Sunday, October 25, 2009

Baking Fresh Pumpkins

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

If you don't already know it, there is a serious shortage of canned pumpkin this year due to cool, wet weather in parts of the country that grow pumpkins. There are no cans of pumpkins in the stores this Thanksgiving season so if you want a pumpkin pie, now is the time to buy fresh pumpkins so that you can bake them and make pumpkin puree.

The canned pumpkin shortage does not impact me: I always make my Thanksgiving pies from fresh pumpkins. There is no comparison in flavor; fresh pumpkin is the preferred ingredient for pies in our house.

The first necessity is to buy pie pumpkins not a carving pumpkin. Not all pumpkins are created equal! Carving pumpkins are thicker and when baked, the result is watery and stringy. A pie pumpkin is smaller, not more than 8-10 inches tall, with thin skins. If the pumpkins aren't labeled, ask.

Our farmer's markets sell pie pumpkins and when I purchased four last week, the sales clerk commented on the shortage of canned pumpkin and said her daughter was bringing canned pumpkin from Missouri when she comes for Thanksgiving. I couldn't help myself: you sell pie pumpkins all day and you are having canned pumpkin brought to you?

Wash the pumpkins, place on a cookie sheet and put into a 350 degree oven. Bake about 50 minutes until a knife pierces easily through the flesh.

Remove from the oven, cut open and cool. Then scoop out the seeds and inner flesh and what remains is what will soon become a pie.  You can remove the pumpkin and mash with a potato masher or run through a food mill. I used a food mill: I scooped out the pumpkin flesh and dropped into a food mill set over a mixing bowl. A few turns of the food mill handle and creamy pumpkin puree fills the bowl.

Because pumpkin cannot be safely canned at home, I put 2 cups of pumpkin puree in quart size freezer bags and put in the freezer. We are traveling to Annapolis for Thanksgiving, so we'll put the freezer bags in the cooler--along with the turkey that will be brining as we drive.

If you want a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, you'd better find some pie pumpkins in the next few weeks before they disappear from the shelves, too!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fried Sage Leaves

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

Why, oh, why was I so slow to discover these wonderful things? I have a lot of sage in the garden and it goes to waste. No more!

On a recent, wet, cold evening, I ventured into something new: sweet potato gnocchi. And I topped them with a light, white, creamy sauce and fried sage leaves. These are super simple to make, can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container--which I will be doing to use my garden sage before it is covered with snow.

So easy:

Wash and dry sage leaves. I put them in my lettuce spinner then placed on paper towels.

Heat several tablespoons of oil to medium-high heat. Drop in the sage leaves one at a time, only a few at a time. Cook them for only about 30 seconds, until the color just begins to change on them.

Remove with a slotted utensil and drain on paper towels. Salt and enjoy! These would be a perfect addition to any pork dish or the Thanksgiving turkey. I used a handful on the gnocchi but ate the rest as a snack!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Curried Ground Beef Served on Grits! Another $6 dinner

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

My intent was to grill hamburgers outside but pouring rain forced a menu change. Since I was creating butternut squash patties with curry, I stayed with the curry theme. And the result will be repeated again--it was a winner!

This was a quick and simple dish that used only a few ingredients. I served it on grits, yes, grits! We love grits and I made them with milk so that they were thick and creamy--a perfect fit with the curried beef. If you haven't discovered Anson Mills organic heirloom grains, you're in for a treat.

For this dish, I used:

1 lb ground beef
1 T olive oil
1 med onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T curry powder--more if you are a curry fan
2 tomatoes, chopped into pieces about 1" in diameter--1 red,1 orange because I still have heirlooms from my garden
1/2 c water
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley for garnish

And here's how to put it together:

Saute the beef until slightly pink--not completely cooked. Remove to another bowl, drain the beef fat, add the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Add the beef and remaining ingredients and simmer for 10-15 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. My heirloom tomatoes are watery so this took about 15 minutes. In the winter when I don't have fresh tomatoes and don't want to pay $2 each for the cardboard tasting ones in the stores, I will use canned tomatoes.

