Creamed Corn Skillet with Flounder, Beets, Bacon, and Cilantro Oil

DSCN4255I get my inspiration for dinner in all sorts of random ways.  Sometimes just a whiff of something wafting through the air will remind me of a ghost of flavors past.  Sometimes a color engenders a need for the flesh of something similarly hued.  But usually, I trawl food porn websites like Tastespotting or FoodGawker (neither of which has ever accepted any of my photos for their site — a challenge I will continue to try to overcome!) for images that get my juices running.  I also skim the menus for restaurants I can’t afford and try to make what I read there, so that I can enjoy their chef’s imagination without having to pay those prices (sorry peeps, we’re on a *very* tight budget these days).  For this meal, I have The Phantom Gourmet to thank – sort of.  I often have their TV show on local Boston-area restaurants playing in the background while I’m futzing around on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes they have my complete attention, but more often than not I just hear what they’re talking about — and that’s what happened here.  I vaguely overheard something about creamed corn, and something about a skillet — and that’s all I needed.  Creamed corn is one of my favorite side dishes, hailing from my mother-in-law’s down-home redneck kitchen; she’d pick the corn herself from their garden and spent hours and hours creaming it and freezing it in gallon bags to eat throughout the year.  I never went to visit without picking up a few frosty sacks of that golden goodness, but now that we live 2000 miles away I have to make it myself.  And although I LOVE her simple Southern recipe, I have made some adjustments to mine to amp up the deliciousness to Lolita standards.  In this case, a piping hot cast iron skillet blisters a healthy serving of cheesy creamy corn, topped with some flaky pan-seared flounder, chunks of bacon, gemstones of purple beets, and an artful drizzle of bright, herbaceous cilantro oil.  A filling but also light warm winter’s night meal, wholesome and delicious.  I think Rose, my mother in law, were she here in Boston instead of down in rural Georgia, would agree.

Creamed Corn Skillet with Flounder, Beets, Bacon, and Cilantro Oil

1 bag frozen yellow corn
4 slices bacon
2 beets
1 bunch cilantro
3/4 lb flounder filets
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 cup heavy cream
milk
EVOO
4 tbs butter, divided
2″ sprig fresh rosemary
sea salt, cracked black pepper
flour for dusting
juice of 1 lemon

DSCN4238My beets will take the longest, so I get them started by scrubbing them clean.  I’m really only planning to use a few little cubes — I have a vision, y’see? — but cooked beets hold well so I’ll use the leftovers tomorrow in a salad.  (I know I said I hate leftovers, but beets are an exception, since they taste as good cold as warm.)

DSCN4243They get doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and paired with my sprig of rosemary, then wrapped tightly in foil paper.  I throw them in the oven on 350 for an hour or so – until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork.  (In all honesty, I was baking cookies in the oven at the same time, and I sort of just let these go until I’d made all 6 batches.  You can’t really overcook a beet.   But I was worried that my cookies would taste like rosemary, since the oven was so redolent with the scent … they didn’t.)  It takes beets a while to cool, so I let them do so on the counter for about 20 minutes, so I could peel them and dice them before setting them aside.

DSCN4240Next, I remove the leaves from a bunch of cilantro and throw them into my blender thingy.  I add about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), a squeeze of lemon juice, some salt and pepper, and a blend the hell out of it until I have a thick green viscous liquid.

DSCN4241Using my mesh spoon, I strain the green oil from its solids…

DSCN4242… using a spoon to press as much flavor and color out as possible.  I pour the oil into a squeeze bottle.  The rest of the green delish mush can be frozen and used to flavor something needing a pop of cilantro paste later.

DSCN4245Time for the creamed corn.

DSCN4246It all starts with bacon.  I chop my slices up roughly, and fry the bits out with lots of black pepper.

DSCN4247I remove the bacon to a paper plate to drain, then wipe most of grease out – leaving about a teaspoon of fat and as much of the toasted black pepper as possible in the pan as well.

DSCN4250I then set the heat to medium low, add the corn, cream, and grated cheese to the pan and get everything to a low simmer.

DSCN4251As that heats, I prep my flounder.  This huge filet came from Whole Foods today.  I had to trim a bit o’ skin off one edge, but it was a beautiful piece of fish.

DSCN4252As is easiest – and often best – with flounder, I toss it with salt, pepper, and flour…

DSCN4253… and pan-sear it in brown butter over high heat for about 4 minutes on each side.

This last bit went really fast, and I didn’t get to catch the picture.  After my fish is fully cooked, I move the pan off the heat, and place my two 8″ skillets onto two hot burners on my stovetop.  Using my hand blender, I whir a cup of my creamed corn into a thick mush before returning it to its saucepan for a hearty stir.  Then I pour half of the corn into each skillet – which are now hot – bringing the liquid gold to a bursting, bubbling boil.

DSCN4256I layer my planks of tender seared flounder over my thick, rich cheese and corn gravy.  A handful of perfect ruby beet cubes provide cool bites of sweetness, while the unctuous chunks of bacon stud the dish with salt and savor.  Generous squirts of cilantro oil add green to the visual and grass notes to the palate.  The sizzling pans keep the meal hot until the last bite, which Clayton and I scraped up with some crusty buttered bread.  I  need to use these cast iron babies more often, because every time I do, magic like this happens.

