Tag Archives: farm

Comfort Food

When I started writing this online journal, I didn’t think of it as a food blog.

As it turns out, it’s sort of a food blog. More accurately, it’s a personal blog about happiness and gratitude and family and friends–which, in my mind, often brings us to food. What makes you happy and grateful? What do you do to share happiness and gratitude with your family and friends? My answer to that question: I cook.

For the past few days, we happily and gratefully celebrated the long holiday weekend by borrowing the retreat haven of some of our best friends. We know the place by heart; we’ve been fortunate to be invited there numerous times since they bought it. Familiarity is certainly one of the requirements of a comfort, don’t you think?

We were in the Hudson River Valley–possibly one of the most humbly beautiful parts of our country. There are rolling hills, cows grazing everywhere you look, small villages that were established in the 1600s by hard-working Dutch folks, beautiful views of the river, the cornfields, and the sharpest blue skies to be seen anywhere. The Husband, The Boy, and I arrived on Friday after a long but exciting week for the grownups in the family. One decision I made early in the week was that we would “pack in” everything we needed for our 3+ days of R and R. That plan made it possible for us to rustle up a quick and delicious meal of homemade whole wheat pizzas within an hour of unlocking the door. It also meant that we never needed to leave the premises all day on Saturday. The Husband and I went out for an exhilarating 3-mile walk on the country roads, we relaxed, enjoyed a bottle of wine, and watched old movies. I made shrimp tikka masala for dinner, with jasmine rice and naan bread. Indian isn’t our culture, but the meal incorporated many of the elements that I think are essential for edible comfort: rich sauce, simmered protein, and a starchy base to absorb all the flavors.

I also made French macarons, which probably don’t count as comfort food. However, the movie-set kitchen always motivates me to try something daring.

Sunday, we went to the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, which is open indoors on alternate Sundays in the winter. What a bonus for us that we lucked into a market day! We bought maple syrup (the sap is running early this year due to the season’s mild weather), fresh spinach, yarn (which I did not cook, but which will make a gorgeous scarf), sausage, bread, pastries, and a perfect red onion. I took lots of pictures of the wonderful array of products and produce.

That evening, I made another comfort meal. And again, although Italian isn’t our culture either, how can you go wrong with this menu, and the delicious aromas that emerged from cooking that onion into a sweetened, delectable bread topping? Or the earthy, herb-infused scent of  a  spicy sausage ragu, simmering  in the background? I served the bread and pasta with that beautiful fresh spinach,  and spread the caramelized onion and some fruity rosemary onto fresh bread dough to make a yummy focaccia. . The perfect meal on a winter night. And again, a lot of the same features as the previous night’s meal.

So–what are the necessary elements to a “comfort meal?” Sunday featured pasta and bread (hearty starch), meaty sauce (slow-cooked protein), and a flavorful vegetable. That combination can be re-defined and adapted in countless ways. Macaroni and cheese doesn’t need a protein (unless you’re counting the cheese). Braised short ribs seems to fit the bill in every way. Black beans and rice is an inexpensive and versatile vegetarian option, as are lentils and barley, or polenta with an earthy mushroom sauce. Turkey stew is certainly a comfort meal. These are winter foods, rich with herbs and spices, warm and dense, familiar and filling. Wrap yourselves up, friends. Build a fire, open a bottle of dark red wine, and snuggle with someone you love. It’s all good.

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Teaching The Boy to Cook

Tonight I made green risotto. I’m sure there’s a recipe out there somewhere for this dish, but here in our kitchen, dinner emerged as the result of a discussion between me and the Boy about what to do with a bright, aromatic bunch of fresh late-season basil.

We make pesto on a regular basis. Today, it just seemed too mundane for us to turn a lovely bouquet into a batch of the same-old, same-old. As an improvisational cook, I am delighted to share a deep enthusiasm and knowledge with my son about the possibilities for a meal. He is developing a strong sense of the way ingredients come together, of the flavors that complement each other, and of the techniques that elevate a simple idea into an elegant presentation.

In the past few years, The Boy has learned knife skills, essential ratios, herb profiles, the uses of kitchen tools, elementary sauce preparations, and complex food profiles. He can make a chiffonade of herbs. He can make a roux, expertly varying the level of color depending on the intensity of the stock he plans to prepare. He can make a marinara sauce and a tomato cream sauce. He is my go-to person for tasting dishes as they simmer, and his recommendations for spicing are spot-on.

He’s an extraordinary apprentice and collaborator, this son of mine. When we pick up our CSA share at the farm, he eagerly suggests ideas for how to use our cornucopia of the week. He enthusiastically tries everything. Last week, we got a really big watermelon in the crate. I decided to make an agua fresca (see below for the super-easy recipe). The Boy was my first taster. Today, we stopped by our excellent local cafe so that I could get a cup of the best latte in town. There was French onion soup on the menu. The Boy had himself a cup, liked it, assessed it, and gave me a full rundown on how we should make our own onion soup (fewer chunky onions, more herbs).

