Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Spiedies - A regional delicacy

So, the Chowhound message boards describe Upstate NY as a culinary wasteland, and while that's mostly true, there are a few local jems, like Beef on Weck, Salt Potatoes, Buffalo Wings, and other things I'm probably forgetting or haven't tried. One such tasty treat is the "Spiedie". The spiedie is simply any kind of meat that's been cut into chunks and marinated in a highly seasoned vinaigrette, grilled on a skewer and basted with more of the marinade, and then pulled off the skewer with a slice of Italian bread.

There are countless recipes for spiedie, handed down in the Italian communities of Endicott and Binghamton, and every year there's a festival and contest for the best version. In the grocery stores around here they sell pre-marinated meat, and at speidie stands you can buy pre-made sauce. I decided to try my hand at the sauce, so here's what I used:

  • 2 lbs. chicken thighs, cut into 1.5" chunks
  • 1 c. oil, 1/2 oilve and 1/2 whatever
  • 3/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • the juice of one lemon or lime
  • 1 onion
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1 handful each of fresh parsley, mint, and basil (or their dried equivalents, but try to use fresh)
  • 2 tsp. each of thyme, marjoram, and oregano
  • 3 bay leaves, crumbled up
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 + Tbsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
The ingredients can be varied any way you like. Also, any meat can be used, such as chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, etc... Be sure to reserve about 1/2 c. of the sauce to serve on the table. Marinate the meat for as long as possible--up to several days, mixing occasionally. Pack the meat chunks densely onto skewers and grill on a medium-hot fire for as short a time as possible, basting every couple of minutes. Slide the meat off the skewers with a slice of bread and eat as a sandwich, or serve with rice and salad. Mine are still marinating, so I'll let you know how the grilling turns out. It sure smells good, though. Enjoy your taste of Upstate!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fish Tacos

A delicious and simple dinner idea--and with the benefit of requiring no wheat. I bread and fry the fish and serve it with corn tortillas, cabbage, avocado, and pico de gallo.

  • Allow about 1/2 to 1/3 lbs. white fish per person. Shark or swordfish will be denser, cod or tilapia will be flakier, and halibut will melt in your mouth.
  • 1/4 c. corn starch
  • 1/4 c. yellow corn meal
  • 1 egg
  • adobo seasoning (I get it from Penzey's--one of my favorite spices!)
  • ground cayenne or chipotle
  • salt and pepper
  • oil that gets good and hot (I use corn or grapeseed oil)
Cut fish into 3-4" chunks that can easily be moved around in the pan. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel, then sprinkle with seasonings to taste. Mix the dry ingredients in a pie pan, and beat the egg smoothly in another pie pan. Dredge the fish in the flour mixture and allow to sit for several minutes, while heating the oil good and hot. Dip the fish chunks in the egg right before frying. Fry 3 pieces at a time until brown and crispy on the outside, and flaky on the inside. I like to finish them in the broiler for a couple of minutes while I get other things ready. Cut the fish chunks into taco-sized pieces as you assemble them.

  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1 c. cabbage, sliced infinitesimally thin
  • any dairy things you like, such as sour cream or mild cheese
  • lime slices
  • pico de gallo:
    • 2 juicy tomatoes, cubed
    • 1 mild onion, diced
    • 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
    • juice of one lime
    • some chopped cilantro
    • salt and lots of black pepper
    • 1/2 tsp. sugar
    • a tiny pinch of cumin
  • corn tortillas, warmed in a little oil in a pan
Assembling the tacos is pretty straightforward, and they're good with refried beans and yellow rice. I never get sick of this meal, and it is a great for summer and any time you want more fish in your diet. The fish is surprisingly filling, so don't feel the need to over-buy. Mmm...with a frosty brew or a Coke with tons of ice and a twist of lime, this sounds good to me already, and I'm still full from dinner. Salud!

