Recipe post – Arepas

Cooking outside is one of my favorite summer activities. Right now, while the days are long on the island and temps in the 30’s at night keep the bugs down, is the perfect time to grill. We are (mostly) vegetarians so arepas – corn cakes made with pre-cooked ground cornmeal and brushed with butter – are what’s for dinner.

Arepas for dinner!

You’ll need a bag of Masarepa. My local grocery store carries it in the aisle with salsa and refried beans. Recipes for arepas sometimes specify “instant cornmeal” but that covers a lot of products that will result in a soupy mess instead of firm, pliant dough that easily forms cakes for the grill. These are better behaved on the grill than any of the nature-burger recipes I’ve tried (or bought).

Mix the dough according to the directions on the bag: 2 C of Masarepa to 3 C warm water, 1 tsp salt, stir and let stand for 5 minutes. I like to add about 1 C of corn, fresh off the cob or a can of vacuum packed with peppers. A friend of mine likes to add chopped pickles. It’s traditional in some families to mix in some farmer cheese or ricotta, so actually anything goes here. Form palm sized patties of the dough and fire up the grill. Brush the patties on one side with melted butter and cook until firm and slightly colored. Brush the top with butter and flip – the patties should be crispy on the outside when done. Serve with salsa, grated cheese and a salad, or they can be eaten like burgers in a bun with ketchup and relish.

(Your grill is probably more sophisticated than mine, but really, all you need are a few cinder blocks, 6 firebricks and a grate. Enjoy!)

Snow Day Waffles

We have 18″ of new snow on the island this morning, and that means waffles for breakfast.

Waffles! This recipe does not make fluffy, delicate waffles – oh no.  These are all-day hiking-after-breakfast waffles made with half whole wheat flour and sour cream (or yogurt if, it’s going to be a short hike).  Other recipes dictate all sorts of tricks to make waffles extremely tender: separating the eggs and whipping the whites into soft peaks to be folded into the batter, using seltzer instead of dairy as the liquid, but to what end? I’m a fan of waffles that require a knife and fork – if you don’t plan on using flatware perhaps you should make yourself a breakfast shake instead.

Tools: 1 large bowl, 1 small bowl (or a 4 C liquid measuring cup), whisk, spatula or wooden spoon, measuring cups and spoons, waffle iron*.

*I’ve had a few electric waffle irons in my day and they all died horribly. It could be that being filled with sticky batter and heated to high temperatures isn’t a good match for an electric appliance – who knew? We now have a cast iron Belgian waffle iron that works perfectly and dependably on our gas stove. It may be a little more problematic to adjust on an electric burner, but it will last forever and work during a power outage, which in my mind is when you really need waffles.

waffle ironIngredients:

Whisk together in a large bowl: 2 C all-purpose flour (or 1 c white and 1 c whole wheat), 1/4 C sugar (less if you use buttermilk or sour cream, a little more if you use really tart yogurt), 1 Tbls baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt.

Whisk together in a smaller bowl or 4 C measure: 2 C some sort of soured dairy product: yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream (or 1 C sour cream and 1 C milk), or any combination of milk or cream with the above, 3 eggs, 2 to 4 Tbs of melted butter and 2 to 4 Tbs of vegetable oil. Sorry to be so iffy with the amounts of butter and oil, but this depends a great deal on what kind of dairy product you use. Low-fat yogurt requires the larger amount – otherwise the waffles won’t develop crispy edges and may stick to the iron. If you’re making the recipe with 2 C of sour cream, well, more power to you and use the lesser amount of butter.

This recipe is a great way to use up odds and ends of dairy products in the fridge. If all you have is regular milk, use 1 Tbs lemon juice and let the 2 C of milk sit out on the counter for 15 minutes or so, and it will “sour” enough to use in the recipe. Another alternative is to use regular milk and add 2/3 C dry buttermilk powder to the dry ingredients. This is great stuff to have on hand in the freezer.

