The Happy Valley

By now you know the drill: I disappear for a while, then show up again talking about a new job, or sharing photos of a new baby. Nope, no new babies, but I do have news: We moved! After 20 years away from Western Mass, I finally made it back home late this spring. And I do mean literally: we’re living with my very dear, very patient, very generous parents until we find a home of our own.

My new gig is in the Donor Relations department at Smith College, where both Sylvie and Miriam went (although they actually met on JDate, for those keeping track). We were very lucky that Rich’s boss asked him to stay and telecommute, so he’s also based in Northampton at a shared workspace.

There were many reasons why I wanted to be in Western Mass: like being closer to my parents, having a house with a yard, and wonderful schools for the girls. Lilli goes to Fort Hill, the early childhood education center through Smith College where arts and crafts is referred to as “staging a provocation”. Bea is at The Little Schoolhouse, a home daycare where they provide the organic bamboo diapers that get composted via bicycle, the milk and yogurt are delivered every day from the farm, and they grow their own fruit. As my New York friend Jason quipped, “You’re living on the set of Portlandia.”

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My commute. I’ll make sure to snap some photos during peak foliage this fall.

When I can, I’ve been taking Lilli to Shabbat Shabloom, a Friday morning sing-along on Abundance Farm. Afterwards we pick flowers on the farm for the dinner table. And of course it’s great to have Shabbat with Oma and Zayde every week. So when I received an offer to review a book called A Month of Sundays: Striding Toward Spiritual Refreshment with Good Food for the Road, I smiled and said I’d love a copy. Sure, the book’s author Paula Hartman and I observe different Days of Rest, but I still get it. The book promises “food for the body as well as the soul” across 31 chapters of reflections and meals. To be honest, most of the recipes didn’t sing to me, and there’s no index, which is somewhat frustrating. But one recipe, for corn fritters, caught my eye.

Lilli at Emily Dickinson Museum

My friend Mark snapped a series of wonderful photos of the girls at The 19th Century Circus – Creatures of Mystery and Bliss, at the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst.

It’s August in Western Mass, which means there is fresh corn, tomatoes and squash wherever you turn. Honest to goodness, you turn down a street and there will be a sign for those foods, grown in someone’s backyard, for sale in the driveway. The farm stand my mom took me to growing up is still going strong, so now I take Lilli to get the corn and tomatoes.

I had actually asked my mom to pick up some corn for a braised corn recipe I bookmarked in another new cookbook, but since I had everything else on hand, I chose to try this one instead. And it was great! The recipe doesn’t call for salt, although I’ve added it, and Rich and Mom both agree it could benefit from some spice. I liked it as is, but I don’t disagree with their input. My mom doesn’t bake and only had self-rising flour in the house, which I knew would work perfectly. I actually had fancy corn meal on hand; someone gave it to me on the Fourth of July, although I have no idea who it was.

This last thing is very important so I will write it in BOLD ALL CAPS: PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN FRYING THESE FRITTERS. Fresh corn spurts and jumps about in the pan. You’ll need to wear long sleeves while frying and keep kids and pets out of the kitchen while you make these.

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Mom’s Corn Fritters Adapted from Month of Sundays by Paula Hartman

Ingredients

½ cup (125 mL) of milk

2 cups (450g) of corn cut from the cob, or 16 ounces (450g) of canned corn

1 cup (225g) of flour

1 cup (225g) of cornmeal

2 teaspoons (9.2g) of baking powder

1 egg

2 Tablespoons (30g) of finely chopped onion

Two pinches salt

Cooking oil

Directions

Beat milk and egg. Add corn and onion to egg mixture. Add dry ingredients alternately. Batter will be stiff.

Heat oil in a large bottomed skillet with sides. (I prefer non-stick for my frying projects; Rich prefers cast-iron. I will leave that up to you.) To test the oil, drop a dot of the batter into the hot oil; if it sizzles, continue by dropping by teaspoons into the skillet. Cook until browned, then turn the fritters over and cook until that side is brown. This should take no more than 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels to remove excess fat.

The recipe says it makes approximately 12 fritters, but I got closer to two dozen using an actual teaspoon that you use to stir your tea.

