My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.


Braised Chicken with Fennel & Potatoes 1

Posted on October 05, 2010 by crankycheryl

I was late, late, late to go to our neighbors’ house to watch their kids the other night, but I had a chicken all defrosted and a crisper full of vegetables that needed to be eaten before our next CSA pick-up.

Thank goodness, Molly Stevens’s The Art of Braising has become part of my cooking lexicon, and I knew what I had to do to make a successful braise come together.

So with very little thought, and a great deal of luck that I didn’t lose a fingertip in the chopping, this came together and got into the oven in a little less than half an hour.

Lazy Braised Chicken with Fennel & Potatoes
Serves 4

Preheat oven to 325.

1.  In a dutch oven, or other large pot that can go both on the range and into the oven, melt together until nicely bubbling:

  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 T. olive oil (not extra virgin, which isn’t for cooking)

2.  Generously sprinkle:

  • salt
  • fresh ground pepper – all over
  • 1 5 – 6 lb. chicken

Add to pan, and brown on all sides by leaving the chicken in place for about 5 minutes per side on medium heat.  Don’t wiggle it around too much or you’ll tear the skin and also not get the bronzing that you want.

3.  While the chicken is cooking, prep your vegetables.

Coarsely chop:

  • 1 head fennel  (I use what I call “the cleaver test” to see what’s tender enough to eat.  If my cleaver slices easily through the stalks, I’ll cook with them.  Otherwise save them for stock or compost them.)
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 4 potatoes (I had a mix of white and purple)
  • 1 medium eggplant (I happened to have some around – the dish will be fine without it)

4.  Here’s one of my new favorite time savers for a braise.  Take:

  • 3 cloves of garlic

and leave their skins on and don’t chop.   Put them aside.  You’ll see why in a minute.

5.  When the chicken is browned on all sides, remove to a plate.  Add a little oil if necessary to get a good covering for the bottom of the pan.  Add the vegetables, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.   Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are getting nice and fragrant and starting to wilt.  Add the garlic cloves whole, just tucking them into the vegetables.  The peels have lots of flavor, which they’ll transfer to your braise.  And when you uncover the cloves when you eat, you can just squeeze out the garlic itself, which will have been mellowed by cooking and absorbed all those great flavors.

6.  Add:

  • 1/2 c. dry sherry (or dry white wine)
  • 1/2 c. tomato sauce

Then bring to a boil and let cook for 3 or 4 minutes.  Place the chicken on top, cover with a lid, and place in the middle of the oven.

7.  Cook for about 2 hours, until the juices run clear in the thickest part of the thigh when pierced.   Let the chicken sit for 5 – 10 minutes, then carve and serve with scoops of vegetables.

Children of the Corn 4

Posted on August 25, 2010 by crankycheryl

Is it just me?

Wouldn’t you expect that your children and their two friends could stay at the petting zoo and playground for two minutes while you ran to get them a bottle of water since the poor little darlings were thirsty?

And if they had to run wild in the minutes you were gone, surely you’d think they could continue on with the petting zoo animals, or climbing the wooden tractor, or running across the wide, safe, open field.  What child of reading age would cross an acre, pass the “CLOSED” signs, and enter the corn maze?

This place, by the way, is a big old actual maze with paths that swirl around in traditionally confusing and re-doubling ways.  It wasn’t terrifying at 3:00 p.m., but I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be there after sundown.   I’ve seen the horror movies and I know what goes on.

Still, you and your younger child yourselves entered the forbidden rows, yelling for the trespassers and were at last reunited, after telling the offending three children that they were in TROUBLE and had ONE MINUTE to find their way to where you were (because if you tell people to do something impossible while YELLING, the laws of physics will change to accommodate your wishes), and then the farmer showed up to yell at them too.

So there we were with glaring adults and big-eyed children.  I was waiting for the finger-pointing and the meltdown and I was ready to dish out some Very Serious Consequences.  But that was when E. said, “Listen.  It’s my fault.  I went in and they came in to get me out.  I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed.”  The farmer looked at me and I think realized they were in much more trouble on the homefront than they were with the farm.  He asked, “So now you know you did something wrong?  And if I had a cable across that row you wouldn’t have gone in?  We want to make sure you’re safe, you know.”

