Sunday, January 17, 2016

Dinner in a Box - Really? Two Easy and Delicious Tarts

OK, I have to go on record - and I’d love to hear from you folks about this, too - as saying that these “dinner in a box” companies and their advertisements are getting on my last nerve!  Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plate Joy (oh that’s cute), and a number of other ‘Services” are out there now constantly pitching, and I can't seem to miss a commercial.  

The concept behind these things is that you have such a hectic life that you can’t possibly shop for your own food, develop your own menus and then - gasp! - cook your meals all by yourself!  You need little index cards telling you what to do next!  Imagine.  I think we used to use cookbooks for that sort of thing.

(Note I will say that the only exceptions that I see here are folks who have disabilities that prevent them from getting out of the house or those who live in extremely remote areas where good markets and a variety of foods cannot be found.)

OK, let’s examine how many things are wrong with this whole concept:
  1. Know where your food comes from.  If you have followed this Blog, you know that this is the most important aspect of food for me.  I could not eat out of these boxes based on this value alone. These companies have the nerve to tout “local” but the contents are local to where the boxes are put together, if that!  So, basically by ordering these, buyers are reducing business for farmers, growers and producers who actually ARE local to them.  Secondly, who answers the important questions:  how was the meat and chicken raised?  Who raised it?  What sorts of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals were used?  Saying “Organic” in this case means absolutely nothing. Once a little box shows up on the East Coast with asparagus in it in February, the local/seasonal debate is over.  And that “Alaskan Salmon” TV ad from Blue Apron really sets me off.  The whole soothing voice over is so manipulative and so chock full of misinformation.  Who wants to bet it’s farm raised salmon?  I will be happy to take your money.  And by the way, we know a fishing family in our area who goes to Alaska - actually catches gorgeous real alaskan salmon, and spot prawns, and halibut and cod - all of which is flash frozen on the boat.  It is authentic, line caught and delicious - and actually “wild". And I can buy it right from the fisherman who caught it. I am pretty sure that most folks have the option to buy authentic American seafood and fish as well.
2.  Learning to Menu Plan, Shop and Cook.  If you are trying to eat in what you want to believe is a more healthy fashion, these little boxes aren’t helping you learn anything. Yes, you can open a box and follow an index card of instructions. However, unless you are going to buy this stuff for the rest of your life, how will you learn to be self sufficient in selecting and cooking your own food?  Do you want what you eat controlled by mega corporations for your entire life?

3.  Portion Control Issues.  I’ve had people say this is a big reason for using these services.  So - no leftovers allowed in your home?  No room for creativity?  No lunches made from dinners in your freezer?  Let me guess, you buy lunch mostly everyday - geez, you must be very rich, because those boxes are expensive!  Learning how to shop and how much to purchase given the number of folks eating is all part of the process of becoming self sufficient in the kitchen.

4.  Life is SOOOO Hectic.  This one makes me giggle.  Mostly because everyone is spouting off about this constantly and in addition your time is, to a good extent, under your control.  Really.  It is.  Time management is such a worthwhile skill. If you are eating your meals out of boxes that come in the mail, I suggest working on your time management skills. Not to mention what so many of us have been writing about and urging folks to do for years now.   Get off of the hectic merry go ‘round and begin to take part in securing, and cooking and eating food at home.  Learning to become self sufficient with food and meals and sharing them together on a regular basis, along with being healthier, is a good stress reducer.  Cooking with and for people - actually really cooking - is a wonderful way to express your care for others.  Shopping for food;  going from place to place; and stopping at a couple of markets, a couple of times a week can all be excellent ways to interact with folks, get out and about and learn  what is available and what looks good and what you'd like to cook and eat. 

5.  Getting to Know Farmers, Producers, Purveyors, and Artisans.  I can’t imagine that there are a lot of folks out there who don’t enjoy good Farmers Markets.  Often these markets give us the opportunity to get to know the people who are responsible for the products we are purchasing.  Why would anyone seek to avoid these experiences?  You are taking business away from small producers, small family farmers, and others in your own region. Shop Local!

To me, these services represent a total corruption of the concepts of eating real, seasonal, local food, as well as the concepts of self sufficiency and knowing where your food comes from.  I am hoping against hope that they disappear rather than flourish.  

OK - now on to recipes.  You will have to buy the ingredients, put them together and cook these yourself!  Sorry, I couldn’t resist!


