March 2008 Archives

I have a confession: I am a sparkling water junkie.  Yup, I've been downing the stuff for years, plastic bottle after plastic bottle.  My preferred brand, Poland Spring, comes from Maine (not so far away) and I do recycle the bottles...  But this fizzy habit is really hard to justify -- and it's been nagging at me for years.

At long last, I've found a solution that makes both my brain and my taste buds happy: home made sparkling water made from Somerville's finest tap water (filtered through our fridge).  How?  With a counter-top device from Soda Club.

We just screw in one of the reusable 1-liter plastic bottles:

soda club screw.JPGAnd hit a button that pumps in the CO2:

soda club fizz.JPGWe haven't yet exhausted our first CO2 canister, but the Soda Club folks say that one is good for about about 110 1-liter bottles.  And the taste?  We're picky about our fizzy water, and we really like it.  We also got some orange and lemon/lime "natural" flavors to add in, but to be honest, they scare me a little -- so I'm sticking with the plain stuff.

Pancakes & VT maple syrup

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One of the things I love about living in New England is getting local maple syrup.  Right now we've got a jug of Grade B (my personal fave) from Butternut Mountain Farm in Morristown, VT.  We picked it up at Whole Foods, but what I really love is heading up to VT and buying it directly from the farm.  (If you're keen, the VT Maple Festival is April 25 - 27.)

blueberry pancakes.JPGGreat maple syrup deserves great pancakes -- and I've found the best pancake recipe in (where else?) the Best Recipe cookbook.  It's so amazing, you'll never even consider making pancakes from a mix again.

2 cups buttermilk (seriously, this is worth a trip to the store)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (we use 1 cup all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat)
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil

  1. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to combine.
  2. Whisk the egg and melted butter into the milk until combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients in the bowl; pour in the milk mixture and whisk very gently until just combined (a few lumps should remain). Do not overmix.
  3. Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes; add 1 teaspoon oil and brush to coat the skillet bottom evenly. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto 3 spots on the skillet.  Cook the pancakes until large bubbles begin to appear, 1 1/2 - 2 minutes.  Using a thin, wide spatula, flip the pancakes and cook until golden brown on the second side, 1 1/2 - 2 minutes longer.  Serve immediately.  Repeat with the remaining batter, using the remaining vegetable oil only if necessary.

We've found that a combo of maple syrup + fruit is the ideal pancake topping.  Since fresh berries aren't in season yet, we pop a bag of frozen fruit (like cherries, raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries) out of the freezer when we start mixing and dip them in a bowl of warm water.  By the time the first pancakes are browning, the fruit has lost its frost.

Today a friend from California tipped me off to an organization called Outstanding in the Field that puts on rather extravagant farm dinners.  "Outstanding in the Field events feature a leisurely tour of the hosting farm followed by a five course, farm-style dinner at our long table set in a scenic spot. Dinner is accompanied by a wine paired with each course. Diners are joined at the table by the farmer, food producers, a winemaker and other local artisans associated with the meal."

Many of the dinners are in California, but we New Englanders are fortunate to have one in Boston on September 5, exact farm location TBD. (I'm guessing that the pic below, which I poached from the OitF website, is of the 2007 Boston dinner.)

dinner on the beach.jpg
The price is a whopping $200 per seat -- and while I don't think that it should cost an arm and a leg to "celebrate food at the source" (as the OitF folks put it), my foodie friend assures me that this is one experience worth paying a premium for.

If you want to join us (yes I ponied up the cash), act soon.  Eleven of the 27 2008 dinner dates are already sold out.

Putney Pasta

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Directions for the easiest local dinner ever:

Step 1) Pull a package of Putney Pasta's butternut squash and maple syrup ravioli (made in Putney, VT, of course) from your freezer.  Cook and drain per the package directions.

Step 2) Melt a tablespoon or so of butter in a pan and throw in some sage.  When the butter turns light brown and the sage gets crisp, toss it with the pasta and top with your favorite local cheese.  (Ok, I cheated and used some imported Parmigiano Reggiano that I had laying around.)

Voila!

Winter veg coleslaw

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Here's a great coleslaw recipe that's in season during the winter, but will have you feeling like summer's right around the corner. We nabbed this recipe from the new Food Network show Jamie at Home, but apparently the show's producers only permit 2 recipes per episode to be posted on foodnetwork.com (dinosaurs) and this one didn't make the cut. Honestly, this dish is so easy that you hardly even need a recipe, but I thought a few words would round out the pictorial.

Get some of these veggies:
Red cabbage
White cabbage
Shallots
Fennel
Beets (yellow, so they don't stain the rest of the veggies)
Turnips
Carrots
Radishes

How much of each? Oh, use your judgment. The idea is to have roughly equal parts of the cabbage and the other veggies. Keep in mind that the slaw will only keep a few days once dressed, so it's probably better to make two smaller batches than to make one huge one.

Put the slicer attachment on your food processor and slice up the red cabbage, white cabbage, shallots, and fennel. Now put the fine grater attachment on and grate the beets, turnips, carrots, and radishes.

Chop some herbs (like chervil, fennel, mint, and/or parsley) and add them to the veggies.

Add plain yogurt (just enough to cover the veggies), salt and pepper to taste, the juice from 1 and half lemons, 4 - 5 tablespoons of olive oil, and a tablespoon or so of whole grain mustard.

Now mix it all up with your clean hands and serve it with, oh, say, some grilled ribs.

I paired some of the leftover slaw with shredded cheddar in a whole wheat pita for lunch the next day.  Yum!

