Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen


Caramelized Tofu with Snow Peas 0

Posted on April 06, 2018 by Sahar

I like tofu. There, I said it.

I honestly can’t remember the first time I ate tofu, but it was probably in Pad Thai.  It’s delicious on its own as well as taking on the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. I like to think of it as one of the great blank canvases of the culinary world.

Tofu is, in the simplest sense, boiled soya beans that are drained of their “whey” and compressed into cakes (much like cheese making). They are an important source of protein in many Asian countries (most notably China and Japan) as well as for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone else who just enjoys it.

I won’t go too much into the types and uses here (because that would require its own post), but Tofupedia is a great resource.

Another ingredient I use in this recipe that some of you may not have used, or even heard of, is Sichuan (Szechuan) Peppercorns. The pepper grows in the Sichuan (southwestern) region of China.  It is the small fruit of the plant that is dried to become the peppercorns.  It has more of a numbing rather than a heating effect in the mouth.

Though the peppercorns are now quite easy to find in any market that caters to the Asian (primarily Chinese) community, there was a ban on Sichuan peppercorns from being imported in the US from 1968 to 2005, because they were found to be capable of carrying citrus canker.  It is bacterial disease, which is very difficult to control, could potentially harm the foliage and fruit of citrus crops in the U.S. It was never an issue of harm in human consumption. The import ban was only loosely enforced until 2002. In 2005, the USDA and FDA lifted the ban, provided the peppercorns are heated to around 70 °C (158 °F) to kill any canker bacteria before importing. (From Wikipedia)

As a side note, I was able to find, with some extra digging, Sichuan peppercorns in cities where there was a Chinatown (i.e. NYC) even during the ban.

Sichuan Peppercorns.

If you don’t have access to these (although they are readily available online), you can use a combination of ground white pepper and cayenne (about a 3:1 ratio – 3/4 tsp. ground white pepper, 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper). It will have more of a heating than numbing effect, but it is a decent substitute.

I also use a rather unusual ingredient in this dish, Black Soy.  It is simply dark soy that’s been fermented with sugar to give the sauce a thick consistency and a sweet flavor very close to molasses.  it is used primarily in Thai cooking and as a condiment. You can find it in most groceries that cater to the Asian community. If you have molasses sitting in your pantry (and I think most of us do), that will work just fine as a substitute.

My well used black soy sauce bottle.

Again, I won’t go into the many varieties of soy sauce because, again, that would require its own post. However, Serious Eats, being an excellent resource, of course has a great primer on soy sauce.

The final not-so-everyday ingredient I use is Five-Spice Powder. It is Chinese in origin with primarily ground Star Anise, ground Fennel Seed, ground Cloves, and ground Cinnamon; the varying ingredients are ground Sichuan Peppercorns, ground Ginger, and ground Cardamom. It is easy to find on any spice aisle in most grocery stores. However, if it’s not something you would use regularly, I would suggest you buy just what you would need in small quantities if your grocery store or spice shop has a bulk section.

 

As always, play with the ratios and the ingredients.  Make this your own. While this is a vegan recipe, if don’t like tofu (or any other type of meat substitute), you can use chicken (preferably dark meat) or pork in this as well. If you want to keep the recipe vegan and don’t like/have tofu, you can use thickly sliced seitan (make sure it’s plain). I’d even try this dish with shiitake mushrooms. Hmm…

As a final note before getting into the actual recipe, I have to credit the great Deborah Madison for giving me the inspiration for this dish. It is, admittedly, a variation on a dish from her book This Can’t Be Tofu. I’ve modified the recipe for my own tastes, but her original recipe is definitely worth a try. Plus, the book is a lot of fun. It’s been one of my go-to books for almost 20 years.

 

Now, on to the recipe:

The Ingredients:

The Ingredients

1 lb. Snow Peas, stringed

While the stem & string of the snow pea is edible, the texture leaves something to be desired. so, I prefer to string the peas.

To string, pinch the stem end of the pea and gently pull down along the straight side.

Stringed snow pea. Simply discard or compost the stem & string.

1 lb. extra firm Tofu, cut into 8 large pieces and drained

Draining & weighing down the tofu. I like to compress it as I drain to get a denser texture. I really only recommend this method with firm or extra firm tofu.

Vegetable, grapeseed, peanut, or coconut oil for frying

 

Caramel Sauce

Sauce Ingredients from top left: chili oil, black soy sauce, vegetable broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, five-spice powder, sesame oil, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic

3 tbsp. Black Soy Sauce or Molasses

3 tbsp. Soy Sauce (I generally use a dark soy; it’s slightly thicker and less salty)

2 tsp. Sesame Oil

2 tsp. Chili Oil

2 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. Five-Spice Powder

1 tsp. Sichuan Peppercorns, ground

After grinding.

3 cloves Garlic, minced (approx. 1 tbsp.)

1 tbsp. minced Ginger

2 tbsp. Vegetable Broth or Water

 

After you have drained the tofu, cut it into serving size pieces.  (Whatever size you like. As you can see in the ingredients photo, I’ve cut it into large triangles.) Set aside.

Mix together the caramel sauce ingredients – except the vegetable broth or water – in a small bowl.  Set aside.

The caramel sauce ingredients ready to go.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, add in enough oil to fill it up to 1/4″ deep.  Test the heat of the oil (since it is relatively shallow) by adding a small piece of the tofu to the skillet; if it immediately sizzles, the oil is hot enough.

Frying the tofu. Be sure not to overcrowd the skillet. Not only will the tofu become greasy because the temperature of the skillet will be too low, tofu likes to stick together making it difficult to cook evenly or turn over in the oil.

Add the tofu, in batches (you don’t want to overcrowd the skillet), and fry on both sides until the tofu is a nice golden brown.  Drain the tofu on paper towels and set aside.

Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the skillet. (Be sure to carefully wipe off any oil that spills down the sides and bottom of the skillet if necessary.)  Place the skillet back on the heat and turn it up to medium-high.

Add the garlic and ginger and quickly cook for about 30 seconds.  Add the snow peas and stir constantly until they are cooked through and lightly softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat, place the snow peas in a bowl, and set aside.

Cooking the snow peas with the garlic & ginger.

Turn the heat back down to medium, add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet, and add the caramel sauce mix.  Stir constantly and cook until the syrup begins to thicken, about 2-3 minutes. (Take care to be sure the sauce doesn’t burn.) Add the vegetable broth or water and stir together.

Cooking the caramel sauce. Be sure to stir constantly so it doesn’t burn. You just want it to thicken slightly.

Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the tofu to the caramel sauce.  Toss in the sauce until it becomes coated.

Cooking the tofu in the caramel sauce.

Add in the snow peas to the skillet and continue tossing until everything is coated in the sauce and is heated through.

Adding the snow peas.

Serve immediately over rice (brown or white), noodles, any whatever grain you prefer.

Enjoy!

Makdous لمكدوس‎‎ا – Stuffed & Preserved Eggplant 1

Posted on September 15, 2017 by Sahar

As I have stated before in this blog, I’m not a fan of eggplant.  I don’t care for the taste, texture, and several bad experiences as a child have all left me wary of this particular nightshade.  However, over the years I have come to appreciate eggplant in two – YES! – two dishes; Baba Ghannouj and Makdous.

Makdous is ubiquitous all over the Middle East. It can be eaten for breakfast (the most common way) or as a mezze.

I’ve been searching for an actual origin story for this dish, but haven’t been able to find one.  No doubt it came, like most preserved foods, out of sheer necessity to get people through until the next harvest.

There is an odd alchemy that happens with Makdous during the preservation process. While it is generally known that you don’t store raw garlic in olive oil, especially at room temperature, it seems to work just fine in this recipe.  It could be the mixture of the nuts, salt, and pepper along with the alkaline nature of the eggplant.  You can store Makdous in the refrigerator or at room temperature in the pantry (as I’ve always seen my dad do).

There are several ways Makdous can be prepared.  One constant is the eggplant should be blanched and drained before stuffing. Some drain the eggplant by stuffing it first, placing it in the jar, then turning the jar over to let the liquid drain out; others will cut a slit in the eggplant, lay it slit side down, then let it drain overnight.  I use the latter method. (There is only one time I’ve seen a recipe that simply salted the eggplant and let it drain without cooking.)  Always use small or baby eggplant.  The baby eggplant will be more tender, sweeter, and less apt to be bitter.  You’ll be able to find baby eggplant in abundance in any grocery that caters to the Middle Eastern community or, if you’re lucky, at the local farmers market or farm stand during the growing season. (In central Texas, we have eggplant from roughly June through the first frost in late October/early November.)  There are also, of course, ingredient variations.  Some will use pepper paste (like harissa), a combination of sweet & hot peppers, cayenne, parsley, lemon, chili powder, Feta cheese (although they don’t last as long), cilantro (coriander), pecans, and pomegranate seeds.  The constants are always eggplant, walnuts, and salt.