I don’t know what you would have done but for me it was to give the children a hug.  And then we shared our first cider donuts of the season sitting around a picnic table talking about how to decide what’s allowed and what’s safe, about how smart it was to stay together and keep each other okay.

In the end it was one of those golden moments when our children show us the beautiful people they’re becoming, even if there’s plenty of crazy along the way.

And then we went home to make a dinner of our first 2010 local apples, some good Cabot cheddar, and a pile of crackers, since I had no energy left for cooking.  On the way, E. said, “Mommy, you know it’s not really my fault.  They should have signs showing how to get out of that place!  Can you believe there was only one picture of the whole thing?!”


And now that we’ve recovered I want to share with you this pure summer harvest celebration of a recipe that we enjoyed last week after a much less adventurous visit to our CSA farm.  It was Z.’s idea to mix, “corn … and cheese … and broccoli and water … and I’ll stir it all up!”  I’m sure he was thinking something more mudpie-ish, but to me it sounded like chowder, and that’s what we made.

Cheesy Corn Potato Chowder
About 6 servings

1.  Remove the kernels from:

  • 3 ears fresh corn

and set aside.

2.  Heat until rippling in a large sauce pan:

  • 2 T. butter or olive oil

3.  Adjust heat to medium-low, and add:

  • 2 cups diced potatoes, with peels unless you really hate them
  • 1/2 cup sliced carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until carrots are softened, and onions are starting to brown gently.

4.  Stir in and mix very well:

  • 1/2 t. salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour (substitute your usual thickener if you’re going for gluten-free)

Then pour in, 1/2 cup at a time, and bring to a simmer while stirring.

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup water

5.  Stir in and cook at a low simmer just until broccoli turns bright green, about 3 minutes:

  • 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I use Cabot 50% reduced fat cheddar)
  • 1 cup finely chopped broccoli (or substitute spinach or chopped chard)
  • the reserved corn

Heat through, and serve.

Saved by Lettuce Soup 5

Posted on June 16, 2010 by crankycheryl

Oh, for crying out loud.

Here I am the day before CSA pick-up #2, with a crisper full of lettuce that’s about to be crowded by a lot more. Something drastic had to be done.

So I started thinking about lettuce, and how it has a lot in common with vegetables that tend to get much more diverse treatment like zucchini or cucumber: basically green containers of water without a terribly strong flavor of their own.  And I remembered running into a lettuce soup recipe somewhere out there on Planet Internet, and put this together with what needed to be used up around here.

This particular version yielded a tart, fresh, creamy soup that I served warm.  But you should feel free to serve it cold and make any substitutions – soy or coconut milk for the cream and/or yogurt, drop in a couple teaspoons of hot sauce instead of the salsa, toss in a grated cucumber or whatever you like.   Remember: soup is here to use up what you’ve got and you’ve got to make it work for you.

Green & Creamy Lettuce Soup
4 servings

Put in a blender:

  • Half of the leaves from one head of any mild-flavored leaf lettuce (it doesn’t have to be perfectly crisp), reserving the rest to be added in as the soup purees
  • 3/4 cup low fat yogurt
  • 1 avocado, minus peel and pit
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup salsa (I used a medium-spicy salsa verde that was lurking around)
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 T. light cream

Pulse the soup to puree, adding in the rest of the lettuce as there’s room.  Heat just until warm, or serve cold.

Dinner from the Freezer: Roasted Chicken & Mediterranean Vegetables 0

Posted on January 15, 2010 by crankycheryl

By the time the locally grown salsa ingredients were ripe last year, I had already grown completely sick of canning.  After the strawberry jam, the blueberry jam, and the apricot jam, even the thought of washing the jars and the lids and rings made me shudder.