We first found quarts of Crescent Ridge chocolate milk at the Whole Foods on Prospect Street in Cambridge.  Then that store started carrying quarts of 1% (and probably 2% and whole, but we didn't really notice).  Now the Whole Foods on River Street in Cambridge is carrying 1/2 gallons of skim, 1%, 2%, and whole mile.  Crescent Ridge is taking over Boston!

crescent ridge.jpgPeople of Boston, unless you've got a couple of milking cows hanging out around the back of your brownstone, this is the closest you're going to get to local milk.

We were originally excited by the glass bottles, which are recyclable and/or returnable and/or reusable -- but come on, how many flower vases can one household really accommodate?

Good news: Whole Foods is charging $1.50 as a deposit on each bottle, which you get back in the form of a WF coupon when you return it to the store.  Now go get your local milk!

It's March!  I admit, I've got my sights set on my still non-existent snow-covered garden and soon-to-be in-season spring veggies. But let's face it: it's still winter.  And instead of being a cold hater, I've gone on a mission to embrace the last of seasonal winter greens. 

It's not difficult with the help of Jamie Oliver, host of the new Food Network show Jamie at Home, who cooks up really simple, delicious recipes while confusing US viewers with metric measurements and words like "pukka."  His recent show on winter vegetables inspired me to make Italian bread and cabbage soup with sage butter.  It was seriously one of best things I've made this winter, and we have enough left over to serve an army.  I hope it freezes well! 

Here's the recipe, which you can also find [sans my comments and photos] over at the Food Network website:

This scrumptious, thick bread soup is about playing up the cabbage family - the king of winter veg. It's layered like lasagna, with grilled bread and cabbage in stock, and as it cooks it plumps up a bit like bread-and-butter pudding. Fontina cheese is available in good supermarkets or cheese shops [I found ours at Whole Foods on River Street in Cambridge], but you can substitute good-quality Cheddar or Gruyere.

bread soup ingredients.jpg
  • 3 quarts good-quality chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 Savoy cabbage, stalks removed, outer leaves separated, washed and roughly chopped
  • 2 big handfuls cavolo nero and/or kale, stalks removed, leaves washed and roughly chopped [Cavolo nero??  I used a bunch of red kale and the top greens from three yellow beets.]
  • About 16 slices stale country-style or sourdough bread [I used a large Francese loaf from Iggy's.]
  • 1 clove garlic, unpeeled, cut in 1/2
  • Olive oil [I completely forgot to use the oil, but with all the bacon fat and cheese, the dish really didn't need it.]
  • 12 to 14 slices pancetta or bacon [I used thick cut bacon, and I'd cut this in half next time or get something thinner.]
  • 1 (4-ounce) can anchovy fillets, in oil [Don't be scared of our little fishy friends!]
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked
  • 7 ounces fontina cheese, grated
  • 5 ounces freshly grated Parmesan, plus a little for serving
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Couple large knobs butter [A single pat would have been sufficient.]
  • Small bunch fresh sage, leaves picked

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan and add the cabbage, cavolo nero and/or kale. Cook for a few minutes until softened (you may have to do this in 2 batches). Remove the cabbage to a large bowl, leaving the stock in the pan.

bread soup - step 1.jpgToast all but 5 of the bread slices on a hot griddle pan or in a toaster, then rub them on 1 side with the garlic halves, and set aside. [I forgot this part and toasted it all -- it turned out fine.]

Next, heat a large 4-inch-deep ovenproof casserole-type pan on the stove top, pour in a couple of glugs of olive oil and add your pancetta and anchovies. When the pancetta is golden brown and sizzling, add the rosemary and cooked cabbage and toss to coat the greens in all the lovely flavors. Put the mixture and all the juices back into the large bowl.

bread soup - step 2.jpgPlace 4 of the toasted slices in the casserole-type pan, in 1 layer. Spread over 1/3 of the cabbage leaves, sprinkle over a 1/4 of the grated fontina and Parmesan and add a drizzle of olive oil.

bread soup - step 4.jpgRepeat this twice, but don't stress if your pan's only big enough to take two layers - that's fine.

bread soup - step 5.jpgJust pour in all the juices remaining in the bowl and end with a layer of untoasted bread on top. [I ended with a layer of the cabbage and it worked out fine.]  Push down on the layers with your hands.

Pour the stock gently over the top until it just comes up to the top layer. Push down again and sprinkle over the remaining fontina and Parmesan. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper and drizzle over some good-quality olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven for around 30 minutes, or until crispy and golden on top.

bread soup - done.jpgWhen the soup is ready, divide it between your bowls. Melt the butter in a frying pan and quickly fry the sage leaves until they're just crisp and the butter is lightly golden (not burned!). Spoon a bit of the flavored butter and sage leaves over the soup and add another grating of Parmesan. Such a great combo! [Agreed!]

Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont is fast becoming one of our favorite cheese makers.  We had some of their Bayley Hazen Blue (a raw milk cheese) and Constant Bliss (a soft cow cheese that tastes more like goat cheese) back in January.

Just the other week, we bought some their Bartlett Blue over at at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. Andy (one of the two brothers that owns Jasper Hill) told me: "Bartlett Blue is a cheese we make seasonally. We make it only in the summer months when the cows are out on pasture. We only make it once a week so it is quite limited in availability."

bartlett blue.jpgAdmittedly, I did have a mild panic attack over eating a summer cheese during February.  Fortunately, after about four seconds I realized that Formaggio just stores seasonal cheeses like this in its cheese cellar until the cheese and I are ready to be joined together.

I'm having a bit of trouble remembering exactly what the  Bayley Hazen Blue tasted like and how it differs from the Bartlett Blue -- perhaps I'll have to line up a side by side tasting sometime soon -- but I can say with confidence that we greatly enjoyed both! 

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