ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

A locavore moves from Wisconsin to New Hampshire and rediscovers what "local" means.


Leave a comment

Christmas Cookbooks: How to Cook Everything (The Red Book)

Four cookbooks. Cooks Illustrated Bound Annuals from 2001 and 2009. The Science of Good Cooking from Cooks Illustrated, 2012. How to Cook Everything (The Red Book) by Mark Bittman, 2008.

Four cookbooks. Cooks Illustrated Bound Annuals from 2001 and 2009. The Science of Good Cooking from Cooks Illustrated, 2012. How to Cook Everything (The Red Book) by Mark Bittman, 2008.

I made out like a bandit this Christmas for Cookbooks. Thanks to my husband, Sam and to my Mom for these most excellent reference books. I want to describe these books a little bit and give you a flavor of how I expect them to be useful in the future.

How to butterfly a chicken. Illustrations from How to Cook Everything (the Red Book) by Mark Bittman, 2008. Illustrations by Alan Witschonke.

How to butterfly a chicken. From How to Cook Everything (the Red Book) by Mark Bittman, 2008. Illustrations by Alan Witschonke.

Bittman’s book, How to Cook Everything – I call it the Red Book – is the modern version of the original Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School cookbook or the Betty Crocker cookbook. It’s the one book that a cook needs in order to make most every basic recipe. Bittman incorporates the international cooking style that has come to be known as “American” cooking – a little French, a little Italian, a little Asian, a little Middle-eastern, and a lot of reliance on equipment and seasonings. Bittman also gives ample space to specific techniques – Illustrated by Alan Witschonke in pen and ink. There’s none of the “food porn” photography. Not too many “weird” parts of animals. Not too many pointless variants on the same recipe. He avoids specialty ingredients like black garlic, san marzano tomatoes, etc, that clutter up recipes from famous Restaurant chefs. Want to make waffles? There’s a recipe. Want to cook black beans? There’s a recipe. Want to know how done to cook a chicken thigh? There’s a table. Want to know the correct ratio of fat to flour in a pie dough? Look it up. (although Barahm’s The Science of Cooking and Ruhlman’s Ratio to a better job). Just like Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, this cookbook will be a “sticky note” cookbook – meaning there are specific recipes that I frequently turn to as staples of my cookery.

Screen shot from the How to Cook Everything (The Red Book) for iPhone.

Screen shot from the How to Cook Everything (The Red Book) for iPhone.

I originally found the Red Book by necessity. On my shelf I have one “generic” cookbook – Fanny Farmer’s Boston School Cookbook – and I find myself turning there (and to general internet searches) to find recipes for making “basic” stuff that I can’t just make up without a recipe. For example, I can bake an apple crumble without a recipe, just as long as I can remember the ratio of butter::nuts::oats::flour::sugar that goes into the topping. I don’t have any intuitive sense for how much water to use when cooking beans or grains, so I have to look it up each time. To me, it doesn’t matter what type of nuts or what type of sugar, what type of bean, or how much water… I just need a sense of how much to put together. Fanny Farmer is good for older types of cooking, like pie dough and sweet and sour cabbage, but is very lacking in newer American food trends. I had no idea how to make hummus… Fanny Farmer didn’t tell me much of anything and the internet was saturated with bad, unreliable and untested recipes. (I hate 99% of internet recipes… but that’s another tale… )I needed a cookbook that had recipes for basic but more modern foodstuffs.

I had been introduced to the Red Book a few years ago when learning how to poach an egg. Bittman gives plenty of time for technique on this basic “recipe” – add vinegar to the simmering water, crack the egg onto a plate to ease transition into the water, swirl the water to create a vortex for the egg, spoon water over the yolk to set it, trim off the threads. Does it count as a recipe when the ingredients are an egg, a splash of vinegar and water? Here the Red Book shines with excellent technique.

So, to sum up the Red Book: It’s a basic cookbook with good techniques and basic recipes for standard dishes. Everything is very practical. The recipes are well-tested and are reliable.

Bibliography

Bittman M. How to Cook Everything: 2,000 simple recipes for great food. Tenth Anniv. Ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; 2008. ISBN: 978-0-7645-7865-6.

