I stopped at Pectic Seafood (OMG don’t click on this link if you’re allergic to Flash!) on my way home last night and picked up a pound and a half of absolutely gorgeous haddock, which is not a euphemism. While I was there I had to check out the donuts (handmade each morning) and cruise the coolers full of duck sausage and local goat cheese. There was a new display – four shelves – of bacon, so I bought a pound of Broadbent’s Country Bacon and went on my way. Donuts, bacon and fish to fry – nothing wrong with that.

We had the fish last night, dredged in matzo meal and pan fried in a little olive oil. I went all out and made tartar sauce and it was wonderful. Tonight we tried the bacon.

Oh my heavens. I’ve been eating the stuff from the grocery store and forgotten all about real bacon. Lentil stew with sweet potatoes and bacon, cheddar buttermilk biscuits, and a tossed salad – just the right menu for a Winter Storm Warning night in January.

Lenny’s Lentil Stew

Lenny was a housemate of mine long ago. This dish was his only contribution to our weekly communal dinners and to his credit no one ever complained. Double, triple or multiply this recipe by exponents – you really can’t go wrong. I’ve written like I learned it, folks – Lenny was a plain food type of guy.

For two people: get out two saucepans and fill one halfway up with water. While the water heats, peel a sweet potato and cut it into 1/2″ cubes and dump them into the now boiling water to cook until soft. In the other pan, dump in a can of lentils, 1 C tomato sauce, 2 Tbs tomato paste, 1 tsp marjoram, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, or Szechuan peppercorns if you have them. Heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally. Check the sweet potatoes – when done, drain and dump them into the stew. You can add little pieces of cooked bacon if you think you can slip it by the vegetarians. Serve with biscuits even if you have to buy them, but you could try to talk Amy into making a batch even if it isn’t her night to cook.

Winter dinner – Hubbard squash

Put on a sweater and go down cellar. Choose a squash for dinner and, on your way back upstairs, grab a hacksaw.

Wash the squash and saw into manageable chunks – a lot will depend on the size of your oven and your cookie sheets. Scoop out the fibrous innards and save the seeds for roasting or next year’s crop. The flesh of the Hubbard squash is typically very dry, so rinse the cut pieces briefly in cold water. Oil a foil-covered cookie sheet and pile the pieces of squash artistically, so that they still fit in the oven. Bake at 375 for about an hour.

Scoop out the cooked squash from the rind into a saucepan over low heat. Add a few tablespoons of butter, sea salt, and perhaps 1/4 C of unsulphered molasses. When the squash is heated through and the butter has melted, mash with a potato masher until well mixed. Serve as a side dish to corn tortillas (for our vegetarian household), or braised beef, or add eggs and evaporated milk and use as pie filling.

Rinse the seeds in a colander until clear of the orange squash fibers. Spread on a dishtowel to dry. You can bake these in the oven on a cookie sheet, but I prefer an ungreased skillet over medium heat. Stir often, and when they start to puff up and sweat, sprinkle liberally with sea salt and just a tiny bit of raw sugar.

See? Winter isn’t quite so bad after all.


The winter garden has been very generous this year, so tonight we made soup.

Bean and Kale Minestra

1/4 lb kale, about 2 C chopped. I like to tear the soft, leafy part away from the tough stem and then chop finely. If you have the time, soak the chopped kale in cold water for half an hour or so. The cut leaves will soak up a lot of water and soften.

2 large cloves of garlic, minced, 2 Tbs olive oil, 1 can white beans or cannellini (or use any variety of cooked dried beans), 4 C of bean water, vegetable stock or chicken stock if you don’t mind it, 1 Tbs tomato paste or 1/2 tomato sauce, 1/2 tsp dried sage, salt and pepper

Lemon wedges and Parmesan cheese for serving.

In a saucepan, make a batch of tiny pasta – ditalini or orzo – and drain. Or, you can use leftover pasta.

In a soup pot, saute the garlic in the olive oil for a few seconds. Add about half the beans and part of the water or stock and the tomato paste. Now you have a choice. Either use a stick blender to puree the beans, stock and paste in the cooking pot, or process the remaining beans and stock in a food processor and then add it to the pot. Either way, you’re creating a nice thick base for the soup.

Drain the kale and add it to the simmering pot for 15 minutes – 1/2 hour, depending on how fresh, hydrated and finely cut the leaves. Right before serving stir in the pasta, or you can add leftover roasted vegetables, a scrambled egg or pieces of leftover chicken.  Bring to the table with lemon wedges for a squeeze of flavor and grated cheese.

Mmmmm, soup.

Pumpkin Pie II, the crust

We had a discussion about pie crust on the ride home today. My grandmother’s pie crust was perfect, every time, and she used to say the ability skipped a generation to explain my mother’s total failure at pie making. Sorry mom.

