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

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Adorable Empanadas, or How I Scored a Princess Bat 3

Posted on February 19, 2011 by crankycheryl

Z.’s kindergarten teacher saw that I was making empanadas on a Facebook post, and asked if I might come in and do them with the class.  They were wrapping up their five-senses unit, and a hands-on cooking activity seemed a fun way to use those senses.

If you’re not familiar with them, empanadas are little turnovers popular in South America and parts of the Caribbean.  The crust is flaky like a pie crust, though just a bit more doughy.  Often filled with spiced ground meat, they can also contain vegetables, beans, even sweet fruit fillings (think portable pie).  I let Z. pick the flavor (potato and cheese) and started the planning.

The constraints were time and food safety, and the desire to give them a good product that they could succeed at while feeling proud of.   (If you’ve ever cooked with a group of kids you know that they can feel cheated if they don’t have something substantial to do in the creation of the food.)

The solution was to prepare the filling and crust ahead of time, and to leave out the raw eggs or anything that could be dangerous if a kid found himself sampling the ingredients raw.   Easy.  So, with my bag full of dough and filling, I arrived for the activity, we talked about how we use our senses to see the food we’re making, and listen to its crunch or sizzle, and smell its delicious smells.  Then we washed hands thoroughly (I’ve seen what these people do with those hands) and off we went.

Potato & Cheese Empanadas
About 20 turnovers

The Filling

Mix together thoroughly:

  • 4 c. leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 c. shredded cheddar
  • 1/2 c. butternut squash puree (totally optional, but I have a reputation to maintain)
  • 3/4 t. salt

Set aside.

The crust

1.  Place in a large bowl or food processor:

  • 6 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 2 t. salt

Stir or pulse until combined, then add:

Pulse or mix until mixture looks like coarse crumbs.  Drizzle over the top:

  • about 1 1/4 c. water

Pulse just a few times or mix gently with fork until dough is just dampened enough to gather into a ball.

2.  Divide into ~20 flat disks, each with a piece of parchment or wax paper between them.  Refrigerate for an hour, or until you’re ready to proceed.  N.B. – If you do make this ahead of time, make sure you give the dough an hour at room temperature to get it to a workable consistency before proceeding.

Construction

1.  Preheat oven to 400.

2.  Take each disk one at a time, and roll it or press it into a circle.  In our class we distributed a piece of parchment to each kid, which is worth bringing in if your fabulous teacher doesn’t have it right at hand.

Press the dough (or help the kids press the dough) into a circle.  The shape doesn’t matter terribly, but it should at least have even edges and be symmetrical so it will fold over and seal neatly in an upcoming step.

3.  Take a rounded tablespoon of the filling, and put it just below the center of the circle.  Kids will need help with this as they’ll be likely to put too much filling on for it to close up properly.  How you deal with that is up to you – it’s not a bad idea to let kids learn some food science by seeing what happens when they make different cooking choices.  On the other hand, it’s nice to let everyone succeed in a class setting.

4.  Fold over the dough from top to bottom and seal by pressing.  If your dough is at all crumbly, dipping your finger in water and running it along the edge can help the edges sort of glue together.  Use a fork to crimp the edges, and then place each on an ungreased baking sheet until they’re all completed.

5.  Poke each with a fork two or three times.  Then give them an egg wash by beating

  • an egg or two with a little milk or water and then brushing on the top.

Then we had to run, run, run our empanadas to the kitchen to have them baked before pizzas went in the oven for Pizza Day.  You don’t mess with Pizza Day.

5.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until nicely browned.  Let cool for a few minutes (or the amount of time it takes to run back up the hall to your classroom) and then cut in half and eat.

What we found was that about half the kids were willing to try them, and most of those loved them.  Z. was too conflicted by the warring emotions associated with having me in the classroom and just couldn’t manage eating a new food too.  But one of his friends especially loved them, and that’s how I got my very own Princess Bat.

Swoon.

Valentine’s Day Meringues 0

Posted on February 12, 2011 by crankycheryl

They’re pink, they’re sweet, they’re simple and light as air, and they’re my entry for the City Market We Love Local Food Dessert Recipe Challenge.

City Market is acceptng entries until 2/20 and you should feel free to go ahead and enter, but don’t make anything better than this because I want to win the year of maple syrup, okay?

A couple of notes in advance:

  • Make sure you’ve got parchment or silpat sheets ready ahead of time.  You really need the easy-release feature for meringues.
  • Have a roasted beet around and this will come together very quickly.
  • For the purposes of striving for an extra-beautiful picture, I decided I was going to try to make really beautiful meringues and went to the trouble of loading up my pastry decorator-tube thing and attempted to pipe out shapes.  I didn’t get better results than I do just using a spoon, but you should give it a try if you want.