 

 

Salt of the Earth

Lately I’ve been appreciating my college classmates. They are all such good people. If they’re a lawyer, chances are it’s at Legal Aid. If they’re a therapist, they dropped everything and moved to New Orleans to counsel child Katrina victims. Heck, even my horrible ex-boyfriend of whom I have nothing kind to say about has somehow ended up working at Habitat for Humanity for years.

tacos

I have been thinking about this because a few weeks ago, a classmate of mine was killed in a car crash in Baltimore. Her name was Neely, and she was one of the best out of a group of wonderful classmates. She had devoted her career to informal Jewish education, including founding an LGBT program for Jewish teens in Baltimore.  She leaves behind her husband – another classmate of ours who’s now a rabbi – and three little girls.

I went to Seminary for college. We also attended secular university and learned words like hegemony and read The Iliad. But mostly, it was Seminary, so yes, I also have classmates who are now rabbis, Jewish camp directors and teachers. With everyone earning two degrees – some days started with Hebrew at 7:45AM and didn’t end til Music Humanities at 9PM – we weren’t on a meal plan. We had kitchens and cooked all our own meals. So when my college friends Carly and Mike (now married) came for a visit last week, Carly remarked, as I greeted her wearing an apron, that it seemed like not much had changed at all.

corn and mushroom and fixins

I was hosting during my first week back to work, so I wanted to make it really easy on myself. I served fish and vegetarian tacos. Whenever we have fish tacos it’s always the right choice, and they’re not a ton of work, either. The vegetarian tacos were a recipe from Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen by Leah Koenig, given to me by my dad this past birthday. I’d had my eye on it, and had really come to enjoy Leah’s recipes found in many publications. It’s actually really strange that I don’t know her, as we have nearly 20 friends in common on Facebook, and a couple of her recipe testers for this cookbook are good, good friends of ours. People who show up on my blog are good friends with her.

As with most cookbooks, I’ve stuck to the vegetable recipes. I enjoyed the miso roasted asparagus back in April, as well as the garlic marinated zucchini and the roasted broccoli with shallots and lemon. I am strongly considering the potato leek kugel for Rosh Hashana. I also have my eye on the black bean and sweet potato chili. Some of her recipes are inspired by the cuisine of the Roman Jewish community, and she helpfully labels dishes for Shabbat dinner, Rosh Hashana and other holidays.

fish taco fixins

The vegetarian tacos in question comprised balsamic roasted mushrooms and corn, which could be a great side dish but served as a main dish when I followed Leah’s suggestion to wrap it in a warm tortilla and top it with “a little grated cheese, fresh baby spinach and sliced avocado.”

Dinner was delicious, but Lilli seemed a little off during the meal. Rich took her temperature and found she’d spiked a fever. As I flitted about, taking care of Bea, Mike and Carly silently got up and cleared the table. Mike stood and washed every single dish and pot and pan and loaded the dishwasher as Carly rummaged in my Tupperware cabinet and put away leftovers. She also offered to fold any laundry if I needed any help. We ended the meal with treats from Mike’s Pastry, which they’d picked up in Harvard Square.

Like I said, I went to college with great people.

Balsamic-Roasted Mushrooms and Corn from Modern Jewish Cooking by Leah Koenig

Leah compares the partnership of balsamic vinegar and cremini mushrooms to the one of peas and carrots: They just work well together. I love that they use fresh late summer corn. “Earthy and deeply flavored, with a hint of sweetness from the honey and roasted red onion, this dish makes a great side for steak, chicken or tofu.” Or, as I mentioned earlier, do as we did, and wrap it in a warm tortilla and top it with a little grated cheese, fresh baby spinach, and sliced avocado.

Although Leah has you drizzle the balsamic mixture on top of the vegetables, as written here, I just tossed everything in an enormous mixing bowl with my hands.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1/3 cup/80ml balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup/80ml soy sauce or tamari

1/3 cup/80ml extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons honey

4 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 ½ lb/680 g cremini mushrooms, stemmed and halved or quartered (if large)

2 small red onions, halved through the root and cut into ¼-in/6mm slices

2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed, or 1 ¼ cups/205 g thawed frozen corn kernels

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint or flat-leaf parsley (I skipped both these herbs, given the components of the rest of the meal)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C and line two large rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, honey, garlic and cayenne.

Divide the mushrooms, onions, and corn evenly between the prepared baking sheets. Drizzle each vegetable mixture with half of the vinegar mixture and gently toss with tongs to coat. Season with pepper. Roast, stirring once, until soft and tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Using tongs (I used a slotted spoon) transfer the vegetables to a serving platter or bowl; pour over 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid and discard the rest. While still warm, toss with the mint and serve.

