Recipe: Cheese-potato soup

This hearty soup is a winter tradition in Eric’s family, served for weekend lunches after mornings spent in the snow. The thick, hot, cheesy dish instantly warms you up. Easy to make, it’s a wonderful quick meal with basic ingredients.

4 large potatoes
4 Tbl flour
4 Tbl butter
sharp white cheddar, cubed
red wine vinegar
chopped scallions

Chop potatoes into cubes, leaving skins on if they are reasonably organic (potato skins contain much of the flavor and nutrient of the potato and add a nice texture to the soup). Boil in lightly salted water until soft.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small pan over low heat and add flour to make a basic roux, stirring often until the mixture browns.

When potatoes are soft, drain (reserve the liquid) and mash. Add the roux and cook over low heat, stirring reserved liquid back in as the soup thickens. When everything is nice and mixed, and you’ve attained and held a consistency of thick chowder, it’s ready to serve.

Line deep bowls with cubes of cheddar to taste; covering the base of the bowl is a good rule. Ladle in the soup, and top with a swirl of red wine vinegar and a scattering of scallions. Let cheese melt a minute, then stir well and enjoy.

Recipe: Finnish Pancake

On cold, cold winter mornings, we all have a secret favorite breakfast that is rich, warm, and practically demands that we go out and sled, ski, or cut wood to work it off. This is mine, a family recipe from my Scandinavian roots that is not for the faint of heart, but oh goodness is it tasty and fulfilling. This is one of those recipes where you just have to accept that it’s rich; don’t try to cut corners or make it “healthy”. Like most foods, it’s plenty healthy if you are, and if you don’t eat it every morning for a month. Unlike many rich breakfast treats, it’s very simple and can be made with mostly local ingredients. Enjoy.

Finnish Pancake:
This is a half-recipe that comfortably serves 2 people. It is definitely best fresh and warm, so only make enough to eat right away. Doubling it will serve 4-5.

2 cups whole milk (don’t cheat)
2 eggs
2 Tbl sugar
1/2 cup sifted flour
2 Tbl butter
Confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 450. Slice butter, place in a cast-iron skillet, and put in preheating oven. This will melt the butter and heat the pan. In the meantime, beat the eggs and sugar together, then add the milk. Slowly sift and whisk in the flour, trying to avoid lumps. Get it nice and smooth. When oven is ready and butter is sizzling melting, pour batter into the skillet and bake for at least 20 minutes, until starting to brown around the edges and the batter is set to a jiggly texture. If you’re doubling, it will take a few minutes longer.

When served, it should be set to the consistency of loose pudding, but won’t hold any meaningful shape. Plop a big helping down on a plate, and cover with a decent coating of confectioners sugar, which will melt into the rest and finish the flavor. The sugar is essential; don’t wimp out now!

Do something active outdoors for an hour afterwards.

Recipe: Pancit (Filipino noodles)

As I’ve noted in the past, Filipino food makes regular appearances in our diet due to my parents’ upbringing there. One of the basic dishes in Filipino cooking is Pancit, a noodle dish with infinite variations (like “pasta” in Italy). The core ingredients are a special egg noodle, soy & fish sauce, citrus, vegetables, and meat. If you have the right noodles on hand, the recipe can be easily localized using market-fresh vegetables and meats. This is best as a fall meal as most of the core American vegetables (cabbage, carrots, potatoes) are available then. Here’s a how-to recipe based on my family’s traditions. Filipinos reading this are welcome to contribute their own takes. Vegetarians can simply leave out the meat and fish sauce, use vegetable broth, and still have a nice dish that just won’t be quite as complex in flavor.

Non-local ingredients:
Pancit noodles: These are a thick, yellow egg noodle usually sold in squat, nearly cubical packages. I have found them at every Asian grocery I’ve ever visited. Currently I buy mine from Kea International on VanDiver. There are several brands, some of which have some odd ingredients, others just the basics. Look for one made in the Philippines (there are Chinese versions that aren’t quite the same).

Soy & fish sauce: The former should be obvious. The latter is also available at any Asian grocery. It stinks when raw, but when cooked it mellows and adds a very nice and unique flavor to any Asian dishes. Use it.

Calamansi juice: Calamansis are a tasty Filipino fruit, like a small lime but unique in flavor. They’re the real thing to use, but lemons are a good substitute.