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I don't have a picture to go with this one, but we all know what tabouleh looks like (though I'm not sure how to spell it--Al, is this right?). It's the perfect recipe for late summer, with the hot weather, ripe tomatoes and cukes, and waning kitchen inspiration. Here's how it goes:

  1. Soak 3/4 or 1 c. bulgur in the juice of one lemon and enough water to cover generously for at least 2 hours, or overnight if you remember. If you don't have time, then put it in a sauce pan, bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and let it soak for 15 min. You can also use any other pre-cooked grain, like quinoa or spelt berries if you're some kind of hippie ;). Drain and squeeze out the bulgur in a fine sieve or cloth.
  2. Chop 1 large tomato, 1 small cucumber (optional), 1/2 red onion or a handful of scallions, all into smallish cubes. If you use red onions, soak the pieces in cold water for a minute before adding. Place in a large serving bowl.
  3. Mince at least 1/2 bunch parsley and a handful of fresh mint (or use 2 tsp dried mint), and add to the bowl.
  4. Squeeze in another lemon (or half--use your judgement), pour over 3 Tbsp. olive oil (or more), and a generous portion of salt--seriously, if you think something is missing you probably need more salt. Season with tiny pinches of cinnamon, allspice, and a ton of black pepper.
  5. Serve with romaine leaves as scoopers.
  6. Other optional ingredients include: a jalapeño pepper, powdered sumac (makes it sour), purslane leaves, crushed garlic. I have used cider vinegar and bottled lemon juice when I am out of fresh lemons.
I know the more authentic versions use tons of parsley, but I'm not so keen on it--probably because of the leathery parsley from the store here (I think stuff from the garden would be better). I'm told that my recipe kicks the pants off of the Holy Land version, which I think is much too lemony. Keep in mind: 3/4 c. of bulgur goes a long way, making this a great recipe for potlucks when you don't want to spend much money or make anything laborious. I could eat this stuff all day long. Also, it seems to be a great side with nearly everything.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cool enough for risotto!

It's been a hot coupla weeks here in Lake Wobegon, my hometown, so when the weather cooled down and the rain started, I was ready to stand over the stove a spell. I have been craving risotto and have so many lovely vegetables to add from my garden that I was inspired. I found a recipe that used green beans. You can follow any risotto recipe, which is basically 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice to 6 cups of broth and 1/2 cup of wine. First you saute whatever you want in some olive oil (I used onions, carrots, shallots and garlic) briefly, add the rice, stir and saute for about 3 minutes, then start adding broth, 1 cup at a time. Stir pretty continuously. You don't want it to stick to the bottom of the pan (I use a large iron skillet). When most of the broth is absorbed, add the next cup and stir more. Keep it on a medium/low flame. The entire process will take about 45 minutes. When you have added 5 cups and it has been absorbed, add the wine and stir. Once that is absorbed, add the final cup of broth and the colorful things. Prepare them in advance so they don't need cooking. I blanched the green beans in boiling water for 4.5 minutes. They had lost their squeakiness but were not overcooked. Also be sure to add about 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese at this point. This gives the dish the signature creaminess that is so delicious. The final dish will be creamy and al dente. Eat immediately if possible. It is difficult to reheat if you don't have a microwave, so eat it all up.
As a side dish, we had fresh baby collard greens sauteed in butter and schmaltz. Some people like to use bacon for this, which is very good. I melted the butter and schmaltz (about 1.5 tablespoons each), added sliced shallots and garlic and cooked until they were soft. Then I added the cleaned and chopped collards, turned the heat to low, put on the lid and waited about long enough for one song on my iPod. Then I added two tablespoons of kombucha, a fermented tea. Most Magidows add vinegar or lemon juice at this point, but I had a batch of kombucha that was smelling a lot like vinegar, so I tried it. It is a marvelous beverage and tonic, and is very nice for salad dressings or anything that calls for an acidic ingredient. The result was quite marvelous. Jeff made fresh bread and we picked some sweet cherry tomatoes from the garden to round out the meal:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Das schweinefleisch

Oh shit, pictures!? En garde, vagabondress!