But then it was late summer and the bounty was in and I was confronted with the memory of running out of homemade salsa mid-winter.  I faced off with a countertop full of fresh-from-the-CSA pick-up onions, tomatillos, and plum tomatoes in September, but just couldn’t rally.  Sighing, I stuck them in bags and containers in the freezer with the hopeful thought that I’d get around to making salsa over the winter.

I have not made salsa this winter.  It’s made me sad on occasion, but it turned out to be good news when we had a friend over for dinner last night and I was able to grab those frozen containers, defrost them, and then with CrankyGreg turn them into something really good.

Oven-Roasted Chicken with Mediterranean Vegetables
Serves 4

Pat dry:

  • 8 chicken thighs

Mix together in a bowl:

  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 t. fennel seeds (lightly crushed with a mortar and pestle, or the back of a spoon if you have time)
  • 1/4 t. cayenne powder
  • 1/2 t. lemon or orange peel
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder

Rub the chicken with the mix, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400.

Here’s the list of what we used.  Pick and choose as you like.  Either chop fresh into 1 1/2″ cubes (large because they’ll shrink as they cook), or thaw frozen:

  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 3 c. tomatillos
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 bulb fennel
  • 2 small zucchini
  • 2 cups  green beans
  • 2 large onions

Coat a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and spread the vegetables in a single layer.  Mix in with a wooden spoon or your hand:

  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 4 cloves sliced fresh garlic

Now it’s time to stop and assess the situation:

  • Are you starting with fresh vegetables and chicken?  If so, place the chicken pieces skin-side up on top of the vegetables and put in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the juices run clear when you pierce a thigh with your knife.
  • Are you starting with thawed frozen roasted vegetables like we did?  If so, put the chicken on a greased baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes, then add the pan of roasted vegetables and cook for 20 more.  You could even put the chicken on top of the vegetables and pour the pan drippings on top if you want to get crazy.

On the side, we had baguette from August First, and some good red wine.

And then dessert was Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra ice cream floated in a chocolate stout.  (I’m not mentioning which one only because it was far too bitter/hoppy to be perfect for the job.  Had I looked into it more, I’d have ended up with Magic Hat Howl or Guinness or something else milder.)  Why is this picture so much bigger?  Because I like it.

And then I fell asleep on the couch.

Pickles, Green-sicles, & Food Shame 6

Posted on July 13, 2009 by crankycheryl

The harvest is coming in and I’m determined to preserve everything I can this year.

Must not compost more vegetables.
Must not compost more vegetables.
Must not compost more vegetables.

This weekend, I took all of the greens from the crisper – chard, kale, lamb’s quarters, broccoli raab and more from our CSA share- chopped it small, steamed it, cooled it, froze it in ice cube trays, and then popped ’em out into a plastic container to keep in the freezer so I can take it out in small portions to add to soup and baked goods and whatever all winter long.

liqueur and frozen greensicles 017

And this morning was my first foray into pickles, and I used Ball’s Home Preserving Book to make Refrigerator Pickles with a mix of zucchini and cucumbers.

pickles 004

I could have sworn I had seen dill growing here in the cohousing garden, but I was out of luck, so they became:

Pickled Coriander Zuke & Cuke Spears
About 5 pints

  • 8 1/4 c. of cucumber and zucchini, scrubbed with a gentle brush, each end cut off, cut lengthwise into quarters (or 8ths if too thick), and cut in half horizontally to fit into jars if needed
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 T. pickling or canning salt
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 T. pickling spice
  • 5 flower heads from cilantro plants
  • 7 1/2 t. coriander seeds
  • 1 1/4 t. whole black peppercorns
  • 5 t. mustard seeds (I only had brown on hand)
  • 5 cloves of garlic (optional – I was out of the fresh stuff and left it out)
  • Place cucumber/zucchini slices in a large glass, stainless steel or ceramic bowl, and set aside.
  • Combine vinegar, water, pickling salt, sugar and pickling spice in a medium stainless steel saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Pour pickling liquid over sliced vegetables.  Cover with a plate (the recipe says to use waxed paper but why waste something disposable?) and set aside until cooled to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  • While waiting, distribute the cilantro flowers, coriander seeds (why do we call the fresh parts one thing and the seeds another, anyway?), mustard seeds, peppercorns, and garlic (if using) among the 5 jars.  When vegetables and liquid have cooled sufficiently, use tongs to put spears into jars.  Ladle liquid into each jar to cover, leaving “generous” 1/2″ of headspace at the top.  Apply lids.
  • Let marinate for at least 2 weeks, and use within 3 months.

