Category Archives: Food

Peaches, Peaches, Peaches!

IMG_1591Today our friends Judy and Paul came over for coffee, tea, and homemade brownies. Judy’s brother and sister-in-law, visiting from Connecticut, came, too. Clif and I always enjoy meeting new people, and we had a great time getting to know Judy’s brother and sister-in-law. But especially exciting for this foodie was what Judy’s family brought from Connecticut—a basket of  ripe peaches from a local orchard.  (As opposed to the not-so-ripe peaches on sale at the local grocery store.)

Now, I have a sweet tooth, and I can’t think of a single fruit I don’t like. However, peaches are way, way at the top of my list, and this Maine girl doesn’t get tree-ripened peaches very often. It is a very happy day when I do get them.

Amazingly enough, in recent years, a few peach orchards have been established in Maine. Climate change combined with varieties developed to withstand the cold have brought peach orchards to this northern state. While there have always been individual trees that have managed to thrive in select micro-climates in Maine, there were never actual orchards. Unfortunately, the local peach orchards are quite a distance from where I live, and I don’t get them very often.

How good it is, then, to have friends who have family who are willing to bring peaches to me.

Peaches, peaches, peaches. As soon as everyone left, I grabbed a peach and ate it. From the first bite, it was sheer bliss—soft but not too soft, sweet and juicy. I gobbled it down without offering Liam even one bite, and it was only when I was done that I noticed him staring reproachfully at me. He likes peaches nearly as much as I do.

“Don’t you worry,” I told him. “There are plenty more. I promise I’ll share some of the next one with you.”

And I did.

Everything Is Better with Brown Butter on It

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Yes, that is delectable zucchini quiche next to the beans with brown butter.

Well, maybe not everything, but brown butter is a culinary delight that is right up there with chocolate, fresh corn on the cob, and garden tomatoes. It is that good, and if you haven’t tried it, then get out a little saucepan and brown some butter.

It’s not hard. On medium heat, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter, but when the butter is melted, don’t remove the pan from the heat. Instead leave the pan on for about five minutes, until the butter becomes, well, brown. You will have to watch it because while you want brown butter, you don’t want burned butter. So leave the pan on the burner until the melted butter takes on a nice brown color.

Now, what to do? You could add some chopped sage, which becomes crispy nuggets of deliciousness in the brown butter. Then, you could drizzle the brown butter and sage over green beans, the way I did on Farmer Kev’s beans pictured above.

You could drizzle the brown butter and sage over pasta with sautéed summer squash and zucchini. Sweet red peppers would make a good addition to the squash and zucchini, but for this dish, I would stay away from green peppers. Too sharp.

You could drizzle the brown butter and sage over cooked carrots. Boil or steam the carrots until tender, drain, and add the butter.

What about new red potatoes? Remember the title of this post. Of course brown butter is delicious on potatoes.

Winter squash and delicata squash also shine with a drizzle of brown butter, with or without sage.

Even though we hardly eat it anymore, I’m even going to sneak in a suggestion for fish, any white fish, but especially haddock. Bake the fish at  350° for fifteen or twenty minutes, until it is flaky.  Remove the fish from the oven and drizzle the brown butter—without sage this time—over the fish. Close your eyes as you eat the fish. You will wonder, is this fish or lobster? I don’t know why brown butter on haddock tastes like lobster. But it does.

So as August wends its way to September, as the green beans continue to flourish, as the carrots grow bigger, and as the squash and peppers ripen, treat yourself to some fresh vegetables with brown butter.

Once you do, you’ll be plotting ways to use brown butter on other things, sweet as well as savory. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, brown butter is that good.

Vegetables with Peanut Sauce over Rice—and a Blooper

Before I launch into a description of this week’s recipe using Farmer Kev’s delicious vegetables, I thought I would describe a little blooper I made in the kitchen last night. All right, it was actually a big blooper. I am sharing this because I believe it’s good to admit that even those who have been cooking for a very long time can still make mistakes. (So take heart, beginning cooks!)

