Saturday, January 8, 2011

I've moved!

Hello dear readers! I've moved my blog over to another server and am using a new name. I hope you will keep reading and enjoy the redesign for 2011. See you at the new site: Community Cucina.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Spiced Cranberry Duff

Spiced Cranberry Duff with eggnog from Ronnybrook Farms

 Writing and cooking from: Rhinebeck, NY

Merry belated Christmas!! I hope you enjoyed it and cooked up some yummies with your loved ones. We certainly did and I think we're all still suffering the effects of sugar overload and looking forward to eating some salad. :)

That said, I have a dessert recipe for you. It's rich, sweet, and tart, but filled with fruit so it's just a little bit lighter than your chocolate-filled dessert varieties. It's bright red for Christmas, but would be a hit on New Year's Eve as well. Particularly if you serve it with champagne instead of eggnog...but that glass of eggnog I served with the Spiced Cranberry Duff isn't just any eggnog so you may want to get some anyway, particularly if you live in NY's Hudson Valley. The eggnog is from Ronnybrook Farms. It's so creamy it's almost custard and seasoned with just a little bit of nutmeg. It comes in a glass bottle and its bottled at the farm. And it was featured on Iron Chef Eggnog Ice Battle. Bobby Flay made a cocktail with eggnog, rum, and champagne...that might be worth a try too.

But back to the dessert itself. What is a duff? Traditionally, it's a steamed or boiled English pudding, (which in England simply means dessert). Martha Stewart makes a New England Cranberry Duff, which I modeled mine after. It's basically her recipe with a few modifications - it's thicker, uses a different type of nut, and has more spices. Like Emeril would say, I kicked it up a notch. If you're ready to try this almost upside-down cake with a fun name (duff, duff, duff), here's the recipe:

Spiced Cranberry Duff


For the berry layer:
2 ½ cups fresh cranberries
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ t. cinnamon
½ t. ginger

For the cake layer:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup flour
½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Generously grease bottom and sides (only about halfway up) of an 8x8 baking dish. Spread cranberries in an even layer in dish. Sprinkle walnuts on top. In a small bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. Pour mixture evenly over berries and nuts.

Whisk eggs and sugar until thick (about a minute with an electric mixer). Gradually add flour and salt. Beat in butter slowly. Beat until smooth. Pour cake batter evenly over berries.

Bake 45-55 minutes. Cake will be golden at the edges. Cool 15 minutes or more. Overturn duff onto serving platter.

Duff bubbling in the oven

 Local ingredients featured today:
Ronnybrook Farms eggnog, Ancramdale, NY (25 miles from Rhinebeck)
Giroux Poultry Farm eggs, NY
Cranberries (may not be local, I bought Ocean Spray brand, but they are made in the USA and in season right now)

Spiced Cranberry Duff

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bangers and Mash

Writing and cooking from: Pittsburgh, PA

Winter is the time of year for comfort food. Warm, creamy meals with gravy. Beef stew. Hearty bean soup. My Mom's chicken and dumplings. Mashed potatoes.

Bangers (or sausages) and mash are a traditional English comfort food.  It's an inexpensive and easy working class dish revived in modern English pubs.

I made this last Friday night because it was simple but heartwarming.  After a long week, my boyfriend and I were definitely ready for some comfort food and this fit the bill.

It's easily adaptable, make it with your own mashed potato recipe and your favorite gravy. I made my mashed potatoes like my Mom does, whipped up with just a bit of milk. I won't share the recipe here because this was my first time making my own mashed potatoes and I put in too much milk. They came out okay, I was happy to eat the leftovers with yesterday's roast, but there are better versions to come I'm sure. I will share the rest of the instructions for making this though.

Bangers and Mash with Onion Gravy

Mashed potatoes, prepared how you like
1-2 sausages per person, preferably traditional English bangers (I couldn't find them so used sweet Italian pork sausages)
2 T butter
1 small sweet onion, chopped fine
3-4 T flour
2 cups milk

Prepare the mashed potatoes your favorite way while cooking the sausages and gravy. The potatoes should cook in a similar amount of time to the sausages.