Oh, and when I moved the canning book from the top of the refrigerator, my eagle-eyed little wildmen spied their nine month old Halloween treats.  I’ll let the remains of their morning snack provide my shameful confession:

pickles 005

You know, just in case I started feeling smug and overly natural and the like.

Green Tea Salad, or, The Legacies We Don't Choose 0

Posted on May 30, 2009 by crankycheryl
Leaves of Green Tea

Leaves of Green Tea

The summer before last, my mother and I made plans for her to come for lunch one day.  I was searching through the cupboards for inspiration when I spied a bag of green tea.  A dear family friend had brought it back from China the winter before, not long before she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  She had died earlier that spring, and as I looked at the bag in my hand, I felt my eyes grow misty.  I had a napa cabbage from our CSA share in the fridge, and  remembered a recipe for Burmese Green Tea Salad from the excellent Hot & Spicy & Meatless 2, and I knew I wanted to make it in memory of Ann.

Ann was a lifelong family friend who I thought of like an aunt.   She was there through my childhood, and then visited us in Vermont when we moved here.  She and Mark would come and we would go for Sunday brunches and birding walks.  They were the first to show me the snow geese who visit near here on their way to and from breeding grounds each year.  They themselves were migratory friends, stopping here to listen and laugh about whatever was happening in our lives, greeting my children when they were born, bringing gifts and showing pictures of their own grandchildren.  She was a mom of two sons who I admired and looked to for advice as I began to raise my own.

I reflected on all this as I began gathering ingredients for the salad.  The preparation became a tribute, noble and important.  I pressed, marinated and baked tofu to give us some protein.   My mom came over, and we ate, talking about Ann, and trying to decide whether we liked the salad.  It was a little weird eating all that tannic tea, but we ate until it was gone.

Later that afternoon, the boys and I were invited to a playground for a birthday party.  It was around then that I realized I was feeling quite strange.  The kids noisily descending and climbing the slide seemed especially funny, and I couldn’t seem to stop talking to the other moms.  Not that I was inclined to try.  I thought, “Gosh, I seem kind of wired!”

I stopped and thought about what I had eaten and drank that day, I remembered the salad, and did some quick math.  I had doubled the recipe, since we were having it for lunch instead of an appetizer, so that we had each eaten about 1/3 of a cup of green tea, which was about, oh, 18 cups of caffeinated tea.  My mom and I both ended up awake until one that morning; I used the time to reflect on how none of us really gets to choose the legacy we leave behind, or how we’ll be remembered.  It may have been surreal, but I like to think Ann would have approved.

La Phet (Green Tea Salad)
Hot & Spicy & Meatless 2, as collected by Richard Sterling from Renatto Buhlman, executive chef of the Strand Hotel.

4 servings (but better make it more like 6 or 8, just in case)

  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 c. peanut oil
  • 1/3 c. loose green tea leaves
  • 2 T. coarsely chopped peanuts
  • 1 T. toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 t. sugar
  • 3/4 c. finely shredded napa cabbage or bok choy
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/4 t. cayenne powder

For garnish:

  • Lime wedges
  • Whole dried red chiles

Fry the garlic in 2 teaspoons of the oil until it starts to brown.

Combine the tea leaves and the remainder of the oil, and, using your fingers, knead the oil into the leaves until the oil is well distributed.  Let the mixture sit at least one hour or until the leaves soften.  If your tea is extremely dy, you may want to add a few drops of water.  Add the garlic, peanuts, sesame seeds, sugar, cabbage, lime juice, and cayenne and mix well.  Garnish with lime and chiles and serve.

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