Sunday, October 30, 2005

Stir-Fried Marinated Steak with Fried Rice, Corn and Peppers

This was a menu driven by various necessities - I couldn't start dinner until 7:30, we have no outdoor access and we have the worst laid-out kitchen ever. The stove is in the corner and the vent blows back into the room, not out onto the roof. [We live in a large one-room loft on the seventh-floor of an eight-floor building, and the kitchen is situated in one of the corners.] So no grilling and no searing or other type of cooking that could cause a lot of smoke. If we really crave steak, I'll either saute a filet because it doesn't have much fat or I'll marinate and stir fry. Sauteing (or broiling) even a filet creates enough smoke that we have to take evasive action vis-a-vis the smoke alarms so stir-frying usually wins out.

Stir-frying doesn't have to mean Chinese; I've been experimenting with marinades and sliced meat (this works well with pork and chicken too) to take advantage of flavors we like. Back when we lived in a house and had a grill, we loved a southwestern marinade with tomato paste, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, garlic, brown sugar, oil and soy sauce. So I started using it for a stir-fry marinade. I buy a nice boneless strip (dry-aged if I can find it), slice it into 1/3" strips and trim most of the fat. I whip up the marinade, and put the meat into the marinade. I'll let it sit, depending on time demands, for a half hour at room temperature or up to three in the fridge.

It's so easy I almost hesitate to write it down. Get a big non-stick skillet or saute pan, spoon some of the marinade into the pan and heat it on high for about 90 seconds, till the marinade solids are sizzling. Using tongs, lay the steak slices into the pan. When they're all in, cook for one minute and turn them over. Cook for another 45 seconds for medium rare. Here's the trick - DO NOT leave them in the pan for more than two minutes or they'll cook too much. If you are a fan of well-done steak, then two-minutes plus will work for you, but for the majority of you, medium rare takes one minute and forty-five seconds. Slices of meat 1/3" thick cook really fast. And no matter how much fat you use, it won't smoke when it's only on heat for three minutes.

At this point, I put the slices into a warmed serving dish and let them sit in a warm oven while I finish cooking everything else. Tonight it was frozen leftovers - rice from a dinner earlier this week, and corn and peppers from late summer. I poured most of the fat from the skillet that I used to cook the steak, heated it up again and added the (thawed) rice. Over almost-high heat, I stirred the rice for a few minutes, then added the (thawed) corn and peppers, and let it all cook for another four minutes. I put it in a serving dish, pulled the steak out of the oven, dropped everything on the table and had a great dinner ready in 15 minutes (not counting the marinating). My excellent husband had set the table, found a good wine and good music while I was cooking. It was a great meal, made greater by the fact it was so easy!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Apple Crisp

I'm a savory cook, not a baker. My baking experience runs to southern-style cornbread (no sugar, thank you very much), good biscuits and an annual birthday cake for my husband. One dessert I do cook a lot of in the fall is an apple crisp. My husband's late mother had a nice but basic recipe that I've been working on now for a couple of years. Hers called for just cinnamon; I added nutmeg and allspice. Hers called for a lot of white sugar; I cut it down. I also added more apples, but I never really made it work until I started using light brown sugar. What a difference! I don't normally include recipes in my posts, but I will here.

Six medium apples, cored and cut into about 1/3" slices
1/2 c water
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c light brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
7 T unsalted butter, cold

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9x13-ish casserole. Put the apple slices into the casserole and spread them evenly. Pour in water.

In a food processor, combine all dry ingredients. Cut the butter into pieces, add and pulse until the mixture looks like wet sand. It will take at least 30 seconds, probably closer to a minute. Spread the topping onto the apples and cook for 45-50 minutes.

My husband likes to eat it warm with ice cream; I like it reheated in the toaster oven for breakfast. Whatever. Just eat it!

A few notes: I don't worry about apple type. This year, I've been using whatever apples come in our farm share so I have no idea what I've been cooking with and it never seems to matter. Also, I'm going to keep experimenting with light brown sugar. Next time, I'll use only light brown sugar and see what happens.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chicken Stew with White Beans and Kale

More comfort food, but so good and so easy. Get yourself a rotisserie chicken and pull all the meat off of it, except for the wings. In a Dutch oven (mine gets such a workout), heat a bit of oil, then add the wings, chopped onion and chopped carrots. Put the lid on to get them soft. Add some chicken stock or broth, a splash of white wine or vermouth and some drained and rinsed canned white beans. Here's a step that's a bit of a pain but so worthwhile - fish out the wings and set them aside and use a handheld blender to puree the onions, carrots and beans. Put the wings back in, and add the meat from the rest of the chicken. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer for a half-hour. If you want, you could add the chicken carcass in here to really pump up the chicken-y taste.