Cook the sausages (or bangers) in a large skillet. It will take about 20-25 minutes for them to brown and cook through. When they're done, remove the sausages from the skillet and set aside in a covered dish to keep warm. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the same skillet with the fat and juices from the sausage. Add the onions and saute until soft. Stir in the flour 1 tablespoon at the time and cook into a roux with the fats. Add the milk a little bit at a time, stirring constantly. Allow the gravy to simmer, still stirring, until desired thickness is reached. Serve the gravy over the mashed potatoes and sausages. Enjoy!

Ingredients come from:
Potatoes, Penn's Corner CSA
Italian pork sausage, Whole Foods
Butter, Horizon Organics
Sweet onion, Penn's Corner CSA
Flour, generic, not organic
Milk, Turner's Dairy, Penn Hills, PA

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Roast (in the CrockPot!)

My roast all tucked in and ready to start roasting!

Writing and cooking from: Pittsburgh, PA

I made my first roast today. It was edible. I'm proud of myself.

One thing that's become abundantly clear from my cooking adventures this week is that even though I cook often and I've been living in my own space and cooking for myself full time for well over a year, I missed out on some of the basics. I made my first batch of mashed potatoes this weekend, too (but more on that in tomorrow's post). I can make stellar coq au vin and boeuf bourgignon, but before today I'd never made a simple roast.

I've watched my Mom make them. In the tradition of many mothers before her she would often cook a roast during the winter and feed us on the leftovers for several days. It's quite handy and part of why I made the roast today - it's finals here for us in the Chatham MFA in Creative Writing program. I actually probably shouldn't be taking the time to write this post since I can't add it to the new pages I need to generate this week...but it's completely different here we go anyway, at least I won't be cooking because I'll be eating roast beef! It's all an effort to get this week properly set up...

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, the roast. I have plenty of side dish things around for this week but I knew I needed something to serve with it so I decided I'd pick up a roast or a whole chicken or something. I figured I'd go to the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning and get something there. There was only one flaw - I had a little too much fun Friday night and slept through the Saturday morning market. It happens right?

Luckily, there's Whole Foods. I found a bottom round roast on sale and it was labelled local.

I don't know exactly where it came from, but the sign above the meat case did promise that the beef labelled local is from the mid-Atlantic region. That's better than I can do at most supermarkets. The label also promised antibiotic and hormone-free meat from an animal raised on a vegetarian diet. Stuff like this makes carnivores like me happy.

While I don't  eat a lot of meat sometimes it just sounds good. My body asks for it and I give in. We can't all be vegetarians and there's nothing wrong with any diet you choose. In the winter, I'm especially fond of that meat and potatoes combination that hints of 1950s family dinners prepared by mothers like Donna Reed. My Mom made these dinners too, so it's got it's own nostalgia as well, although I made this roast quite different from the way Mom would've done it. There was no way mine would have come out the same as hers anyway so why try?

And now...the recipe:

Sunday Round Roast

2.5 - 3 pound bottom round roast
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 T fresh parsley, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup brewed coffee
 Plus 1 T butter and 1 T flour if you want to make gravy

Mix the garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub into the roast. Place roast in the bottom of your slow cooker. Pour coffee over all. Cook on high for 3-5 hours. Meat is done when tender and internal temperature is between 140 - 160 degrees Farenheit.

When the roast is done remove from the crock and let sit for at least 10 minutes to lock in all the juices. In the meantime, poor the drippings (all that leftover coffee and beef drippings into a small bowl to cool slightly). Melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium low heat. When it has melted and started to bubble slightly mix in 1 tablespoon of flour to make a roux. Once the butter and flour are incorporated, add the drippings a little bit at a time, stirring constantly and allowing the gravy to thicken after each addition. This makes a thin but delicious gravy that could also be used as dip for a sandwich with leftover beef.  If you want a thicker gravy, make a double batch of the roux.

It's that simple! Serve it with mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, rice, polenta, salad, winter squash...the options are endless. A word of warning though, it's very important to check on this and believe the thermometer rather than the time. The preliminary recipes I looked at for general cooking instructions in the slow cooker all insisted on 4 1/2 to 6 hours in the crockpot on high even for roast cooked to medium doneness. I should have taken the roast out when I looked at it, just out of curiosity not wanting to take it out, after 3 hours and the temperature was about 150. An hour later the temperature was about 180 and the meat was definitely well done. I'm a medium girl through and through so I'm a little bummed about that. The good news though is that it's moist anyway since I did it in the crockpot and the pan gravy was a wonderful addition.