This is not a dish that is based on the tomatoes; they are an addition and using only a small amount really works well. 

For this dinner, the meat was $2 (on sale) and the other ingredients were about $1, a bit more if I didn't have my own tomatoes so add another $1 for canned tomatoes. This could be served with rice or pasta but it was particularly great with the creamy grits. Another $1.50 for the grits and milk and adding in $.50 for the butternut squash pancakes, this was another under $6 dinner for the two of us and I had leftovers!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Savory Butternut Squash Patties with Curry

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

I had some leftover butternut squash that I wanted to use in a savory pancake version. What I came up with is a real winner--these were outstanding.

This time of year, I love various squashes. I am a fan of spaghetti squash baked and tossed with just olive oil and garlic. I picked up a large butternut squash for about $1 at the farmer's market and baked it--pierced with a knife, baked on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until a knife easily pierced through it.

Next, I cut open the squash, let it cool, scooped out the seeds and strings, and then scooped out the cooked squash, tossed with butter and salt and pepper. Easy and good. But I had about 2 c leftover and was looking for something different. So this is what I put together:

2 c cooked butternut squash
1/2 t garlic powder
2 t fresh chopped parsley
1 t curry powder
2 T flour
salt and pepper

I blended the ingredients into a thick mixture. I debated adding an egg as Grandma Washburn always did with mashed potato cakes (oh, those were tasty) but decided against it as the consistency of the mixture was nice and thick.  My intent was to add some panko bread crumbs to the mixture but it didn't need any extra filler. I was a bit skeptical of this mixture minus the egg and panko but what did I have to lose--I was working with leftovers!

I formed the mixture into patties--not too thick--and sauteed in hot oil, turning twice until each side was a crispy brown. Amazing flavor. The savory patties will definitely appear again in our kitchen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chicken Dumplings in Green Curry

By Perry Washburn

My son Daniel rang me midday from college. "I'm coming home tonight to get winter clothes. Let's cook."

After much debate, and on a quest for something "new", he found this recipe for dumplings - perhaps better called meatballs - in The Complete Asian Cookbook. Luckily we have one great and several good Asian groceries in town. As I teach Thai classes, I keep more basic Asian ingredients on hand than most people, and know where to find the rest. Daniel marveled at my fav Asian grocery, and the Asian ladies pulling lively blue crabs out of a bushel basket, barrel-full-o-monkeys style. (Double Dragon on 2nd Ave. for Des Moines locals.) The lemon, lemon grass, curry and basil flavors in this dish were stellar.

Here's the recipe, with my additions or changes in parentheses.

1 lb chicken minced
3 green onions, diced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 stalk lemon grass, white part only, finely diced
1 tsp chicken stock powder (I used 1 tsp Penzey's chicken soup base)
1 1/2 cups cooked jasmine rice
1 egg plus one egg white (I used 2 whole eggs)
(1/2 cup bread crumbs)
2 Tbs oil
2 Tbs Thai green curry paste
3 cups coconut milk (or 4)
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves
1/2 cup basil
1 Tbs lemon juice

Mix together the chicken mince, spring onion, cilantro, lemon grass, 2 Tbs fish sauce, the stock powder (I mixed in the Penzey's soup base with the fish sauce before adding), and some pepper. Add the rice and mix well with your hands. (I found my "dice" or "mince" was not fine enough, so I threw it all in the food processor. Much easier.)

Beat the egg and the white (or in my case both eggs) with a mixer until thick and creamy, then fold into the chicken mixture. (I had NEVER tried to beat whole eggs. Didn't know it would work. A revelation! You don't quite get to soft peaks, but close. Because I used the extra yolk, and Penzey's paste, these may have been slightly more soupy than normal. I wanted the binding power of the extra yolk. But they were too loose to roll, so I added bread crumbs to get to meatball consistency.) With floured hands (I used lots) roll tablespoon sized balls, and place on a tray. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. (I cheated, and we put them in the freezer for 15 minutes).

