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Edible October…and promises of more to come

October 24, 2011

I can’t remember exactly what got the day going in the wrong direction, but October 1st was not a happy day in our household.  I was grumpy, Jacob was fussy, Joshua was trying to figure out what was going on with everybody…I think it had something to do with another night of interrupted sleep followed by a napless day, but whatever it was, we felt like we were sinking.  Fast.

And then.  Then!  The phone rang and caller I.D. identified our favourite neighbourhood market, the East End Co-Op, where we do nearly all of our shopping.  Low and behold, Jacob had won a hand-sewn, fair trade soccer ball.  Joshua had entered his name in the drawing weeks before, and as it turns out, we have a lucky kid.  And one who had just learned how to say “ball”–the object of his utmost affection.  Things were looking up.

And then.  Then!  When we arrived at the Co-Op to pick up the ball I saw from outside a magazine rack brimming with the latest issue of Edible Vancouver, a magazine I have read and savoured my six years here in B.C., and one to which I can now proudly say I have contributed.  The day rapidly turned on its head as I scooped up five copies of the magazine and stifled my whoop of joy.  Jacob’s ball…my article…October 1st made a decisive turn for the good.

Now, three weeks later, there are pumpkins and festive winter squash lining my windowsill, there is freshly baked soft sandwich sourdough on my kitchen counter, and there are hopes in my heart to provide you with a recipe for spaghetti squash and meatballs later this week.  I’ll do my best.  We have an enormous spaghetti squash taking up way too much counter space, compliments of our A Rocha farm share, and I keep thinking about this recipe my mom used to make in the fall and winter months.  I’ll tell you all about it soon.  In the meantime, I hope you can find time to read the latest Edible Vancouver–the whole issue is wonderful.  And, as you will learn from my own little article, if you live in East Vancouver–or anywhere in Vancouver–and have not yet visited East Village Bakery, you should do so.  I should do so, [happy sigh] yet again.

Happy Harvest!

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Anadama Bread…OR, Starting Him Early

September 13, 2011

A year ago we shared a house with five other people.  It was a busy place, and unpredictability was the one thing that could be expected day in and day out.  Baking bread for the house was on the weekly chore rotation, along with taking out garbage and recycling, sweeping and mopping floors, dusting, scrubbing toilets–the usual suspects.  Needless to say, being assigned to bread for the month made for a happy reprieve from the less savory obligations associated with keeping house.  I first starting making Anadama Bread then, and it quickly became a house favorite.  We’re in our own place now, but this recipe is one thing we’ve taken with us from those crowded-house months.  This morning I had a little extra help in the kitchen.  That’s Jacob, 14 months old, on bread duty for the first time.

This recipe is from James Beard’s classic, American Cookery.  As far as I’ve been able to surmise, the recipe is an old American one, I think hailing from the Northeast.  The story goes that “Anna was a damn good baker, and her husband, when praising her bread, often referred to her as ‘Anna, damn her.'”  This is the version Beard gives.  I’ve also read that one day Anna the damn good baker up and left her husband, when he was out doing whatever her husband did, leaving him only a little flour, cornmeal, yeast and molasses in the house, and was never seen again.  The bread her husband made out of those ingredients (not with praise on his lips in this version of the story), is the antecedent of this recipe.  I think I’ll take Beard’s version, but wherever the truth of the story lies, one thing is for sure: This is a damn good bread.  (One that Beard notes is “exceedingly good and excellent for toast”).

This is Beard’s recipe, with my notes in italics.  The method for making this dough is like no other bread recipe I’ve used…maybe lending a little credence to the possibility that Anna’s husband first made this bread??  At any rate, it works!

3 cups all-purpose flour (in the end, I used about 6 cups: 4 cups all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat and 1 cup rye…what I had on hand)

1 cup cornmeal

1 1/2 TBL instant yeast

1 TBL salt

2 cups hot water

5 TBL butter (I used a combination of vegetable, olive and flaxseed oils)

1/2 cup molasses

Combine the (3 cups) flour, cornmeal, yeast and salt.  Combine the hot water, butter and molasses, and add to the dry mixture.  Beat by hand for about 150 strokes.  Add flour to make a rather stiff dough (here’s where the extra 3 cups came in).  Turn out on a floured board and knead until no longer sticky, about 10 minutes (lightly flour your hands and the board as need be).  Place in a buttered bowl (or oiled bowl), turning to coat the surface.  (I cover my bowl o’ dough with plastic).  Let rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 hours or so.

