Keeping the Injuries to a Minimum

I have the plans. I have the tools. I’ve watched the tutorials. I’m limbered up. I’m (moderately) well-rested. Hopefully, I won’t saw anything important off.

YES…there comes that special time in every author-slash-veggie-gardener-slash-blogger’s life when a site redesign becomes inevitable. In short, I am moving to a new hosting venue and, as you might imagine, I’m not all that wildly savvy about the whole bloody process.

WHERE ARE THE GENIUSES WHEN YOU NEED THEM?

So…I’ve been kind of keeping the actual blogging to a minimum while I figure out what the heck a PlugIn is, and a JetPack, and a Theme, and a Box, and a Skin. Eeeks!

If any a’ you out there has any great advice or suggestions, I’m all ears.

What PlugIns work for you?

Any foodie-blog must-haves?

Any pitfalls I might avoid?

Otherwise, I’ll see you about once a week until I come up for air. (I WAY prefer planting and maintaining a 3,000 sq foot vegetable garden all by myself, BTW. It’s simpler and the worms are hella cuter.)

xxx

Goodnight comb and goodnight brush. Goodnight to the old lady whispering hush.

Take your boots off before you come in here!

Verbless VVednesdays

Trip in to Manhattan. Never a dull moment.

Broke, Hungover, with Guests

Just when you thought it could get no cheaper and no easier than Ramen Noodle soup.

Just when you thought there was nothing more comforting, nothing more humble, nothing better for the day you look in the recycling bin and wonder who exactly (hmm…can’t recall really…) finished that bottle of Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey, just when you thought there was nothing cheaper than a packet of 10 for $1.00 Ramen Noodles, there is Caldo Verde soup.

Caldo Verde is what I serve when the cupboards are bare, my wallet is empty, the whiskey is gone, when I’m in dire need of vegetal liquids, and my kitchen is full of guests.

Since this happens more than once per year, I’ve actually gotten to be quite obsessed with Caldo Verdo. In fact, each year I grow a whole bed of Beira Kale, the official kale used in this, Portugal’s national dish.

Bright and versatile, Beira Kale is one of my very favorite things to grow.

Beira’s nubile inner leaves are gorgeous in salads and as they continue to grow to the size of elephant ears, they are still sweet and delicious. I save the stems for juice or the odd sauerkraut experiment (which often fails miserably).

Kale kraut? Stem juice? Kale mash? What other user-unfriedly things can you do with kale stems?

If you attempt this super-easy recipe, you’ll soon realize that one of the reasons Beira is the Caldo Verde kale of choice is its flat, easy to chop leaf. None of that frilly or nubbly kale for me!

I’m so in love with Beira Kale that I use it for way more than Caldo Verde. Once you learn how to chop it (step-by-step, idiot-proof directions below), your whole attitude about the Cruciferous leaf of the Brassicaceae family will change. You will no longer boil-the-hell-out, you will forever more flash cook.

For all of you corner-cutters like me out there, there is no skipping out on your knife skills here. The only truly necessário step is cutting the kale into baby fine slices. Your CALDO VERDE WILL FAIL if you wimp out with the Henckel.

This is both a humble dish and a luxurious delight. You will find as many variations on this recipe as there are for chocolate brownies but I never switch it up from this, the simplest one. I rarely even add the chouriço and instead go pure green. I look forward to it all year and could eat it everyday for breakfast and lunch.

I prefer my Caldo Verde green and my fatty snausages on the side where I can fully appreciate them.

Olive oil is an important flavor here. Don’t skimp and use the almost-best-stuff you have in your cupboard. If you want to be super-sexy and the wallet don’t mind, as always break out the big bottle of Badia a Coltibuono.

CALDO VERDE SOUP

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
10 ounces dry or already-cooked chouriço, sliced into ‘coins’ (optional)
6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
8 cups cold water
1 pound kale (ideally Beira), stems removed, cut into very fine julienne – *see photos for instructions
Salt and pepper to taste

Step 1. Stack and roll the kale leaves into a tight ‘cigar’ shape. (Thighs of virgins optional.)

Step 2. Show your kale cigar who’s boss.

Step 3. With a patience of a saint (black mani-pedi optional), slice the kale into teensy tiny slivers.

Step 4. Admire how excellent you are at slicing.

The slivers of bright kale ‘cook’ instantly with a dousing of the hot broth.

1. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onions and cook until they are translucent but not at all brown. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the potatoes, cover with the water, bring to a boil and lower the heat. Cook until the potatoes are almost done, about 15-20 minutes.

2. When the potatoes mash up easily, lightly purée the ‘broth’ with an immersion blender. I usually leave a few chunks. Season with salt and pepper. Keep the broth piping hot.

3. Divide the finely sliced (uncooked) kale into four pretty bowls. Ladle the broth over the kale. If you want to use chouriço add it now on top like a garnish.

Puree a lot or a little depending on the severity of your hangover.

It’s nice to pump up the meal with a little of this and a little of that. More wine always helps.

Did you remember the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day?

Soup is best taken right-side-up, but not everyone understands this.

The banjo makes an evening in The Muddy Kitchen especially lovely and countrified.

