Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Food Warms Up The Memories

By Perry Washburn

Reprinted from the Des Moines Register

Tradition is a powerful motivator. Since moving to Iowa four years ago, I have loved the Iowa State Fair because it is so rich in tradition. You can walk the barns and the buildings and see that families who have been showing off their talents there for generations.

Likewise, I am a good cook in large part because my Indiana family made food a huge priority. My grandmothers both ran restaurants, and my aunts and uncles excelled in the kitchen. My mom's gravestone proudly proclaims "world class pie baker." My siblings are fabulous cooks.

So my cooking is a family tradition.

And nothing reminds me of my Midwestern foodie roots more than the bountiful harvests of fruits and vegetables. Take me to a farmers market, and my mind races with the memories of dishes and family gatherings gone by.

"These cucumbers and onions are great," my daughter said earlier this summer. They were tart, crunchy, fresh and delicious, tossed simply with some vinegar and a bit of sugar. But this dish is not one of my staples.

"Why did you make this?" she asked. Because, I told her, I saw the cucumbers and thought of my mom.

On the drive home from a daughter's softball practice last week, I found myself pulling over suddenly. My daughter thought I was nuts. But there in a yard was a table full of tomatoes and squash, a scale, a coffee can and some simple directions. I happily weighed a couple of the best-looking tomatoes you've ever seen, and put the money in the coffee can. I smiled at my good fortune. My wife and daughters, who love fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, were in for a treat!

This time of year reminds me of fall harvests of the past, where Mom would excitedly call me to the garden. The broccoli is ready! Or the carrots, the beets. And she taught me simple rules. When you have something fresh and at the peak of flavor, you can let it be the star of the meal. With high-quality ingredients, simple often is better.

Often a little steam or some sautéing with butter is all you need for carrots, beets, turnips, broccoli and squash to shine. Perhaps add one fresh herb, say some thyme. The freshness explodes in your mouth. With fresh-from-the-garden flavor, you don't need complicated cooking methods or layers of ingredients.

My grandfather and I used to love digging potatoes in one of two huge family gardens. We especially prized the little ones, which Grandma or Mom would gently boil or roast, then toss with butter and parsley.

Grandad has been gone 40 years this summer. But a steaming bowl of fresh potatoes brings the tastes and memories flooding back. Pass the potatoes, please?

Perry's 2&1 rub

2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika

Here is a quick way to make your own rub. This is my theory: put in 2 teaspoons of the spices that should be in every rub. For me, those are salt, sugar and garlic powder. Then pick three of your favorites and add one teaspoon each of those. Most commercial rubs are salt heavy. If even this one has too much, move up the onion powder to the 2 teaspoon spot, and move the salt down to 1 teaspoon. Be creative on the 1 teaspoon side: Add dried herbs like thyme and basil, pepper or chilis, and/or spices with a zing like ginger, cinnamon, curry powder, etc. Have fun!

Perry's Cabbage and Chops

4 pork chops
4 tablespoons Perry's 2&1 Rub
1-2 tablespoons oil
1 small head cabbage (1.5 pounds) sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced
1 large tomato, diced
1 teaspoon oregano

Sprinkle rub onto pork chops and cover or place in a plastic bag. The longer you let the rub sit, the better it gets, although you can proceed immediately to the next step.

In a large skillet, heat the oil until hot. Over medium high heat, fry the pork chops until brown on the bottom and red juices are starting to come out the top. Turn, and brown the other side until done.

Take the pork chops out of the skillet and place on a heated platter and cover.

Add onions, cabbage, tomato and oregano to the skillet and cook, turning often, until the veggies are wilted. 8-10 minutes. (Some people like their cabbage just barely wilted, and bright green, and other like it cooked longer. Your choice.)

Put a heaping spoonful on each plate, and top with a chop.

Serves 4-6.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Carrot Soup

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

This soup is really tasty. This time of year when I have carrots in the garden, I make huge pots of it and freeze. One of those "wow" soups, it's simple and elegant.
I love using carrots in different ways and this recipe uses carrots along with a sweet potato and a baking potato (although today I dug potatoes from the garden.)

Saute in 1 T butter:
1 med onion minced

Add to the pot:
2 c sliced carrots
2 c chicken stock

Simmer until the carrots are tender. While they are cooking, microwave:
1 large sweet potato
1 large baking potato

Cut open the potatoes to cook and then scrape the potatoes (minus skins) into a food processor. Add the carrots, onions and broth and puree until smooth.

