Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Green Beans with Ham Hocks

Green beans with some kind of pork product are a regular visitor to our Thanksgiving dinner. My son calls them "Beans cooked until they're dead." This just goes to illustrate cultural cross pollination, as no one from New England would dream of cooking string beans for three hours with a half a pound of bacon. But, Southern Ohio, where Bob's family came from, is or was a little slice of the South, and he likes them too. I like them once in a while.
So I knew they would be pretty popular at a Southern dinner. I got the beans at the Bethesda Women's Farm Market. They were delectable looking, crisp and totally fresh. I had examined the string beans at Safeway a day or two earlier and found them slimy and not fresh. Uninspiring, in fact. This is one of the all time easy dishes. It's mainly boiling, and surely, anyone can boil. It's basically, boil beans, let them sit, and boil them some more. It is not a dish Michelle Obama would be pleased with, but, you know, once in a bloody great while, it won't kill you. Just don't make a habit of cooking your beans until they are dead. If you want to make this before all the beans are killed off in a frost, go to the farmers' market this weekend.

Green Beans Southern Style

2 pounds green beans 
1 ham hock
2 teaspoons salt
1 small hot pepper (bird's eye peppers are best). (I used a long skinny chili pepper from my neighbor's garden. Worked fine.)

1. Wash the beans, cut off the ends and snap beans in two.
2. Place the ham hock in a large kettle, cover with water and boil fifteen minutes. Add beans, the salt and hot pepper and more water almost to cover the beans.
3. Bring to a boil, cover and boil forty minutes. Add more water if necessary. Turn off heat and let rest several hours. (I have no idea what this is about. Anyone who does, please comment and tell us why the beans have to rest.)
4. Simmer thirty-five minutes longer before serving. Serve beans with pieces of ham from hock. Makes six to eight servings.

Cheese Grits Casserole

On Sunday, the YMs, our friend Tim, Bob's old colleague and friend Kathleen  and my brother George came to dinner. I decided to have Southern dinner, especially because the New England choices are kind of thin. Tim, who comes from Alabama, was especially pleased.
"I like to know what I'm eating," he said. Apparently, he doesn't always know what he's eating when he comes to our house.
Since the beans had to cook or set for hours, I started them around 2:00. About 5:00, it was time for the grits. I had had my eye on this recipe for several weeks, since I bought the grits for something else. I bought several iterations of sharp cheddar cheese that got eaten or made into some other dish. However, when I opened the cookbook, I couldn't find it. My eyes fell instead on a recipe for grits souffle. I started the grits with the intention of making the souffle. Immediately, I sensed a problem. The directions on the grits box tell you how to make various numbers of servings, not, how many cups of uncooked grits one needs to produce a certain number of cups of cooked grits.
Since time was passing, I winged it. I figured that if one cup of uncooked rice and two cups of water produce two cups of cooked rice, something like that would work for grits. It did. I put two cups of grits and four cups of water in the saucepan. Then I came to my senses . This dish had cheese in it, I said to myself.   I  looked in the index. I hadn't been able to find Cheese Grits Casserole because it was under main dishes at the end, with cheese concoctions.
I scraped the large amount of grits out of the sauce pan into a greased baking dish, mixed in everything but the beaten egg white and set it off to the side while I went to work on the fried chicken. I am not giving you the recipe because I made it once before, sometime in the 1980s. When the chicken was soaking in the milk, I went back to the grits. My husband Bob beat the egg white with a whisk. For some reason I had reached the state of malaise, or fatigue that made taking out the hand beater too much effort.  The whole thing went into the oven and came out onto the plates of the delighted diners.
My son pronounced grits much better as a side dish than as a breakfast food. I have to say I agree. The first time I encountered them was on a ski trip for teenagers in Vermont. I thought it was cream of wheat and put milk and sugar on them. Cheese and butter makes virtually anything downright tasty.

