Category Archives: ethnic

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!)

Pysanka

pysanka with chicken

Connie T., who lives a half mile further down our road, has a flock of chickens which lay beautiful blue, tan, and stark white eggs. I know this because occasionally I come home to a box of these beauties on the doorstep – what a treat! She also makes Pysanky, the beautiful Easter eggs that that have been made in Russia and the Ukraine since prehistoric times. No actual eggshells from that time exist, but ceramic replicas have been found from all the way back to the 3rd millennium BC. Legend says that pysanky keep the Serpent at bay, and that as long as sufficient numbers are made each spring the horrible monster will stay chained to a cliff in the Underworld. Thanks, Connie, for making the world a safer place!

easter-egg-front easter-egg-border easter-egg-verso

Astier, 12 Avril 2012

One more post about Paris, and then on to what’s happening in the Maine garden these days. Right now there’s a pounding Nor’easter in the garden so it’s more pleasant to blog about dinner in Paris, but soon. . .

We went to a traditional French restaurant for our wedding anniversary on April 12. Restaurant Astier is tiny, friendly, and thirty feet from the apartment we were renting. Did  I mention tiny? The waiters had to back down the stairs to the wine cellar – I don’t think there was enough room to turn around down there.

Astier

We chose the prix fixe menu and split the dishes between us. The first course was one dish of thin slices of duck breast on a circle of mirepoix, and the other a bright green cold soup with a “dumpling” of lightly smoked haddock.

first course

Second course: a circle of lamb in dark gravy topped with eggplant tomato puree; grilled pork chop on a plate of white beans.

second course

Third course is The Famous Cheese Platter – renowned in song and story. Fifteen pounds of cheese folks, representing every shape, flavor and region. The waiter brings this huge platter of cheese to your table – on a metal stand because it’s much too big to actually fit on that tiny surface with your plate and the accompanying bread basket – and hands off a couple of sharp knives. That’s it – for this course it’s you against the cheese.

amazing cheese

Last course, dessert! R. had creme brulee covered in diced strawberries. Delicate and delicious, very sorry the photo was taken moments too late to see its lovely presentation. I had Baba au rhum traditionnel. Now baba au rhum in my experience is a nicely glazed brioche sort-of-thing. At Astier our waiter brought me a cylinder of yellow pound cake in a soup plate, a sharp knife, and a soup spoon. I was puzzled. He took the knife back from me and cut the pound cake into quarters, produced a dark green decanter and poured a cup of rum into the soup plate, then handed me a drinking glass full of whipped cream and wished us “Bon appetite”.

BABA

It was a wonderful meal, we had fantastic (and very friendly) service, delightful people-watching, and it was also fortunate that our apartment was two doors down the street after wine with dinner and rum with dessert.

And evidently wedding anniversary #26 is the French restaurant anniversary. If I could, I’d make reservations for #27 right now.

Chickpea Tapas

I have a very short list of vegetarian appetizers because all the truly wonderful hand-food seems to involve bacon. Devils on Horseback anyone? Tapas, on the other hand, are meant to be scooped out of dish with a piece of bread and many of them involve legumes and sauce. Also, garlic, sea-salt and jalapenos with lots of great combinations to choose from. I made this chickpea and greens mixture for Sunday dinner with S. and K. – very nice, very spring.

Chickpea tapas

1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

About 3 Tbs olive oil (the amount depends on how dry/tough your greens are)

About 1 pound of greens – freshly picked is best, boxed cooking greens next, or you can use spinach

1 C croutons or bagel chips

1/4 C tomato sauce

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 Tbs chopped jalepenos (optional, but traditional)

1  Tbs white wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 C grated cheddar cheese – although smoked gouda is nice, too.

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon juice, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the greens and the jalepenos and stir fry until the greens are just wilted, about 2 minutes and less than that if they’re right out of the garden. Add the cumin and garlic and stir for a minute until fragrant. Dump in the chickpeas, croutons or chips, tomato sauce, vinegar into the pan and allow to heat through. Add more olive oil if necessary and stir until well blended.

Transfer to a food processor, blender or mortar and pestle along with the vinegar, and mash to a coarse paste.  It should be a good consistency to scoop out onto a piece of baguette – go ahead and try it out, like a responsible cook.  Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof dish and distribute the grated cheese on top. Just before serving, heat under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly. Sprinkle with smoked paprika (yum) and serve in the hot dish with slices of baguette or more bagel chips.