Naturally Pink Meringues
About 30 meringues

1.  Preheat oven to 250.

2.  Have ready:

  • 1 medium roasted beet, pureed until exceedingly smooth with 2 T. maple syrup
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup

3.  Beat until they stand in firm peaks:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 1/8 t. cream of tartar
  • tiny pinch sea salt
  • (optional: 1 t. vanilla or rosewater)

 

4.  With the beater still going, add in:

  • 2 T. beet puree, one tablespoon at a time
  • maple syrup, in three slow pours

Beat well until well incorporated and a lovely shade of pink.

5.  Drop by heaping tablespoons on parchment-covered baking sheets.  Place in oven and turn heat down to 225.  Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, then turn off heat and leave in oven for several hours (I always leave them in over night).

Gently remove and store in a covered container for up to 2-3 weeks.

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?!”

Indeed.

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.

Stuffed Grape Leaves: Further Encounters with Weed-Eating 2

Posted on June 10, 2010 by crankycheryl

So at last I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the truth is that I’m liking it so much that I’m a little bit embarrassed.

I was sure that I was going to find it a total snoozer, and roll my eyes at all the stuff I already know.  Like I need to be taught how to eat locally and why it’s a good idea?  But reading it is like talking to another localvore friend, one who’s clever and funny and self-deprecating and good-hearted, and not as “preachy” as I’ve heard the book described.

Maybe that’s why I took it a little personally when I read the passage about how my new BFF’s year of eating locally was going to mean growing food and buying from local farmers.  And ABSOLUTELY NOT going to include gleaning weeds by the roadside because she didn’t want to fit some low-class stereotype.

Ahem.

I like collecting weeds, and I’m okay with knowing that my sons will grow up to be mortified by the habit.  It’s okay because one day they’ll appreciate my boundless creativity and thriftiness.  Of course by then I’ll be dead and my ghost will be hovering over the heads of their wives or husbands saying things like, “Really?  You’re too good for that?  You’re just going to throw out the peel and those greens and not even make soup out of it?  And what the hell is that thing you’re wearing?  You call that a shirt?”

But here and now my target is grape leaves (well, grape leaves plus eight uninterrupted hours of sleep and maybe paying my bills on time for once).  The vines are absolutely everywhere, and I’m gearing up for a big harvest and preservation.

And in the meantime, I’m preparing lots of dolmades with the fresh ones.  They’re a quick snack or meal, taste great, are gluten- and dairy-free, and easily made vegan.  Come on by and join me among the weeds.

Stuffed Grape Leaves
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
About 40 rolls

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over:

  • About 40 large grape leaves (or 2 small jars if you haven’t gotten the fresh wild ones around).

Let sit for 1 hour.

In the meantime mix well together in a large bowl:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (locally, humanely raised)
  • (if you want a vegetarian version substitute 2 cups dried lentils plus 1/3 cup of water for the meat)
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (your choice – I used oregano and thyme)
  • 1/3 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 T. salt (don’t skimp)
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Line a large saucepan with several leaves.  Then roll the remaining leaves by placing a leaf on a small plate or cutting board, vein-side up and with the stem facing you.  Put a heaping teaspoon of filling about an inch above the leaf’s bottom.  Fold over the left and right sides, then roll from bottom to top and place in the pan with the flap-side down.  Roll the rest of them and place in concentric circles in the pan, building to a second level as necessary.  Save a few smaller grape leaves aside.

Drizzle over the top:

  • 3-4 T. olive oil

Pour in:

  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 2 cups stock/broth or water,

Place remaining grape leaves on top, and cover with a small plate (this will ensure that all the stuffed leaves are sufficiently submerged).  Cover the pan and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the rice and meat/lentils are cooked.  Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature – which is how much Mediterranean food tends to be eaten.

Rhubarb Cake & 5-Minute Apple Pie Ice Cream 0

Posted on May 19, 2010 by crankycheryl

Why am I making sweets during a week that includes Restaurant Week, a foodie tour with a food-blogger who just moved to the area, AND our elementary school’s biggest sugarfest of the year?  Just no self-control around here at all, I tell you.

Still, the freezer clean-out continues while the local farmers are showing up with great fresh food and what’s a food-loving mom to do?

