Over Yonder

I’ve been going through a Southern thing lately. I was offered a near-free subscription to Garden & Gun magazine, much to the dismay of Rich, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The articles are interesting, the writing is excellent and the recipes are creative. He grumbles about it, but I point out that some of the best American writers of all time are Southerners. (Not counting John Grisham, and I say that having gobbled up four of his novels 20+ years ago.)

20170719_175035.jpg

 

When I was in college Sylvie and I went on a road trip to Graceland. We actually didn’t make it — there was a dental emergency in Nashville — but the scenery was breathtaking. Honestly, if you’re looking to see some of the best of what the United States has to offer, visit the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, and drive the Shenandoah Skyline. The beauty of Appalachia will make you weep.

Over the past few months I’ve borrowed a number of Southern cookbooks from the library. Truth be told, there wasn’t a thing I could eat in Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles. My Two Souths also relied heavily on things that oink and creep and crawl on the bottom of the ocean, but there were some gems in it. Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard was a good book, but too sprawling; she could have spread all those recipes out across two or even three books. Sean Brock’s Heritage is excellent, although there’s still a ton in the book I can’t eat. (If you’re curious about what Jews can and do eat in the South, definitely check out Marcie Cohen Ferris’ Matzo Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South.)

So when I was offered Fruit, A Savor the South cookbook by Nancie McDermott, I jumped at the opportunity: A Southern cookbook based on foods I could actually eat. Well, sort of. There are some fruits I just can’t find up here, and some I’ve never even heard of, like mayhaws, scuppernong grapes, and pawpaws. But for the fruit I can get hold of, the recipes are terrific: fresh peach fritters, watermelon-rind pickles, Okracoke Island Fig Cake with Buttermilk Glaze, horchata made with cantaloupe seeds.

The recipe I decided to share with you is the strawberry shrub. I figured most of you have best access to strawberries. A shrub is a fruited drinking vinegar that has its roots in the sultry climates. The root of the word is from the Arabic sharab, which means “to drink”.

20170722_175556.jpg

As Nancie puts it, “Shrubs are a lovely means of preserving summertime berry goodness for sipping on the porch while lightening bugs flicker or by the fireplace come winter. Vinegar adds a tangy kick to the ruby fruit, making a syrup that can be added to club soda or sparkling water to make a homemade soft drink, or stirred into a champagne, white wine, or cocktail for a spirited refreshment.”

We cut ours with seltzer from the Soda Stream and it was refreshing and delicious on a warm July night. It’s a bit like having a homemade Italian soda, now that I think about it. Rich put some in a beer, and said it was a little like a Berliner Weisse, a sour wheat beer often drunk with raspberry syrup. In this case, the tartness comes from the syrup instead of from the beer.

The recipe calls for the jar to be set aside in a cool, dark place for 24 – 48 hours and to make sure the jar is not exposed to heat or light. I tucked mine away in the basement for two days. But since I found a snake in the basement last night, I’m never going back down there again. I’ll have to find another place to age my shrubs.

To sterilize the jars, I used the method from Artisan Preserving:

Wash in very hot soapy water. Do not dry the washed bottles or jars, but put them upright on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and put in the oven. Turn on the heat to 350F and once the oven has reached this temperature, leave the bottles or jars in the oven for 20 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized. Wear protective oven mitts when handling hot bottles and jars.

Strawberry Shrub from Fruit by Nancie McDermott

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

3 cups apple cider vinegar

3 cups trimmed and quartered fresh or frozen strawberries

3 cups sugar

Directions

Prepare a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid as directed.

In a medium saucepan, heat the vinegar until it is just about to break into a bubbling boil and remove it from the heat. Place the strawberries in the prepared jar and pour the vinegar over them, making sure they are covered by an inch of vinegar. Let cool to room temperature and then cover tightly. Set aside in a cool, dark place for 24 – 48 hours (be sure the jar is not exposed to heat or light.)