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

This Week in Breakfast: Cafe Metro

So our options for breakfast places are dwindling. The few remaining places on our list are either too far away, too expensive, or just coffee shops that happen to be open on Sundays. We’ll visit the too far away places when Sam and I get a Sunday where he doesn’t have to be at work too early. However, now that Whaleback is open for the season, our Sunday breakfasts are more time constrained. The too expensive places we’re saving for when friends or family come to visit us – nudge. nudge.

I’ve been procrastinating posting about Cafe Metro, our breakfast spot from Sunday, December 16, because that was the start of Mushroom week – there were better things to be posting about than breakfast at a coffee shop.

Cafe Metro used to be the Bagel Basement and was previously the go-to place for hungover undergrads on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Although we encountered some undergrads, I wasn’t sure they were hungover. Plus, we were at breakfast on Sunday at 9am. Isn’t that a bit early for most undergrads? Most of the complaints about Bagel Basement (see the linked article) seem to have been mitigated – the place is clean, well-stocked and has bagels and pastries, plus a few extra weekend breakfast items.

I had a breakfast burrito with chorizo and eggs. I was anticipating greasy and red chorizo sausage. What I got was mildly spiced pork sausage. It was tasty, but not what I was expecting. Sam had a bagel with lox and cream cheese. We also shared a monkey bread, which is like a cinnamon roll, but cut up into pieces and served in a muffin paper. The dough was yeasted and very tender.

 

Christmas Cookies

1 Comment

This year I didn’t go wild with the Christmas cookies. Frankly, we don’t know enough people here to offload so many cookies!

This gallery contains 4 photos


Leave a comment

This Week in Breakfast: Mountain Creamery

Downtown Woodstock Vermont. Not a good pic, sorry.

Downtown Woodstock Vermont. Not a good pic, sorry.

Sam and I drove out to Woodstock, VT on Sunday to eat at Mountain Creamery. It was a bit of a drive, about 35 minutes, thus in the category of “too far away” to be a regular breakfast joint. Woodstock, VT is an adorable little town propped up by rich tourists visiting the Rockafeller mansion and people with “second” homes.  Mountain Creamery is doing a good job of providing the authentic Vermont breakfast experience, but with enough consciousness-raising menu items to meet expectations from affluent New Yorkers. For example, the menu included maple sausage made from free-pastured Berkshire hogs and organic eggs from the owner’s Sister’s farm. Of course there was real Vermont maple syrup.

So I rag on the vacation spots of the elite, but they do have really good breakfast. Really good.

Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy

Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Served with sausage and 2 eggs, scrambled.

Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Served with sausage and 2 eggs, scrambled. Note the real maple syrup, and that I had already smeared the salted whipped butter onto the pancakes before taking the picture. 

Never in my memory have I eaten such good blueberry pancakes. My breakfast came with two, along with some eggs and sausage. I could have eaten four more. That good. Platonic Ideal pancakes. Fluffy and syrup-absorbing, slightly tart, with little crispy bits around the edges from direct contact with butter in the hot pan. The blueberries were tiny, full of flavor, and the chef rolled them first in flour, so they didn’t explode blue goo all in the pancake. Each and every bite was full of blueberry flavor and maple-y syrup goodness.

Whatever Sam had for Breakfast

Sam had an omelet with roast potatoes and toast. Three things were remarkable, but not as remarkable as the Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself. First, the omelet had apples and cheese. This is a local flavor, methinks, because who would have thought to put apple in an omelet except for people who also serve apple pie with cheddar cheese. Second, the potatoes were very good due to a generous tossing with a mixture of herbs and garlic. Third, the ingredients in the strawberry jam (jars were available for sale) were, “Strawberries, sugar.”

Sam's breakfast. Omelet with sausage, apples and cheese. Roast potatoes. Toast. Quite Good Strawberry Jam.

Sam’s breakfast. Omelet with sausage, apples and cheese. Roast potatoes. Toast. Quite Good Strawberry Jam.