Thankfully, a deep and early sleep will be had by all.

Take your boots off before you come in here!

Skinny Girls Eat Fat

I eat as much bacon as I want as long as I’m spending the rest of the day with my work boots on.

My mother is the kind of person who will look at bowl of Marcona almonds glistening under a heavy coat of oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and say, “I can’t eat those..too greasy.”

I did not inherit the “too greasy” gene from her. I think instead that I may take after my grandfathers. My one grandfather would ask for his pound of beef tongue at the deli counter “extra fatty” – a mythic request given that the “less fatty” beef tongue was already a heart-buster. My other grandfather poured half-and-half in his cereal instead of regular or (gasp!) skim milk. I recall him putting half-and-half in his ginger ale too.

Have you ever had a bowl of Raisin Bran with half-and-half? Quite the gorgeous (and fatty) treat.

Yes, when it shines, when it glistens, when it marbles, when it melts hot and solidifies cold, when some part of its name includes the word “belly” and when every doctor on the planet tells you it will eventually kill you, I want to eat it.

A fatty duck breast seared to a crisp in, yes, fat.

Fatty bacon. Fatty tuna. Fatty prosciutto. Fatty goose. Fatty duck. Fatty salumi.

Yes, I love fat.

You’ve got to love a foodstuff called, simply, Lardo.

I put thin slices of Lardo on toast or slap a layer of it on top of a roasting chicken.

What’s a country morning without an egg fried in bacon fat?

The secret weapon in The Muddy Kitchen: pancetta.

When Keith brings over a few chunks of his freshly killed venison, or a bit of the wild turkey who had the misfortune of roaming through his backyard, I’ll stare down at those sorry slabs of my neighbor’s free-roaming, marble-less animal meat and remember that fat is a precious and rare stuff. It’s a true ‘all-natural’ preservative. It makes you full. It makes you warm. It makes the food taste better.

Painfully devoid of any marbling, venison takes a beating at our house.

I think I learned my true reverence for the material when I first made duck confit from Judy Rodger’s six-page recipe-cum-treatise on the subject in The Zuni Cookbook. Buying duck legs was no problem – I went into Chinatown and paid just a few dollars a pound to take home bags of the plump dark nether-parts of recently plucked Pekin ducks.

But I had to travel far and wide to find the fat to cook it in (about 5-6 lbs). D’artagnan sells a dainty few ounces for about $5.99! If I wanted to drive an hour, I’d found a guy who’d sell me a few 5lb bags of the raw material, but I’d have to render it myself – a slightly dangerous and highly messy all-day project.

In the end I bought a frozen bucketful from my local market for about five times the price of the duck itself. I used and reused this precious stuff – through rounds of (fatty) graisserons, (fatty) duck, and (fatty) pork and gizzard confit.

I respect fat. I pay a lot for it. I’m thankful to have the good fortune of having it at the ready.

And then I fry something to a shattering crisp.

If you love fat and fatty bits, you should absolutely get the The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and spend the winter ticking off Judy’s fat-centric recipes. I make confit in batches of 12 legs but working with 4 is an easier way to wrap your head around the process. Whipping up 12 legs of confit is truly a daunting task. While confit is the ultimate fast food once it’s done, making it is not for the faint of heart.

A HIGHLY CONDENSED VERSION OF JUDY ROGER’S DUCK CONFIT

Serves: 4 (or 2 people twice)

4 whole duck legs (legs and thighs attached)
1/3 oz (approximately 2 tsp) sea salt per pound of meat
rendered duck fat, at least 2 cups of fat per pound of meat

1. Rinse the legs well and pat dry, trimming off any ragged edges of skin or fat (save these up in the freezer for making duck cracklings later). Salt the legs all over, a little more on the thick parts and less on the bony legs. Leave no bit unsalted. Arrange the legs in a single layer in a wide glass, ceramic, or stainless container, skin side down. Refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours.

2. Rinse the legs well, one at a time, under cold running water. Massage with your fingers; the flesh should feel firm. Dry the rinsed legs on a clean towel and pat dry. Test for saltiness by trimming off a bit of meat and simmering it in duck fat for 5 minutes. If it tastes too salty, rinse and dry each leg again. Place the legs on a very clean plate and rest at room temperature for an hour covered with plastic wrap.

3. Heat the fat until warm but definitely not bubbling, then add the duck legs to the warm fat. Choose the smallest pot that will fit your duck, to reduce the amount of fat you’ll need. If needed, add (yes!) more fat to submerge the legs completely. Heat the fat and legs to just below a simmer (200°F is perfect).

4. Stand by to adjust the heat, maintaining a steady temperature. Cook for a least an hour and maybe up to two. The meat should feel soft, like a roast chicken, but not falling off the bone.

5. When the meat is done, allow to sit undisturbed for 20 to 30 minutes. Using your mad tong-skills, gently lift the legs out and transfer to a glass or ceramic container, trying not to tear the skin or to disturb the liquid on the bottom of the pot beneath the fat. Skim the fat , and ladle it through a fine-mesh strainer over the cooked legs, again taking care not to disturb the gel at the bottom of the pot. Cover the meat completely — depending on the size of your storage container, you may need to melt more fat — and cool to room temperature.