Strain the vinegar into a medium saucepan and discard the solids. Add the sugar to the vinegar and bring to a rolling boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the sugar is dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let the shrub cool to room temperature. Pour the shrub into a clean, sterilized jar and cover tightly. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Memory Aid

Last week Lilli used the term “feet wrists.” I almost didn’t want to correct her and let her know most people prefer to use the term “ankles.” After it happened, I wanted so badly to write it down somewhere, so I wouldn’t forget how precious my little girl is. And then I thought of this space. I come here to share recipes and stories with you, but I realize now it’s also so I won’t forget them.

target

Cheap Beets turned 6 this week. I’ve shared stories, a birth, another birthjobs, and now a move. But it always comes back to the food, and I have so much more sharing to do. But for some reason, I forget to blog about it. It took me until nearly the end of June to remember how I love tossing coins of summer squash with more garlic than I think I need, some fresh thyme, olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt, and then roasting it all in a hot, hot oven. If only I wrote it down somewhere, I thought to myself.

And last night I thought to myself, if only I could write down somewhere that the perfect corn salad is three ears corn, half a zucchini, quartered, three radishes, chopped, and just a smidge of  chopped sweet Vidalia onion. (Honestly, it didn’t need the feta, although it was a nice touch.)

A friend was once flipping through one of my cookbooks and laughed when she saw my annotation about there being too much onion in the recipe as it was written. But of course you have to write notes in the cookbook! That way you’ll know the next time you read the recipe and think it sounds pretty good, you’ll be forewarned about the onions.

That brings me to this watermelon caprese salad, which I found in a Rachael Ray magazine floating around my mom’s house. It was a solid concept, but the 6 Tablespoons of EVOO was far too much. I ended up dumping much of it out and adding more vinegar and sugar, although that may have more to do with how much I like vinegar. My mom, on the other hand, could not be persuaded to try the salad because of the dressing.

caprese

Of course, the salad would have been better if I’d had basil on hand. I didn’t, but it was still wonderful, and it will make it onto our summer table for years to come. I think it’s easiest to taste the dressing as you make, or even leave it on the side, if you remember to.

Watermelon Caprese from Rachael Ray Every Day, September 2016 issue

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons EVOO (6 in the original recipe)

3 Tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar or white wine vinegar, or to taste

¼ teaspoon sugar

1 ball (8oz.) fresh mozzarella, sliced into 8 rounds

8 square watermelon slices (seriously though, the shape isn’t essential)

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk oil, vinegar and sugar to taste.

On platter, layer cheese and melon. Drizzle with dressing; top with basil.

 

For Your Sleeve

I bought a mango to share with Lilli, but decided to use the second head of iceberg lettuce and make these summer rolls instead. Please don’t tell.

This week was better than last week, but not by much. I can report that AAA does make special efforts to get to you and your car if they know there’s a small child involved (she wasn’t locked in the car). That being said, the best thing about the week was the three-hour nap Lilli took on Veteran’s Day. That let me prep every night’s dinner in advance, so we ate well all week.

Lilli and Rooster

I’m going to hold off on sharing my new favorite potluck salad until next week because there’s a chance I can actually get a photo of it, and because I’ve been meaning to tell you about the Ultimate Nachos cookbook, from which I have enjoyed some fabulous horchata (I meant to get that up in time for Day of the Dead, but there was an election to lose that week), the vegan white bean queso I brought to this year’s Annual Guac Off, and the sage brown butter artichoke nachos Rich and I devoured earlier this autumn. (I actually photographed those, but then I felt embarrassed that I had poured brown butter on top of tortilla chips and called it dinner — as if last week’s salad wasn’t embarrassing enough.) I’ve had my eye on the autumnal nachos with butternut squash and all sorts of cozy spices, but with gruyere at $12/lb., they have yet to be made. Gruyere cheese is a Trader Joe’s-only purchase in this house.

At some point I’ll get an actual nachos recipe up from the cookbook, but for now, I found myself emailing Sylvie this recipe for pickled onions on Thursday, so I thought you might want these up your sleeve as well. These particular onions are part of a larger recipe – Chilaquiles Verdes with Pepitas and Pickled Red Onion and Japapeṅos – which happens to be my all-time favorite breakfast food, although I haven’t yet found the time to make the dish in its entirety.

I’ve found myself tossing these onto salads for a little something extra; they’d also be great in sandwiches, tacos and eggs.

Pickled Onions from Ultimate Nachos by Lee Frank and Rachel Anderson. This recipe, however, was contributed by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer at Serious Eats.