Cheese Grits Casserole

5 cups water
1 cup hominy grits (I used regular grits. I prefer not to use quick cooking anything.)
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup butter
1 egg separated
1 teaspoon salt

1. Bring the water to a boil and gradually stir in the grits. Simmer, covered, twenty five to thirty minutes, stirring often.
2. Stir in the cheese and butter until melted. Spoon a little of the hot mixture not the egg yolk, return to the bulk of the mixture, add the salt and mix. Cool to room temperature.
3 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Beat the egg white until stiff but not dry and fold into the cooled mixture. Spoon mixture into a greased baking dish and bake, covered, forty minutes. Remove cover, turn oven heat to 375 degrees and bake until top of casserole is slightly browned.
Makes six servings.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Blueberry Upside-Down Squares

Today we travel to the far northern fastnesses of Alaska to bring you Blueberry Upside Down Squares. We had a dinner party for some old friends on Saturday night. I paged through the book for a recipe that could be made ahead of time and wasn't too complicated or require chilling. In the New England section, all I have left is two kinds of plum pudding and mince pies, also Passover cheese blintzes. I'll get to the blintzes at some point, and the plum pudding and mince pies closer to Christmas. But mid September is not the time.
I finally found this, which I highly recommend. Go out to the store right now and buy the last of the highly expensive blueberries. It's a snap, and extremely tasty.
Hmm. While reading the recipe over in order to write this, I just discovered why it was so tasty. The recipe calls for 1/2 a cup of brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of butter. My eyes ran the two lines together, and I thought it said half a cup of butter. A tablespoon is just fine. However, I would advise upping the amount of grated orange peel. I needed two oranges to obtain the required 1/3 of a cup of orange juice, so I grated both the oranges and obtained two to three teaspoons of grated peel. It gave a nice tang to the pastry.
The finished product has a blueberry glaze on top, (if you are successful in inverting it over a plate and getting it to plop down neatly on said plate) and a sort of crispy shortbread on the bottom. I made the squares ahead of time. When I came to get them out of the pan, there was some resistance, so I just left them in there and served them with a mound of whipped cream on top. With all the whipped cream, it really didn't matter what was on top because the diners couldn't see it. Everyone seemed to like the squares, so I hope you will too. Let me know if you make them.
By the way, in my neck of the woods (Washington, DC) blueberries are now being sold in small containers, the size of a container of raspberries. One of these containers seems to hold about one cup of blueberries. I don't think you need to buy two containers (at $4 a clip) to get the proper effect. One will do, in my humble opinion. 

Blueberry Upside-Down Squares

1 1/2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup light brown sugar 
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg beaten
1 teaspoon (or more) grated orange rind
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup orange juice
whipped cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine the blueberries, brown sugar and butter in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer five minutes. Turn into a greased eight-inch square baking pan.
3. Cream the shortening and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and orange rind.
4. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder and add to batter alternately with the orange juice. Spoon batter over berries. Bake forty-five minutes or until done. Invert onto a plate. Cut into squares and serve warm, with whipped cream. Makes six servings. 

Cape Cod Lobster Soup

With Cape Cod Lobster Soup, I am officially finished with the lobster recipes. Unless someone in my dear family requests lobster for a birthday dinner or other celebration, I won't be cooking them again anytime soon. I like lobster well enough. We don't tend to go to places where they serve it, but I would eat it. What I don't like is killing the things. Lobsters are slow diers. In terms of drama and flailing about, they could give  Richard Burton int the role of Hamlet a run for his money.  In this recipe, the cook is supposed to leave the lobster in a shell and let the diners dig it out. So, if you followed those directions, you would have pieces of lobster shell floating around in hot milk.  I used poultry shears and dug out the lobster meat. Doing that made it seem unnecessary to buy a third lobster to get the cup of cubed lobster meat.
Lobsters, although they are supposedly in plentiful supply in the bays of Maine, are expensive. My local purveyor of what Bertie Wooster would call the finny denizens had not lowered the prices any. I just hope some of this money is going to the lobster man.
Another ingredient in the soup is pilot crackers. These are not sold in stores. If you want them, you can order them on the Internet from survivalist stores like. www.pioneerliving.net . Survivalists like them because they have a shelf life of 25 years. One could also use oyster crackers. I would say two cups of oyster crackers equals three large ships' biscuits or pilot crackers. I used Kebler crackers. They worked fine.
I served the soup at a dinner party on Saturday night, where four old friends and shellfish lovers came to talk about what people our age talk about, our trips, our kids, how messed up our past employers are, and the fact that NPR seems to have fired all their editors. The lobster soup was a hit. If you decide to serve it, take the lobster out of the shell. It's unfair to make the diners work so hard for soup. I discarded the tomalley and coral, aka lobster guts.