Return to the pot and:

3 c chicken stock
2 T fresh dill
salt and pepper

Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Roasted Tomato Sauce

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

This sauce is amazing! We have an abundance of tomatoes from the garden and having canned dozens and dozens of quarts of tomatoes and pints of BBQ sauce over the weekend, I needed a new way to use them. Marty walked into the kitchen while I was putting a pan of tomatoes in to roast and he scoffed at me. After he tasted the sauce, he says he is unscoffing!

Most roasted tomato recipes call for Roma tomatoes but I only have heirlooms (16 kinds). I picked a variety this afternoon, cut them in wedges maybe 2" at the thickest, and tossed them in a bowl with olive oil and salt. I prepared enough to cover a cookie sheet. I put a Silpat baking sheet on the cookie sheet (saves clean up), added the tomatoes in a single layer and roasted at 285 degrees for 2 1/2 hours. I turned the tomatoes once while roasting. The tomatoes were reduced in size and just beginning to brown when I removed them from the oven.

While they were roasting, we brought in from the garden a medium green pepper and onion and a huge handful of basil, about 3/4 c. We sauteed the minced veggies in olive oil with a minced clove of garlic, basil and salt and pepper. I had 3/4 lb of cooked bacon leftover from last night's BLTs and crumbled the bacon and added to the sauce pan. To this we added the entire pan of roasted tomatoes, stirred the mixture and cooked on medium heat for about 10 minutes.

We served the sauce on cappellini but it would also be great on pizza, mixed with risotto, or served on warm polenta.

This was an absolutely outstanding tomato sauce--rich and flavorful. Now I know what to do with my tomatoes in the garden! This weekend's project will be making pots of the sauce (minus the bacon) and freezing.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ajvar--Serbian "Salsa" with Red Peppers and Eggplants (Aubergine)

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

Ajvar! It is the end of summer and the red peppers and eggplants are plentiful so now is the time to make ajvar. Pronounced eye-vahr, this tasty spread was introduced to us by one of our Serbian kids when he brought a large jar from home to us. When we visited Serbia 2 years ago, we became addicted.

Imagine sitting down at a Serbian dinner table and having a large bowl of glorious roasted red peppers and eggplants in front of you with a plate of thick bread. Then imagine trying to eat anything else after stuffing yourself with ajvar. When Nathaniel was in Serbia last year on business, he asked the waiter for the roasted eggplant and pepper spread and he said, "Ah, ajvar." Ah, indeed.

This is basically a spread made of roasted eggplants and red peppers pureed with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, hot pepper, and parsley. We grow Serbian peppers in our garden and they are significantly different than American peppers. Peppers in Serbia are called paprikas and they are not as big around but longer. We have 3 kinds of Serbian peppers in our garden: large sweet, long hot, and tiny super hot.

I am canning ajvar now and hope to can about 20 small jars. Serving a small bowl of ajvar with good crackers to guests never ceases to bring the question: "What is this? It's amazing." Ajvar is so good but except for specialty stores that sell Balkan foods, you can't find it here. Trader Joe's sells a roasted pepper and eggplant spread which is basically ajvar but they probably didn't call it ajvar since no one would know what it is!

Eat an oven to 475 degrees.

2 large eggplants
6 large red peppers
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c olive oil
3 T fresh lemon juice
3 T chopped flat leaf parsley
salt, pepper
Hot pepper flakes--or roast a hot pepper with the sweet ones

Place the peppers and eggplants (aubergine) on a cooking sheet and roast 20-25 minutes until the skins of the peppers are black. Put the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, scrap out the pulp of the eggplant into a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients. When the peppers are cool, remove the blackened skin and seeds and add the peppers to the food processor. Pulse into smooth.

To can the ajvar, warm the ajvar in the microwave until hot to the touch throughout. Ladle into hot jars and can in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tomato, Cucumber, Onion & Basil Salad

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

Lunch. This is what I made for lunch today. Since I know I can't do this 2 months from now, I come home daily and make something from the garden. Today, I harvested 2 gorgeous tomatoes, a Japanese Black Trifle and Italian Rainbow, a cucumber, a red onion, and a handful of basil.

My salad was simple: the tomatoes still warm from the sun, with the other garden treasures, all cut into small bites and dressed simply with 1 1/2 T olive oil and 1 t balsamic vinegar.

