Shredded Bliss

It’s tempting to slip on a pair of stretchy dark yoga pants this time of year though not necessarily for yoga. The holiday season afterglow that drifts into January makes the rest of the wardrobe feel a little snug. An extra pound (or five) shows up after indulging in everything from office party cookies to the New Year champagne brunch.

While the extra weight represents an unwelcome reminder of dietary indiscipline, it also provides a souvenir of sorts in remembrance of generous holiday meals shared with family and friends. Visiting around each other’s tables is often where we find new ideas and a fresh take on ingredients prepared with someone else’s creative touch gives us the chance to continue the custom of exchanging recipes.

The final weeks of 2015 included samplings of food from a parade of nations and a first-birthday celebration at the home of friends honored a tiny Japanese child. Elaborate cakes and cookies waited for the birthday girl while guests celebrated with sushi and sake. If part of the rituals of the day’s tradition centered on gracing her with good health through fine food, then guests walked away with a few blessings as well.

Nordic indulgences also own a share of the blame for my extra consumption. Friends who claim a bit of Norwegian heritage by way of Minnesota delivered a box of krumkake to us in late December. We received these delicate Scandinavian cookies shortly after they were carefully made with a batter of eggs, flour, vanilla, cardamom and sugar.

KrumkakeThe batter is poured onto a special embossed griddle and then molded onto a cone to produce a light flaky cookie flute. The delivery came with a generous supply of filling for the cones in the way of whipped cream. They were truly too good to let even a drop go uneaten.

With the Nordic influence continuing into the New Year, a dinner party to mark 2016 could have been titled “Norway on the Hudson.” Encouraged by mild January temperatures, our host and home chef grilled salmon outdoors and served the fish with mounds of roasted baby potatoes and classic Scandinavian cucumber and dill weed salad. It seemed as if we’d ended the evening with a healthy-ish calorie count until he carried a steaming-hot chocolate cake to the table. The cake didn’t need anything to prop it up, but was topped with a dollup of puffy pillowy cream. Pull out the stretchy pants.

The most adventurous meal of the season — a seven-course Sunday dinner served with a selection of beverages to enhance each course — set a record for calories but more importantly for fun and dining pleasure. Our hosts, from Germany, treated us (for several hours) with much planning, preparation and care. Each course was punctuated with a subtle touch of flavor and described in detail.

Minimized red cabbageAlong with the dumplings (which were better than any this side of Bavaria), the cabbage was pure delight. Sweet and sour, not too heavy and boldly beautiful on the plate. A popular German food, red cabbage makes frequent appearances as an accompaniment. It’s also the sort of dish that doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare. The version that I prefer is mildly spiced and cooked until tender. It’s easy and affordable with ingredients widely available at any market around town. Leafy cabbage ranges in varieties and colors from ivory-white to yellowy-green, purple and bold red. We may think of sauerkraut, the tangy pickled dish made with white cabbage as the more favored German food, but red cabbage appears everywhere as a side, in soups, on sandwiches and in salads.

Minimized shredded red cabbageChoose a firm head of red cabbage with shiny and crisp leaves and sharpen a good knife to produce an ideal shred. Red cabbage naturally complements potatoes and meats but also stands well alone as a hearty vegetable. Olive oil serves as a natural substitute for the butter and additional apples along with raisins and seeds turn sautéed red ribbons of cabbage into a healthy warm salad. This sweet and sour red cabbage preparation produces a mild dish with a big serving of texture.

 Red Cabbage

Serves 6 to 8

1 head red cabbage

3 tablespoons butter

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced

3 tablespoons white vinegar

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

½ teaspoon nutmeg

2 cloves

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Remove any tattered ends or leaves from cabbage and discard cabbage core. With a sharp knife or mandoline, thinly shred cabbage and set aside.
  1. Heat butter in heavy Dutch oven pan and add chopped shallot. Cook 2 minutes over medium heat. Add cabbage and coat with melted butter. Add remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly. Cook 15 minutes over medium heat stirring frequently.
  1. Lower heat and simmer 30 to 45 minutes until cabbage softens, stirring occasionally. Remove cloves. Adjust with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

 

By Mary Ann Ebner

First published by Philipstown.info

Make migas for the holiday houseful

Local Scramble

By Mary Ann Ebner

When happy hens lay their eggs, there’s no better time for the rest of us to rise, shine and whisk up a dozen — the fresher the better. And forget shelf life when it comes to fresh eggs. The just-laid delicacies taste so flavorful that they simply don’t even have a chance to age.

