posts tagged with 'cooking'

pie plant

It's no secret I love perennial crops. Rhubarb is another early season favorite, and after adding some new plantings of it last year we have plenty to go around.

rhubarb growing by the fence


I picked the first few stalks maybe ten days ago, and cooked them into syrup that I mixed with sparkling water to make a refreshing rhubarb soda; yesterday's harvest went into some muffins. Not till this morning, though, did this year's crop reach it's true purpose and perfection.

a pie on the table


This particular pie came with us to a lovely cookout, where we spent about six and a half enjoyable hours chatting with old and new friends and eating lots of food, but not much rhubarb pie—I had to taste it of course, but I limited myself to a thin slice to make sure there was enough for the rest of the crowd. But as I said, there's plenty of rhubarb in the garden to go round; there'll be lots more pies to come!


why listening to the internet is a mistake

I've had this article open in a browser tab for well over a week, so I need to write about it here to clear it off my computer and out of my mind. It's called "Why Adding Milk To Your Scrambled Eggs Is A Mistake", and in it the author states baldly that "[o]ne common mistake people make when cooking scrambled eggs is adding milk or cream. You may have been whisking your eggs with milk since you were a little kid, but we're telling you now: It's time to stop."


It may seem counterintuitive, but the addition of milk, cream or any other liquid for that matter, will actually make it more likely that your eggs will turn out dry. By thinning out the eggs, it's easier to overcook them. Most importantly, the milk dilutes the taste of the eggs. It also screws with the texture, leaving the eggs slightly rubbery — and no one wants rubbery eggs. If you're using good, farm fresh eggs, you don't need anything except maybe a little salt and pepper to make them taste delicious. A little butter never hurt anyone, either.

The author, Alison Spiegel, "is a Food Editor at the Huffington Post. She is a graduate of Middlebury College, and she currently lives in Brooklyn." I don't know part of that qualifies her to to judge egg preparation, but I'm pretty sure that her main qualification to the bosses at HuffPo is the ability to draw traffic, and she hit the jackpot with that egg post (which I got to via google news); most of her posts have maybe two comments, but that particular gem pulled in 693 at current count. I didn't read any of them.

I only hope people aren't really following her advice and leaving milk out of their eggs. I've been making eggs with milk or cream for years and they're always really good; why on earth would I change at the unreferenced suggestion of a Middlebury grad living in Brooklyn?! But I bet there are people who will: the same people who can't resist the latest weird diet trick, or believe conspiracy theories. "I hadn't thought of that before, so it must be true!"

There's nothing wrong with changing your mind about things, certainly. I've done things one way for years before realizing I was "wrong": I used shaving cream like a chump until it occurred to me that plain old soap does a better job. But when I make a change you know it's based on my own experience, a trusted friend, or a well-reasoned argument. Not some handwaving about how milk "screws with the texture".

As for milk and cream in eggs specifically, I'm going to stick with what works for me. And if I want backup justification, I'll turn to the words of Tamar Adler, also a Brooklyn resident, but one who has cooked at Prune and Chez Panisse (as well as her own restaurant):

Beat two or three eggs in a bowl, adding a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of heavy cream if you want. This is not a trick, but an expression of the fact that things taste good with cream added.

And I'll do it a lot: I forgot to check our henhouse for eggs two days ago and yesterday there were ten to bring in. Scrambled eggs with cream every morning, and never mind about that dumb bossy internet!


historical reenactment homemaking

You probably know this about me, but I hate and fear many aspects of modern existence. Plastic wrap, for example. Who decided it would be a good idea to cover food with a 12.5 micrometer film of PVC? And yet it now seems indispensable for so many kitchen applications, from wrapping up leftovers to gift-wrapping decorative cookie plates. Me, I used it most in baking: wrapping balls of pie dough or gingerbread, or covering the bread as it rises. And then one day I got to wondering: how did folks handle those needs before the first half of the 20th century, when plastic wrap was invented?