Punch down the dough, divide and shape into two balls.  (Here I let the pre-shaped balls rest for about 10 minutes).  To bake as rounds (Beard’s recipe): Place each ball in a buttered 8-inch cake tin.  Or, as I did, shape each ball into a loaf and place in an oiled loaf pan.  Cover and let rise again for about an hour (or until the loaves have risen just above the lip of the loaf pans)

Sift flour over the loaves, and score as desired.  Bake at 375F for about 55 minutes, or until deep brown and hollow-sounding when rapped with the knuckles.  I heated my baking stone to 400F and placed the bread pans on top of that.  I also used a steam tray on the rack beneath the stone–an old baking sheet with a couple of cups of water poured in when the bread is put in the oven, to make for a nice, steamy oven which allows the loaves to expand to their full capacity before the crust forms.  I removed the loaves from the pans for the last 15 minutes and let them finish directly on the stone.  When the loaves were the deep brown I wanted, I tuned off the oven, but left the loaves in on the stone with the oven door ajar for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool on racks.

Slice, slather with butter, say to yourself: “Well, that is some damn good bread.  Bless Anna, whoever she was, wherever she is.  And bless her husband, too, for that matter.”

Zucchini Fritters…OR, “The Fat Season”

August 31, 2011

Lest August pass us by without a peep from me, I’m getting my act together and providing you with one of our very favorite summer recipes.  This recipe will come in handy, no doubt, if you find yourself neck-high in summer squash, as is the classic gardener’s dilemma.  (Oddly enough, we haven’t been able to get our squash to do much at all this year…it’s the green beans that are impossible to keep up with…)

If winter is the lean season, then late summer is, undeniably, the fat season.  And oh, are we packing it on!  Not only summer squash, but green beans, Swiss chard, salads of freckled romaine, cucumbers, blueberries, blackberries and peaches; tomatoes! tomatoes! tomatoes!  So many good things in such abundance, and at the peak of their flavor.  Every time I eat a peach in August I am fortified in my resolve not to cave in and buy one that has been shipped half way around the world in February.  Today I pulled our first full-sized carrot from the ground.  I gave it a quick rinse with the garden hose and put it in Jacob’s little hand.  He wielded it boldly from his seat in the stroller on the walk home, fronds waving.  I stopped a few times along the way and coaxed a bite of his orange sword.  This is how a carrot should taste.

If summer is the fat season, for the gardener, or anyone desiring to preserve local produce at its peak for enjoyment later in the year, it is also the busy season.  And so it has been for me.  So far our shelves boast two types of dill pickles, canned peaches, corn relish, and strawberry, blueberry and amaretto-peach jams.  I am hoping to add salsa verde to the stores; we’ll see how the tomatillos fair.  I’ve also been saving seed for next year’s garden and keeping a certain berry monster well-supplied.  Like I said, it’s been a busy month.

And of course we are eating our fill of zucchini fritters, though to be honest I could do with a bit more.  Have you ever met a gardener who wants more zucchini?  Well here I am, waiting with open arms to receive any cast-offs you may have for me.  But before you give away any of your own zuke, try this recipe.  You may not want to part with your squash after all.

Zucchini Fritters (adapted from the “Vegetable Fritter” recipe in Simply in Season–a fabulous cookbook commissioned by the Mennonite Central Committee and published by Herald Press.  I use it all the time.)

Serves 2-4 (We like this as a main dish, but it’s also a great side).

Combine and set aside:

3 cups zucchini or other summer squash, cut into thin matchsticks (I like matchsticks better than grating because the fritters crisp up better without getting soggy in the center)

1/3 cup onion, minced  and/or  2 cloves garlic, minced

1 TBL – 1/4 cup fresh basil, torn (or fresh parsley or fresh chives, chopped); adjust quantity to your tastes–I like lots of herbiness in my fritters

In a separate bowl, mix to form a smooth batter:

1/3 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

several cranks of freshly ground pepper

2 eggs, beaten

2 TBL milk

Mix batter and squash mixture gently to coat all the squash.

Coat the bottom of a frying pan (cast iron is best) with oil (olive oil is okay, but not extra virgin, which does not tolerate high heats) and heat to medium hot.  (I heat my pan up on the ‘7’ setting and usually drop it to ‘6’ once things get good and hot).  Test your heat with a matchstick of squash–if it doesn’t sizzle when dropped in, your pan isn’t hot enough yet; if the oil is smoking, it’s probably too hot.  Drop a large spoonful of battered squash into the pan.  Fry until golden, turn, and cook on the second side.  Place cooked fritters on a plate lined with a paper towel while you finish the others.  These are best enjoyed as soon as they’ve cooled enough to eat!  We enjoyed ours with a little sauce made from a spoonful of plain yogurt, a spoonful of mayonnaise and a spoonful of homemade pesto.