1-2 onions, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-1 lb cabbage, shredded
3-4 cups chopped vegetables (esp. carrots, potatoes, & celery)
4 cups meat or vegetable broth
Cubed meat to taste (often chicken or pork, goat in our case)
Shrimp to taste if desired (not local but more authentic)
1/4 cup citrus juice (calamansi if you can get it, lemon if you can’t)
Soy & fish sauce to taste
Black pepper to taste

Pancit is often made as a stir fry, in which you cook everything in the pan/wok before adding broth and noodles at the last minute. I think the flavors blend better when made more like a soup, so that’s how I describe it here.

Sautee onions and garlic in some oil in a large pot. Add broth, some sauces, and black pepper, and bring to a simmer. Add meats and vegetables in order of needed cooking time (meats need longer, as do potatoes; carrots and celery less; shrimp not much; cabbage not much, etc.). When everything is almost cooked, taste broth and adjust sauces, spices, and citrus to get a very richly flavored broth (the noodles will soak up some flavor). When you like it, add the entire package of noodles and cook, covered, slowly mixing noodles down in. If done right, the noodles should absorb most of the broth and leave you with a thick noodle stew and just a bit of broth to keep it moist and not sticky. Top with some citrus squeezed onto each serving.

Recipe: Spiced black beans

Not the most appealling photo, but a simple and tasty meal

Winter is a time when our use of dried and stored food goes up significantly. We grow some of our dried beans ourselves, and purchase others in bulk. This recipe is my basic method for a pseudo-Mexican spiced bean mixture that can be served over rice as a main course or used as a base for tacos, wraps, or meat dishes. It’s best with black beans or mixed beans, less so for kidneys or pintos. Rather than using a premade chili mix, I make a custom spice mix that is far tastier because the spices are ground fresh and I can control the ratio of spices. Canned beans can of course be substituted, as can pre-ground spices, but the taste and quality will suffer.

1-2 cup dried beans (2-6 cooked/canned)
Bean liquid, broth, or water
2 onions, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
Hot peppers to taste, minced
2 tsp cumin seed
2 tsp coriander seed
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp turmeric
1/4-1/2 cup chopped cilantro, if available

Cook the beans by your desired method (there are several) or open the can if needed. Grind the spices (or mix if using pre-ground spices). Saute the onions, garlic, and peppers in some oil until starting to soften, then add the spices and saute a few more minutes. When pan is very aromatic and onions/garlic are soft, add beans and liquid of your choice until mixture is lightly moist. Simmer for at least 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend; the longer the time the better. Check and add liquid as needed to keep the beans just moist and not sticking to the bottom.

Dish is done when you taste it and decide it’s done. As a main course, serve over rice garnished with chopped cilantro and/or shredded/crumbled strong cheese (like cheddar). Chopped or ground meat is easily added to this dish with the onions and adds another layer of flavor and texture.

Recipe: Roasted turnip, potato & apple soup

This soup is a classic example of the value of having diverse ingredients in a kitchen and the flexibility to use them. By late afternoon on the day I made this, I had no idea what I would do for dinner, and basically made this up as I went along. It came out so well, and so unique, that it’s worth writing up. Even Joanna, who really doesn’t like turnips, enjoyed this soup. It doesn’t look like much, but has a fascinating mix of flavors.

Rough ingredients:
Olive oil
1-2 lb turnips
1-2 lb potatoes (purple add a nice color)
2-4 Tbl butter
2-4 leeks
2 apples
2+ cups water
1/4 cup apple cider
2-4 Tbl vinegar (tomato or cider)
Herbs if desired (I used parsley & oregano)
Salt & pepper
Crumbled/grated strong cheese, like sharp white cheddar or Goatsbeard Walloon

Chop the turnips & potatoes into roughly equal 1/2″ cubes. Toss with olive oil to coat thoroughly, spread on baking sheet, and roast at 450 for at least 40 minutes, stirring every 20. Depending on how large/small your chopped squares are, it may take more or less time. You want the potatoes and turnips soft and just starting to brown, but not burned or dessicated on the outside.

When you think you have 20 minutes to go, finely chop the leeks and start sauteing them in the melted butter. Stir them regularly and let them cook until very soft, 20 minutes or more. In the meantime, finely chop the apples (peeling is optional; I like the texture of peels).

When the roasted veggies are soft and the leeks are nicely cooked, combine those into a blender and coarsely puree. You will likely need to add water to create enough liquid for the blending to work; I suspect veggie or meat broth would work, too, but there are a lot of flavors in this already. Keep it as thick as possible.

Pour into a soup pot and add apples, cider, vinegar, and herbs to taste. Simmer until the apples are soft. I like the texture the cooked apple chunks left in the soup, but if you want a smoother result, add the apples when you blend the veggies. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Serve with a hearty topping of crumbled or grated strong cheese, which mixes in and melts to add a final flavor.