Chicken n’ Dumplins Cordon Bleu, with Arugula and “Cheater” Cheese Muffins


One of the first jokes I heard when I moved up here to Boston sounds more like a mantra than the one-liner it is: If you don’t like the weather here in New England… wait 5 minutes.  This week has, thus far, personified that way of life.  The down-home-cooking pictured here was prepared by yours truly and served up on Monday night, after a long, dark, dreary, windy, extremely wet and surprisingly cold August day. Tuesday was patches of the same, interspersed with random periods of clear blue sky and warm breezes.  But today… today it’s brilliant, cloudless, sunny, and HOT – a true summer day. I’ve gone from a long-sleeve sweater and sweatpants to tank-top and tap-pants in a matter of hours.  So even though just thinking of turning on my oven today makes me all sweaty and anxious, I sure am happy I did to make Monday’s dinner – even if we were too sodden to shop, and so only used the few things we had in the house and a boner recently bought at our go-to ghetto grocery store, Johnny’s Foodmaster.  But as this is Lolita’s riff on a standard chicken n’ dumplins, I did fancify it with a bit of ham and swiss cheese (stolen from Clayton’s luncheon meats supply) – just to make the mundane a bit more special. With a quick, two-ingredient salad and some garlicky “cheater” cheese muffins, this steaming hot and supremely satisfying pot-pie au gratin totally took the cold out of our bones, while culinarily combining our old Southern roots with our new Northern exposures. In the background, on the telly, Brigit Fonda is ostensibly contemplating killer crocodiles loose in Northern Maine (ala Lake Placid, a little gem of a movie), but she’s really thinking about the steaming chicken goodness just waiting under that crust of bubbly baked Swiss cheese. Back off, blondie!  This bowl’s MINE.


Chicken n’ Dumplins Cordon Bleu, with Arugula and “Cheater” Cheese Muffins

1 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast (about 1.5 lbs)
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1 onion
1 stick butter
1 qt chicken stock
garlic powder
1 package flour tortillas
arugula
fresh mozzarella cheese
EVOO
white balsamic vinegar
sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 can large buttermilk biscuits (yes, I used a can.  Sue me.)
shredded romano cheese


I started with a pat of butter and a large hot pan.


Just as my butter started to froth, I placed my large washed, patted dry, salted, and peppered chicken breast skin down into the pan, and I let it sear for a good 10 minutes, until the skin was brown and crispy and the breast had started to cook through. Meanwhile, I peeled and chop my onion, carrots, and celery.


I flipped my bird, moved it to the side of the pan, and dumped my aromatics into the pan, stirring well so the browned butter coated all the veggies thoroughly.


After the veggies softened slightly, I flipped my bird breast down again, added the quart of chicken stock to the pan, and using a wooden spatula to scrape up all the buttery fond, lowered the heat to medium, and put on the lid.  I let my chicken cook for 30 minutes this way, trying hard not to keep lifting the lid to inhale the amazing aroma.


Although I know they’re likely full of preservatives and stuff, I have always loved bread from a can – from the light and flaky crescent rolls to the super Grande buttermilk biscuits.  We try to keep a can on hand, just for days like Monday when going to the market just isn’t on the agenda.  They’re great in a pinch.  Still, as you may have seen before, dear reader, if you follow this blog, Lolita doesn’t like to just slap them on a cookie sheet — oh no!  I do a little something something to make them extra special.  A can comes with 8 biscuits; I used 4, and put the rest back in the fridge with the hope that I’d use them the next day (which I did, actually).  I first cut them into quarters…


… then I tossed them with the dry ingredients into a large zipper bag: a few shakes of garlic powder (not garlic salt), and some shredded romano cheese (about 1/2 cup).  I threw all this around until each little bread nugget was studded with flavor.  I then added 2 tbs of melted butter, sealed the bag, and tossed it around some more to fully coat everything.


Four nuggets per tin transformed these biscuits into savory muffins, and an extra helping of cheese on top makeed them crisp up.  See?  “Cheater” muffins – not from scratch, but they taste like it! They took 15 minutes to bake on 350° — just as much time as I needed to bake off the casseroles, so I set them aside until I was ready.


After 30 minutes, my chicken was fully cooked through and ready to be pulled off the bone.  Using tongs, I removed the breast from the pan, and set the heat to high so the chicken broth could continue to boil off and concentrate.


I carefully removed the meat from the bone, and it was luscious, juicy, and tender.  I roughly chopped it, making sure to keep some of the flavorful skin attached, and blended what little dark rib meat there was with the abundant white meat.

Using the ramekins I planned to serve in as templates, I cut perfect little discs of tortillas out of their larger selves.  My country mother-in-law revealed to me many years ago how well tortillas work in place of traditional dumplins – they have the same basic ingredients, and since they’re not dried like pasta-style dumplins, they don’t need as long to cook.  (I could make them from scratch, but it wasn’t that kind of night.)  They also create the unique texture one wants from the starch in this dish – soft and pillowy and a bit sticky.

These ramekins are 12 ouncers, I think (I don’t know why volume isn’t imprinted on the bottom of all kitchen items), just large enough for a decent sized dinner each. I buttered them down completely.  I did the same with a large muffin pan, so I could cobble together my white-trash “cheater” cheese muffins.

 


The first layer was an ounce or so of chicken broth, with a few of the veggies, too.


Then, I fit a layer of tortilla over that, studded the tortilla with a handful of chicken, then drowned it in chicken stock and veggies.  I repeated this layer about 5 times, until I reached the inner upper edge of the dish.


