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Archive for August, 2010

Over the past week, a pile of tomatoes accumulated on our kitchen counter.  They were tasty and ripe, but a lot of them were also ugly.  Some of them had split, while others had fallen victim to tiny predators, which took bites out of each tomato and moved on to the next.  I didn’t have quite enough tomatoes to justify a canning session, but I had to use the tomatoes before they went bad.  I’d just cut off the parts that had already been compromised.  I needed a recipe for a pile of tomatoes, something other than marinara sauce.

Regular readers may recall that I fell in love with the concept behind the cookery school at Ballymaloe, an Irish estate.  Ballymaloe focuses on using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.  Studying at the school is not in my budget, but buying Darina Allen’s cookbook was, as I described in April.  Since I got the book, I’ve used it as much for tips on breaking down whole chickens as I have for the recipes, but a recipe for tomato and pecorino tarte tatin caught my attention as I contemplated my pile of ugly tomatoes.  I ended up using Allen’s idea–baked tomato in a nice crust–rather than the recipe, so what I present here is my adaption, a right-side-up pie rather than an upside-down tarte tatin.  This tart makes a rich side dish with a light dinner but can also be an appetizer on its own or a tasty leftovers breakfast.  And you can make it without heating up your house if you use your toaster oven.

Filling Ingredients for an 8-inch cast iron pan

  • 1/4 sweet yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • about 5-6 cups peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes, preferably a mix of paste and slicing tomatoes; okay to use cherries too, but they’re a lot harder to peel!
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • optional:  1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced (okay to use the yellow onion, but then your pie won’t be quite as pretty)
  • tiny bit of olive oil
  • 2-3 slicing tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 1/2 ounces manchego or other sweet, hard cheese, like a dry, aged cheddar
  • several fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded

Crust Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into bits
  • optional but really tasty!:  handful or two of toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
  • flour for rolling

Begin by sauteing the chopped onion in the olive oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed non-reactive pot (e.g. aluminum-bottomed stainless steel) while you prep the chopped tomatoes.  When the onions just barely start to caramelize, add the chopped tomatoes, salt, and sugar.  Cook uncovered over low heat, simmering until the tomato and onion mixture is reduced to about 1/3 or even 1/4 of its original volume.  The consistency should be like jam, close to tomato paste.

Meanwhile, roast the thinly sliced red onion with a little oil in your 8-inch cast iron pan for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees F.  Set aside the roasted, now caramelized onions.  We’re going to need the pan.

You can make the pie crust while the tomato jam cooks down and the red onions roast.  Put the flour mixed with with salt and leavening and cold, cut butter in a medium-sized bowl.  Cut the butter into the flour, using a pastry cutter or fork.  Once you’ve cut in the butter, creating a mealy mixture, mix in the toasted pine nuts, breaking them with the pastry cutter.  Now stir in the yogurt, just until you’ve formed the dough. Do not overwork pastry dough! Wrap the dough and chill for a few minutes.  When the tomato jam is ready, flour a clean surface and roll out about 2/3 of the dough and use it to line your 8-inch cast iron pan.  (Save the rest of the dough, well wrapped, in the refrigerator.  We’re going to use it for sweet apple turnovers!) Pre-bake the crust at about 375 degrees F for 15 minutes, covering the crust loosely with aluminum foil to keep it from over-browning in the toaster oven.

Now let’s fill!  Using a fine grater or even a microplane, grate a thin layer of cheese over the baked crust.  Spoon on about 1/2 of the tomato jam.  Add a the slices from one tomato and a little more cheese.  Put on a little more tomato jam, add more slices, and then sprinkle on the roasted onions.  Add more tomato slices, the basil, a little more jam, and the rest of the cheese.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, covering loosely with foil to avoid over-browning the crust.  Let cool briefly and then slice and serve.

Would you like to make a 10-inch tart instead?  Simply prepare 50% more of all of the filling ingredients and use all of the pastry dough.

Do you have a favorite savory vegetable pie that you make or had somewhere?  What do you do with your ugly tomatoes?

 

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.  All rights reserved.