This could easily be adapted in any number of ways to fit the needs of a kitchen, but the basic result is a thick, hearty winter soup based in the flavors of the season. Let me know if you try it.

Recipe: Green tomato sauce

I stumbled across this interesting green tomato sauce while looking for ways to use some of the 80+lb we harvested prior to our imminent killing frost. Adapted from a recipe in the original Joy of Cooking, it makes a rich, tangy sauce that would go well with many things. I made it for a quick lunch, served over fresh-shelled beans (above), but it would likely go well with pasta or rice too. No quantities are given; just use what proportions seem right to you. This recipe is screaming to be adapted to individual tastes and supplies.

Saute some finely chopped onions in a tablespoon or two of butter. Add as many cups of diced green tomatoes as you want, and simmer for a long time until the tomatoes are very soft. Flavor with paprika, turmeric, parsley, black pepper, and salt. If too tangy, consider some honey or other sweetener. Serve over beans, rice, pasta, or anything else that seems fitting.

Recipe: Applesauce

Applesauce is so easy to make, and so good homemade, that it’s a wonder more people don’t take the time to at least try it. It doesn’t take that much more time to make a large batch than a small batch, and once it’s canned for the winter you’ve saved a significant amount of money on a healthy fruit supply in the months to come.

The biggest barrier to applesauce making is the drudgery of preparing the apples. My stepfather gave us this corer-peeler a while back, which he found at a garage sale. It’s spectacular. I can core, peel, and slice 5 apples every 3 minutes with this sucker, from start to chunks in the pot. One of the best kitchen investments you’ll ever make, and it requires no fancy power or hard-to-clean parts. This thing is the key to applesauce making.

The apples come out of the device looking like this (above) and with a few quick chops they’re in small chunks and ready to be tossed in the pot. At this point, they’re also ready to be dried in apple rings (we have many jars of these as well) or thrown into an easy pie filling.
Cooking the applesauce itself is easy. Just keep throwing chunks into a large pot, with heat set on a lower medium (maybe 4 on a 10-scale stove). You don’t want the lowest ones to burn, but you want good heat. Add some water, maybe the equivalent of a few inches. Stir regularly, as the lowest layers slowly liquify and the upper ones cook slowly. Over time, and this may take an hour or more, the stirred mass will get softer and mushier as it approaches the consistency of applesauce. You may need to add more water if you notice it getting dry, or starting to stick to the pan.

Throw in sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg to taste. I can’t give amounts, because this completely depends on the type of apple used and your own tastes. It’s very easy to keep adding small amounts and retasting until you get what you want. To make things more efficient, you can start cooking just the first few apples, then keep throwing the freshly cut ones in as the sauce cooks down. Then you can easily do other chores while it cooks, returning to stir it briefly.

Once it’s done, it can be canned for winter or just put in refridgerated jars for use over the next few weeks. Buying a large batch of apples for sauce can feel expensive, but it’s still a lower cost than buying the finished product, and it’s of better quality. Also, because applesauce doesn’t care about blemishes, you can ask orchards if they have rejects or seconds that are physically unappealing but perfectly sound; you can get an especially good price on these otherwise unsellable apples. This is also true for pick-your-own; make a point of getting the odd apples that others aren’t picking, thus avoiding their waste. Most of our apples come from our neighbor’s trees’ extras, and don’t cost us a dime.

In any case, applesauce is a great example of easy food preservation that anyone can try. It’s a great winter food, and would also make a good baby food if you’re trying to move to more healthy, whole baby foods (I had a customer ask about that; good for her). I have it labeled as Summer and Fall because of the long apple season and the many chances you have to give it a try.

Recipe: zucchini soup

Looking for a new way to use that ubiquitous summer vegetable? Our zucchini soup is reminiscent of a fresh split pea soup, with a mild but complex flavor that goes well with many things. Plus, it freezes very well, so it can be made in large batches and pulled out all winter long for a quick taste of summer. The photo above shows ingredients for a double batch, but the recipe stated below is for a single batch that will produce several servings and a bit to freeze. We like the double batch because it takes about the same time and produces lots of future “instant” meals. As a final benefit, this recipe works well with the overgrown “baseball bat” zucchini that are so often available and difficult to use for other recipes that require a higher-quality squash.