6. Cover the container well, then refrigerate for at least three days to a week before using. I, in a very messy and unexplainable fashion, transfer my confit 2 legs at a time into FoodSaver bags, making sure each leg is totally surrounded in fat. I put the packs in the bottom drawer of my fridge and use throughout the year. In my experience, confit tastes the most gorgeous after at least three months.

*Yummy duck confit photo courtesy of Burnt Lumpia

LIKE if you love fat!

Take your boots off before you come in here!

Chicken of the Woods

Unlike Hen of the Woods, Chicken of the Woods is hard to miss.

You might remember my stepson, Damon, the Chanterelle Whisperer. Well, it seems he’s also the Chicken of the Woods Whisperer.

Poulet de la Woods? What is that, Jennifer?

Maybe Laetiporus cincinnatus rings a bell? No?

Well, yesterday Damon and his dad, aka my husband, were driving home from their trip to the dump (where, if you don’t know, we here in the middle of Nowheresville must go once a week to part with our stinky garbage) and they turn up the curve in the driveway toward the house and Damon spots something.

Hmm. What could that be?

Polypore mushrooms grow on decomposing trees and look like ‘shelves.’ You can’t eat the ones that grow on conifers or Eucalyptus.

With a chunk of the mystery plant matter in hand, the men continued up the driveway, walked in the door and begin banging around the bookshelves. I heard the commotion and came rushing out from my Muddy Office (where I was diligently procrastinating away posting junk on Facebook and pinning more junk on Pininterest).

My husband had gathered a few of the books we have on mushroom identification and was flipping away at the pages. Damon had that familiar glint in his eye.

He held the strange, salmon-hued chunk out to me and said, “I think it’s edible!”

Here, chickie chickie!

Now with wild mushrooms, “I think it’s edible” is a frightening term; there’s a potentially enormous price on the “I think” part of the phrase. While only 2% of the mushrooms in the world will kill you, you really don’t want to find that out over a nice plate of duck confit, a mess of mushrooms alla poison, and a fine Chianti.

It didn’t help that our mushroom identification books were published around the same time that Euell Gibbons was doing ads for Grape Nuts. The pages of the former library books had all taken on the color of spilled tea and the photos were mostly black and white. Our specimen was bright coral – certainly a key factor in solving its mysteries.

I started looking online. Damon wanted to perform a “spore test” (whatever that was). My husband took out a pair of jewelers glasses for closer inspection. And I, foolhardily, started dreaming about how this oddball thing would taste fried up in garlic and butter.

A book? What am I supposed to do with that?

While my high-powered Muddy Lawyer advises me that I must warn you not to rely on goofy sources like the Worldwide Interweb for your wild mushroom identification, and certainly don’t rely on me as a credible source, but this mushroom, we soon learned, was nearly, almost, 99% sure, pretty much absolutely not poisonous.

It was the prized culinary delight: Laetiporus cincinnatus.

More commonly known as Chicken of the Woods.

While my husband painstaking vacuumed out the stray bits of straw I left in the Suburu after my trip to Dick’s Klinger’s farm (super-super-sorry about that, honey!), Damon and I went out to gather the rest of the ginormous mushrooms at the bottom of the driveway.

Stand back and watch the Whisperer work.

Mushrooms are strange, alien creatures.

We brought the heavy basket o’ shrooms back to the Kitchen, weighed it, estimated its price on the open market ($400-600 maybe) and labored over the pros and cons of cooking up (and consuming) this strange delight.

For the remainder of the afternoon, we played YouTube videos on mushroom identification, checked and rechecked our sources, imagined both the glorious meal we could make and the painful collective death that might occur if we were wrong.

We decided to go for it.

“Just a little bit,” we all agreed.

Hauling the fruit to the house. The ‘shrooms weighed the basket down.

“Okay, so if we showed up at Dean & Deluca with all this how much could we get?”

The various recipes for Chicken of the Woods mushrooms involve cooking the thing up like chicken. Why? Because Chicken of the Woods, seriously, no joke, not in an alligator-tastes-just-like-chicken kind of way, tastes like chicken.

I read a recipe for ‘Chicken of the Woods tacos’ and ‘Chicken of the Woods Chicken soup’ and even mistakenly wandered onto the Girls Scouts website and read about a Chicken in the Woods recipe, but I just wanted to try the potentially lethal stuff, plain and simple: straight up.

So we sauteed it in a bit of olive oil and butter and tossed in some garlic to finish it off.

Does this look like chicken breast or wha?

The men cautiously had two chunks each and I gobbled up about 1/3 of a pound figuring my death-by-mushroom would come more quickly that way. In the morning I knew, if I was still alive and hadn’t accidentally killed off my family, that I’d write and tell you about it.

We decided that dolled up turkey burgers would make a perfect ‘last meal’.

We didn’t skimp on the fixin’s. It was maybe our last-ever meal, right?

Frying up the chicken…I mean Chicken of the Woods.

The men had a dainty bit of mushroom while I gobbled up a lethal dose.

Well, I am still alive and I am still swooning with delight over the wild and delicious Laetiporus cincinnatus fruiting in our driveway.