This recipe was written in consultation with and advice from my dad.  He is a Makdous connoisseur and, along with my mom, has made Makdous in the past. I just hope he likes this batch once I get a jar to him.

 

The ingredients.

Japanese Eggplant.

“Dancer” eggplant. This is what I used in the recipe. I got the smallest ones I could find.

2 lbs. baby eggplant or small Japanese eggplant

3 1/2 c. walnuts, chopped

15 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 tsp. Kosher or sea salt, or to taste

Olive Oil as needed

2 – 3 ea. quart-sized Mason ® jars with lids & rims, cleaned

 

Trim the tops of the eggplant, leaving the caps on.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the eggplants to the boiling water, turn off the heat, and let the eggplant sit in the water for 10 minutes. (I like to put a small plate on top of the eggplant to keep it submerged.)

Weighing down the eggplant.

After 10 minutes, drain the eggplant.  Once it is cool enough to handle, cut a slit in one side (not all the way through and try to leave about 1″ at each end uncut).  Lay the eggplant on a rack, cut side down, and let drain overnight.

The cut eggplant. Sadly, no. It doesn’t keep its color.

Draining the eggplant. Some people will weigh the eggplant down at this point to drain out as much liquid as possible. I generally don’t; it’s up to you.

The next day, mix together the walnuts, garlic, pepper flakes, and salt.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as you like.

The stuffing. It’s almost like a nut pesto.

Fill each eggplant with some of the stuffing.  You want to get as much as you can in the eggplant without splitting them.  (You may have some stuffing left over; that’s OK.  It actually goes great on pasta or spread on a good crusty piece of bread.)

The (over) stuffed eggplant.

Place as many of the stuffed eggplant as you can in a Mason Jar with minimal crushing.  Slowly add the olive oil to cover the eggplant.  Set the jars on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a thick layer of paper towels or a dish towel you don’t really care about.  Place the lid (only!) on the top of the jar.  Place the baking sheet with the jars in a cool, dark place and let sit for 1 week.

The Makdous ready for preserving. Note how it’s just the lid on the jar, not the rim. You want to allow the moisture to escape.

There will be some overflow from the jars.  This is due to the moisture (mainly water) escaping and overflowing the jar.  Simply check to be sure the oil is covering everything in the jar.

After 3 days. Notice how yellow the towels are. That’s the excess moisture and some olive oil escaping the jar. You may also see some bubbles. This is from the water and air escaping and it’s normal.

After 1 week, carefully clean off the rim of the jar, tighten the lid with the rim, and wash off any oil residue off the jar.

I believe this is after 10 days. (We went on vacation.) I cleaned off the rim of the jar, put on the lid rims, then washed the residue off the jars.

The Makdous is now ready to eat.  You can store it in the refrigerator (just let it come to room temperature before eating) or in a cool, dark pantry for up to one year as long as the contents are always covered in olive oil and the lid & rim are sealed tightly.

I personally like Makdous on a good cracker.

 

Sahtein! صحتين!

 

Pickled Okra 0

Posted on June 19, 2017 by Sahar

 

Pickled Okra. Big and little.

Here in Central Texas, okra season is in full swing. Because the growing season here is so long, okra is essentially available from June through roughly October or until the first frost.

Pickled okra is a great Texas, and throughout the southern US, food tradition.  Every southern grandma seems to have a recipe.

People either love or hate okra. The main complaint about okra is the “slime” factor.  The slime is called “mucilage” (sounds gross, I know).  It is the result of protein and carbohydrates in the okra pods and leaves.  If you’ve ever had a thick gumbo, thank the mucilage.  When the pods are cut and cooked with liquid, the okra tends to become slimy.  The way to avoid this is to cook the okra whole; the best way to do this is over direct heat and pan roast (this is delicious, by the way).

There is a subtle yet distinct difference between pickling and fermentation.  Pickling is the process of preserving food in a highly acidic medium (usually vinegar).  Fermentation generally starts with salt as a starter and allows what is being fermented to create its own acidic liquid (lactic acid).  Fermentation is generally considered the healthier of the two processes because the lactic acid helps with the digestive process.

In short, pickling is controlled preservation while fermentation is controlled rot (but in a good way).

**************

A few notes on the recipe:

  1.  The type of okra I use in the recipe is called Emerald King.  It is more tender and less stringy than other types of okra.  While you can use any type of okra you prefer or have access to, I’ve used this because it’s what Carol Ann grows at Boggy Creek Farm.
  2. The reason pickling salt is used is to help draw moisture from the item being pickled.  It is a very fine grain pure salt that contains no iodine or anti-caking additives.  If needed, you can use kosher salt (but be sure it is pure). Because table salt contains additives, you shouldn’t use it in pickling or fermenting.
  3. Another way to help keep your pickles from becoming mushy over time (and they will as the initial heating as well as the acidic environment chemically cooking your pickles), you can use either fig or grape leaves.  These leaves contain natural alum that help to draw moisture from the pickles. You can also use up to 1/4 teaspoon of alum per quart of liquid if fresh leaves are not available.
  4. You can also use half & half white/apple cider vinegar or all white vinegar if you prefer.  Just be sure you use 5% acidity vinegar.  There is 9% white vinegar available (mainly in Texas and parts of the South), but it is used mainly for cleaning, not food.  Be sure to look at the label carefully.
  5. While I have included a pickling spice recipe, you can adjust this one to your taste or use whatever pickling spice blend you prefer.

 

The Ingredients

 

6 1-pint regular-mouth jars with lids and rims, washed

Pickling Spice:

1 tbsp. Red Pepper Flakes

1 tbsp. Mustard Seed

1 tbsp. Coriander Seed

1 tbsp. Black Peppercorns

2 tsp. Allspice

1 tsp. Fennel Seed

Clockwise from top left: red pepper flakes, lemon slices, black pepper corns, coriander seed, fennel seed, bay leaves, whole allspice, brown mustard seeds, garlic cloves

 

3 lbs. Okra, washed and caps trimmed

Emerald King Okra with tops trimmed

3 c. Apple Cider Vinegar

3 c. Water

3 tbsp. Pickling Salt

8-12 peeled whole garlic cloves, optional

Lemon Slices, optional

Fresh Grape or Fig Leaves

Fresh grape leaves

 

In a small bowl, mix the pickling spices together.  Set aside.

Place a jar rack inside a large canning pot and fill it with water.  Set the jars in the rack and make sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.  Turn down the heat to medium-low and let the water continue to simmer. Place the lids in a small saucepan of simmering water and let sit. (Don’t bring the water with the lids to a boil; it will melt the seal.)

Meanwhile, make the brine.  Combine the vinegar, water, and pickling salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to low and allow the brine to stay hot while you fill the jars.

Carefully remove the jars from the canning pot, making sure to drain all the water out of them. (I like to put the jars on a baking sheet lined with a towel for easier transport across the kitchen.)

In a bottom of each jar, place 1-2 grape or fig leaves (depending on size), a lemon slice (if using), and 1 tablespoon of the pickling spice. Carefully pack the okra in the jars, alternating tips up or down so that the okra interlocks and you’re able to pack as much in as possible. If you’re using garlic cloves, be sure to pack those in as you can in amongst the okra.

Leaves, spice blend, and lemon in the jar.

A few top down.

A few top up. You want to get as many in the jar as you can. It will save on brine and help limit air bubbles.  Air, in this case, is the enemy. Plus, more goodness in the jar. I swear there are garlic cloves in there somewhere.

Slowly and carefully pour in the hot brine in each jar, leaving 1/2-inch head space.  Use a wooden or plastic chopstick or the end of your headspace tool to remove any air bubbles.  Once you have done that, measure the headspace again and add more brine if necessary.

Wipe the rims of the jars, place the lids on top, and screw on the rings so they’re hand-tight.  Carefully place the jars back into the canning pot, making sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil.  Process the jars for 10 minutes starting when the water comes to a boil.