So it was 5-Minute Ice Cream with:

  • 12 oz. apple pie filling from the freezer (you could freeze your own if there’s none lurking in yours)
  • 2/3 c. soy milk
  • 2 T. maple syrup

And it was Rhubarb Coffee Cake from the FarmPlate blog, using Champlain Valley Mill pastry flour, and olive oil for all but 3 T. of the butter.  (That’s Glenn Russell from the Free Press in the background beside E. eating his lunch.   Glenn was over to get a shot of a local food blogger in action.  E. insisted he also get a picture of his 2-hot dog, 3-strawberry lunch – we’ll see what makes the cut.)

And now for more eating.

Dandelion Greens, Potato & Egg Breakfast 0

Posted on April 09, 2010 by crankycheryl

The spring greens are up and I am a weed-picking fool.  Would you join me please?  Seriously – just go outside and pick a pile of dandelion greens before the flowers bloom and leave thgreens terribly bitter.  Then you’ll wash them very carefully.  Maybe even a soak in a water-bath with 1/4 c. of white vinegar in it.  Keep rinsing and soaking until they’re clean enough for you. (Over here, that was 4 times.)

Then you can go ahead and make yourself a breakfast worthy of a spring celebration.

Dandelion Greens, Potato, & Egg Breakfast, with or without Bacon
Serves 2

Wash repeatedly until clean:

  • 4 – 6 c. dandelion greens

If you want to eat bacon, cook until desired crispness and then remove from pan:

  • (For a vegetarian version heat 3 T. olive oil until rippling)

Cut:

  • 2 large potatoes into medium cube.

Saute in oil or cook in bacon grease over medium high heat, until browned, then cover pan with a lid and cook for about 20 minutes or until done.

Add to pan and cook until greens are wilted:

  • those dandelion greens you washed so well
  • generous sprinkle of kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Scramble and then add to pan:

  • 4 large eggs

(Vegan? Mash up and add  1 package of firm tofu instead.)

Cook until eggs are done (or tofu is heated through).  Scramble together.  If using bacon, crumble and mix in.  Serve with your favorite hot sauce.

Blessed Silence Sunday: Jr. Iron Chef Slideshow 2

Posted on March 28, 2010 by crankycheryl

Green Wraps & Chocolate Guinness Cake for St. Patrick’s Day 0

Posted on March 17, 2010 by crankycheryl

Filed under the category of “Things My Children Ought to Have Liked but Instead Were the Cause of Great Consternation and Caterwauling” are these wraps that were yummy, simple, adorable, healthy, made with nearly all local ingredients, and a fun twist on St. Patrick’s Day. Dangit.

I had meant to make Green Eggs & Ham for Dr. Seuss’s birthday earlier this month but never seemed to have all the ingredients at the same time.  Then fresh spinach arrived from a friend’s CSA share, and off we went.

Green Egg Wraps with Bacon
Makes about 6 wraps

Place in a blender and puree the heck out of:

  • 2 cups of fresh spinach leaves, well washed, stems removed
  • 2 eggs

Pour the egg-spinach mixture into a medium bowl and beat in:

  • 4 eggs
  • salt & pepper to taste

In the meantime, cook:

  • 8 strips of bacon (a couple of extra never hurt)

And warm up:

  • 4 or 6 whole grain wraps

I do both of these in one easy, lazy step by placing the bacon on a rack on a broiler pan that fits in my convection oven and broiling it for 10 or so minutes, until it’s as crispy as we like.  At the same time, I place the wraps on top of the oven.  They end up just warm enough and I’m not fussing with extra dishes or labor.

While the bacon’s going, cook the eggs in a skillet until set.

Into each warm wrap, place:

  • 1 slice of cheese (we used Muenster)
  • 1 piece of bacon
  • a couple scoops of green eggs
  • favorite add-ins: tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, hot sauce, jalapenos, whatever you like.

Then wrap ’em up and serve.

For dessert we made Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Guinness Cake.  It was great, and I even lucked out and found some cream cheese frosting in the freezer to thaw to put on the top.

However, I would note that when a recipe calls for a 9″ springform pan, it really and truly doesn’t mean an 8″ springform pan.  Not that that’s a mistake you would ever make.

Braised Short Ribs with Bright Vegetables and Dark Beer 2

Posted on October 25, 2009 by crankycheryl

apple butter short ribs 009In the cool weather I rely on two basic cooking techniques: roasting and braising.  These are essentially opposite processes.  The former relies on high-temperature dry heat, creating caramelization and intensifying individual flavors of ingredients.  Braising is slow and moist, all about the slow exchange of flavors as liquid is drawn out of and then returns to the food being cooked, creating more complex flavors that keep recombining and enriching throughout the cooking time.