Get your waffle iron out and put it over a medium-low heat to warm it up. You may want to brush it with a little vegetable oil on a paper towel if it’s new, but once you’ve made a few batches it should be fine without anything added.

Melt the butter in a small pan or microwave. Whisk the eggs into the dairy mixture, then add to the dry ingredients in the larger bowl. I like to whisk this gently, just a bit, then add the butter and stir gently with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Don’t mix it too energetically because you don’t want to excite the gluten in the flour – think of this as the opposite of making bread. If you can, let the batter settle on the counter for a few minutes.

Time to make the waffles. Set the table, find the maple syrup (or jam, or fresh or dried fruit compote, or powdered sugar and lemon juice), and turn the oven on to very low heat if you want to stack the waffles on a tray and serve them all at once. I don’t cover them while warming in the oven because I like my waffles on the crispy side, feel free to cover lightly with a piece of foil. You can skip this step if you’re just sliding them onto plates for people to eat them fresh out of the iron – I prefer this method. These waffles are fairly large and you can halve them to keep your audience happy as you go.

If you made more than you need (this will never happen) or someone is late for breakfast, stack waffles in a single layer on a platter or piece of wax paper and reheat in the toaster oven.


Bees continued, and some sorrel

I jumped the gun – to be fair, so did UPS – and our bees were not delivered today. They might not arrive until Monday or Tuesday of next week, which wouldn’t be a bad thing because the weather forecast is for cold and stormy weather over the weekend. We’ll see if my UPS tracking number changes status over night.

Meanwhile, there’s sorrel in ready in the garden.

sorrel in the garden

Time to pick a whole bowl. . .

bowl of sorrel

And process in a food processor with olive oil, garlic, sea salt and a few toasted pine nuts.

sorrel pesto

PS Just got notification – bees tomorrow!



Irish Soda Bread

Next Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day, and in keeping with the season I’ve made a huge round loaf of Irish Soda Bread. Note the sorrel leaves just popping up to the right of the bread – early in this year of no winter.

Soda bread and sorrel leaves

There are probably as many variations of this recipe as there are descendants of Old Eire. My mother’s Irish Soda Bread was dry and crumbly and very, very white. Mine is tan (1 C of whole wheat flour) and quite moist; my mother’s recipe didn’t list any butter and mine requires 1/2 a cup -more if you’re feeling celebratory. I’m sure Great-great grandmother Bell’s differed from both of ours, back in Co. Cork.

All versions have a few items in common: raisins, caraway seeds, buttermilk and baking (or bread) soda. Something else – most of these recipes call for 5 C of flour and a cup of sugar. That’s a big batch of quick bread! I use a 12″ cast iron fricasse pot with 4″ sides and you’ll need something like that unless you divide the dough into two parts, which will bake nicely in nine or ten inch pie plates.

4 cups all purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (see below)
2 1/2 cups raisins, 1/2 C orange juice, 3 Tbs whiskey
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°F. Use a heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with at least 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Melt the butter in the skillet and then turn the heat off (this butters the skillet nicely while providing melted butter for the recipe).

Put the raisins in a small sauce pan with the orange juice and whiskey (optional, but very nice). Bring the mixture to a boil then turn off the heat and let them soak while you make the dough.

In a large bowl, whisk first 5 ingredients to blend. Stir in the butter, using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated.


Transfer dough to prepared skillet; smooth top, mounding slightly in center.  Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

This bread is wonderful fresh from the oven with butter, as a side for beef stew, and even better the next day toasted with Dundee marmalade.

Haole curry

I know, it’s a bad word. Or not bad exactly, Haole  simply means “white” on the Island. White, and foreign in your skin and habits. I learned to make this dish from a Hawaian roomie and she called it Haole curry because it’s not particularly authentic: coconut milk from a tin instead of ladled out of the 55 gallon drum in back of her mother’s restaurant, and green curry from a can instead of mashing chilies, lemongrass and galangal with a mortar and pestle. Nevertheless, it’s cheap, easy, and we ate a lot of it back in art school. Heck, we eat a lot of it now – still a fan of cheap and easy. Thanks, Lilith!