Now what to do with the ten more pounds of it for dinner tonight?

Chicken of the Woods mushroom living up to its name.

Take your boots off before you come in here!

Verbless VVednesdays

Sikkim Cucumber, you savage, crackled, thick-skinned fruit from faraway lands!   I FINK U FREEKY

I Hate Ratatouille

Ratatouille (a good one) should be bright and summery.

When a waitperson comes over to my table and explains that they “will be serving the Halibut tonight over a bed of ratatouille and a side of herbed Farro pilaf” I know exactly what I won’t be ordering. That!

I’ve had to spellcheck ‘ratatouille’ a dozen times for this post!

Ratatouille, in its conventional tomato sauce-y format, is (to me at least) Chef Boyardee at its worst – a slippery mess of overly, chunky yuck. It’s the place where vegetables and herbs go when they die. An old jar or oregano that needs to be used up? Toss it in! Some sorry looking dimpled eggplant? Sure – it’s not getting any better with age! Oh, and the eggplant is never cooked enough, which is a Capital Cooking Crime (C.C.C) in my book.

I’m sorry, waitperson, just give me the herbed Farro pilaf and keep your stinky, old halibut and…stuff.

Lots of little bowls are a mainstay of The Muddy Kitchen. These were my Mama-in-Law’s. Kitchen stuff is the most loving kind of inheritance!

Oh, hmm, what to have with dinner? Hmm

Many moons ago I had a boyfriend who was, surprise, surprise, a chef*. He was very handsome and tanned exceedingly well, but I think the thing I liked about him most was his version of ratatouille (okay, that’s not exactly fair, but it makes for a more dramatic build-up).

My chef’s version was nothing like the dead-vegetable ratatouille I was used to. Chef’s ratatouille was impeccably fresh, finely minced and his vegetables were mis en placed in many bowls so that each one could be cooked for the appropriate amount of time. Devoid of tomato sauce, it was more like a bright sauté than a soupy mess.

And it did make a beautiful bed for something else to rest on. Lamb shank Osso Bucco often made the plate.

*It is my theory that everyone should date a chef (or marry one) at least once in their lives. Its invaluable for learning knife-skills and other food-related knowledge. Then I think hairdresser, clothing designer and masseur (or masseuse) for obvious reasons. I’m just sayin’.

Real cherries are way better than sauce. My favorites are “Sungold.” If I could only grow one tomato, it would be this.

Chef’s Version of Ratatouille is perfect for an overflowing late summer garden or a gorgeous trip to the farmer’s market. This can be served on one big plate, ‘family style’, or as Chef did, plated out individually along with the rest of the meal-stuffs.

Mise en place means “everything in its place.” It’s a great way to cook and a great way to get other people to help you with the task.

CHEF’S VERSION OF RATATOUILLE

3/4 cup eggplant, finely diced (I like the peel so I leave it on)

3/4 cup zucchini, finely diced

1/2 cup peppers, finely diced (I like to mix colors and a bit of heat in, if available)

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes sliced in half (optional)

1/4 cup onions, finely diced or sliced

1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced

1/8 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp of mixed fresh herbs finely chopped (basil, thyme, oregano etc)

a few squash blossoms, if you have them, are pretty to toss about.

1/4 cup olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper salt to taste

a chunk of Parmesan cheese for grating (optional)

1. Gather each thing (aka mis en place) in it’s own bowl like a real live chef.

2. Sauté the diced eggplant in 1/3 of the olive oil on low to medium heat until it’s soft and lightly browned (about 5-7 minutes depending on how finely diced it is). Sometimes eggplant will need a little extra olive oil or a pinch of salt to ‘coax’ it to cook. Put the finished eggplant back in the bowl from which it came.

3. Add the next 1/3 of the olive oil to the pan (there’s no need to clean the pan unless you burned something) and sauté the zucchini and peppers at the same time on low to medium heat until they’re light browned but not ‘killed’ (about 3-5 minutes depending on how finely diced it is). Put the finished stuff back into one of the bowls.

4. Add the last of the olive oil, turn down the heat to low and sauté the garlic and onions until barely translucent (about 2-5 minutes depending on how fined sliced and diced).

5. Re-add the cooked eggplant, the zucchini and the peppers to the pan. Add the herbs (not the parsley) and the cherry tomatoes if using. Sauté for 3-5 minutes or when all the vegetables are equally done but not overly mushy. If you have a few squash blossoms, tear them up and add at the very end.

6. Put the vegetables on a pretty plate and add a few grinds of pepper and sea salt. Toss the chopped parsley jauntily over the whole thing. Take the chunk of Parmesan to the table for people to grate.

Serves 4

Oh, Muddy Kitchen, when will you just be…clean?

Admirable chef’s trick – wash all the dishes and wipe down the counter as you go. While we at The Muddy Kitchen often aspire to this type of professional cleanliness, we often fall short of perfection.

I love a good hunk of Parmy at the table.

Thanks for the great meals, Chef!

Take your boots off before you come in here!

The Secret Life of Potatoes

A satisfying haul!

