November Soup

I’m a big fan of soup.  I serve it year round, from hearty stews in the dead of winter to a cooling gazpacho or an avocado bisque in the heat of July.  When chillier winds start to blow in November, soup is definitely on the menu.  It’s cozy warmth really help to bring the family together around the table when the darkness comes early.  And they smell so good too! 

Tonight’s soup is a perfect dish for early fall, as the ingredients are what is naturally on hand.  Parsnips from the garden and apples from the orchard make this soup a creamy delight.  Non-dairy, and not too sweet, it’s scented with cumin and coriander.  Perfect as an accompaniment to a roast or stuffed chops,  or serve it on it’s own, with a hearty bread like sourdough or cheddar biscuits and a green salad.  With only a couple of ingredients it’s super simple to make and can be made ahead.  It will keep in the fridge for a few days, too.

For a nicer flavor, roast the parsnips in the oven for about 40 minutes on 350.  You can peel them first or just leave them as they are.  It will slightly caramelize the sugars and make for a richer soup.  Any variety of apples will do, but my favorites are good old Mackintosh or Gala.

Parsnip and Apple Soup

2 tbs good Olive Oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 firm apples, peeled and chopped

8 to 15 parsnips, depending on the size. (more for 1″ or less at the crown)

3 1/2 cups (or more depending on desired consistency) of chicken or vegetable broth

Sprinkle of cumin

Sprinkle of coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the olive oil until tender.  Add the apples and a dash of salt and and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft.  Add the parsnips and the broth and cook for 20 minutes if you roasted the parsnips first, 40 minutes if not.  Allow to cool and puree the mixture in a blender, or use a hand blender right in the pot.  Sprinkle with the spices and stir.  Serve alone or with finely chopped parsley or a dollop of yogurt. Enjoy!

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The Season of Bounty

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It’s that time of the year when a quick evening browse around the garden with a cocktail yields a colorful basket of produce.  For a little while this early summer, I could get away with gathering into my upturned shirt, but with the warmer days and rainy afternoons, the harvest has begun in earnest, and I try to remember to bring out a basket along with my drink.  Garlic and green onions, early tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries, carrots, early beets, peas and peppers are all coming in by the handful.  I always try to balance my desire for fresh produce with the realization that if I leave it a while longer, it will grow bigger, but there is nothing like the taste of sweet baby carrots and tender beets steamed with a bat of butter on a steamy summer evening.  My favorite dish of the early summer is, of course, a simple salad of fresh newly picked veggies.  The thinly sliced Peruvian white habanero adds a super kick to this tasty dinner.Image

I am surprised to see the blueberries ripen so early this year, as I usually think of late July as blueberry season, but I predicted this to be the year of the berry, and it seems I have called it right.  Even the tangy and delectable wild black raspberries in the hedgerow are beginning to ripen early, and I got a sticky purple handful this morning for my trouble.  Unfortunately, as they grown amongst the nettles, I also got a prickly wrist.

On another note, for those of you who read “the Doctor is in”  I’m happy to report that my pepper plants are all thriving.  Many of them lost all their dark green foliage to the cold snap we had in May, but the smaller, lighter green leaves are beginning to thicken out the plants, and on many there are the first blooms.  Some did better than others and are already fruiting, hence the spicy salad, but most peppers like the heat, and will produce best from late July into early September.  During this pepper heyday, you will find me in the kitchen, gloves on, chopping peppers for hot sauces and salsas as fast as I can.

The Blues are Running!

