Monday, August 31, 2009

Brought to You in Technicolor

(Above) Ratatouille raw: heirloom tomatoes, sweet peppers, Japanese eggplants, handfuls of basil, onions, groovy duotone Zephyr squash.

Four hours and more than a few dirty pots later, this technicolor display of vegetables became ratatouille, the foundation of a somewhat French meal for my Francophile friend who insisted that couscous is the proper accompaniment to a pot of this vegetable stew.

Menu a la Francaise

(forgive the pidgin French. If you were in my high school
French class, you would understand.)

Salade Au Vinaigrette

Ratatouille avec Couscous

Baguette avec Garlic Butter

Thin Crust Apple Tart

Vanilla Coffee with Vanilla Sugar

(Above) Plus more from the week's CSA box. Tomatoes, squash, peppers, okra and apples.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. They are charming and yummy. Little Miss gobbled them up with Ranch dressing. She likes to put a tomato in each cheek and pretend she is a squirrel.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Late Summer Supper on the Porch

My deep front porch is made for rainy days. With the gentle storms of the past few days, we sit at our picnic table in the corner of the porch and watch the bird feeder.

Tonight's Menu, recipes can be found elsewhere on this blog:

Green Bean Soup with Scallion Butter: most would think of this as baby food, a rustic puree of green beans cooked with sauteed onions and chicken broth. I make it mostly for myself, although the family will eat small bites and declare it's delicious. It's nourishing and just made for rainy days.

Chicken Slaw: I used up the CSA cabbage and made a giant bowl of this addictive slaw. Dear husband took the last of the shredded chicken and made chicken salad sandwiches with pickle relish for the girls.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

CSA: What do I do with Purple Cabbage?

When I pick up the CSA box each week, I know when there's a melon or cabbage, because I grunt when I lift it. This week's box featured a personal watermelon and a beautiful purple cabbage that's approximately the size of a bowling ball.

A quick Google reveals that the hollowed-out shell can be used as a decorative vegetal container, perhaps for dips. I'm not putting together a buffet this week, so I'll just have to file that away for future reference. The outer leaves can be used as containers for salads, so I could go that route. I have used purple cabbage previously in my recipe for Chicken Slaw, and that is a dish that my husband really likes, so that's it, a done deal. The chicken slaw is an early post from last year, just cooked, shredded chicken, mixed with shredded cabbage and carrots and onions and cheddar cheese, tossed with a mustard vinaigrette. It's a great summertime meal.

I like sauteed cabbage with bacon or sausage, your usual porkular suspects. Throw some potatoes, leeks and mustard in there, and you have a perfect late summer, taste of autumn, man-pleasing supper.

Also in the box: green beans, due for a braising with tomatoes and onions.

Field peas. Redemption in field peas. Last week's peas were a disaster. In contrast, this week's were clean and dry and fresh. A joy to shell, and an even greater joy to eat. While Lindsey Lou and I shelled the peas, I put a pot of water on to boil, threw in a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, some pepper, a diced onion, two diced Roma tomatoes and one banana pepper, (all from the CSA, so this was something of a hat trick.). When the peas were shelled, I tossed them in the water and let boil for about 45 minutes. Delicious, and probably the best field peas ever.

Another pot of ratatouille is in my future, because I now have a bucketload of the cutest Japanese eggplants, yellow squash and basil. The pepper selection includes banana peppers, jalapenos and a poblano. The only use I know of for poblanos is chiles rellenos. I need to find a use for a single pepper.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Apron Strings: Red Clay & Jell-O

In the summer days of my red clay South Carolina childhood, my mom would feed us breakfast, let us watch some tv on the black-and-white set with the rabbit ears, then send us outside to play until lunch. My older brother didn't need to be told, his friends usually came around on their bikes, asking if Will could come out and play. He'd grab his bike and be gone for the day. Sometimes I'd play with my younger brother, Tom. I remember elaborate adventures involving Barbie, Big Jim and G.I. Joe, where the well-dressed girl dolls were usually rescued by the rough, camouflage-cloaked boy dolls. We'd play until lunch time, then we'd be turned outside yet again, allowed to ride our bikes throughout our small neighborhood of 70s ranch houses. I'd find my friend Jill and we'd amble through the pastures surrounding her home. We would walk to the creek and follow it to the pond, which was a favorite of Will's, if he could find a buddy to fish with.