Minimized The Cat Rock Egg Farm

A distinctive dozen from The Cat Rock Egg Farm in Garrison, New York

Twelve precious eggs may not top the list of typical hostess gifts, but I’ll happily accept them any day of the year. My friend Diane recently shared a collection from her backyard chickens and when she arrived at an impromptu give-thanks gathering in November carrying a paper egg carton, I found myself giving all kinds of thanks for her thoughtful and nourishing gift. We used the eggs to make a favorite meal, our super-simplified version of Tex-Mex migas, an egg-scramble skillet dish adopted during our years living in Austin.

In Texas, we sampled several iterations of migas (similar to chilaquiles). A smoked jalapeno pepper version drenched in spicy tomato sauce proved a little too hot. But hot or mild, with fried tortilla bits smothered by a chef’s choice of ingredients, the one-pan preparation can be made your own way.

Any eggs will do for these migas, but starting with the best ingredients means picking up a decent dozen. The supermarket may work in a pinch, but with access to eggs in the Hudson Valley from farms like Glynwood and vendors at our local farmers’ markets, we can all choose a better egg. My latest dozen came from The Cat Rock Egg Farm in Garrison. Lydia JA Langley, owner of The Cat Rock Egg Farm, raises her pet hens with love and attention and the hens in return turn out eggs that can make cooking and eating omelets the highlight of a weekend.

“The freshest eggs you will find come from a local provider,” Langley said as she gathered eggs from her hens on a warm December morning. “One of the great things about buying eggs from someone like me is that there’s a variety but the taste is consistent.”

Minimized Lydia with eggs

Lydia JA Langley collects eggs from her hens at The Cat Rock Egg Farm.

Such a fresh egg doesn’t exist in commercial production. Some supermarket eggs may age from weeks to months in transit from the laying stage before they ever make their way into grocery carts. And even though supermarket cartons may be marked “organic” or “free-range,” it’s hard to know what’s in an egg. A yolk may look like a yolk, but still may not have much of a taste.

The flock at The Cat Rock Egg Farm lives a better life than its commercial cousins, and there’s no need for a “best by” or expiration date on great-tasting eggs. Quality draws followers and the colorful ovals are attracting locals (and a few customers beyond the Hudson Valley) almost as fast as the hens can lay them.

“They’re our pets and they live with us their whole lives,” Langley said. “It all goes into their lifestyle, letting them out, having access to bugs and grasses.”

The flock includes everything from Leghorns to Marans and they spend their days outside from dawn to dusk. In addition to the natural diet that the chickens nibble on in the yard, Langley feeds her flock non-GMO (genetically modified organism) food. Roosters and hens squawk about in the yard and Langley calls them by name as easily as she identifies the eggs from each by color, from a soft green to a deep terra-cotta shell. As she makes rounds and collects eggs, she finds herself quickly filling orders to deliver to customers, but of course, reserves her own family supply.

“We came home late from the city a few nights ago and had eggs for dinner,” Langley said. “Eggs and toast with polenta.”

She prefers her eggs not quite fried though not exactly scrambled: “I like to call them frambled.”

Minimized migas

Cook up a pan of migas. Photos by M.A. Ebner

Morning, noon or night, for your next egg-based meal, framble your own or fill a skillet with migas. Though we love migas covered in grated cheese, we’re skipping the cheddar for now to let the natural flavor of the eggs shine. Just add a splash of good salsa to perfectly complete the dish.

First published by The Paper/Philipstown.info.

Migas

Serves 4

1 dozen eggs

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup tortilla bits or crushed tortilla chips (whole chips work, too!)

1 medium avocado, cubed

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes

8 flour or corn tortillas

salsa and grated cheese (optional)

  1. Crack eggs into a bowl and set aside. Melt butter in skillet and add tortilla bits. Cook until crisp over high heat 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Pour in eggs and whisk around the skillet. Crush sea salt flakes over eggs. Add avocado, cilantro and scallions (or your choice of vegetables and herbs) and fold into egg mixture. Cook on medium heat until egg appears lightly firm and not runny.
  3. Dish this right out of the pan at the table or serve a heaping spoonful atop a toasty tortilla with salsa and cheese on the side.

Berried in Pumpkin

 

For all its warmth, silky smashed pumpkin, mildly spiced and tucked into flaky crust, might as well be classified as health food.

No matter how plentiful the turkey and Brussels sprouts, there’s always room for a velvety slice topped with whipped cream or served a la mode. Few Thanksgiving hosts challenge the pastry’s status as a given for holiday spreads which is how the traditional pie will manage to keep its place on our table this year, even as we break from family custom and add another dessert — pumpkin cranberry bars.

