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.

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.

Happy New Year Buns

new years buns

This is a weird picture, but it’s the only one I have – we ate them too quickly. My family traditionally celebrates New Year’s Eve by staying in and eating dumplings. Tonight we made potstickers (fried and then steamed, made with unleavened dough) and baozi (steamed, leavened filled rolls).  We also made a batch of shrimp, ginger, garlic, spinach and water chestnut filling and used it for both batches. Here’s the recipe for the baozi – you’ll need a bamboo or metal tiered steamer and a food processor.

1 Tbs active dry yeast
1  cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 egg
3 1/2 cups all-purpose wheat flour or bread flour, plus more as needed. You can also use rice flour, barley, whole wheat or corn meal as part of the dry ingredients.

Add flour, sugar and yeast to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix.  Add water, oil and egg; process until well blended and the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. This is a soft dough.

Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 3 hours depending on the room temperature.

Stretch the dough out into a log with a diameter of about 2.5 inches. I generally let it lie coiled on a large cookie sheet lined with a Silplat. Using kitchen shears, cut the dough into 2 inch pieces (it should make around 25), and let rise again for at least 30 minutes. You can steam these plain for 20-25 minutes,  or you can fill them, like we did tonight. Flatten a piece of dough in your hand (oiling your fingers first makes this easier). Holding the dough cupped in your palm, put about 2 tsp of filling in the middle and fold the edges up in a pleat, squeeze shut. I like to roll the opening underneath the bun so that it doesn”t show, but it’s also traditional to keep them upright, showing off their little topknots.

Any filling you can imagine works well with this dough. I’ve had spicy pork, red bean paste, homemade jam, cream cheese and strawberries, butter-sugar-cinnamon, bean curd and pineapple boazi – they’re all good.

Happy New Year!

Hardy Ancestors – Mincemeat

68 adams rdI grew up in this house. There were cows wandering the first floor when my parents bought it in 1955 shortly after I was born. My father had adventures and tetanus shots ripping off the decrepit front porch and flipping the huge old floorboards over to hide the damage from the livestock. The house was built in 1770 – or thereabouts and had been updated last around 1800. He did extensive renovations before my grandmother would allow my mother to move in with the new baby.

The Institute Cookbook’s recipe for mincemeat “has remained unchanged for quite some time”. The book dates from 1800 and the editor is prone to understatement so I imagine a cook in my childhood home might have made it the same way in 1770. My father told me once that his grandmother made mincemeat with woodchuck, but he too was prone to understatement and I would keep to the “lean beef” mentioned in the recipe, myself.

1 lb suet, 2 lbs lean beef, 1 quart chopped apple

1/4 C candied orange peel and 1/4 C candied lemon peel, 1/2 lb citron, 3 C seeded raisins and 1 C currants

Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon and one orange

1/2 C molasses, 1 C sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp allspice and cloves, 1 nutmeg, grated (about 1 tsp)

2 1/2 C sweet cider (as opposed to hard cider)

Let the meat simmer slowly in a covered kettle until tender (insert my father’s story about sampling the meat cooking on the back of the stove, finding it fairly lean and good, and then being told it was ‘chuck). Run the meat and then the suet through a meat chopper and mix well. Add the other ingredients, chopping the peels and citron before adding. Put in a stone (ceramic) crock and let stand several days to ripen. Bake in a plain or half puff paste double crust pie.

I should add that I’ve had vegetarian versions made with beets and dried apples instead of meat and suet – not the same, but not bad.

Quick dinner

Last night I came home late (work has been crazy) and needed supper in a hurry. It yakatori 003was 6 pm, it had been dark for 3 hours, the wind chill was minus 17 and we have at least three more months of this – we needed comfort.  The recipe below will make you feel great in less than half an hour. I apologize for the picture being mostly about salad. It was great salad, too. Note the Chinese ladle at the top of the frame loaded with marinated chicken, and the bowl of tofu strips and mushroom slices? That’s dinner.

Yakitori Donburo

3 boneless chicken breasts, sliced width-wize into well, stir fry pieces. That’s the only way I can describe it. Too bad the picture is all about the salads, eh? You can add 3 – 4 oz tofu in 1/2″ cubes and 1 C sliced mushrooms if you like.
1/2 cup  soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin or Chinese cooking rice wine
1  teaspoon ginger minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 C vegetable oil
2 tsp sugar
2 green onions, cut into 1/4 inch pieces, green and white parts)
• 3 cups cooked white rice

Mix soy sauce, mirin, ginger and garlic in medium glass or plastic bowl. Place chicken in soy mixture and marinate for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, set the rice to cook. Do you have a rice cooker? Good, it’s the only way to go.