Back to Discussing the Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy

If I were to close my eyes in envision my ideal blueberry pancake, it would be just about exactly what I had at Mountain Creamery. The only difference would be that I would still be a kid and my Mom would have served the pancakes to me. Mind you, my mother made pancakes infrequently when we were kids, and I only remember a handful of occasions that she made Blueberry pancakes. My point is that the only way these could have been made better was by adding Mother’s Love. Even the whipped butter was salted – adding the mix of salty, fat, sweet, fruity, tender, crispy… All of the ideal flavors and textures.

I think my ideal Upper Valley Breakfast is forming. The biscuits and gravy at Quechee Diner were fantastic. I think I have effectively lauded the greatness of Mountain Creamery’s  Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Eggs cooked at 4 Aces Diner were made with real butter and left a little underdone, close (but not exactly) how I like them.

We will likely be back… Almost certainly.


2 Comments

Kuhlschrank – Our vegetable refrigerator

Saturday was the December Norwich Farmer’s Market. They have it indoors in the largest building in Norwich, the Tracy Hall, which also serves as the community theater. It was time to stock-up for the next month of cold and snow and avoiding trips to the grocery story. Unfortunately, Sam was at work, so I was hauling the veggies myself. I got our cooler on rollers and headed across the river. The winter market is mostly durable goods and crafts, but there were a handful of vegetable dealers.

I wanted to avoid $4 ATM fees, so instead of taking out cash on the way to the market, I tried the Market Cash program for the first time. One vendor has a credit card/debit card machine. He swiped my credit card for $60, and gave me 12 $5 tokens made of wood. The tokens were accepted at all of the vendors and the vendors made change in US dollars. If I had unused tokens, I could bring them back to the next market (but that practice is discouraged… makes accounting difficult). So I walked around the market with a pocket full of wooden tokens, buying veggies and loading them into my rolling cooler.

This was not weird to anyone… I blended right in.

I came home with:
– 10 lbs of potatoes, russets and kennebeck
– 10 lbs of yellow onions, carolina, IIRC
– 1 lb hardneck garlic
– 4 butternut squash
– 3 cabbages, standard green, red, and napa
– 10 lbs carrots
1 alien baby
– 2 celeriac

Now I have a lot of vegetables – where do they go? Not in the American Refrigerator, but in our German Refrigerator, the Kuhlschrank.

20121203-195129.jpg

I hope Germans have boring old electric refrigerators nowadays, but German fridges used to use cold air from outside to keep food cold in the house. Modern hippy-types are repurposing the idea to build modern root cellars in houses without basements.

We decided to build a kuhlschrank four years ago after The Rutabaga Incident. We were storing our vegetables in the garage and it got cold enough to freeze our potatoes. I went out to the garage to get potatoes to make for dinner, and they were all mush. It was January, I had seasonal affective disorder and I had no potatoes. I was in the thick of Locavorism, so I wasn’t going to run out to the store and buy a bag of potatoes. The only vegetables that survived the freeze were the rutabagas. I tried to roast one and make something tasty, but I only made my house smell like a Eastern European Grandmother. Sam came home in time to watch his sobbing wife throw a pot of boiled rutabags off the back porch and into a snow bank. I vowed never to loose my potatoes again. (Yes, this was my Scarlett O’Hara “I’ll never go hungry again,” moment.)

This will be the third year that we’ve used the kuhlschrank to keep our veggies through the winter, and we have had no vegetal failures since we started storing with it.

Sam designed and built the kuhlschrank. He’s such a good husband. It’s basically a 150 quart marine cooler wired into a temperature control and an incandescent (ILLEGAL!) lightbulb. If it gets too cold in the cooler, the lightbulb turns on and warms up the inside. If the interior gets too warm, we prop the lid open at night for an hour to cool it off. The temperature control keeps the temperature above 34F, and the red LED panel on the front shows us the interior temperature. We have a box full of sand to keep the potatoes from sprouting and to keep the moisture level high. The veggies that like the dark (garlic and onions) are kept in thick paper bags. The carrots, kohlrabi and celeriac like it moist, so they stay in plastic bags. Since we don’t have a garage, we moved it under the stairs just outside the front door of our apartment. It doesn’t have a lock, so I’m hoping we don’t loose vegetables to bears or our neighbors.