So I love growing cucumbers. I love waking up in the morning and traipsing out to the garden with a mug of coffee in my robe and Sloggers and peeking under the prickly leaves to see what the morning dew hath wrought. I love growing beans and fighting with the Japanese Beetles (as in I ruthlessly schmush them between my thumb and forefinger) for the lion’s share of the crop. I love Fava beans and their regal, spongey pods. Tomatoes? Yes! Lettuce? But of course! Thai basil? You betcha! Acorn squash? Yes, please…

Beans, green, yellow, purple, long, fat, if you’ve never checked them out, are seriously addictive (in a good way) to pick.

But I never gave potatoes much thought. My theory was, as I told my neighbor and veggie-garden Guru, Wayne: “You can get potatoes anywhere. They have potatoes at the Price Chopper. I don’t need to grow potatoes.”

Wayne narrowed his eyes and let out the tiniest chuckle (as is Wayne’s M.O. on this sort of thing) and said, “Well, you’ve never tasted a potato fresh from the garden then.”

Down at the Sugar Shack: Wayne has his theories. About the mystery of maple syrup. About the earth’s alignment. About potatoes.

Wayne is a very smart man (we head over to his house with a blanket and a lounge chair each year for the 3:00 a.m. spectacle of the Pleiades meteor shower – about which Wayne knows everything), a very kind neighbor, and an excellent gardener.

In other words, when it comes to vegetables, Wayne knows his sh*t; so of course the very next year I grew potatoes.

It takes immense restraint not to dig up the whole patch in one afternoon.

Potatoes exemplify the way of the garden. You yank them out with shock and glee: they are perfumed with…how you say…a potato-y scent, which is quite lovely but would make a terrible name for an actual perfume: “Potato, by Annick Goutal.” Their colors are shockingly bright and animated.

A Peruvian Purple looks like an unwrapped Crayola Crayon.

“Vivid Violet” Crayola Crayon? No. “Peruvian Purple” medium-starchy potato.

A Colorado Rose is as bright as Nicki Minaj’s lipstick. La Ratte fingerlings, made famous by chef Joël Robuchon and his Purée de ratte, really do have this rat-like personality as you pull their tails from the clump of earth they cling to.

Bonjour Monsieur La Ratte!

A box of Rattes!

When an uninitiated new friend arrives at The Muddy Kitchen, and the timing is right (end-ish of summer), I take them out to The Muddy Garden and hand them a pair of gloves and a pitchfork and point them to the unassuming patch of dead-looking junk in the corner.

“What’s this for?” they ask fearfully. “I dunno…howtohow…”

I only have to show them how to unearth a potato once and they’re hooked. Fork in. Fork out. And a treasure trove of characters comes with it. Soon the whole patch is carved up and my new guest is smiling and panting and ready to take on the next garden job.

“Look, honey! I picked all these potatoes!!!” And a new gardener is born.

But mere moments after they’ve been snipped away from their living state, these bright Crayolas of the Earth fade. Their fantasy-like spectrum turns from “Vivid Violet” to a pale, purple-ish, pink-ish, ratte-ish. Life in the garden is fleeting – the perfume diminishes, the florescent color seeps out, the intensity mellows – even in the few minute walk from the garden gate to the kitchen.

But no matter how immediately they fade, potatoes are splendid gifts from the darkness below. They make everyone who digs them up happy and self-satisfied.

Wayne, as usual, was right.

…FYI, I buy my potato seed from Ronniger’s who now seems to go by the name Potato Garden (catchier?). They have a great selection but always seem to run out of my first choices before I get my order in. Order early and realize that even your third or fourth choice potatoes will be better than anything you’ve ever tasted.

When you don’t pull up the whole plant but instead just feelie aroundi for some loose ones, it’s called (like for real) ‘grabbing’.

It takes determination, a bit of impatience and a gentle soul to ‘grab’ potatoes well.

We gotcha!

We eat potatoes dozens of ways. Fresh from the garden, we often simply steam them to get their fullest, potato-y-est flavor. My dad likes to eat them raw like little apples, although I’m sure I heard somewhere that immediate and painful potato-bacterial-related death might occur from eating raw potatoes, but my dad’s still alive and kicking after a dozen or so raw specimens in July.

We cook up “Impatient Potatoes” when the potatoes aren’t ready but we ‘grab’ a measly few anyway. We’ll add a few other odd things to make a respectable dish.

But cooking potatoes always comes back to “Roasted with Garlic & Rosemary” for us. It’s like the “Our Song” of potato preparations, one that makes us swoon with love and memories of all the roasted potatoes gone by. It’s a staple in our repertoire and probably makes it onto our table at least twice a week.

Herbal abundance is one of the greatest things about having a garden. This was just the TRIMMINGS from the plants!

ROASTED POTATOES WITH GARLIC & ROSEMARY

32 very small potatoes left whole (or 16 sorta small potatoes sliced in half)

One head of garlic (or less if you plan on kissing later)

1/4 cup of medium to excellent quality olive oil

4 sprigs of rosemary

4 sprigs of thyme (optional)

1 tbsp of crunchy, nice quality sea salt

Sometimes you feel like a chunk, sometimes you don’t.