My first roast. It's pinker in the picture than in life. *sigh* Next time, I will take it out earlier. It's still good though!

Where the ingredients are from:
Bottom round roast, Whole Foods, labelled local
Garlic, Penn's Corner CSA
Parsley, Penn's Corner CSA
salt, pepper, and flour, generic, not organic
coffee, Newman's Own Organic in conjunction with Green Mountain Coffee, Certified Fair Trade via Giant Eagle
butter, Horizon Organics via Whole Foods

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Spaghetti Squash with Bechamel

Writing and cooking from: Pittsburgh, PA
My first bechamel sauce
I’ve been tackling my niche pumpkin/spaghetti squash slowly. All the scooped out innards filled my 3-quart mixing bowl so if you have any recipes for spaghetti squash, by all means, share them in the comments!! I froze a bunch of it but still have quite a bit left.

Spaghetti squash, as I mentioned in my previous post, is one of my favorite vegetables. I enjoy using it as a pasta replacement. My brother makes a good spaghetti squash dish with tomato sauce that sounds appealing on a cool day like today.

Also appealing is squash with béchamel sauce. Béchamel is one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine. The others are sauce veloute, tomato sauce, brown sauce, and (another personal favorite) hollandaise sauce. Each of these sauces can be served from the basic recipe but may also be used as a base for other sauces. Béchamel, for instance, is a base for many cheese sauces.

Mastering these five sauces is essential to the repertoire of a seasoned cook or chef. I’m pleased at how well the béchamel for this recipe turned out, I was quite worried about burning the roux, but the art of paying attention served well and my roux, the essential thickening agent for béchamel, turned out rather well.

As for the other sauces, I make a good tomato sauce, but I’ve never attempted a traditional veloute or brown sauce. My mom has taught me how to make good hollandaise but I have yet to be able to replicate one without her supervision (I have the same issue with pie crusts…) Perhaps a remedial lesson when I’m home for the holidays is in order…

But back to the matter at hand, béchamel and spaghetti squash. This was delicious! At first, I used just a little bit of the béchamel and had a light side dish. But then I had a whim to add a bit more béchamel…it’s such a wonderful sauce, rich and creamy, how could I resist? It turned out to be a delightful decision that left me with a bowl full of spaghetti squash strands and sauce that were as creamy and comforting as a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Does a meal get much better than that?

I don’t think so. Here’s what to do:

Spaghetti Squash with Béchamel

Cook spaghetti squash ahead of time in preferred manner (bake, boil, microwave, slow cook…options abound and directions are available in most basic cookbooks as well as online). It varies depending on the size of the squash, also.

Béchamel Sauce

2 T butter
2 T flour
dash salt
dash pepper
fresh grated nutmeg
1 cup milk (room temperature or slightly warmed)

Set out all ingredients before turning on the stove. It’s essential to have everything at hand. Mix the flour and spices in a small bowl and set it by the stove. Measure the milk. And then begin…
Melt butter over low to medium heat. When butter has just melted, (before it burns!) add the flour and spice mixture. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes until the roux is a nice golden color. Add milk a little at a time, stirring constantly, making sure the roux incorporates completely into the milk. Bring slowly to a boil and cook until sauce thickens. When sauce has reached desired thickness remove from heat. Makes about 1 cup of sauce.

Serve immediately over warm spaghetti squash.

Where my ingredients are from:

I’m adding this new section to each post so that you know where my ingredients are coming from, what I can find locally and what I haven’t found locally just yet. None of these places give me any freebies or kickbacks. Everything on this blog is what I cook and eat for myself.

So, the ingredients:

Spaghetti squash – Actually a niche pumpkin from Pucker Brush Farm, Shelocta, PA (50 miles from PGH)
Butter – Horizon brand, not local but Organic and American made
Flour – generic, neither local nor organic
Salt – generic, neither local nor organic
Pepper – generic, neither local nor organic
Nutmeg – Not sure…Mom gave me a few cloves from the stash in her spice cabinet
Milk – Turner’s Dairy, Penn Hills, PA (10 miles from PGH)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cooking my niche pumpkin

In a long ago and far away post, I mentioned that I won a niche pumpkin at the Penn's Corner Farm Alliance CSA picnic. The gregarious giant was donated by Pam at Pucker Brush Farm in Shelocta, PA, less than fifty miles from my apartment!