Warming an unseasonably cold kitchen OR, Papardelle-but-not-papardelle

July 21, 2011

The first time I made fresh pasta I was at Loren and Mary-Ruth Wilkinson’s home, on a little farm on Galiano Island.  The Wilkinsons have been incalculably influential in all things home and garden for me; they are some of the rare breed of courageous teachers who let students not only glimpse but intimately participate in their home life.  My husband and I have more than once commented on all that we’ve learned on Hunterston Farm–and even some of it from books and lectures.

Loren and Mary-Ruth are known for some certain meals in particular.  Among them are breakfast crepes (and the lazy Susans on the extended dining table filled with scrumptious fillings including Mary-Ruth’s savoury Peruvian Sauce), Pacific Northwest salmon served on planks of cedar, fresh loaves of cinnamon-swirl bread, and handmade gnocchi and pasta: some nettle-studded; fettuccine; capellini; served with walnut pesto and a creamy artichoke sauce.  Among their students the most coveted spot in the kitchen is beside Loren, catching the pasta as it is rolled out and hung to dry on the clothes-drying racks.  In the end, the kitchen is hot from so many eager bodies gathered round, all wanting a hand in the boisterous preparation, a veritable mountain of Parmesan is grated, and the floor is liberally dusted with flour.  Wine is drunk as we cook, and the table is set.  Somehow the pasta is not overcooked, in spite of the fact that it is prepared for 10 or 15 or 25 people.  We heed our instructions and trot to the table promptly.  Candles are lit.  We look at each other expectantly.  Something special is about to happen…has already happened.

My in-laws are in town for the week.  We are savouring generally slow days what with Jacob’s napping (still, amidst the excitement, he is napping–glory be!), time to read, and time to check the weather forecast again…and again…and again…in hopes that that little round, yellow disc indicating a decent chance of sunshine will appear and inspire our plans for the day.  We look out the window and it is gray.  And drizzly.  Not at all mid-July-ish.  But this is Vancouver.  And.  John and Patty brought me a gift: A Made-In-Italy Ampia pasta machine.  Glory be indeed!  Whether or not there is sunshine there will be warmth–there is warmth–in the kitchen.  Last night we made pasta, fettuccine and capellini, and John prepared a good red meat sauce.  We uncorked a bottle of red.  We were happy.  I want to make pasta every day.  I want to try every fresh pasta recipe out there.  I want to join the generations of nonnas in the kitchen and learn their secrets for silky-smooth noodles, noodles that retain a nice bit, noodles for every type of sauce and occasion.  We started with the once noodle recipe I had–no, not the Wilkinson recipe.  How I’ve spent as much time under foot in their kitchen and not come away with that recipe, I do not know.  We used nonna Daria’s pappardelle recipe from Jessica Theroux‘s Cooking With Italian Grandmothers, which in the end was not pappardelle at all (which would have been hand-cut into noodles over an inch wide), but it was a start with what we had, and a tasty one at that.

Papardelle (well…papardelle dough that is) from Jessica Theroux’s Cooking With Italian Grandmothers

15 ounces type 00 or all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 TBL olive oil

1-2 tsp water

Place the flour in a large bowl, and make a well in the middle of it.  Add the eggs, the oil, and the water to the well, and scramble them together with a fork or your fingers to combine.  Slowly incorporate the flour, mixing until the dough becomes a shaggy mess.  Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and springs back after you press in a thumb.  (I had to add a little more water–I think the pliability of the dough will depend on your flour).  Cover with a clean cloth and set aside to rest for 45-60 minutes.

Roll out by hand or with a hand-cranked pasta machine.  If using a machine, cut the dough into four pieces and pass each piece through the widest setting of the machine.  Dust with additional flour if the dough feels damp or sticky when you cut it.  Pass it through this setting three times total, folding the rolled dough into thirds prior to each rolling.  Once you have completed this, pass the dough through once on each of the successively smaller holes in the machine, until you reach the second to smallest hole, number 5.  Pass the sheets of pasta through the number 5 setting twice.  Cut the pasta into long strips, 1 1/4 inches wide, and store them spread out on a floured surface until you’re ready to boil them (or on a clothes-drying rack as we did!). 

More fresh pasta recipes soon….

Cilantro Pesto and Farm-Direct Veggies

July 6, 2011

If this doesn’t make you happy, I don’t know what will:

That’s a diakon radish–a spread eagle one no less–and two turnips…and a fellow diakon.