We once had a similar salad in Ontario called Canadian slaw. I don't know why it was called a slaw. But it was also in the late summer and wonderful even if it surprised us when it arrived at the table.

The juice of the tomatoes blends with the oil and vinegar to make a superb dressing. I filled a large bowl with this salad and took it back to the office where each bite was like a bite of summer. Amazing. And none of it more than just a few minutes from the garden.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tzatziki--Cucumber Salad with Homemade Greek Yogurt

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

I picked the first Armenian cucumber today from the garden (the cold and the deer slowed their arrival) so I had to use one in one of my favorite salads: a simple Tzatziki, or Greek yogurt and cucumber salad.

Because I make my own yogurt at least once a week, I also make my own Greek yogurt. Even if you don't make your own yogurt, you can easily create a Greek style yogurt at home minus the hefty price tag. Greek yogurt is sometimes called strained yogurt because the whey is strained from regular yogurt. It is thick, tangy and so popular these days that Greek yogurt sales have grown nearly tenfold in the past few years.

To make Greek yogurt, pour plain yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth, place the strainer over a bowl, and put in the refrigerator over night. That's it. In the morning, the bowl will be filled with whey (which my puppy loves!). Squeeze the remaining whey out of the cheesecloth and then scrape from the cheesecloth the thick Greek yogurt.

In a bowl, whisk together:
1 T olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar
2 finely minced garlic cloves
1 1/2 c Greek yogurt

To this add finely chopped cucumbers, salt and pepper and stir to coat the cukes. I also added fresh dill since I have it in the garden. Chill several hours.

For an early post on making yogurt, scroll down the page and in the right hand column listing the labels, click on Yogurt.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Spicy Chickpeas & Tomatoes

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

Oh, is this tasty! I love spicy, Indian flavors and have fond memories of a chickpea & eggplant stew that I had at diner in Maine years ago. This version comes close.

This dish can be done with just the chickpeas and tomatoes but because the garden is flourishing right now, I added onions, green pepper, and eggplant to it. The result is a thick vegetable stew that makes a great side dish (would be great with the lamb we just got) or for lunch as I had it today.

The hands-on time for this dish is less than 10 minutes. If you stick with just the tomatoes and chickpeas, it takes about 5 minutes to prepare, another 20 to simmer. Fast and tasty!

3 T olive oil
3 T cumin
2 T coriander
1 t ginger
1 t cinnamon
cayenne pepper to taste--I added about 1/2 t--I love Penzey's black & red

1/2 med onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 qt canned tomatoes juice included
2 cans chickpeas/garbanzo beans
1 1/2 c chopped eggplant (I used a long, thin variety)
salt, pepper to taste
1/2 c chopped Italian parsley

Saute the onion and green pepper in the olive oil over medium heat until they just begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the spices and saute, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until the oil turns a deep, rich color. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature and top with chopped parsley.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Drying Herbs: Italian Parsley & Basil

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

For the next few weeks, we will be furiously "putting up" the herbs from our garden before the frost. Italian parsley is what I harvested today. I have a huge crop of it and preserve it in two ways: drying and freezing.

The first step in this process is the most laborious: picking, cleaning, culling. This would be one step easier if you are using farmer's market herbs--you don't have to pick them like I do. This time of year, there are a variety of herbs at the markets just waiting to be "put up" for use months from now.

Freezing is easy. Pull the leaves from the stalks so you are only using the leaves. Chop fairly fine and put into a small freezer bag pushing the parsley to the bottom and in a fairly even row across the bottom. Then roll the bag beginning with parsley end pushing air out as you roll. Seal the bag and freeze. I usually will do several bags like this and then remove the parsley rolls and put into one freezer bag. When you're ready to use the parsley, just cut off a chunk.

The other freezing method is the one I used on basil today. I chopped the basil and packed tightly into an ice cube tray, covered with water and stuck in the freezer. When they are frozen, pop out the basil cubes and put into a freezer bag. The basil cubes can be used in any recipe except for perhaps a fresh basil caprese salad. Throw the cubes in marinara sauce, soup and use for Thai curries. I will also dry basil.

Today I filled two ice cube trays with basil and four dehydrator racks with Italian parsley. The parsley will dry in the dehydrator for about 12 hours on low and then I will crumble it into a bowl and put in an airtight bag.

Yet to come to our kitchen for drying: dill, cilantro, coriander, oregano, thyme, and sage.