After you have processed the jars, carefully remove them from the water and place on racks to cool.  If the jars seal (you will hear a “pop” as the lids seal), tighten the rings.  If the jar doesn’t seal, you can simply put the jar in the fridge and eat it within 2-3 weeks.

Either way, let the pickles sit for at least a week before eating.

Classic Southern Delicacy.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nashville Hot Chicken 0

Posted on July 09, 2016 by Sahar

In my travels, I’ve eaten a lot of dishes – some great, some good, and some that should be buried in the backyard.

In my travels to Nashville, I’ve come across something that could only be described as one of the great ones: Nashville Hot Chicken.  It’s a wonderful amalgamation of fried chicken and spices that, up until 3 years ago, I’d never seen anywhere else.  Now, Hot Chicken is spreading all over the country with even KFC getting into the act (ugh.).

Here’s a brief history of the originators of Nashville Hot Chicken from wikipedia:

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that spicy fried chicken has been served in Nashville for generations. The current dish may have been introduced as early as the 1930s, however, the current style of spice paste may only date back to the mid-1970s. It is generally accepted that the originator of hot chicken is the family of Andre Prince Jeffries, owner of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. She has operated the restaurant since 1980; before that time, it was owned by her great-uncle, Thornton Prince III. Although impossible to verify, Jeffries says the development of hot chicken was an accident. Her great-uncle Thornton was purportedly a womanizer, and after a particularly late night out his girlfriend at the time cooked him a fried chicken breakfast with extra pepper as revenge. Instead, Thornton decided he liked it so much that, by the mid-1930s, he and his brothers had created their own recipe and opened the BBQ Chicken Shack café.”

Now, I have not had the opportunity to eat at Princes on my visits to Nashville; but, just by luck, Husband Steve & I have stayed at a hotel across the street from another very popular Hot Chicken stand, Hattie B’s.

Hattie B's

Hattie B’s

A typical Hattie B's plate

A typical Hattie B’s plate

If you want a seat, especially on Sunday, get in line early before they open.  It’s almost like the Franklin Barbecue of Nashville.

Now, of course, when Steve & I were back home, I wanted to be able to make this. I was spurred on by Steve actually wanting me to figure out how to make this so we didn’t have to wait for another trip to Nashville. (Although there are many great reasons to go there.) As an added incentive, Younger Nephew – Food Enthusiast – has pretty much requested I make this every time he visits.

I started by looking up what might be the authentic Hattie B’s recipe.  I made it and liked it quite a bit.  However, it seemed something was lacking; I wasn’t sure if this was simply an interpretation of the original, something was left out (which happens more often than most realize), or I missed something in the preparation.

I decided to take the recipe I found and tailor it more to my tastes – slightly more smokey and sweet-heat.  I still keep most definitely to the spirit of the original, but here is my version of Nashville Hot Chicken (as inspired by Hattie B’s).

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The Spices

The Spices. Clockwise from top left: black pepper, salt, hot sauce, Spanish paprika, dark brown sugar, ground garlic, ground onion, paprika, cayenne

 

Marinating:

1 whole chicken, about 3 1/2 to 4 lbs. -or- the same weight of chicken in parts (i.e. wings, drumsticks)

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. hot sauce (i.e. Tabasco, Original Louisiana)

 

Dip & Dredge:

1 c. whole milk

2 eggs, beaten

2 c. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

 

Spice Coating:

1/2 c. hot cooking oil

1 tbsp. cayenne (more or less to taste)

2 tbsp. dark brown sugar

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. Spanish (smoked) paprika

1/2 tsp. ground garlic

1/2 tsp. ground onion

 

Unflavored oil and/or lard for frying (approximately 4 cups total)

 

 

If you are using a whole chicken, cut it either into quarters or into 8 pieces. (I usually have the back as a separate piece and generally throw it into the freezer bag with  other chicken pieces for stock. However, if you want to fry it up, too, go for it.)

The chicken cut into quarters, plus the back, using my new favorite tool, chicken shears.

The chicken cut into quarters, plus the back, using my new favorite tool, chicken shears.

If you’re using just one type of part, like the wing, you can, of course, skip this step.

 

In a large bowl, toss the chicken with the 1 teaspoon of salt and the hot sauce making sure it is evenly coated.  Either keep the chicken in the bowl covered with plastic wrap or move it to a large zip bag and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to 24.

The chicken ready to be marinated.

The chicken ready to be marinated.

 

After the chicken has marinated, take it out of the fridge and set aside.  Have a plate ready for the breaded chicken and a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

Have 2 large bowls. In one, beat together the milk and eggs. In the other, mix together the flour, 2 teaspoons salt & 1 teaspoon pepper.

The dip and the dredge

The dip and the dredge

 

First, lightly dredge the chicken in the flour, making sure it is fully coated, making sure to shake off any excess flour.

First dredge. It's a messy business.

First dredge. It’s a messy business.

Second, dip the chicken into the dip; again, making sure the chicken is completely coated and letting any excess dip drip off.

The dip

The dip

Third, dredge the chicken again in the flour, once again making sure it is fully coated and making sure any wet spots are re-coated with the flour.

The dredged, dipped, and dredged chicken ready for the fryer.

The dredged, dipped, and dredged chicken ready for the fryer.

Set the chicken aside and heat the oil and/or lard to 350F. I like to use a half & half blend of oil and lard.  I find lard alone to be too strong a flavor even though I like the way it cooks the chicken; so, I cut it with the oil and it is fine for me.  You do what you prefer.

*I know the more traditional amongst you will be appalled at the fact I use an electric skillet for my frying rather than cast-iron.  The fact of the matter is, I’m usually doing other things as well and I simply don’t have the time, patience, or attention span to constantly monitor the heat of the oil.  Hence, the electric skillet.

Once the oil is at the correct temperature, place the chicken in the hot oil and let it fry for 5 – 7 minutes before turning over.

Frying the chicken. As a general rule, white meat takes less time to cook than dark. A good rule of thumb is 15 - 18 minutes for white meat, 20 - 22 for dark meat.

Frying the chicken. As a general rule, white meat takes less time to cook than dark. A good rule of thumb is 15 – 18 minutes for white meat, 20 – 22 for dark meat.

I will admit here I am the queen of turning over my chicken frequently in the skillet as it fries.  It’s easier for me to control how browned it becomes and I can more easily gauge the doneness of the chicken.

A note on frying: There are three basic mistakes everyone has made when frying: oil too cold, oil too hot, pan overcrowding. 

Problem One: Oil too cold – If your oil is too cold when you put in your food, it will absorb oil. A lot of oil.  The food must sizzle when you put it in; this is a result of the moisture pushing back against the heat of the oil. This is what helps to keep your food from becoming greasy. While frying foods will most definitely absorb some oil, they don’t need to be greasy, sodden messes.

Problem Two: Oil too hot – If your oil is too hot, it pretty much should go without saying that the exterior will be done, and even burn, long before the inside is done.

Problem Three: Pan overcrowding – If you overcrowd your skillet, the oil temperature will drop too low, the food will take too long to cook, become greasy, and if you have any coating it will fall off. Make sure that you have plenty of real estate for your food and that it doesn’t touch anything else in the skillet. Another added bonus, it’s easier to turn the food when the skillet isn’t crowded. This can be said for frying and pan searing. You want your food to fry, not steam or become greasy.

 

After several turns

After several turns.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the cayenne, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, the paprikas, the ground garlic, and the ground onion.

The spice mix

The spice mix

Once the chicken is done, take it out of the oil and set aside to drain. You can make sure the chicken is done one of 2 ways: a) Make a small slit on the underside and if the juices are clear, the chicken is done; b) you can also carefully use an instant read thermometer by sticking it into the thickest part of the meat making sure not to hit any bone (avian bones are hollow and absorb heat faster, so if you hit one, you will get a false reading). It must be at least 150F for the chicken to be done. (I’ve also gone so far as to make a slit in the meat all the way down to the bone to make sure there was no pink.)

Take 1/2 cup of the hot oil and carefully ladle it into the spice mixture and whisk together. (The hot oil cooks the spices and makes them taste less raw.)

The oil and spices

The oil and spices

You can put this blend on the chicken one of two ways: either toss the chicken in the spice coating (which works well if you’re using a part like wings), or brush it on (which works best for larger pieces).

Brushing the coating on the chicken. ake sure to get both the oil and the spices as you dip the brush in (The spices don't really dissolve and will settle at the bottom of the bowl, so frequent stirring is necessary).