This growing season we are delighted to have a farm share from A Rocha Canada in Surrey.  We know the good folks at A Rocha (and we had our wedding on their land just under three years ago now–just before they put a moratorium on renting out their property for weddings…they are, after all, doing conservation and running a farm, not an wedding venue…we feel pretty lucky), and we’ve been hoping to get in on the goods for a couple years now.

Well, this summer we’re in.  Which means we get a lot of veggies every Friday from now until sometime this fall.  And there are only two of us…and Jacob…and he doesn’t really pull his weight yet when it comes to making a significant dent in things like garlic scapes and diakon radishes.  No doubt one day (and one day not too far off) he will, or so at least a mother can hope.  For now, it’s up to Joshua and I to eat our weekly share (estimated to serve a 4 to 5 person household) of vegetables or preserve it, before the next Friday roles around.  No complaints here–Saturday night we polished off a very large spinach salad for dinner (accompanied by a Pecan-Cranberry-Currant Baguette from our favorite neighborhood bakery), and on Sunday morning I made cilantro pesto with our large bunch of cilantro and some of the scapes.  I’ve used it as the dressing for a daikon radish and red cabbage coleslaw, and I plan to try it over pasta for a little change from basil pesto, and perhaps as a garnish over some sort of fish which is yet to be determined.

Cilantro Pesto

2 cups (packed) washed, dried and chopped cilantro (large stems removed but don’t obsess about this)

1/2 cup toasted almonds and/or sunflower seeds, chopped (whatever combo you like here–pumpkin seeds would be nice too)

1 roasted (or fresh if you like more kick) jalepeno, skin removed and chopped (once you blacken the skin under the broiler, put the jalepeno in a small bowl and cover with a plate, allowing the stem to loosen the skin for easy removal)

1/2 tsp salt

juice of 1 lime

2-3 garlic scapes, chopped (or 1-2 cloves–scapes are milder so I used more)

1/4 cup olive oil

optional: add 1/4 chopped red onion (I didn’t have any on hand; I’d have put some in if I did)

Blend all ingredients together in a food processor or blender, or with a wand blender (which is what we have, which is why I chop everything first).  Fill sanitized jars and cover the top of the pesto with a layer of olive oil–this seals out the air.  Put a lid on it and keep it refrigerated for a up to a month.

Risotto alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto) and Asparagus “Salad”

June 29, 2011

It’s been a while.  A long while.  I’ve been fluctuating between extreme energy and inspiration (in which case the sun is shining) and extreme apathy and general disdain for most things (in which case it’s cloudy AGAIN and not at all late June-ish and possibly raining). In any case, I haven’t felt particularly inspired in the kitchen or at the keyboard…or even with a fancy pen in my hand.

But this evening I’m on a role.  Jacob went down like a dream and I’ve been working on an article for a local food magazine that I think is nearly there and I even got up the courage to add a comment of my own to the dauntingly long list of responses to the most recent post on Orangette and I just ate two oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and drank a glass of milk.  I know, being on a role should entail eating at least four cookies, but…

I wanted to get to a little post about risotto and asparagus and the beautiful new book, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux.  It’s a cookbook, yes.  It’s also a travel journal of sorts.  I cried when I first started reading it.  Fact.  Not a figure of speech, but a fact: I got all choked up thinking about grandmothers–Italian and otherwise–and the way they are indeed “the guardians of our collective culture.”  Which led me to thinking about my Nana, who died a little over a year ago, and the cooking my mom and sister and I have done in her kitchen: Namely, perogies for Christmas Eve dinner.  But there were other things, too.  Like a simple pastrami sandwich on light rye for lunch.  And her bacon-studded sauerkraut dish she always said made converts of people who allegedly didn’t like sauerkraut.  I am so very glad I have a few of her recipes written in her own hand.

Jessica Theroux’s book chronicles a year of cooking with Italian grandmothers, starting in Milan with Mamma Maria, her childhood au pair‘s mother.  I’ve been wanting to make the Italian risotto dish for a while–Risotto alla Milanese–so when I came across it in Theroux’s book, I knew it was time.  I had bought some fresh asparagus that day as well, and wanted to eat it immediately.  I turned to Marcella Hazan for this very simple “salad” recipe.  What a comfort this bright meal was on a not so summery summer day!  Almost as comforting as being in the kitchen with an Italian (or in my case, Polish) grandmother…

The Recipes:

Risotto alla Milanese (from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers)

Serves 6 (or 2 very hungry adults and an enthusiastic almost-one-year-old)

1/2 tsp loosely packed saffron threads

3 cups chicken broth

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

6 TBL unsalted butter, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely minced

salt

2 cups risotto rice (Arborio)

3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

freshly ground black pepper

Toast the saffron threads in a skillet set over medium-low heat until they crumble easily between your fingers, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove from skillet and set aside.

