Thursday, January 11, 2018

Doing Good. Winter Recipes




Hello Friends and Happy 2018!  It has been lovely to have some extended time off over the holidays and beyond. That said, I have had lots of time to think and read and talk to folks so I am chock full of food, eating, homesteading practices, and sustainable living skills and ideas.

Allow me to share a few thoughts, from some of those conversations and learning, regarding a new year, new opportunities, and changes:
  1. Don’t make “resolutions”.  Make decisions about your life, your time, and what is important to you. Consider also what is not a good use of your time, effort and resources.  
  2. Give!  Make a commitment to it.  A commitment of your time, your goods, and your money.  Make an actual plan for yourself and follow through on it. Do as much as you can. Remember that none of us is the “center of the universe”, as my Gran would say.  Many of us live our days so wrapped up in ourselves - that’s a very dangerous way to live.  Start letting go of “you” and instead see where you can do something for others. Share and live the concept of “Taking Care of Each Other”.
  3. And if you know me, you know I'm always going to urge you to  Eat Real Food - which really means to invest in and plan for your good health.
  4. Ignore all of the hype at this time of year regarding “Fad” diets and ways of eating.  Most humans do not have food allergies if - and it’s a big if - they eat real, unprocessed food and wheat products, etc.  Omnivores are the healthiest humans.  The only thing you need to remember is, “All things in Moderation”.  Diets that instruct you to, “eat a whole lot of this, and eat nothing of that” are dangerous. Eat when you are hungry, and eat Real Food.
  5.  Learn some new cooking techniques.  When you are learning, you should be having fun challenging yourself as you build confidence.  My suggestion to anyone who has not done it yet:  clean, season, and use a medium sized cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one buried in your cabinets somewhere, search flea markets and thrift shops.  You don’t need a new skillet.  Cast Iron can be brought back from the dead.  Trust me.   Learn to cook with it.  It’s a beautiful way to cook and you can do almost anything in a well seasoned cast iron skillet.  Once hooked, you will be looking for more sizes and styles.  Note:  two of the recipes below are best done in a  cast iron skillet.
  6. Grow Something - even if it’s herbs on your windowsill. It is not only reinforcing, it is cost effective and a way to relax and get out of your head at the end of the day.
  7. Live More Simply.  Let Love into Your Life.  Remember to Live Today/Not Just in an Imagined Future. Dabble in Hygge. The Danes are on to something.  We Americans should be listening.

With Real Food, we always need to be thinking about ingredients.  It’s not a healthy real food dish if you take fresh, seasonal ingredients and douse them with canola oil or crisco or margarine now is it?  
For the following two recipes - which are at their best in the cold weather,  you must use Lard.  Understand that everything that you have probably heard about lard is false and is a result of propaganda by the food factory business. So, let go of that “alternative” information. Secondly,  find your self a reliable source of good, pure lard.  Lard is often available at the Farmers’ markets but we’ve found the easiest, most readily accessible way to keep lard stocked is to order from Mangalitsa by Mosefund in Branchville, New Jersey or other online producers.  We buy meat and flavored lard spreads from Mosefund along with tubs of beautiful lard with no additives.  Lard also freezes really well. So a large tub can be divided up between the refrigerator and the freezer.  Keeping in mind, of course, that our grandmothers kept it in cans - like with  bacon fat - on the counter or under the sink!  Lard is one of the best things that you can bake with and fry with as well.  A pie crust made with good lard (look for leaf lard) - and not crisco - makes a delicious, flake crust.  Once you make your pie crusts this way, you will never go back to the bad stuff.  And fried chicken?  Use your imagination. 


Skillet Biscuits

Recipe:  Lard Biscuits (adapted from many old Pennsylvania recipes)
Ingredients
2 Cups of all purpose flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of good, all natural Lard
3/4 cup of real buttermilk (don’t buy buttermilk at a supermarket; look for it at Farmers Markets and speciality stores.  The supermarket stuff is not authentic buttermilk and it does make a difference).  If you can’t find it, use whole milk.

