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

CrankyCakes



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.

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.

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.

Local, and Good Enough 0

Posted on October 03, 2009 by crankycheryl

Butternut Squash Harvest from Burlington's Intervale Community Farm

I’m still ruminating on the EatLocalVT challenge.   And surprised by how much the whole prospect has made me think.

If you read along with me in recent weeks, you know I had some cynical twinges, some eye-rolling moments when I just wanted to throw in the towel, feeling like I ought to feel guilty because I didn’t do without something or other.

But, while true, there was something more.  Something more spiritual than the tangible goals of supporting  neighbor farmers, of keeping our dollars in the local economy, of reducing the environmental impact of getting our food to us.

I found honesty and depth in eating the food that comes from the very land under our own feet.  There’s a primal connection in eating from places we can walk in and breathe deeply of, in eating food grown by people we know and value.  It feels like real living, to be sustained by what is here and now.

And there’s something else that quietly whispers, “What is around you is enough.”  I’m far from pure, but I see more now how I’m confused by the constant presence of everything all the time.

What do you do with it?  It’s nearly impossible to ask the average person to eat local Vermont food all the time, all year long.  And should we  be asking that?  What about the new book that points to other problems in our food production and distribution system?  What about the cynics who find the whole proposition laughable in thge first place?

To choose to eat and enjoy the things that are from here and now is not to be deprived, but is a celebration of what is real.  And delicious, of course.  I’m closing this quickly so I can run down to the farmer’s market to get as many of the last of the great local plums as we can.  Then I get the boys and we’re off to Pumpkin Day at our CSA, then home for homemade localvore chicken soup, and a doubled-up dessert so I can bring a treat to a neighbor who’s recovering from surgery.

What could be better, in any sense of the word?

Blessed Silence Sunday: Plums 0

Posted on September 27, 2009 by crankycheryl

0926091058

The quiet throngs around Plum Hill Farm’s stand at the Burlington Farmer’s Market.  Next week is the last one for their amazing fresh plums this year.

Brain Hurts, Mouth is Happy: Day 5 of Localvore Challenge 5

Posted on September 23, 2009 by crankycheryl

[originally posted at EatLocalVT.com]

Well, “brain hurts” seems crazy on a day that includes this apple galette from August First (local flour from a Quebec miller and Canadian farmers, local Pippin apples).

But you know, it’s true.  And while eating this most excellent pastry was a ridiculously wonderful experience for the senses, there were worries like this:

“There are almonds in here.  They make it delicious.  I’m not supposed to be eating almonds this week.  What kind of phony faker am I?  Ooh, that was a good bite.  Oh hell.  I’m no good for this.  But the apples and flour are local and Jodi and Phil sure are doing what they can to support local farmers and businesses.  Mmmm.  I really love almonds.  How did my galette disappear already?”

There’s so much good food in Vermont, and such an incredible community of people who produce it.  Who can help wanting to be part of the localvore movement?  But I’m finding that trying to adhere to a strict dogma about it is just making me crabby.

I don’t want to be crabby.  I want to cook great food for the people I love, and I want as much of it as possible to come from people around me.  I want my food choices to reflect my caring for people near and far, and for this beautiful place we live.

Yesterday I had this wonderful moment.  I was out in the garden picking tomatoes to have on our pasta, walking past the giant yellow marigolds still going crazy out there.  Every flower seemed to have an ecstatic bumblebee in it, wiggling and searching for nectar and just dancing there in the late afternoon sun.   I want to be that, I thought, that pure and that present, right here and now, up to my elbows in all the bounty that Vermont can provide.  Not quibbling with myself over an almond or two when there’s so much to dig in to.

Tantrums, Steve Martin & Homemade Pasta: Midway Thru the Localvore Challenge 4

Posted on September 22, 2009 by crankycheryl

0922091652

[originally posted at EatLocalVT.com]

When people were first telling me about eating local, I liked when I heard about this concept of “wild cards,” which meant that, yes, the food would be essentially what was grown within 100 miles, but that I could make exceptions.  Like coffee.  Olive oil.  Bananas.  Chocolate. Maybe citrus.  Probably spices.

The list kept growing.  I began to get like Navin in The Jerk:

I don’t need anything except this.

[picks up an ashtray]

And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray.

And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one – I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure.

And this.   And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.

[walking outside]

And I don’t need one other thing, except my dog.

[dog barks]

I don’t need my dog.

There were just too many things I would have started to negotiate for, yes, even for just one week, so I tried to simplify.   We picked the most essential things: peanut butter (all of us), frosted shredded wheat (6 y.o.), canned peaches (4 y.o.) and coffee (me, but it really is for the greater good).  And the rest, to the best of our abilities, is food “grown by our neighbors.”

It’s providing limitless Fascinating Explanations and Interesting Facts, like:

I see from how you’re lying on the floor screaming that the butterscotch pudding isn’t what you wanted.  You probably wanted chocolate, right?  Well, did you know that chocolate comes from a big yellow fruit?  And that that fruit – it’s called cacao – only grows in very warm places?  Did Mommy ever tell you about when she went to live in a tent in a place called Belize and helped harvest chocolate in the jungle …

Riveting stuff, I assure you.