Here’s what happened. I had marinated tofu. I had pea pods courtesy of Farmer Kev.  Why not stir fry them together, put them on rice, and drizzle a homemade peanut sauce over it all? Then, of course, sprinkle with crushed peanuts. This I did, and how nice it all looked.

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There was just one teensy-weensy problem, which Clif and I discovered as we started eating.

“Wow!” I said. “These pea pods are tough.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Clif admitted.

“And they don’t have much taste,” I added.

Then it immediately came to me what the problem was. These weren’t sugar snaps; these were peas to be shelled. Oh, how we laughed at Laurie’s mistake as we stopped eating to shell the slimy pods. Miraculously, even though the pods had only been lightly blanched, the peas inside were cooked enough to eat.

After the peas were shelled, the dish was pretty darned good, as my Yankee husband observed. So good that there weren’t any leftovers, even though there should have been. (Clif is what you might call a good eater, especially when peanut sauce is involved.)

Blooper aside, this dish, like fried rice, is wonderfully versatile. A variety of summer vegetables could be used: Broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, green beans, carrots. Shelled peas or sugar snaps, but probably not both.

I marinated extra-firm tofu in a homemade teriyaki sauce, baked it for 45 minutes, then cut it in cubes to stir-fry. This might be one extra step that a busy home cook would rather not take. Although the marinated tofu adds a nice texture and taste to the dish, it is not an essential element. Just vegetables could be used. Leftover chicken could be added.

The vegetables could be steamed or stir-fried. If stir-fried, then chopped garlic or onion could be added for additional flavor.

So this week, I’m not going to give a recipe per se. Just cook up some rice, steam or stir-fry some vegetables, drizzle with peanut sauce, and sprinkle with crushed peanuts. And for goodness’ sake, don’t confuse sugar snaps with shell peas.

Here is a recipe for the peanut sauce. It’s adapted from a recipe from Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup of warm water (Use less for a thicker sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar—wine, cider, or rice
  • 1/4 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes (More could be added for those who like it hot.)

Directions

  1. Whisk together the peanut butter and water until smooth.
  2. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and hot pepper flakes. Whisk again.
  3. Drizzle over vegetables and rice. Drizzle over vegetables and noodles. Use as a dipping sauce for chicken. This simple but tasty sauce can be used in a number of ways

 

 

Wonderful, Versatile Fried Rice

The greens have started slacking off, at least a little, and this week in Farmer Kev’s bin I received, among other things, broccoli, cucumbers, zuchinni, salad turnips, and summer squash. I was thrilled by this bounty as it will feed Clif and me for nearly a week. (Naturally, we’ll fill in with rice, pasta, wraps, and herbs from my little garden.)

The bounty from Farmer Kev
The bounty from Farmer Kev

The first meal I’ll be making from some of these vegetables is fried rice, a dish so open to improvisation that it’s something all home cooks should have in their repertoire. A recipe is hardly needed. Take whatever vegetables you have on hand, add either garlic or onion or both, combine with rice, add a couple of eggs, and finally season generously with soy sauce and sesame oil. Minced ginger root could also be used.

I’ve made fried rice with cabbage, endamame, peas, green beans, carrots, broccoli, and peppers. The pictures below were taken a couple of weeks ago when I got carrots and sugar snap peas in my Farmer Kev bin.

I usually make a vegetarian fried rice and add peanuts to give it a little zip. However, leftover meat could also be used.

A few tips: vegetables such as broccoli, sugar snap peas, endamame, and shelled peas should  be lightly cooked first. I blanch the sugar snaps and lightly steam the rest. Carrots and turnips can be stir fried raw, but they should be started first. Next would come peppers, if you are using them. Basically, save the vegetables that cook the quickest for last, with garlic being the absolute last thing added before the rice goes in. You do not want the garlic to burn.

The most invaluable tip: When adding beaten eggs, make a large well in the center of the rice and vegetables, and let the eggs cook long enough so that you can then scramble them into the rest of the mixture. Add a little soy sauce to the rice before adding the eggs, and add more soy sauce, along with sesame oil, to the mixture after the eggs have been scrambled in. How much soy sauce and sesame oil? In truth, I don’t know. I never measure. I just shake in the soy sauce and sesame oil and taste. However, I use more soy sauce than sesame oil.