Technique
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
Grease a baking sheet or - preferably - a greased 9 inch cast iron skillet
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
Cut in the lard until the mixture is crumbly
Add the buttermilk all at once and mix until the flour mixture is completely wet
Knead the dough in the bowl by hand for about 15-20 seconds (use one hand to knead)
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick
Cut the dough into biscuits with a 2 inch biscuit cutter
Place the biscuits onto the greased skillet or baking sheet with edges just touching
Bake the biscuits for 12 - 15 minutes
Serve warm with butter
To reheat place biscuits on a warm skillet on the stove top
Enjoy!!

Skillet Cornbread

Recipe:  Buttermilk Skillet Cornbread - This really does need a cast iron skillet or something very close to one.  This recipe is adapted from The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook. It is also easy and very delicious.  A savory cornbread.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons of good, all natural Lard
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten 
1 cup of real Buttermilk

Technique
Place 1 tablespoon of the lard in a small cast iron skillet (6 1/2 - 8 inches).  The smaller the skillet the thicker the corn bread will be.  Place the skillet in the oven while it preheats to 425 degree. 
Whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, the buttermilk, and the remaining one tablespoon of lard.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.
The mixture should look like pancake batter, if it is too thick add a little bit more buttermilk.
Remove the hot cast iron pan from the oven, pour the mixture into the skillet, return to the oven and bake until the crust is browned - about !5 - 20 minutes.  
Enjoy!


Stirring in Heavy Cream

Recipe:  Cream of Asparagus Soup.  This recipe is intended for those who froze local asparagus when it was in season.  Please don’t go buy the supermarket stuff as it lacks flavor and has a huge carbon foot print! This makes a wonderful winter soup!

Ingredients
1 medium onion diced
2 garlic cloves sliced thinly
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
One pound of local asparagus from your freezer, defrosted and chopped into pieces 
4 cups of unsalted vegetable stock, homemade preferably. If you don’t make your own, use chicken stock.  Commercial vegetable stock is generally without flavor
3/4 cup of heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Technique
In a large sauce pan or Dutch Oven, melt the butter
Over medium heat, sauté the onions until softened - 10 minutes
Add the garlic and stir into the onions to soften - 5 minutes
Add 1/4 teaspoon salt
Add the chopped asparagus and stir well into the onion and garlic mixture - 5 minutes
Add the vegetable stock
Stir occasionally over medium heat until the asparagus becomes very soft (don’t boil it)
Off of the heat, use an immersion blender, break down the soft, cooked asparagus pieces.
Add the 3/4 cup of heavy cream, stir well
Warm over medium heat
Add Sea Salt and coarsely ground fresh black pepper to taste.
Serve with toasted croutons.
Enjoy!

EAT REAL FOOD TOGETHER!


Monday, December 4, 2017

Gathering at the Table; Easy Home Made Pasta





These days are hectic, I know.  I hope that folks are not using the busyness of the holidays to start living on take out or drive through food.  If you are already feeling stressed, tired, extra busy, a constant diet of processed food will not  make you feel better!

Use your slow cooker or pick a day on the weekend and make some versatile meals that will hold you over most of the week.  A roast chicken, leftover turkey from the freezer, things that you canned like corn and tomatoes can all go a long way towards an easy, delicious dinner and/or lunch of real food.  I am a big fan of using a can of our tomatoes and some passata to make a great pot of tomato soup (see The Philly Foodist March, 2015).  Add a grilled cheese sandwich and you have comfort galore! 