Knowing these would settle during cooking, I topped them with more chicken and veggies and set them on a cookie sheet and – along with my muffin tin – I threw everything into my oven for 10 minutes.


After that time, I pulled them out and happily saw that the top tortilla was fluffed and sodden but still intact, and that the edges had started to bubble over a bit.  I layered one slice of ham on top of each ramekin…


… and two slices of Swiss cheese, allowing the edges to hang off, on top of that.  I removed my muffins from the oven, turned the heat up to broil, then set my ramekins (on their cookie sheet, to make them easier to handle, and to keep the cheese from dripping) right under the heating element for 3-4 minutes.

 

I whipped together some arugula, the last of my North End fresh mozzarella (see Saturday’s post), some EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper for a salad – just the cold peppery milky compliment for the rich, savory main course.   A crispy, melted crust of nutty Swiss cheese and sweet ham revealed a steaming casserole of tender, flavorful chicken chunks nestled in between layers of ethereally soft white dumplin blankets, pillowed with pieces of barely-firm carrot and chunks of softened celery. My muffins bloomed on the plate; four little nuggets of buttery, garlicky,and cheesy stuck together to create crunchy outside/flaky inside bundles of joy.  It may have been cold outside, but with our favorite killer crocodile movie as the backdrop, and this yummy on the plate, it was warm and welcoming inside – and that’s all that counts.

Super-easy Sausage, Collard and Black Eyed Pea Saturday Night Soup

It’s COLD outside, and there’s another snowstorm looming.  I don’t freak out every time it snows like so many of my neighbors do; I mean, really, there are 5 grocery stores within walking distance of my pad.  And this is BOSTON – it snows here *every* winter.  People panic – I just do my thang.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t like me some heartwarming soup on a day like today, and a jar of my husband’s mother’s black-eyed peas called out my name from the depths of my pantry.  I’d picked up some collard greens at the local Johnny’s Foodmaster, and a pack of sweet Italian sausage.  A box of chicken stock, and some other basics, and I had me some super-easy, super-satisfying, super-yummy-in-the-tummy soup for dinner.

Super-easy Sausage, Collard and Black Eyed Pea Weeknight Soup

1 lb sweet Italian sausage (links cut from their casings, or bulk)
1 lb collard greens
1 qt black eyed peas
1 qt chicken stock
1 lemon
1 bunch cilantro
1 cup EVOO
sea salt, black pepper

… and that’s it.  Really. I said it was super-easy…


Here are my basics: the collards, the peas, and the stock.  But first…

… I split these 6 sausages out of their casings…


… and I crush them up in my hot wok, browning all the delicious bits through, so they’ll release all their inner oily goodness into the pan.  Sizzle and simmer on medium low for 5-8 minutes, until most of the pink is all gone…

…and all the meat has been kissed with crusty brown caramelization.


The collard greens were sinewy and leafy – just like they should be.  I washed ‘em…


… removed their stems (to the worm bin), rolled ‘em into cigars, and cut them into 1″ thick ribbons.  A few cross-cuts later, and I had nice wide chopped leafage.

 


I dump my greens into my wok over my pork, and I give everything a good toss or two.

See?


Then I douse the whole pot with my chicken stock, stirring well to mix and cover.


I lower the heat to medium, cover my pan, and let everything simmer for about 10 minutes.


See how my greens have melted and my broth has broken up my sausage?  Already the soup smells and tastes delicious, but I’m not done yet.

My mother-in-law’s black eyed peas are some of my favorite legumes; they taste like green peanuts, and their texture is firm and smooth, like starched butter.  I add all the contents of one large jar to my pan and mix well with my greens, sausage, and broth.  I cover, and walk away for another 10 minutes at least, set to simmer on medium low.

Meanwhile, I whip together a quick cilantro oil as garnish by first washing then blanching a bunch of cilantro leaves.  I should have removed more of the stem than you see here — there was a wee bit of stemmy string to my finished product I could have avoided.  Anyway, a few moments dunked into salted boiling water, then drained, then whirred in a blender and whisked with EVOO and sea salt — this greener than collard green snappy peppery herb turns into a fragrant flavor to squirt across my soup.

In the last few moments, I squeeze the juice and scrape the zest from half a lemon into my soup, then – using the flat of my wooden spoon – I systematically crush and blend at least half my peas into a thick sauce.  I add a dash of sea salt and a dash of cracked black pepper, just ’til a smuggled spoonful tastes right.  Another 5 minutes of simmering, and I remove from the heat and let sit for a moment before spooning up.


Served with slightly garlicky pumpernickel toast, my mound of greens and beans and spiced sausage sits in the middle of a moat of savory smooth broth.  A squirt of warm cilantro oil adds brightness and zest, picking up the complimentary citrus in the broth, but the flavor is warm and filling and savory homestyle.  Clayton and I dig in to fortify ourselves for the weather to come.  Dinners like this — they make winter something sweet to be enjoyed from indoors by keeping the cold away, and warming one to their very Bones.

