Archive for November, 2007

Thanksgiving: Feasting for two

Far from our extended families, unwilling to travel on this busiest flying-weekend of the year, my beloved and I are feasting at home, just the two of us. I’m doing the cooking, and I’m having a blast.

Wee piesThe trick: To prepare a meal that feels like Thanksgiving-with-all-the-trimmings – and provides the essential leftovers for next-day sandwiches – without overdoing it. So, for instance, I’m roasting a turkey breast, not a whole bird, and the desire for multiple kinds of pie will be satisfied by little single-serving pie-lets I baked last night: Pecan, lemon meringue and apple galettes. Aren’t they cute?
The menu:

Pre-feast nibbles: Olives (black and green), pickled garlic, nuts

Roast turkey breast with brandy gravy
Cornbread-and-sausage stuffing
Oven-roasted yams, mashed with allspice and maple syrup
Oven-roasted Brussels sprouts
Cranberry sauce. The jellied kind, from a can, because we love it (and it’s essential for next-day turkey sandwiches
Rosemary-olive oil bread

Dessert: miniature pies (pecan, lemon meringue, apple galette) and home-made cinnamon ice cream

Much of what’s going into the meal was produced locally: the yams, the apples for the galettes, the duck and wild mushrooms that made the rich, concentrated stock I pulled from the freezer last night to serve as a base for gravy (I already used up the turkey stock I had in the freezer, and duck is close enough) . The bread came fresh last night from the local Safeway bakery. The turkey, though purchased at the supermarket, is Oregon-raised, as are the Brussels sprouts. I bought the sausage that goes into the cornbread dressing from Wood Family Farms at the final farmers’ market of the season last weekend.

Even the butter – 3/4 of a pound of it so far, and more to come – is from Tillamook Dairy, not exactly local, but close enough.

Oops! There goes the oven timer. Back to the kitchen. More to follow …

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November 22, 2007 at 12:51 pm Leave a comment

Leek and potato soup

The leeks I brought home from the market yesterday went straight into the soup pot, and we were so hungry that the soup didn’t survive long enough to get its picture taken.

Never mind; this is one of my favorite easy winter soups, subtly flavored but hearty enough for a meal and easily converted for a vegetarian or vegan diet. Total prep time is perhaps 45 minutes, tops, and most of that’s time spent simmering.

Ingredients

1 slice of bacon, chopped into small dice (or a tablespoon of olive oil to make this vegetarian)
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 large leeks, white part only, split in half lengthwise, rinsed of any residual sand and then sliced across the stems into small pieces. You should wind up with about two loosely packed cups of leek bits
3 cups of good, low-salt chicken or vegetable stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves and a few springs of Italian parsley (make a bouquet garni by choosing one of the longest green leaves from the leek, wrapping it around the herbs and tying with kitchen string to make a tidy little packet that will be easy to fish out when the soup is done)
3-4 potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice. I used red potatoes, but any variety that doesn’t turn to mush when simmered would be fine.
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns OR 1/4 tsp ground pepper (if you don’t like stumbling across peppercorns in your soup)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream (omit for a vegan version)
Minced Italian parsley, for garnish

Preparation:

Heat the bacon a heavy-bottomed stock pan until most of the fat is rendered out; add garlic and stir until it softens (reduce heat if necessary to keep garlic from scorching).

Add leeks and stir to coat well with fat, then continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the leeks begin to soften.

Add stock, herb bundle, potatoes and peppercorns; bring to a simmer and continue cooking until potatoes are tender, approx. 30 minutes. Remove herb bundle and discard.

At this point, if you want a thicker soup, ladle 1/3 to 1/2 of it into a separate container and use a wand blender to puree it, then return the puree to the pot. If you don’t want any chunks at all, just blend directly in the pot until it’s all pureed.

Taste; correct seasoning. Stir cream into the soup if you want a rich, silky finish, or not if you don’t want the dairy. It’ll still be delicious. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Makes about 6 cups of soup, so if you don’t have a big family, I hope you like leftovers as much as I do.

I like my soup with buttered saltines, but homemade bread or a good salad would be nice, too.

November 18, 2007 at 6:52 pm Leave a comment

The last market of the season

Hardy market-goersIt’s the end of market season here, and I joined the handful of hardy shoppers braving the cold November rain to pick up a little late produce – butternut squash, leeks, big Jonagold apples and some frozen lamb and sausage – from the few vendors who showed up for the final day.

I’ll miss my weekly market trips, and not just for all the good things they bring to my kitchen. Shopping regularly at a small-town farmers’ market brings new friends: vendors who come to recognize me over the weeks, my neighbors who are about to go into hibernation for the winter. Maybe I’ll venture over to the Wednesday market in Corvallis, or make it to the Winter Market at the fairgrounds in January, but it’s not the same.

Meanwhile, though, some of this year’s bounty is in the freezer: Applesauce, roasted pumpkin, corn frozen right off the cob, oven-roasted tomatoes, lamb. As winter progresses, I’ll bring it out, thaw it, use it in dishes that bring memories of the harvest. If my habits hold true, I’ll probably eat the very last of it in April, right before the new market season opens. In the meantime, I’ll write about other harvests, and other meals: The Dungeness crab we’ll soon be seeing, pulled fresh from the ocean just 45 minutes away, the savory soups and risottos I’ll concoct this winter from dried beans, mushrooms and other hearty things.

Food, and the way we buy it, can tie us to the seasons if we let it. As surely as the rains of November bring a sense of farewell, spring and the market’s reopening will come like a welcome.

November 17, 2007 at 12:31 pm Leave a comment

Strange fruit

Quince“What is that?”

The question, from a woman in a green windbreaker, was directed at the vendor, but I couldn’t stop myself.

