a 'wafer-thin' sliver of butter, and put milk on top. Serve hot and steaming, and think 'gratitude' for apples in all their autumn glory!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's Apple Festival Time!

The house in which I grew up is still owned by my parents. They have always had venerable apple trees growing in the front yard. All the old trees I remember when I was a child have died (they were 40 years old, or so, in the early '70s, and the last of the old giants died around 5 years ago). But my parents had the foresight to plant some new trees. Yesterday, I paid a visit to the old homestead (we call it "51", after the street address) and picked these.

These apples taste of hometown -they have essence of childhood terroir. For that reason they're special enough. But it just so happens that anyone who tastes these apples fall in love. They are truly outstanding apples. I'm not sure what variety they are. They kind of look like Cortland, and their flesh is crisp and holds its shape in pies, but the flesh oxidizes quickly when cut, so that is not it.

Whatever variety they are, it's apple festival time around here. Soon, I'll post pics of apple pancakes, baked apple slices, applesauce, and right now, I'm working on apple juice (never did that before and I'm curious). Tarte tatin and more...coming right up!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Vertical Integration

Vertical Integration - if you've been within a few hundred yards of business school you know this term. In this case, a fancy -schmancy way to say we're growing, preparing, cooking, and serving the food you see here.

My mom has grown vegetables in the family back yard for a long time. One of my summer jobs, when I was 16, was close enough to the house that I could drive home at lunchtime. I would come home, eat lunch, and help my mom pick green beans. I don't remember what I ate for lunch, but I remember picking those green beans, knowing we were going to enjoy them that evening. With the sun on my back, my mom, and our little dog, "Whiskey", snuffing 'round our heels all the while. Mip, our orange tiger cat, also known as "Mr. Soob", was probably somewhere around too, but he was a hunterly type when he was outside, and didn't want much to do with me except when he was sleeping on my bed. Split personality, that Mip.

So my mom has been growing vegetables almost her entire life, and this year, my dad got in on it too (other than rototilling and helping my mom, he was never that into planting and harvesting...until now.) At the shore, this year, my dad went on a root vegetable kick. Potatoes and carrots! I added some tomatoes and pepper plants. The soil at the shore is beautifully sandy. Perfect for growing root vegetables.

Yesterday, Nick and I went on a 11 mile kayak trip, and we were gone all day, so quickly, it was time for dinner. So I went out back to the vegetable patch, and dug up these.

The potatoes are divine. Thin skinned. Floury. Taste like good New Jersey sand. In all the best ways. The carrots are a little long in the tooth, so we can not eat them raw. But cooked. That's another story. So I peeled and sliced the carrots and potatoes, parboiled them in salted water... then drained them, put them in a well buttered pan (we call this skillet the 'artery' pan) with some parsley, thyme, and chives, also from the garden. Baked at 375 for about 30 minutes. Sweet, root vegetable goodness.

Meanwhile, I did a sliced cherry tomato salad with basil. Dressed with salt, pepper, red wine vinegar (would have used balsamic, but we didn't have any) and a little oil.

With a turkey burger from the grill, Nick and I had a stylin' din-din. After all, we'd earned it!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Real Men Do Eat...


This morning, I prepared and baked a pie shell - a pate brisee- 1 1/2 cup flour, about 1/2 stick butter, salt, a bit of sugar, and some ice-water.

In a separate bowl, I beat three eggs, mixed in 1 1/2 cups mixed cream and milk, a pinch of nutmeg, pepper, and then added 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup muenster cheese. I put the mixture in the refrigerator, where it stayed all day. I asked Nick (who gets home from work before me) to pour the mixture into the pie shell, dot the top with some butter, and bake same at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Nick made a salad and got some good bread out of the freezer (when I bake bread, I bake lots and freeze it). This bread, however, came from Costco - we buy it in two loaf quantities, cut each loaf in half, and then freeze the halves.

Nick picked me up from the train station. A half a loaf of bread, a salad, and the quiche, along with a glass of unoaked domestic chardonnay, made a grand dinner. We ate half the quiche tonight, and will eat half tomorrow. It reheats nicely. I always try to make two or even three dinners at once, when I cook on weeknights.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mint Jelly

I cranked out four jars of mint jelly this evening after work. First, I went out to the garden, where Nick and I have a huge mint patch growing. We have spearmint, peppermint, and apple mint. All our mint is grown from cuttings I got from my mom over 15 years ago. I had not intended to propagate the mint; it was sitting for a week in a glass of water in our sunny kitchen windowsill. It sprouted roots, so I planted it. Our mint patch is now five square feet in area - it's pinned between the lawn, the sidewalk, and the edging. I often wonder why the entire earth is not covered in mint, that plant spreads so prolifically. Once upon a time, I did what any thinking gardener would do. I had my mint growing inside a bottomed-out five gallon bucket. It grew nicely there - civilized and contained. Until one day, I turned my back. It jumped the sides, and now instead of a few tame mint plants, I have a mint field. So tonight, I picked .0001% of my mint field, then brought the leaves into the house, where I sorted and washed them.