 

Black-Eyed Peas

Outdoor Autumn Harvest Maelstrom Picnic on the Minuteman Trail

Not my usual venue — and not my usual menu.  As a favor for my husband, for many dishes sampled, and much waiting for his supper while I snap pictures, and plenty of out-of-the-way gourmet shopping trips, and many post-meal kitchen clean-ups, and just for being a generally great partner-for-life, I agreed to coordinate and cook a meal for his team of worthy fellows, the National Park Preservers, for Groundworks Somerville.  These guys are helping restore historic sites along Concord’s Minuteman Trail, and this silo sits along the Battle Road, on the Farwell Jones Farm along Lexington Road.  It was the backdrop for a meal consisting of freshly picked autumn vegetables – all harvested from within 2 miles of the table – prepared on site in simple yet satisfying ways.   Since the guys help harvest produce for the guys and gals that run some of the Battle Road Farms, they donated all the green ground goodies.  McKinnon’s Meat Market in Davis Square’s regular awesome prices and products provided the proteins: the requisite burgers and dogs, as well as something a little more Lolita – slow-roasted pulled pork.

When I worked as a manager for 1 hour photo labs, I learned what it meant to plan your time very carefully — a role of film takes (took – we’re talking ancient history, people) 35 minutes to pass through the machine, but when Mrs. Mommy shows up with 20 rolls of snapshots of her little darlings at Disney World and wants double prints of them *all* in an hour for her Junior League brunch, time becomes a precious commodity.  When I worked for the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que as their catering bookie, I compounded those time-management skills by learning, through repeated high-pressure, sexdrugsrock n’ roll, smoke and fire experiences, what it meant to be prepared. For anything.  Hence – my prep list above, and my estimated timeline of recipe production below…

Of course, the day didn’t quite cooperate with us, and plans always go awry, but if you have plans, it’s much easier to figure out how to roll with punches than if you’re making it up as you go along. But the preparation really started two days before the event.

My meat needs to marinate in a spicy dry rub to flavor it.  I start with the ingredients you see above, and mix it up, kind of like the Swedish Chef, adding handfuls of this to half cups of that to a little more of some of this and a bunch more of all of that.  You know.  Salt, pepper, onion powder, paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder — just bunches and bunches of it.  I plan on 1/4# per person of pork — some will eat two or three sandwiches, some of of them won’t eat any (curious vegetarian types) — and since I can count on about 30% shrinkage during cooking, and I’m planning on 50 people, I decide to start with 25ish pounds.  I like to overestimate, and at $1.79/lb, I can afford to do so.

John Stage, the Spiceman, and my old boss, might smack me upside the head for daring to cook this meat without smoking it, but he’ll have to forgive a poor girl without an RV-sized mobile smoker for creating such sweet sweet succulence without a ring of pink.  I did do my best to emulate his dry-rub technique by filling the largest bowl I have with my spice rub, and then coating covering dousing drowning packing each butt with rub until all moist surfaces are made sandy dry.

I wrap each hunka meat with plastic wrap, and set them into my fridge to marinate overnight, and for all of work the next day – so they bask in flavor for about 24 hours, all told.  I then unwrap them, and place them each into a deep foil roasting pan (they’re going to release a LOT of juices, which I want to capture), and wrap the pans tightly with foil paper.  Here’s the trick — there is *no* way my little apartment sized oven is going to cook all these bad boys – and I want to cook them overnight, for no less than an hour a pound, on no higher than 250°.  Enter the second-floor neighbors – they were gracious enough to allow me to cook two of these guys in their oven from 9pm on Wednesday night to 7am Thursday morning, the day of the picnic.  They suffered through that delicious smell all night long – gotta love ‘em!

And here it is – 8am Thursday morning.  It’s 33°, 100% chance of rain (it has, in fact, just started to sprinkle), with gusts of 25mph in the forecast.  S.W.E.E.T.  The ancient barn will be our dining room, the little garage to the right our prep area, and a string of mismatched tents will link the two buildings, making a bit of a pathway for us to move under.

Here is the pantry.  Yup — see those collards?  See that kale?  We’ll be eating some of that.

Upstairs, inside the barn, is where the acorn squash and pumpkins are kept.

I snap a quick shot of my man.  After all, he’s the reason I’m here today.

Here’s most of my crew for the day: (from left to right) Peter, a volunteer at Battle Road Farms, and one helluva grill-master, Bryant in the back, looking all captivated by something in the distance, Claudy in the green hat and phat threads, Joey peeking from behind my right shoulder, Nadler with a rare smile at my six, Gunther leaning in on left and David, a farm manager from Battle Road, behind him.  Gelrick and Antoine form our left flank.  All these guys, except Peter and David, are on the National Park Preservers team, working with Clayton on projects all up and down the Minuteman Trail.  This party is a celebration for them, to honor them for having such an incredibly successful year, but it was also to teach them how to prepare and enjoy the many vegetables their friends here on the Concord farms have been giving them in thanks for lots of helpful volunteer work the team has done all summer.  So they were also my prep-crew for the day, along with a few other guys that came in and out at different times, like my man Jonathan, and his Saugus Ironworks teammate, Ronald.

MENU
PULLED PORK SANDWICHES
HAMBURGERS AND HOT DOGS
ROASTED POTATOES WITH WILTED KALE
NEW YORK STATE FAIR SALT POTATOES
BEETS WITH ARUGULA, GOAT CHEESE, LEMON JUICE AND BASIL
BUTTERED ACORN SQUASH WITH CINNAMON AND BROWN SUGAR
SOUTHERN STYLE COLLARDS WITH ONIONS
TOASTED SQUASH SEEDS
ARUGULA, APPLE, AND ONION SALAD
SALTED CARAMEL APPLE WEDGES

My menu for the day consisted of vegetables that Clayton had scoped out from the farms the day before.  I had a good idea of what would be available – like beets and acorn squash and apples and arugula – but it wasn’t until we arrived in the morning that we saw how much of each item we had.  With $150, I purchased all the meat and the extras we needed, like EVOO and Maldon sea salt and caramel and goat cheese logs and butter and spices.  Some things I pulled from my pantry, some I pulled from the Groundworks Somerville store room.