In late afternoon, my brothers and I would head home, and if we were late, Mom would stand on the back porch and yell for us to come in for supper. And this is what I remember most: being sweaty, hot and hungry, stepping into a cool house and a warm kitchen. Somewhere along the line in my spiritual journey, I've adopted the idea that heaven is like your best childhood memory. Heaven for me is stepping into our Gaffney ranch house after an afternoon at Jill's house. The air-conditioning and smell of food cooking hit me at once.

My mom, with one of her hostess aprons around her waist, would fix a meal worthy of the hardest-working farmhands; a meat like a roast or my favorite, country fried steak, two or three vegetables, the best the season had to offer, sliced fresh tomatoes, (which I never ate as a child and am struggling to eat as an adult; it's a texture thing.), and that classic Southern side, a Jell-O salad (Grandmother would always call it a "congealed salad.") What this country needs is a Jell-O revolution. Bring congealed salads back to the dinner table!

So this brings me to my supper tonight, right from the Warren family table in Gaffney, South Carolina, ca. 1974. Country Fried Steak and Gravy served with rice, fresh from the cob corn sauteed with butter and a smidge of salt, and squash casserole made without cream-o-whatever soup, topped with buttery bread crumbs.

Country Fried Steak and Gravy is one of those dishes that you can get started on the cooktop and then put in the oven to braise for the afternoon. The longer the meat sits in the gravy, soaking up the gentle heat of the oven, the more tender it will be. If you put this together about 2:00 in the afternoon, set it to braise in the oven, about 6 p.m. you'll be ready to eat. The bonus us that you can clean the kitchen and set the table so that dinner will be easy-breezy. There's nothing more discouraging to the cook is to look at a sink of dirty dishes while you're trying to enjoy a meal.

Country Fried Steak with Gravy

1 pound cubed round steak (packages are usually 1 1/4 pounds, and that's ok), cut into 4 oz. portions
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
1 (14 oz.) can beef broth, preferably low-salt
4 sweet onions (preferred, but any storage onion is fine), peeled and thinly sliced
a couple tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Heat oven to 300. Have an oven-safe braising dish with a lid nearby. In a skillet, over medium heat, pour in oil. In a pie pan, combine flour, salt and pepper and dredge steaks.

2. Place dredged steaks in oil. Do this in batches so that the steaks brown well on both sides. Place browned steaks in braising dish. Continue until all steaks are in dish. Cover braising dish while you cook the onions.

3. Pour a little more oil into the pan and add onions. Scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When onions are soft, add remaining seasoned flour from the dredging pan. Whisk and cook the flour until there are no lumps. Gradually add beef broth, continuing to stir until smooth. If gravy is thick, add water until it reaches the desired consistency. Correct seasoning and pour onions and gravy mixture into braising dish over meat.

4. Place dish in oven for a minimum of one hour (tough but toothsome) up to three or four hours (tasty and meltingly tender meat). Every half hour, check the liquid and adjust if it gets too low by adding water.

5. While the simmering dish fills your house with that home-cooked smell, you can make a pot of white rice (my favorite) or mashed potatoes (more work, but more traditional). Tie on the last of your Mom's hostess aprons, set the table with your Mom's Pfaltzgraff and raid the pantry for a package of Jell-O.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Balloons Over Georgia

How About Them Apples?

The season's first apples are in this week's CSA box. A half-dozen fragrant and perfectly formed Ginger Gold apples. I used to be a Gala girl, then had a fling with Fujis, but now I'm mad for Ginger Golds. I made the world's best apple pie with these beauties last year, (words are insufficient to describe the celestial taste and perfume of that pie), so I'll probably have to hide these to get a sufficient stash for a pie.