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°.
  2. If the potatoes are the size of a large marble, leave them whole. If they are golf-ball size or larger, cut them in 1/2 or 1/4. (I like to do this lengthwise because it’s cute – but any slice will work.)
  3. Toss potatoes into an ovenproof dish: a glass pie dish, an oval ceramic dish, or something pretty that can go from oven to table.
  4. Tick the sprigs of rosemary and, if you want, thyme, underneath the potatoes.
  5. Slice the top off the head of garlic and separate the cloves but don’t peel. Add the garlic cloves, ‘paper’ and all, to the dish of potatoes.
  6. Pour the olive oil on top of the potatoes. Don’t be afraid to o.d. a bit on the oil (my common refrain!). The oil makes them sensuous and decadent. I guess, if you’re on a diet (groan), then what-ever, but my personal theory is: the good-quality oil is good for you and ultimately helps you eat less and be totally gorgies all over.
  7. Sprinkle the crunchy salt on top of the whole dang mess.
  8. Pop in the oven. In about 30 minutes, check them. They should be shriveling up and getting golden and crispy on the outside edge. If they’re seriously not getting golden and crispy, then turn up the oven to 450°. Once they are getting crispy then give them a shake and scrape them around with a spatula to get the other side exposed to the heat. You may notice there’s not enough oil on them at this point. So…hello?!…add more oil! (I often skimp on the oil and the salt and get a ‘talking to’ from my husband about the subtleties of this dish.)
  9. Once they are all crispy on at least one side then they’re ready. That can take about 40 – 60 minutes depending on how many hundreds of times you’ve opened the oven door. The rosemary and thyme will crisp up too and both are delicious to munch.

Serves 4

When the kitchen’s too hot, Roasted Potatoes can also be wrapped in foil and tossed on the grill for the same amount of time.

Avoid the ‘talking to’ – get them oiled up, well-salted, and crispy.

Lamb chops often make it onto the Roasted Potato menu. Same gear (garlic, oil, salt and rosemary) but different base camp.

Once harvested, these boyz will spend the winter in my favorite room of the house, The Not-So-Muddy Pantry

Can you appreciate the lavender pedicure? I know I can.

Take your boots off before you come in here!

Verbless VVednesdays

Yes, mussels at The Breslin! Deeelicious in a bowl. And charred naan. Also great.

Ribs! Ribs! Ribs! & Ribs!

I’d frame this and put it up on my wall along with my Bieber poster.

Ribs have been one of my To-Die-For foods since I was a little girl. When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, my dad would occasionally bring home a few smokey slabs of Boykin’s Ribs.

And long after my family was finished with dinner, long after the pots and pans had been scrubbed and the dishwasher was running, long after 60 Minutes was over and my parents were in bed, I’d still be sitting there at the table  – a skinny, toothy, rib-lovin’ kid, gnawing at those bones like an insatiable caveman.

A rib-lover in the making. That’s me on the left daydreaming of ribs.

There is nothing about me that is vegetarian. I mean, I’d like to be the kind of person who can’t stand the sight of a cooked animal before her – I think that would be sweet.

But alas, I’m not so soft of soul; I like meat, I like bones, I like the carcass of the roast chicken, I like the foot of a pig – I am, at my deepest, most primal part, a meat lover.

Sorry, vegetarians; it’s food porn for me.

Since our neighbor, Keith, has taken up a hobby of building ‘artisan’ (aka welded pieces of otherwise useless junk) smokers, our summer holidays have revolved around smoked meat.

Last year’s model, the ‘Keith 1.0’ was a monstrous thing that required about two tree’s worth of wood per use and a round-the-clock team of smoker-stokers. This year’s model, the ‘Keith 2.0’ is kind of like the MacAir in comparison – lightweight, elegant as all get-out, kinks worked through, and easy to whip out when the inspiration strikes.

We’ll let you know when Keith has a few 2.0’s in production and available to the general public!

The Keith 1.0 was a hungry thing!

We smoked stuff all summer. Ducks. Pigs. Chicken. Potatoes. Corn. Onions. Eggplant. If you could Google it, I slapped it on the Keith 2.0.

Ribs? Yes. Chicken? Yes. Onions? Jury’s still out.

But it always comes back to ribs for me.

Ribs is where it’s at.

It’s kind of crazy, but except for the chopping wood part, acquiring a smoker, stoking the smoker, buying the best ribs, seasoning a day ahead of time, and waiting for hours, smoked ribs are ridiculously easy to make. Once you get your wood-smoker-rib-making set-up worked out, it will be a go-to meal for its ease, fun, and low-maintenance clean-up.

Everyone kicks in to make ribs.

Children will be given an espresso, license to operate heavy machinery, and will be required to split wood.

The following recipe uses one of my absolute MUST pantry staples: Secret Spice from North Main BBQ in Euless, Texas.

FIRST of all, Texas guys know how to smoke up some nasty-good ribs. (Isn’t that right, Voiceguy?)

SECOND of all, this stuff arrives in the mail in a Styrofoam take-out box with a hand-written note for a seriously vicarious “I just ate the ribs there” feeling.