For my inaugural visit to Costco, I decided to avail myself of their farcical pricing in the form of that most irresistible of commodities, flesh. Porcine, in this case, and plenty of it. A ~7 pound raw loin, to be exact, for just under $15! (forgot to take a picture of this part; imagine your arm, but made of pig meat)

So, I hacked off about 1/3rd of it to serve 2 with 1-2 servings worth of leftovers. I blended up a dry rub of fresh black pepper, brown mustard seeds, rosemary, oregano, and a pinch of salt, and coated the piggy nice and good like:

This goes in the fridge to set up the crust. Meanwhile, contemplate sides. I happened to have a big bag of fresh-from-Mom's-garden green beans (and some red ones?). Into a heavy pot (this one has a nice thick SS-clad aluminum bottom and cost around $10 at Saver's) with loads of butter, a couple halved cloves of garlic, a diced slice of extra thick, extra yummy, uncured bacon, (from Kramarczuk's, and only $4.49 a pound!) bay leaf, and some salt:

Low temp and covered while you do everything else. Lillian will likely interject some public service announcement about the magic of pressure cookers, but it takes longer to finish the pork than for these guys to get nice and tender so just ignore her, or maybe mention depression-era home food preservation techniques as a diversion. Meanwhile, a big dose of olive oil was getting hot in my other SS thrift store pan (not sure if this one has any aluminum in it, but it heats evenly enough), and the piggy was ready for the sweet embrace of the flames:

Kept this on medium high, and thought sauce. I assessed my pantry, and decided upon a honey mustard demi-glace, with a spicy twist from the fresh horseradish they now carry at Cub. Peeled the radish, and readied it for grating:

I got about 1/4th of the way in with the microplane before realizing that was stupid, and Osterized it as god intended:

After maybe 40 minutes, with some turning as it blackened, the pork looked like this:

Meaten sie hier! I am currently bereft of thermometers, but I made sure it was done by slicing a corner off. It wasn't, so I turned it down, covered it, and gave it another 15 or so. At some point the green beans finished, and for some reason all turned green. If only I had a plant biologist in my immediate family to explain why. After a dash of white wine to loosen up the yummy on the pan, they got to sit in their sauce and ruminate while the rest came together:

The loin leaves the pan for some R&R (at least 15 minutes under tin foil, so all the juice doesn't shuffle off its meaty coil when we get our carve on). Pan sauce time.

Out drains the excess oil, and while a deglaze is effected via white wine and stock, some shallots, mustard seeds, and grated horseradish (not that whole amount I ground; just a good handful) make their appearance. At this point, I believe In The Midnight Hour was playing, so Wilson Pickett receives partial credit for the end product.

Simmer and reduce, until the mustard seeds start to get kinda mushy, indicated you've extracted their flavor as much as necessary. Strain, reduce some more, give it a splash of cider vinegar, and a big dollop of honey at the end so it doesn't caramelize:

I was really hungry since conflicting schedules conspired to have me in Costco at dinner time, so I didn't reduce this anywhere near the demi-glace consistency I had wanted. Oh well, tastes more or less the same; just doesn't stay put on the plate. Remember kids, always slice meat on the bias (slanty like), and garnish is for flavor and presentation (here, some dried tarragon and a little dab of that freshly grated horseradish):

The result was a strong bacon and garlic flavor in the beans, while the pork was very sweet from the shallots and honey, with a hint of heat from the horseradish and black pepper. Bold flavors, while retaining subtlety, I paired it with a nice hoppsy brew (Summit EPA).