Cape Cod Lobster Soup

2 one-pound to one-and-one-half-pound live lobsters
5 tablespoons butter
3 large ships biscuits or pilot crackers
4 cups milk, scalded
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup diced cooked lobster meat

1. Plunge a knife into the thorax of the lobsters where body and head join, to kill them. Discard head and thorax, but retain tomalley and coral. With a cleaver or large chef's knife, cut tail and claws into small sections.
2. Heat two tablespoons of the butter in a heavy saute pan. Add lobster sections and cook, stirring, until pieces turn pink.
3. Crush the biscuits or crackers and mix to a paste with remaining butter. Mix in the milk and pour over the lobsters in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring. Grate in the coral and add tomalley.
4. Add the cooked lobster meat and serve. Makes four servings.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Quick Cucumber Pickles

For the first time in many years, we have a garden. In the high and far off times when the kids were young I had a garden at the Newark Street Community Gardens. Later, it got to be a pain, so I dropped out. But this year, Bob got some landscaper to build raised beds, and we are growing tomatoes, (which the new puppy eats!) green beans, green peppers, lots of herbs, and pickle size cucumbers. The cucumbers flourished for a while so we had a large number of little cucumbers. I made the mistake of thinking we did not have enough for this recipe, so we stopped at the Van Ness Farmers Market on Saturday and bought more pickle size cukes.
Well, suffice it to say that I had enough cucumbers to make seven pints of pickles and have some left over. It's hard, at least for me, to estimate the amount of whole vegetables I need to make a quantity of sliced vegetables. I think I can safely say that 35 pickle size cucumbers of varying sizes ( a couple were the size of a young football) is more than enough for 4 quarts of sliced cucumbers.
This recipe lives up to its name. It is quick. I started it on Monday afternoon after I got back from the acupuncturist and finished it around 11:30 that night. There was a hiatus for dinner and (gasp) TV. After never watching TV for 20 years, except for things like the World Series, I have become a huge fan of BBC detective shows. Bob and I probably watch five or six a week.
These are also tasty. I learned from the pickles I made last year (bread and butter pickles) and strictly regulated the cooking time. Five minutes should be five minutes sharp, or else you wind up with mushy pickles, which is not the idea. I also cut the amount of sugar from four cups to three cups. I feel this was an improvement. Southerners, who, I understand, like things sweet, may not agree.
This recipe also gives precise instructions for canning, so I don't have to look it up on state extension websites. You can do it in a boiling water bath, which means a giant canning kettle. Just make sure you sterilize the jars and lids and follow the directions. If you've been thinking about making pickles, this would  be a good recipe to start with.If you have never canned before, you will need a set of pint size jars, lids and bands, a canning kettle and a rack to put the jars on, and a quart measuring cup. Most of this stuff will be available in your local hardware store.

Quick Cucumber Pickles

4 quarts thinly sliced cucumbers
1 1/2 cups sliced onions
1/2 cup salt
2 cloves garlic
2 quarts crushed ice or ice cubes
4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
3 cups white vinegar

1. Combine the cucumbers, onions, salt and garlic in a large crock or bowl. Cover the top with the ice and let stand for three hours. The ice removes the bitterness from the cucumbers.
2. Drain the mixture thoroughly in a colander and discard the liquid. If desired, discard the garlic cloves as well.
3. In a large pot, combine the sugar, turmeric, celery seeds, mustard seeds and vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. 
4. Add the drained vegetables and bring to a boil. Cook for five minutes.
5. Pack the hot pickles into hot sterilized jar to within one-half inch of the jar tops. Adjust caps and rings and make sure each cap is firmly sealed.
6. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for five minutes. The boiling water should extend at least one inch above the jars. Remove the jars, adjust seals if necessary, and allow the jars to cool. Store in a cool, dark, dry place.  Makes seven pints.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Quahog Popovers