Another important tip: Have everything mise en place, as the French would say. That is, ready in place.  Before starting, cook the rice and whatever vegetables that need to be steamed or blanched.  Make sure  all the vegetables are in little bowls by whatever skillet or wok you will be using. Have the rice handy as well as the beaten eggs, the peanuts, the soy sauce, and sesame oil. Once everything is chopped and ready, this dish goes together very fast, and you want to be able to move quickly.

Everything mise en place
Everything mise en place

 

Make a well for the eggs in the rice, which has been lightly sprinkled with soy sauce.
Make a well for the eggs in the rice, which has been lightly sprinkled with soy sauce

 

Add the beaten eggs, let cook and set, and then scramble it into the mixture
Add the beaten eggs, let cook and set, and then scramble it into the mixture

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of rice, cooked according to directions on the package. (You should have about 2 cups of cooked rice.)
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced. (A small onion also could be used instead of or in addition to the garlic.)
  • 4 or 5 cups of mixed vegetables. (In the fried rice pictured, I also used garlic scapes.)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Soy sauce and sesame oil, to taste
  • Vegetable oil for stir frying

Directions

  1. Cook the rice, mince and chop the vegetables, parboiling or steaming whatever needs to be cooked ahead of time. (Don’t overcook. They will cook more in the stir fry.)
  2. Have everything in place, including the peanuts, soy sauce, and sesame oil. (For those who like it hot, a hot oil could also be used.)
  3. In a large skillet or wok, heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, start with whatever vegetables take the longest to cook, ending with the blanched or steamed vegetables, and finally the garlic. Pretty much stir the vegetables constantly so that every thing is moving around.
  4. When the vegetables are cooked, add the rice and shake in a small amount of soy sauce to give everything a little moisture. Stir again.
  5. Make a well in the center of the rice and pour in the beaten eggs.
  6. Let the eggs cook until they are set and scramble them in with the rest of the mixture.
  7. Add the peanuts, if using.
  8. Season to taste with soy sauce and sesame oil. Stir thoroughly.
  9. Serves four.

Our Gathering on the Fourth

In central Maine, the Fourth was not sunny. Instead, it was overcast, but it didn’t rain, and it wasn’t blindingly hot. Friends and family came over, and we were able to spend much of our time on the patio.

A toast with family before friends arrived
A toast with family before friends arrived

Alice brought two packages of her homemade sourdough bread, which Clif grilled. We fell upon that bread like hungry crows, and soon nothing was left. Jill brought a flag appetizer, and that, too, was promptly eaten. One thing is certain; we are all good eaters. (Jill, that semicolon is for you.)

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A sweet, patriotic appetizer

Unfortunately, as hostess, I did not have the chance to take as many pictures as I would have liked. However, I did get Alice’s salad in shells, and I am hoping a recipe will follow.

Alice's salad in shells
Alice’s salad in shells

Last but certainly not least, Diane brought lemon-curd tarts that were positively addictive. I couldn’t stop with just one.

We talked about many things—movies and the upcoming Maine International Film Festival was a big topic of discussion—but I am happy to report that we discussed the Declaration of Independence, the ratifying of the constitution, and George Washington’s reluctance to become president.

I was also able to tell a fun library story. The day before, on July 3, I was doing errands around town and listening to National Public Radio. On the way to the town’s transfer station, I heard an interview with Joseph Ellis who in his book The Quartet tells “the unexpected story of why the thirteen colonies, having just fought off the imposition of a distant centralized governing power, would decide to subordinate themselves anew. ” Ellis “argues the Constitutional Convention and creation of a viable nation-state was a top-down process, instigated and orchestrated by four prominent leaders.”