Brushing the coating on the chicken. Make sure to get both the oil and the spices as you dip the brush in. (The spices don’t really dissolve and will settle at the bottom of the bowl, so frequent stirring is necessary.)

Traditional accompaniments with the Nashville Hot Chicken are white bread (think Mrs. Baird’s or Buttercrust) and pickles; additional accompaniments can be greens, macaroni & cheese, sweet potatoes (mashed or fried), cole slaw, beans, potato salad, and fried okra.

The chicken served with potato salad and fried okra. I discovered too late I did't have pickles.

The chicken served with white bread, potato salad and fried okra. I discovered too late I didn’t have pickles. I’ve never seen chicken served on white bread anywhere else except in the deep South. It’s another way to sop up the juices. Husband thinks it’s the best part.

 

Happy Eating!

 

Thoughts on Hiatus and Returning to Writing 0

Posted on June 02, 2016 by Sahar

IMG_8046

 

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, I decided to take a hiatus from writing my blog.  The reasons, while not terrible, were many.  Travelling, house remodeling, working, cat care, recipe writing & testing, teaching, and the holidays all played a part. The most looming one for me was, of course, the most distressing; I felt stuck and uninspired. I’m not a natural writer. And as I began to lose confidence in my writing, the process became slower and more fraught every time I sat at the keyboard.  It’s all right to write about recipes and travel, but when one feels frustrated with the process, it’s time to step back for a while.

And that’s what I did.

I’m feeling better about things now and am hoping to look at this blog with a fresh perspective.  I’ll still bring you recipes and travel, but I also want to talk about ingredients, maybe discuss a cookbook I like (or don’t), a photographic study, or do the occasional stream-of-conscienceness rant.  I like to think if I can keep this fresh and exciting for me, it will be for all of you, too.

 

 

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I’m still teaching at North Lamar Central Market Cooking School (the original CM!) as I have been for the last 18 years.  Funny how I still learn something about teaching every time I go in. (Shameless plug time – go to my “Classes” page and my upcoming classes are listed. If you’re in Austin, in the surrounding area, or even visiting, come by and see me.)

Another big change for me is my (almost) new part-time gig at Boggy Creek Farm. I started there as a farmhand volunteer a year ago and came on as a part-time cashier last October. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner.  That farm is simply a wonderful place to be to clear one’s head and to learn about where, how, and, yes, why locally grown foods are so important; not only for one’s health, but for the health of the ecosystem as well.  The farmstand is open Wednesday through Saturday, 8am – 1pm.

Added bonus – not only are Carol Ann & Larry two of the best people I know, asking them a question about the farm, farming, fermentation, seasonality, woodworking, chickens, and even history, is like getting a Master Class every time.  Carol Ann has also made me the official farmstand photographer. So, I get to do one of the things I love the most – take copious amounts of photographs. Honestly, around the farm, it’s easy to get lovely pictures.

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So, I hope to bring you some new recipes along with other thoughts and wanderings starting again next week. Until then, enjoy a few more randomly selected photographs.

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I’ll see y’all soon.

 

 

 

 

Potato & Leek Soup 1

Posted on October 29, 2015 by Sahar

Now that the weather here in central Texas is (Finally! Hopefully!) beginning to feel like actual Fall, my own thoughts are turning to soup.

I know you can eat this extremely versatile dish all year, but I prefer the cooler months.  It’s honestly difficult for me to enjoy a lovely bowl of soup when it’s 100F outside.

This is one of my favorites.  It’s quick, simple, easily doubles, freezes well, and is open to variation and adaptation.  You can make it vegan, vegetarian, with chicken broth, pureed, or chunky.  It’s completely up to you.

In my version, I’ve added kale to the soup.  Dark leafy greens are excellent in Potato & Leek Soup.  The add a wonderful deep flavor and texture as well as help to stretch the soup a little further (excellent if one is on a budget).  Plus, it’s a great way to use leftover greens.

I started adding kale for my Aunt Cathy.  She would come to visit me in Austin during the wildflower season in the Spring and I would always fix a meal or two for us.  I made this soup during one of her visits and decided to toss some leftover kale in.  Cathy was a kale fiend – she loved it.  I can’t remember how many bowls she ate, but she certainly enjoyed it.  Sadly, she passed away several years ago.  So, whenever I make this soup, I think of her.

 

A few notes:

1.  I like to make this soup with waxy as opposed to starchy potatoes.  It’s a simple preference.  However, if you prefer to make the soup with starchy potatoes (i.e Russet, Yukon Gold), go ahead.  I’ve never made this with sweet potatoes, but I’ll bet it’s great.

2.  It’s up to you whether you want to peel the potatoes or not.

3.  You can puree the soup or not.  I generally don’t. I’ll just take my potato masher and mash a few down.  While I do enjoy a good pureed soup, I prefer some extra texture for this one.

4.  If don’t have or can’t find leeks, you can use one large onion.  Just be sure to slice it very thinly.

5.  This recipe results in a more stew-like thicker soup.  If you want a brothier soup, then add more liquid.  Just be sure to adjust the seasonings accordingly.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients. Not pictured: vegetable broth, cream.

 

2 tbsp. olive oil, butter, or a combination of both

2 leeks, cleaned and thinly (1/4″) sliced, white part only

Leeks. They basically look like overgrown scallions. Generally, only the white part is used in cooking. However, you can use the greens as well. I generally save them and use them in stock.

Leeks. They basically look like overgrown scallions. Generally, only the white part is used in cooking. However, you can use the greens as well. I generally save them and use them in stock.

The inside of the leek. AS you can see, it's got layers like any other onion. Unlike onions, these tend to get dirt in the layers; so, you want to be sure to wash the leek thoroughly after you cut it. This one was fairly clean, but you can still see some dirt in the lower right hand corner.

The inside of the leek. As you can see, it’s got layers like any other onion. Unlike onions, leeks tend to get dirt in the layers; so, you want to be sure to wash them thoroughly after you cut them. This one was fairly clean, but you can still see some dirt in the lower right hand corner.

 

2 lbs. potatoes, cut into roughly 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces

I chose to use fingerling potatoes this time around. You can use any type you prefer, however.

I chose to use fingerling potatoes this time around. You can use any type you prefer, however.

4 c. vegetable or chicken broth

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. dried thyme, or to taste

Salt & pepper to taste

From top left:

From top left: black pepper, salt, olive oil, dried thyme, garlic

1 bunch cooked and chopped kale, optional

Some lovely kale. Just trim off the leaves and use the stalks for compost or stock.

Some lovely kale. Just trim off the leaves and use the stalks for compost or stock.

1/2 c. whole milk, half-and-half, cream, optional; or, plain soy or nut milk, optional

 

 

  1.  In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil or butter.  When the oil is heated, add the leeks and garlic and sauté until the leeks have softened, about 5 minutes.  Be sure to stir frequently.
Sauteing the leeks & garlic. Stir frequently. You want the vegetables soft, but not browned.

Sauteing the leeks & garlic. Stir frequently. You want the vegetables soft, but not browned.

 

2.  Add the potatoes.  Cook and stir until the potatoes are coated in the oil, leeks & garlic, and are a little warm, about 5 minutes. This will help the potatoes jump-start cooking as well as absorb some of the flavor of the leeks and garlic.

I didn't realize some of the potatoes were pink (or, I guess, red) until I cut into them.

I didn’t realize some of the potatoes were pink (or, I guess, red) until I cut into them. I wonder what would happen if I threw some purple ones in the soup.

 

3.  Add the salt, pepper, and thyme.  Cook and stir frequently for another 2 – 3 minutes.

Adding the salt, pepper, and thyme.

Adding the salt, pepper, and thyme.

 

4.  Add the broth.  Cover the pot and bring the broth to a boil.  Uncover, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer the soup until the potatoes are fork-tender; about 30 minutes.

Adding the broth.

Adding the broth.

The potatoes will absorb the broth, so the volume will go down. This is normal. If you feel the soup is too dry, add more broth. However, this is a fairly thick soup and if you decide to add cream, then you may want to hold off on adding any broth.  Otherwise, add more broth and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

 

5.  Meanwhile, prepare the kale (is using).

To trim the kale, simply strip the leaves away from the stalks and wash. Don’t tear the pieces too small – you want them still fairly large as they go into the steamer so there will be less chance of the kale overcooking.

