Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Harvest: Pickled Asparagus!

It is spring in Ohio.  In fact it has been spring in Ohio for quite a while now, even when it really should have been winter. But the weather has been like that this year.  Spring means Asparagus! I've read that it's been around for better than 20,000 years and that the Romans were even known to haul it up into the Alps to freeze it for use when it wasn't in season.  It's even rumored that it's an aphrodisiac which might help explain why "a young man's fancy turns to love...". 
I find that I start looking for it at the market when the weather turns just a wee bit warmer and the days a wee bit longer.  It's absolutely traditional to serve it at Passover- or Easter- along with "spring lamb" or "spring chicken". I like it roasted- or grilled- or even shaved raw for a salad.  It's perfect in a stir fry- or a pasta- on pizza- or in an omelet.  And even though you can usually get asparagus in other seasons besides spring, given our propensity for hauling our food from one corner of the world to another, it's just never the same as it is in the spring. But no matter how much you love asparagus there is only so much you can eat in any given spring.  
So why not "pickle" it for use year round!
Now I have to admit that until I met this beautiful woman, Don's Mom, my wonderful Mother-in Law and Grandma Lucas to 2 generations of children,

I thought that pickles were only something that came sliced in a jar to be used on a hamburger.  I was wrong!  Real wrong!  Now Mom didn't pickle asparagus, she pickled okra.  But we live in Ohio not Oklahoma and the okra we get is puny to say the least!  We did drive to Oklahoma one summer and brought back a half bushel or so of okra to pickle- but it's a long drive to Oklahoma just to buy okra and we have plenty of asparagus right here in Ohio.  Besides some of our children- and children-in-law- have more "northern roots" and prefer the asparagus to the okra.  As for me, Mom's pickled okra will always have the place of honor as far as I'm concerned. But back to the point. It's spring and there's plenty of asparagus to be had!

So let's get to pickling! Let's gather the ingredients.  Asparagus to be sure...

And vinegar (white) and pickling salt...

And of course the spices you plan on using. You can be real creative here because I'm not sure there is any spice that you can't tuck into the jar when you're pickling.   We like Garam Masala...

But let's get to the details of this process!

Pickled Asparagus: Adapted from the Pickled Okra recipe from Nita Lucas, my Mother-in-Law. You can also get more details on "pickling" from the book The Complete Book of Pickling by Jennifer MacKenzie. I picked my copy up at the Bennington Bookstore in Vermont one summer and it is terrific.  I highly recommend!

Asparagus- about 1 pound for each pint jar you intend to pickle if you want each pickle to have the pretty asparagus crown.  We use the bottom half as well so we can get 2 pints out of about a pound.  Of course if you have asparagus left over, it's no problem because you'll have plenty of ways you can use it!

2 cups of white vinegar for every 4 pints of pickled asparagus.
2 cups of water for every 4 pints of pickled asparagus.
2 Tbsp of pickling salt for every 4 pints of pickled asparagus.

For each pint jar:
2 whole cloves of garlic
2 dried red peppers
2 Tbsp of whole seed Garam Masala

Break the tough ends off the asparagus.  Now cut the asparagus into lengths about 3/4 inch below the surface of the pint jar.  Place the asparagus in the jars, pretty side up!

Bring the vinegar, water and salt to boil.  Boil until all the salt has dissolved and then about a minute more. 

Add the garlic cloves, peppers and Garam Masala to the jars with the asparagus.  

Using a pickling funnel pour the vinegar, water, salt solution into each jar leaving about 1/2 inch on top.  A pickling funnel is a wide mouth funnel and sure makes the pouring easier! You can see one here.

Place the lid disk on each pint and then screw on the lid band- be careful and don't tighten too much.  Stop when you'd have to add even the tiniest bit of force to close tighter.

Bring a big pot of water to a roaring boil.  When the water is boiling vigorously add each jar to the "canning bath".  It's helpful to have canning tongs

Leave the jars in the "bath" for 10 minutes and then remove.  You'll hear a little "pop" when the jar seals.  Check each jar to make sure it's sealed (you'll feel a very slight indentation in the middle of the lid).  