Notes on our fish tacos

The reason this is such a fast weeknight meal is because all of the ingredients pull together quickly and can also be made beforehand.

Shredded cabbage

Thin discs of radish

Sprigs of cilantro

Pickled onions from Ultimate Nachos by Lee Frank & Rachel Anderson

And crema, also from Ultimate Nachos – I halved the entire recipes

Basic Crema

1 cup sour cream

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients together.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for about 1 hour.

If not using right away, keep the crema covered and store in the refrigerator. Crema will keep for as long as the expiration dates stated on the back of the sour cream and heavy cream. Before using it, bring the crema back to room temperature.

I actually  have a trick for the fish which works reasonably well. I grab a few frozen fillets of cod from Costco that I keep on hand, fill a sided pan with water, and poach the frozen fish in the pan for about 10 minutes. Because you’re going to be shredding the fish, it doesn’t have to be pretty at all. Remove the fish using a slotted spoon.

To serve, place fish, shredded cabbage, radish discs, pickled onion, drizzled with crema and sprigs of cilantro in a small tortilla. If you have limes, slice and serve on the side.

A New Favorite

We’ve had so much snow here in Boston that we’re now using sports figures as units of measurement. For those keeping track, we’re up to nearly a Gronk of snow. That’s about six and a half feet in less than two weeks. There’ve been multiple weekly school cancellations; the T, our mass transit system, has completely shut down several times; sidewalks are nearly impossible to navigate; parking etiquette has devolved to Lord of Flies level. We’re really lucky to own a driveway, although we’ve barely shoveled out room for our car, so no visitors, please.

do you want to build a snow man

The Super Bowl party we were invited to was canceled due to lack of parking, so we threw together our own party and hosted close friends who live around the block. We had leftovers for a few days, including a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips. But that’s OK, because it means I get to make my new favorite go-to weeknight dinner: Nacho Pie.

Found the culprit

I saw this recipe on an episode of Sara Moulton’s Weeknight Meals I had on in the background one weekend this fall. When she opened the show by saying the episode was devoted to pantry meals, she had my attention. The first dish was a pasta with beans and Kalamata olives. I have no recollection what the third dish was because all I could think about was the Nacho Pie in the middle.

You probably have everything on hand in your pantry already: can of black beans, can of corn, jar of your favorite salsa, an onion, and the dregs at the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. In terms of fresh things, you’ll need a chopped up green pepper and some shredded cheese. There was once a time when I groaned when all I had in the house was a green pepper. But now that means I can make shakshuka, eetch or nacho pie, all terrific pantry meals.

You can gussy it up with other things on hand. I bought a pile of avocados which were on super sale for $0.88 cents each for the Super Bowl. I threw them in the refrigerator when they were perfectly ripe and we’ve been working our way through them these past few weeks. Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and maybe a squeeze of fresh lime to perk it up.

warm head

This is a great weeknight meal that travels well the next day as leftovers. It’s vegetarian and cheap. I think you’ll love it as much as we do.

Nacho Pie

Ingredients

One medium onion, chopped

One green pepper, chopped

One can of black beans, drained and rinsed

One can of corn, drained and rinsed

One jar of your favorite salsa

Two cups of tortilla chips, divided

Two cups shredded cheese, divided

Enough oil to cover a skillet

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt to help them sweat, and cook them on medium heat for about six minutes.  When they start to soften and become clear, add the green pepper to the onion and continue to soften them for about three minutes more.

While the peppers and onions cook on the stovetop, drain the cans of corn and beans in a colander. Give them a good shake and add them to the skillet. Stir to incorporate. Add the jar of salsa to the mixture and cook it for about one minute more.

In the bottom of an oven-proof dish – I use a soufflé dish – lay a cup of tortilla chips on its bottom. Pile about ¾ cup of shredded cheese on top of the chips. Next, pour the contents of the skillet on top of the cheese and chips. Finish the dish with the remaining chips and the rest of thecheese. Slide into the oven for about 20 minutes.

The crust will get nice and bubbly. Remove from the oven and enjoy.

Bridging the Seasons

I’m writing this while wearing my slippers, which I had to dig out of the front hall closet. The cat is curled up like a cinnamon bun in Rich’s lap, hoping to enjoy his body warmth (and vice versa).  This week’s CSA box had both a butternut squash and six ears of corn – one box, two seasons. Summer is tiptoeing its way out and fall is tap dancing its way in.