Personally, I think it’s all chemistry. Here’s the rather weird recipe that always works for me. If you don’t have a food processor handy, use two sharp knives to cut in the butter.

In a food processor: 3 C flour, 1 Tbs sugar (optional), 2 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp baking powder (non-aluminum). Pulse once to mix. Add 1 C (2 sticks) of cold, unsalted butter cut into 1″ chunks. Pulse until the chunks disappear. Add 1/2 C cold water mixed with 2 tsp apple cider vinegar. Pulse just until most of it holds together. Add a little more water if needed.

Dump the contents of the bowl out on to a large sheet of waxed paper. Fold the paper up around the lump of pastry and force it all together. Then cut the lump in half and layer one half over the other, press down. Do that again. Then wrap the (hopefully more cohesive) loaf of pastry in the waxed paper, then a plastic bag, and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or overnight) to let the gluten relax.

Take it out, hit it flat a few times with the rolling pin, and use half to make the bottom crust of a pie. If you’re not using a top crust, you can make a pie tail with the other half. Your children will be sooooooooo happy.

Roll out a rectangle, spread with 2 Tbs of softened butter, 1/4 C sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle with a handful of raisins, currants or blueberries.

Starting from the bottom long edge, roll the pastry up. Press the edges together and bring both ends around to touch. Place in a foil lined pie plate and bake with the pie until browned.

Pesto season

Pesto is one of the barometers of a Maine summer. Basil requires long days and hot afternoons to truly grow fat, glossy leaves that give off a distinctive, almost skunky aroma and some years we just don’t get that. 2010 is shaping up to be the best garden year in recent memory, and the pesto so far is A+.

I picked almost a kitchen-sized garbage bag of basil, mostly because I wanted to be able to start the recipe off with “a garbage bag of basil”. I prefer to harvest in mid-afternoon (the plants are free of dew and at their most fragrant), and I simply cut them back by two or three nodes. I use the stems and all, but I do remove blossoms and buds. They seem to make the final product slightly bitter.

Stuff the bowl of a food processor with leaves and stems. Drizzle with olive oil. Add 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 clove garlic and 2 Tbs pine nuts (toasted in a frying pan first) per batch. If you will be adding all the batches together you can keep track and add all the seasonings at once at the end, but I find doing it by increments is easier. Process until smooth, adding more olive oil if necessary.

I have been amazed at the number of people who comment about the photos on this blog – generally about the objects in the background. Turns out food photographers are all about isolating the product – setting the stage with your recipe as the star, and not so much with the bottle of Chinese black vinegar that has nothing to do with the current recipe. As long as you read this blog, you’re going to see that vinegar on the back of the counter. Also the red wine, cassis, port and probably a roll of paper towels.  I don’t set these photos up, sadly, I just live here.

Cook your favorite pasta, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Mix in about a cup of pesto per 6 servings, and some grated parm or asiago cheese.  If my mother isn’t coming over we like to add hot pepper flakes. Freeze the remaining pesto in freezer jelly jars to remember summer come some winter dinner.

Computer dinner

When we can, we eat dinner together as a family. The number varies with the addition of guests stopping by a supper time and the subtraction of our son away at college, but the plates and napkins, flatware and fruit bowl centerpiece are a constant – except for the exceptions. On those nights when everyone is a little distracted and the schedule is off and it’s just us – we have computer dinner.

Computer dinner requires something fast and easy to prepare and clean up. If there’s going to be an informal dinner it should also be a break for the cook.  Tonight I chose our vegetarian version of Spanish Rice. Brace yourself, this is a narrative recipe:

To serve about 3

Make about 2 C of white rice. I use a rice cooker. I find that brown rice turns an unfortunate color when you add the tomatoes, but maybe that’s just me.

Add 2 Tbs olive oil to a large frying pan and saute 1/2 a large onion, 1/2 C celery and, if your household considers bacon to be a vegetable, about 1/4 C chopped bacon slices. Um, we’re Baconarians? Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is browned. Stir in 1/2 tsp cumin (optional). Add 1/4 C white wine and deglace. Add the rice and mash around with the back of a wooden spoon until it incorporates the olive oil and veggies, then add a can of Ro*Tel, and a small can of kidney beans. Lower heat and cook for a few minutes until every thing is heated through. Add salt if you didn’t use bacon.  We like to grate a little cheddar cheese over the top, and serve with green salad and corn tortilla strips. I have been known to squeeze a lime wedge over the whole mess, when I had one handy.

This is a dependable, easy meal that won’t spill all over anyone’s keyboard. For maximum effect, make sure you’re all in the same room so you can share random tidbits of information (hello, Joshua Slocum’s entry on Wikipedia) or listen to your son strategize with four of his closest long-distance best friends.