I set up my prep area.  Here are my cooking containers and marinating ziplocks, and I’m getting started setting up my dry spices – much of which were leftover from the dry rub (not recycled, though, because one, cannot, of course re-use anything that came into contact with raw meat).  The garlic, onion powder, oregano, sea salt, black pepper, cinnamon, and brown sugar is what we ended up using.   Had the weather conditions not been as much of as distraction (and other hiccups along the way), then we may have had more time to experiment, so we were glad to have the options available.

There’s David (l), Clayton husband (c), and George (r) getting the grills set up.  We had one bran’ spanking new one George had JUST purchased that he loaned us, as well as an older propane grill.  The latter ended up not working, but we didn’t know that at the time.

Joey (l) and Bryant (r) set up lights, a hot-side prep table, and a garbage station.  In this area we also set up our beloved Little Red, our Mecco electric grill from home.  Good thing we brought him with us, too, considering how the behemoth behind Joey never made it above 200°.  There’s also a crock pot getting started, for caramel.  And two boilers on the burners for the potatoes.

Beets have to get onto the grill very early, especially if I want them to cook and cool in time for us to peel them and add them to a salad with goat cheese.  Claudy is dutifully scrubbing them – even though none of the guys seemed particularly interested in trying ‘em.  I told them that they’d never tried MY beets, and once the they were served, they changed their tune.  But by this time, it’s raining very steadily, we’re all huddling under the tents getting our jobs done.  Claudy takes my admonitions to scrub them carefully so to heart, though, that we run behind schedule getting them on the grill, and run against the issue of one grill when we thought we had two.  More on that later.

Gunther (above) and Jonathan (below) are my masked potato scrubbing men.  They, and David, sort the white from the red bliss, and then sort them further down into wee little ones, golf ball sized ones, and baseball sized ones.  Then Clayton goes and dumps them all into the boiling water, disregarding all the careful sorting (and much of my careful planning), but it was all good.  He was on salt potato duty for the rest of the morning, and they turned out just fine.  We basically boil these babies until they burst, all on their own – about 25 minutes on high boil.  Then we transfer them to a holding station (read: a deep roasting pan set atop two warm burners) and add a stick of butter and a heap of salt.

Nadler, Peter, and Antoine are on acorn squash duty.  At one point, Gunther wrinkles his nose and expresses his disdain for the smell of squash.  “Just wait”, I tell him, “they smell totally different once I roast them with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.”  Needless to say, once they were served, he was a convert.  So were all the other guys.

25 squash later (they go a wee bit crazy; I hadn’t counted on how *productive* they’d be!), we have 50 little halves that – for the sake of space – we decide to put directly on the grill rack, even placing some on the upper, holding rack, too (we remove those pans a bit later).  Some of these are larger than the others, but they all need to roast for a minimum of 25-30 minutes.  Around this time, we realize that the other grill isn’t working right.  So, the one working grill is covered with roasting squash halves, and all we have left is Little Red, one really blazing burner, one slightly simmering burner, and one large grill with only a whisper of flame emerging only from the center fuel line.  Oh, and the rain just picked up.  And the ground under our feet, in the area we chose to house the grills, is filling with water that even the shovel-fulls of straw Clayton and Peter keep scooping into the hollow can’t stave off.  S.W.E.E.T. What do we do?  About the rain – nothing but laugh.  About the grill?  We improvise — it becomes a chess board, as we move smaller, fully cooked squash off the heat into waiting deep foil pans, and move larger still raw squash into those vacant spaces, and make space available for other menu items.  This is when things kick into high gear…

Joey is carving up a couple of pounds of caramel for us to melt down in the crock pot.  It was hard as a rock, and he had to hold it over the grill’s heat to soften a bit before he could even get the chef’s knife to bite.  I think he was doing a little of that “one chunk of caramel for the pot, one chuck of caramel for me” portioning thing, but I didn’t mind.


Claudy and Gelrick have tossed the cleaned, trimmed beets with vegetable oil, salt, and black pepper, and are packing them – 6 at a time – in double-thick foil packets.  We then, since we’re having our grill problem, stack all the beet packets into Little Red, rotating them often to move the bottom pack to the top, and so on, and moving one or two to over the wee heat source in the broken grill (to keep them cooking in their ambient heat) every once in a while, too.  We do this until we’ve removed enough of the cooked acorn squash from the grill rack to the holding pans, which we then set on top of the hot grills and Little Red to continue to keep warm, which they do – locking in the steam and holding my squash at the perfect sizzling heat.

Joey and Jonathan then start on the other half of our potatoes, which we want to roast in oil and spices, and then toss with our kale.  Because of the heat issues, though, these little boys don’t crisp up on the edges like I hoped, and although they do flavor the kale nicely – especially when we toss it all with some thin slices of garden onions which we’ve quick marinated in EVOO, white wine vinegar, oregano, salt, pepper, and parsley – the dish doesn’t turn out perfectly.  Oh well.