Take a medium saucepan and fill the bottom with about 1/2″ of water.  Place a steamer insert in the bottom, put in the kale, and cover the saucepan tightly.  Over high heat, steam the kale until it is just wilted and still has some bite to it (you don’t want the leaves too soft); about 3-4 minutes. (Carefully take a small piece out and taste it to be sure it’s ready.)

Steaming the kale.

Steaming the kale.

When the kale is ready, take it out of the steamer (the easiest and probably safest way to do this is to dump everything in to a colander; be sure to drain the kale thoroughly if you use this method), place it on a cutting board, and roughly chop it.

The cooked and chopped kale ready for the soup.

The cooked and chopped kale ready for the soup.

At this point you may ask, why don’t you just throw the raw leaves into the soup? Well, because I find the kale (or whatever green I’m using) tends to impart too strong a flavor into the soup that I don’t necessarily want.  Steaming the leaves ahead eliminates that factor.  I still get the flavor without it overpowering everything else.

 

6.  So the following two photos are an example of do as I say, not as I do.

When the potatoes are done take the pot off the heat.  If you like, either puree the soup (time to pull out that stick/immersion blender you got as a long-ago gift or impulse bought), use a potato masher (as I usually do), or do nothing (another great option).

Once you have achieved the consistency you prefer, add the kale and cream – or whatever it is you’re using – and taste for seasoning.

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Adding the kale and cream. I did this step a little backwards.

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So, you want to be sure and take care of the consistency before adding the cream and kale.

 

7.  Finally, time to eat.  I like to serve the soup with either some stoneground crackers or a good crusty bread.

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Enjoy!

 

 

Sayadieh الصيادية 1

Posted on September 25, 2015 by Sahar

Sayadieh (الصيادية), or Fish with Rice, was a staple meal for my sisters & me as we were growing up.  It’s a wonderful and simple amalgam of white fish, rice, onion, saffron, and lemon that we would eat until we were in food coma.  Two of my aunts ( عمـاتـي), Ahlam and Layla, considered to be the best cooks in the family, make sublime Sayadieh.  However, the best I have ever eaten is from my mom. I still don’t know what she does, but Mom’s Sayadieh is, and I’m not exaggerating, ethereal.

I’m not sure what the origin of this dish is, but it does figure prominently in Lebanese cuisine. Like any other regional dish, it has its variations – with caramelized onions, with a spice blend (or, specific individual spices), pine nuts, almonds, lemon… The list goes on.  The two must-have ingredients, however, are, of course, fish and rice.  The fish is always a firm-fleshed white fish (i.e. tilapia, haddock, cod) and the rice is always long-grain white.  Some recipes have the fish cooked separately from the rice while others have them cooked together.

This is very close to the recipe I grew up with.  The fish is marinated in lemon, lightly breaded, browned, and then cooked with the rice.  The dish is usually served with a tahineh-radish sauce (recipe follows).

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

Clockwise from top right:

Clockwise from top right: cumin, olive oil, salt, saffron, pepper, pine nuts

 

1 lb. white fish

1/4 c. lemon juice

1/2 tsp. salt

flour

2 c. chicken broth or water

1 c. clam juice, fish stock, or water

1/2 tsp. saffron (opt.)

1/4 c. olive oil

1 med. onion, diced

1 1/2 c. rice

1/2 tsp. cumin

Salt & pepper to taste

3/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, lightly toasted

 

 

On a large plate or in a large bowl, carefully toss the fish with the lemon juice and a good pinch of salt.  Let the fish marinate for at least 1/2 hour, tossing if needed to make sure the pieces are evenly marinating.

My personal preference is for Tilapia. Not pretty, but it works.

Marinating the fish. My personal preference is for Tilapia. Not pretty, but it tastes good, it’s cheap, and it works.

Meanwhile, if you are using saffron, heat the stocks or water in a separate small saucepan with the saffron.  As soon as it comes to a boil, remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside. If you aren’t using saffron, you can skip this step. (But, it doesn’t hurt to have the liquid hot or at least warm before you add it for the final cooking.)

By heating up the saffron with the liquid, it helps to release the flavor and color of the saffron.

Heating up the saffron with the liquid helps to release its flavor and color.

Remove the fish from the lemon juice and lightly dredge it in the flour, carefully shaking off any excess.  Save the lemon juice.

Don't have too heavy a coating if flour on the fish.

Don’t have too heavy a coating if flour on the fish. I did shake these off a little more.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat.  Once the oil is hot, place the fish in the oil and let brown. (You may need to do this in batches.)  You don’t need to let the fish cook all the way through, just enough for the flour to brown.  Take care not to try to turn the fish too soon or the coating will stick to the bottom; the fish will let you know when it’s ready to turn.

Browning the fish. The flour coating helps to hold the fish together during cooking.

Browning the fish. The flour coating helps to hold the fish together during cooking.

If there is any burned flour, take the saucepan off the heat and carefully wipe it out with a thick layer of paper towels.

When each batch of fish is done, take it out of the saucepan and set aside on a plate.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the saucepan, turn the heat up to medium-high, and add the onions.  Saute the onions for 5 – 7 minutes, or until they begin to soften and become translucent.

Sautéing the onions. Be sure to stir frequently.

Sautéing the onions. Be sure to stir frequently.

Add the rice and saute another 2 – 3 minutes.

Adding the rice. Cooking the rice like this will help it start cooking and soak up some of the favors of the onions and oil plus any other spices you add.

Adding the rice. Cooking the rice like this will help it start cooking and soak up some of the favors of the onions and oil plus any other spices you add.

Add the cumin, salt, and pepper.  Saute another 2 – 3 minutes. (You want to be careful how much salt you add, especially if you are using commercially made stock – those are loaded with salt.)

Again, be sure to stir frequently so the spices don't burn and that the rice and onions are evenly coated.

Again, be sure to stir frequently so the spices don’t burn and that the rice and onions are evenly coated.

Spread the onion-rice mixture into a fairly even layer on the bottom of the saucepan.  Lay the fish on top.

Ready for the liquid.

Ready for the liquid.

Carefully pour over the stock or water and reserved lemon juice (from the marinating).  Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cover the saucepan.

Ready to cook.

Ready to cook.

Let the Sayadieh cook for 25 – 30 minutes, or until all the rice is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed.  (Occasionally, some of the rice at the very top will be undercooked.  If this happens, quickly pour another 1/4 cup broth or water over the top and quickly put the lid back on.  Let the rice cook for another 5 minutes and it should be cooked through.)

Sprinkle with the browned pine nuts or almonds and serve with the Tahineh-Radish Sauce.

 

Tahineh-Radish Sauce

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

 

For my money, this is one of the best brands of tahini you can buy. Tarazi is another good brand. Avoid Krinos, though. Yuk.

For the money, this is one of the best brands you can buy. Tarazi is an excellent brand, too. Avoid Krinos, though. Yuk.

 

1 c. tahineh (make sure it is thoroughly mixed; it will separate in the jar)

1 bunch radishes, washed and trimmed

1 c. chopped parsley

2 tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste

Water, as needed

Salt to taste

 

Place a small strainer over a medium bowl and use a small-holed (i.e. fine) grater to shred the radishes.

Grating the radishes. If you don't have a small grater, you can use your food processor with the fine grater attachment. Just be sure to drain the radishes afterwards.

Shredding the radishes. If you don’t have a small grater, you can use your food processor with the fine grater attachment. Just be sure to drain the radishes afterwards.

Once you have shredded all the radishes, press down on the shreds in the strainer to get out as much of the liquid as you can.  Remove the strainer from the bowl, pour off the liquid, and place the shredded radishes back in the bowl.

Amazing how much liquid comes out of a bunch of radishes.

Amazing how much water comes out of a bunch of radishes. That’s close to a cup of liquid.

The finished radishes. The whole shredding and draining process goes much faster than you would think.

The finished radishes. The whole shredding and draining process goes much faster than you would think.

Add the tahineh, lemon juice, and a good pinch of salt.  Mix.  The tahineh will start to thicken due to the lemon juice (it’s an acid-base reaction; chemistry!).

The tahineh with the radishes and parsley

The tahineh will start to thicken when you add the lemon juice. It’s a chemistry thing.

Add water until the sauce loosens up and becomes a smooth consistency.  Adjust the seasoning.

Adding the water. You may not think this will come together, but it does. Trust me.

Adding the water. You may not think this will come together, but it does. Trust me.

Once the  sauce has smoothed out and it is the consistency you like, stir in the parsley.

Told ya.

Told ya.

 

Serve with the Sayadieh.