Now add in a load of cleaned kale, torn into small pieces. You'll be amazed at how the kale will shrink, although it won't shrink like spinach would - it's too dense. But kale is a major ingredient here so don't be shy. Keep adding it and keep stirring, then let it sit over medium-low heat for about ten minutes. Remove all the bones and serve with some bread. This is a really filling dish, and so good for you! Amazingly enough, it also freezes well and makes great leftovers because kale is so hardy.

I'm considering adding a bit of spice next time I make this dish - maybe some rosemary and garlic.

Lentil Soup in a Nor'easter

The combination of the remnants of Hurricane Wilma, Tropical Storm Alpha (the name of my next dog!) and some other atmospheric conditions led to horrific weather here in Boston this week. Driving rain, incredible wind gusts and dark skies just cried out for soup! I love lentil soup and have tried many a combination of lentils, meats and vegetables. I've settled (for now) on a nice combination of some standard lentil soup ingredients (onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes) with some extras like pancetta, thyme, balsamic vinegar and fresh spinach. Plus it's pretty easy and doesn't take too much prep.

Chop up some pancetta, crisp it up in a Dutch oven and remove it. Drain most of the rendered fat, then add some chopped onions and carrots to the remaining fat and cooked until softened. I usually like to put the lid on at this point to get the vegetables nice and soft. Add some pressed garlic, bay leaf, tomatoes and thyme and let it cook for a few minutes until it starts to smell really good. Add the lentils and salt and pepper, lower the heat and let them sweat in the covered pot for ten minutes. Pour in some wine and let it simmer, then add lots of good chicken stock or broth. If you've got some parmesan cheese rinds in the freezer, throw them in. Bring it to a boil then let it simmer for an hour.

At this point, I like to stick my new handheld blender into the pot and puree some of the soup to create that really nice soupy smoothness. I'm a bit of a klutz so I have to be careful putting a super-fast rotating blade into a big pot of very hot liquid, but it's easier than ladling some of it into a blender then back into the pot!

Just before serving, add a splash of good balsamic vinegar. In the bottom of each soup bowl, layer some fresh spinach leaves. Ladle the hot soup over the leaves and let it sit a few minutes before serving so the leaves wilt. You can add the spinach directly to the pot, but that makes for slimy leftovers. Grate some fresh parmesan on top, sprinkle on the pancetta and serve, then thumb your nose at the bad weather outside.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Craigie Street Bistrot

This is a bit of a departure, but I just can't help myself. We had an excellent dinner out last night at Craigie Street Bistrot in Cambridge. It's in the basement of an apartment building in the middle of a residential neighborhood just off Harvard Square, a totally unassuming address. The room is small with windows at right at the ceiling but it's painted light neutral colors to keep the walls from closing in. There is a teeny little bar area with two tables and a very short counter that is actually a bit claustrophobic as it's right by the kitchen and the front door.

You can read for yourself the restaurant's philosophy on the website so I won't reiterate it here; I'll just tell you what we ate! I had a great, but suprisingly large, appetizer of braised boneless veal shank with veal sweetbreads, which looked and tasted like they had been very lightly breaded, in a bone marrow and Jerusalem artichoke sauce with mushrooms and fresh white truffle shavings. I ate so slowly because I just didn't want it to end. What a lovely dish. I have to say, as an American without much experience in eating offal, those 'wobbly bits' sometimes get to me, but the sweetbreads were firm enough and the combination of the shank (it was practically confit) worked. My husband had a duck-broth based soup with chesnuts, little gnocchi and confit of duck tongue and gizzards. More wobbly bits, but again not so overtly wobbly. I had a taste and it was yummy, and he stopped just short of slurping the last bit right out of the bowl.

For my entree, I had duck two ways - a confit and some sliced breast with some little carrots and turnips and parsnips in a glaze, and what the menu called buckwheat polenta. I still need to parse that, but whatever it was, it was good! Again, it was a pretty large serving for such a slavishly French restaurant; I couldn't get through it all. Although I do eat a lot more slowly at restaurants like this, where I order food I haven't yet cooked at home, trying to figure out how the dishes were prepared. Maybe I just got full because I took so long to get through it. My huband had a marinated hangar steak that was good but the rarest medium rare we've ever seen. The flavor was really good though, and it came with some bone marrow (more wobbly bits) presented in a bone about three inches long, cut lengthwise. He scooped the marrow out and ate it with the steak, and proceeded to clean his plate.