Joey and David wrap the spuds in single-layer hobo foil packets.  We end up with about 8 of these, and only enough time and room to cook off 5 of them.  David takes the uncooked ones home to cook in the oven.

The onions are marinating in a pan center left, an arugula, apple, and red onion salad is dressed and ready to go bottom left, the beets are roasted, steaming, and burning the fingers of the valiant guys who are peeling them now anyway center right, a few tubs of trimmed collard greens stand at the ready center top, and Jonathan is enjoying the heat from an electric skillet while he sautés the washed and dried acorn squash seeds in oil, garlic, and seasoned salt.

Nadler wants in on that, and eventually usurps Jonathan as seed stirrer.

We have several bowls of arugula waiting, which we’re going to toss with the warm diced beets, a few squeezes of lemon juice, EVOO, sea salt, black pepper, and crumbled goat cheese.  The cheese, oil, and lemon juice bond with the beet juice, making a rich dyed deep purple dressing.

The pork has been hot holding all this time, and it is absolutely perfect.  With two fingers, I fish out each butt’s bone, gently removing it from the succulent strings of swine only barely clinging together.  There is an inch of delicious fat juice sitting on the bottom of the pan; once I pull the meat (no chopping necessary) and mound it into a pan, I pour some of this lovely roasting liquid over the whole mess, just to really whetten my whistle.

Peter has been rocking the grill all morning — truly, we would not have been able to do this if he hadn’t stepped up and been the man — and now that all the squash is off and the guests are arriving, he’s started with the burgers and dogs.


Cold, wet, windy, and miserable, but if you cook it, they will come.

Now, this is where I needed a photographer’s help, because I was so busy trying to make sure everything was ready for service, that I never got any good pictures of the spread, or of all the guests.  But one of the park rangers was seen dancing around with a pork sandwich in one hand, and a camera snapping constantly away in the other, so I’m hoping to get some of his shots.  Still, here’s some of it…


Acorn squash, salt potatoes, collard greens with salt pork and marinated onions, roasted potatoes and wilted kale…

Here’s a nice plateful.

And here’s a nice barn-full.

At points, I’d walk in to see how everyone was doing, and there’d be no noise.  Everyone would look up at me with their mouths full, their jaws masticating, and their forks poised mid-air, already laden with another bite, their other hand fisting a pork sandwich the size of a baby-doll head.  It was the silence of satisfaction – and it sounded good.  Most of the time, though, the air was full of chatter and laughter, and the autumn chill was warmed by the light of multiple smiles.  We were celebrating a year of hard work, all in the service of the land and its history.  We were celebrating friendship, and fresh vegetables, and the future of the program.  And, simplest but best of all, we were breaking bread together in an ancient barn, creating a new moment in history for ourselves.  I was happy to nourish the experience.

Even Louisa May, Bronson, and Edwin ate well.

Country-fried Pork Chops with Mashed and Gravy and Frenchified Green Beans

I gots me a new toy!! A “bean slicer”, which “strings and slices in ONE easy action!” After being disappointed by my inadequately cut-with-a-chef’s-knife haricot verts from a few dinners ago, Clayton resolved to buy me the right tool for this particular job – a French bean cutter, which slices the string bean into up to sixths lengthwise, peeling the sinewy strings from the edges for easy separation from the bits which you’ll cook. And, as it has been a long week, and as I only had Harvest for my pantry tonight, and since I needed me some stick-to-your-ribs home-cooking to offset the daily grind, I grabbed some pork chops, some spuds, and my string beans to put together a typical country-fried dinner, replete with a simple sausage cream gravy. I know, I know – this is another meat-heavy meal. But my husband’s been working hard restoring a 17th century barn- with the National Park Service, and I’ve been, er, working, too. Databases and other administrative hoo-ha may not be physically challenging, but it requires real food for nourishment nonetheless.

I neglected to take a set-up shot tonight, but here’s what you’ll need:

½ lb fresh green beans
1 lb Yukon gold potatoes
2 center cut pork chops
2 eggs
flour
Cajun Foreplay
sea salt
cracked black pepper
Canola cooking oil
2 breakfast (or sweet Italian) sausage links
heavy cream
2 tbs butter
zest of one lemon

Start with your spuds by scrubbing them. These are lovely Yukon golds.

Cut into quarters, and submerge in boiling salted water for about 20 minutes until soft.

Here’s my bean slicer. Cool.

Here’s my beans. Ain’t they beautiful?

Here’s how you do it: Cut each tip off. Set the bean, seams out, into the bean holster, pressing it through the blades. When ½way through, grab the bean from the other side and pull the remaining length across the blades, slicing the strings off each edge as you go, and splitting each bean into long 1/4ths or 1/6ths, depending upon the thickness. See how lovely?

It takes a little wheedling, but it works! Set the tips and strings aside for the compost pile, and be ready to blanch your sweet green slivers.

Dump them into boiling water for 2-3 minutes…

… just until the color brightens.

Drain under cold water, to stop them from cooking.

Poke chops. Love ‘em!

Eggs. I truly don’t know what’s up with the, er, iris on this egg – hopefully, no-one will tell me that this is a sure-fire sign of spoilage. It didn’t taste spoiled, but the shell did seem a bit thinner than its zygote sibling.

I used to think I’d be an Arthurian scholar, but I somehow went Victorian. No matter. His royal flour is still regal.