I think I ate this in about 5 minutes.

I think I ate this in about 5 minutes.

 

Sahtein! صحتين!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegetarian Kibbeh الكبة النباتية 0

Posted on August 31, 2015 by Sahar

Kibbeh is ubiquitous throughout the Middle East.  If you know anything at all about this dish, you know it is usually made with meat – beef, lamb, or, rarely, goat. It can be baked, fried, or eaten raw.  It is essentially a meat feast with a little wheat thrown in.

However, during Lent, many Christians throughout the world – including the Middle East – give up eating meat.  So, a vegetarian version was created (most likely in Lebanon) so they could still enjoy Kibbeh throughout Lent.

I came up with my version of this dish about 15 years ago when my husband was still a practicing vegetarian.  He’s since come back to the dark side, but I still like to make this version on occasion whenever we are having a vegan week here at Chez Ray.

 

A few notes:

  • I use pine nuts in this recipe, like I do in traditional Kibbeh.  However, if you can’t find, afford, or don’t want to use them, you can substitute slivered almonds.
  • If you want to add some additional flavoring or bulk, you can also layer in along with the filling, sliced boiled potatoes, sautéed squash, sliced tomatoes, or fried eggplant slices.
  • If you are making this for someone who is allergic to nuts, then you can use vegetables (see above) or seitan or tempeh.  However, if you decide to use either of these, be sure that either of them aren’t highly seasoned (like many commercial ones are – especially seitan).
  • I like to use fine bulghur wheat for this dish (#1 grind) because the crust holds together better with the finer grind.
  • If the crust mixture is too dry, add a little water; if it is too wet, add a little whole wheat flour.  However, make sure that you have everything well mixed before you begin adding any additional ingredients.  If you do have to add anything, adjust the seasonings accordingly.
  • A traditional accompaniment to Kibbeh is a cucumber-yogurt salad.  If you want to keep this completely vegan, then use a soy-based or coconut milk-based yogurt (however, check the label to make sure there’s no casein in the yogurt).

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

1 c. fine bulghur wheat

The wheat. Try to use a #1 grind. You can generally find it at any Middle Eastern market.

The wheat. Try to use a #1 grind. You can generally find it at any Middle Eastern market.

2 med. onions, diced

1 c. chopped parsley

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 c. walnuts, chopped

1/2 c. pine nuts or slivered almonds

Walnuts and Pine Nuts. You can substitute slivered almonds for the pine nuts. However, the walnuts are a must.

Walnuts and Pine Nuts. You can substitute slivered almonds for the pine nuts. However, the walnuts are a must. Most other nuts are going to be too sweet.

3 tbsp. olive oil, total

2 tbsp. pomegranate syrup (molasses)

1 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

2 tsp. allspice, or to taste

Salt & pepper, to taste

Clockwise from top: pomegranate syrup (molasses), salt, pepper, cinnamon, olive oil, allspice, garlic

Clockwise from top: pomegranate syrup (molasses), salt, pepper, cinnamon, olive oil, allspice, garlic

Additional pine nuts or slivered almonds for garnish

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.  Either spray or oil a medium baking dish (about 7″ x 11″) and set it aside.

 

2.  Rinse the wheat in a fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear.

Rinsing the wheat. You want to be sure to get off as much of the dust as possible. Processing methods are better than they once were, but some dust is still present.

Rinsing the wheat. You want to be sure to get off as much of the dust as possible. Processing methods are better than they once were, but some dust is still present.

Then, put the wheat into a bowl and cover with 1″ of water.  Set aside and allow the wheat to soak until it is “al dente”, about 20 – 30 minutes.

Soaking the wheat. Start testing it after about 20 minutes. It should still have some chewiness to it, but it shouldn't be crunchy.

Soaking the wheat. Start testing it after about 20 minutes. It should still have some chewiness to it, but it shouldn’t be crunchy.

Once the wheat is ready, drain it through the strainer again. (There’s no need to squeeze out all of the water; just be sure the wheat is well drained.)  Set aside.

The soaked, drained wheat. You just want to be sure that excess moisture is drained away; it doen't need to be squeezed dry. You'll need that moisture when you make the crust.

The soaked, drained wheat. You just want to be sure that excess moisture is drained away; it doesn’t need to be squeezed dry. You’ll need that moisture when you make the crust. (In other words, make sure it’s not dripping, but it’s not dry either; just nice and damp.)

 

3.  Make the filling:  Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onions until they become soft, about 5 – 7 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Sauteing the onions.

Sautéing the onions.

Take half of the onions out of the skillet and place them into a bowl.  Set aside.

This half is waiting to be made into crust.

This half is waiting to be made into crust.

Place the skillet back on the heat and turn down the heat to medium and add the garlic to the onions.  Sauté for 2 – 3 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Adding the garlic.

Adding the garlic.

Add the pine nuts and the walnuts and cook for another 3 – 4 minutes, or until they have toasted (be sure not to burn them).  Again, stirring frequently.

Be sure not to let the nuts burn. You just want to get a nice deep golden brown on them.

Be sure not to let the nuts burn. You just want to get a nice golden brown on them.

Add in 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon, 1 teaspoon allspice, the pomegranate syrup, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Take the skillet from the heat and taste for seasoning.  Allow the filling to cool slightly.

Mmm... This is what you're looking for - a deep maple color.

This is what you’re looking for – a deep maple color.

4.  Make the crust:  Take the other half of the onions and place them into a food processor along with the parsley, and the wheat.

The wheat, onion, and parsley in the processor.

The wheat, onion, and parsley in the processor.

Pulse a few times to begin mixing the ingredients, scrape down the bowl and add the other half each of the cinnamon and allspice, and a good pinch each of salt and pepper.

Adding the spices.

Adding the spices.

Process the mixture (scraping down the sides and pulsing as needed) until it is well mixed and has almost a paste-like consistency.  It should still have some texture, but the mixture should hold together.  Taste for seasoning.

The finished crust mixture. Try to resist the urge to adda any ingredients like water or flour. If the ingredients are well mixed, you shouldn't have to add anything.

The finished crust mixture. If the ingredients are well mixed, you shouldn’t have to add anything to adjust the texture.

5.  Assembly: Take half of the crust mixture and spread it evenly over the bottom of the dish.

The bottom layer. Be sure it's spread as evenly as possible.

The bottom layer. Be sure it’s spread as evenly as possible.

Spread the filling evenly over the bottom layer.

The filling. This, of course, is where you would add any additional filling if you wanted to.

The filling. This, of course, is where you would add any additional filling if you wanted to.

Carefully spread the top crust over the filling, smoothing it down as you go. (You may have to do this in sections.)

Eseentlially, this is ready to go into the oven. The top layer is a little thin because I used too much on the bottom layer. If that happens to you, just very carefully spread out the top as much as you can.

Essentially, this is ready to go into the oven. The top layer is a little thin because I used too much on the bottom layer. If that happens to you, just very carefully spread out the top as much as you can. It does smooth out; it may not be pretty, but it will work.

6.  Cut the assembled Kibbeh into serving-size squares; or, if you want to get fancy, into diamond-shaped pieces (it’s more traditional).  Press a few additional pine nuts on each piece for garnish. Spread or brush the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top. (See above photo)

7.  Place the Kibbeh in the oven and cook until the top crust is slightly browned, about 30 minutes.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Sahtein!

Sahtein! صحتين!

 

 

 

Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy 0

Posted on August 18, 2015 by Sahar

Few foods scream “TEXAS” louder than Chicken Fried Steak. Along with Chili (The Official State Dish of Texas), few things cause more arguments amongst friends and rivals over whose is the best.

By the way, Chicken Fried Steak is the Official State Dish of Oklahoma. Go figure.

The origins of Chicken Fried Steak are a little murky, but conventional wisdom generally believes German immigrants to Texas in the early- to mid- 19th Century invented Chicken Fried Steak as a way to not only enjoy something similar to the Viennese/German dish Wienerschnitzel (traditionally a breaded and fried veal cutlet), but also to make tough cuts of beef palatable. (As we know, bovine back then weren’t the chemically enhanced behemoths we know and eat today; they were just as hardscrabble as the land and the people living on it.)

Another story is that it was accidentally invented by a short order cook in Lamesa, Texas, in 1911. When a waitress turned in an order for “chicken, fried steak”, the cook, Jimmy Don Perkins, misread it. He dipped the steak in the fried chicken batter, and a legend was born.