This was our second time at this place, and we'll go back, but here were a few things I would comment on - the medium rare steak was too rare, the staff was very professional but very distracted (yes it was the Friday night of Head of the Charles weekend but still), and the cloth napkins were too starchy.

Potato-Leek Soup with Kielbasa

This was a dish dictated by the vegetables we got in our farm share. I had been accumulating leeks over the weeks, was up to about five pounds and really had no clue what to do with them. I hit the recipe books and sites looking for some ideas. I also had been getting potatoes each week, so when I saw this recipe, I thought why not? I make a lot of bean soups and meat stews in the winter, and something like this wasn't generally on my radar. But it would get rid of the leeks and the potatoes in one go, freeing up space in the fridge as a bonus!

It's also easy. The hardest part is the prep, washing and chopping the leeks - what a pain. I'm no expert at this process so you'll have to figure it out yourself. Chop off the dark green stuff at the top and the root end, then slice in half and cut into one-inch pieces. Peel the potatoes and cut into smallish cubes. Slice the sausage in half lengthwise then slice into 1/4-inch pieces. Heat some butter in a Dutch oven and sautee the leeks until they are soft but not brown; if you overcook them, you'll get hot leek mush. Sprinkle flour over the leeks and cook for a few minutes, then whisk in stock (preferably homemade, of course). Add a bay leaf and the potatoes, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, then cook for no more than ten minutes. Add in sausage, then take the pot off heat and let it stand for ten minutes to let the flavors blend.

There's plenty of time while the soup is cooking to clean up, set the table, slice some nice crusty bread and figure out what wine to drink (we had a California chardonnay with enough substance to stand up to the kielbasa but not overpower the subtle flavor of the leeks). It was a very nice soup, I have to say. I did have one serving's worth of leftovers, now sitting in the fridge, but I'm not too sure how it will stand up to reheating. I'll keep this recipe on-hand in case I ever need to get rid of a lot of leeks!

Roasted Butternut Squash with Shallots and Thyme

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we've been getting winter squash in our CSA farm share, including butternut. I had made a butternut squash risotto and while good, it wasn't good enough to post here, keep the recipe or make again. But I had more squash, so I decided to keep it simple and roast it. I found a great recipe in Cook's Illustrated that included shallots and thyme, two of my favorite flavors. And it's so easy!

Peel the squash (this is the hardest part because the squash gets slippery - if your peeler is dull, forget about it), and cut it into good-sized cubes. Peel some shallots and separate the bulbs. Trim the root end and slice the top off the other end. Mince some thyme leaves. Put it all in a roasting pan, toss with olive oil and salt. Put it in a 425-degree oven and cook for 45 minutes, giving the pan a good shake every fifteen minutes. I served it with boneless chicken breast marinated in grated shallots and oil, then sauteed with some herbs. The dish is savory and sweet, makes the kitchen smell yummy and is just generally great. I'm making some tomorrow to take up to our niece's house in Maine, and I don't expect to bring home any leftovers.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

My sister is an agricultural extension agent down in North Carolina, and I was complaining to her last February about how I couldn't find a good source of local produce. She referred me to the Community Supported Agriculture page on the US Dept of Agriculture site. This is a nifty little program which hooks up farms looking for capital to people like me who are looking for a regular supply of local produce. Just plug in your zip code and you'll see a list of farms near you who participate.

Basically, you provide working capital to the farm, which the farmer uses for whatever - seeds, fertilizer, labor. Once the harvest starts coming in, your dividend is a box of vegetables. Every farm is different; some offer multiple levels of investment and the pricing is driven by market and location. My farm is The Food Project in Lincoln, MA. Back in March, I wrote a check to them for $400 for the summer growing season; in Massachusetts, that's June through late October/early November. I did the math, and that $400 breaks down to about $20 per week during the harvest season. The money I've saved not having to buy produce from Whole Foods every week for five months has been enough for a decent vacation.

Every Tuesday, we pick up a roughly half-bushel-sized box of produce. I never know what we'll get; it's not like going to the market where I can pick and choose. I do go through the box and if there's stuff I just can't stand - eggplant or beets, for example - I'll drop them in the share basket for someone else to take. I might also take something out of the share basket if someone else has gotten rid of anything good.