Haole Curry – this is the “green” version:

Buy a can of coconut milk (splurge and get the organic variety – it’s a higher quality) and a jar of green curry. I’ll assume you also have fish sauce and brown sugar in  your cupboard? Steam green beans, snow peas, broccoli, or a combination of your choosing – you’ll need about 2 cups of assorted veggies in small pieces. Carrot slices are nice sometimes, and if you want to go really crazy you could sautee some diced red pepper. The idea is to have a pile of cooked veggies cut up and ready to go. Drain a package of extra firm tofu and cut into cubes. Make a pot of rice.

Now dump the can of coconut milk into a large sauce pan. Add 3 Tbs brown sugar, 3 Tbs fish sauce, and between 1/2 and 1 tsp green curry and whisk until the lumps in the brown sugar and coconut milk smooth out. I use the larger amount but I started my son out on 1/4 tsp.  Heat gently – it doesn’t need to boil.  Add the tofu and veggies, and as soon as the mixture is hot enough for you it’s ready to eat.

Garnish with chopped peanuts, diced scallion or green onion, and chopped Thai basil. I’m growing Thai basil for the first time this year and am planning have it be a regular in the garden going forward. It’s a pretty little plant with yellow-green leaves and bright purple blossoms, hardy and extremely drought tolerant.  The curry is delightful with a couple of aromatic leaves sliced thin and sprinkled on the mix.

Spaetzle, new and improved!

I would have thought it would be difficult to improve spaetzle. Flour, eggs, milk, maybe some herbs, definitely a few Tbs. of butter, press through a colander with the back of a wooden spoon over a pot of boiling water and presto – dinner! Then my friend Susan presented me with a spaetzle-maker, and suddenly spaetzle was even easier. Neater! More uniform! Honestly, it’s a grand day when you come across a well-designed kitchen utensil.

Earlier this week I came across a recipe for spaetzle that used ground pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as part of the dry ingredients. They add some protein to the dish and offset all those carbs and it sounded pretty tasty, too. Tonight we had speatzle with pepitas with a little bit of very good Parmesean grated on top, and a huge green salad (because every meal has to include a large green salad at this point because we’re drowning in lettuce).

Pepita Spaetzle

4 servings as a main dish

1/2 C pepitas, @ 3 C all purpose flour, 3 eggs, 1 C milk, 1 tsp sea salt, herbs

In a food processor, pulse the pepitas and 1 C of  flour until finely ground. Empty the mixture into a large bowl with 2 C of flour. Add chopped herbs if desired: chives, summer savory, parsley and thyme work well. Whisk the eggs and salt in a small bowl with the milk, make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid, stir. The mixture should be cohesive, thick and springy. If it’s not, add a little more flour, up to 1/2 a cup. Allow the batter to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes or store up to 1 day in the refrigerator.

Bring a large pot of salted water to full boil. Rest the spaetzle maker across the top of the pot and load the square container with batter. Move the container on its track back and forth until nearly empty, refill and repeat quickly until the batter is used up. Stir the spaetzle gently and cook for @ 3 minutes.

Ladle the spaetzle on to a wire rack over a clean towel to drain. You could use a pasta board or a dishtowel, or just decant them into a colander. Add 4 Tbs of butter to a large frying pan and cook the drained spaetzle briefly, just enough to coat them and heat through. Sometimes I sautee 1/4 cup of diced red onion in the pan first.

Serve with grated cheese, a German white wine, and a green salad. Thanks, Susan!


Spicy greens for dinner

This is a year for leafy greens. I planted Maruba Santoh, tatsoi, bok choi, Savoy cabbage, and assorted mustards and they’re all happy and huge in the cool rainy weather. This year I mulched the greens with seaweed to see if it had any impact on flea beetles, and I think it worked. Hard to tell whether the rain or the salty, sandy mulch had more of an effect, but flea beetle damage is minimal this year so far. So, what to do with all those greens?