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One of the highlights of the summer is fishing for bluefish from the shores of Martha’s Vineyard.  Blue fishing is an all day affair, requiring some planning and a bit of commitment.  Each June we load up the car with lunch, snacks, beer, coolers of ice, chairs, rod holders, rods and tackle, towels, beach games and maybe a kite or two, oh, and the kids on top of it all, and we head out for East beach on Chappaquiddick.  To get there we must drive the 20 minutes to Edgartown and queue up in the ferry line to make the short hop to the island off the island.  Once there, we drive until the road turns to sand and stop at the Trustees of the Reservation hut to have them check our sticker.  The Trustees are a statewide conservation organization that manages much of the public lands on Martha’s Vineyard.  Check out their website here for information about this great organization www.thetrustees.org/  They make sure we have paid the price to access the land trust areas, warn us to stay off the roped areas reserved for plover mating, and send us on our way.  From there we let most of the air out of our tires to allow the truck some traction in the deep sand, and off we go, bouncing over the dunes in the back of the pickup.  

Fishing on East beach is a funny thing.  One can cast for hours and never get a bite, or throw in one deadly dick and haul in a fighting blue.  It just depends on if the fish are running.  When they are around, they will hit on almost anything.  Sluggos, plugs, any type of shiny lure. Once one is caught, fisherman up and down the beach run to their rods and the catch is on.  Bluefish are a blast to catch because they are fighters and will regularly take line before you get them to shore.  They like to jump and shake, trying to lose the hook.  Most fishermen use some sort of treble hook to increase their chances of landing a fish. Once on shore, one must use caution unhooking them, as they have very sharp teeth.  Years ago we were taking a picture of my sons after catching some blue fish and, with one of them holding a fish, they both turned toward each other at the same time.  The fish’s teeth raked the eyelid of one boy and cut him open.  He bears the scars to this day.  

I like to catch bluefish as long as we keep are keeping them.  When we decide we have enough for a good feed or two, I’m ready to be done. For a few years I would continue to catch and release them, but they fight so hard and sometimes wear themselves out, and I found I lost the taste for it.  I tried using a single hook, to give them more of a chance, but after awhile I simply decided that If I wasn’t going to eat them, I might as well leave them alone.

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Bluefish get a bad rap as an eating fish, but I’m hear to tell you that, if treated properly, they are one of the best types of fish for eating.  If you have ever bought bluefish in a store, you haven’t really tried bluefish.  They must be eaten fresh, within a day of catching them.  After that they turn from a dusky pink to a sickly blue color and taste oily and, well, fishy.  Furthermore, once caught, they must be bled out and kept on ice.  To bleed them, use a sharp knife right in the middle of the chest up to the throat.  It is a fast way to ease them on their way and it makes the flesh taste better.  Ice them immediately.  If they can be filleted right on the beach, all the better.  The best way to cook the freshest bluefish is right on the grill.  Salt, pepper, skin side down until the flesh is white and flaky.  After that, anyway is a good way.  I have baked it, braised it, fried it and sauteed it with any assortment of herbs and spices.  For a sublime bluefish recipe, check out this link to braised bluefish with saffron risotto.  http://braveapron.com/tag/saffron/.   Leftover bluefish with scrambled eggs is a real morning treat.  Anyway you prepare it, bluefish is a delicacy and one not to be missed in these summer months.  We ate grilled bluefish with summer salad from the garden and roasted sweet potatoes, and finished with a delicate strawberry mousse.  Yummy!

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Strawberry Fields Forever

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June is here and delights are beginning to come in from the garden.  Among the radish and peas, the lettuces and green onion are the strawberries, the most wonderful of all fruits and the one that really makes it feel like summer .  Of all the berries, the strawberries are the earliest and, in my opinion, the tastiest.  At least I say that until early July, when the blueberries are ripening, and then early august when we taste the delectable raspberries and blackberries.  But for now we indulge in the sweet, tangy, indescribably yummy strawberry.

I have a small berry patch that I often think takes up too much real estate in my tiny kitchen garden.  Most of the year it looks stringy and sad, almost as if the plants are dead or dying, but not so.   Come May, out come the shoots and flowers that, ever so agonizingly slowly, turn into hard green fruits and then ripen into luscious berries.  I have everbearing plants, which means they produce fruit all summer, although not as prolifically as they do in June.  Come August, they are growing wild and trying to climb down the sides of the raised beds and into the paths.  They are so hearty and vigorous they can root into the deep pine chips I use as mulch on the pathways.  Each year I cut back the runners and plant some back into the bed in the bare spaces, replace some older plants, and reluctantly throw out the rest.  They are so hearty, in fact, that one year I ripped them all up and, not able to throw them out, kept them in a bag in my garage.  Then, regretting my decision, I replanted half of them back into another bed, where they took, and bore berries the same year.