Drain chicken, reserving soy mixture. Heat oil in a wok or 12-inch skillet until hot. Cook chicken until brown on both sides and almost done, and then add the bean curd and mushrooms, if using. Cook another few minutes until everything is done and coated with the now reduced sauce.  Heat reserved soy mixture to boiling and add sugar and green onions. Boil about a minute.  This is from a Japanese recipe, however bastardized through the folk process after years in my possession. Keep in mind that this marinating liquid has been in contact with raw poultry. If you’re squeamish about your chicken or are fixing this dish for children, by all means start over with fresh mirin and soy sauce. If not, just boil the heck out of it for about a minute.

Serve with the rice, and in our house we like our rice plain and the sauce spooned over the chicken/tofu/mushrooms. This dish goes well with salads (as in the picture) or you can go one-dish crazy and add three big handfuls of spinach or beet greens  in the last 30 seconds of cooking in the wok. Delicious either way. And ready in about 25 minutes.

Our Hardy Ancestors, documented

lyman sheldonWinter is truly here and there is no gardening at 21 degrees F and 30 knots unless you count going through the seed catalogs.  (Here’s where I man up and admit that I’ve already placed my seed orders for summer 2010, so that exercise would be redundant.) At 19:30 EST in July I’d still be working outdoors in broad daylight, but it is late November at 44  Lat and the sun went down hours ago. Winter is the time for research, and I have plenty of indoor projects that need work.

As part of my genealogy project I’ve been going through boxes and scrapbooks to find illustrations of the characters I’m researching. Or at least that’s how the process is supposed to go; I’ve reached Dorothy Filley Bidwell’s part in the family tree and it’s time to find a picture. But sometimes my hand stutters over a snapshot that’s just too good to put back in the box, never mind that I haven’t quite got to that branch of the tree.

This is, right to left, Minnie Cornelia Smith and her husband Walter Alexander Sheldon, and Emma Estelle Smith and her husband George Elisha Lyman. The Smith sisters had a double wedding on October 1, 1895 and this picture was taken on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. Bet that was a heckava party.

What can I do with all this spinach?

And onions. Alan D. gave us onions from his garden – huge, beautiful beasts that will probably keep till March in down cellar if I stop bringing them upstairs to admire them.  Here’s a sample, with our evening tea for scale.


So, I had 11 oz of spinach – doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s one of those giant plastic clam shell cases that is or is not recyclable, depending on the whim of the guys at the Strawberry Hill Transfer Station. I was sick of trying to find room for it in the refrigerator, and slightly miffed with myself for buying it to begin with. The Boy is away at School and I should be cutting my food purchases by roughly 50% (he’s thin, but he is a 6’3″ teenager and accounts for about half our food when he’s home). The spinach will not keep until mid-winter break. Then I remembered an old, old recipe, maybe from “Recipes for a Small Planet”? I can’t find my battered copy of that old faithful, so here it is from memory:

Spinach Patties

3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
11 oz fresh spinach (the big plastic box) If you don’t have this much, you can add chopped celery, kale, or those assorted greens you get from your CVA – you know, the ones that you have no idea what they are. I sympathize, I actually grow them and I have no idea what they are. Purslane? Seriously?
About 1 cup matzo meal or fine dried bread crumbs
1 tsp sea salt
Ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp cayenne or red pepper flakes – optional
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil for frying
Lemon wedges for serving

1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and, if using, the other vegetables, garlic and saute until soft and translucent, then add the spinach and cook just until most of it has wilted a little. Transfer the whole mess to your food processor. Pulse just a few times – think uniformly chopped, not puree. Add the eggs and pulse a few times again, until they are incorporated. Here you’re going to find that I’m always in a hurry, again. You could let the mixture cool a little bit, so that there was zero chance of the eggs cooking on impact with the hot, just-out-of-the-frying-pan veggies. You could. Or you could add them, pulse a few times and then dump quickly into a handy bowl and add the  matzo meal, salt, pepper and stir quickly to cool it down that way. Perfect. If the mixture is too loose, add a little more matzo meal – not too much – the mixture thickens as it stands. This can be stored in the refrigerator for a day, or over night for a very nice brunch.

2. Pick up the mixture with kitchen spoons and scrape it off into the hot frying pan, like cookie dough.  In batches, fry the little balls until golden brown on the bottom (this doesn’t take very long, about a minute?) then turn them and squish them flat with the spatula. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm, accompanied with lemon wedges.

spinach pancakes 012

I made these with a side of rice and sweet chili sauce, but they are also good with feta cheese, toasted walnuts or (gasp) bacon. Also I should warn you that this recipe makes what I have begun to think of as “too much for two people”. On the other hand, I’m sitting here at 11:15 EST and having two with some vodka, so you know they won’t go to waste.