Spicy Greens with Chicken or Tofu

Serves 4, or two with leftovers. This dish is very good left over.

1/4 C soy sauce, 1/4 C dry Sherry, 1 Tbs brown sugar, 2 Tbs chili sauce or Surachi (or to taste)

1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-wide strips, or 1 package tofu
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 green onions, white parts and green parts chopped separately, 1 Tbs garlic and 1 Tbs ginger
2 teaspoons hot pepper relish or chopped seeded serrano chiles (or more to taste)
a lot of greens:  spinach, mustard greens, kale, maruba santoh or broccoli rabe; about 1 pound, thick stems removed, spinach left whole, other greens cut into 1-inch strips (about 10 cups packed)

Whisk the soy sauce,  Sherry,  and sugar in medium bowl, divide in half. Use half of the mixture to marinate chicken or tofu; marinate 20 to 30 minutes and reserve the rest.

Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add white parts of onions, garlic, ginger and relish or chiles; stir 30 seconds. Add chicken; stir-fry just until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer chicken mixture to bowl. If you’re using tofu you can skip this step. Just quickly stirfry the first four ingredients, go right to adding the greens, and drop in the marinated tofu at the end just long enough to heat through.

Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil to same skillet; heat over high heat. Add greens by large handfuls; stir just until beginning to wilt before adding more. You can put a large pot lid over the heap of greens to steam them briefly if you like. Sauté just until tender, 1 to 6 minutes, depending on type of greens. Return chicken to skillet. Add reserved soy sauce mixture; stir until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl; sprinkle with green parts of onions. Serve with rice or soba.


Sauce Pontchartrain

“Pontchartrain” is a wonderful seafood sauce, to be eaten either on its own in a big wide bowl with plenty of Tabasco or over something else, as long as there is plenty of Tabasco. I’ve had Pontchartrain over broiled catfish, on sourdough toast, over rice, grits, and on one memorable occasion, instead of Hollandaise on poached eggs. I decided to make a batch and post the recipe, but as often happens when I’m eating something delicious, I didn’t take a picture. Instead, here’s a photo of Pontchartrain herself.

The pictures on the left are from the last big flood, in 2005. The Mississippi should crest tonight just below that record high in Memphis. The upper photos in “real color” detail sediment and drift and that thin tan line that looks like a scratch on the photo is the Causeway, the worlds longest bridge at 38 miles and change.

To be honest, this dish isn’t the most picturesque recipe to come out of NOLA. That honor would go to blackened snapper, maybe, or quince paste with beignets.  Pontchartrain sauce is a poor man’s dish, with lots of finely chopped mushrooms and green peppers to fill out the seafood and an overall “lumpy” white appearance. Now that I think about it many of the dishes I loved and learned to make in Louisiana have that look: smothered hare (pale green and lumpy, in its herb sauce), duck’s blood gumbo (you can picture that without help, right?), cheese biscuits (lumpy yellow). All equally delicious, without being particularly photogenic.

Sauce Pontchartrain

3/4 cup green onion or leeks, 1 cup mushrooms, and 1 cup green pepper, chopped fine (I actually whir them briefly, separately, in the food processor. Be careful not to puree.) 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
5 tablespoons butter, in 1 tablespoon pieces and 4 tablespoons flour
1/2 to 1 cup vegetable stock or broth, depending on how much seafood you’re adding, and 1 cup Chardonnay
salt, black pepper, cayenne, and tarragon to taste

2 cups (or more) seafood. It’s easier to throw the dish together if all the fish and shellfish are pre-cooked, but it’s also possible to add raw shrimp and other delicates while the sauce simmers.