These are the best of times.

Easter eggs

Pink pickled deviled eggs are a treat any time of year, but traditional for spring. We just had an Easter supper of tabouleh, baba ganouj, pita chips, fruit salad and pickled eggs – it was wonderful and no one (least of all myself) had to stand over a hot stove on this lovely day.

Hard boil six to eight eggs. My technique is to add the eggs to cold water in a large pot, bring them to a boil with the cover on, then turn off the heat and let stand 15 minutes. Uncover, drain and rinse with cold water, allow eggs to cool enough to handle and peel. Older eggs are much easier to peel.

My original recipe for this dish begins with cooking the beets, adding spices and then making a pickling solution out of the broth. These days I buy a large jar of borscht, empty it into a large container, add 1/4 C brown sugar and two Tbs of cider vinegar and add the eggs. I swear it’s even better this way.

Allow the eggs to stand in the broth for three days, stirring occasionally, in a cool dark place.

Dip the eggs out of the jar with a slotted spoon and compost the broth. Slice them in half, scoop out the yolks and mash separately with 1/4 C mayonnaise or yogurt, 1/4 C mustard, 2 Tbs of chives and a little sea salt. I have sorrel in the garden now, and added 5 leaves chopped fine for a lemony edge. Mix and mash the ingredients until smooth and then add back to the empty “whites” with two spoons. You can use a pastry bag, but I like the less formal approach here. Joyeuses Pâques!

Potato and Green Onion Fishcakes

My mental picture of Ireland includes green rolling hills, green pastures, greenstone houses and the occasional peaceful lake. I don’t immediately think of the ocean, but Eire is an island, after all, and most of the Irish recipes handed down through my family involve fish. I learned this recipe “by hand”, that is, I watched someone make it and then joined in. I don’t have precise amounts for the ingredients, but it’s a peasant dish and the measurements aren’t critical to having a good meal out of it. The recipe is also a little more complicated than I would generally make for a weeknight dinner – lots of pans and dishes complicated. On the other hand it’s cheap and absolutely wonderful. You have been warned.

You’ll need a potato ricer and: 1/2 pound white fish (I use haddock); 4 medium or 5 small boiling potatoes (I like Yukon or Caribe); 4 C chopped spinach (about 1/2 pound fresh); 3 green onions, chopped; scant 1/2 C matzoh meal; 2 large eggs, beaten;  salt and pepper, oil and butter for frying. This amount serves 2, generously.

Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks and cook until done – you’ll want them uniformly soft for ease of ricing.  Drain them in a colander so that they cool a little and won’t cook the eggs when you add them later. In a 10″ skillet poach the fish in water with a little white wine and lemon juice until opaque and flaky. I like to drain and cool the fish on a cake rack so that it doesn’t add too much additional water to the mix. In another large skillet saute the green onions until soft and add the spinach and cook until quite done.  You can add a 1/2 tsp sesame oil at this point if you like. I”m pretty sure my ancestors did not. Dump the spinach and green onions into a large bowl.

Clean up all the dishes and pans and let everything sit and cool off for a minute.  Now rice the potatoes into a another large bowl and let them stand. Flake the fish off the cake rack into the bowl of spinach (nicely cooled so that it doesn’t overcook the fish. My ancestors were a patient people, at least when it came to fishcakes). Add the beaten eggs and mix gently and not too thoroughly, add the matzoh meal the same way. Season with a 1/2 tsp salt. Add this mixture to the riced potatoes and mix until you can pick up spoonfuls of more or less cohesive batter on a large spoon.

Heat the large skillet with oil and 1 Tbsp of butter. Drop large spoonfuls (about 1/4 C) of the mixture in the pan, fry until browned, flip over and squash with the flat of the spatula. Repeat until done. I remember meals of just fishcakes – vegetable, starch and protein all-in-one – but I like these with a green salad and a piece of soda bread full of whiskey-soaked currants and caraway seeds. And the new Betterbee catalog. Paradise!

Fishcakes and the Betterbee catalogue - paradise!


Spaetz is Swabish for “Sparrow”, so spaetzle are “little sparrows”. I’m not really all that clear on the relationship between small, soft egg noodles and baby birds, but whatever. I like it, and I think that’s what I’ll call them from now on.

I made spaetzle last night, and forgot to take a picture of the finished dish, which was delicious and quite attractive. The recipe is extremely easy and fresh pasta is such a treat – it’s really wonderful to be able to make it without an expensive pasta maker and the extra work of drying and tempering. I’d even suggest this for a work-night dinner; fast, uses common ingredients and is capable of being reinvented with every sort of leftover.