Bring the broth, water and wine to a simmer in a medium saucepan set over medium heat.  When the liquid begins to simmer, lower the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pot with a lid.

Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a wide-bottomed saucepan or pot set over medium heat.  Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt.  Saute until the onions are very soft, 10-12 minutes.  Crumble the saffron and stir to distribute evenly.  Add the rice and stir frequently until the edges of the rice become translucent, 3-5 minutes.

Add a ladleful of the warm broth to the rice, stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed and the rices has become sticky.  Repeat this procedure, one ladleful at a time, until the rice is tender, yet still with a bite, about 20-25 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the remaining 2 TBL butter and 1/2 cup Parmesan.  Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.  Garnish with remaining cheese, and some freshly ground black pepper.

Asparagus Salad (from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan)

Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and wash well.  Place in a pan or skillet that allows all the asparagus to lay flat, covered by water.

Cook the desired amount of asparagus until it is tender, but still firm.  (This will only take five minutes or so).

Drain the asparagus and lay it on one end of a platter, propping that end up to allow any other liquid to drain to the empty end.  After about 15 minutes, pour off any excess liquid and spread out the asparagus evenly on the platter.

Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and good red wine vinegar.  Tip the platter in several directions to distribute the seasoning evenly.  Serve immediately and not any cooler than room temperature (i.e.  Don’t refrigerate).

Penne integrale in brodo (whole wheat penne in broth…)

May 31, 2011

I started making this meal two weeks ago.

I was sick.  It was a beautiful day and I was sick on the couch.  Joshua went to the store to buy the makings of homemade chicken noodle soup, which is all I ever really want when I’m sick.  That, and toast with cinnamon and sugar and apricot tea.  For these must-have-in-order-to-feel-better food associations, I give thanks to my mother, the best home nurse ever, as a mother should be.

Joshua made me the soup.  He roasted a chicken all by himself (stuffed lemon rind and slices of garlic under the skin, filled the body cavity with chopped onion and apple, and splashed white wine in the roasting pan!) and I dare say it was the best oven-roasted chicken I’ve ever had.  Really, it was a pity to put most of it into a soup.

Later, I made stock from the chicken bones, another practice I learned from my mother.  Much of the resulting stock went into the freezer to be used in a future get-well soup, but I ran out of freezer-worthy containers, and so the rest went into mason jars and into the fridge to be used shortly.  I made an asparagus risotto from some of it (forgot to take pictures of that meal–I had intended to write about that one), and finally, the subject of this post: Penne integrale in brodo.  I remembered seeing recipes for this ever-so-simple pasta dish in La Cucina, which I had to return to the library before even making a scratch (what is smaller than a scratch?…a nick?) on the surface of the endless number of recipes in the book, and so this is my own improvised version of what I remember.  It was very tasty, and I have since made another version of this, adding chickpeas and sauteed swiss chard stalks. It makes for a light but very comforting bowl of pasta, sort of a classy Italian chicken soup…without the (chunks of) chicken.

And wouldn’t you know it?  It was a gorgeous day (you need to understand, we don’t have a lot of those here in Vancouver–at least, not this early in the summer season) and I’m sick again.  I think it’s time to defrost some of that stock…that lovely brodo.

The recipe:

(to serve two generously)

1/2 pound whole wheat penne, or pasta of your choice

olive oil to coat your saute pan

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium onion

generous pinch of crushed red chili peppers

as much fresh or dried rosemary as you like…I probably used around 3 tsp. dried

2 cups homemade chicken stock

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped, to finish

freshly grated Parmesan to garnish

Bring a pot of water to boil in which you will cook the pasta.  In a large saute pan, or a cast iron pan, saute the other ingredients (reserve the parsley), adding the stock when the onions are translucent.  Simmer.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the broth.  Stir well, add the parsley, and divide into bowls.  Top with Parmesan.

One pot variation:

In a good-sized pot, saute the above ingredients, plus 4-6 swiss chard stalks (chopped).   Add broth, plus enough water (or just use more broth), to accommodate the pasta.  Boil.  Add 1 cup cooked (or canned) chickpeas.  Cook until the pasta is al dente, adding more water only if necessary to cook the pasta.  Stir often.  The result is not so much brothy as it is saucy–the broth deeply flavors the pasta and the pasta’s starches thicken the broth a bit.