The question led immediately to its answer, which was—I say without any research or actual knowledge, but also without doubt—that they covered things in cloth. Wet cloth, to keep the dough from drying out. So I started doing that instead. It feels so much nicer! I don't know that any chemicals from plastic actually leach out into food, but to me at least plastic wrap is just not pleasant stuff. Plus there's the issue of the energy and raw materials that go into making and transporting it, and then again into disposing of it (how many of you recycle your plastic wrap?). An old cotton napkin from the rag bin doesn't have any of those issues.

I can see why, even hearing my process, some people would totally still be into plastic wrap. Compared to its perceived sterility, a wet rag might seem distressingly permeable to germs, or even somehow dirty in its own right. But keeping our bread dough—or our leftovers—sterility is a pretty modern problem; and with all due respect to modern medicine is not one that should loom particularly large in our consciousness. Under cotton my bread can breathe as it rises, and I'm sure it's better for it. That I'm following the example of countless generations of homemakers before me only improves my appreciation of the method.


buttering me up

This afternoon the boys and I took a long cold walk, and when we got back I wanted to make them (and me!) some hot chocolate. In view of the success of our expedition I even thought to make whipped cream to glob on top—but not very much whipped cream, since it was just the three of us and not so far before dinner time. So instead of using the stand mixer as usual, I tried the whisk attachment on the stick blender. First in a bowl—which resulted in cream all over everything in a three-foot radius—and then in a tall drinking glass. Imagine my surprise when in maybe four seconds of mechanized whisking the cream in the glass turned not to whipped cream, but to butter! (then when I was taking the whisk out of the glass I accidentally hit the button to run the machine again and butter went everywhere; it was that kind of process).

I knew butter was easy to make (had I wanted to do it on purpose I would have used the Cuisinart) but I had no idea it could be done that quickly. We haven't made it before since we figured the cost of good cream would make it prohibitive—and bad cream wouldn't be worthwhile—but I was impressed by how much butter I got out of less than a quarter cup of cream. Further experiments may be in order! I know hippies usually make more yogurt than butter, but what can I say... butter appeals to me a whole lot more!

Oh, and naturally having made butter I had to serve some of it up on bread to go with our chocolate; the rest is in the fridge for tomorrow.


changing seasons

It turned cool here the last week or so, and I find myself wanting to make muffins. It's a noticeable switch, after three warm months of no particular baking desires; in the last three days I've already made two batches (pumpkin chocolate-chip and applesauce). I don't know exactly what's driving my muffin desires, but my enjoyment of the warm oven and the smell of cloves and allspice are probably big factors.

The only problem—besides that I don't have all the time in the world to bake—is that since muffin season is a fall phenomenon it hits at the same time our hens stop laying. It feels like the dropoff in egg production was a little earlier and steeper than last year, so we naturally wonder if our wonderful barred rocks might be reaching the end of their laying career. Good thing we have some understudies in the wings! In any case, we're out of eggs today for the first time since late February; I used the last one for the applesauce muffins. I guess it'll have to be bread baking tomorrow.


hippy progress

a pint jar of cooked black beans on the table

not canned, jarred

I often claim to be some kind of a hippy homesteader type—at least, that's how we have it in our blog description thingy—so it's to me great shame to admit that, for the vast majority of my life, whenever I wanted to make something with beans I'd just open a can. It's horrible, I know. Even many months after reading An Everlasting Meal (mentioned previously) I couldn't manage to get going on dried beans. Part of the problem was one failed recipe a couple years ago; those black beans were so disgusting I couldn't face trying again for quite a while.

But now I wonder what the problem ever could have been, because as most of you probably could tell me, dried beans aren't any hard. They take a long time, sure, but almost no effort or attention at all; just like I always tell people about bread, only more so. I am now converted, and will be working solely with dried beans from here on out (with the possible exception of a few cans of chick peas for any sudden hummus cravings). One key to avoiding canned beans will be saving some cooked beans in the fridge at all times against the inevitable moment when Zion asks for "beans and rice and cheese and tortilla and sour cream to dip", which he does just like that because his requests lately are more often than not rote recitations. You can't imagine how many times we've heard "a little bit of warm apple juice and a lot of warm cold water warmed up in a bottle with a top." Really you can't. And yes, he does (this week) say "warm cold water".

