Friday, November 21, 2014

Oh, granola

You know how I complained a while ago about my problems with oatmeal? About how it never keeps me going and how it makes me have blood sugar crashes? This makes me sad, because I do like oats and oatmeal, and it is a good whole grain to have in my diet. It must be something about the cooking process that makes oatmeal not like me, because I have no such problems with granola.

I have posted a lovely granola recipe here before, and I still love it, but with all the various dried fruits that require a trip to Whole Foods, I don't make it very often these days. And after making my own, I can't really face the granola from the store - it is just not worth it. Luckily, I found a new, simpler recipe for granola on one of the best food blogs ever, Orangette. It is just oats, nuts (I used almonds and pecans), salt, coconut, maple syrup (which doesn't taste at all maple-y after cooking, in case you - like Benjamin - don't like maple flavor) and oil, and it tastes heavenly. I made a half batch a week or so ago, and devoured it. I made another batch today, larger this time, because I was craving it.

Here is the original recipe and post over on Orangette. I am not going to post the actual recipe because you should go read it straight from her - she is such a good writer - and because she has some helpful instructions. Not to mention links to other granola recipes. Go try it. You will thank me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Let's revisit my summer with fruit

The weather is finally turning cold here in Arkansas, and a polar vortex is threatening later this week. The leaves are falling (and falling and falling. Turns out some oak trees are marcescent, which means they retain some of their dead leaves all winter, or as it plays out in our backyard, about half the leaves take two months to fall in October and November, and the other half stay on until March, when I have to rake all over again.) Anyway, as I was going to say, before I interrupted myself, it is getting cold, and while I am perfectly happy with that, it seems like a good time to revisit some of the lovely warm days of summer, and the food I never got around to showing you.

Oh, heavenly blueberries!

This year, for the first time since I left Washington 13 years ago, I found a farm offering u-pick blueberries. As I have mentioned before, my summers growing up were full of fresh berries, and one of the things I have missed dreadfully over the years is berry picking. It is one of the experiences of my childhood that I most wanted to be able to share with Malcolm, and I feared it would only happen on the occasional trip back to Washington.

Malcolm, with one of his favorite foods
 I have never been so happy to be wrong. Wye Mountain Flowers and Berries is about 45 minutes away from us, and they have blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. We went twice and picked all three. Malcolm caught on immediately, and while there was a certain amount of berry eating, a la Blueberries for Sal, he actually got some in the bucket too.

Blackberry jam
We had so many berries that we couldn't eat them all right away, so I did what any sensible person would do and made jam. Blackberry jam (above), blueberry jam, and even blueberry ginger jam (recipe from a fellow Whitman Alumna's great canning blog). Add these to the strawberry jam I made earlier in the year, and we might just make it to next summer.

Pickle coins!
I made pickles around the same time as well, although we still have some from last year. I can't help it - when cucumbers are so easily available and so easy to preserve, I sort of get carried away.

Mid-way through the process
After berry season ends in mid-to-late June, pesto season is not far away. I have always planted basil in my garden, and I usually have enough to make pesto. The last couple of years, I have had so much basil that not only do I make pesto by the quart, I have enough to dry and freeze for other cooking uses as well.

Mmm, pesto.
Last year, I decided to use pistachios instead of pine nuts, and this year I used cashews. Both are delicious alternatives if you are one of those people who have an allergic reaction to pine nuts. We usually freeze our pesto and use it all winter long, both on pasta and as a pizza sauce. So much better than the stuff you buy in jars at the super market!

The second box of the season, Golden Delicious
And of course, how could it be fall without a box of apples, or rather two, 40 pound boxes of apples, in my kitchen? I didn't manage to score enough peaches this year to preserve any - not sure if it just wasn't a good year for them, or if I just didn't try hard enough (probably the latter, since I do know an orchard that does u-pick), but I made up for it with the apples.

My apple processing workspace.
You'd think that after spending several days peeling, slicing and dehydrating apples, not to mention several pies, including a *real* double crust apple pie, I would have had enough of apples. You'd be wrong. I immediately bought a second box, and am only restraining myself with difficulty from getting a third of a different variety.

I was mightily proud of this pie. Usually I go for a more rustic (read, easier) sort of pie.
And that concludes my tour through my summer cooking. Now it is fall, and time to bake warm bread and cookies and pumpkin goodies. Wonder what I will make next?

Monday, October 27, 2014

I'm back, and I bring soup

Yup, it has been a while since I last blogged anything. Life has gotten in the way, and to be honest, Facebook has made me tired and wary of so much sharing of personal details. But I miss blogging, and this soup has inspired me - it is a soup that everyone in the house loves, and something that good has to be shared.

My dad always brings recipes when he comes to visit; we look forward to not having to cook while he is here, and he looks forward to sharing favorites with a new audience. During his visit in March, he made this one for us, and it was a big hit. It is a broccoli, bean, and pasta soup from an Italian cookbook that he bought in Florence, Italy called Cucina Rustica by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman (it looks like it is/was available here in the United States as well, if you are inspired to find it yourself). On first glance, it doesn't appear to be magical - just broccoli, beans, and pasta - but there is just something about the way the ingredients come together. Malcolm is not a picky eater by any means, especially compared to other toddlers, but he tends not to eat soup in its fully assembled state; he will eat beans, and vegetables, and pasta, and meat - just not all in one spoonful. This soup? He slurps up and asks for seconds. So do I, and I don't mind that the recipe yields so much soup that I end up eating it for days afterwards. 

I didn't remember to get a picture while it was fresh, so this is a little less soup-like than it is when first cooked, but I think you could add more broth when you reheat it, if that bothers you. I like just as it is.

Without further ado, here it is:
Minestra della Fattoria (Broccoli, Bean and Pasta Soup) from Cucina Rustica by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman. Serves 6-8. Takes about an hour.

1 red onion, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I confess to using canola some times)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 sprig fresh oregano (I used 1 teaspoon dried)
2 springs fresh thyme (I used 1 teaspoon dried)
1 bunch broccoli, chopped very fine (I use one of the bundled bunches from the grocery store that have three crowns, and use some of the stems too if they look OK)
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, undrained, or three cups cooked dried white beans with their cooking liquid
6 cups chicken stock
4 ounces dried pasta, such as elbows, broken spaghetti, or tiny shells (this time I used a mix of elbow macaroni and ditalini)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon of salt this time - the amount may vary, depending on how salty the beans and broth are)
Parmesan cheese for grating at the table

Saute the onion in the olive oil in a soup pot until it is soft. Add the garlic and saute until it turns opaque and releases its aroma, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the herbs and the broccoli, and cook over moderate heat until the broccoli is quite soft. Add the beans with all their liquid and the chicken stock. Cook at least 15 minutes, or until the soup thickens. Add the pasta and cook it in the soup until al dente. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately and pass Parmesan cheese to grate into the soup.