So, a few thoughts have been floating around as I read various holiday entertaining articles.  I think some of these thoughts are good reminders for all of us so I am sharing.  We’ve been talking about coming together around the table for awhile now. There a few things to remember - first let's talk about when you are the guest:
  1. Do not arrive early!  As a matter of fact, 10 minutes later than the allotted time is just perfect.  Be kind to your hosts.
  2. Observe Grand Mom’s Rule and never show up empty handed.  Now - a few caveats to that rule are important.  Do not bring food/dishes unless you were requested to bring them.  There’s nothing worse when the whole menu is underway, folks are starting to arrive, and somebody walks in the door with their favorite 9 layer dip!  Also, if you have been asked to bring something, bring it in the dish in which it is to be served.  A kitchen in the middle of preparing a big dinner is not the best place to find and use an appropriate service dish. 
  3. If you bring wine that was not requested, it may not be opened that evening. Cooks usually have a need to match the wine to the food.  Hand it over and let it go; don’t offer to open it, unless you were asked to bring a specific wine. If you were asked to bring a specific wine, bring it.  No substitutes.  If you are having trouble finding what you were asked to bring, let your hosts know before the evening of the dinner.
  4. “Hosts Gifts” - they are real things and they are very nice and thoughtful!  Someone has gone to a lot of effort; acknowledge that. When someone says, “what shall I bring?” and I really do have the meal, the cocktails, and the wine all set (as we often do), my saying we don’t need anything for dinner does not mean you should just show up empty handed.  People in the homewares business go to a lot of trouble finding lovely, little host gifts.  Go in a store and look at the wonderful things they have for you.  Lovely hand soaps are thoughtful. Kitchen towels are a nice idea (goddess knows who doesn’t always need them?). An unscented candle is always useful (for your hosts Hygge moments). Lastly, flowers are nice too, but don’t put them on a table and walk away.  Ideally bring them in a vase.  If not, ask where you can find something to put them in and do it yourself. 
  5. Last thing to consider.  It should be a gathering at which folks relax and talk and enjoy each other’s company.  Sit! As a guest, you're jumping up to "clear" the table is unwelcome and unnecessary.  Also, leave the phone on vibrate in your pocket; ideally your coat pocket. Frankly I am really annoyed by folks who just have to immediately see every text; every post in mid conversation. There are only a few instances when this is acceptable.  Live in the moment. Once in awhile, at least. 
Recipe:  Homemade/Handmade Pasta
One very easy thing to make at home - believe or not - is pasta.  And once you get the technique down, you will get really hooked on the lightness, flavor and possibilities of making your own. You can freeze it, but once you get the hang of it, you won’t want to. Fresh is so much better and again, it is so easy!  Note:  I recommend starting out by making this in a big bowl.  As you get more comfortable making it, try it on a big board or countertop.  I also roll out the pasta by hand, I don’t use a pasta machine.  I can make shaped pasta with an attachment I have for my Kitchen Aid and I think there is something really nice about rolling out the dough and cutting it to the desired width.  
But certainly if you are pressed for time or space, and you have a pasta roller, you will get excellent results. 

Ingredients
Two cups of flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 Teaspoon salt
3 large eggs

Technique
Combine the flour and salt - whisk the two together well in a large mixing bowl
Eggs - create a deep well in the middle of the flour & salt mixture, crack your 3 eggs into a small bowl, pour them into the well, and whisk with a spoon or fork.
Combine the eggs and flour - as you whisk the eggs, start slowly to incorporate the flour by pulling into the eggs from the bottom and sides.  Take your time with this. First, the mixture will look like a slurry and gradually as you pull the flour in it will form a soft dough.
Knead - Turn the dough and any remaining flour out onto a large board or a counter.  Knead by turning the dough on itself, flattening it, and folding it again. It will feel really soft in the beginning and as you knead, it will begin to get firmer. Use flour on the surface to keep the dough from sticking. If you cut into the dough and see lots of bubbles, keep kneading.  What you want is a smooth, elastic ball with very few bubbles visible.
Rest - Clean the mixing bowl and place the dough (shaped into a ball) into the bowl and cover with a dinner plate or plastic wrap.  If you can have a plate that fits, keep that plastic wrap in the drawer!  The Earth thanks you.  Rest the dough for 30 minutes.
Divide, Roll Out and Cut - Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and cut the dough into four sections.  Keep the dough covered with a clean dish towel.  My approach from this point is to flour my board, take a section out and using a rolling pin, start to roll the pasta out - you want it pretty thin.  Prepare a cookie sheet with flour.  After you get each section of dough rolled out as thin as you want it, roll it up like a cigar and cut to your desired thickness - spaghetti, fettuccine, etc. Make little “nests” of your cut pasta and place each on the floured cookie sheet - you don’t want to dry the pasta out - unless you do, of course.  To dry you should hang the noodles over a dowel or pasta dryer, etc.   You can also freeze the pasta in an airtight container.  Frankly, I go to the trouble and fun of making my own so that I can eat it fresh.  Repeat the rolling out, rolling up and cutting with all four sections and you are ready to make cook your pasta. Al dente will be about 4-5 minutes in boiling, well salted water.  Do NOT use oil in your pasta water!  Sauce as you wish and Enjoy. 