Store the jars in a cool, dark (not in direct sunshine) place.  Since we live in Ohio our house has a basement and that's where we store them.  Though the "book" says they last a year, we've kept ours longer than that.

I serve them "plain"...

Or chopped into deviled eggs (make sure and use the "juice" as well as the asparagus).


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ethiopian Doro Wat- My Way: Chicken or Tofu with Sweet Potatoes and Green Beans

The first time I had African cuisine was in San Francisco with Don about 19 years ago.  Our good friend from high school, Steve Sizemore, took us to an Eritrean Restaurant.  Now I have to tell you there were not ANY African restaurants in Oklahoma and I'd never heard of Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa just north of Ethiopia.  In the 25th century BC, the ancient Egyptians called the small country "Punt", meaning God's Land.  Many scientists believe that it is from Eritrea that the first anatomically modern humans first began to "scatter" to the ends of the earth.  The second time I had African Cuisine was at an Ethiopian restaurant in Washington DC- with Don of course!  Because Eritrea borders Ethiopia now- and in fact was part of Ethiopia for 40+ years ending only after a 30 year civil war that ultimately resulted in the independence of Eritrea- the cuisines are very similar.

The recipe we're cooking this blog is a very loose adaptation of "Doro Wat"- that translates into Chicken Stew.  This recipe actually adapts easily for a vegetarian dish using tofu so we're going to include that as well.

Now I would like to comment- to any that have not actually had the pleasure of dining on fine Ethiopian Cuisine- that this is a very loose adaptation.  Genuine Ethiopian Cuisine is cooked to a consistency that enables it to be "pinched" with a sourdough pancake called an Injera rather than eaten with a fork or spoon. You'll definitely need a fork for our adaptation. Also Doro Wat is always with chicken- not tofu- nor with any vegetables.  Like I said I took many liberties.  I think you'll love it!

One more thing to note before we start cooking.  This recipe calls for a spice seed, Fenugreek, that I'd never used- and in fact had to order from "Amazon" since my local sources didn't carry it.  I even tried an African grocery store -(this store from the west side of Africa- Senegal) without success.  But I was determined!  I must tell you that Fenugreek has a reputation for many magical qualities.  It has been know to increase libido by 25%, increase lactation, control diabetes, and decrease arthritis pain.  It will forever be our secret whether or not we had any "health" benefits, though I can assure you that neither of us are lactating!  Don says he couldn't tell the difference in the taste so it is certainly an optional ingredient.  

But enough of that- let's gather the ingredients and start cooking!

Doro Wat for Four: Very loosely based on the Doro Wat in  A Spicy Perspective

4 Chicken Breast, cubed
1 package of Firm Tofu, cubed

4 Tbsp of Olive Oil

3 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups of Green Beans, ends removed and cut in half
1 large Onion, diced
4 Cloves of Garlic, minced

1/2 stick of Butter
1/2 cup of Red Wine
3 Tbsp of Tomato Paste
(If the mixture is too "dry" add water a little bit at a time.)

1 tsp of Salt
1/4 tsp of ground Red Pepper
2-4 Tbsp of Garam Masala (essential!), can use ground or whole seed (I used a combination of both.  I used whole seed when I roasted the sweet potatoes and used ground for the tofu and for the sauce.)
1 tsp of Cardamon
1/2 Tbsp of Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Tbsp of Thyme
1 Tbsp of Sugar
2 tsp of Fenugreek seeds, optional


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  
Toss sweet potatoes in 1 tbsp of olive oil and 2 tbsp of whole seed Garam Masala.  Place in single layer on aluminum foil covered cookie sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, turning after 15.

Toss Tofu, very carefully so it doesn't crumble, with 1 tbsp of olive oil, 2 tsp of ground Garam Masala and ground red pepper. Adjust amount of red pepper to personal taste. Roast for 40 minutes turning, carefully, after 20.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in large skillet.  Add onion and cook until translucent.  Add chicken (if using) and brown.  Add garlic.  Next add butter, wine and tomato paste.  Now add the spices, Garam Masala (ground), Cardamon, Fenugreek, Thyme, Red Pepper Flakes and Sugar.  