Then I take it home, shake off the dirt and try to figure out what to do with it all. It has required a commitment, not only to figure out how to cook stuff I've never cooked before (or even laid eyes on - kohlrabi looked like a little purple alien baby) but to build menus around vegetables I've never cooked before. My husband called it my ultimate cooking challenge, and he was right. Some weeks I just couldn't get to it all, but I tried and have made a good effort. I've learned a lot, and am no longer afraid of unknown vegetables. To give credit where credit is due, I'll say I could not have managed without Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. She has good recipes, but I generally used the book as a reference guide on how to store and clean vegetables (and sometimes to identify them!). Every Tuesday after I'd run to Cambridge to pick up our box, I'd come home, unload the contents of the box and pull out her book to help sort through it all. Just invaluable. My biggest challenge? Finding space in the fridge for everything. I need a bigger fridge!

I should also give credit to my husband, who has always been a game sous-chef and vegetable eater. He takes great prep direction, and never makes a face unless I give him permission. I know my culinary horizons have expanded during this harvest year, and I hope his have too.

Okay, I'm off my soapbox. But now you know what I mean when I talk about my CSA vegetables.

Black Bean Soup with Sausage and Sweet Potatoes

I love beans and lentils and now that it's getting chilly, I've started digging out my recipes and reading the soup sections of my favorite cookbooks to remember what we like. Tonight's soup was a new one. I've made black bean soups - who hasn't - but this recipe caught my eye. I was looking for recipes for sweet potatoes that didn't including baking or mashing, and here was something interesting!

So I soaked some beans, added a bay leaf, some allspice and some garlic, let it simmer, then added andouille sausage and a squeeze of tomato paste and a bit of worcestershire. I peeled and chopped up a big sweet potato (one pound plus), and steamed it, overcooking it a little bit. Then I put the potato in the soup. Before bringing it up to a simmer, I scooped out some of the beans and potato (avoiding the sausage) and pureed them in the blender. I put that back into the big pot and brought it to a nice bubble and let it cook for a few minutes.

It could've used a bit of green, maybe some cilantro or scallions, but the combo of the hot sausage, the sweet potato and the beans was just great. I'm already looking forward to lunch tomorrow!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Carrots with Brown Sugar and Nutmeg

I love cooked carrots, but my husband doesn't. The only way he'll eat them is with some kind of sauce, so I figured this dish out. I cut carrots into coins, then steam them. When they are about done, I remove them from heat, dump the water from the bottom of the steamer pan and put the carrots in it. I add some butter, a pinch of nutmeg and some brown sugar (light or dark depending on my mood, or whichever box is easier to get to) and sautee it until the sugar and butter are melted and the carrots are coated. If I've got other pots going, I just put a lid on the carrots and take them off heat; they will keep for ten minutes or so (just don't overcook them during the steaming process). It's an easy dish, tasty and attractive, and most people like it, even carrot-haters like my husband.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi

A couple of years ago, I read an article in the Boston Globe (good local newspaper, terrible food section) about gnocchi. I'd heard of it but had never eaten it and certainly never cooked it. It sounded interesting so I followed the recipe and boy was it good! It's not made with potato but with spinach, ricotta, flour, parmesan, nutmeg and an egg to hold it all together.

I have to say I really like the process of making gnocchi. My husband helps me, and we can get through a batch in about 20 minutes. We lay out the board his grandmother used to make her ravioli, put the batter between us, a little pile of flour in front of each of us and a spoon to dig out the batter. We make balls about the circumference of a nickel, then set them on a floured baking sheet to dry out.

We've made it many times since then, and here's my secret - really good broth. I usually use some of my own chicken stock. If I don't have enough (I use about six cups), I'll add some Swanson's organic chicken or vegetable broth. It's not even worth making if you aren't going to use a really good broth. I have had gnocchi in restaurants in with brown butter and sage, which was quite good, so I'll try that sometime too.

One of the best things about gnocchi is how easy it is to freeze. My recipe makes about 120 or so gnocchi, so we eat some (about 15 per person per serving), then I freeze the uncooked gnocchi in batches of 30 by wrapping them in freezer plastic then putting them in a quart-sized ziploc. They need about three hours to completely thaw and dry out, but it's an easy Sunday or Friday night supper. I also re-use the broth I cook them in; I just freeze whatever's left and label it as gnocchi broth because it's always got bits of cheese and spinach in it. When I go to thaw it, I know I have to strain it to get the bits out, but it's got a nice flavor to it.