Bringing the Eggs and Flour Together


The Slurry Stage
On the Board for Kneading - Very Soft


A Nice Firm Dough

With this Batch it was a Creamy Pepper Sauce











Friday, October 27, 2017

Eat Together

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing recipes that are seasonal and do-able while I encourage all of us to have more dinners together!  I would love to hear from all of you as well.  After you read this, I think you will probably have some very good tips and recipes to share which we can all benefit from.  We need to do this.  Now - more than ever!  Thanks. TPF



 A Plea for Eating Together

How did we get here?  I think many of you know what I mean.  Think about some seemingly normal activities of daily living. Couples with take in eating and working in separate parts of the house.  Kids always off to something or coming back late from something, grabbing fast food to fill up.  Single folks who “don’t cook’ at all.  

What happened to the dinner table?  To reviewing the day?  To planning for things to come?  To eating good, basic real food that was prepared at home while actually talking to each other?  
Surely, the American obsession with our particular idea of “busy” has contributed.  Over the years, I have noticed that so many people seem to relish the idea of constantly talking about how overworked, overbooked, and spread thin they are.  I don’t think they are necessarily making that up; I just think that they have more control over that than they think.  Life is too short to have your time taken from you. 

In recent weeks, I have been asking folks a couple of simple questions.  And I think their answers reflect a need for change. Asking when someone last went to a “dinner party” usually elicited a snicker. “People have no time”; “The weekends are so scheduled”; “Oh that’s so much work”, etc.  And when asked about the last time folks had friends or family or a mix “over for dinner”, the response was almost universal.Mostly, "Oh, I so wish I/we could, but it is just so much work, we’re so busy and I don’t how we could do it and make it nice”. 

So, what I am hoping to do this Fall is to tackle that last statement.  In my opinion, we desperately need more time at the table - together.  Losing this connection is feeding the separation of like minded folks from one another.  It is preventing americans from enjoying other cultures more thoroughly.  Most importantly, it is sending all of the wrong messages to children about real food/good food and spending un-rushed time together with others. 

How to Begin
The place to begin is of course in your own home. Analyze your dinner situation. It’s different for each of us, of course. We’ll get to food later.  The first part of planning needs to be the when? 

Try to set a goal of x number of times per week that everyone is can be home and at the table for dinner. No take out. No take in. Real food, cooked at home.  Then, create a schedule. How you want to “enforce” that schedule is up to you.  If everyone has been running in different directions for some time, it will take awhile for everyone to be happy with the changes.

For single folks - especially singles who enjoy cooking - think about friends, neighbors and co-workers that would be fun to have as dinner companions a few times a month.  You CAN do this on weeknights. Wednesday night at your house is a good start.  Cook something you like and are good at and invite! Having lived in a large, urban apartment building for years, some of my fondest memories are of us all ending up in one another’s units and eating together - pot luck, leftovers, whatever.  Sometimes, there were many of us just sitting in the hallway on the floor with our plates - eating, laughing, talking - with our dogs running around trying to snag a morsel.  There were life long friendships forged in that hallway. How many of us really spend any relaxed time with our neighbors? How many of us ever dine with our neighbors? Always remember:  Restaurant behavior and Home dining behavior tend to be very different. Frankly, while I love to dine out as a treat, I find my most enjoyable meals are around our table at home. 

If there are two of you I like to assume that you already do dine together very regularly, although I have been told that is not necessarily true.  You know what keeps you from not being able to end the day over good food and conversation and I know that demands on time exist.  Figure out how to get 3 or more nights a week, cooking and eating together at home and then stick to that schedule. .