Mix well.  Add the green beans.  It is at this point you could add water if mixture too dry.  Cook for 10-15 minutes until green beans are cooked.

Add the sweet potatoes (and Tofu if using rather than chicken).  Heat thoroughly.

Serve with brown rice.

Doro Wat with Chicken:

Or Tofu:

Invite the neighbors to join:


Monday, April 9, 2012

Breakfast for Dinner: American Waffles!

Waffles originated sometime in the Middle Ages in what is now Belgium. They were thin wafers cooked on a "wafer iron" heated in the fire. They arrived to the colonies in the New World in the 1620s with the Dutch Pilgrims. It is even known that Thomas Jefferson bought a waffle iron in France during his long stay there during the Revolutionary war working to get the French on board for our new war against the English. Waffle parties were popular in those early times!  

Now the Belgium Waffle didn't actually arrive to America until the Century 21 Expo in Seattle, Washington in 1962 and then again in 1964 at the World's Fair in New York City. I actually went to this World's Fair in NYC during the summer of "64.  I don't remember the Belgium Waffles- but I do remember the Italian Gelato- and I have been in love ever since!  
Belgium Waffles use yeast- and have to be "started" the day before.  Well, we all know about the impatience of the New World so we like our waffles quick- none of that yeast for us.  We use baking powder- just like we do in our pancakes and our biscuits and our cornbread!  And baking powder is fast!

So let's gather our ingredients!

American Waffles for Two: Adapted from The Best of Waffles and Pancakes, A Cookbook By Jane Stacey


Dry Ingredients:
3/4 cup of White Flour
1/4 cup of Pastry Wheat Flour (don't use regular wheat so just substitute white flour if you don't have Pastry Wheat- regular wheat flour won't give you the texture you're looking for!)
2 Tbsp of Sugar
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/8 tsp of Salt
1 tsp of Baking Powder
1/2 tsp of Cinnamon
1/8 tsp of Cardamon

Wet Ingredients:
1/2 stick of Butter (1/4 cup), melted
3/4 cup of Buttermilk
2 Eggs, Separated

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees to "hold" the cooked waffles while they wait for you to cook the remainder of the waffles.

Mix the dry ingredients together well.

Whisk the melted butter, the buttermilk and the egg yolks together.

In your stand mixer (you can do this with a hand mixer as well but it is really, really, really easy with a stand mixer!), whip the egg whites to "firm peaks".  (This means that when you lift the blades the egg whites form gentle peaks that stay gentle peaks. Soft peaks dissolve back into the other egg whites while stiff peaks are very "pointy".)

Mix the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients.  Then using a rubber spatula gently, very gently, add the egg whites to the mixture.  Don't overdo this part because this is what give waffles the "lightness" that pancakes don't have.

Heat your waffle iron per instructions.  Pour 1/2 cup onto the waffle iron. This amount will vary from iron to iron so read the manufacturers instructions. If the batter is too "stiff" to pour add more buttermilk a little at a time.

Remove the waffle when the "beep" sounds...

And place on the rack of the preheated oven. Don't use a cookie sheet or the bottoms of the waffles will get soggy!

Serve with butter and maple syrup!

Or you can serve with berries and whipped cream!

Or you can even add 1/2 cup of "mashed" blueberries to the batter- and then top with blueberries for Blueberry Waffles!


Monday, April 2, 2012

Cottage Pie for the Irish! (Includes Vegetarian Option)

I know, I know!  It's been quite some time since St. Patrick's Day and the first time I made this Cottage Pie.  But we've been busy cooking - and a bit of other "stuff" as well since then- and the time just seemed to zoom by.  But we're ready now!