“It’s a quince – it’s like the essence of apple, multiplied by 10, only you have to cook it before you can eat it. They’re fabulous!”

I do that when I’m at the farmers’ market: Engage in conversations with total strangers about food, and the preparation thereof. It’s part of what makes a local market so much more enjoyable than, say, a quick trip to Safeway. Strangers talk to each other; community happens over a bin of ripe, red tomatoes, a mountain of sweet corn – or a basket full of quinces.

The green windbreaker lady was interested but skeptical; she walked away with a bag of pears but no quinces. But the vendor seemed pleased. She should be; she’s the one who introduced me to the joys of quinces, and I’ve become one of a cadre of quince-lovers who snatch up the hard, golden fruits each autumn when she brings them to market.

“Quince” is one of those words I first encountered in literature (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and in my mother’s dog-eared copy of the Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School cookbook, handed down from the grandmother who raised her. I had no idea what a quince actually was, mind you. In my mind’s eye, I imagined it as a small, round fruit, something like a kumquat, probably because of the “qu-” sound they shared. And knew that one could make jelly from it, as well as something called quince paste. It sounded genteel, ladylike and vaguely Victorian.

Imagine my surprise, during a stroll through the market two autumns ago, at encountering the real thing: A hard, yellow-gold fruit the size of a man’s fist, slightly pear-shaped and covered with a soft, waxy down that rubs off on your fingertips. And the fragrance! Quince has an intense perfume reminiscent of apples and honey, only more so.
I bought two on the spot, having no idea what I’d do with them. And then, like any good foodblogger, sat down at the computer to do a little research.

What the heck is a quince, anyway? Cydonia oblonga, botanically speaking: one of the most venerable fruits of the rose family, probably older than apples – and, many scholars believe, the fruit that got mistranslated as “apple” from many ancient writings, from the Greek mythologies to the Christian Bible. Given the quince’s origins in the temperate climate of the Caucasus and Mediterranean fertile crescent, it may well have been the fruit that tempted Eve, and the apple Paris handed Aphrodite.

In practice, quince is one of those Difficult Fruits. You can’t eat it raw – it’s too hard and too astringent, as anyone who’s tried to nibble its flesh will tell you (can you say “pucker”?) But those very qualities, caused by an abundance of natural pectins, also make cooked quince a natural for jellies and preserves (marmalade, now mostly made with oranges and other citrus fruits, originated in the Middle Ages as a way preserving quinces in honey).

Popular among colonial American gardeners, the quince has fallen out of favor in North America, replaced by fruits that are easier to eat and cultivate. Fireblight, a bacterial orchard disease, has wiped out many old stands of quince in the United States.
But some growers, particularly those who cultivate heirloom tree fruit, still grow quince, and now and then the fruit turns up in farm or specialty markets. Around here, First Fruits Farms grows beautiful quince, big and heavy and golden-ripe, and when I see them, I snatch them up.

What to do with all that quince? Most often, I simple cut them up and add them to applesauce for an extra boost of flavor. Lately, though, I’ve been branching out.
Google, my personal cybernetic brain enhancement, leads to all manner of lovely things to do with quince:

What really caught my attention this week, though, were recipes for Greek and Middle Eastern meals that combine quince with lamb to make a fragrant, fruity stew. I already had tender lamb rib chops from Wood Family Farm, but they’re better grilled or pan-fried than stewed. It seemed as if there ought to be a way to treat the meat the way it deserved to be treated and still enjoy the complex, fruity flavors of those stews and tagines.

And so, after poring over a few dozen recipes and rummaging through my pantry to see what I had on hand, I set out to improvise and deconstruct. What I wound up with was both easy and terrific: Succulent, spicy lambchops and tender, fragrant fruit; perfect fare for a chilly fall evening.

Stewed quince Moroccan-spiced lamb with stewed quince and couscous

Ingredients:

  • 1 large quince, peeled, cored and sliced into half-inch-thick pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp culinary rosewater (you could substitute vanilla)

Combine water, sugar, honey and lemon juice in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add quince, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until quince is tender and rosy-hued. Stir in rosewater, if you have it. This much can be made ahead; if you do, return it briefly to the burner to reheat while the lamb is cooking.

  • 4-6 small lamb rib chops, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1Tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of the other half lemon

Rinse the lamb chops and pat them dry. Mix spices and rub them all over the chops. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet until hot but not smoking. Add chops and cook 4 minutes, then turn and cook 3 minutes on the other side. Remove meat to a warmed plate.

Ladle 1/2 cup of the syrup from the cooked quinces into the skillet; stir to scrape up the browned spices and meat drippings. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half; add lemon juice and salt, if needed, to taste.
Serve the chops alongside the quince (strained from the cooking syrup with a slotted spoon; reserve the syrup for some other use), and with couscous tossed with chopped dried apricots and toasted almonds. Spoon the pan sauce over all. Serves 2.

Lamb, quince and couscous

Postscript: Not long after falling in love with quinces, I was heading out for a coffee break at work when I stopped in my tracks across the street from my office. The ground was absolutely littered with quinces. Glancing up, I discovered that an unassuming tree I’d never really noticed among the landscaping was, in fact, a quince.

When I got back to work, I called the groundskeeping office. Would they object, I asked,if I collected some of the quinces that fell on the ground? Far from it, came the reply – they’d be glad to have some help clearing them off the walk.

So it is that each October I find myself toting plastic grocery sacks to work, and spending my breaks gleaning fallen quinces. Here’s where the fruit’s hard texture is a plus; the ones that land in the flower beds suffer barely a bruise. My co-workers (who think I’m nuts, anyway) are used to those few weeks each fall when my office reeks of quince.

November 4, 2007 at 9:53 pm 1 comment


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