And THIRD of all, this stuff is truly the Secret Spice of all things in your life going forward. I promise. Secret Spice is instant goodness on just about anything. I probably have a Secret Spice-added something three times a week.

Secret Spice. A game changer.

I buy the fancy, expensive kind of babyback ribs from my fancy-schmancy market for this recipe because I like them better than the average grocery store pre-frozen slabs (which seem tasteless and uselessly fatty to me). I feel like if you go to the trouble of getting your smoke-on, you might as well get the best meat.

This recipe is more of a ‘way of life’ than instructions for a specific food dish. But it’s a good place to start.

LABOR DAY SMOKED RIBS

(double, triple or quadruple this recipe at will)

Ingredients:

3 racks of babyback ribs

1 cup (about 20 shakes of the container) of Secret Spice

AMY ROTH’S BBQ SAUCE (optional)

Check out the Potluck Party Post for this delicious BBQ sauce recipe

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT

Keith 2.0 smoker, or smoker of your choice

A whole mess of wood. We experiment with a few different types of wood for different flavors. Apple wood is great. Hickory is the be-all-end-all but we use it sparingly because of its intensely woody flavor.

1. The night before… Prepare to get messy. Take out the racks of ribs and shake Secret Spice all over them. Pat them down. Leave no stone unturned. The more covered they are the more delicious they will be.

2. Store the ribs in the fridge somehow. I really like to use the Food Saver and seal the racks so that I can toss them anywhere in the fridge rather than finding space for an enormous bowl of them. I also like to use the Food Saver because I sometimes sneak an extra few racks in, seal them with their Secret Spice coating, and lovingly shove them in the freezer for future use.

3. I’m going to make this part sound way easier than it is: get the smoker going. For me, this usually involves asking my husband to “get the smoker going” and that’s that. If this was his blog instead of mine, he’d post endlessly about the finer points of smoking. He’d only make mention of the ribs and say something like: get the ribs ready.

So honestly, I’m no expert at the fire part.

But no one writes better about this kind of thing than BBQ Guru Chris Schlesinger whose legendary East Coast Grill made America salivate. Ask my husband or Chris about the finer points of wood, temperature, turning and timing.

4. Wait. Drink cocktails. Tell stories. Go down to the pond. Take showers. Open a bottle of wine. Set the table. Bug husband about the ribs. Write a few blog posts. Etc etc.

Stuff to do while you wait for the ribs to be done: Eat dessert…

…organize the fixins’

…converse…clean…do business…

…check out the pond…

…get in the pond…

…shower…check Facebook…blog some stuff…Friend some people…Tweet…ask when the ribs will be done…

5. In the last few minutes slather the ribs with BBQ sauce. This is not an absolute must but I think a lot of people are attached to the sauce part of the BBQ. Me? I don’t care – saucelessness is fine by me.

6. Remove. Let cool a bit. Ask husband to cut ribs up. Remember about other stuff you were going to cook. Ask husband to make sure fire goes out. Ask husband to save the apple wood ashes to ‘feed’ the morel patch.

7. EAT!

And at last. Labor Day Smoked Ribs.

Who wants some?

Take your boots off before you come in here!

Obsessive Compulsive Composting

If we don’t cook it, can it, pickle it, dry it, juice it or repurpose it, we compost it.

I admit it. I have OCC. Obsessive Compulsive Composting.

When I see an unused stem on the cutting board, a crushed eggshell carelessly tossed in the garbage can, or a filament of parsley left in the sink, I stop what I’m doing, I stop what EVERYONE is doing, and let out a blood-curdling, “WAIT!!!!!”

It is then, after everyone around me is frightened that somebody’s finger was about to be hacked off, that I dive into the depths of the drain to retrieve that 1/4 chunk of rotten potato or 1 inch basil stem and look at whomever is nearest to me like they are insane. What were you thinking, people?!

Why? Because “THAT GOES IN THE COMPOST!”

Sheesh.

I admit it. I am not ashamed!

As diseases go, OCC isn’t bad. It’s not like there should be a television show about how crazy I am (um…I don’t think) and it’s not like I’m harming myself or others; I’m simply obsessively compulsively composting.

Sure, I look at old vegetable peelings in California and am tempted to pack them in my luggage and fly them back to New York to do you-know-what with them. And yes, I have actually saved thousands of eggshells from thousands of breakfasts and, well, brought them with me in a carry-on. And yeah, I can’t stand being in a place where I can’t compost and simply toss out the tops of carrots like they mean nothing to anyone!

So? I just don’t feel like I have a real problem.

The new garden fence is made from Black Locust too. It’s the crème de la crème of garden fencing: there long after we’re gone.

My husband, who you’ve heard about before because, despite my idiosyncrasies, he does so many nice things for me, is totally cool with my OCC. He’s what OCC Anonymous calls an ‘OCC Enabler’. So when my neighbor’s giant black locust tree fell down in a storm last year, my husband did what any OCC Enabler would do: he got an idea.

It took him days to build the thing. Bottles of Alleve. Packets of Electrolytes. Design and redesign. He stubbed his thumb. Got splinters. Lost a few pounds in the heat. Tweaked out his back. Got six-pack biceps in the process.