And for dessert, a motherfucker of a storm!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Stuffed Peppers

For my final performance of the weekend, I made stuffed green bell peppers. The farm share included the most tender, juicy little peppers, so I knew this would be a good choice (since the grocery store peppers are often oversized and leathery). I combined a few recipes (using the one in almostturkish as the backbone) to arrive at my own, and they turned out adorable and delicious. You will need:

  • 7-8 small peppers, stems carefully removed to make little 'lids' and hollowed out
  • 1 lb. ground beef (or lamb if you can find it)
  • 1.5 plain white or jasmine rice (soak this in water while you core the peppers)
  • 3 medium onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh or dried dill + 1 tsp. for sauce
  • 2 tsp. fresh or dried mint + 1/2 tsp. for sauce
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream (optional)
Chop the onions and garlic very fine using a food processor (it's OK if it gets liquidy). Add the parsley or chop by hand. In a large bowl, mix the onions, garlic, parsley, and all the other seasonings (minus those for the sauce) into the meat. Add the rice (drained) and mix well.

Prick the bottom of the peppers several times with a fork. Fill with meat and rice mixture and place 'lids' on. Lightly oil a large skillet that has a tight lid. Place the peppers inside so that they will stay upright. I used a zucchini as a spacer and to get rid of the damn thing.

Mix the tomato paste into the chicken broth and add the remaining dill and mint. Pour this liquid into the pan, adding water until it reaches halfway up the peppers. Dot with bits of butter, bring to a boil, reduce to a light simmer, and cover the pan. Simmer gently (so you don't destroy the peppers) for 30-40 minutes, until rice is cooked.

Remove the peppers carefully and keep warm while you make the sauce. Reduce the remaining liquid in the pan until it's thick. Remove from heat and stir in the cream. I served the sauce on the side for guests to add as they liked.

These were mmm...mmm good, and nowhere near as bland as stuffed peppers I'd had in the past. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't have packed the filling in so much (I was trying to use it all up). This recipe has the added benefit of impressing people with the cuteness of the peppers with their little caps, and the sauce will knock your socks off. Enjoy!

P.S. Actually the last thing I made this weekend was Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, and I followed The Joy of Cooking recipe exactly (well, I doubled the chocolate chips. Come on--who adds 1 cup when there's 2 in a package?). They turned out fabulously and also used up 3.5 cups of oats, which I'm hoping to consume before the flour moths do.

Pasta with Eggplant and Olives

Ok, for those not obsessed by pickling, here's a tasty recipe my housemate, Liliana made with the remaining eggplants. Oh and did I mention that she's Italian and loves cooking? Yes, we are lucky here at the Byway. I don't have a picture, but it's basically pasta with a reddish sauce. You will need:

  • One box of linguine
  • 2-3 small eggplants, diced
  • 2 bell peppers of various colors, diced
  • One large can of plum tomatoes, diced
  • One medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 c. kalamata olives (pits removed), and chopped coarsely
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • An armload of fresh basil, washed and chopped
  • 1/4-1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese + more to taste
Set a pot of water to boil for the pasta, and salt well. Saute the onions for 2 minutes, then add the eggplant and peppers. Cook on medium until eggplant is mostly tender, then add the tomatoes and their liquid and the olives. Continue to cook until the eggplant is completely tender. (Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente). Add the garlic to the eggplant mixture and cook for one minute. Add the basil and cook one minute more. Heat the sauce until bubbling and add the pasta, stirring and coating. Mix in the cheese and serve.

I'm no 100% sure this is the process she used (I will verify), but this will probably get very similar and tasty results. We had this with grilled chicken and other veggies. The olives are surprisingly mild and compliment the eggplant's flavor.

Pickled Eggplant and Okra

I cooked up a storm this weekend! I got a nasty cough/cold last week and even though I probably should have been taking it easy, I got bored and decided to mix up watching The Sopranos and hacking my lungs out with cooking. Also, I picked up the farm share on Saturday and had a ton of raw materials to work with.