So what is a niche pumpkin?

It's yellow and orange and covered in knobbly worts. When I got it almost 2 months ago, it was much greener - half of it was a dark green speckled with yellow worts. It was quite pretty and very mysterious so I let it decorate the table for a couple of months, but I assumed the absense of the green meant it was time to cook this sucker. 

Before starting out, I had been told only two things about the niche pumpkin:

1. It is a squash/pumpkin hybrid.
2. The more worts it has, the sweeter it is. 

I observed a few more:
1. It's heavy.
2. It has a hard rind.
3. It's weird looking, but I think it's kind of cute anyway.

I made several assumptions:

1. It will be delicious.
2. It will be the consistency of a pumpkin, butternut, or acorn squash.
3. It will be sweet since it has lots of worts.
4. It will take at least 2 hours to cook.

With only that to go on, I turned my oven to 350 degrees, sliced about a dozen vent holes in the gourd, put it in a casserole dish and stuck it in the oven. After about an hour, it was much more tender than I expected. Assumption #4 turned out wrong, it took just under an hour and a half until I deemed it ready to come out of the oven. 

I left it on the counter to cool for a couple of hours. It took longer to cool than it did to cook! And I didn't even let it cool completely. I was very inpatient and spent most of that time fidgeting around my apartment, doing a bit of cleaning, and repeatedly coming back to poke the pumpkin to test it's temperature.
I even cut the top off to speed the cooling process:

I was excited to cut it open. I was imagining loaves of pumpkin bread for the freezer, mashed squash with butter and pepper, maybe even some muffins or a coffee cake or a dessert of some sort. Perhaps a pie!

But when I finally got to hack it open I was a bit surprised:

It looked and tasted like a spaghetti squash!! Fibrous, stringy, like spaghetti, sweet, but not sugary just not savory...

At first, I was disappointed. So much for that pumpkin biscotti recipe I've been working on. But then I remembered that the spaghetti squash is one of my all-time favorite vegetables!  I immediately made a bowl with butter, salt, pepper, and a little grated cheese, just like Mom used to serve it. 

I've got to reevaluate my menu planning...but I have a feeling there's going to be some deliciousness coming from this niche pumpkin.

Monday, November 29, 2010

After the CSA - What's left?

Above you see my kitchen table filled with all the containers of what I have left from my CSA. I picked up my last box just under 2 weeks ago, but between things that I froze and things that have naturally long shelf-lives, I've got quite a bit left.

Here's the full list of what's on the table:

½ c blueberries
1.5 c rhubarb
6 bell peppers
6 Hungarian wax peppers
2 jalapenos
1 Carmen sweet pepper
2 c snap beans
2 eggs
½ gallon apple cider
just under ½ gallon apple cider vinegar
1.5 pounds sweet potatoes
1 pound white potatoes
1 butternut squash
2 delicata squash
1 niche pumpkin
3 onions (2 red, 1 white)
8 oz Boltonfeta cheese
1 bunch fresh parsley
2.5 cloves of garlic

Many of these items will need to be used soon, preferably before the end of the year. Since I’m heading home to my parents house for the last couple weeks of 2010, I’ll probably be bringing a few of these items with me. I’m thinking the squashes and the garlic will need to come along. The potatoes and the cider will be gone as will the cheese and eggs. But most of the frozen items will be good until at least February, if not longer.

All in all, the CSA was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I’ve made tons of dishes that I never would have otherwise. I even figured out how to eat beets in a way I can enjoy them (which is nice because they are pretty and healthy).

Mostly, though, I’ve just enjoyed discovering what grows in Western Pennsylvania and the best ways to eat it. My interest in local, seasonal food is higher than it’s ever been – it’s gone from passing interest to obsession – and I intend to keep eating locally as best I can during these winters months before the CSA begins again. The farmers around here just grow stuff that’s too delicious not to gobble it up all year long.

I hope you’ll keep coming back to see what I cook next.