Fresh corn pudding, I have discovered, is the perfect mix of late summer and early fall. Each creamy bite of this comforting dish is both sweet and savory, a reminder of why this time of year is my favorite food season. This recipe is from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table, which is where I found the persimmon pudding recipe. What can I say, the woman knows her puddings!

Fresh Corn Pudding by Deborah Madison

Ingredients

18 saltine crackers, or ¾ cup cracker crumbs or fresh bread crumbs

6 large ears of corn

1 ½ Tablespoons corn oil or butter

1 cup finely diced yellow onions

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup evaporated milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups loosely packed orange Colby or mild Cheddar cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Paprika

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 6-cup shallow casserole or gratin dish. If using saltines, put them in a bag and roll over them with a rolling pin to make coarse crumbs. There should be about ¾ cup. Set aside. Shuck the corn and pull of the silks. If you slice your corn in a deep bowl, you’ll keep it from spattering all over. Holding an ear of corn stem end down and using a sharp knife, carefully cut off the top halves of the corn kernels; do not include the fibrous base, the part that gets caught in your teeth. Then turn your knife over and, using the dull side, press it down the length of the cob, squeezing out the rest of the corn and the milk. You’ll end up with a mushy substance in the bottom of the bowl along with the kernels. Repeat with the remaining ears.

Warm the oil or butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook just until limp, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes without letting the onions brown. Add this to the corn and stir in the milk, eggs, 1 cup of the cheese, and ½ cup of the cracker crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and top with the remaining cracker crumbs and cheese. Bake on the center rack of the oven until puffed and golden, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle paprika over the top, and serve.

Second Annual Cambridge Guac Off

The competition was fierce at the Second Annual Cambridge Guac Off this past weekend. I was lucky enough to be invited back to help judge the competition, and what a contest it was! There were a dozen different entries for guests and contestants to sample, and a stock pot full of some of the most potent sangria I have ever overindulged in. Food processors whirled and mortar and pestles ground away at the ripe green fruits that had been tossed with cilantro, garlic and lime juice.

Secret ingredients abounded this year. Some, like the Rick Bayless-inspired pepitas, queso fresco and jalapeno entry, used traditional Mexican flavors. Less so was the blue cheese which found its way into the second place entry. And while some protested the awarding of first place to a pesto-infused guacamole, I for one embraced this next step in dip evolution. Rounding out the entries was a fresh mango salsa and a tequila-spiked avocado sorbet.

The Guac Off winners were kind enough to share their recipes with Cheap Beets. In the style of so many great home cooks, measuring spoons were set aside and the final dips were done to taste. I’ve assured Matt, Calvin, Rachel and Isabelle not to worry about those details, and that the recipes will speak for themselves.

For more pictures of the event, check out Calvin’s Flickr page.

First place: Pesto-Guacamole by Matt Frank

Ingredients

4 Ripe avocados

1 unripe avocado

1 medium red onion

Paprika

Sea Salt

Pepper

Cilantro flakes

Basil flakes

Lime juice

Tabasco sauce

Jalapeno paste (they sell it in a tube)

Fresh garlic

Garlic powder

Onion powder

Olive oil

Notes on the pesto: Trader Joe’s brand or homemade will work. (The winning recipe had homemade, but the trial run used Trader Joe’s) Any traditional pesto should do.

Directions

Peel and cut the unripe avocado into one inch pieces. Halve the red onion, and dice one half into small pieces.  Peel the garlic clove. Toss all three in a mix of light olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, basil flakes, cilantro flakes, tabasco sauce, lime juice, sea salt and pepper. Bake on the top rack of a 475 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes.

Fork mash the baked avocado and garlic clove into a paste. In a separate bowl, fork mash the four ripe avocados, and then add the mashed avocado paste and the jalapeno paste. Mix. Add some Tabasco sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, lime juice and basil flakes and mix. Add a tablespoon of basil pesto. Mix. Taste, add more pesto and tabasco sauce as needed, taking care not to offset the balance. Additional spicing should be done judiciously.

Once the guacamole is properly flavored, add the baked red onion, and half of the other remaining raw onion. Gently fold into the guacamole, making sure to distribute evenly without breaking it up.