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Our seemingly endless summer really is coming to an end.  Our oak leaves dropped a couple of weeks ago from the heat, lending a fallish scent, but we knew that they were not presaging fall, just yielding to our hot, dry weather.  Better evidence of the coming fall is the parade of animals through our yard, trying to fatten up for winter.  Days are still in the 90s here, but the past few mornings we’ve dipped below 70 degrees F.  This morning it was 55 degrees F when I got up.  It was bliss.  We’ve been sleeping with the windows open and feeling the need to snuggle under a blanket in the wee hours before dawn instead of sweltering without even a cotton sheet like we have been for most of the summer.

Along with these early signs of fall, we’ve seen “our” wildlife return from their summer retreats.  While one doe and fawn have visited regularly since July, this evening we had almost the whole herd of deer back to see what had fallen under the apple tree.  Last night, I found a big, fat raccoon on the porch.  I scared it off, as I see nothing good that can come from having coons around.  Tonight I surprised an armadillo, and bark rained down on me as another critter–I’m guessing possum or coon–escaped up an oak tree.

All of this relatively cooler weather is inspiring me for fall planting.  I hope to get in some seeds for lettuce and related greens.  I started craving turnips today, so I’ll put in some of those too.  And I’ll definitely start some cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, preparing to cover them before they produce, in case of early frost.

Have you seen signs of fall?

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August and September end the lazy days of slow breakfasts, but they don’t have to end good breakfasts.  For a quick, healthy breakfast or afternoon snack, bake a loaf of whole-grain, low-fat, higher protein but still moist and delicious zucchini bread, chocked full of good stuff like pepitas, which contain healthy fatty acids.  Take a look at the ingredients:  your only fat is from the egg(s) and the pepitas.  All of the moist goodness comes from buttermilk and yogurt, plus those dairy products and pepitas bring extra protein, calcium, and some good fats.  One loaf will yield close to 2 dozen slices for several breakfasts, lunchbox treats, afternoon snacks, or even as Mr. Homesteader likes it best, dessert at night (warmed with a dollop of ice cream).

Ingredients for 1 loaf baked in a 9×5 inch pan

  • 1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or less)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk or kefir
  • 1-2 eggs
  • 1 cup grated fresh or frozen (drained) zucchini
  • 1 cup plus one tablespoon whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 -3 tablespoons cinnamon (or less, if you aren’t a cinnamon nut like I am!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or 1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • handful or two of golden raisins, regular raisins, or currants (optional if you hate raisins, of course)

Preheat oven (or toaster oven!) to 350 degrees F.  Grease the bottom only of a 9X5 bread-baking pan (glass or cast iron preferred over a flimsy metal pan, as you’re going to bake this for a while).  Combine the first five ingredients in a small bowl or large mixing cup–about 1 quart size should give you plenty of room.  Combine the remaining ingredients except the pepitas and raisins in a 2-cup measure and stir well.  Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and stir just to combine.  Stir in the raisins and pepitas, reserving a few pepitas for the top of the loaf.  Pour everything into your prepared pan and sprinkle on the last of the pepitas.  Bake at 350 degrees F for about 70 minutes, covering the top loosely with foil to avoid over-browning about half way through the process.  Let the bread cool 5 minutes in the pan, and then slide a knife around the edges to make sure the bread is separated neatly.  Remove the bread from the pan and let it finish cooling on a rack.  Slice after it cools, as you need it, from the center outward.

If you’ve got space in your freezer, you can double or even triple this recipe and freeze loafs for easy breakfasts in the winter.  If you decide to freeze the zucchini instead, be sure to grate it first and then drain it very well after it thaws before you use it for bread.

Does your family have a favorite quick back-to-school breakfast?  Do you have a special way to bake zucchini bread?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.

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Temperatures and humidity in Arkansas have dropped from deadly to merely oppressive, but we’re still running above normal.  Therefore, this weekend I made one of my favorite summer soups, gazpacho.  Gazpacho is a tomato soup made entirely of fresh and raw ingredients, and it refreshes and rejuvenates you as you eat it.  A friend once called it salsa soup, but it really is a bit more than that.  For our household, it’s so good we think of it as red gold on the table.  And except for the celery and seasonings, we grow everything that goes in it, and you can too.

copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader

Ingredients for 4-8 servings

Note:  Use what you have.  If 1 cucumber yields you 3/4 cup and you want to use it up, go for it.