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (I used my 18-inch cast iron skillet for this, and needed all of it). Add the green curry paste, and stir over medium heat for 1 minute. (I added some of the thick cream from the coconut milk at the beginning, as this is the traditional way to start a curry. Make sure you DON'T shake the coconut milk, or you will mix it all up. It naturally separates; use the thick part first. Don't ever buy "light.") Gradually stir in the remainder of the coconut milk, and reduce to simmer. Add the lime leaves and the dumplings, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I used a stiff spatula to turn them. I found in my cast iron skillet, these actually browned; I had to get under them to turn them. They would have broken with a spoon. I turned them often.) (If the sauce gets too thick, add more coconut milk. As the cans are commonly 19 oz each, you will have extra.) When the dumplings are done, stir in the basil, remaining fish sauce and fresh lemon juice. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Braised Sauerkraut & Bratwurst--Dinner for $6

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

What an easy and great dinner we had tonight. We love sauerkraut and this recipe is one that I cut out from Parade Magazine in January 1983. Julia Child created it and we love it.

Sauerkraut is shredded green cabbage that is layered with salt and weighted down in a crock until it ferments. This was an ancient way of preservation. Sauerkraut has a distinct, sour taste that blends wonderfully with pork. You can find sauerkraut bagged in the deli section like I did or bottled (or make your own!). Julia's note in 1983 says to not buy sauerkraut with sugar added and that Dutch or German types are preferred.

This recipe will serve 4.

1 lb sauerkraut
1 1/2 c sliced onions
1/2 c dry white wine or vermouth
1 1/2 c chicken broth
1/4 t each caraway seeds and thyme
1 bay leaf

Start by draining the sauerkraut in a colander and rinsing with cold water. Then soak the kraut in cold water for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, soak again. Repeat this 3 or 4 times--each time makes it less sour.  Drain one last time and squeeze by handfuls to remove excess water then fluff up the stands (Julia's words).

While the kraut is soaking, simmer the onions and wine/vermouth (or chicken broth) in a heavy casserole for 8-10 minutes or until quite tender. Add in the remaining ingredients and simmer slowly for 30 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.

For my dinner tonight, I cut 1 lb of fresh made bratwurst into 3" lengths, browned for 10 minutes and added to the sauerkraut. Place the covered oven proof dish into a 400 degree oven and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.

Along with the sauerkraut and bratwurst, I roasted some broccoli. I tossed cut broccoli pieces with olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes.  For this dinner, the bratwurst was $3, the sauerkraut $1, another $1 for the broccoli and $1 for onion, seasonings, olive oil, and chicken stock. Dinner for $6.

As Julia would say, bon appetit!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Freezing Peppers

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

We still have a large quantity of peppers from the garden but they will not hold much longer. Last winter, we took a 'we are bored' road trip to Ann Arbor, 4 hours, to go to Trader Joe's. One of the new items I discovered on that trip: frozen pepper pieces.

Much to our surprise, they worked well in many dishes and with red peppers often $3 each in the winter, these frozen peppers added color and flavor without the cost.

Yesterday, I froze 3 quarts of chopped pepper pieces and look forward to tossing them into food next winter. Here's what I did:

Cleaned and chopped both red and green peppers. I then placed them in a single layer, no overlapping pieces, on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for about an hour. Then I loosened the pieces from the cookie sheet--they were stuck to it--with a spatula and scooped into a quart size freezer bag. They look gorgeous!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Black-eyed Chicken

By Perry Washburn
This fall finds me on the run, frequently looking to make something tasty - fast.