Molly Stevens points out in her excellent “All About Braising” that home cooks tend to think of braising as complicated and unfamiliar.  But many classic dishes are created this way (think coq au vin, osso buco) that it’s really not that far afield.

For vegetarian readers tempted to toss the idea aside because it seems so meat-focused, I’d point to the excellent braised root and winter vegetables and the transformation they undergo when treated to this slow and gentle process, like this cabbage.

But it’s true that braises transform the humblest cuts of meat into something delectable.  These too-often wasted “budget cuts” become simply wonderful.  And perhaps the very best thing about braising is that each dish’s leftovers are invariably better than the original.  Go ahead and double the amount you want to eat the first time around so you can take advantage.

All this is why my ears pricked up when I heard Erik from Wells Family Farm talking about how he had something that was “only” $4 a pound at our CSA pick-up a couple of weeks ago.  (The link to their Vermont farm is here, but the site is under construction).  Words like “only” and “economy” often mean “perfect for braising” when it comes to meat prices, as I was delighted to have confirmed.  So I picked up four pounds of short ribs, thinking of Stevens’s book and knowing I’d find something great to make.

When I got home with that week’s vegetables (the last of the mild and hot peppers, tomatoes, some potatoes, along with the rest), and the ribs, I put together this braise, using the cookbook’s clear steps.  It’s a warm and deeply flavored fall dish that’s perfect for cool evenings.

Short Ribs with Bright Vegetables and Dark Beer
Technique adapted from Molly Stevens
6 servings, depending on the ribs

  • 4 lbs. (more or less) beef short ribs
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 3 cloves (or more) garlic
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 2 green tomatoes (or substitute tomatillos or just more red ones), cored and chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 4 medium waxy potatoes, peels left on, chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 2 poblano peppers, roasted, seeded, peeled and cooled, cut into 1″ squares (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 c. dark beer (I used Magic Hat’s Fall 2009 Odd Notion, a chocolate stout, which was delightful.  You can put the whole beer in if you like, or you can sip a little as you drink, like I did.)
  • 1 c. strong stock or water
  • 6 c. lacinato kale or Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 300.
  2. Trim any excess fat from the ribs.  The ones I bought were already trimmed, so I skipped this.  Be careful to leave the “silverskin” or connective tissue between the ribs.
  3. apple butter short ribs 002Salt the ribs and place on a plate.  Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot (it must have a tight-fitting lid and be completely ovenproof) until rippling.    Place one rack of ribs in pot and cook over medium heat until browned on the side that’s down, letting the meat stay still for 3 or 4 minutes, and then turning.  Repeat and then remove to plate, repeating for all the ribs.
  4. If there is more than enough fat in the pot than is needed to coat the bottom, drain the fat from the bottom of the fat and then add just enough back to provide that coating.
  5. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes, then the chopped garlic.  Cook until lightly translucent.  Add the peppers, tomatoes/tomatillos, potatoes.  Saute until lightly browned.  Add salt and pepper, about 1/2 t. of each to start.  Add bay leaves.
  6. Place ribs on top, then pour beer and broth over.  Bring to a boil, then place the lid on top and put the pot in the oven.

Here’s a fascinating video of boiling vegetables, in which you’ll see that I brought said vegetables to a boil before returning the meat to the pot.

Vegetables for Braise, Boiling from crankycakes on Vimeo.

7.  Set a timer for two hours.  Cook for about 2 1/2 hours in total, gently turning the meat every 45 minutes or so.  If the liquid is boiling vigorously, turn down the heat 10 or 15 degrees.   When the timer goes off, add the kale or chard and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Replace the lid and place back in the oven to finish cooking.

8.  The last steps are up to you.  Molly Stevens might recommend that you remove the meat and vegetables to a plate while reducing the liquid and removing excess fat.  We didn’t end up with lots of fat on top and just wanted to eat, so I plated it up after just letting it sit for 10 or 15 minutes.  We opened up a bottle of East Shore Vineyard’s Cabernet Franc (since the last beer was in the food), which was a great fit.

The leftovers, predictably, were just wonderful a couple of nights later.  I cut the meat off the bones and cubed it before reheating, then wrapped the meat and vegetables in crepes with a little chevre.  Awfully good.  Z. ate two and didn’t seem to even notice how many vegetables he was eating.  His brother, after rejecting the cheese and apple butter crepe I had made for him, ended up with a smoothie.  Everyone was happy.

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