 A Plug for Sunday Dinner.  We have some friends who’s families still observe the tradition of Sunday Dinner.  The loss of Sunday Dinner in our country is very sad and it has all but disappeared from the american way of eating. With our friends, it generally involves some very specific dishes and it takes place at the family home - Grandmom's. Now - it may not happen every Sunday, but it is a regular event and everyone is expected to be there, to contribute, and to eat, catch up and enjoy themselves. There was a reason for it. Actually there were many reasons for it. I fear we have lost a great deal by losing Sunday Dinner. I also understand that Shabbat has gone out of fashion with many Jewish people. That, too, is sad.  I used to attend Shabbat with a colleague and I loved it and it seemed like such a damned good idea!

Come to the Table.  As some of you are aware, we have been looking into structuring a Supper Club at Il Moya, our home, for the past few months.  This would be different from a Food Club, which tends to rotate from house to house.  Being long time cooks, we prefer controlling the preparation and service. And we want actual members - with always holding out the possibility for newcomers.  That said, this does NOT mean that some get togethers could not be pot luck events or assigned dishes based on a particular theme events.  
The concept we are working from is a once a month event (to start anyway) with a notice sent to each member of the group as to date, time, theme and any requests for what each person can bring, if applicable. Private Supper Clubs work best when folks are encouraged to BYOB.  Participants pay a fee.  New participants are always welcome but a strict maximum number has to be observed.  These sorts of clubs can serve so many purposes.  They are first and foremost a time to "Come to the Table", as we like to say, and eat great food, with other folks who also love great food. They are a wonderful way to just kick off from the rest of life and its demands and sit and eat and talk and have fun. They can also serve as wonderful ways to raise money for charities and causes through very specific dining events. We're also considering a quasi- cooking lesson aspect in that recipe cards would be provided for participants so that they can then make dishes they really liked for their own tables.
Mostly it’s about socializing, having a great meal and laughing a lot.  All of this Supper Club thinking is very much in the first phase planning stage. However, as we get into Fall, we will be beginning our usual season of Dinners with friends as well as traditional Holiday dinners. So we will have plenty of filled places at the table. 


It’s All in the Organization.  Keep it simple! 
Big Plates - the kind that can hold everything on the menu are a lifesaver. I prefer white for food. Big Napkins, too.  A Big Table Cloth that can stand up to a lot of washings is a definite. Unscented Candles (please, this is not the time for Yankee scented candles!) on the table and soft Music (on low). Build a comfortable, casual atmosphere. 
Shopping.  Yes. We’ve had the longest summer in history.  But now - Fall -  is a good time to start thinking about recipes that will work for a few or more folks around the table, are easy, satisfying, seasonal and are not real expensive to make. 

Some Suggested Dishes for the Fall
Appetizers: Warm Soft Pretzels with sea salt & mustards, mixed spicy nuts, hard cheeses with a relish or mostardo.  A Cheese Board of one hard, one soft, one strongly flavored cheese.  With mostardo, pickles, sliced pears or apples, fig jam, and crackers or a sliced baguette. 
First Course:
*Note:  Always serve Bread Sticks, Rolls, or Bread - a basket of various things is nice - with Soup.
Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup
Butternut Squash Soup
Tuscan Bean and Kale Soup
Tomato Bread Soup
Clam or Fish Chowder
Cream of Tomato Soup
Cream of Potato and Bacon Soup 

Winter Salads - if soup is not doing it, there are so many ways to mix hardy greens, onions, shredded carrots, celery,  toasted squash, etc. together to make delicious warm and room temperature salads.