20121203-195147.jpg


1 Comment

Braided Sandwich with Ham, Cheese and Apples

20121203-192112.jpg

My mom used to make this sandwich when we were kids, but I think she must have filled it with rutabagas, turnips, and lindberger cheese, because I never really liked it as a kid. However, this recipe is GREAT for grownups, especially grownups who would like to put together something showy to take to a potluck. Mom’s recipe came from some Fleishmann’s cookbook or advertisement – the recipe, as she wrote it, calls for Fleishmann’s yeast by name. I made it with a rough-ground mustard so my dough was speckled with mustard seeds.

I hope that I can use the technology of the internet to help show you how to make this sandwich. I took some in-progress pictures, plus I made a hastly drawn diagram on Penultimate on my iPad. If you don’t get it, I’ll make this again and post a video to Youtube.

(Smother’s Leftover Makeovers, p29.)

4 cups (560g) AP Flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup dijon mustard
2 Tbsp butter
2 packages (14g) rapid rise yeast

1.5 cups cubed ham (1 cm/ 1/4 inch cubes)
1 cup cubed apple
1 cup cubed cheese (I used cow’s milk cheese from Cobb Hill Farms)

Mix flour and salt. Reserve 1 cup flour/salt mix.

Mix water, mustard, sugar and butter in a glass measure cup. Microwave until butter is melted and temperature reaches 125 to 130F.

Add flour to bowl of the stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Drizzle in the liquid until a wet dough forms. Switch to the dough hook. Knead for 4 minutes, adding in the additional 1 cup of flour/salt to reach a firm dough. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes so the glutein relaxes.

Heat the oven to 375F.

Reserve a golf-ball sized piece of dough. Roll the remaining dough out to a 14″x12″ rectangle. Transfer the dough to an oiled baking sheet. Pile the cubed meat, apple and fruit along the middle third of the dough. Cut the outer thirds of the dough into 1″ strips. Fold the strips over to cover the filling, like making a braid. Roll the golf-ball sized piece of dough into a disk, and use it to “plug” the sandwich on the end where you started braiding – the filling won’t fall out this way.

Put the sandwich someplace warm and let the dough rise for 15 to 20 minutes. Brush the sandwich with a beaten egg, making sure to cover the edges and any dough peeking through the braid.

Bake the sandwich in the middle of the oven for 25-35 minutes, rotating halfway.

Let the sandwich sit for 10 minutes to let the cheese firm up before slicing. Serve warm.

20121203-192151.jpg

20121203-192125.jpg2012-12-02 17.19.07


Leave a comment

Mushroom Week Day 5 – Mushroom Paté

(Frontnote: Yes, I know it’s paté. But I’m going to type pate. Sorry… it’s extra keystrokes.)

We’re going over for a Christmas get-together at a colleague’s house this afternoon. I needed to bring something, and I only know two mushroom finger foods. Mushroom pate and marinated mushrooms. I chose the former. I make this as part of my vegan crudite platter: mushroom pate, cashew cheese, and olive tapenade with pita chips and sesame crackers. Invite me to a party sometime to try it out!

This isn’t my recipe, so I’m not going to replicate it here. (I want other people to respect my copyright as I respect theirs.) I think this is the original recipe I have been using – the proportions seem right.  The main ingredients are sauteed mushrooms, onions and garlic, flavored with cumin and curry powder (just a teaspoon of each), pureed in the blender with toasted cashews and a little peanut butter. The onion, garlic and spices add a little depth to the flavor and the cashews and peanut butter give the recipe better body. Pureed mushrooms would just be a mess.

I would usually make crackers to go with this dip, based on the excellent recipe for Olive Oil and Seed Crackers from Clotilde Dusoulier at Chocolate and Zucchini. I admit tho, I had no interest in spending a few hours in the kitchen rolling out dough, so I bought some crackers from the COOP that were basically a scaled production of what I wanted to bring… Intention counts, right?

I’ll catch a photograph later today when I’ve got the pate set out with the crackers. Right now it’s in a bowl under plastic and looks rather grey and unpalatable.