Sounded like an interesting book to me, and after going to the transfer station, I went to the library where—lo and behold—The Quartet was available.  I was very impressed that within a span of ten minutes, I had heard of this  book for the first time and then had it in my hot little hands. At our Fourth of July party, I was even able to share a George Washington quotation from the book: “I am so wedded to a state of retirement and find the occupations of a rural life so congenial with my feelings, that to be drawn in public life at this advanced age would be a sacrifice that could afford no compensation.” (It seems he was truly reluctant to become president.)

So there. Food, family, friends, and a bit of history about the founding of our country.

And, of course, beer, courtesy of my son-in-law Mike who works at Craft Beer Cellar in Portland.

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Between the beer and the Moscow and Maine mules, ’twas a very merry Fourth of July.

A Rainy Sunday in which We Drink Margaritas, Eat Salad, and Marvel at a Grasshopper

Yesterday, our friends Jim and Dawna came over for dinner. We had hoped the day would be fine so that we could eat on the patio and Clif could make his legendary grilled bread. Unfortunately, the weather gods had other ideas, and it rained, rained, rained. Not just a light soaking, but instead a downpour.

So in we stayed. Dawna brought margaritas and chips and a hot cheese appetizer. Very tasty! Even though it was more a soup day than a salad day, I stuck to my original plan of a salad meal. However, the grilled bread was out, and I made a pan of cornbread. For dessert we had homemade chocolate ice cream.

With Farmer Kev’s delectable red and green lettuce, I made a salade niçoise, sort of, using a recipe by the inimitable Mark Bittman as a guideline. My salad niçoise had, along with the lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, sliced radishes, sliced cooked potatoes, sliced tomatoes, and tuna. (Note: Tuna is overfished, and we only eat it once or twice a year on salade niçoise.) I made a homemade vinaigrette to go on the salad. Capers would have been a good addition as would have olives and green beans.

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I also made a Greek pasta salad to go with the salade niçoise. The Greek salad had mini penne, which are adorable, feta, tomatoes, Swiss chard, basil, mint, and several squeezes of lemon. It’s one of my favorite summer salads.

Dawna, Jim, and Clif are all accomplished photographers, and whenever we get together, at some point the talk inevitable turns to photography. I am the novice of the group, and I always learn something from these discussions. Yesterday was no different, and the advice I got from Dawna was “watch where you stand,” which apparently comes from the Ansel Adams quotation: “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” (In Adams’s case, he often stood on the roof of a vehicle to get his sweeping photos.) Yes, indeed. Some angles are better than others, and distance from the subject is also a concern.

I gave Dawna a few of my photo cards, including one of the grasshopper that stole the show on my most recent Wordless Wednesday post (6/24/15). We marveled at his eye, at his tiny wing, at his little black feet. “It looks like he’s wearing shoes,” Dawna said.

It’s not every friend who brings margaritas to your house and marvels over a photograph of a grasshopper. But Dawna is that kind of friend.

How lucky I am!

And for those who missed the photo, here is the grasshopper in all his (or her) glory.

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A Frying Father’s Day

I have a confession to make—Clif and I are crazy about fried food.  For several years, Clif has been longing for a fryer to make home frying a little easier. Yesterday, his wish was granted. Dee and Shannon bought him a fryer for Father’s Day.

Was Clif happy? You bet he was. He immediately put the fryer to work and made French fries and crunchy chicken for dinner. We were joined by Mike, Shannon, and the dogs. Dee, alas, lives too far away to come just for the weekend.

Clif at the fryer
Clif at the fryer

 

Crunchy chicken
Crunchy chicken

 

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French Fries

Although the fries look delectable, they were a little soggy. However, the fault was ours, not the machine’s. We hadn’t thoroughly read the instructions and didn’t understand all the settings. In short, the oil wasn’t hot enough. Next time, we will do a better job.

Still the food was pretty darned good, as Clif the Yankee observed, and by the end of the meal, both plates were empty.

Now, Clif and I certainly know that fried food qualifies as a treat and shouldn’t be eaten every day. We plan to use the fryer once a week, probably on a Saturday night. We’ll primarily make fries, but we will try other vegetables, too. Crunchy chicken will also be on the menu from time to time. Then there is fried dough and maybe even donuts, that quintessential New England treat.

I’ll keep you posted.