Mains:
Cream of Tomato Soup, Stack of Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Pickles, Chips
Turkey Chili, Chips, Avocado, Salsas, Assorted Chili Fixings 
Spaghetti, Meatballs or Sunday Gravy, Green Salad, Garlic Bread
Nonna Sauce, Shaped Pasta, Salad, Garlic Bread
Meatloaf, Mac n Cheese and Spicy Collards
Roast Chicken, Mashed Potatoes and Garlicky Green Beans
Chopped Meat and Macaroni with Southern Red Gravy
Beef Stew, Egg noodles, Brussels Sprouts (slow cooker for the stew if you can)
Chicken Thighs, braised, with Rice and Beans (southern style)
Mixed Sausages, Roasted Potatoes, Cole Slaw
Cheese Ravioli, Butternut Squash, Sage Butter Sauce, Warm Salad of Kale, Garlic and Peppers
Pan Roasted Pork Chops, Cheesy Polenta, Sauteed Black Kale
Oven Roasted Shrimp, Linguine in Lemon Sauce, Hearts of Romaine Salad

The themes here are important:  the cook will not be standing at the stove and oven for hours, the dishes are hearty, seasonal and satisfying in the chilly weather, everyone can serve themselves, basically one large dinner plate and/or a soup bowl will work, and left overs can easily be stored.  
Many of the items above can be made in advance and re-heated.  The aim is to reduce the pressured, hurried factor. Take time for Dinner!  No "eat and run" allowed!!!



Today’s Recipe:  The only Red Sauce Recipe You will ever need.  (Reprinted from 2013, with edits)
I am reprinting my technique for home made red sauce and beef and sausage meatballs as the first of our Eat Together recipes because, in my opinion, nothing "brings them to the table" like this!  The aroma alone is a total lure.  My favorite pasta, if not homemade, is to buy fresh pasta sheets, roll them, and cut them into long medium wide strips.  It holds this delicious sauce very well, and is light.

Ingredients:

8 cups (2 - 35 oz cans) Italian plum tomatoes with their juices. We can plum tomatoes in the Fall just for this use.

1 large onion, rough chopped
1 medium carrot, rough chopped
1 rib of celery, rough chopped
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt (kosher) plus more to taste 

2 cups water
2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Technique:

Put the tomatoes through a food mill using the medium blade (see picture) or push the tomatoes through a colander or sieve set over a bowl. This is an important step. It gives your sauce a lovely lux consistency.
Put the onion, carrot and celery in a food processor and pulse - you want everything finely and uniformly chopped. Or do it by hand.
Pour the olive oil in a big heavy bottomed pot. Stir in the chopped vegetables and set over medium high heat. Sprinkle with the salt. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, bring the veg to a sizzle but don't let them brown. I set a timer for 3 minutes. 
Pour the milled tomatoes and juices into the pan and stir with the vegetables. Use the 2 cups of water to swirl any tomato residue from the bowl and the empty tomato cans. Pour the water into the pot.
Stir in the bay leaves and the red pepper flakes, turn up the heat, cover the pot and and bring the sauce to a boil, stir frequently. 
When you get the sauce boiling, adjust the heat to an active simmer - you want small bubbles all over the top of the sauce. If you have a "simmer" burner on your stove top this is the time to use it. Cover the pot and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

After 45 minutes, remove the cover, raise the heat so that the sauce is still bubbling well and gradually reducing.
Cook for another hour or so, stir frequently to avoid any sticking to the bottom of the pot. 
As the sauce thickens, turn down the heat. 
Taste for salt near the end of the cooking process. 
When the sauce is reduced by about a quarter and is well concentrated but still pourable, turn off the heat.
Let the sauce cool. Remove the bay leaves. Let the sauce sit for an hour or two to allow the flavors to mellow.

Note:  This sauces freezes very well. If you follow the steps you will always have a great sauce and once you do it a couple of times, it really is easy. 

My Meatballs

Combine 1 pound of ground meat and the meat (remove it from casing) of 1 pound of hot Italian sausage.

Add two beaten eggs, a teaspoon of garlic powder, a teaspoon or more of dried oregano, a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and a quarter cup of panko crumbs and mix - By hand is really the easiest. Roll into whatever size meatballs you like. 

Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet at 425 for about 30 - 35 minutes. Until they are browned. They will not be completely done. Finish the meatballs in the sauce





















OK - time to hear from you! How will you start insuring that eating Real Food, homemade, with others, at a table, with few distractions is going to be a regular part of your life? Share. Please.

EAT TOGETHER. EAT REAL FOOD. 