I had thawed a package of chicken thighs, and I knew I had a bag of basil from an Asian market run that needed to be used. And a bunch of leftover white rice. The rest was a fridge raid. My girls loved this! Here's how this really fun dish came out.

1 pound of chicken thighs, cleaned, boned and diced
Sesame oil
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 cup green onion, with the white and green separated
1 cup basil, chopped
2 Tbs spicy brown bean sauce (check your Asian market)
1/2 tsp ground chili garlic oil (ditto)
1 can black-eyed peas, including the juice
1 tsp Penzey's vegetable soup base

Saute the chicken in a tablespoon or so of sesame oil until it's starting to lose its pink. Add the celery, the onion, and the white/light green part of the green onions. Continue cooking until they are beginning to wilt. Add the bean sauce, the chili/garlic oil, the blackeyed peas and the soup base. Cook for 5 minutes or so, until it's all well mixed. Stir in the basil and green onion, and serve over steamed (or in my case, reheated) rice.

Roasted Beets

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

I love beets in any fashion. This summer, my beet crop wasn't the best but last year I had so many that I canned jars of pickled beets and they were oh, so tasty. Many people think they don't like beets probably because they have only been exposed to commercially canned harvard beets. We've served fresh from the garden beets to dinner guests who were stunned at the sweet flavor of the real thing.

Last night, I took a roasted beet dish to a pot luck and it was a hit. The usual comments were heard: I forget about beets or I love beets but don't know how to cook fresh ones.  I came home from the farmers' market with two huge bunches of fresh beets for $3 and went to work.

Whenever I cook fresh beets, I remember Grandma Washburn telling me to leave 2" of the stems and roots attached to each beet so that the color doesn't drain out while cooking. So just like Grandma said, I trimmed all the beets, washed them, and put them on a large sheet of heavy aluminum foil in a single layer.

Next I added a handful of fresh thyme from the garden, four garlic cloves unpeeled and drizzled with olive oil and tossed.  I closed the foil around the beets, put on a baking sheet and into a 400 degree oven.

An hour later, I removed the foil packet, opened it and let the beets cool. Then under running water--this keeps your hands from turning red--I easily slipped the skins from the beets, cut off the root and top, and cut into chunks about 1" in diameter.  I squeezed the garlic cloves to remove the cooked garlic, chopped into a small dice and added to a serving bowl with the beets.

I tossed the cleaned beets with salt, pepper, 2 T olive oil, 1 T balsamic vinegar (the vinegar brings out the sugar in the beets) and just before serving, I added 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese.

Another favorite roasted beet recipe that I love is to add the roasted and cleaned beets to the food processor with salt, pepper and a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and puree.  The gorgeous, red puree is a terrific color and taste addition to the dinner plate.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Leftover Pork Tenderloin Stir Fry

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

I had a large piece of leftover grilled pork tenderloin and a lot of fresh vegetables. Together, they made quite a delicious and easy dish.

What I had to use for this dish:

2 c chopped pork tenderloin, cooked
1 red pepper, sliced into long, thin strips
1 green pepper, sliced into long, thin strips
diced hot pepper to taste
1 medium onion, sliced from top to bottom
1/2 c carrots, sliced thin in 2" strips
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
1/2 c pepper jelly--I used some that I had made
salt and pepper
1/2 fresh parsley

Heat the oil and add the peppers, onion, carrots, and garlic. Saute over med-high heat until the veggies begin to soften but are still crisp. Add the pepper jelly, salt and pepper and 1/2 of the parsley and stir for 1 minute. Add the chopped pork and stir until the pepper jelly begins to simmer.

I served this on rice that had been cooked with Penzey's pork base and topped it with the remaining parsley. Only one word for this dish: Gone!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Roasting Peppers

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

We have bushels of red peppers ripening in my garden shed and I am roasting them to make ajvar. I finally discovered an easier way to roast the peppers so that they are evenly charred.