But for many of us, the food day was pretty darn good.  It was those yummy waffles with maple syrup for breakfast (mine was burnt and slathered with homemade jam before being wolfed down on the way to a.m. drop-offs), Does’ Leap goat Caprella, Plum Hill farm plums, and homemade-with-Gleason-Grains whole wheat sourdough bread for grown-up lunch.

Dinner was homemade-no-machine-needed whole wheat pasta for dinner, also made with Gleason Grains bread flour, cooked, drained, buttered, and tossed with Vermont Butter & Cheese chevre, wilted swiss chard, and halved grape tomatoes from the garden.  Some of us had the aforementioned butterscotch pudding for dessert, while others elected to have pure localvore temper tantrums instead.  We go on.

Monkey Menu Monday: Tiny Russian Pancakes 0

Posted on September 21, 2009 by crankycheryl

0921091302aSo here we are on Day 3 of the EatLocal 100 mile challenge.  And it’s Monday, the day I cajole the boys into picking a meal from the international cookbook I keep foisting on them.

Last night we flipped through and landed on the Russia page, which contained the tiny pancakes called Sirniki (SEER-nih-ki, according to the helpful pronunciation key).

So that plus a fruit shake (Adam’s blueberries, Strafford Creamery Smooth Maple Ice Cream, and milk) became tonight’s dinner.  I added some pureed baked butternut squash to the pancakes, which is what I nearly always do to unsuspecting pancakes and baked goods here in the CrankyHouse.

Reading the recipe over made me think that these must have been a traditional dairy farm meal, since they call for a veritable sampler of dairy ingredients.  (If any vegan friends stop by, please do let me know if you see a way to veganize this one.  I couldn’t figure it out.)  The results are very cheesy, light, and savory.  I also like that they have no added leavening, instead relying on the beaten egg whites for their lightness.  The boys just ate them – all of them, 17 each –  plain, though we could have had them with the traditional sour cream, and the one I actually got to try would have been heavenly with some homemade jam.

Butternut Squash Sirniki
Makes about 25 – 35 tiny pancakes

  • 1/2 c. soft cream cheese (I bought some local stuff – pricey but good)
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour, sifted
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin or butternut squash puree
  • 4 T. butter

For serving (optional):

  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1/2 c. apricot or other preserves
  1. Mash the cream cheese with a wooden spoon until it’s smooth.
  2. Beat the yolks into the cream cheese, and add in the sugar, salt and squash puree.  Beat until very smooth.
  3. Stir in the cottage cheese, then add the flour.
  4. Beat egg whites until they’re white and stiff and hold a peak.
  5. Gently fold egg whites into the batter.
  6. Heat 2 T. butter in large frying pan just until lightly bubbling.
  7. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons into the frying pan, and cook until the bottoms are set and the top looks nearly dry, about 2 minutes.  Flip over and cook for another 2 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat and keep warm while you cook the rest.
  9. Serve plain, with sour cream, jam, both, or whatever other kooky thing you come up with.

Blessed Silence Sunday: Zucchini Tarte Tatin 0

Posted on September 20, 2009 by crankycheryl

cohousing intl meal 013

Zucchini-Polenta-Chevre Tarte Tatin a la Guilty Kitchen.  We made 6 of these to serve to a group of 20 international guests of our cohousing community this week, along with Maple Brined Chicken, Roasted Vegetable Salad and Elderberry-Blackberry Sorbet.  Hooray for the Vermont harvest!

A Localvore Nod to National Butterscotch Pudding Day 1

Posted on September 19, 2009 by crankycheryl

With incredible good fortune and nearly incalculable odds, National Butterscotch Pudding Day and the EatLocalVT challenge have converged.   How better to celebrate than to make a Vermont version of this homey and comforting dessert, no?

Just do be sure to use everything local you can get your hands on, if you please.

This version is adapted from David Leibowitz, who melted my heart with this intro on his original post:

One decision I refuse to let you make is to be one of those people that wants to press plastic wrap on top of the puddings to avoid that delicious, chewy skin that forms on top.

If you don’t like pudding skin, why are you eating pudding in the first place? That’s the best part and you don’t want to be in the category of a big loser.

Now, do you?

Awesome.

Maple Butterscotch Pudding
Serves 4-6

  • 4 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 c. maple sugar, maple syrup, or brown sugar if you must
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt
  • 3 T. cornstarch
  • 2½ c. whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons whiskey (optional, and I’m thinking about that apple brandy I hear that Shelburne Orchards has in its still once it’s ready)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream for serving.

1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add maple sugar and salt, then stir until the sugar is well-moistened. Remove from heat.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with about 1/4 cup of the milk until smooth (there should be no visible pills of cornstarch), then whisk in the eggs.

3. Gradually pour the remaining milk into the melted maple sugar, whisking constantly, then whisk in the cornstarch mixture as well.

4. Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. Once it begins to bubble, reduce the heat to a low simmer and continue to cook for one minute, whisking non-stop, until the pudding thickens to the consistency of hot fudge sauce.

5. Remove from heat and stir in the whiskey (if using) and vanilla. If slightly-curdled looking, blend as indicated above.

6. Pour into 4-6 serving glasses or custard cups and chill thoroughly, at least four hours, before serving.  Top with whipped cream, if you like.

Photo from MyBakingHeart, Creative Commons license.

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