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

½ cup water

½ cup distilled white vinegar

1 small medium red onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

Directions

Combine the sugar, salt, water and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, whisking frequently until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the onion, pressing them down into the liquid. Cover tightly and let stand for 2 minutes, then stir to redistribute. Let stand 10 minutes more.

Sister Act

My older sister Sylvie is a middle-and high-school librarian in inner city DC. It’s a tough area to grow up in, and she has made her library into a safe space for her students. In her first year alone, circulation was up 40%, and her students know they can always go to her for guidance on how to research a paper, use reference materials, and, most importantly, she provides just the right book. She’s made reading fun. “God’s work,” my friend Elissa once quipped in trying to explain to someone what Syl does.

It really was Syl’s destiny to be a librarian for teenagers, but this wasn’t her first career. She used to cook. I mean, she still does, but cooking was much more a profession for her than it is for me. People would pay her money for her food back when she lived in Boston nearly 20 years ago — in Allston, as a matter of fact. And she, too, rode her bike everywhere.

I think she would have continued working in professional kitchens as long as she could, but just as I’ve done a number on my back with a herniated disc that has slowed down my cooking, she did a number on her front: double hernias. Those professional-sized pots are very heavy, and that’s without them being filled with gallons of soup.

The dish I have for today is a Sylvie dish. I asked her earlier this week how she came up with it, but like I said, 20 years is a long time ago. This is actually not the first time I’ve written up this dish: I was a food writer for my college newspaper (surprise, surprise) and our editor once did a spread on the food writer’s favorite dishes. This was mine.

This is a pantry dish, and it uses a box of Near East rice pilaf. Before you get all huffy and start accusing me of pulling a Sandra Lee, if you’ve ever had the stuff, I think it’s safe to say it’s a really fantastic side dish. All supermarkets seem to have sales on Near East products every few months. When the Star Market around the corner marks it down to $0.88 a box, I usually buy five or six and store them in the pantry. And even though portobello mushrooms can be expensive, Market Basket always has a good price on them, and I’ve walked away with 3 pounds worth from Haymarket with spending just a dollar.

Although there is technically a lot of vinegar and garlic in the dish, the added sugar cuts it all down into something sweet that matches perfectly with the pilaf. This is one of Rich’s favorite dishes, and last week he learned how to make it. Like I’ve mentioned, the herniated disc has really slowed me down, but Rich has been an absolute godsend in making sure there is food on the table and clean clothes on our backs. Last week, when he was prepping and slicing the mushrooms, he came to me with a panicked look on his face because one of the mushrooms he cut had a magenta streak down its side. I asked if he possibly used the same knife he used to dice a beet the night before. He walked away a little sheepishly, but I have to admit I thought that was absolutely adorable.

I had forgotten that there had been a typo in the recipe. Well, not the actual recipe, but the byline. The paper has me down as my middle name, Miranda, which seems so much more exotic and exciting than my first name.

This dish can work as a main dish for three people with a small salad, or be a side dish for five or six, depending on how hungry your crowd is.

And one last thing: If you could ask the governor’s executive director of his PAC four questions, what would they be? How about four questions for the founder of the Boston’s first Jewish rugby team? Turns out it’s the same fellow. Here are mine.

Mushrooms and Rice Pilaf a la Sylvie

Ingredients

3 Portobello mushrooms

4 cloves garlic

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

3 Tbs. sugar

Dash salt and pepper

Enough oil to cover a pan

Box of Near East Rice Pilaf

Directions

Prepare rice pilaf according to directions on the box.

While the rice is cooking, peel and chop the garlic and toss into heated oil in medium-sized pan (at this point it should have a very low flame because you don’t want the garlic to brown.)

While the garlic is cooking, clean and cut the mushroom caps into bigger than bite-sized pieces. Toss mushrooms into pan and watch carefully. When they begin to sweat – the meat will become pink – add balsamic vinegar. When the mushrooms, garlic and vinegar begin to sizzle, add sugar and reduce heat. Cook on reduced flame until mixture turns syrup-like (about seven minutes). Add a dash of salt and pepper to taste. Remove dish from heat and mix in the rice pilaf.

Serve and enjoy.

‘Tis the gift to be simple

This humble, 2”x 4” piece is all that remains of the full 12″x 16” apple cake I baked yesterday. It was, I am pleased to announce, the easiest cake I’ve ever made, and quite possibly, the most delicious apple cake I’ve ever encountered. I found the recipe in a Shaker cookbook, which makes sense. Humble, simple, perfect in its simplicity, it exemplifies Shaker cooking, which the cookbook describes as “plain, wholesome food well prepared.”