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.

d'oh

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.

Hot Crossed

We had family over for dinner last night. We have a few friends who go way back and a few more who know they don’t have to take their boots off to come inside (long story, maybe a future blog entry), and sometimes family members drop in from out of state. This couple were attending an orientation at the college their son will be attending next year, so they’re going to be a fixture for at least four years. We’ll be on good enough terms that I can feed them weird food, which is what family means in this house.

Last night we started with homemade dulse crackers and Cabot cheese. I never admit to making the crackers unless someone asks me for a brand name. This group ate the whole batch, but where I got them never came up. I love experimenting with cracker recipes. Next we had vegetarian chili with extra vegetables. I add a sweet potato, carrots, red onions and a pound of spinach to the regular spices and three varieties of beans. It doesn’t bear much resemblance to the best chili I’ve ever eaten (working for the cook at the jail in San Bernadino), but that was nowhere near vegetarian. Then we had hot cross buns!

This is adapted Martha’s recipe or, as we say around here, “Mawther”. Some homemade hot cross buns are too doughy, some are too cakey, these are perfect. The recipe makes 24 buns which, if you’re going to go to all this trouble, there should be more than six. Everyone loved these, and tonight I had one split in half with strawberries. Yum.

Hot Cross Buns

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for bowl and baking sheet
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons plus one pinch salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose, flour plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/3 cups currants
  • 1 large egg white
  • About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  1. Generously butter a large bowl. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, heat 1 cup milk until it is warm to the touch.
  2. Pour warm milk into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook (actually, I used my food processor). With mixer on low, add yeast, granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, melted butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and beaten eggs.
  3. With mixer on low, add flour, 1 cup at a time, until a soft, slightly sticky dough forms around the dough hook, about 3 minutes. Continue kneading, scraping down hook and sides of bowl as necessary until smooth, about 4 minutes longer. Add currants, and knead until combined, about 30 seconds.
  4. Turn dough out onto a heavily floured surface. Knead by hand to evenly distribute currants, about 1 minute.
  5. Shape dough into a ball, and place in the buttered bowl; turn ball to coat with butter, and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour 20 minutes. For a richer flavor, let dough rise in a refrigerator overnight. (I highly recommend rising it overnight. My house is fairly cold, so I just left it out on the counter)
  6. Generously butter an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet, or use a Silpat. Turn dough out onto work surface, and knead briefly to redistribute the yeast. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 ounces each. Shape pieces into tight balls, and place on baking sheet, spaced 1/2 inch apart. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until touching and doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  7. Heat oven to 375 degrees, with rack positioned in center. To make egg wash, whisk together egg white, 1 tablespoon water, and pinch of salt in a small bowl; brush tops of buns with egg wash. Using very sharp scissors or a buttered slicing knife, slice a cross into the top of each bun. Transfer pan to oven, and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool.
  8. Make frosting: In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon milk, an egg white*, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon juice. Add more sugar if the frosting is too thin. Put the frosting in a stout plastic bag and clip one corner to pipe crosses on the buns.

*Use commercial pasteurized egg whites if you’re not sure about your eggs – this egg white remains uncooked.

Winter honey

Bee colonies die over the course of the Maine winter for all kinds of reasons. The most common is starvation. We have a short summer of very long days and the bees are well, busy, from April when the maples throw their nearly invisible flowers through early November and the last of the goldenrod. Some summers we have a drought in August that kills off any chance at an autumn honeycrop, and that’s what happened in 2010. I encourage goldenrod in my garden and have even planted a few hybrid varieties to lengthen the season, and I grow Japanese buckwheat and autumn blooming clematis, but sometimes it’s just not enough.

Some winters a colony doesn’t make it through for other reasons. My autopsy of “Stripey” found a medium number of dead bees and a lot of honey so- not starved. I couldn’t find the queen but that’s not unusual in a dead hive. There were some pupae and larvae in evidence but not nearly enough. The colony may have been weakened by a late season swarm that I missed, or the queen may have been old. In any case, it was time to clean house. Mice and red squirrels will nest in a hive that has honey comb and no bees to defend it and they make a terrible mess of the equipment.