  • 1 cup peeled, chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup celery (about two stalks)
  • 1/2 cup cucumbers:  Peel if it’s one of those nasty store-bought cucumbers.  If it’s a larger cucumber, be sure to scoop out the bitter seed section.
  • 1/2 cup fresh pepper, either sweet bell pepper or a mild chile pepper (My usual choice is a Hatch/Anaheim.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed (as in, use a garlic press)
  • 3 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (or a dab of anchovies and 1 tablespoon of some good calamata or black olive juice)
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups tomato juice
  • 1/3 cup snipped parsley or chervil or chiffonaded cilantro or lemon basil (one, not all four!), reserving some of the herb you select for garnish

You have three options for preparing this soup.

  • Option one is to mince finely all of your vegetables and then combine everything except the part of the herb you are reserving for garnish.
  • Option two is to dice your vegetables not so finely and then hit the combination of vegetables with everything else except 1 cup of the tomato juice with an immersion blender or put them in a food processor and pulse until they are minced.  Once the veggies are minced, you can add the rest of the tomato juice and the portion of the herb that isn’t garnish.
  • Option three is to put everything in your stand blender except the herbs and pulse until the veggies are minced.  Then add the herbs.

Chill the soup in a glass or stainless steel non-reactive container well before serving.  The soup keeps really well, the flavors melding nicely, and the mixture is so healthy that I often double the recipe to keep it on hand.

Do you have a favorite heat-beating recipe?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.

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Recently a Canadian reader, Anita, who has fallen in love with Southern food asked me for my squash casserole recipe.  I said I’d be happy to oblige but would need a few weeks for two reasons:  first, the squash crop around here was in the summer lull (argh, squash bugs!), but most importantly because I needed to actually come up with a recipe.  I make mine a little differently every time, just as I do with most things that I cook and bake.  Anita remembered a casserole she’d had in Georgia that was creamy, with a buttery flavor.  She hoped it did not involve the ubiquitous can of Campbell’s soup that has made most “casseroles” since the 1950s.  I’ve certainly had the souped up casserole at many a potluck, but that was not my favorite squash casserole; my favorite was my grandmother’s.

While my mother-in-law was visiting, I made a squash casserole as my mother-in-law said she did, using milk, mayonnaise, and egg as the binding agent.  It definitely was not what we were looking for, having a heavy feel, and I knew my own grandmother had used a white sauce.  I hunted to see if my grandmother ever wrote down her recipe, or if she had gotten it from that trusty 1899 cookbook that belonged to her mother.  No, that cookbook made no mention of a casserole at all, the concept of a casserole having been foreign (literally) in much of the Southern United States until the introduction of Campbell’s “casseroles” in the mid-twentieth century.  (The infamous green bean casserole with canned soup dates from 1955, by the way.) I surrendered to the inevitable; I had learned how to make squash casserole at my grandmother’s side, and I needed to just give up looking for a recipe and create my own.

My grandmother’s version of squash casserole would have involved either a standard white sauce with cheese and egg or evaporated milk with cheese and egg.  Today I’ll give you my white sauce version, using the dangerously easy cheese sauce with all real-dairy ingredients that I posted in May.  I’m going to give the recipe in proportions for one or two medium yellow squash, with the variations for more.  Remember as you select your casserole dish to keep the squash mixture at about 2 inches depth in the dish.  That way, every serving can have a good amount of the crunchy topping.

A couple of casserole sizes:

  • 1-2 squash:  Try using one of those cute little .4 L Corning casseroles
  • 7-8 squash:  Go for a 2-quart casserole dish.

Recipe for 1-2 medium-sized yellow squash:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and tiny pat of butter (better!)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 medium-sized sweet yellow onion, cut into very thin slices  (If the onion makes you cry when you cut into it, use less.)
  • 1-2 medium-sized yellow squash, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • dash of salt, pepper, and, if you want, a pinch of Italian herbs
  • 1 egg, beaten with a fork
  • 1/4 cup dangerously easy cheese sauce, cooled sufficiently to avoid cooking the egg.
  • 1/4 cup more freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • fine, dry bread crumbs (like Panko) or fine cracker crumbs, sufficient to cover the top of the casserole in a thin layer (about 1/4 cup)

Saute the onion in a heavy pan in the olive oil and butter mix just until the onion starts to get a little color.  Add the squash and saute it with the salt, pepper, and herbs until a bit of the liquid in it yields and is cooked off.  (The salt will help this process.)  Let the mixture cool a bit.  In a measuring cup, add the cheese sauce to the beaten egg and stir well to combine.  Start layering the squash and onions in a lightly greased casserole dish, then pour on a little cheese-egg mixture, then more squash and onions, then more cheese until you’ve used it all.  Sprinkle the grated sharp cheddar on top, add your bread crumbs, and bake, covered, in a 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes.  Take off the lid and let the casserole brown on top, about 5-10 minutes more depending on what type of crumbs you used.  Let the casserole cool about 5 minutes and then serve.