Friday, September 22, 2017

Enjoying High Summer to Harvest and Beyond Pt I

                           “Enjoying High Summer to Harvest and Beyond” Pt. I


Our Larder - as of 9/10/17

Hello Everyone! I hope that for you, like me, this is quite an exciting time of year - sort of the “5th season”, if you will.  As i have attempted to convey through my Facebook page, for our urban homestead, it is a time of serious "busyness".  In just a few weeks, we attempt to save for ourselves everything wonderful about the growing season. I can happily say that we have accomplished that for another year.  Our larder shelves are filled to the brim.  Our freezer is loaded with berries, and our own greens, beans, okra and other treats. And we have peppers and pickles galore. We will be doing a bit more canning soon (more stocks, chicken pot pie ingredients, etc.), but these are not dependent on the seasonal availability of the ingredients. As we have been preserving, so have we been cooking.  We've been testing recipes, putting together batches of old favorites, and learning new techniques and treats.  In this and the next few Blog entries, I will be sharing what we have been learning, what new products, books, and other fun stuff we've found out about, and what we are planning for the coming Fall and Winter months  that will enrich us and feed, not only our stomachs, but also our souls. 

So, let’s start with a recipe that many of you have requested.  A timely note:  If you are going to make some of this, get out this weekend and get the fresh ingredients at your Farmers Markets.

Recipe:  Nonna Sauce
As I have said on my Facebook page, this recipe is very easy.  We make a big batch to can it, but here I offer a recipe that would serve 4 - 6 people.  The technique is also open to modification of the ingredients - you can leave garlic out, you can add dry red pepper flakes, you can leave the onion out. In other words once you make it and get a feel for how it comes together, feel free to experiment! The slow cooking together of great tomatoes and great eggplant produces an unbelievable flavor.

Ingredients 
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large or 2 medium eggplants (avoid the huge eggplants in the chain stores)
18 - 20 plum tomatoes, peeled and left whole
OR
1 32 oz can of really good whole plum tomatoes

Technique
Make a marinara sauce (if you have a favorite recipe for marinara, use it.)

Swirl EVOO in a hot large pot (use one that is heavy and will hold heat - it's a long cooking processt)
Add garlic, onion, and some salt
Stir until the garlic and onions soften
Add the tomatoes - if you are using fresh and you have peeled them they will have produced juices, add that juice; if you are using canned, add the juices from the can.  
noteliquid is important to breaking down whole tomatoes.  I suggest filling the can with filtered water and then swirl out all of the remaining tomato and add that liquid.  If you have “tomato water”  in the house, use that.  If not, add filtered water.
Bring the tomatoes to a boil on medium high heat, stir, reduce the heat to a simmer, place a lid on the pot halfway and let the mixture cook for about 1 hour or so - it depends on the amount of tomatoes that you are using but you want to see the tomatoes breaking down.  You can help that process along after they have cooked for awhile by cutting the tomatoes with kitchen shears.  At the very least you should be using a heavy spoon (i prefer wood) to keep pressing and chopping the tomatoes as you stir.  
When the sauce is the consistency that you like, lower the heat and prepare the eggplants.
Cut off the stem end, cut the eggplant in half, and again in quarters and chop it into cubes.  Do not peel the eggplant!  There is so much flavor and other good stuff in that eggplant skin
Add the chopped eggplant to the sauce, add a bit more salt and stir.
Bring to a boil, stir, lower the heat, return to a simmer and cook, uncovered until the eggplant is barely visible in the sauce (you will see a bit of skin here and there).

Noona Sauce Almost Ready
At this point, you can decide if you want a somewhat chunky sauce or a very smooth one.  I go with the latter, so I use an immersion blender until I have a smooth sauce.
After using the immersion blender, if you do,  is the time to add fresh or dry herbs and red pepper flakes, if you wish.  For our canned Nonna, we add fresh basil - a good deal.  This sauce really benefits from Basil, if you like it.
Pour the sauce onto your favorite pasts, grate some cheese over (i prefer Pecorino Romano for this) and enjoy!
note:  You can accompany this with Meatballs, or Hot Italian Sausages, or whatever you prefer but it is also so rich and delicious by itself, it is not necessary.