I had inadvertently brought inside a pillbug who had been enjoying the mint; I found him (or her) in the sink. I transported the bug back outside, so he could live out his (it is hoped) future peaceful life. Imagine the alien abduction stories this bug could tell it's mates ..."you would not BELIEVE this..I was eating dinner. All of a sudden, I was 6 feet in the air. I ended up under blinding lights, my body sprawled out on this white thing - it was huge and hard. I lost my mouthful of mint. Huge floods of water came rushing down onto me. I almost drowned. Just when I thought I was a goner, I was lifted up, and here I am, like it never happened. Joe, I'm tellin' ya. Aliens are REAL!"

I chopped the mint, and made a strong mint infusion by steeping it in boiling water. I squeezed out the infusion, using a self-invented contraption of colander combined with an old clean t-shirt from Nick (I was supposed to use cheesecloth, but the t-shirt was cheaper.) Combined 1 3/4 cups of this infusion with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, three and a half cups of sugar, boiled it, then added the liquid pectin. Brought to a boil, for one minute, and there I had it! Well, not actually, it was not green enough for me, so I added 2 drops of green food coloring. Here is lots more info on home preserving, if you're interested.

I poured my jelly into my prepared jars, then, for good measure, treated my jars to a boiling water bath. When making jellies or jams, you can get away with just using the 'hot pack' method, but I like to be doubly sure that all the little microbes are dead as doornails, so I use the boiling water bath. The jars are cooling in the kitchen right now. This whole process took me only one hour. Nick and I tasted a bit of the extra jelly, and it is good, for sure. I think I might try this next using some of the basil in our garden. I always make lots of pesto and freeze it, but maybe some basil jelly will be welcome in the snows of January to come. I bet that would taste pretty good? Basil jelly?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Une Omelette Baveuse

Nick and I got back this evening from the shore past our normal dinnertime of 6:30/ 7 pm. Having been on the bay all day, kayaking, we were rockin' the hunger. It was so late, and we were hungry. So, for dinner, we had an omelet. I cooked it in the Julia Child tradition. A bit runny in the middle, and therefore, light and luscious. Or should I say, "baveuse". Anyway, I put some shredded cheddar cheese inside this omelet and served it with biscuits (not shown) and sauteed onions and peppers. A beautiful sliced tomato with basil on the side.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Easy, Creamy Clam Chowder

Simple Creamy Clam Chowder

I made this today for lunch - a cloudy, rainy day here on the eastern seaboard (of the US).

Here's how I did it:
  • heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil on medium-high heat, in a heavy kettle, stovetop.
  • saute 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped celery rib, one onion, chopped, for about 5 minutes until onion is golden, not brown.
  • add 2 cups fish stock and 2 tablespoons each chopped basil and parsley.simmer this for a few minutes.
  • 3 minutes before serving, turn heat to low.
  • then add 10 clams, chopped, with their juice.
  • immediately before serving, add 1/2 cup heavy cream.
Serve with french bread, spread with salted butter.

And I'll leave you with this. It's been a few short weeks since the heat of summer was still upon us, and with it, this skipper, enjoying his (or her) pollen repast. Thanks to Nick for this beautiful parting shot.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Clam Spaghetti

This time of year, on the New Jersey coastline, the warm waters of Barnegat Bay contrast with newly-crisp morning air, and brisk breezes whip frothy whitecaps into the water surface.

Nestled in their mud and sand homes live clams. My family loves clams. I think it's genetic, because I love clams too. Nick, to whom I've been married for almost 25 years, has come to tolerate clams. He will eat them, but he does not love clams. I love the scientific name of clams - Mercenaria mercenaria. This name references their role as "money". The first Americans (pre-European invasion) traded in clams, as food (dried) and used their shells, which are beautiful purple, white and gold, inside, as a form of money.

Clams are precious. So humble, simple, living in sand and mud, under the surface of the bay. Biologically, clams have changed little since the Cretaceous period. Fossils exist of creatures which are largely similar to our modern Mercenaria mercenaria.

Clams were initially scorned by early European immigrants to the United States as 'low' food. Northern Europeans deemed clams suitable only for eating by the lower classes. Now, clams are appreciated as a culinary delicacy by many, most certainly, members of my family. My mom and dad make clam patties, clam fritters, clam chowder, clam spaghetti, and my dad makes a killer 'clam egg'. When my parents go on trips, they take two clam rakes with them, they like clams so much.

I have read that clams move no more than 4 inches in their lifetimes. Well, silly me, why should that surprise me? They have a foot, but no legs. Clams stay buried in the mud, siphons up, filtering the smallest sea creatures and synthesizing the plankton into my lovely, sweet, edible nuggets of culinary delight - clams. This time of year, in September, the clams we dig from Barnegat Bay are more luscious than at any time of year. They're fattened up from all that rich plankton which forms in the warmth of the summer.