Let’s multiply to make bigger casseroles:

For 3-4 squash, use 2/3-1 onion, 2 eggs, and 1/2 cup of cheese sauce.  For 5-6 squash, use 1 to 1 1/2 onion, 3 eggs, and 3/4 cup cheese sauce.  For 7-8 squash, use 1 1/3 to 2 sweet onions, 4 eggs, and 1 cup cheese sauce.

As my husband tucked his fork into his serving of casserole last night and put it in his mouth, he sort of made a face.  I was downhearted.  I’d already tasted the casserole and thought it was blog worthy.  I waited a few minutes and asked him what he thought, explaining my quest.  It turned out, he was thinking about his master’s class in statistics when he made the face.  He went into Food Network judge mode to extoll the virtues of the casserole.  He described the squashy, cheesy portion of the casserole as almost custardy, with a fluffy lightness that balanced the richness of the cheese.  He pointed out that the fine crumbs had contributed to the lightness of the dish with their crisp coating on the top.  He liked the flavor too.

To be sure, there are plenty of squash casserole recipes out there, and this is just one, Anita.  If it doesn’t fit your memories of the squash casserole you had in Georgia, I’ll happily go back to the kitchen to work on it more.  My late-planted squash is about to produce a bonanza.  I’ll end up freezing a few squash casseroles by the time the season is over, for use in the winter.

Do you have a favorite squash casserole recipe, with or without canned soup?  Please share!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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On the road . . .

. . . but will try to add a “real” post tonight.

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You can make just about anything in an outdoor Dutch oven that you can make in an oven in the house.  Yesterday I roasted a whole chicken from Falling Sky Farm with rosemary, garlic, and lemons in a 12-quart Dutch oven in the back yard.  The process is so simple that I hesitate to post it, but I know some readers would like to do more Dutch oven cooking, so here goes.

Make a brine of 1 cup salt, 1 cup vinegar, and 1 cup sugar, heated and dissolved in water, with enough additional water and/or ice to completely cover your chicken.  Drop in several crushed juniper berries and twigs of rosemary. Be sure to use a non-reactive pot–no cast iron, aluminum, or plastic for this stage.  Brine the bird at least 24 hours.

Remove the bird from the brine and discard the brine mixture, rosemary, etc.  Stuff the bird with more fresh rosemary, 2-4 cloves of sliced garlic, and about half a lemon.  Season the bird’s skin with a little more salt and pepper.  Now you’re ready to roast!

 

seasoned, uncooked chicken

 

Start charcoal, preferably using a chimney with the bottom loaded with newspaper to avoid having to use lighter fluid. (Ick!)  Get the coals hot.  Put the chicken in a lightly greased outdoor Dutch oven, either by itself or with potatoes as we did.  Add the lid.  Put the Dutch oven on top of about 8-12 coals.  Add more coals to the top.  Rotate the whole oven *and* the lid every 15 minutes or so.  Your chicken will roast in an hour to an hour and a half, depending on size.  You may need to add coals as you go, so do keep an eye on whether you’ll need to fire up some more.

 

Dutch oven with lid lifter inserted

 

Be sure not to let ashes in the Dutch oven when you rotate the lid!

Our 5-pound chicken roasted for an hour and a half, and it was definitely over the minimum safe temperature of 165-170 degrees F. It was also incredible juicy, with super rosemary and garlic flavor, all thanks to roasting in the Dutch oven.  And our house stayed sooooo nice and cool!  I wish I had a food stylist on staff to make it clear how gorgeous this bird was, but I’ll trust that you’ll give the recipe a try and decide for yourself.

Oh–do you see that juice in the bottom?  It’s the incredibly flavorful base for gravy.  Let everything cool a few minutes; then remove the bird and veggies to rest.  Whisk a little potato flour or whole-wheat pastry flour into the juices. Heat to boiling with a little sherry and let thicken.  Serve on the side.  Do be careful–this mixture includes the brine and may already be a little salty for some folks.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  All rights reserved.

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