Monday, January 30, 2012

Maple-Orange Glazed Carrots

I'm tempted to change the name of this to "candied carrots." Most of the dishes I prepare now, particularly vegetables, are things that I never would have touched as a kid. But not this. I would have sat down with a bowl and devoured it as quickly twenty years ago as I want to today. I've tried to exercise some adult discretion on that, but it's not easy.

These carrots cook down in a sauce of butter, maple syrup and orange juice until it forms a thick, sticky glaze. The carrots end up soft and succulent. The maple and orange compliment each other beautifully in the sauce. To top it all off, it's a pretty quick side dish that involves a minimal amount of attention. Just give it some occasional stirs and let the sauce magically reduce into deliciousness. Easy peasy.

Maple Orange Glazed Carrots
From Simply Recipes.

1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4" thick rounds
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c maple syrup
1/3 c orange juice
1/2 tsp orange zest (while, of course, fresh zest would be delicious, I've been using dried zest, just because I have it on hand, and it's fine as well. The sauce cooks for long enough to rehydrate it effectively.)
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Heat a high-sided pan over medium heat. (Seriously, a high-sided pan. The first time I made this I thought a normal skillet would be fine, and it was, until I began to stir and tossed carrots all over my stove.) Melt the butter in the skillet. Add carrots and toss a bit to coat. Cook 3-4 minutes.

Add the maple syrup and cook another minute or two. Then add the orange juice and zest, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cover and cook 4 minutes. Uncover, increasing the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes or so, until the liquid has become a thick glaze. Serve warm, and try not to eat it all at once!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sausage and Kale Saute

I thought I would share one of the delicious dishes Jeff and I made with our farmers market finds from last week, discussed in this post. We took the sweet sausage from Beech Tree Farm in Hopewell and the kale from North Slope Farm in Lambertville (supplemented with some store-bought kale - we didn't have enough!) and made this delicious saute.

The pork was perfect for this recipe - flavorful without being too greasy. The sausage casings came off easily and the meat crumbled well in the pan. There's nothing like fresh sausage for something like this. I remember how I used to try to remove store-bought chicken sausages from their casings - it just doesn't work. I'm sticking with the good stuff from now on. Some of the kale was slightly bitter, but the sweetness of the red peppers balanced it out nicely. The original recipe included maple syrup, perhaps to balance the bitterness of the kale, but we didn't notice its presence at all, so I wouldn't bother including it from now on.

Overall, this is a bright, tasty dish - definitely my favorite kale recipe. The vivid colors brighten up a winter table, too!

Sausage and Kale Saute
Adapted from The Locavore's Kitchen.

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 lb sweet Italian sausage (if using links, remove the casings)
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced (I used strips that I had frozen in the fall - this was probably my best preserving idea of the season. Next year, I plan on freezing a ton of these. Much better than paying $4-5/lb for off-season peppers, and they still taste great!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb kale, chopped
2 tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat (you will need a pot with high sides to contain all the kale). Add the sausage, breaking it up into small chunks, and cook 10-15 minutes, until thoroughly cooked and beginning to brown. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper-towel lined plate to drain.

Keep the pan on the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. When it's hot, add the onion and red pepper to the pan. Saute until soft, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.

Add the kale and stir until slightly wilted, tossing with the oil and veggies. Add the reserved sausage and 2 tbsp water (to help steam the kale a bit) and stir well. Cover the pot and cook an additional 5-10 minutes, until the kale is tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Farmers Markets

Most people think of farmers markets as a summer and fall thing, but local markets can be just as vibrant in the middle of winter. Just check out this picture if you want proof!

This morning, Jeff and I went over to the special winter farmers market hosted by Slow Foods Central Jersey at the education center for the D&R Greenway Trust. It was a beautiful venue for a very lively market. We filled our market basket with local barbecue sauce, shiitake mushrooms, winter root veggies and kale from North Slope Farms, Terhune Orchards apple cider (my all-time favorite - our fridge is never without it!), sausage from Beech Tree Farm, Cherry Grove Farms Havilah cheese, and a fresh loaf of bacon bread from Lawrenceville's Village Bakery. We got to meet some new vendors, sample flavorful local foods and pick up some of our old favorites.

Afterward, we headed over to Terhune Orchards' farm store for some fresh eggs, which we had neglected pick up at the market. We also snagged a large rutabaga and some cut-up blue hubbard squash. I've been wanting to try hubbard squash for some time, but have been wary of picking up one of the behemoths I've seen at the market. The lady in the farm store said that's exactly why they cut it up - to give customers a chance to try it in smaller amounts. I appreciated the gesture - it worked out perfectly for me! We also scored some free (still warm!) cider doughnuts because we brought our own bag.

Finally, we stopped by our usual haunt, the Trenton Farmers Market. I feel lucky to live right by a market that is open year-round. While the selection has wound down a bit in some areas, it has picked up in others. In addition to the expected onions and potatoes, many vendors have small pots of winter lettuce that can be kept indoors and nibbled at for several weeks. I passed on that (I tend to kill lettuce rather quickly), but picked up some onions and pumpkin ravioli from the Italian specialty store.