Today, Maryanne Budde, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, came to our church. I must confess, I did not have the proper attitude about her visit. I did want to hear her preach, but I was mainly gratified at the opportunity to make Quahog Popovers for the big feed the church put on between services. There is a reason for this subverting of the need to be of service to others to one's own ends. My usual readers will know that my husband can't eat shellfish ,and my lovely daughter-in-law isn't too fond of it. Quahogs are some kind of clam and hence off limits to Bob.. I just got frozen clams from the expensive fish place in Potomac,  Also, popovers are a breakfast food. We don't have that many people over to breakfast anymore. (Read none.) So, one has to take one's opportunities where they occur. And, they seemed to be pretty popular. A couple of people mentioned them to me.
I had never made popovers before, and actually, don't remember eating them. I do have a very clear memory of being at my great aunts' and uncle's house on Long Island, aged 3. My mother and I had dressed in identical seersucker suits. This was possibly the only time in my life that this had ever happened, so I was very excited. However, my glee didn't last because a popover exploded on my mother's suit, and she had to go change. So much for popovers.
Being a popover novice, I figured I should practice before inflicting my wares on the church congregation. Saturday morning, I wasn't scheduled to go riding until 2:00 so on Friday night I got out The Joy of Cooking to read up on popovers and make plain ones. The best piece of advice Mrs. Joy had was to make sure all the ingredients were at room temperature. I carefully got out the milk and eggs and put them on the counter to warm up. Another important piece of advice was not to overfill the muffin tins. Fill them three-quarter full.
Joy's popovers were a snap. Mix, pour, bake. She does have some fancy stuff with the oven where the baker starts out at 450 degrees Fahrenheit and cuts the temperature back to 350 after twenty minutes.The NYTHC omits this.  It is also important to grease your muffin tins as thoroughly as possible. I did not buy fancy cast iron popover muffin tins, because this might be the only time in my life I was going to make popovers. Standard muffin tins work just fine. If you have teflon coated muffin tins, they work better than anything else.
Even though these popovers are emphatically not gluten free, I ate three of them. Yum, yum, good.
 The next morning, I packed my Whole Foods bag with all the implements and ingredients needed to make popovers at church. Since I spent 19 years of my life as a teacher, cooking at school, this was not difficult.
The scene in the kitchen was somewhat fraught. There was a huge collection of finger food stuffs on the big stainless steel table in the middle of the room. Lou, the head of the hospitality committee was dressed in his best bib and tucker, carving up a ham. Florence, the head of the altar guild, was setting the buffet table, and Larry, the sexton, was everywhere, doing everything. I had already been informed by my husband that Florence had asked me to "pour."
"Pour what?" I asked dimly. I love Florence, and one should accommodate her where ever possible, but I like to know what my job is. The tea, child, the tea.
Florence had trotted out the silver tea set, a relic of the church's past, when it was a bastion of upper class worship. Silver is one hell of a conductor of heat, so I guess she figured it would be better for one person to burn themselves than having everyone who came up for a cuppa to singe their palms and possibly drop the teapot on the tile floor. Also it's more classy to have some one pouring the tea.
I didn't get to the popovers until the 9:00 worshipers had fed from the buffet table, and the bishop had spoken at the forum between services on the need of the Episcopal church to get its act together and decide what it means to be an Episcopalian. I appreciated that myself because what being an Episcopalian  meant to me was kind of like being a Catholic, except without all the stupid, anti-women rules that the Catholic Church has embraced over the years.
When the 11:15 worshipers trucked into the sanctuary, I greased muffin tins, broke eggs, stirred in flour, measured clam juice and dumped in chopped clams. Everything was in the oven, and I was able to be in my seat to hear the Gospel and the Bishop. Thirty-five minutes later, out they came, beautiful, golden little orbs that clung to the muffin tins and had to be pried out with a knife. Larry told me to put them in a wicker basket which I lined with paper towels, having failed to bring a clean linen towel. They looked lovely, and people seemed to like them. (By the way, I doubled the recipe and made 23 popovers.) So if you live in clamland, or particularly like clams, make sure your ingredients are at room temperature and go to it.