Minimized fresh cranberries

Fresh cranberries

Combining pumpkin with cranberries brightens any dish with splashes of crimson. Sweetened dried cranberries offer convenience, but they don’t do a baked good justice. A baking occasion calls for the fresh plump sort, the kind that make baked goods pop with color along with bits and pieces of tarty-sweet fruit and skin.

Pick up fresh cranberries just about everywhere this time of year, packaged in small bags at many local markets including Foodtown. Organic cranberries are also available locally, and Beacon Natural Market carries them in the fresh produce and freezer sections. If you’re cooking for one or two, a bag of berries goes a long way, but if you’re feeding the neighborhood, stock a supply to last the rest of the year. For those with a true cranberry crush … Beacon Natural Market is offering their own fresh organic cranberry sauce spiked with orange and a medley of spices.

To modify my own holiday menu, I’ve adapted a pumpkin bar recipe with the fresh berries and chia seeds. When I set out to include the seeds, I didn’t intend to create a superfood to overshadow the pie. I unexpectedly found myself with a supply of raw seeds on the doorstep — in a box from Amazon. One of my kids received a birthday gift from family friends and when the gift giver closed out his online shopping cart, the gift and a 2-pound bag of chia seeds were on the way to our address. Once discovered, there was no chance of redirecting the seeds to their rightful recipient, a master when it comes to blending morning smoothies with yogurt, fruit and chia seeds.

Minimized chia seeds

Chia seeds

Beacon Natural Market carries a selection of chia products ranging from vacuum-packed seeds to miniature single-serving packets in seed and ground form. Kitty Sherpa, market co-owner with her husband LT Sherpa, said the store stocks many brands and quantities of the tiny chia seeds, which according to the Mayo Clinic, date back to ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations as a dietary staple.

“The health benefits of chia have become popular over the last 10 years,” Kitty Sherpa said. “It’s high in protein and fiber and provides omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also high in antioxidants and a good source of calcium, magnesium and copper.”

With their healthy reputation, I couldn’t bear to let the seeds age on the kitchen counter, and they’ve been making their way into brownies and biscuits. When chia seeds sit in liquid for a short time, the combination thickens and takes on a gelatinous form that folds into batters just as naturally as eggs with a much lower dose of fat and cholesterol.

“With chia coming into prominence,” Kitty Sherpa said, “for things like baking, as an egg replacer, it’s a great way to use it. And it has such a mild flavor that it’s almost a hidden ingredient.”

Minimized pumpkin barsIt may take more time for chia seeds to land on the average shopping list and pumpkin bars could never replace pumpkin pie, but cranberries — packed with their own nutritional benefits — remind us to count our blessings, sweet and savory.

Cranberry Pumpkin Chia Bars

Yield: 3 dozen bars

1 ¾ cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups mashed pumpkin (use sweet sugar pie pumpkins or canned pumpkin)

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*2 tablespoons chia seeds

*½ cup water

3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and dried

½ cup butterscotch chips

Choose a 3- to 4-pound sugar pie pumpkin. Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds (save seeds for roasting). Place split pumpkin on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool. Scoop out pumpkin and mash or puree.

In a small bowl, add water to chia seeds. Let stand 10 minutes and stir. Seeds and water will take on a gelatinous consistency. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine chia seed mixture, pumpkin, oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Fold in fresh cranberries and butterscotch chips. Pour into a greased jelly roll baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the surface bounces back from touch. Cool completely and cut into single-serving bars.

*In place of chia seeds and water, substitute 2 beaten eggs.

By Mary Ann Ebner, first published by Philipstown.info

A Toast to France

Cool fall weather marks the perfect time to toast France with a hearty meal and a glass of red wine.

Minimized Perfect Potatoes Make these creamy bistro potatoes.

I’m toasting our hosts in Paris for their fabulous hospitality. Merci!

Jarring jam … why small-batch jam tastes best

Small-batch jam from Coyote Kitchen

Small-batch jam from Coyote Kitchen

Preserving fabulous fruits results in the best jams and jellies. Lynne Goldman of Coyote Kitchen doesn’t overlook any of the fine produce of the Hudson Valley when she makes her small-batch products. When there’s little time to make your own, sample a jar of artisan jam by slathering it on a cracker, using it as a glaze or folding it into a simple cake. Check out the jam lady and this recipe for blackberry jam cake.

Make it a pasta supper night

Some say beware of pasta while others shy away from bacon. This pasta supper dishes up a little of both.