First, I made Lebanese Pickled Eggplant Stuffed with Garlic, from The Joy of Pickling. These little guys were just so cute at the farm that I took home a huge bag of them, knowing I'd find a way to use them. These ones are white with purple streaks and are smaller and more tender and mild than the ones we're used to. Also, the fresh garlic I've been getting from the farm is killer. It's a pretty simple recipe (makes one quart):

Fresh and steamed eggplants

1) Wash and trim 1.25 pounds small (4-5") eggplants (about one quart)
2) Crush the cloves of one bulb of garlic into a dish, add 1 tsp. cayenne pepper and one Tbsp. of pickling salt.
3) Steam the eggplants for 5-7 min., until tender but not mushy. Allow to cool.
4) Bring to a boil: 1.5 c. red wine vinegar + 3/4 c. water + 1 tsp. pickling salt, then allow to cool.
5) Slit the eggplants lengthwise most of the way through and spread with the garlic mixture.
6) Pack the eggplants into a sterile quart jar, add the cooled liquid, and cover with a plastic cap.
7) Let jar stand in a cool place for 1-2 weeks. Store in fridge.

I haven't tried them yet, and I don't even know if I like pickled eggplants, but I need to use the veggies somehow. I'll let you know how they are in a couple weeks.

The next recipe I made was for pickled okra (also from TJoP). For some reason the farm planted 3 rows of okra, but only 1/2 row of peas, so people were fighting over peas and now no one knows what to do with the okra. Oh well...I only wish Alex were here because he would love this stuff. The okra is so amazingly fresh compared to the sad brownish specimens in the store. I halved the recipe to make two pints:

1) Was the okra and slice the stems off, taking care not to cut the pod itself.
2) Slice 2 cloves of garlic an place one clove in each jar (I upped this to 4 total)
3) Add one tsp. dill seed to each jar (I also added hot pepper flakes and whole coriander to one as an experiment in flavor).
4) Boil: 2 c. cider vinegar + 2 c. water + 1 Tbsp. pickling salt.
5) Pack the okra in to the jars tightly. Ladle the hot vinegar mixture over the okra, leaving a 1/2" headspace.
6) Cap with hot lids and rims and process in a boiling water bath for 15 min. Keep in a cool dark place for 3 weeks before eating.

Again, I'm not sure how I'll like it, but it's a fun experiment and not too hard. I know none of you are inclined to try pickling, but I figured I'd post this stuff anyway. Next I'll included some more instantly-edible recipes.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mujaddara - Lentils and Rice

Here's a recipe that Alex sent me since he's not able to post to the site easily. Alex: we miss you!!!

Heya Lily,

Here's a recipe for y'all's blog, which you'll have to post for me
since blogspot seems to be banned at the moment. It's called
"Mujaddara" and I'm not totally clear on the origin. I feel like
someone said it's Palestinian, but seeing as everyone makes it that
doesn't seem to be a terribly convincing statement. This is how I was
taught to make it by an Allepan girl who's friends with my roommate

1 smallish glass of brown lentils(probably 1/2-3/4 c.)
1.5 smallish glasses of rice.
Onions (the more the merrier)
Olive Oil

Arabic spice mix (called "baharat" - available at your local Arab
grocery, or there are probably recipes online. Should involve
allspice, and have a sort of darker brown color.)

Cook lentils in water until soft. Add rice, and 1.5x of water(Leaving
the water from the lentils in the pan). At this point, you should add
salt to taste, and if you want, Arabic spice mix(again, to taste).
Allepans apparently do not add this, while Jordanians do. Cover, cook
until rice is done. You may need to add more water.

Now here's the part that makes this more exciting (slightly) that
being just sad vegan fare. Put a goodly amount of olive oil in a pan.
Slice onions very thin. Add to olive oil, cook until carmelized and
crispy. Pour extra olive oil over the rice-lentil mix. Add onions to
each serving individually.

I serve it with plain yogurt, which I quite like. It's a really simple
recipe, not fancy at all, in fact kind of boring. But when it's
ungodly hot(it was 107 when I made it last), it makes a really
refreshing meal with the yogurt. I also put out a plate of olives and
sliced middle eastern style pickles (i.e. no dill).

Miss you,