Second Place: Simple Guacamole (with a secret ingredient) by Rachel Linso and Calvin Metcalf
In a large bowl, mix together

4 very ripe avocados

1/2 can roasted diced jalapenos (approximately 1/2 Tablespoon)

1/2 yellow onion, diced

Nice-sized hunk of blue cheese

Pepper to taste

Third Place: Roasted Jalapeno and Roasted Corn Guacamole by Isabelle Weyl

The night before you want to serve this guacamole, roast a jalapeno pepper, deseed, and slice into thin strips. Shuck two ears of corn, salt and coat in olive oil. Wrap in tinfoil and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Remove corn from the cob and add to the bowl containing the strips of roasted jalapeno. Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to prepare and serve the guacamole, bring the corn and pepper mix to room temperature, mash 5 smallish avocados with 3 dashes of Tabasco sauce and a hearty spoonful of sour cream.

Cornucopia

Well, it’s official. Today Cheap Beets is one year old. It really has just zipped by. I remember, as I turned the kitchen calendar to March, saying worriedly to Rich, “But I didn’t even get to talk about Brussels sprouts!” And all of a sudden it was June and not a word about asparagus. “Don’t worry,” he assured me, “there’s always next year, and the year after that.”

kosher vegetarian

When I started the blog, I was on a mission: To help people eat well during the recession. We’d been through a layoff and survived it with very full, happy bellies, and I wanted to assure as many people as would listen that they could do it too. I spent a good deal of last summer worrying about what to call the blog: Rich could see the writing on the wall and suggested I call it “Double Dip” and feature two scoops of my homemade ice creams in the banner. Sigh.

Well, it’s been a year, and I’m ready to let you guys in on a very big secret; a confession, of sorts. Although I do love beets, and radishes, and green beans, and cauliflower, too, most people are shocked to find out that my favorite vegetable is corn. I mean, I know all about the corn subsidies, the evils of high fructose corn syrup and as its nasty use as a filler in animal feed. I know, my dear readers. Oh, I know.

But here’s what you don’t know: I was spoiled by the freshest corn possible when I was growing up. Literally, picked right off the field. Have you ever had it? Then you know what I’m talking about when I say it’s the sweetest, crunchiest, best taste in the world.  Growing up in Western Massachusetts, my mom bought the bulk of our vegetables at the roadside stand in nearby Enfield, Connecticut. Less than four miles from our house, the little town was still mostly farmland well into my high school years. If you wanted corn for dinner, you’d go to Johnnie’s Roadside Market and watch the corn fly down the shoot after it had been picked off the field. My six-year-old niece Becca learned this week that’s how you buy corn, too. I want THAT one, and point to yours as it flies by. And be sure to eat it as soon as you can, the longer it’s off the stalk, the tougher it becomes. When I was young, I wanted to marry a farmer so I could have an endless supply of corn every day. I don’t even need to shmear anything on it. Just plain old corn, followed by a good flossing.

For the past few weeks, we’ve received piles of corn in the CSA, and I couldn’t be happier about it.  I’ve tried to move past eating it plain, as I know not everyone is as smitten with the vegetable as I am. I’ve shmeared it with feta and squeezed lime juice on top of that. Scrumptious. And I’ve taken to making this salad, as well. It’s really just things from the CSA box. I wasn’t even going to post it, but my friend Marianne said I needed to after I brought it to veggie potluck this week.

The longest part of this recipe is the green bean prep, but if you do the Cook’s Illustrated method that I’ve talked about here before (lining a handful of tips together, giving a little cut, and then doing it to the other side), it flies by. Taking another page from the magazine – and I think Alton Brown says to do this too – dig out your Bundt pan and stick your ear of corn, upright, right in the hole. It makes kernel removal a cinch.

Fresh Corn, Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad

½ lb. fresh green beans, trimmed

¼ cup water

6 ears of corn, shucked, kernels removed

4 cloves of garlic, slivered

1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 heaping Tablespoon fresh basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Salt

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. After 30 seconds, add the garlic, green beans, pinch of salt and the water. Cover, letting the beans steam away in the pan for about five minutes. While this is happening, shuck your corn, and remove the kernels using your Bundt pan and a large, sharp knife. Add corn to the skillet and give a stir. While the corn and green beans are cooking, rinse your tomatoes and cut those in half. Add to skillet and give another stir. Cook for about three minutes longer, then add your basil, another pinch of salt, and cook a minute or so longer. That’s all. Share with others, if you can. I’ll understand if you can’t.