Finished Tart

Recipe:  Puff Pastry Ricotta Tart - You can make this with whatever you have on hand, once you spread the ricotta, add toppings as you like.  These are the ingredients that I used for this one. The onion jam is merely red onions cooked down with red wine and finished with a bit of balsamic.  You can also buy onion jam.  Bacon jam would also be great on this.


Good Puff Pastry (I highly recommend DuFours.  It is a bit pricey and it is worth every penny.)
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Fresh Ricotta - try making your own (see my Blog of January 12, 2016).  Whatever Ricotta you use should be fairly dry.
Roasted Red Pepper Strips
Red Onion Marmelade
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Two Scallions, finely diced - white and green parts
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
Line a cookie sheet with a Silpat or with piece of Parchment paper

Roll out a large piece of Puff Pastry dough - not too thin 
Lay the rolled pastry dough on to the cookie sheet (see photo)
With the tip of a sharp knife make a 1 inch “border” around the dough
Then, staying within that boarder, brush the dough all over with a light coating of extra virgin olive oil
Brush the dough all over with the red onion marmalade, if using
Sprinkle the Ricotta cheese all over the tart
Lay the roasted red pepper strips all over the tart - spread them out well (see photo)
Sprinkle the tart with the grated parmesan cheese
Bake for 40 - 45 minutes - check it often as ovens vary; look for a nice browning on the dough and you want some crispness on the bottom of the tart as well

When the tart is done, let it sit for 5 minutes or so then sprinkle the diced scallions all over it; add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil if you wish
Add sea salt and pepper to taste.


Recipe:  Cast Iron Berry Tart.  This is so simple and so delicious and it does not require a lot of preparation.  The cast iron provides for a nice flaky crisp pastry dough.


One pre-made pie crust (I use Pillsbury). Of course you can make your own pastry
2 teaspoons of good lard or 2 tablespoons of softened butter. Note:  "Crisco" is NOT lard.  If you don't have good lard, use the butter.
Two cups of the berries of your choice.  (We have a ton of individual bags of New Jersey Blueberries in our freezer, so I used blueberries).
1/4 cup of sugar (I like Sugar in the Raw for this kind of baking)
1 Tablespoons of good vanilla
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of regular flour
2 - 3 pats of unsalted butter


Preheat the oven to 400 conventional or 375 convection bake
Coat a 10 inch cast iron pan with the lard or the butter - whichever you are using
In a bowl mix the berries, sugar vanilla, cinnamon and the flour

Roll out the pre-made dough, fold it in half, place it in the cast iron pan and open it up - leave a good deal of pie dough hanging on the edges of the pan
“Dock” the pie dough - just pierce the dough with a fork

Note:  At this point you can pre-bake/blind bake the pie crust for a few minutes.  To do this, you should remove the excess dough around the edges - you will need to add it back to the tart when you fill it.  I do not pre-bake this particular recipe.  We mostly eat this right from the cast iron so I’m not looking for perfection and the berry mixture is not very “wet”.

Add the berry mixture to the pie dough and spread it around
Break up the pats of butter and dot them around the berry mixture
Fold the excess dough down over the mixture a bit (see photo)

Bake at 35 - 40 minutes for conventional oven and 30 - 35 if using convection bake

Remove the tart from the oven; let it sit for 20 minutes or so.

Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or just pour over a little bit of good heavy cream.  It’s also delicious all by itself.


Treasure Real Food!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Winter Recipes: Easy, Delicious, Comforting

Happy New Year Everyone! 

I hope you all had some time to catch your breath, reflect a bit, and think about the upcoming year.  I am not one for “resolutions” but I do like to think about the big picture once in awhile.  For months now, you have read here the ways in which we are trying to scale down our home and our lives.  Well, this will be the year that we hope to wrap up a great deal of that.  We have found a couple good sources for many of the things we think others could be making use of - instead of being “stored” in our home.  More about our efforts as the year unfolds.

I do hope everyone is “winterized”.  It looks now like we are going to actually have a winter.  I admit that we took our good old time getting the garden and growing beds finalized, the outdoor furniture covered, the rain barrel emptied and shut down and all of the rest. Thankfully, we had taken that time off so we did get the final tasks done last week.  Now - Come on Snow! 

I did lots of cooking over the three weeks that I was off.  I had the opportunity to tweak and adapt and generally play around with some great techniques and recipes.  Also, each winter I go on the hunt for different cream of tomato and grilled cheese recipes.  And again I found a couple!

Here are some of my favorites. I think that they are straightforward and delicious.  And they will warm you up and comfort you.  What more could you ask?