One of my favorite food writers, Robb Walsh, describes 3 different types of Chicken Fried Steak in his book, Texas Eats:  1) The Southern/East Texas version is dipped in egg and then flour, similar to the way Southern fried chicken is prepared; 2) Central Texas’s version is made with bread crumbs rather than flour, much like Weinerschnitzel; 3) A West Texas version that is made without dipping the meat in egg; this is related to what cowboys called pan-fried steak.

Robb Walsh also talks about the three most common ways people mess up a Chicken Fried Steak: 1) Over- or Under-seasoning  – “If you use a salty seasoned flour for the batter, the steaks end up too salty. Underseasoning is just as bad. Even the batter on a perfectly cooked steak can taste pasty if it isn’t seasoned”; 2) Too much tenderizing – The ratio of batter to meat is crucial, and it’s determined by the thickness of the meat. If you pound the meat too flat, the steak is all batter and the steak is overcooked by the time the crust is done [this also leads to the meat shrinking in the crust].” ; and, 3) Overheating the oil – To cook a Chicken Fried Steak so the crust is golden and the meat is cooked trough, it is critical to keep the temperature of the oil at around 350F.

 

My recipe is much like the Southern/East Texas Version. It’s what I grew up eating and the one that most people know.

 

A few notes:

1.  The best cut of meat for a chicken fried steak is going to be round steak. It’s a flavorful, lean, and relatively cheap cut of beef. You can buy it in the grocery already tenderized (where it may also be called “cube steak”). If you buy it un-tenderized, you’ll need to do it yourself with a tenderizing mallet. It looks like a square hammer with spikes on each end of the mallet’s head. You very likely have one in the recesses of your knife drawer.

2.  It’s best to have everything at room temperature before you start. This way, everything cooks at the same speed and there will be less chance of the meat being cooked improperly.

3.  You don’t want to have too much breading on your steak. If you have too much breading, it’ll take too long for it to cook all the way through and the steak will overcook and shrink.

4.  Correct fat temperature is important when frying. If the oil is too cool, the breading will soak up the oil and you end up with a greasy steak. If it’s too hot, the coating will burn before the meat is cooked. The fat but come to a full sizzle when you put the steaks in.  Proper frying temperatures help seal the coating and keep as much of the oil out as possible while still cooking everything evenly.

5.  This goes for overcrowding the skillet, too. Don’t do it. The oil temperature will drop too much and the steaks won’t cook properly.

6.  Purists will be appalled, but if you like, you can substitute chicken (Chicken Fried Chicken) or pork (Chicken Fried Pork) in place of the beef.

7.  Speaking of appalled purists, I genreally do my frying in an electric skillet. It’s much easier for me to control the temperature of the oil. Purists, however, will insist on using a cast iron skillet. It’s up to you.

8.  You have to have gravy. Period. There are no exceptions to this rule.

 

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The Ingredients

Peanut Oil, Vegetable Oil, Shortening, or Lard for frying

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. salt

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste

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Clockwise from top left: salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder

1 1/2 c. buttermilk

2 large eggs

6 ea. 6 – 8 oz. tenderized round steaks

 

1.  Mix together the flour and spices in a large, shallow bowl or on a large plate.  Set aside.

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The spices waiting to be mixed into the flour.

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Done. Be sure to mix as thoroughly as possible; especially if your spices (esp. the cayenne) are a little lumpy.

Beat together the buttermilk and eggs in a large bowl.  Set aside.

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Eggs and buttermilk batter. Be sure that you beat the eggs thoroughly so the whites are completely broken down and incorporated.

2.  Take each steak and dip it first in the flour and lightly coat.  Be sure to shake off any excess.

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The first dip. This will help the batter adhere to the steak.

Next, dip the steak in the batter and coat completely. Take the steak out of the batter and allow the extra liquid to dip off.

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Make sure the steak is completely submerged in the batter.

Dip the steak back into the flour and evenly coat all over.  You want to be sure there aren’t any wet spots.

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Nicely coated.

Shake off any excess flour.  Lay the steaks out in a single layer on a rack. (This will help allow air circulation around the steaks and help keep them fairly dry.)

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The steaks on a rack. If there are any wet spots, be sure to sprinkle a little flour on them.

3.  Have a 1″ depth of fat in a large skillet. Heat the fat to 375F, or until flour sprinkled in the oil immediately sizzles (but doesn’t burn) or a drop of water will make the oil pop (be careful of oil spatter).

4.  Once the oil has heated to the correct temperature, take the steaks, no more than 2 at a time, for 5 – 7 minutes total, turning once.  The temperature will immediately drop once you put in the steaks, so be sure to adjust the temperature as necessary to keep the fat at 350F.  (This is the optimal temperature to cook the steaks without making the batter soggy or overcooking the batter before the meat is done.)

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Don’t overcrowd the pan. The temperature of the oil will drop too far and will result in a soggy, greasy steak.

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After flipping. You only want to flip once to maintain the crust.

Take the finished steaks out of the oil and either place back on the rack to drain (my preferred method) or place on paper towels to drain.

After each batch is done, raise the heat back up to 375F before adding the next batch. Again, after adding the steaks to the fat, be sure to keep the temperature at 350F.

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Well, hello.

After the steaks are done, carefully drain off all but 1/4 c. of the drippings and saving any cracklings that may be in the skillet and make the gravy.

 

A note on the gravy: A good gravy can enhance your Chicken Fried Steak and a bad gravy can ruin it. You want a thick, creamy texture (but not pasty), a deep flavor (there are few things worse than a lumpy, bland, pasty gravy), and just the right amount of seasoning (over-salting is a common mistake).

Making good gravy is something that takes patience and practice. If you make this recipe for the first time and are a little unsure, just serve it on the side. You’ll do better next time.

 

Cream Gravy

1/4 c. pan dripping (if you have some nice cracklings too, great)

1/4 c. flour

2 c. whole milk, room temperature or warm

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

 

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The drained skillet. I left some of the browned flour in with the fat. Just be sure that anything you leave in the skillet isn’t burnt.

1.  Heat the pan drippings over medium heat (about 350F if you’re using an electric skillet).  Add the flour and make a roux.  You’re looking for something between a blonde- and peanut butter- colored roux.

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Adding the flour.

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Making the roux. You don’t want the roux too dark because the darker the flour, the less thickening strength it will have.

2.  Whisk in the milk and cook the gravy until it smooths out and thickens. Whisk in the salt and pepper.  Taste for seasoning.  If you want a thinner gravy, add a bit more milk.

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Whisking in the milk. Be sure to whisk constantly at this point so the roux and milk are completely incorporated.

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A nice, smooth, not-too-thick not-too-thin cream gravy.

3.  Serve over (or next to) the Chicken Fried Steak and whatever else is on the plate.

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The classic serving suggestion: Chicken Fried Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Greens (in this case, Kale).

 

Now I’m hungry.

 

 

 

Eating Locally Project 2015: June & July 0

Posted on August 12, 2015 by Sahar

Apologies to you all for not writing this up sooner. With all the family visits, travel, and, yes, a summer sore throat & cold, I’ve been a little neglectful in getting anything written and posted.

I only shopped at 3 places this time around – Boggy Creek FarmSpringdale Farm, and at the farmers market in Quepos, Costa Rica. As I stated in May, I volunteer at Boggy Creek, so I shopped there twice and only had time to go once to Springdale. Because we were out of town so much, it simply wasn’t feasible to go more often to the farms or even make it out to any of the markets in Austin.

 

June 18 – Boggy Creek

Volunteer Day. I was experimenting with travel time from my house to the farm. I gave myself almost an hour that morning and arrived at the farm 20 minutes early. I decided to use the time semi-wisely and take a few photos of the soon-to-be cut flowers

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Next time I go, I really need to ask what flowers they’re growing.

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Ditto.

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Rows of Zinnias

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Zinnia ready for its close-up

As I recall, it was an overcast and humid day. There hadn’t been rain for several days at this point, so the ground was beginning to harden. And, it was weed-pulling day. The weeds are almost a lost cause on the farm, but everyone does their best to keep them in check. Most of them are fairly easy to pull; but the Bermuda Grass – ugh. After the weed pulling, composting was next on the list. I know the compost they use at Boggy Creek is excellent quality because it’s steaming as you fill the bucket.

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After weeding and composting. Bermuda Grass – ugh. Trust me – this is so much better than any before picture would’ve suggested.