Also in the box: green beans, destined for green bean soup, which sounds gross, but is actually bliss.

Okra. I've wanted to make Dori Sanders' Okra Parmigiana since re-reading her "Country Cooking" book over the winter. Fresh pods are a must for this dish and this bag of okra is especially lovely and unblemished.

Field Peas. As pristine as the okra pods are, not so the field peas. I love field peas and actually look forward to some quality shelling time. I am sad to report that the field peas were mildewy and already smelly, probably picked to early and packed too wet. I've reported this to the CSA; they're always good about issuing credit for the occasional bad produce.

A couple of storage onions; I always need onions. Seems like every recipe worth making requires an onion to start with.

And four tomatoes. The tomatoes aren't as big this year; but they are very flavorful. I love the thin skin and pinkish hue of the heirlooms; heirlooms are to store-bought tomatoes as Ginger Golds are to Granny Smiths as Wyeth is to Kinkade.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Use 'Em Up Soup, or Soupe Au Pistou

I amazed my Francophile colleague when I told her I made Soupe Au Pistou. Apparently she longs for the Provencal farmhouse meals she enjoyed during her year abroad. This soup is loaded with fresh vegetables, mostly from the CSA box and farmer's market goodies jammed in the crisper drawer of the fridge. I would have taken a picture, but it tasted better than it looked. The recipe is adapted from the May 2009 issue of Gourmet.

Soupe Au Pistou

1 large onion, washed and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 or 5 small red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 bag baby spinach, or greens such as chard
6 cups water
2 cups frozen lima beans
3 or 4 yellow squash or zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 cup small pasta shells


1 small tomato
1 cup packed basil leaves
1/2 cup packed parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere (optional)

1. For the soup, in a large soup pot, pour in oil and cook together the onion, celery, carrot and garlic, with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper, stirring occasionally until the vegetables get some brown on them, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Add potatoes and cook five minutes more. Taste for seasoning. Add water and bring to a boil, stirring up brown bits.

3. Stir in lima beans, squash, green beans, pasta and tough greens (such as chard, if using. If using spinach, hold off 'til just before serving.) Taste for seasoning. Some thyme, fresh or dried, would be appreciated about now.

4. For the pistou, heat a dry small non-non-stick skillet (you read that right: do not use non-stick) over medium heat until hot, then char tomato on all sides. Hint: lock the tomato in locking tongs and use that to brace the tomato while it's charring. Let the tomato cool, then core.

5. Using the food processor, blitz the tomato, basil, parsley and garlic. Add oil and optional cheese and blend well.

6. Remove soup from heat and stir in pistou. Correct seasoning. Serve soup with pistou alongside.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


This school calendar is so crazy! While daughter #2 learned to swim, daughter #1 started middle school. Food posts coming soon. I got caught up in back-to-school stuff and can't wait to write about food again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Watermelon in this Week's Box

In this week's CSA box:

1. Green beans. I'm running out of green bean ideas, so these will go in a pot with a smoked turkey leg and be cooked until just nearly mushy. It will be a nice side dish with the Chicken and Rice dish from Gift of Southern Cooking.

2. Summer squash. These are very fresh and will have to keep for a few days until I can make a squash casserole, which is best done as a two-day affair: sauteed squash and onions one day, the next day, fold in sour cream, an egg, salt and pepper, and bake in a greased casserole in a moderate oven for at least a half hour. Top with toasted, buttery bread crumbs and bake for another five minutes or so.

3. Lettuces and sorrel. Because you can never have too many salads.

4. A personal watermelon. I'd like to know the variety of this melon; it has a very thin rind. It's sweet and has a crunchy texture.

5. Two onions, which will be used in the squash casserole.

6. Tomatoes. Mom's helping me in a project at home, I think I'll pay her in homegrown tomatoes.

7. More corn! This will be taken off the cob and sauteed, for an easy, tasty side dish. I've always wanted to make a version of my grandfather's fried corn, which was thickened with flour, but not this week. The lightness of a quick saute calls to me.