We got home around lunchtime and made scrambled egg sandwiches on thick slices of toasted bacon bread with Havilah cheese. Mine had some local shallots and dried dill from our garden; Jeff's had sauteed shallots and shiitake mushrooms with dried thyme, also from our garden. Eating local never tasted so delicious!

My point is that the winter farmers market (whether a special weekend market or year-round market or farm store) are chock full of local food options. The ground may be icy and the garden bare, but local farmers still have plenty to offer. So what are you waiting for? Go check it out!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Double Chocolate Ice Cream

I am loving my new ice cream maker. The process is easy and the results are fabulous. Above all, I appreciate having control over the ingredients. As we learned with this batch, high quality ingredients make a stupendous ice cream!

This ice cream was thick and rich and set up well in the freezer. I had some a little early on the first night and it was rather melty, but since then it has stayed at the perfect firm but scoopable consistency. I must warn you, though, that the chocolate flavor was rather intense - it actually gave me a caffeine buzz! (Bear in mind that I don't drink any caffeinated drinks, so I'm more susceptible.) Jeff, who professes to dislike plain chocolate ice cream, has also been savoring this batch. Definitely a winner in my book. I know I'll be making this recipe over and over again.

Double Chocolate Ice Cream
From Cooking Light January 2012.

1 1/3 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa powder, unsweetened (I used Valhrona)
2 1/2 c 2% milk, divided (the milk I buy is low-temperature pasteurized, which lets it retain its creaminess and flavor - I think the quality of the milk made an enormous difference in the quality of the ice cream)
3 egg yolks
1/3 c heavy cream
2 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Valhrona 66%)

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the sugar and cocoa powder. Add 1/2 c milk and egg yolks and whisk well to fully combine.

When there are no lumps left, stir in the remaining 2 c milk. Cook until a thermometer registers 160°F, about ten minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat.

Place cream in a microwave-safe bowl (I used my pyrex measuring cup for this entire step) and microwave about 90 seconds, until it comes to a boil. Add the chopped bittersweet chocolate and stir until smooth. Add this to the hot milk mixture and stir to combine. Place pan in a large ice-filled bowl (I transferred mine back into the Pyrex cup first, so I wasn't starting with a hot pot that would melt the ice instantly). Cool completely, stirring occasionally (when it gets down toward room temperature, you might want to place it in the fridge to speed things up).

Pour the mixture into your ice cream machine and freeze according to the instructions (mine needed to churn for about 35 minutes). Transfer into a freezer-safe container and freeze for a few hours, until firm (the original recipe says at least an hour, but mine was still rather soupy at that point). Enjoy!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wild Game at Lambertville Station, Lambertville, New Jersey

Jeff and I trekked up to Lambertville this afternoon for the first weekend of wild game at Lambertville Station. This event is going on through March with different game selections each weekend. This weekend's quail and elk dishes were a good starting point for me, since I am pretty unfamiliar with game (the only game I've ever had was a bit of duck). I think we'll be visiting a few more times before it ends to keep expanding our palates!

Lambertville is one of my favorite places. It's a quaint little colonial town right on the Delaware River, across from New Hope, Pennsylvania. Lambertville has a great collection of antique stores (and great bargains at the Golden Nugget outdoor market on weekends) and New Hope has a thriving community of artists, so there are plenty of cute and curious shops to browse through. And both towns have some great restaurants (you may remember my previous post about The Blue Tortilla in New Hope). This adventurous lunch and a browse through the antique market was the perfect way to spend this 60-degree winter Saturday.

Despite it only being a lunch service, upon sitting down we were promptly brought a plate of the restaurant's famous coconut bread (they had cards with the recipe at the hostess stand, which I made sure to procure for later!). It's a quick bread full of coconut flavor - a really delicious way to start a meal. I thought this bread was a bit dry (so I availed myself of the butter on the plate), but I think that it was just this particular batch, since it was more moist the last time I was there.

The advertisement about the wild game offerings says that it is available at both lunch and dinner, with appetizer and entree portions available, so we were sad to find only one game selection on the menu when we arrived. Our delightful waitress, however, consulted with the kitchens and managed to procure for us an appetizer portion of the quail, roasted and stuffed with apples. The presentation was beautiful, although I confess I was a bit squeamish about picking apart a tiny little bird. But the skin was nice and crispy (and I don't usually eat skin) and the meat delicious. It reminded us most of turkey in both flavor and appearance - even the breast portion was the dark color of a turkey drumstick, with similar rosy patches. The tart green apples contrasted well with the savory, meaty flavor of the quail. Definitely a winner in my book.

For my entree, I ordered one of the day's specials - a london broil sandwich with spinach, artichoke and Asiago cheese spread on a rosemary ciabatta roll. I have to admit I was disappointed in my selection. While the steak was cooked nicely, it is a tough cut of meat, very difficult to manage in a sandwich, and I think some of the slices were a bit thicker than they should have been. I had a hard time biting through it, so the meal turned into a bit of a struggle to eat my food in a polite and ladylike manner. The spread was good, as was the bread, but my battle to bite through the steak put damper on the whole experience for me. Note to self: don't order steak sandwiches.