For this recipe you will need a colander with large holes, say 3/8″ diameter. Several sources suggest using the large holes of a cheese grater, but the surface is small and hard to hold above the pot. I bought a .99 cent plastic colander at the grocery store which works beautifully or you could buy a spaetzle-board for about $12.00.

You can tell I got a little carried away with the colander. . .

Spaetzle for two or three – the recipe doubles easily.

2 eggs, 1/3 C whole milk, 1/4 C parsley, minced; 1/4 tsp salt; 1 1/3 C all-purpose flour. Mince the parsley very fine.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large bowl, add the eggs, milk, parsley and salt and mix well. Add the flour a little at a time while mixing – the dough should be a little runny. Let it sit for 10 minutes. If it sits longer than that, it will begin to “bind”, so add a little more milk at that point.

Carefully hold the colander over the pot of boiling water (or place the spaetzle-board across it), spoon the dough into the container and then push the dough through the holes with the back of a wooden spoon. Wriggly “little sparrows” will drop into the water, fall, and then rise as they cook. I wait 3 or 4 minutes, but taste one at about 2 minutes. They don’t take long to cook and a lot depends on the consistency of your dough.

Drain the cooked spaetzle and, when most of the water has run off and they begin to dry, spread them on an oiled cookie sheet (I use a Silplat) until you’re ready to use them.

For the basic dish, simply saute the spaetzle in butter and serve with applesauce.  I toss them with roasted broccoli and sauteed leeks, topped with Parmesan, but I’ve also had them with tomato sauce, with a glaze of reduced cider and topped with bread crumbs – go nuts!

We had creampuffs for dessert, with creme anglais and chocolate ganache. Next post is the recipe, which is blindingly easy.

Stuffed naan

Flatbread dough filled with a soft herb/cheese/onion mixture – this is  an easy recipe if  a little messy ( as all the best ones are). When I make this dish for company I finish the breads ahead of time and warm them, wrapped in foil, in the oven. This is a vegetarian version, but ground lamb is a popular addition. Actually you can use any combination of ingredients for the filling as long as the result is fairly soft and smooth – hard bits will force their way through the soft dough and spoil the surface.

Stuffed Naan

naan step 13 3/4 C unbleached white flour (I make some of this up with chapati (chick pea) flour and whole wheat to add flavor, but all white flour makes a dependable texture), 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, about 1 1/4 C plain yogurt, unsalted butter for brushing the finished breads.

Put all the ingredients except the butter in the bowl of your food processor and process until the dough follows the blade around in a ball. You may need to add more flour, or yogurt. This dough isn’t fragile and some extra whapping around won’t hurt it.  Dump the dough out on to a floured board. It will be soft and sticky, but try to gather it up into a ball (you may have to push it around some with a little extra flour), and put it in an oiled bowl in a warm place to rise for about an hour. This is not a yeast dough – the time will temper the gluten in the flour but it won’t appear to rise.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a medium bowl mix: 1 8 oz farmer cheese (or paneer, ricotta, small curd cottage cheese), 2 Tbs fresh parsley, cilantro to taste, 1/4 C sauteed onion and 1 C cooked potato. I generally make naan in conjuction with a curry, so I cook the potato and onion for that as well. Leftovers work fine, too. Mash everything together thoroughly – you should have a dry, sticky mix that won’t ooze out of the bread, or stick up through the dough.

Heat an 8 – 10″ frying pan or cast iron skillet over medium low heat – add a little vegetable oil if it’s not seasoned. Keep in mind that the pan will need to go under the broiler in a minute, so no non-stick surfaces or wooden handles allowed. Dump the dough out on to a floured board and divide into five or six balls. Some people make lots of small breads, but it takes a lot longer that way. I like to make a size that just fits in my frying pan. naan step 2

Roll a ball out to about 6″ in diameter, and drop a healthy amount of filling on the center – about 1/4 cup. Keep the rest of the dough covered so it doesn’t dry out. Gather the edges up in pleats to the center and twist slightly to make a spiraled top to your dough ball of filling. Which is a great name for a band. Flatten the ball, flip it over and roll it out to the size of your pan. Now you see why you want a soft filling.

naan step 3Turn on your broiler to low. Pick up the bread and place it in the hot pan, shaking slightly so it doesn’t stick. Cook until the underside is nicely browned. Now put the pan and all under the broiler and turn off the burner. Make another naan.  In a minute (or few), the top will puff up and develop brown spots.naan step 5 Pull the pan out and slide the bread onto a cutting board. Race back to the stove and turn the burner on, slide the next piece into the pan. Now go back to the first naan and rub the top with a stick of unsalted butter. Cut into wedges and serve to the first lucky participant with a bowl of spinach curry and sides of yogurt and mango chutney.

Next week I’m going to try this recipe with a banana chocolate filling and powdered sugar on top. I promise to take pictures.