Recipe:  Thomas Keller’s Roasted Chicken Thighs - The “crunch” on these delicious thighs are adapted from the technique Keller uses for roasting a whole chicken.  It uses High Heat and Slow Cooking, but do not worry - they will be perfect!

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  If you have the Convection Roast option, preheat to 425 degrees.


2 whole chicken thighs
4 whole garlic cloves - peeled with ends removed
2 pats of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary or parsley or thyme
salt and pepper


Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil
Dry the chicken inside and outside
Place 2 garlic cloves under the skin of each chicken thigh
Place a pat of butter and whatever herb you are using under the skin as well
Pull the chicken skin back securely over the butter, garlic and herbs
Place the chicken legs on the prepared baking sheet
Sprinkle salt all over the chicken
Sprinkle freshly ground pepper all over the chicken 
Roast the chicken for 40 - 45 minutes; if you are using a convection oven, check the chicken at 35 minutes
Let the chicken rest for five minutes

Recipe:  Real Cream of Tomato Soup (adapted from Fannie Farmer) - This soup is so rich and delicious.  Another Tomato Soup recipe that will keep you away from the red can forever.  It freezes well, too.


5 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of chopped onion or leeks (I used leeks last time I made this and loved the flavor)
4 tablespoons of flour
4 cups of whole milk
1/2 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda (this prevents your milk from curdling and you won’t notice it)
3 - 4 cups of pureed tomatoes (canned is the easiest way to go here.  Buy really good, local if you can pureed tomatoes)


Melt the butter in the soup pot
Add the chopped onion and cook over medium heat, stirring until the onion is soft but not browned
Sprinkle the flour over the butter/onion mixture and continue to stir for about 2 minutes
Slowly add the milk, bay leaf, and salt and continue to cook and stir
The mixture should be slightly thickened
Add the baking soda to the tomatoes and stir a bit
Add the tomatoes to the milk mixture and bring just to a simmer
Heat through and check seasonings.
Serve immediately or reheat on medium low before serving. 

Note:  You can use an immersion blender if you want the soup completely smooth.  If you don’t you will have tiny specks of tomato, which I think makes the soup even more lush and delicious.

Recipe:  Ruth Reichl’s Greatest Grilled Cheese Ever.  I have seen Ruth Reichl demonstrate her favorite way to make a grilled cheese sandwich a number of times - basically this is technique, because in my adaptation, you can use any kind of cheese/s that you want.  Another adaptation here is the use of the mayonnaise - it may sound weird, but you will get the crispiest grilled cheese ever!


Good white bread, medium thick slices
2 scallions for two sandwiches
Cheese of your choice - I always use some cheddar; a smoked gouda works really well; a mild blue in the mix will be delicious.  It all depends on what you like and what you have on hand.  The idea is to mix two or three cheeses together


Grate the cheese on the large holes of a box grater
Dice the scallions - white and green parts
Mix the grated cheeses and the diced scallions together
Mound the mixture onto two slices of the bread
Melt butter in a skillet
Top the mounded cheeses with the other slice of bread on each sandwich
Brush the top breads with a light film of mayonnaise
Turn the sandwiches over into the melted butter in the hot skillet
While they are browning, brush the tops of the sandwiches with the mayonnaise
Press down a bit on each sandwich and then flip the sandwiches to brown on the other side
Press down as the sandwiches brown
When the cheeses are melted and the bread is browned to your liking, remove the sandwiches to a cutting board
Let the sandwiches sit for just a minute and then slice

Serve with Cream of Tomato soup

Recipe:  Homemade Ricotta.  Adapted from Ina Garten.  This is a great use for left over milk and cream.  It is rich, delicious and extremely versatile.


4 cups of whole milk
2 cups of heavy cream
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar


First put a large strainer over a large bowl and line the strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth 
Pour the milk and cream into a heavy pot and stir in the salt
Bring the mixture to a rolling boil
Stir the mixture occasionally as it comes to a boil
When it comes to a full boil, turn it off, remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar
Let that mixture sit in the pot for about 2 minutes - you will see curds forming
Pour the mixture into the strainer over the bowl
Let the mixture drain for at least 25 minutes
The longer it drains the thicker and drier the cheese will be - I generally let it sit of about 40 minutes
When it is as thick as you want it, remove the cheese in the cheese cloth and put the cheese into a container
Pour the whey from the draining of the cheese into another container
Whey is wonderful for making baked goods, risotto, and sauces - don’t waste it!


Cherish Real Food!

Next Up:  Apple and Pear Sauce Breads