Category Archives: Food

Alice’s Magic Trick: How to Make Delicious String Beans from Frozen Ones

Magic beans
Magic beans

I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of frozen string beans. Oh, how slimy they are and how I hate their texture. I would take a can of string beans any day over frozen ones, with fresh, of course, being the best.

However, this year in Farmer Kev’s winter CSA I got packets of frozen string beans. Lots of packets. (I completely understand why Farmer Kev would prefer to freeze the beans rather than can them. I would make the same decision if I were in his situation.) I’ve been using the string beans, diced small, in various soups, and this hides their slimy nature. In fact, the frozen beans are very good in soup.

Then not long ago, when my friend Alice was visiting, she told me what she had done with part of a packet of frozen string beans I had given her. “I stir fried them with garlic and oil until the beans were blistered and well cooked. They were delicious.”

Alice is a good cook, and I trust her judgement. Despite my aversion to frozen beans, I resolved to try her method. Not long after her visit,  I whipped out my trusty cast-iron frying pan, added some oil, heated it, then added some thawed beans. I let them sizzle for quite a while, say, five minutes or so, until they were nicely blistered and more than a little brown. I added the garlic during the last minute—I didn’t want the garlic to be as brown as the string beans.

And the results? Readers, the beans were utterly delicious. The slimy texture was gone, gone, gone to be replaced by a crisp, garlicky one. The beans were so good that I gobbled them up before I ate my potato and chicken, and I wished I had more when the beans were gone.

I see other possibilities for these stir-fried string beans. They are terrific with just the garlic, but soy sauce and sesame oil could also be added. The beans are great as a side, but cut a little smaller, and they would also be delicious in stir-fried rice, one of Clif’s favorite dishes and a staple in our house.

How nice for this old cook to learn a new trick, to take a vegetable I was not excited about and to turn it into something that I eagerly eat.

Many thanks, Alice!



North African Ragout

IMG_7713Thanks to Farmer Kev and his winter CSA program, I have lots and lots of summer squash and zucchini in packets piled so high there is barely room for anything else in the freezer.

Accordingly, I’ve been making batches of minestrone soup, which not only uses the zucchini and squash but also frozen beans, another item from the CSA.

Minestrone soup is good. We love it, but we also love some variety, and in the nick of time, Farmer Kev sent a recipe for an Italian ragout that used squash and zucchini, along with frozen peppers, yet again another item from the CSA. The recipe involved roasting the vegetables with garlic, blending them, adding tomatoes and spices, and cooking it some more until you have a tasty ragout to serve over rice, pasta, couscous, or whatever.

As much as I love Italian dishes—they are, in fact, a favorite—with this dish my mind somehow turned to North Africa—to cumin, cinnamon, and a little smoked paprika. Chickpeas would be added after the mixture was blended, and toasted almonds on top when the ragout was served over couscous.

So out of the freezer came the squash, zucchini, and peppers and into the roaster they went with garlic and onion.

IMG_7695When they had roasted for about forty-five minutes, I blended them with an immersion blender. However, I made two mistakes: I had not cut the squash, peppers, and zukes into chunks, and I did not let the mixture cool down enough. The result was a hot, splattery mess, where the vegetables more or less had to be mashed with the blender. Next time I make this dish—and there will be a next time—I will be sure to cut everything into chunks before roasting.

IMG_7699After the vegetables were blended, I added chickpeas, the spices, and tomatoes.

IMG_7707I put the cover on the roaster and let the mixture cook in the oven for another forty-five minutes. When the ragout was steaming hot, I served it over couscous and sprinkled toasted almonds on top. The results? “Pretty darned good,” my husband said as he went back for seconds.

Yes, indeed, and somehow the ragout managed to be smooth and spicy at the same time.

Now, I know that not everyone has a freezer full of vegetables, courtesy of Farmer Kev, but I have no doubt that this recipe could be made with fresh vegetables, cut in chunks and roasted longer, until very soft. In the heat of summer, when these vegetables abound, this dish could even be made in the Crock-Pot, starting first thing in the morning, then blending and adding as the day progressed.

Next time I make this dish, I will try the Crock-Pot method, just to see how it turns out. In the meantime, we have several meals of North African ragout, and after having used so many packets of frozen vegetables, there is even room in the freezer for a couple of Ziploc bags of ragout, to be taken out on cold but busy days.

North African Ragout
Adapted from a Farmer Kev Recipe

1lb of zucchini, cut in big chunks
2lbs of yellow summer squash, cut in big chunks
1lb of sweet peppers, cut in big chunks
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, cut in big chunks
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large roasting pan, combine all the vegetables and sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast, uncovered for 45 minutes or so until the vegetables are very soft.

Remove the pan from the oven, turn the heat down to 350 degrees, and let the mixture cool. Using an immersion blender, blend vegetables to a consistency you like. (Leaving it a little chunky works just fine.)

In a medium mixing bowl combine:

1 28oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (or more, if you like it really hot).
2 cups of cooked chickpeas

Pour over the blended vegetables, mix to combine, cover, and return the roaster to the oven. Bake for another 45 minutes and add more spicing, if so desired.

Serve over couscous or rice. Top with roasted almonds, and pretend you are somewhere warm where the air smells of spices.

Fish Tacos before Snowmageddon

Yesterday was quite the busy day filled with library meetings, a dental appointment, and stocking up in anticipation of the big storm. It seems that I wasn’t the only one scurrying for supplies. Last night, at Hannaford, the shelves were cleaned out of bread, butter, and cheddar cheese. There is something about a storm that encourages people to lay in supplies. Quite sensible, I think, and no doubt a holdover from our hunter/gatherer past.

How nice it was, then, to go to Mary Jane’s house for lunch, where I had utterly delectable fish tacos made with tilapia and served with limes, cole slaw, avocados, salsa verde, and a chipotle mayonnaise . (I can’t resist adding that tilapia, along with catfish and carp, is truly sustainable and is approved by the oceanographer Sylvia Earle.) What a terrific Monday treat to have before the storm.

Crunchy tilapia, hot from the pan
Crunchy tilapia, hot from the pan
Fish taco with all the fixings
Fish taco with all the fixings

I ate way more than I should have, and I could have a fish taco—or two or three—right now.

Today, the blizzard came as expected, and when I got up, it was a winter wonderland. Snow, snow, and more snow, but fortunately it is light and fluffy. And, as readers can probably guess, we still have our power, at least for the moment. I am hoping we will keep our power, but as I wrote in yesterday’s post, we are ready if it goes out.

Flashlights ready for action
Flashlights ready for action

In a little while, Clif and I will head outside to begin the first of what will probably be at least two cleanings. The dog will be in his glory as he jumps and barks at the snow I shovel. By the end, Liam will definitely look like a dog of the north, which, with his thick coat, is exactly what he is.

But when we come in, thanks to our wood furnace, the house will be warm. Because of my shopping, we have plenty of treats, and in this house there are always many books just waiting to be read.

All will be snug at the little house in the big woods.

A winter wonderland outside our front door
A winter wonderland outside our front door