Quahog Popovers

6 medium size quahogs (or a can of clams, or a package of frozen clams)
1/4 cup water
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
1 tablespoon oil (don't use olive)
1/2 cup milk

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Place the quahogs and water in a pan and steam until quahogs open, about five minutes. Remove meat and chop. Reserve clam liquid.
3. Place the flour and pepper in a bowl. Add the eggs, oil, milk and one-half cup of the reserved quahog liquid. Beat until smooth.
4. Grease six deep muffin tins very well and head in oven three minutes. Stir chopped quahogs, (clams) into batter and pour into m uffin tins. Bake thirty-five  to forty minutes. Makes six or thereabouts.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pepper Jelly

Last week, in between me popping out of town to go to Pennsylvania on an errand of mercy to help out one of my old Girl Scouts who has four children under the age of four, and driving to Massachusetts to see my favorite NPR program, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me at Tanglewood, our friends Nancy and Dave brought us a handful of long green hot peppers. I consulted the cookbook to see what could be done with long green hot peppers and ran across Pepper Jelly.
The recipe makes twelve six ounce jars of the stuff. Since I practically carry jars of mincemeat in my purse in order to get rid of it, I figured I could do very well with half the recipe of pepper jelly.
I bought the green peppers and, after consulting with a young woman at Magruders', went to Safeway and bought Cubanelle peppers. The recipe is not particularly descriptive in telling you what kind of peppers you should buy. "Long yellow sweet peppers" didn't tell me much, but the Magruders' woman said Cubanelle, and I went with those. I already had the hot green peppers, although it wasn't clear exactly which kind of hot green pepper Hewett meant. (I doubt if she knew since we know she never tested her recipes.)

These are Cubanelle peppers. They are not hot. 

These are cayenne peppers, I think. Since someone just dropped them off at my house I am not quite sure what we have. However, my peppers look like these and are are very hot.

I had intended to get to my jellymaking after Bob, our daughter and I got back from brunch. However, the best laid plans got messed up when I discovered I had forgotten to buy pectin. Pectin is a naturally occurring substance that makes jelly jell. The recipe calls for liquid pectin. Ace Hardware in Tenley Circle had powdered pectin. It was nearly 6:00 by the time I got back from the hardware store, watered the flowers in front of the house and futzed around for a while.
Then I started to work. The recipe says the peppers should be ground. Those of you who  know my methods realize that the food processor has overtaken the grinder as an instrument of  household utility. So I buzzed three green peppers, three cubanelle peppers and four hot green peppers that looked like cayenne peppers. The cayenne peppers filled the air with a definite nasal cavity clearing aura. Then I buzzed half an onion and put the ground peppers and half the rest of the ingredients in a metal sauce pan. Since I had failed to read the recipe carefully, I did not have white vinegar, so I used apple cider vinegar.
The recipe says bring to a boil slowly. I set the dial at 4 on a gas stove. The peppers took over an hour to boil. Use that as your guide. It will take a while to boil this mixture if you set the stove at medium heat.
When it came time to add the pectin, more winging it prevailed. I don't advocate winging it in baking and canning, however, you just have to go with what you  have sometimes. The recipe called for one bottle (doesn't say what size) of liquid pectin. The powdered pectin container said use six tablespoons of pectin in your traditional jelly recipe. Since this wasn't my traditional jelly recipe I just had to go with the six tablespoons and hope that it would work. Warning, you need to stir powdered pectin into the jelly, not just dump it in and hope it will incorporate. When I was pouring the jelly into the hot jars, I discovered several pectin lumps at the bottom of the saucepan. Hmmmm. The jelly seemed to be somewhat, not super, jelled.
The end product was a wonderful combination of sweet and hot. The cookbook says to serve with meats (the funeral meats?). You could also serve it spread on a cracker topped with cheddar cheese or cream cheese as an hors d'oeurve.

Pepper Jelly

6 medium-size green peppers, cored, seeded and ground
5 long yellow sweet peppers, (Use cubanelle.)
8 hot green peppers (such as cayenne or jalapeno peppers.)
1 onion, ground
9 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 bottle liquid fruit pectin (or 6 tablespoons of powdered fruit pectin)
green food coloring (optional)

1. Place the peppers, onion, sugar, vinegar and lemon juice in a kettle. Bring to a boil slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
2. Boil five minutes. Stir in the pectin and food coloring if desired. Let stand five minutes, skim, stir and pour into hot sterilized jars. Top with two thin layers of paraffin wax. Cool, cover, and store in a cool dark, dry place. Makes about one dozen half pint jars.