-Olive oil
-2 medium onions
-2-3 cloves garlic
-1-2 potatoes
-2-3 cups water or veggie/meat broth*
-2-6 med-large zucchini or other summer squash
-several sprigs parsley
-up to 1/4 cup basil
-Juice of 1 lemon (optional)
-several strips bacon (optional; we used local organic bacon from JJR Family Farm)**
-Hard cheese for grating (real Parmesan works well, as does Goatsbeard Farm’s Walloon)
-2-4 Tbl toasted pine nuts

-Heat oil in a large soup pot, and saute chopped onions & garlic
-Add finely chopped potatoes and broth/water; bring to a boil
-Simmer five minutes, then add chopped squash, herbs, and lemon
-Simmer until all vegetables are tender, then puree soup to desired consistency.
-Add salt & pepper to taste. Don’t overdo the salt if planning to top with cheese. Freeze any remnants not served fresh.

Serve over quality rice to add more heft, or as straight soup. Top with grated hard cheese and toasted pine nuts.

*If using lots of herbs and/or bacon, broth may not be necessary, but it does add more flavor.
** Bacon adds a nice touch of flavor, but this soup is easily made vegetarian by leaving out the meat broth and bacon and using a richly-flavored vegetable broth.

Recipe: Greek Salad

This is one of our favorite summer dishes; easy and unique. Many restaurants offer some form of Greek salad, usually consisting of lettuce with a few tomatoes and cucumbers, basically a regular green salad with some olives and feta thrown in there. That’s not what this is.

The real Greek salad I’ve had in authentic restaurants is a chunk salad, no greens involved. This texture makes it far more interesting and unique, and allows the flavors to blend equally among all the similarly-sized chunks of vegetables. Using as many different colors of produce as possible gives the salad a beautiful presentation. Here’s how to make our version; no amounts are given because it competely depends on your tastes and amount of ingredients on hand.

Coarsely chop (dice-sized):
Tomatoes (preferably sauce)
Onions (preferably red)
Peppers (preferably multicolored sweet)

Crumble good feta cheese over the chopped vegetables. If desired, mix in chopped olives, dates, and/or capers.

Balsamic vinegar and olive oil work nicely, but I like to make a special Greek dressing ahead of time. Mix balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, chopped oregano, and dashes of salt and pepper and allow to sit ahead of time in the fridge. Add olive oil to salad separately, to allow the dressing to preserve in the fridge longer. If you used olives or capers, some of the brine is an excellent addition to this dressing.

Recipe: fresh barbeque sauce

One of our core food principles is using as few processed/prepared ingredients as possible. Condiments like mustards and sauces certainly fit under that category, and we’ve enjoyed making these things ourselves as needed rather than relying on an unknown factory and unneccessary ingredients (corn syrup and the like). So when we decided to celebrate Labor Day with a good southern meal including grilled BBQ ribs, naturally we needed to make a sauce. I’ve made BBQ sauce a few times in the past and always liked the result. It tastes good fresh and can be made using none of the short-cut processed ingredients like ketchup that most recipes call for. Here’s the latest version we used, which was a great success.

I based this sauce on a recipe from an old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, which was the nearest thing to true scratch that I could find (even Joy of Cooking relied heavily on ketchup and processed sauces). The only forbidden ingredients were a can of tomato paste, apple juice, and Worcestershire sauce, which are easily dealt with. We also didn’t have horseradish, but hot peppers make up for that. Here’s what we used:

One small red onion, minced
Two large cloves hot garlic, minced
1 Tbl olive oil
1 apple (replaces the apple juice and adds heft)
4 tomatoes, chopped with juice squeezed out (replaces tomato paste)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbl brown sugar
2 Tbl molasses
1 Tbl paprika
3 small hot peppers (replaces horseradish)
1 Tsp salt
bit of black pepper

Preparation was easy. We just sauteed the onions and garlic in hot oil, then added everything else and allowed to simmer until the diced apple was soft. We then blended it smooth and let it simmer a bit more until thick enough. Probably 45 minutes total. This resulted in a really nice mix of sweet, hot, and tangy flavors that to me are the essence of barbeque sauce. Obviously there are all sorts of ways this recipe could be altered to fit someone’s taste buds, but the overall point is that you can make fresh, seasonal sauce without relying on handicaps like ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, canned tomatotes, and so on.

Of course, no recipe is complete without a full description of the meal it’s to be used for, so here’s our Labor Day dinner. Grilled barbequed rack of goat ribs, with sides of fried okra, sauteed garlic mustard greens, and spiced black-eyed peas over rice. And beer. Utterly satisfying comfort food from my roots, made from scratch with farm-fresh ingredients the way it used to be. We were full.