In our area fresh Figs are in right now!   This simple recipe makes a wonderful appetizer for your Nonna Sauce dinner. 

RecipeFig and Cheese Flat Bread
This is again, a very versatile and easy appetizer.  Flatbread is easily available.  If you can get them from an ethnic maker in a market, do it, but you can find it in supermarkets. A heavy Pita bread also works for this recipe.

Ingredients
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - about 2 tablespoons
Flatbreads or Pita Breads
Salt and Black Pepper
Crumbled Blue Cheese (substituting mild soft goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta are also all  delicious too)
Fresh Figs - sliced in half or quarters if large
A handful of fresh Arugula, chopped (optional - Chives or Parsley would work nicely too)

Technique
Heat the oven to 375 degrees
Brush the flatbread with the olive oil, lightly salt it
Place the bread into the oven and warm it up for about 7 minutes or so
Remove the bread, brush it again with olive oil and sprinkle the crumbled cheese over all of it.
Add the chopped arugula over all
Lay the slices of figs over all.
Sprinkle freshly black pepper over all.
Return to the oven, bake for 12 - 15 minutes, until the bread is darkening around the edges and the cheese is melted.
Remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes.
Slice and enjoy!

Fig and Cheese Flat Bread


For this first edition of "High Summer to Harvest" Pt.I, let’s finish up the recipe section with a delicious, old time Southern recipe which we are still astounded that we did not know.  We do know now, and we will be making it a great deal!

RecipeSouthern Tomato Gravy
This is wildly delicious!  And again, easy to make and so versatile.  It is heavenly on hot buttered biscuits, potatoes, over cooked macaroni (our “chopped meat and macaroni” dish recently posted), meatloaf, grits, and also with eggs, among so many other possiblities.
Ingredients
2 large tomatoes, cored and chopped (i’m sure we’ll be using some of our canned whole tomatoes over the winter to make this, but if you have big tomatoes left or you see them at the farmers markets, they are perfect.  You can also peel them if you like).
1 cup of unsalted chicken stock (preferably home made)
1/4 cup bacon drippings or butter or a mixture of the two or if you have really good lard, use that (makes it very original); I used the mangalitsa lard that we keep on hand.
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 to 1 cup of milk, or cream or more stock. I used milk, about 3/4's cup.
2 tablespoons of tomato paste (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fresh parsley chopped (optional)
Technique
Put the chopped tomatoes in a sauce pan with the chicken stock, place over medium high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and continue to heat as you make a roux.
Put the fat you are using in a medium saucepan and put it over medium low heat.
When the fat melts (and in the case of butter, when the foaming stops), add the flour.
Whisk constantly until the roux is light brown (peanut butter color).
Stir the roux into the tomatoes and stock. Get it all in.
Return to the heat and stir in the cream, milk or stock
Whisk in tomato paste if you are using and season with salt and pepper
Cook over medium heat, stirring, until hot and bubbling. it should thicken up a bit as the roux does its job.
Add chopped parsley at service
Enjoy


Southern Tomato Gravy


                                                         End of Summer/Harvest Tasks  

if you set up certain things to happen once a year, at a certain time, it is easier to get them done.  Or at least it is for me!  This is that time of the year when I focus on the pantries.
The Pantry:  It is definitely time to clear out and renew.  Keep no spices for over a year  The same holds true for Baking powder and soda. Put the old baking powder in an open container in your ‘fridge to help control food odors. Take stock of what spices and supplies that you used and what are still sitting relatively unused. Going forward, this will help you with volume decisions. 
Check your implements - spoons, knives, etc.  What are you using? What do you hardly ever use? Do you need it? I do have a large collection of hand made wooden spoons and utensils - too many -  but i love them and I do use them although I tend to be very discriminating with them, but with other utensils I try to be a stricter judge!  
Wood Surfaces - This is also a good time to “salt” your wooden cheeseboards, island tops (if wood) and cutting boards..  Lastly, think about applying some bees wax to your wooden utensils, they will appreciate it, and will last forever.

EAT REAL FOOD

Next Up:  Garden talk.  More recipes. Book reviews.  Bringing folks to your table.