Milled from my neighbor’s downed Black Locust tree and sunk into the ground a few feet, it will likely be there long after we’re long gone, after our children are long gone, after the house has fallen down, after all life forms have vanished from the planet.

A Post Apocalyptic garbage can.

If the house falls down, we can always move into the Compost Condo.

We call it the Compost Condo because it’s nicer than some apartments in Manhattan. If all else failed, you could move into it and have a decent space to move around in. You could have guests over. Invite the grandchildren.

When he was done with the Condo he built me a bench.

It’s the best gift a girl with OCC could ever ask for.

Now THAT is a composter!

Take off your boots before you come in here!

Verbless VVednesdays

Men and their toys. Loud, primal things with wheels and gears.

The quick stop at the tractor store: a must. The long stop – inevitable.

A red one? A green one? The bigger the better.

Make Sauce Like a Sicilian

I am willing to die for this sauce. Are you?

One day a few years ago, when I was feeling especially full of bravado (blame it on the Regusci ’05), I asked someone I know, a person whom I am neither identifying as a him nor a her for anonymity sake, a person of Sicilian origin, who will heretofore be referred to as simply ‘The Sicilian,” if they would teach me how to make sauce.

The Sicilian replied, “If I show you, I’ll have to kill you.”

Hahahaha! Soooo funny!

Well, y’know, it was one of those moments when you’re really not sure who’s joking and who’s not. In fact, I’m still not 100% sure. So if I end up, say, tethered to a cement block and floating somewhere in Jersey for posting the following instructions, you’ll know who to blame: a him or a her of Sicilian origin.

Tomato plants need intense root systems to flourish. I plant mine on their sides. I start ‘training’ them to their new ‘side-life’ by tipping them sideways in their pots.

Trim everything on the stem. Only their tippy tops should be showing.

The Sicilian’s instructions for sauce are as follows (the exact quantities were not revealed, so I guesstimate):

“Think of sauce as a ‘base’ ingredient: rustic and simple,” The Sicilian said to me – a lesson passed down to him (or her) for generations. “Sicilians don’t go for for a lot of extra flavors, herbs and whatnot. Just garlic, tomatoes, maybe a little basil, pepper and salt.” Think simple, I say. Think like an old Sicilian grandma. Wear all black while cooking. Speak with an accent.

“Sicilians DO NOT…” this point was emphatic, “add sugar to their sauce.” Sugar is cheating. I heartily agree.

Do not crush the garlic. It gets bitter. Instead slice it thin. (I use an inexpensive Japanese mandoline and try and get my thumb out of the way.) Saute a handful in some olive oil in a big pan. Don’t let it burn or even get toasty. Keep the flame very low.

Save the biggest and fattest of this year’s garlic for planting next year. I can never plant enough.

Slice, don’t crush, garlic for the sweetest flavor and authentic Sicilian-mama ‘look’.

Squish the tomatoes, one by one, skin and all, into the pan with the garlic. The Sicilian’s mother apparently grew fields of San Marzano tomatoes, basil and garlic in the old country. San Marzanos are my personal favorite for sauce although The Sicilian was not so regimented. “Whatever…” The Sicilian said nonchalantly. “Whatever kind of tomato is fine.” I like The Sicilian’s thinking here because it’s not too complicated. No skinning the tomatoes (which sucks the life out of the whole process) and no tomato prejudice – even yellow toms go in!

I don’t care what EVERY SINGLE nursery tells me, San Marzano tomatoes are the best for sauce.

This includes, BTW, canned tomatoes. I make this sauce when I have a gorgeous tomato haul from my garden or merely a humble can from the store. I’ve learned that this sauce is thicker and juicier when I squeeze out some of the water and seeds into a bowl before I put them into the pan. But there’s something to be said for the flavorful but thin sauce – it’s lovely on pasta or as the base for a lamb Osso Bucco.

Don’t cook the hell out of it. Great sauce still has a little hell left in.

Then cook this tomato mixture down, poking at it with a wooden spoon now and then. It should look like it’s transformed from sauteed tomatoes to a thick, saucy consistency. It doesn’t need to cook for hours – 30-45 minutes usually does the trick.

Toss in a finger full of salt, then a few grinds of pepper, then blow on a wooden spoonful of it and take a little taste. Although the following was not sanctioned by The Sicilian, I often take an immersion blender and whirl around the stuff that looks too chunky to me.

Adding a handful of sliced basil at the end of the cooking is fine but don’t add much else. When you’re preparing your tomato-sauce-based dish in the future, whatever it is, you can add further herbs and spices as necessary, but at this point, don’t get fenced it.

Be a Sicilian grandma! Wear black. Speak in an Italian accent!

I’ve ‘put up’ this sauce in canning jars, frozen it in Food Saver bags, and poured it into ice cube trays, frozen those, then stored the ‘sauce ice cubes’ in the freezer in sealed bags. Canning is probably my favorite way of storing sauce because it looks so adorable in the jars – the little specs of green peering out from the thickened sauce.

Try making The Sicilian’s sauce, will you? I need to know my life was worth something.

If you’re going to carb-out, you might as well go for the good stuff.

Take your boots off before you come in here!