Which brings us back to the green pesto tonight. When I was out shopping this afternoon, I tossed a bunch of fresh oregano into the shopping cart. I told the woman at the wine store what I was making, and she pointed me to a fabulous Montepulciano. Back at home, I pureed the oregano with the basil, a couple of tablespoons of butter, and two cloves of garlic in the food processor. When I mixed it into the simmering arborio rice, the aroma brought both guys from distant corners of the house.

Checking the risotto

The boy (who also knows how to uncork a bottle of wine), followed every step of the preparation. Served with a fresh loaf of bread, some local cider, and the beautiful wine, we had a great comfort meal on a rainy night. Everyone was happy at our house.

Agua Fresca: To start the process, I placed a big metal colander into an even larger metal bowl. Then I removed all the flesh (with seeds and everything) from a large watermelon, and placed it all into the colander. With my hands, I squeezed the juice out of the melon chunks. Once most of the juice had been extracted, I pressed the rest of the pulp against the sides of the colander with a potato masher, then discarded the drained flesh and seeds of the melon. I added the juice of two fresh limes and a pinch of sugar to the juice, then poured the results through a funnel into a glass pitcher. Mixed with seltzer, this makes an easy and refreshing beverage!

Color of the Day

Green.

Green Ingredients

Yesterday, the color of the day was most assuredly green.

We arrived home in the afternoon from a fabulous long weekend in Maine with some of our favorite people in the universe, and of course, the question on everyone’s mind was, “What’s for dinner?” The answer was swift and clear: something with salsa verde. What other choices are there, when the fridge is nearly filled with tomatillos? A quick inventory included other essentials: rice, black beans, chorizo, limes, cumin, garlic, tortilla chips…  I made a quick trip to the farm for scallions, a poblano pepper, a bunch of cilantro, and two jalapenos. We were all set. I tossed all the salsa ingredients onto the counter and peeled the tomatillos, then stood back just to admire the various shades of green. The poblano didn’t make it into the “before” photo, because it was already blackening on the range.

The tomatillos, jalapeno (seeded and chopped), the scallions (about half a dozen, rough-chopped), and the poblano (peeled, seeded, and rough-chopped), all got blended together in the Cuisinart. Chef’s Note: Be careful if you’re going to try this procedure at home–it makes a LOT of liquid. I strained the puree and added chopped cilantro and lime juice. Voila! Salsa verde.

The Boy, in the meantime, was at the stovetop, supervising a pot of rice while sauteeing garlic and crumbled chorizo. He added a large can of black beans, a generous pinch of cumin, and some lime juice to the savories and waited for the liquid to reduce. Dinner was basically ready at this point. We opened a bag of tortilla chips, shredded a bowl of cheese, and poured ourselves some refreshing beverages. Green is good.

Indoors — or Outside!

One of the reasons I don’t watch television during the day is the commercials. Clearly, the people who buy advertising time on network TV (or on niche cable stations) are well aware of the dominant demographic groups watching daytime programming: Continue reading

Showcase Exhibit

I think fall farmers’ markets are even better than art museums.

Continue reading

Vegetable Uncertainties

My guys have been exhibiting unnecessary concerns about squashes and pumpkins lately. Continue reading

Farm Season is in Full Swing!

New England summer food…what is your greatest temptation? The roadside ice cream shop? Lobster rolls? Fried clams? Watermelon? Burgers on the grill?

For me, it’s all about farm stands. All those gorgeous shiny vegetables, leafy greens, juicy fruits, and then the great specialty items: the fresh honey at our CSA, the cider doughnuts at Russell Orchards, the bread and baked goods at Morning Glory Farm, I can’t resist.

We missed the CSA pickup last week because we were on the Vineyard (which meant we could shop at Morning Glory instead). So this week, I couldn’t wait to get over there to see what was in the flat for July 30. The corn was so beautiful I just wanted to photograph it, but we steamed it and ate it with sauteed cod for dinner. And then there was beautiful, bright, colorful swiss chard–one of my favorite vegetables.

Tonight, I minced a firm, sweet onion from the farm, tossed it with their fresh garlic and some red pepper flakes, then stirred in the chopped swiss chard. Then I baked it with some cheese between layers of creamy polenta. The result? Oh, yeah. Cheesy, velvety, almost like souffle, with the sweet-sharp flavor of the vegetables all through every bite. Once I post this blog entry, I’m going to toss together a blackberry cobbler. The blackberries are huge, firm, and purple-icious.

So much more to cook this week–Summer risotto tomorrow with more of the fresh corn and red onion, and I’m thinking about a kohlrabi-bacon slaw to serve with our cookout dinner for the at-home camping trip Friday night. Then I have to figure out how to duplicate the white gazpacho from Sweet Life. I just found a recipe for cucumber granita–wouldn’t that make a great refresher with spicy barbecue?