I thought adding some fried sage would be a good touch, but I'd never done that before. I checked my vegetarian cook book and found some directions. So I brought some oil to a high heat in a little saute pan, and dropped some leaves into the oil. I'm guessing I didn't let the oil get hot enough or maybe I just left them in the oil too long, but they were just disgusting and went straight down the garbage disposal. I love fried sage, so I'm going to have to figure this out!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar

I'm a Southerner so I didn't grow up eating the winter squash (acorn, butternut or spaghetti) native to Massachusetts where I live now, but we get them in our CSA share so I have to figure out a way to cook them. If I'm feeling lazy, I can just cut the squash in half lenth-wise, put them in a baking dish, cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the microwave for 20 minutes or so. Let them cool a bit until I can handle them, then chop them up, put some butter on them and serve them. But that's too easy.

We had an acorn squash tonight. My sweet husband cut it in half (with a rubber mallet and a cleaver), I put them in a baking pan, covered them up with plastic wrap and put them in the microwave. When it was done, I transferred them to a little broiler pan that fits in the toaster oven and turned the little oven to broil to heat it up. I combined some brown sugar and butter and a little salt in a small saucepan and whisked them together to make a syrupy sauce. I spooned the sauce over the squash and put it under the broiler to caramelize.

It was really tasty, but I think next time, after the squash comes out of the microwave, I'll cut it into pieces, into eighths, then spoon the syrup over the pieces, then broil them. We've got another acorn squash sitting in the pantry so I'll have to use it in the next week. The squash had a nice but subtle flavor, and the syrup was a hit. Plus it was easy, and I didn't have to use the regular oven or stovetop, another bonus.

Pork Tenderloin Wrapped in Sage and Proscuitto

Holy smoke, what a great dish. I found it on Epicurious and it sounded like a great thing to do with a pork tenderloin, one of my favorite cuts of meat but admittedly flavorless without a fair amount of help. Lay out some very thin proscuitto slices, five or six for a good-sized tenderloin. Then add fresh sage, maybe eight or nine leaves, depending on your taste for sage. You could use whole leaves, which tends to concentrate the lovely sage taste into specific areas, but next time, I'll I roughly chop up the sage and sprinkle it evenly over the proscuitto. I've never used dried, but I'm sure it would be fine in a pinch. Pat the tenderloin dry, then rub some pepper (no salt) over the the meat. Place the meat on top of the sage/proscuitto, tucking in the skinny end, then wrap the proscuitto around the tenderloin.

Move it, seam side down, to a small roasting pan. I haven't used a rack yet, but I'll try it next time. The fat in the proscuitto renders during roasting, and I think the tenderloin stews a bit too much sitting right on the floor of the roasting pan. Anyway, roast the tenderloin in a 425-degree oven until the meat is about 140-145 degrees internally, depending on your taste for pork doneness. Let the meat sit for ten minutes, and the internal temperature will rise a few degrees. Overcooking a tenderloin is such a waste, so I am always cautious with temperature.

While the roast is resting, add some vermouth or dry white wine to the roasting pan and deglaze it, letting all the brown bits and the fat and the wine combine for a nice sauce. Add any liquids that have accumulated under the meat to the roasting pan. Slice the roast, being very careful not to disturb the wrapping, then tranfer it to a serving platter and pour the pan juices over the tenderloin and serve, to rave reviews.

A few notes - I won't salt the tenderloin because I've found the proscuitto adds more than enough salt. And that's another thing - don't get carried away with the proscuitto. Too much will make it too salty.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Pasta with bacon, onion, tomato and cabbage

My husband is not a big cabbage fan but I love it sliced and sauteed. We got a big head of it in the last CSA delivery, and I needed to use it. I found this recipe for pasta with bacon, onion and tomato, and it seemed like a good accompaniment to cabbage.

Chop up some bacon, maybe four slices, and crisp them up in a dutch oven (I love my Le Creuset). Pull the bacon out with a slotted spoon and drain off most of the fat, reserving it for use with the cabbage. Put some water on to boil for the pasta. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until they are nice and brown (don't rush this step; you may need to add some reserved fat), then add about some dry white wine or vermouth and a big can of chopped tomatoes, drained, or two fresh plum tomatoes, chopped and seeded. Add some red pepper flakes to taste and some salt. Cook it down over medium for about five minutes, then add the bacon back in and lower the heat to low.