At the end of the day, I dragged myself into the farm stand to collect my “pay”. I wanted to be somewhat judicious since I knew Steve & I were going out of town again that weekend (it was his birthday), and I didn’t want to take the chance of anything going bad before I had a chance to use it.

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Heirloom tomatoes.

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Purple Bells.

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The first butternut squash of the season. I was excited; it’s my favorite.

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String beans are kicking in.

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The red tomatoes are Indigo Rose. The yellow ones are Sungolds.

After my shopping, I decided to stretch my legs a little and walk around the farm. I discovered if I didn’t do this – basically cool down after a workout – my legs became very painful on the drive home.

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Figs! I missed the crop she picked that day.

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Cinnatree flowers.

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Tractor study.

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Carol Ann’s tea roses.

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The okra is doing well.

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Okra flower.

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There they are. Baby Okra.

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Another flowering tree that I don’t know the name of. I really need to stick asking about these in the old brain box.

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Tatsumas. They’ll be ready in the fall. If the birds don’t get to them first.

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My purchases: Dandelion Greens, Butternut Squash, Indigo Rose Tomatoes

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Eggs. I gave these to my fitness trainer.

 

Saturday, June 27 – Boggy Creek

I missed my volunteer day at Boggy Creek that week (at this point, I can’t remember why), so I contented myself with heading out on Saturday instead; this way, I could also head to Springdale afterwards.

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Cut flowers for sale

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Basil and Dandelion Greens

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Curly Mustard Greens. My current favorite.

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Some of the Pursulane I helped to plant back in May. It has this wonderful sharp flavor to it. The leaves are almost like biting into a succulent.

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‘Tis the season for tomatoes.

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New potatoes. Always welcome.

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The ladies waiting until the people have all left so they can have run of the farm.

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Whatever produce Carol Ann feels isn’t good enough to sell, she feeds it to the chickens. They’re a happy bunch. That day, it was butternut squash.

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Keeping up with the weeds is a never-ending battle. There are squash plants holding their own in there, though.

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Taking a look at some of the rows I helped clean up.

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Okra still going strong.

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More of Carol Ann’s flowers

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Waiting for the pecan season to begin. I don’t know that the farm sells them, but it’d be great if they did.

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Caged pepper plants.

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Cinnabar

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My Boggy Creek Purchases, Part 1: Hamburger Patties.

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My Boggy Creek Purchases, Part 2: Basil, Curly Mustard, Figs, Dandelion Greens, Indigo Red Tomatoes, Sungold Tomatoes

After a quick chat with Carol Ann, Larry (Butler, Carol Ann’s husband and farm co-owner), and the lead volunteer, Dana, I headed to Springdale. They open an hour later than Boggy Creek, so I arrived a few minutes early. So, I took my time walking to the farm stand and took a few flower pictures.

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I really need to buy a Flowers of Central Texas guide.

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More posies.

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I think this is a type of Marigold.

Springdale’s farm stand is smaller than Boggy Creek’s, but where Boggy’s is neat, pretty, and utilitarian, Springdale really put on a colorful and artful show. I love to walk in there and see what Paula, Glen, and their staff have done that week. It’s always lovely.

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Case in point, the tomato table. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

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The pepper table. I think they had 6 – 8 varieties that day.

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The herb table.

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Dill flowers. I didn’t buy any because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them other than pickling. I’ll find something.

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Beautiful chicken eggs.

And, of course, after shopping, I wandered a bit.

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The ladies and gentlemen of the farm.

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Ahh… more flowers.

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Along the fence line.

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The ducks would have nothing to do with me.

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Ghost Peppers.

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I think this was an Anaheim.

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Some beautiful fungus growing out of one of the tree stumps.

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More tree stump fungus.

At this point, I decided to not go to any other markets since, yes, Steve & I were once again leaving for parts far away soon. I wanted to get what I bought eaten before we left.

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My Springdale purchases, Part 1: Thyme, Garlic Chives, Jalapeños, Mint

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May Springdale purchases, Part 2: Chicken Eggs (f), Duck Eggs (b)

Bonus: My mom was in town for a Contemporary Handweavers of Texas conference (she’s on the board), so I went to visit her. I gave her a goodie bag of the chicken eggs, figs, and about half of the tomatoes. I’m not sure if the figs made it back to Ft. Worth.

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Saturday’s Dinner: Baked Shrimp and Salad made with baby spinach, curly mustard, dandelion greens, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta, and extra virgin olive oil.

 

Saturday, July 11 – Farmers Market, Quepos, Costa Rica

I’ve already talked at length about this market in my previous post, La Pura Vida in Costa Rica, so I won’t go into too much detail here.

In short, the market is open late Friday (usually 4 – 9pm) and early Saturday (8am – noon).  The best time to go is early Saturday; the vendors are all set up and the crowds really haven’t gotten too big yet. The market is set up on the sea wall (Quepos is on the Central Pacific Coast) and the breezes coming off the ocean are a blessing and a break from the constant humidity.

The market isn’t large, but it is plentiful. Fruit, vegetables, seafood, prepared foods, handicrafts, and more than one general merchandise table were all in residence.

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One of the handicraft tables.

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Coconuts and (what I think are) Mamones Chinos – a type of lime with a hard shell and soft fruit. It’s related to the lychee.

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Potatoes and tomatoes are native to Central and South America. Carrots came along in the 18th or 19th Century.

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A cute, if formulaic, souvenir table.

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Pineapples, of course

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I think these were Fuji Apples.

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Beautiful produce.

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Mandarin Limes

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I was excited to see these – Otaheiti Apples. Steve & I first had them in Jamaica.

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We bought some beautiful Yellowfin Tuna from this vendor.

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Mangoes.

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And here is your general merchandise table.

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I believe these were the fruit of the Peach Palm. In the background are lychees; a lot of vendors were selling them.

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Bananas

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A stand backing up to the Pacific.

Steve found a gentleman selling fresh tamales and bought he & I some for breakfast. (Mom, who was with us and had already eaten, declined.) They were the most unusual tamales I’d ever eaten.

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Our view while we ate breakfast.

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These tamales had the usual masa base, bit they had a very soft texture along with rice and chunks of vegetables and pork. They were delicious.

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The still wrapped tamales.

After breakfast, while Steve decided to walk around town a bit, Mom & I walked our purchases back to the house. On the way, though, I ducked inside a carnecería and bought some epic chicharrones.

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Now, THAT’S a chicharron.

We bought potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, Mandarin limes, mangoes, pineapple, yellowfin tuna, prawns, Oteheiti apples, onions, and chayote squash.

Since it was our last evening in Costa Rica, we decided to make it a party. I made a large, simple dinner with what we bought at the market and whatever was left in the refrigerator.

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It took awhile to make dinner. The best parts – everyone enjoyed it and I didn’t have to clean up.

 

Thursday, July 30

Back at Boggy Creek after a 3-week hiatus.

We were tasked that morning with cleaning up 2 of the rows in the front field so they could be amended (Carol Ann’s organic secret recipe to add some nutrients back into the soil) and composted. I set about taking down the gherkin (small cucumbers) vines on my assigned row. It was great; the vines rolled up like a carpet.

After the rows were cleaned and we took our break, we laid a rather thick layer of compost on them. The farm is getting the fields ready for fall planting, so cleaning, amending, and composting at this point is essential for the new growth to be as healthy as possible.

The rows we cleaned, amended, and compsoted.

The rows we cleaned, amended, and composted.

We got lucky that day. There is a nice line of large pecan and oak trees lining the side we were on and it effectively shaded us pretty much all morning.

After our shift was over, we headed to the stand to collect our “pay”. Since it’s late summer, and we didn’t get the stand until after Noon, there wasn’t too much left to choose from.

But, it’s hard to complain about that when you’re getting the produce for free.

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A few squash but a lot of long beans and cucumbers.

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These are beautiful. I honestly had no idea they could be purple.

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More curly mustard. I’d better enjoy it while I can.

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Arugula.

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Okra. So good.

I picked up some curly mustard, long beans, okra, and arugula. (I forgot to take a picture when I got home.)

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More of Carol Ann’s flowers.

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More summer squash. Carol Ann told us basically, as long as you want to plant it before the first frost, it’ll grow.

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the ladies in the shade.

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Buddy, the farm dog, spent a good deal of the day digging a very deep hole a couple of rows away from where we were working. He kept on long after we’d finished. I have no idea what he was looking for or if he even caught anything. But, it was entertaining to watch. We were all rooting for him.

So much for June and July. On to August.

 

 

 

 

 



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