Last week I made pot of chili with dried beans, and I also used some of the tomatoes we canned in the summer. It felt pretty good: our chili recipe, which used to result in four or five tin cans headed to the recycle bin, was made without producing any landfill waste at all. With the recent seed order I'm ready to go even bigger next year; just ask Leah how excited she is about having even more tomatoes to put up! And I don't know what sort of yield we'll get on dried beans, but we'll have Black Turtle and Vermont Cranberry growing, along with Kentucky Wonder pole beans which, I learned recently, can also be used dry as soup beans. Just the thing for when the poles are so tall you can't pick the beans at the top until you take the whole thing down in the fall!

All that is to say: while while we're still struggling (or in some cases not struggling) with other marks of hippy shame, I can now report that, if nothing else, at least I know how to soak beans.


some cooking

I didn't work today, so besides taking the boys to the playground and skate park for some pre-snow sunny day fun, I also cooked some things. Since I believe I created a day's menu never before seen in the history of the world, I thought I'd share.

Breakfast wasn't very interesting: egg and cheese sandwiches. Well, that's what I had; Harvey and Zion didn't want cheese, and Zion took the egg out of his and just ate the toast. Oh well. Come to think of it, they weren't really eager participants in anything I made today, so I'll just leave them out of the rest of the story.

For lunch I made sushi, for the first time in years. It's because yesterday, as we did the grocery shopping, I was feeling quite hungry; seeing the sushi rice, it occurred to me how much I'd like to eat sushi. My hunger didn't acknowledge that there were several steps in between buying the rice and the finished product. But no worries, it came together quickly and Leah and I enjoyed our rolls of egg, carrot, and avocado. Zion ate the carrot out of one roll. Oh wait, I said I wasn't going to talk about that part.

Our dinner was motivated by the turnips in the crisper drawer—turnips that Leah hates, not least because they're sprouting and also even before that very large and taking up a lot of room. But I grew them, so I feel a certain tenderness towards them and don't want to throw them out. And now that the squashes are gone, turnips and parsnips are the only garden crops we have left, so I figure we have to at least pretend we'd be able to survive on them. But what do you do with giant turnips (beside feeding them to cattle)? Why, make bashed neeps of course! Which I had never done before, but will again, because it was a very tasty dish, with a couple carrots cooked with one of the giant turnips to provide some sweetness and color.

No one would forgive me for serving turnips as a main dish, of course (never mind that Laura and her family survived all winter on nothing but turnips in On the Banks of Plum Creek). So after a little internet research on the foodways of the British Isles I cooked some sausage and, to tie the meal together, made onion gravy (loosely from this recipe). With pretty-much caramelized onions and beef broth it's very much like thickened onion soup, and it was delicious all mushed together with sausage and mash. Or at least I thought so; the boys were both delighted to enjoy the sausage on its own, plain, accompanied by bread and butter. But never mind them.


winter eating

a slice of quiche on a plate

home-grown home cooking

I didn't grow enough for us to survive on all winter. Sure we have tomatoes left, canned and frozen both, but that's only because Leah hasn't been able to eat them. We did alright with garlic and haven't bought any since the harvest, but we're down to our last clove now. And never mind the rest of the stuff: all long gone. Thank heavens for civilization. I did, though manage to grow us some parsnips, which are wonderful storage crops, and while we're not eating them they're storing wonderfully down in the cellar. Yesterday evening I decided to bring some up and cook them into a quiche.