Jeff ordered the game entree - spaghetti with red elk meatballs. We were a little disappointed that there wasn't a dish that showed off the elk's true flavor and texture - there are apparently elk medallions on the dinner menu which would have fit the bill nicely. However, since Jeff cleaned his plate, I think the meatballs went over well. I am not sure I got a sense of the flavor of elk from the meatball I tasted, what with its other herbs and spices, but I was very impressed with the texture. It was definitely leaner than a beef meatball - I never thought about the fattiness of beef meatballs until today, when it was missing. The elk also managed to be dense without being heavy. I think it is something that I would order for myself in the future. Jeff particularly appreciated getting nine small meatballs, rather than the two or three large ones he has come to expect from ordering them at restaurants.

Overall, Lambertville Station is always a great place to grab a bit of lunch (or brunch, on a Sunday!). While I chose my entree poorly, the rest of the food was delicious and worth returning for. We will probably be back for more wild game soon - next week is pheasant and wild boar!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Foodie Resolutions and Double Chocolate Cookies

2011 was a great year for food. It will be hard to surpass.

2011 was the year when I shifted to organic, became a militant locavore, and taught myself to can. After trying out a vegetarian diet for Lent, I found ways to drastically reduce my household meat consumption. Inspired by my 30 by 30 list, I left behind my lifetime of picky eating to explore a whole new world of foods. I joined an organic CSA, which helped with most of the above enterprises. I endeavored to make whatever I could from scratch.

On the negative side, that very willingness to try things was stymied at the end of the year when stomach problems forced me to eliminate acid from my diet. Fortunately (considering my pantry full of high-acid canned goods), acid was not ultimately the problem, and I can eat tasty things again. A separate issue with my gall bladder, however, limits my diet in a good way: I can't eat fatty, processed meats and cheeses. This experience has shown me how important my dietary changes have been. The local, organic meats and cheeses I normally buy don't bother me - it's the factory-produced, chemical-ridden meats and cheeses of the supermarket that I have to avoid. That three half-dollar-sized Purdue chicken nuggets could ruin my New Year's Eve says a great deal about how harmful our industrial food system has become to our collective health.

2012 does not come with any new food resolutions for me. Rather, it comes with a reaffirmation of the course I embarked upon last year. There will be more vegetables, particularly the fresh, local variety. When those vegetables are in season, I will work harder to preserve some for later (no more binging on quarts of fresh-picked snow peas - some will go to the freezer!). I will make whatever I can from scratch so that I know exactly what I am putting into my body. I will buy local organic meats as much as possible, regardless of price, because my health is worth it.

These resolutions ought to be followed by some light, colorful vegetable dish, rather than a rich, decadent batch of cookies. But cookies, the last holdover from my holiday baking, are what I have for you. I made these as a gift for my brother-in-law-to-be. Although he chose not to participate in the family gift exchange this year, I thought he deserved a little something. Something chocolate.

Rich and decadent seem like soft words to describe these cookies. Just look at the ingredients - 24 oz chocolate, 3 eggs and 1/3 cup of flour?!?! I was skeptical that this would even work. There is barely enough flour to hold the dough together. The recipe makes up for this by refrigerating the dough (more like a batter, really) in plastic wrap to form sliceable logs. The slicing is still a bit difficult and sloppy, but the cookies bake up so beautifully that the struggle is worth it. They have a delicate crispy crust, almost gooey interior and deep chocolate flavor. The leftovers that didn't fit into my cookie tin disappeared lightning-fast.

While these don't quite fit with the January purge everyone seems to be on, you might want to keep them in mind for your Valentine!

Double Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from a Ghirardelli ad.

12 oz bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Valhrona 66%)
6 tbsp butter
3 eggs
1 c sugar
1/3 c flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips (I used Whole Foods generic brand - there was no Ghirardelli to be had in the store after Christmas)
1 c chopped walnuts

In a double boiler, melt the bittersweet chocolate and butter, stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until thickened.

Slowly stir in cooled chocolate mixture. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Stir into chocolate mixture. Gently mix in semisweet chocolate and walnuts.

Using a sheet of plastic wrap, form the dough into two or three logs, two inches in diameter. The "dough" has more of a batter-like consistency, so use the plastic wrap to force it into the shape you want, then twist the ends tightly closed (mine had big air bubbles as I wrapped them, but while twisting the ends, I forced them into a more compact shape). Refrigerate for several hours until firm (freezing might be even better, but I didn't try it myself).

When the dough is firm, preheat the oven to 375°F. Remove the plastic wrap, slice the dough into 3/4" rounds and place on a greased baking sheet (my dough sliced very poorly - my knife was a sticky mess! - so a number of my cookies were hand-formed on the baking sheet, which worked fine). Bake 12-14 minutes, until shiny on top and soft in the middle (12 minutes in my convection oven was perfect). Cool and indulge!