I opened the hive, lifted out the frames and scraped the comb into a 10 gallon food bucket with a petcock in the bottom. I cut the comb up into chunks with the flat end of my hive tool and let it sit overnight in front of the Rinnai heater. There was no evidence of disease in the hive, so I wrapped the scrapped frames in plastic and put them in the freezer. I’ll feed them to the new colonies that will be arriving in early May. This afternoon I drained the honey out of the bucket into jars through a strainer. It was much slower work today than it was last July, when the summer heat made the honey flow like water. This batch is very dark, with flavors of buckwheat, goldenrod and asters.

I filled 8 pint jars and had enough left over for honey cake. Honey cake!

For the Cake

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced orange or lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon ( or 1/2 teaspoon for a more pronounced cinnamon flavor) and 1/4 tsp cardamon
  • 1/2 cup matzoh cake meal and 1/2 cup all – purpose flour
  • (I add 1/2 tsp baking powder. The addition of leavening to the recipe, at this time of year, means this isn’t traditional! My apologies to Julia, who gave me this recipe.)
  • 1 and 1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds or walnuts, or a combination. Black walnuts are very nice.

For the Syrup

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 8″ square pan.

Using a wire whisk, beat the granulated and brown sugars with the oil and eggs until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. (If you’re a little impatient and don’t get them quite to the “pale yellow” stage it’s OK – you’re using baking powder!) Stir in the remaining batter ingredients. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is light brown and set. Cool for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the syrup ingredients together in a small bowl. A whisk is helpful for blending the honey and OJ.

Pour the syrup over the cooled cake, poking holes in the cake with a fork, to permit the syrup to penetrate. Allow it to stand for 2 to 4 hours to absorb the syrup. Refrigerate so that while it is absorbing the liquid, it is also firming up.  Serve small pieces on splayed muffin liners. It’s also very nice served with sliced strawberries and drizzled with more honey.

Carrot cake

Last night I made our family’s favorite carrot cake recipe and shared it with the neighbors. It was a big hit with folks who aren’t used to pistachios and cardamon mixing it up with staid New England carrots from the root cellar, so I’m posting the recipe by their request. I dust the top with confectioners sugar in lieu of cream cheese frosting, which I don’t care for because I don’t make it very well. I’m sure it will be wonderful if you have the knack.

The original recipe was in Madhur Jaffrey’s book, “World of the East Vegetarian Cooking”, but it has undergone a few changes since.

Oil and flour a 9″ square pan and preheat the oven to 350.

Whisk two eggs, 1 C sugar, 1/4 – 1/2 tsp ground cardamon, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 C softened ghee (or butter) in a large bowl. Add 1 C flour, 1 tsp baking soda and mix just until incorporated. Add 1/4 C chopped pistachios, 1/4 C currants and 1 1/2 C grated carrots firmly packed, and mix well.

Spread the mixture in the pan and bake 35 – 40 minutes, until the cake springs back in the center. Dust the top with confectioners sugar when cool.

Pfeffernusse

“Pepper nuts” are small, firm molasses cookies that taste of anise and spice. They are traditionally dredged in confectioner’s sugar after baking. Store them in a tightly closed tin with a slice of apple to keep them from drying out.

Pfeffernusse

1/2 C shortening (I use Crisco, not butter), 3/4 C brown sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 C molasses, 3 drops of anise oil, 3 and 1/3 C flour, 1/2 tsp soda, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1 Tbsp hot water. This makes a stiff dough, so I use a food processor to mix everything thoroughly. You may have to redistribute the ingredients a few times.Try to find anise oil, not anise flavoring, for the most authentic taste.

If you have time, let the dough sit in a cool place or the refrigerator for a few hours.

Now, the fun part: use a melon baller to scoop out the dough. You may have to gently re-shape an edge here and there, but this method makes quick work for about 8 dozen perfectly sized little nuggets that will bake uniformly and look great on a plate of assorted cookies. Bake about 12 minutes at 350 F, until slightly more brown on the bottom. Leave them on the sheet to firm up after removing from the oven, then cool on a rack. I like to use a large tupperware container with a cup of confectioner’s sugar in it to dredge the cookies when cooled.

Enjoy with a strong cup of black tea and a napkin!