As hearty as they are, strawberries are a funny plant.  They only produce for a few years, and will shoot out runners that can overtake the garden rapidly.  They use an enormous amount of nutrients and therefore should be moved every 3 years or so to a different spot in the garden. They are best heavily mulched, which both keeps the berries out of the mud,and protects the crowns from cold.  They like water, but not too much, and must be in well draining soil.  Weather will affect the crop and determine ripening times; with warmth and abundant sunshine they ripen quickly, rain and clouds cause some delay.  Some varieties do well in containers, and are a good choice for those with not much space, but they must be watered regularly.

Besides eating them fresh on granola or yogurt, one of our favorite things to do with berries is to make ice cream.  Following is a simple and delicious recipe that can’t be beat.  Image

1 pint fresh berries

1 1/2 cups cream, divided

3 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

Wash and crush the berries with a potato masher until pulpy.

Heat 1 cup cream in a saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form on the sides of the pan.

Mix together egg yolks 1/2 cup cream, and sugar in a medium bowl

Add the hot cream to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, and then return the mixture to the pan.  Over medium low heat, whisk the mixture until it becomes thickened, 5-10 minutes.  DO NOT BOIL.  Allow the mixture to cool completely.

When custard is cool, add to an ice cream churn and follow the manufacturer’s directions.  YUM!

Another Trout Recipe

ImageThis recipe is for lake trout, usually bigger than stream trout, at least in the North East, and caught deep in the cold bottom of lakes.  Because they are larger they are easier to fillet then the smaller stream trout.  This recipe calls for two fillets about a pound each.  It is also excellent for salmon. I adapted this recipe from one I saw in a magazine.  Served over greens and with fresh berries from the garden, this makes an excellent summer meal.  I have added a dressing recipe for those who like to make their own.  It has a bit of a kick but goes great with the greens and fish.  

Cold Poached Trout on Greens With Peas and Berries

3 cups broth

2 cloves garlic, sliced 

10 peppercorns

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicy)

1/2 onion, sliced

1-2 lbs trout fillets

Put all ingredients except the fish into a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 5 minutes or so.  Add the fish and cover, simmering about 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.  When the fish is cooked through it should separate easily with a fork.  Transfer to a plate and let cool completely.  Strain off the broth, freeze it to save for later.  The spice makes it great for adding to vegetable soups and the fish broth gives it extra nutrition.  When the fish is cool, flake it lightly with a fork and serve over salad greens such as arugula or baby kale.  Add fresh strawberries and snap peas.  Top with pine nuts or sunflower seeds.  Any fruit, such as grapes or mangos, can be substituted for the strawberries, but they are in season right now in Connecticut.  

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Sorry there is no picture of the finished salad, but we gobbled it up before I remembered to take one! 

Spicy Sesame Dijon Dressing

1/4 cup sesame dressing

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tsps brown dijon mustard

salt to taste

1 tsp hot sauce (more if you like it spicy)

Grilled Fresh trout with onions

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As anyone who lives in the North East knows, a few days ago the weather was unbearably hot and humid.  Very unusual for May and, to tell you the truth, it was making me a bit crabby.  With the hot breath of the sun bearing down on us for so long the boys and I decided to see if our favorite neighbor had opened their pool, but no luck.  It was still sealed up tight, with a thick layer of leaves to top it off.  Discouraged, we headed back home, grumbling and moaning, until we remembered our favorite weekday watering hole.  That is not to say our favorite drinking location, but our best dipping pool and trout sanctuary.  We turned the truck around and headed the few miles down the road to Kent Falls.