First, wash the peppers, remove the core and seeds, and cut in half. Place the halves on a lined cookie sheet--foil works best. As the peppers roast, they let off juices and under the broiler, these juices are difficult to clean from a baking sheet.

Flatten each pepper half with your hand. This trick makes the peppers brown evenly. Turn the oven to broil and put the baking sheet about 8" under the broiler--you want them to char but not turn to mush.

Broil the peppers until they are evenly blackened turning the pan after about 5 minutes. The peppers will blacken in about 10 minutes.Put the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the peppers sit for for 15-30 minutes. The heat from the peppers steams the blackened skin away from the peppers so they are easy to peel. If you have used foil to roast the peppers, just wrap the foil around the peppers and let them sit.

Remove the plastic wrap or foil and let them cool. Then pull the skin away from the peppers. Voila! That's it.

One of our favorite summer dishes is grilled chicken breasts brushed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil served with slices of roasted peppers and fresh basil.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Roasted Chicken Breasts & Spanish Rice in the Dutch Oven--Easy!

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

Fall is here and it's time to change directions a bit on cooking. While we can still grill outside, a chilly Sunday got us thinking about a one-pot Dutch oven dish.

I love chicken breasts with the bone in. Not only are they cheaper than boneless, $.99 a pound compared to 3 or 4 times that, but they hold moisture better.

What I used in this recipe:
2 chicken breasts, bone in
2 T olive oil
1 c BBQ sauce
1 green pepper, chopped
1 med onion, chopped
1 t cumin
1 t chopped hot pepper--I used a hot Serbian pepper
1 c rice
2 c water

Start by browning the chicken breasts in a Dutch oven in 2 T olive oil.

While the chicken breasts brown, add the BBQ sauce to a saucepan. I used BBQ sauce that we made a few weeks ago but any thick sauce will do. To the sauce, add green pepper and onion, cumin and diced hot pepper (or pepper flakes). Bring this mixture just to a simmer.

Baste 1/2 of the barbecue sauce mixture on the chicken breasts in the Dutch oven. Then add the rice and water and the rest of the BBQ sauce, stir, covered and put into a 350 degree oven.

Rice takes about 20-25 minutes to cook but these breasts don't need that much time since they are browned first. So bake the breasts and Spanish rice for 10 minutes and then turn off the oven and leave the Dutch oven in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. The rice will continue to cook.

That's it! A one pot chicken and Spanish rice meal with great flavors and the total preparation time is less than 10 minutes.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tomato Basil Tart

By Kathryn Washburn Breighner

I made this tart last night with my last trip to the garden for the year to harvest tomatoes and basil. I covered the basil but it was 29 degrees this am so I'm afraid to check. Bushels of tomatoes got picked and moved to the garden shed for protection.

So it was necessary to use tomatoes and basil in last night's dinner dish and this tart fit the bill. I have played with various versions over the summer and this one got it right--ricotta cheese, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, eggs, basil, garlic, tomatoes and a pie crust. Simple ingredients that turned into a perfect meal.

I first made a pie crust, single layer, and baked it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees just to set the crust. When I took it out of the oven, I immediately added 1/2 c of shredded mozzarella and let it sit for 5 minutes so that the cheese melted. These two steps--short prebake and the addition of the mozzarella cheese while the crust is hot--sets the bottom of the crust so that the tart doesn't sink until it resulting in a very flaky bottom crust.

Next, take 2 tomatoes--I used an orange and a red, slice thinly, salt, and place on paper towels to drain while the crust is in the oven.

In the food processor, I added and pureed:

1/2 c ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 clove garlic
3/4 c fresh basil
salt and pepper

Place the tomatoes on top of the melted mozzarella in the pie crust and add the cheese puree.

Top with:
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
1 c shredded mozzarella cheese

Bake the tart in the 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes until the top is golden brown.

The great thing about this tart for us is that it was not only dinner last night, but lunch today. It's excellent cold. Enjoy!