But before we talk Cottage Pie- and the Irish- let's talk POTATOES! Wild strains of potatoes have grown through out the America's for many thousands of years.  They were "domesticated" for use as food by the Inca Indians in the Andes sometime between 8000 and 10,000 BC.  So potatoes have been around for a long, long, long time!  They were introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the later part of the 16th century after the Spanish conquest of the Inca nation.  They soon became popular in all of the European countries. Though initially primarily eaten by the wealthier member's of these countries it eventually became a main crop of the poor- especially in Ireland.  The potato could be grown on very small plots of ground- and often was the single crop for the poorest of the farmers.  Eventually it was the Potato Blight in1845 with resulting famine that created the largest migration of the Irish to the "New Country"  causing over a million of the Irish people to die and another million to immigrate to the new world.  When the Spanish brought the potato from the Inca's in the mid 1600's, they neglected to bring but one variety even though there were thousands that grew in the Andes.  This lack of biodiversity made the potato more vulnerable to disease which resulted in the Potato Famine 200 years later.  

Now to Cottage Pie!  The term Cottage Pie is known to have been in use since 1791.  It referred to the use of left over meat in a "pie" that had as it's crust the mashed potato.  This name predates the name "Shepard Pie" which is the same as a Cottage Pie but uses lamb.  The meat in Cottage pie can be practically anything- fish, beef, lamb, chicken- though most often it is beef or lamb! The name probably originated in England or Scotland but since the new world was introduced to this by the large Irish immigration to this country it seems so very, very Irish!

Now most often Cottage Pie has as it's topping the mashed potato- but then Don particularly doesn't like mashed potatoes layered across anything- likes his straight up with gravy on top sitting next to the meat.  I'm not sure I'd ever made Cottage Pie.  But then we were having company on St. Patrick's Day and though the desert selection was easy- Bread Pudding with an Irish Whiskey Sauce (now that is really, really, really good- I'll show you how to make some day!), it was a bit harder to decide on the entree.  And then I had it- Cottage Pie- with lamb!  I went on the search for recipes!

Let's get started cooking- so gather the ingredients!

Cottage Pie: adapted from Anne Burrell of the Food Network and Martha Stewart


Pie Filling:
2 tbsp of olive oil
3-4 pounds of lamb or beef, cubed (The amount of meat depends on how much meat to vegetables you want your pie. You may also use 6-8 cups of a mixed variety of mushrooms if you'd like a vegetarian option.)
2 large leeks, sliced in thin cross sections
3 stalks of celery, diced
3-5 carrots, diced
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of tomato paste
1 cup of red wine (I used a Spanish Red in tribute to the Spaniards who brought the potato to Europe)
2-4 cups of vegetarian broth as needed for desired consistency
1 tbsp Anchovy Paste (My secret ingredient!)
Thyme, fresh tied in a cheesecloth bundle
2 Bay leaves
Salt/Pepper to taste (start with a tsp of each and increase to your taste)
1 cup peas, added at the end
Flour and Cream to thicken after Filling has cooked if needed.  (I didn't need the first time so didn't add- I did the second and used 1/4 cup of flour blended with 1 cup of cream- I put the flour and cream in a small bowl and used a stick blender- and then added to filling. You could substitute milk if you didn't have cream on hand.)

Pie Topping:
2 baking potatoes, very thinly sliced. (We used a mandoline.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Dry meat with a paper towel.  
Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven and add the lamb when oil is hot. Brown on all sides. 
Add the leeks and cook until softened.  
Next add the celery and carrots and garlic and soften for approximately 5 minutes.  
Add in tomato paste and wine- Spanish for us!

Add the broth to desired thickness. Bring to gentle simmer.
Place in oven and leave unattended for 3 hours.  I checked every hour for desired doneness of the lamb.  I used a fork- and wanted the meat cooked well enough so that the fork prongs could easily pierce the meat. I was also checking that there was still enough liquid in the pot- add more broth if the filling is getting too dry.
Remove from oven when meat is done.  It is at this time that you add the flour/cream if the meat filling is too thin for the pie. You can let the filling "rest" covered on the top of the stove until you're ready to put the pie together.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pie filling in a shallow baking dish (9x13). Top with the sliced potatoes.

Place the pan in the oven and cook for 40-45 minutes- until the top is nicely browned!