Cook the onions, green pepper, mushrooms and garlic in the butter, adding in that order, until the vegetables are soft and “reduced”. Add 3 Tbs flour and stir until the roux thickens, about 2 minutes tops. Add the Chardonnay and stock, blend over a very low heat.  Taste before adding the spices because you may not need to add salt.

Shortly before serving add the seafood to the mix. I generally use cooked leftovers and anything goes: lobster, shrimp, crabmeat, or flaked whitefish, or any combination. Serve as is with beer and crusty bread, or ladle over hot white rice, thick slices of toast, eggs, fish filets, or crumbled milk crackers. Hand around bottles of Hiracha and convince your guests that all the vegetables you need for healthy living are in the sauce.

And all best wishes to those living along the Mother River tonight.



Spring is in the cold, damp air, the temperature hovers around the freezing mark, it’s light until 6:30 pm, the moss is bright green under the snow – time for boxty.

I had always thought of boxty as Irish latkes – and then I went to Yonkers and had actual crispy, delicious latkes made of dry grated potato, matzoh meal and sea salt. Boxty, on the other hand, always start with mashed potatoes. Most people add a grated raw potato but I never learned that method – mine are just mashed potatoes with a leeks, little flour, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and perhaps an egg if the mashers are very dry. Somewhere, an Irishwoman is wailing about me using baking powder. Or buttermilk. Or something – I’ve read recipes for boxty and included bacon, whiskey, corn meal, and parsley and they’re all right for somebody, just not for me.

First, go out to the raised beds and get some leeks. The snow has melted off enough to dig the knife down and get to the pristine white roots. Leave the upper leaves on the bed for compost.

Boil two or three potatoes. I don’t have any of ours left in the cellar, but Hannafords had some nice Maine Corollas. Mash the potatoes and add 1 C flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp sea salt, 1/2 C chopped leeks (raw). Mix that up and add enough buttermilk to make it “cohesive” – add an egg if it looks too dry.  Put a little canola oil in a frying pan, add 1 Tbs butter and fry the potato mixture until browned – about 3 minutes on a side.

Serve with applesauce, sour cream, and salad.

Boxty on the griddle,
And Boxty on the pan;
The wee one in the middle
Is for Mary Ann.
Boxty on the griddle,
boxty on the pan,
If you can’t bake boxty
sure you’ll never get a man.
Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty on the pan,
If you don’t eat boxty,
You’ll never get a man.

What’s for dinner?

I love cauliflower and it seems to hold up well in the grocery store vegetable aisle all through the winter. This recipe is a gratin that uses heavy cream rather than cheese with mustard, shallots and sage. I use Raye’s mustard, and for this recipe I used their “Winter Garden” variety (my favorite), which incorporates horseradish and herbs. Raye’s is a traditional stone-ground mustard mill in Eastport – now a working museum. They also make mustard with maple syrup, molasses, and local beer, so this recipe could take on different varieties for a change of pace.

An opportunity to use my favorite blue Crueset dutch oven!

I also managed to use upty-million utensils, but that’s something I can correct the next time.

Cauliflower Gratin with Mustard

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped shallots or winter onions
1 cauliflower cut into 1 1/2-inch cauliflower florets – about4 cups? Up to 6 cups would probably be fine.
1/4 cup white wine and  1  cup vegetable broth
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons Raye’s mustard (divided)
2 tsp chopped fresh sage or slightly less dried
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
2 cups coarsely cut bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Add wine, and then broth. Cover and steam until cauliflower is just tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Using slotted spoon, transfer cauliflower to bowl. Add cream, 1 Tbs mustard, 1 teaspoon sage, flour, and lemon peel to pot. Boil until sauce is thick, whisking, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in cauliflower. Arrange cauliflower, stem side down, with sauce in 11 x 7 x 2-inch baking dish.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Whisk in 1  tablespoon mustard and 1 tsp sage. Addcrumbs; toss to coat. Spoon crumbs over cauliflower. Bake until topping is golden, 20 to 25 minutes.