Leftovers

I found myself with an assortment of leftovers the other day – artisan bread that was a couple days old, cherry tomatoes that were starting to get a little wrinkly, some bits of steak, a nub of sweet onion, some fresh parsley just coming to its last days.

Of course my first thought was “Panzanella!”  That famous Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes tossed with olive oil and vinager.

For seasoning, I keep it simple. I like the flavors of the good olive oil and red wine vinegar to shine through. In addition to that I use plenty of salt, pepper and some granulated garlic. I like the granulated garlic here because its far less aggressive then using raw garlic and it distributes evenly throughout. No one is going to bit into a piece of raw garlic when when you use the granulated garlic.

I usually mix all the ingredients except the bread and let it sit for a while. This time also allows the natural juices of the tomatoes to help with this dressing. By tossing the bread in last you can judge how much bread cubes you want to add, keeping the ratio of wet ingredients (dressing, tomatoes, herbs etc) to around 1-2. (1 part wet ingredients to 2 parts bread) I usually don’t toss in the bread till about 10-15 mins before serving. That way the bread gets moistened but not soggy. The dressing should just just barely coat everything in the bowl.

The beauty of this salad is that it is perfect served room temperature. Of course if you are adding meat like I did – keep the wet ingredients (including the meat) refrigerated till about 30 mins before serving time. You want to get the chill off before serving, and toss in the toasted, cubed bread about 15 mins before serving.

final

The simplicity of leftovers!

Author’s notes:

Basil is often used in a panzanella salad but really any fresh, soft herb you have on hand is great in this.

When it comes to the olive oil in this, make sure you break out the good stuff because it is gives a lot of flavor and richness.

Onions – I happen to have some sweet onion on hand. I wouldn’t use a red onion unless you dice it fine and keep the amount low. A red onion can sometimes over-power a dish. Shallots are natural excellent choice for this dish.

 

 

Steaming Meat

Steamed meat doesn’t sound appealing at first. But when you add cheese everything suddenly seems ok.

Steamed Cheeseburgers. Made famous by Ted’s in Meriden Connecticut are worth the trek if you find yourself anywhere in New England. If you are not then get yourself a “Burg’r Tende’r” and get busy steaming at home!

My first reaction when I was invited to a “steamed cheeseburger” event was “huh?” My host explained the backstory about Ted’s in Meriden (which happens to be her hometown) and how she purchased one of these contraptions a while back so she could have a little taste of home here in Boston.

burgr tendr

I feel like everyone needs a “Steam Cheeseburger Chest!”

It was MUCH smaller than I imagined – think “easy bake oven” size! The tiny part at the bottom holds the water to create the steam. The door opens to reveal shelves that hold trays of meat and cheese.

trays of cheese and burger

That’s cheese in the top 3 trays (with room for 2 more trays on the top shelf) and ground beef in the rest.

The ground beef trays get a head start by about 5 minutes and the cheese goes in after that for about another 5 mins. So 10-12 mins total.

The amount of cheese that goes in the trays is somewhat excessive but the idea is that once it melts it really “pours” over the burger and really almost envelops the burger!

cheese trays

can there ever be too much cheese?

melted cheese

Add other toppings as you wish!

The steamed burger is the juiciest – most delicious – burger and the amount of cheese is just perfect!!

Now off to the world wide web to see about getting one of these contraptions for myself!

 

 

Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken. That most simple and comforting food. And yet I hardly ever roast a chicken. A whole one that is. I am the only one in a house who appreciates a home-roasted, bone in chicken. Everybody else – (husband)- doesn’t want to deal with the bones.

So my “roast chicken” is usually a boneless cut (thighs, breast etc) and it is usually a “one pan plan.” And this recent one was no exception. Everything on pan, cut to similar size.

 

By adding big rough cut pieces of tomatoes, I knew the chicken would stay moister and there would almost end up being a bit of a “pan sauce” created. Just cook up some rice or pasta or steamed greens and serve in bowls.

Very easy, very comforting.

 

One Pan (or Board) Plan

oneboard-plan

clockwise from top: chopped white onion, chopped green onion, salt & pepper, chopped garlic, Penzey’s lamb seasoning, raw Cauliflower “rice” (i.e. finely chopped), quartered Compari tomatoes, 2 lamb patties. not shown: crumbled Feta cheese – wouldn’t fit! 🙂

Folks around the home-cooking world are clamoring about “one pan plans” or “sheet tray dinners.” this is where all the ingredients are cooked in one pan or one sheet tray.

I am not sure my “one board plan” actually qualifies but I did only use one saute pan to cook. I simply cooked the lamb patties (season each generously with salt & pepper), flipping once, till done to my level. (medium/medium-well for lamb, for me, please) removed them from the pan and set aside under foil. Next added the white onion, garlic and lamb seasoning and saute a few minutes. Add the Cauliflower and tomatoes, stir till combined,lower heat and cover. Simmer till cauliflower is soft ( maybe 10-15 mins tops) Taste and add salt & pepper as needed. Add patties and any juice back in to warm through. Served garnished with the green onions and feta cheese.

Here is my Mediterranean “one board plan” on a plate….

lamb-patty-with-cauliflower-rice

 

Stuffed, Shelled or Stacked?

These are the questions I ponder when making a filling for a pasta dish. Will this be better stuffed in a Cannelloni? or bursting out of over-sized shells? or perhaps layered in a lasagna?

Recently I was test-driving a filling for the upcoming thanksgiving dinner.

A “rift” on sweet potato casserole if you will. I took baked sweet potatoes, scooped out the flesh, mixed it with copious amounts of butter, salt and pepper and didn’t stop there.