Here’s a blend of Arthur’s best unbleached, sea salt, black pepper, and Cajun Foreplay – the spice mix of the GODS.

A simple breading station: protein, egg dip, and flour dip.

My cooking oil has been heating up to high heat.

I pull my spuds off the heat, because they’re soft and ready, and I peel one skin off a wee wedge to test the temp of my fryer. Clayton mashes the potatoes, adding a wee bit of cream and butter, with some salt and pepper. Set aside.

After drying it between two sheets of paper towels, I dump this bit of potato skin into the oil to test its heat level. When it sizzles and crisps almost immediately, it’s ready for frying your chops.

Dip each piece of meat heartily into the egg…

… coating each side fully.

Then dip each side into your flour mix…

… coating completely.

Gently float each chop, one at a time, in the hot sizzling, oil, being *very* careful not to slosh or splash. If the oil doesn’t immediately sizzle when you dip a tiny corner of the meat into it, it’s not ready. Make sure it is VERY hot. Set each shop into the pan, keeping in mind which you sank first, so that you’ll know which has cooked the longest. Make sure every bit of chop is fully submerged in the hot oil. Cover with a splatter screen, and let fry for 8-10 minutes.

Set a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and crumble a few little breakfast sausage links into it, skinned of their casings.

After your meat has browned nicely, add ½-3/4 cup heavy cream to the pan, stirring well, sweetening and softening the meat with its milky bubbling goodness. Let this simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and fully incorporated. Add a few shots of cracked black pepper, and a dash of Tabasco or schiracha if you can handle heat (which I, regrettably, can’t).  Some folks also like Worchestershire sauce in the sausage gravy, but I’ve never been a fan.

Also set two tablespoons of butter into a large saucepan over medium-high heat, to just melt and turn a glorious shade of caramel brown.

Add your chilled, blanched, frenchified green beans to your brown butter, and toss well for about 3-4 minutes.  Add the zest of one lemon and some sea salt for the final toss before plating.

Now this is the kind of home-cookin’ even my mother-in-law would approve of!  Country-fried pork chops, specially spiced with Cajun foreplay, and slathered with a cream sausage gravy, served with mashed potatoes and buttery green beans.  The flavors are fresh but hearty, and they were just what we needed after a rainy cold day in Boston.

Eight Hour Cassoulet

If you’re a vegetarian, I suggest you stop here: this was a MEATY meal! Delicious, delightful, rich, hearty, homey, filling, and warming – it was wonderful, and wonderfully full of pig, pork, ham, sausage, duck and goose (fat). Add some heirloom traditional flageolet beans, a rough mirepoix, and a crust of crunchy parmesan bread crumbs, and you’ve got, what Clayton called: “a meal fit for a night after a winter country hunt,” which I imagine as the kind that had packs of hunting dogs and lovely horses and riding boots and high-buttoned coats and English saddles and warmed rum by the fireside and other romanticisms which are probably far from the truth (and somehow more British than French, despite the origin of “cassoulet”). But truly, this is a stew worthy of a hard’s days ride through the briary woods in pursuit of game, and was a true treat after a weekend of sub-zero weather and lots of outdoor exploring.  The eight hours referred to might be an overestimate (or underestimate, if you include the bean-soaking time), but traditionally this meal takes several days to make.  Since I want to eat dinner tonight, I pack all the preparation and simmering into a single day.  It’s about an hour of prep, more or less, and 3-4 hours of simmering time, and another hour or so to finish it off.

I’ve no set up shot for tonight, but here’s a list of what you’ll need:

12oz flageolet (or otherwise white) beans
3 large links pork garlic sausage
1/4lb prosciutto di parma
1lb pork shoulder or butt
5-6oz country cured ham steaks
2 confit duck legs
4 tbs rendered goose fat (or duck fat)
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
2 medium white onions
1 whole unpeeled head, plus 4 cloves peeled, crushed garlic
4-5 tbs diced tomato (I used a canned fire-roasted variety)
2 qts chicken stock
2 tbs dried thyme
2 bay leaves
bagette
butter
salt
black pepper
fresh grated parmesan cheese
panko breadcrumbs
sliced green onions (for garnish)

First step: soak your dried beans for no more than 8 hours overnight.

This morning, Clayton and I braved the subzero temperatures and headed out, mainly to build a meal off of the flageolet, which are traditionally used as the bean in a cassoulet, and is a difficult legume to find here in the States. The only place I could think of which carries legs of duck confit, which I was pretty sure I needed, is Savenor’s.

I love this place, and there are two of them! This is the one by Mass General Hospital, on Charles Ave, on Beacon Hill. Any meat it is legal to sell in the US, they sell – all the exotic ones included.

Here’s what I’m a’gonna use: garlic pork sausge, prosciutto (I should have gotten a slab, but I come up with a rather clever and pleasant approach to these lovely slices of soft sweet prosciutto di parma), pork butt, country cured ham (as opposed to ham hock and sat pork, this bone-in thin-sliced super-salted ham is a great addition to this meal), and two legs of dug confit—that is, roasted and stored in its own fat. Didn’t I mention this recipe has a lot of meat?

Oh, and one last fat: goose fat. (They didn’t have duck fat, but I liked graphic design of the “Whetstone Valley” bit enough to buy this instead. I was not disappointed.)

I add about 2 tbs to a hot, heavy bottomed pan large enough to make my whole dish.

Pork.