Slice up a half-head of cabbage into ribbons, no more than a half-inch thick. I discard the really thick pieces because they'll never be edible, but if you like your cabbage really crunchy and like to be uncomfortable the next day, go for it. Add some bacon fat to the skillet and put it over high heat. Put the ribbons in the hot fat, lower the flame to med-low and use tongs to turn the ribbons, like you would sautee greens or spinach. Add the pasta, like farfalle or penne, and some salt to the pot of boiling water. Time it so the pasta and cabbage are done at the same time (the cabbage shouldn't be on the heat for more than ten minutes or it will get that nasty overcooked cabbage taste that no one likes). Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

Add the pasta to the onion/bacon/tomato mixture; add whatever pasta water is necessary to keep the mixture saucy, then add the cabbage. Blend it all very well; don't be shy, and add in a good amount of parmesan cheese. The trick to this dish is to blend the flavors. Don't overcook the pasta or the cabbage, and everything should be good. It's a great savory fall dish with lots of taste and crunch. It makes about three generous servings. I've never had leftovers and my thought is that leftovers wouldn't be pretty.

Chicken Stock Zen

I work from home so today I decided instead of cooking myself lunch, I'd have some cheese and crackers and make chicken stock. Really, what's not to like about chicken stock? It's cheap - chicken parts, an onion, a couple of carrots, a couple of celery stalks, some parsley, some thyme, some salt - maybe $8 worth of ingredients. And it's easy - rinse the chicken, chop up the veggies, dump it all into a big pot with a gallon of water, turn on the burner and go back to work.

Sure, you have to check on it occasionally to make sure it's not bubbling too much and skim some of the gook off the surface, but it's basically three hours of nothing. You can go back to work, watch some TV, or just stare at the friendly little bubbles rising through the stock (I did a lot of that when I wasn't working). After three or so hours, I strain it to get the big stuff out, then let it cool a bit, and skim and strain it again with cheesecloth to get the little stuff out. I let it cool a little more and divide it up into those disposable freezer containers, two or three cups each, and put them in the freezer.

A word about gook. I started making stock using rotisserie chickens from the market. I would strip most of the meat off the bones to use for something else, and use the carcass as the base of the stock. There's not much foam or fat using a cooked chicken, and I'm assuming it's because most of the fat and other liquids melted out during the rotisserie cooking process. Now I use raw chicken pieces, which results in a LOT more gray foam and shiny bubbles of fat. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Now I've got stock for risotto or soups or gnocchi or whatever! Sure, sure, I hear you - I don't have four hours to do the prep, let it cook then store it. Really? What did you do last Sunday afternoon? Or Saturday morning? I find it to be a very soothing routine, making chicken stock. I don't fuss over it but I do like to keep an eye on it because good-tasting chicken stock means good-tasting dishes down the road. It's a great thing.

Edit from later: I will say there's one thing I've always done with stock, and that is simmer it at too high a temp. I usually get about six cups of stock from sixteen cups of water, which is about half what I probably should get. So today I froze my six cups in two-cup containers and stuck a Post-it on them (which will end up on the freezer floor so I need to figure that out), reminding myself to dilute them.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Creamed Corn Stir Fry

No joke! My husband is a corn freak and a few years ago he cut out a Mark Bittman recipe from the Times for a stir fry with chicken, corn kernels (canned or fresh) and canned creamed corn. Of course I turned my nose up at it. But I held onto the clipping, out of loyalty or guilt, you pick, and finally made it last night.

Bittman never forgets the little things knowing they can make a big impact, so to set off the canned goods he included minced fresh garlic and ginger, a bit of chili pepper, sherry and sesame oil. As with most stir fries, the prep took longer than the cooking but the final dish was a good one, and my husband loved it. I personally just couldn't get away from the canned taste, so next time (and there will be one), I'll substitute fresh kernels for canned. I have some cooked corn in the freezer, and that will fit the bill perfectly. I served it over leftover rice I had, stir-frying that with a little more garlic, ginger and scallions. I topped it with some cilantro (probably the last Massachusetts native cilantro I'll see this season) and some chopped cashews.

Stir frying as a technique is a great gift to a working woman. Plan ahead, keep the ingredient count down (less prep), find another set of hands during prep, cook and it's on the table in a half hour. And it's fresh (except for the canned stuff).