Kent Falls is a State Park in northern Kent that in the summer is a very popular picnic spot.  In fact it is the most visited State Park in Connecticut, due in part to the fact that it is so very accessible.   It is right off the state road and has lots of parking, a stream and a wide open field for picnicking.  It’s greatest attraction, however, is an incredibly beautiful series of waterfalls that drop steeply into delectably clear pools perfect for bathing.  The water is cold, sparkling and divine.  There are stairs beside the falls that lead up to the top, with a wire fence that declares in multiple places along the route in very clear language “NO SWIMMING”.  Swimming is permitted, although not legally sanctioned, in the two pools nearest the bottom, and on the average summer weekend day the pool is filled to overflowing with frolicking children and their parents splashing around in the cold water.

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This is usually not a problem for us, as we almost never go on the weekends.  From Memorial Day to Labor Day the park charges a fee to enter on Saturday and Sunday, so we typically stick to afternoons during the week.   On some occasions, though, we have arrived at the park to find the pool occupied with swimmers, and while my children aren’t averse to swimming, they are first and foremost fishermen.  Kent Falls is not a swimming hole but a designated trout park dedicated to fishermen like my boys, so say the park rules.  This become a problem for us when we have come to fish and others want to swim.  We are usually in the minority.  For many years I have counseled the boys about the necessity to work together with others and to compromise, but how do you explain to a child that they can’t do what they want because others are breaking the rules.  How do you explain that if LOTS of people are breaking the rules, than they have the priority?  It doesn’t seem right.  But then again, if you had driven 2 hours to see the falls, and your children were frolicking in the water with a dozen others, and two boys came with rods and told everyone to clear out because they wanted to fish and the law was on their side, how would you feel?  It is a delicate situation and one we try to avoid.

Regardless of that ethical dilemma, when we arrived at the Falls that day, no one was in the pool, and I got to swim in the wonderfully cold water and lower my  temperature and irritability level at the same time while the boys caught minnows in the stream to use as bait.  While I knit in the shade, they proceeded to catch several beautiful trout in a matter of minutes.  We kept three, all about 13″, thanking them for their lives and cleaning them in the bushes.  Below you will find how I prepared them.

Fresh Trout with Onions. 

3 or more fresh whole trout

salt and pepper

olive oil

1 large onion

1 tbs capers

1/4 cup white wine

1 large lemon

After cleaning the trout, salt the inside flesh to taste.  Wrap each trout in tinfoil and set the grill to medium low.  Place each trout on the grill and cook for about 6 minutes a side.

Meanwhile slice onion in half and into thin strips.  Saute the onions in olive oil until sort and beginning to brown.  Squeeze the lemon onto the onions, add the white wine and the capers and saute until the liquid has evaporated. Salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the trout from the grill and open the tinfoil packets.  With a fork gently lift off the skin of the trout and remove the flesh from the bones.  The flesh should be flaky. Place on a platter and top with the onions.  Serve and enjoy!

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Ah Ah Ahhh Asparagus! Bless you.

Springtime for some is a horrible season of allergies.  Stuffy, runny noses, red eyes and sneezing abound as the deciduous and fruit trees blossom and spread their pollen throughout the warming springtime air.  For some, it is a time for Claritin, Allerest, Zyrtec.  What does this have to do with asparagus, you ask?  Not much, except that they coincide, and they were both on my mind after our short trip out to Martha’s Vineyard last weekend.

I have never had seasonal allergies, but my son does.   He gets great purple bags under his eyes and has a terrible grouchy attitude.  So terrible, in fact, that when he was 11 I brought him to the doctor, explaining that he was just a miserable person and what could I do about it?  She took one look at his purple shaded eyes and diagnosed him with seasonal allergies, prescribing a daily dose of Claritin.  It worked marvelously.  His attitude improved, the purple diminished and we went our merry way, but it caused me to wonder about allergies; why some people get them, and what I could do about it for my son.  Over the years I have found some homeopathic remedies that work with varying success.  

