Pancakes, revisited

It took a while, but I have remastered the pancake. I had done some really nice work in this field with our old stove, but after we moved it took an absurd amount of time to work out the quirks on the new one. Specifically the burners run a little on the hot side, resulting in an overcooked exterior and an undercooked interior. Edible after a trip through the oven, but not ideal. At any rate, I’ve figured it out and here’s a new recipe for you all to enjoy.
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Grilled Cheese

So there’s been a lot of talk going around on the inter-webs these days regarding grilled cheese sandwiches. What kind of artisinal bread, what non-gmo organic cheese, which panini press you should get…

blah blah blah

Here’s the deal: Grilled cheese sandwiches are an easy, satisfying lunch that ANYONE can do with any bread and any cheese. It is about technique. There will be no recipe. I’m here to walk you through it with some straight talk and some downright lousy photography.

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Basic Tomato Sauce

A simple, basic tomato sauce for pasta is one of those recipes, like a vinaigrette, that everyone should have available in their back pocket for an easy dinner. The one here is not necessarily for a work-night (considering the simmer time), but with a few tweaks, it can go from a simple red sauce to a meat sauce to a puttenesca in no time flat.

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Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato

Today brought us our first slicing tomatoes of the season – an exciting event in the CSA summer calendar. All the debutantes come out in their finest frippery and go to the cotillion…

No… wait… that’s not right (and it was either this or a Michael Jackson PYT/BLT joke that was in there somewhere… consider yourselves lucky). At any rate, summer tomatoes are a heavenly departure from the softballs that decorate the off-season supermarket shelves. Yes, the season is different south of the border, but they can’t ship ripe since they’d bruise and rot in transit. Generally they are exposed to ethylene to speed reddening and then shipped before they are actually ripe, which leads to bland, uninteresting tomatoes. A shame, but considering how much of a staple they can be in the American salad and sandwich repertoire, you do what you can. But the summer brings wonderful things and it becomes a whole, new ballgame.

So when our CSA released the first of the season, I had to think of a way to celebrate our bounty. Sure, a caprese salad, with fresh mozzarella and basil is a fantastic thing, but for those of you who know my wife and her addiction to cured pork, you know there was only one way to go.

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Chicken Stir-Fry with Carrots & Scallions

One of the easiest ways to get dinner on the table quickly is a stir-fry. Or it can take a while… it really depends on how you want to go about it. I like to marinade my meat (sounds dirty… really isn’t) for at least 30 minutes in the spices and sauces that I intend to flavor the dish with, but it isn’t entirely necessary. For a chicken stir-fry I tend to favor boneless, skinless chicken thighs as they have a lot more flavor and moisture than chicken breast, and they tend to stay moist, even in the high heat environment of a wok. Speaking of, it is best to do this sort of thing in a steel wok, as you can toss the ingredients really easily. You could do it in a chef’s pan, but they tend to be of a denser material and have a flatter bottom, one makes heat transference a little slower (really not the point here) and the bottom can lead to uneven cooking. That aside, this week in our CSA box we received a nice portion of scallions (or green onions for those of that bent) and our first carrots of the season. I usually use a lot more vegetables in a stir-fry, but in this case, I wanted to showcase the mild oniony flavor of the scallions and the sweetness of the carrots.

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Gimme a beet

A roasted beet is a lovely thing. A little sweet, meaty, and, well… red. Or orange, if that’s the way you roll. Certainly the taste isn’t all that different. They’re very easy to prepare, these lovely things, and can be used in a lot of different applications. I like to chill and cut them into “rustic” chunks and toss them in salads with, oh, let’s say toasted walnuts and goat cheese… or orange sections — that’d be good. Or you could slice them up and serve with steak. Beef loves a good beet. You could also pickle them, make borsht, or just serve with dill, sour cream and some potato pancakes (though the sour cream would turn pink). The one down side, and, believe me, there is only one, is that your hands, cutting board, shirt — anything that comes in contact with them will stain. Its just something you have to deal with. And it is worth it. If you’ve got an hour or so where you can just be around the house it is something that mostly takes care of itself. Just don’t fold your whites directly after you are done.

Unless you really like pink.

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Penne with Hearty Greens

This week in our CSA box we received some interesting things. Among them, garlic scapes, beets and Swiss chard. Garlic scapes were all the rage a year or so ago… the food blogging world just wouldn’t stop talking about them. If you happened to miss it, garlic scapes are the immature garlic plants. They’ve a mild, garlicy flavor that works well in many recipes, most notably a garlic scape pesto (thanks, Adam Roberts). Since last year I found it a challenge to use up all of the things I got in the box so I figured I’d use the scapes in a sauce with some of the other vegetables.

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In our CSA box this week was a bunch of rhubarb. Rhubarb’s a funny veg, tart and almost inedible unless cooked down with something sweet — classically in a pie with strawberries. But considering our first, farm fresh strawberries don’t arrive until next week (jealous?), and rhubarb can get rubbery really quickly, I wanted to do something with it now. Last year I tried a rhubarb cake that was submitted to the farm’s website some time ago and, although delicious, it was a bit tart for my tastes. So I decided to play with it a bit, adding the blackberry preserves I’d been using in my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the vegetable mixture and lemon zest and sugar to the batter. I also left out the milk… mostly because I forgot, but I figured it wasn’t too bad a mistake as it made the cake a little more like a crust — which can’t be a bad thing.

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Farm fresh

Today starts our CSA share. CSA, for those who don’t know, stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It means that  at the beginning of the year you buy into a share in a farm’s harvest and then get a box of produce every week during that year’s harvest. You also have to work a little. In our CSA, you volunteer to work for the organization by helping out on the distribution end in some way, whether it be by manning the distribution center from time to time to transporting any leftovers to charitable organizations to any number of jobs. Part of the fun is that you really never know what you’ll get until it is posted online by the farm itself – in the case of the vegetables and some fruit, Golden Earthworm Organic Farm out in Jamesport, Long Island. The rest of our fruit share comes from Briarmere Farms in Riverhead. We’ve been a member of the Forest Hills CSA for three years now and absolutely love it. In this post and many to follow I’ll be writing about what we get and what I’ve done with it. It can be a wonderful challenge and sometimes you get to try things you’d have never tried if you were just walking through the produce section of your supermarket. It is awfully fun and it is great to know you are eating some of the very best food around.

The first thing I made with our haul this week was a recipe I found online that was a variation on a standard French child’s after-school snack. Breakfast radishes on toast with sweet cream butter and salt. Now as lovely as that is… the recipe that follows turned out to be a really nice variation.

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Orange you glad I made cookies?

Messing with baking recipes is a dangerous thing. You can’t just swap out ingredients with impunity, you really have to do your research. Thankfully there’s the internet. We ran out of boxed cookies late last week and I’d been sending Ian off to school with graham crackers, which he really does enjoy, but I wanted to bake some cookies. I’d originally thought to make the standard chocolate chip cookies that I wrote about back in the first post, but Spring is here and I wanted to do something a little different. And since orange and chocolate go so very well together… well…

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