I proceeded to mix up a basic béchamel sauce (flour/butter roux with milk and fresh nutmeg) and mixed in some fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. This got folded into the sweet potato and “voila” a delicious pasta filling was created!

Since I only had the shells in the house, I boiled up a few and tested this filling out.

img_0131

test driving my filling in the shells

It was good, but I have concluded that this would be better stuffed into Cannelloni pasta. This is the long tube like pasta. (Like a giant ziti)

I think I will also stuff the pasta with just the plain sweet potato filling and save the béchamel for pouring over the top. Baked and served at the thanksgiving table this will be my new twist on “sweet potato casserole” – no marshmallows needed.

Bean Practice

I had a hankering for homemade baked beans and I couldn’t remember the last time I had made them. I checked online and saw that my original baked bean posting was back in September 2010 and after that only one other posting in August 2011. (during hurricane Irene – I should really not wait so long to make baked beans!)

So here we are in 2016 with another hurricane (Matthew) pummeling the country and me working to perfect a very traditional baked bean. The last batches were not too traditional. So this time I stuck to tradition. I ended up making 3 batches (!!!) over the course of a week.

Batch 1: I used a red kidney bean – that’s the bean I had used the last couple of times – but I must have bought some extra giant size and I was out of practice in general so my husband pronounced these “ok, but not great and why are the beans so big?”

Batch 2: My mom heard I was making baked beans and was dying for some so I made a vegetarian & onion free version for her and used a smaller pink bean. I soaked them overnight but was too lazy to do the boil-in-water step but did cook them extra long in the slow-cooker . She pronounced them “delicious, but maybe they could be just a tiny bit more tender.”

Batch 3: I again used the small pink bean and soaked them overnight. This time I boiled them in fresh water for about 10 minutes before cooking them overnight in the slow cooker. I kept them vegetarian and used onion. I am dropping some off at my boss’s house. Hopefully he will pronounce them “an excellent baked bean.”

here is how we like to eat them around here…

baked-beans-supper

Cajun spiced-rubbed steak, corn bread, sliced tomatoes and traditional baked beans

 

The Recipe:

I used approx. 2 lbs (2 small bags) of small pink dried beans, soaked overnight, boiled for 10 minutes in fresh water (no salt) and drained. Place in a sprayed slow-cooker for easy clean up.

Whisk together:

1 6-ounce can of tomato paste

1 cup light brown sugar – barely (lightly) packed

1/3 cup dark molasses

1/2 tablespoon of dry mustard

1/4 cup ketchup

2 cups very hot water

1 tb of ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups small diced white onion (instead of onion this could also be 4 whole garlic cloves thrown in the slow cooker and fished out later – I tried that in one of my versions.)

Taste the mix and adjust as desired. Remember the flavors will deepen in the pot, but this is a chance to get the general “sweet and tangy-ness” right. Add this mixture to the beans in your slow cooker. Stir well. At this point I like to add 1 more cup of hot water to make sure there is enough “juice” as I cooked these on high, overnight. (or about 8-10 hours) The water level should just be “peeking” out from the beans not actually covering the beans. Use +/- water on that final cup of hot water to achieve the right level. Stir maybe twice during the cooking and scrap the sides down.

TIP: When they are done – tender, smelling good, looking good, tasting good – stir in a 1/2 cup of good quality maple syrup. (I like a dark amber from Vermont.) Add a couple pinches of salt. The syrup at the end gives the beans a warm, sweet undertone. I don’t add it in the beginning because I think the delicate flavor gets lost in all that cooking. (believe me I tried that in the first two batches.)

Farm Days

August in New England is simply the best there is. Warm days, somewhat cooler nights and full, ripe tomatoes

– life doesn’t get any better than that.

fancy lady

fancy lady

 

Recently I spent a day at the New Hampshire Farm Museum listening to music, learning about daily farming activities before technology made everything easier and visiting some animals. My favorite was a beautifully marked chicken.

Down the street is Mckenzie’s Farm – a glorious operation with amazing produce, still-warm-from-the-fryer cider donuts and pick-ur-own everything – including tomatoes!

Nothing is fresher then a tomato you picked yourself!

farmstand purchases

The day’s bounty!  Homemade pickles, spaghetti squash, just picked blueberries, 2 kinds of garlic, tomatoes I picked myself, summer squash, zucchini and a cuke!

I came home with more tomatoes than this picture – about 10 lbs more!  A “sauce” was in the works!

When I got home I washed, cored and roughly cut the tomatoes. ( I don’t blanch, peel and all that jazz – too much work – and I don’t mind the peels, seeds, etc)

I simply added all the tomatoes to my slow-cooker along with one whole head of fresh garlic and a generous handful of basil leaves from my back yard pot. A little salt and pepper and that was it. I really wanted a “fresh” sauce. I let it cook on high for the day (about 6-8 hours) and stirred it once. The tomatoes were so fresh and sweet that nothing else was needed!

crockpot sauce

After all that time cooking, I used my immersion blender to get the sauce to the smooth consistency I was looking for. I blended the basil and whole garlic cloves right in. Tasted for seasoning (salt & pepper) and let it cook for another hour with the lid half off just to thicken things up a little. I cooled and packed some into the freezer for a taste of summer sometime next January. I used some right away as a sauce for an Italian style turkey meatloaf. It would also make an amazing base for a tomato soup and frankly it was just good enough to drink straight!

Meatloaf mix ( pre-turkey meat) consisted of diced yellow bell peppers, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs and

Meatloaf mix (pre-turkey meat) consisted of one finely chopped, spicy Andoullie sausage, a finely diced yellow bell pepper, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs, olive oil and an egg to hold it all together.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.