I must admit, I was doubtful at first: “Is that all I have to do?” Which was soon followed by, “How is this little bit of batter going to fill up this huge pan?” Well, it did fit, just at the bottom, after I scraped it around to fill in the gaps and made sure it was even. Be sure to scrape the cracklings – the sugary crust – off the bottom and the sides, when serving. It’s the best part.

Dutch Apple Cake from Shaker Your Plate: Of Shaker Cooks and Cooking by Sister Frances A. Carr

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

½ cup milk

2 cups flour

2 heaping teaspoons baking powder

4 apples (the recipe calls for 6 –8, although I’m stumped as to how to squeeze in that many onto the batter PLEASE NOTE: I just made the cake and could only squeeze two apples onto the batter. My advice is to go halve by halve.)

½ cup butter or margarine, melted

½ to ¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix the sugar, eggs, milk, flour and baking powder together. Pour mixture in a 12” x 16” pan. Pare and slice the apples. Lay them on the cake batter real [sic] closely together. Pour the melted butter over all and sprinkle the sugar which has been combined with the cinnamon. Bake until apples are tender. This should take about 30 – 35 minutes.

Tomato Season

A few years back, inspired by some reading about eating locally and seasonally, I announced to Rich that we would not be having tomatoes on a regular basis. Tomatoes, I explained (OK, really declared), would only be eaten in the summer time, mostly in August, but the eating and serving of could begin in mid-July and last through the end of September. Perhaps some of October, if we were lucky.

kosher vegetarian

And that’s how it’s been, more or less, for a good while now. I think once or twice a plastic box of grape tomatoes snuck their way onto the counter and were used in a hearts of palm and avocado salad. But really, the first tomatoes I purchased this year were when Cousin David came the second week of July. They ended up on a platter of Caprese salad for the neighborhood potluck.

Two weeks back I received some tomatoes in the CSA. They weren’t quite ripe, light pink and still a little hard to the touch. I set them on the counter on Thursday night and walked away. By Sunday, I could tell by looking at them that they’d be ready to eat by Wednesday, nearly a whole week after they first hit the kitchen. Torture! I then spent the next three days thinking about my midweek lunch, which would be the tomato. No cheese, no bread, just a little pesto I whipped up Tuesday night with some basil I rescued from the fridge. I also found some leftover roasted garlic hummus in there, so I ended up alternating bites: ripe tomato with pesto, then the garlicky hummus. I was quite a happy camper.

For Thursday’s lunch, I ate the next tomato, this time with a perfectly ripe avocado that I peeled and sliced next to it. (And yes, I do see the irony of insisting on a local, seasonal tomato while eating a trucked-in avocado next to it.) I keep bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar in my desk at work, so I drizzled a little of each on the two, and ate my lunch. There may have been some moaning; I’ve been told I have a problem making inappropriate noises when eating certain summer produce. There may have been an incident earlier this summer with a peach.

This past week brought a new batch of tomatoes to the house: Juliet, a type of heirloom grape tomato.

They look like a miniature plum tomato, and when I get near a plum tomato, I have the sudden urge to slow-roast it. Now, I know turning on the oven in August sounds questionable, but the nights do get cooler, and really, the oven is only at 250 degrees the entire time. The end result is more sweet than savory. The tomato proves itself to be a terrific fruit: It’s tomato candy, really.

I came across this recipe in Saveur magazine in 2007. It was a feature on the 25th anniversary edition of The Silver Palate Cook Book, a collection of recipes developed by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins in their little gourmet shop in New York City. I clipped the recipe and roasted a batch that very same week. And then I went and did something I don’t do very often: I went and bought the cookbook. No trial period with the library, just straight to Amazon. It turned out to be a great buy. Sometimes you can just tell from one simple recipe.

kosher vegetarian

As I mentioned, today I used the Juliets, but I usually do this with plum. I’ve read that people eat these on top of pasta, as a side to chicken and fish, or maybe on top of some beans. I usually eat them off the baking sheet. Once they made it all the way onto an antipasto plate, next to some olives, hard cheese, and roasted red peppers — once. Every other time, they’ve gone directly into my mouth. Today I tried to exercise restraint. I used some in a grilled cheese sandwich (fontina) and tossed on top of some greens and roasted radishes, with a sweet balsamic dressing drizzled on top.