I didn't come up with the idea myself; I had seen a recipe somewhere, but couldn't find it when I went looking again. So I searched online and came up with this version, put online by the fine folks at a community garden in Dover, New Hampshire. It came out fine: parsnips are wonderful sweet addition to an egg pie. Of course, while the parsnips and the garlic for the quiche were ours, the eggs were from Chip-In, since our hens aren't laying in all this cold and dark. And the corn was from a can, boo.

Besides the parsnips, garlic, and tomatoes—oh, and some pickles too—we also still have lots of butternut squash. Here's a picture of how many we had around the middle of November, after eating a few and giving a few more away.

a bushel basket of butternut squash, with one big one in front

many pounds

Mostly we make soup with em. The night before last I made soup and used up the last big onion we grew (and by "big" I mean "regular-sized"), but that doesn't count because we've bought many many onions in between harvest and now... we just happen to have been all out of the store kind when I went to look for one. I also made one squash pizza, and some plain mashed squash. But with all that bounty sitting there on the counter, we really need to broaden the repertoire! Squash curry, maybe?

This afternoon I asked the boys, "If we had a farm, what would you like to have on it?" Harvey didn't take long at all to answer, "tomatoes!" Zion said, "animals," and when pressed for details offered, "chickens... and horses and cows." Harvey is the one who's on my side here, clearly! As a reward I told him I'd give him even more space to grow in But they both enjoyed posing with the squashes back in November: here's Harvey with the biggest one and Zion with the smallest. They were being very silly and the light was low; this is the best picture out of many.

Harvey and Zion posing holding squashes

the main problem was that Zion wouldn't hold his still; Harvey didn't have much choice!

Oh I know! What about a squash pie—like a pumpkin pie, but with squash? Any other ideas?


tomatillo salsa

For the last two years I've grown tomatillos, so I figured it was about time to do something with them. Not that we had an overabundance. Last year I think I picked five or six, which I let rot on the counter; this year I didn't bring in more than 20 or so. The plants got big enough, and the flowers were pollinated fine, but most of the tomatillos stayed too little to pick. Next year will be better, always. But as it is we did have those few on the counter, and needed something to go with our rice and beans and tortillas, so green salsa seemed like just the thing.

I'd never made it before, but it turns out to be pretty easy. I cut the tomatillos in half and roasted them with a clove of garlic for about 15 minutes, then I pureed them in the food processor along with a jalapeño, about a quarter of an onion, some cilantro, and lime juice. That's all! Our tomatillo harvest for this year made enough for two meals, I reckon, counting on the boys' light consumption of what for them is a pretty spicy sauce. Besides the tomatillos, we also grew the garlic and the jalapeño; sadly we had neither yellow onions nor cilantro of our own this year. Something else to fix for next season.

As for the lime, I'm still working on how we could manage that one...


I made a quiche today, oh boy

We have a lot of vegetables in the refrigerator these days, as well as a lot of eggs, so when Leah evinced a desire for an "egg pie"—something in a crust with eggs and veggies, as she described it—I knew right away that she was on to something. But before I got started I wanted to make sure I wasn't accidentally going to create an omelet in a pie dish, so I did a little research. Joy of Cooking, my default go-to-source, startled me a little with talk of custards and water-baths, and the internet went too far in the other direction with store-bought pie dough and just throw everything in there. So I kind of split the difference and made up my own recipe.

Of course, I owe a debt to both sources for leading me in the right direction. I didn't realize until I read the recipes in Joy how much of the egg filling in a quiche is actually milk or cream, so I made sure to add a fair amount (though not so much as they suggest: I did 3/4 cup for four eggs). Internet recipes reassured me that I could just toss in whatever vegetables and grated cheese I wanted and it would come out fine, despite Joy's warnings about negatively affecting the moisture level of the cooking eggs.

In the end I put in caramelized onions, swiss chard, and cheddar cheese, because onions seemed like a good idea, we had lots of chard, and we didn't have any other types of cheese. Goat cheese might have been better, but it came out fine anyways. Just one more thing that I never thought to make, and always kind of assumed it must be difficult... but it isn't at all. So hooray!