Ham.

Carrots, celery, and onion: the holy trinity of basic cooking. Start roughly chopping ‘em.

While that’s happening, add your pork bits to your sizzling goose fat.

Using tongs to flip each lovely bite, brown each edge!  About 10-15 minutes total will do.

Mirepoix is prepped.

Once each bite of pork is browned on each edge, remove them bits and set them aside in a bowl. Add your sliced country ham to the sizzling goosepork fat, and sear each side for about 3-4 minutes.

See?

Once those are browned on each side, remove them too. Then add your chopped veg to your gooseporkham fat.

Stir well.

The veg will begin to melt, releasing their sweet sweet liquids, which will release the meat fond sticking to the bottom of the pan, allowing it to blend with the onioncarrotcelerystuff.  Sauté for about 15 minutes.

Garlic. I’m going to through the whole head in – unpeeled! Why? I’m not sure – I think I saw it on TV once. I’m thinking it will release a sort of muted roasted garlic flavor. Don’t worry… I plan to add some fresh minced shortly before service, to kick it up a bit.

See?

If tomatoes were worth anything other than compost these days, I would have bought fresh, but husband Farmer Clayton’s backyard heirlooms, which are sadly out of season now, had spoiled me; even the previously passably acceptable tomatoes-on-the-vine pale in comparison. So, for stewing preparations, I’ve found several high-end canned goods provide me with more flavor and satisfaction. I don’t need a ton of tomato, so I add about 5 tablespoons.  Cook for about 10 minutes.

Stir well, and then add your ham and pork back to the pan, plus any juices that have accumulated.

See?

Then add 2qts of chicken stock to the pan – enough to cover the ingredients – and set to a low boil.

Add 2 bay leaves, and about 2 tsp dried thyme. Cover, and WALK AWAY. For 1 1/2 hours.

1 1/2 hours later…

Add your fully soaked and drained and picked over flageolet beans. Cover, set to medium low, and WALK AWAY. For TWO hours. What? I said this was an 8-hour cassoulet! Check the title!

Two hours later…

I’ve put my two fat-preserved duck legs into a non-stick pie pan (it’s all you need) . Set into a 400° oven to roast for 10-15 minutes, until fully seared.

My prosciutto. Most recipes call for a large hunk of the stuff, but I purchased slices (erroneously) instead. That’s OK. I figured something out: I roll each of four slices into a cigar, leaving the last two inches or so free so I can split it down the middle, then tie it up into itself.

See? Little perfect bow-tied packages of prosciutto.

Here are some lovely links of garlic pork sausage. Sear them fully through on all sides in another tablespoon of goose fat, for .

Cover them with a splatter screen, so that your husband doesn’t have to spend more time than truly necessary to clean up after you. Place your prosciutto in your pan, and submerge it in the already simmering bean meat broth. Let simmer.

After 15 minutes, your confit should be ready.

Using two forks, 1st remove the skin from the thigh, then shred the meat from the bones.

Dammit, Clayton! Get out of the duck, man…

Whoops – my prep list is showing!

Sausages are browned, and duck is shredded. Slice the sausage on the bias—

—and lay it into your cassoulet. Remove the whole papered garlic head out of your pan (squeezing it with tongs strongly, to squish as much garlic out of it as possible), and then add the remaining 4 peeled cloves of garlic, which you’ve minced, to the mix, with a bit of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Mix well, and keep simmering.  Keep the cover off so that the liquids can further reduce.

Spread about 1 ½ cups of panko breadcrumbs and about ½ cup grated parmesan cheese over a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Set into a 350° oven to toast, stirring every once in a while to make sure it browns evenly.

Now, assemble your individual cassoulets, in your sweet little wee Mario Batali cast-iron pots. Simply layer out even amounts of meat, beans…

… and broth…

… and shredded duck meat and sliced seared duck skin…

… and pack your toasted cheesed breadcrumbs over the entire mess. Set into your hot oven for about 10 more minutes, and toast off some croûtons in the meanwhile.

Meatsoulet extravaganza! Duck legs, garlic sausage, pork butt, prosciutto di parma, country cured ham, beans, carrots, celery, onions and broth with a cheesy breadcrumb topping, bursting through and through with flavor and heartwarming goodness. The Federation has faced down intergalactic foes before, but never one of such a delicious aspect.

Lolita-Style Pork and Beans

Surprise!  A box arrived today from Unadilla, Georgia (where the population is smaller than, I think, my block’s here in Cambridge), sent successfully by the wonderful Rose Hall, my husband’s sweet mother, my favorite mother-in-law.  She’d packed me up some of the cutest little jars of homemade jellies and jams I’ve ever seen, some homemade chocolate bark and fresh nut brittles, a couple pounds of venison sausage (got to figure out what to do with that!), and a package of country ham.  I Rainman’ed my way through the pantry (I came home thinking “I am *so* not cooking tonight”) muttering “beans.. no beans… pinto beans… pintos… celery…celery…carrots…celery carrots beans… ham and beans… no stock… bean sauce… toast… beans and toast… ham and beans and garlic toast… salad… snappy salad…” and so on.  Clayton stood by, a bit worried, thinking I’d lost it, hoping I’d find it,  but worried I’d gone nuts.  Yet, a few minutes of idiot savanting, and what came together was simple but hearty and delicious and just about right.

Make it for yourself!  Click on each picture in turn to see step-by-step instructions.