Don’t let the number of tomatoes used in this recipe deter you: You can make it with fewer, just reduce the amount of oil and sugar for the whole tray. I don’t always have the fresh herbs on hand to garnish. Not that I’ve let that stop me.

kosher vegetarian

Oven Roasted Plum Tomatoes – The Silver Palate Cookbook

½ cup best quality olive oil

12 to 18 ripe plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise and seeded

2 Tablespoons sugar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Small whole Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves, or small fresh mint leaves or finely slivered basil, for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 250F
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and oil it lightly. Arrange the tomatoes on it a single layer, cut side up. Drizzle lightly with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the sugar and pepper.
  3. Bake the tomatoes until they are juicy yet wrinkled a bit, 3 hours.
  4. Carefully transfer the tomatoes to a platter. Just before serving, sprinkle them salt and garnish with the herb leaves.

Perfect Strangers

For nearly 10 years now, my friend Dan has traveled the world. First there were several years of Peace Corps in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, then a stint backpacking through Southeast Asia. After a pit stop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he’s now working with Burmese refugees in Thailand… I think; it’s hard to keep track.

Along the way, Dan has sampled some Fear Factor-worthy delicacies: crickets, cockroaches. He tells a story of a sheep that had the misfortune of ramming his host mother. In response, she killed it, made it into soup, and served it to Dan for lunch.

So I was a bit surprised at Dan last summer when we attended a neighborhood BBQ. He went a little gaga for the three-bean salad. It started out innocently enough: a small serving on his paper plate next to a hot dog. And then he went back for seconds, and then thirds. He spent a good chunk of the afternoon lingering by the bowl, as though he was guarding it.

At some point, I pulled him aside and said, “Dan, it’s three bean salad. What’s going on with you?” It turns out that Dan, the world-traveler, had never seen it before. After assuring him that this exotic delicacy could be found behind the deli counter in every supermarket in America, I convinced him to walk away from the bowl.

(In Dan’s defense, substitute “Molly” for “Dan”, “Rich” for “Molly” and “cheese plate” for “three-bean salad,” and you have pretty much every dinner party we go to. But I digress.)

As it turns out, I didn’t get a chance to make him his bowl of three-bean salad before he flew to Thailand. But last week, when I received a pound of wax beans and a pound of green beans in my CSA box, I knew the time had come to revisit this often-overlooked but delicious cookout favorite.

Dan’s coming back to the States for his brother’s wedding in August. And although the batch I’ve made here won’t last until then, I’ve assured him that there will be three bean salad waiting for him upon his arrival stateside.

Three Bean Salad

I’ve made this bowl of salad with beans bought directly from the farmer, but it can be made with canned beans in the winter time; heaven knows that’s how they do it at the local grocery store. But right now I am loving the fresh version of this dish.

Think of this recipe as a good point of departure. You can always add a can of chickpeas and make it a four bean salad. A green pepper, diced, would be great as well. Some chopped celery would also be excellent. And sliced black olives… you get the picture.

Ingredients

1 pound fresh green beans

1 pound wax beans

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Half a red onion, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 cup white distilled vinegar

½ cup oil

¾ cup white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, sugar and salt.
  3. Chop the onion and add that to the brine. Adding the onions to the brine at this early stage helps lessen their bite, so definitely do this step now.
  4. Trim the beans. I prefer the Cook’s Illustrated method of lining up the ends of a handful of beans on a cutting board and chopping off the heads with one cut, then doing the same to the other ends.
  5. By the time you’ve cleaned your two pounds of beans, your water should be boiling. Place the beans in the pot and set a timer for five minutes. While the beans are cooking, empty a tray of ice cubes into a bowl and fill it with cold water.
  6. When the five minutes have passed, quickly transfer the beans into the icy bath to blanch them.
  7. Once the beans have cooled off, grab them by the handful and roughly chop them into 1 to 2 inch pieces.
  8. Add the chopped beans and the drained and rinsed kidney beans to the onions and brine.
  9. Toss.

Marinate the bean salad for at least an hour. Longer is better; it will taste better in a day or two.