Warm is good, to a point. The clams seem to like it, but some other creatures who share the bay don't. Blue crabs are not happy when the water gets too warm, because their breathing apparatus is similar to that of insects - kind of a passive oxygen transfer system. Warm water holds less oxygen. Crabs need lots of available oxygen in the water, or they suffocate. Earlier this summer, there was a huge crab kill on Barnegat Bay. The water was so warm, the oxygen levels were depleted below the crabs' tolerance. The water is cooler now, and there are crabs in the bay again. I guess the new crabs must have come from other areas - through the inlet (from the ocean) or from neighboring bays.

Like many bodies of water, Barnegat Bay is getting warmer, due to development and in part due to the existence of Oyster Creek power station. Oyster Creek uses the waters of the bay to cool its reactor, sucking in and out 10 times the volume of the bay each year. Oyster Creek has been around since the 1960s, and is not the sole reason that the Bay is warming. A combination of nitrogen runoff (causing algae bloom), and other development pressures, along with Oyster Creek, makes the Bay warmer. The public loves water, and I love clams. We need to keep working together to preserve our ecosystems, including the Bay. Progress is being made - things look better for the environmental future than they did in the 1970s for sure. So, on to clam spaghetti.

We dug the clams used for clam spaghetti a day before we used them. After digging the clams, we hang them in a basket, suspended off the side of the dock, so that they're dangling in the bay, in clean water. So, the clams continue eating, but they expel the grit that they normally have inside them, because they're not living in sand and mud anymore. If I lived 1 inch below sand and mud, I'd be full of grit, too. Once the clams have cleaned themselves, it's time to bring them in for the harvest.

No surprise - you've got to open the clams to start making clam spaghetti. Clams are easier to open if they are cold. My parents taught me to chill them down in the freezer for about 15 minutes. The clams get sleepy in the freezer and are less resistant to being opened. The clams, being living beings, don't want to die. I don't blame them, so I try to make it as easy for them as I can. So the freezer is a primitive form of anesthesia. You get the clams sleepy from the freezer, then open the clams by taking a knife, inserting it in the side front of the clam, then sweeping the knife inside the clam, to sever the muscle that holds it closed. Once you have done that, the clam gives up, and you scrape it from its shell.

I was cooking to feed five people, so I used 30 clams in this recipe- medium to large sized. The large "honkers", I reserve for clam chowder, but you can use them if you want. I save the smaller clams (1 1/2 inch to 2 inch) for eating raw on the half shell, or to steam. Next, take 2 cloves of garlic, or as much as you want, if you're a garlic lover, and cook (don't brown) in 1/2 stick of butter. I used unsalted, but if all you have is salted, use it. (Use less butter, if you're making a smaller quantity - remember I was cooking to feed five adults). Soften the garlic, stirring constantly, in the pan. Remember, do not brown the garlic! Last night, when we made this dish, my sister Leslie stirred the butter and garlic for over 10 minutes, only to have me come into the kitchen, turn the heat up, and burn the garlic. We had to dump it out and start over again. Learn from my mistake -go gently with the heat, and you'll not burn the garlic.

Meanwhile, drain most of the liquid from the clams, then chop the clams. (Do not grind them). I used a pair of old kitchen shears for this job. You can reserve the clam juice, if you want, for another use. Be aware that the clam juice is very salty (as are the clams...but the juice has a LOT of seawater in it). You're going to put the clams in at the very end, just as your pasta has 3 minutes to go. Because you do not want to cook the clams hard. You want to only warm the clams and turn them from translucent to cooked, right before serving. If you cook the clams hard, you'll end up with little rubber bands, not clams.

Chop your parsley. This is my sister, Leslie's hand at the beginning of her chopping sequence. The parsley was from my mom's beautiful shore garden, which includes assorted herbs, marigolds, phlox, cosmos, zinnias, and such. The garden is right outside the back door, on the way to the dock.
Right when your pasta is finishing up, around at the three-minutes-to-go mark, add your chopped clams, and cook for about 2 minutes. Then, add some heavy cream. Not much - just enough to smooth it out. For five people, I used 1/2 cup. Then, add the chopped parsley, and...if you have it, about 2 ounces good quality white wine (we used a nice unoaked chardonnay).Stir, warm, and you are ready to mix it with your drained, cooked pasta. Mix the pasta and the clam mixture well, tossing to cover all the noodles. Reserve some of the clam mixture to put on top of your finished dish, before serving, for appearance's sake.
Many people make clam spaghetti using olive oil, instead of butter and cream. I like the butter and cream more than olive oil, as these seem to 'soften' and complement the flavor of the clams. Use some pepper on the final dish. You won't need salt.

Thanks to Mary and Leslie for culinary assistance and photographic documentation!