Mushroom bacon pasta

Mushroom bacon pasta

Modify it to meet your needs and make this pasta tonight.

Lunchbox Okra

Okra adds a tasty texture to lunch.

 

Okra pieces and pods

Okra pieces and pods

A lunchbox went missing around the house over the summer and nobody seemed to notice. Who inventories these things anyway? They’re usually tucked into the cabinet that spills over with reusable water bottles and storage containers. In our small kitchen where we put every inch of cabinet space to use, it’s often advisable not to open the doors too quickly lest you risk spending a few minutes pushing items back into place.

With September on its way and the back-to-school routine approaching, it was time to search the kitchen. Younger kids may advance a grade with a new lunchbox to match their maturing personalities, but our older sons were definitely set to reuse the lunchboxes we purchased before the start of last school year. Searching the kitchen high and low proved helpful in recovering a box of filters for the water pitcher and a stack of misplaced storage lids, but it was otherwise a waste of energy. No red lunchbox to be found. It had made its way out of my son’s backpack sometime in early June, but managed to find a concealed spot to rest for the entire summer. He finally found the lunchbox stashed under a stack of papers and notebooks under the desk in his bedroom, and when he handed it over, he also passed a warning of what was still zipped inside: a thermos, his food jar that keeps a host of edibles hot or cold. I couldn’t guess what had been packed for lunch a couple of months back, but when I removed the lid from the vacuum-insulated jar, I found the remains of a steamed broccoli and onion medley accompanied by a predictably powerful stench.

The experience hasn’t turned me away from packed lunches, and a thermos makes it easy to vary the menu with rice, beans and even chilled fruit salads. Having moved beyond the lasting odor in the found thermos, it may still be too soon to pack broccoli for the back-to-school lunch break this year, but okra steps up as another mid-day meal that holds its form and flavor in an insulated container.

The vegetable — fabulous in a home-cooked gumbo, brushed with olive oil and grilled or starring in a curried Indian stew — adds a tasty texture and crunch to lunch. Okra tends to fall into the slimy category with all its glutinous properties, and that’s one reason why it thickens soups with a creamy consistency. Cooking okra quickly on high heat near the end of a recipe’s preparation can help minimize the stickiness of many varieties. If slime still poses a challenge, try throwing the okra pods in a water bath diluted with vinegar for 10 minutes (but pat dry before cooking) to keep the okra from becoming stickier in texture once pods are cut into pieces.

Crusty fried okra from Cold Spring's Round Up Texas BBQ

Crusty fried okra from Cold Spring’s Round Up Texas BBQ

If you’ve been to Round Up Texas BBQ in Cold Spring, chances are you’ve sampled their crispy deep fried okra. They sell it as a traditional Texas side dish — breaded and fried to a golden brown and served steamy hot. It’s hardly possible to stop in without trying a serving (or two). Whether dredging okra in cornmeal, spiking it with Creole seasoning or breading pods with buttermilk and flour, the vegetable can stand alone. It also shows off its versatility as an addition to casseroles or pan-seared and used as a salad ingredient. I haven’t tried to replicate Round Up Texas BBQ’s okra and don’t plan to anytime soon. It’s a rare treat to indulge in deep fried foods, and we make it a family outing to drop in and order their crusty okra when our home kitchen closes.

The okra recipe shared here lets the vegetable stand out while the backdrop of eggs makes it a meal. Scrambling the eggs with crumbled crackers produces a hearty base to allow the vegetables to shine. With crackers folded into the mix, there’s not much need for additional salt, so only add salt to your liking.

Lunchbox okra

Lunchbox okra

Try the dish for brunch and if you prefer a version with a little kick, add a splash of salsa picante to the egg and milk mixture before scrambling. There’s truly no need for cheese — call it done as is — but a sprinkling of shredded sharp cheddar finishes the combination perfectly with a rich result. No guarantees, but the lunchbox thermos will probably come home clean.

Lunchbox Okra

Servings: 4

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 cups saltine crackers, crumbled

5 eggs

¼ cup milk

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon chili powder

pinch of kosher salt (optional)

5 cups fresh okra pods, cut in ¼-inch to ½-inch pieces

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Mix dry ingredients. Set aside. Lightly beat eggs and milk in shallow dish. In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil over medium heat. Add egg mixture to pan and scramble 2 to 3 minutes. Add dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly, and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pan and keep warm. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan and cook okra pieces on high heat 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Return egg mixture to hot pan and mix with okra. Serve immediately or spoon into a lunchbox thermos and enjoy later.

First published at Philipstown.info/The Paper

Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

By Mary Ann Ebner