Quercetin is a natural substance found in the skin of onions and apples.  Sadly, apples and onions are not seasonal to springtime, but fortunately quercetin is available over the counter as a supplement.   

Stinging nettle, found in many allergy medications, is a useful herb in curbing the annoying symptoms, and can be taken in a tea form.  Stinging nettle is available now, and grows best in weedy lots and near manure piles.  Do not forget your gloves and long sleeves, as well as shoes and socks.  The effects of touching the plant itself are uncomfortable in the extreme.  Chop it, steep it, season it with honey, and enjoy!  If gathering it is too much for you, most health food stores will carry it, but it is best fresh.  

Honey is another supposed remedy for allergies.  It is recommended to take a teaspoon once a day, but the honey must be unblended and from your area in order for it to have a benefit.  Some swear by this, but so far the evidence is inconclusive.  It can’t hurt, anyway.

Acupuncture may help alleviate allergy symptoms, especially if you start treatment about a month before peak season.  Apparently opening certain meridians can help to suppress an overactive immune system.  

Last weekend, as I was indulging in the abundant asparagus that grows in the garden there, that we have patiently waited for years to mature and produce, my son was miserable.  He wanted only to lay inside and play on his Kindle.  He was tired, and grumpy, by turns sarcastic, caustic and irritable.  We couldn’t even get him to enjoy going fishing.  And only later, as I consider writing a post about the lovely asparagus, does the reason occur to me.  Duh! What is it about mothers who are always the last to figure it out?  I really should have known.

So.  To the asparagus!  

Any aficionado of that strange plant will tell you with fervent belief that fresh cannot compare to store bought asparagus, and we are right.  The ONLY time to eat it is when those tender shoots get to be just the right height to cut, and there are just enough to take without killing off the plant.  Harvesting asparagus is an exercise in patience.  A strong asparagus plant will send out shoots when the weather warms, but you must not cut those first delectable morsels!  They taunt you as they harden into stalks, but in order for the plant to thrive it must have foliage to photosynthesize. Those first stalks are necessary to the plant’s health, and only after they begin to mature and more shoots emerge may one gently cut and enjoy some of the delicate stalks.   The flavor is sublime.  Below are some of the ways we indulged our culinary fantasies and savored this most precious springtime treat.

Roasted Balsamic Asparagus with pancetta and caramelized onion

Oven temp 400.

2 lbs of fresh cut asparagus, peeled if the outer skin is tough.

4 tbs olive oil, divided

3 tbs good balsamic vinegar

2 large onions 

1/4 lb. pancetta. Ham, prosciutto, or bacon would work as well.

Chop onions in half and slice thinly   Chop pancetta into small squares.  In a skillet heat 2 tbs. oil on med heat.  Stir in onions and cook, allowing to brown.  When onions are almost done, about 15 minutes, add pancetta and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes.  Meanwhile, place asparagus in a single layer in a roasting pan lined with tinfoil and coat with the remaining 2 tbs oil.  Sprinkle with the balsamic and roast in 400 F oven for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus.  Remove, top with hot onion and pancetta mixture and serve.  

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Asparagus Yorkshire Pudding

Oven temp 400 F

3 eggs

1 1/2 cup organic flour

1 1/2 cup organic or raw milk

Salt to taste.

1/3 cup roast drippings, bacon fat or lard.

1 lb asparagus

Peel Asparagus if necessary.  Place a roasting pan in hot oven for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together first 4 ingredients into a batter.  When the pan is hot, add the drippings or bacon fat and coat the pan.  Place the asparagus in a single layer and cover with the batter.  Return to the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 10 – 15 minutes or until pudding is puffy, lightly brown and beginning to crisp.  Refrain from opening the oven until you remove the pudding.  If you must check the progress, use the light and window.   Allow to cool for a few minutes and cut into squares.  Serve immediately.