Category Archives: food

Chowder for the Wolf at the Door

When 10 pounds of potatoes and a couple dozen ears of corn show up unannounced, welcome them home to the chowder pot.

After transforming our backyard into a lobster fest for 65 or so guests in September (three years running for this festive event), a few items found themselves left behind by those who pitched in to make the meal happen. The lobster pit not only provided heat for Maine’s finest crustaceans, but for the accompaniments of potatoes, corn, mussels, eggs and sausage. We shared nearly everything but overestimated on the corn—fresh from Hudson Valley growers—and the spuds. Something had to be done with the surprise bounty.

When the time came to put the surplus supplies to use, I followed the wise counsel of the renowned food writer M.F.K. Fisher. In How to Cook a Wolf (1942, 1954), her book centered on preparing food during the tough times of rations but largely about living any time, Fisher calls chowder a “light and hearty soup” that would “please any hungry family.” Her basic recipe for chowder calls for potatoes and corn and she gives readers license to go “country-simple” or “town-elegant” based on their tastes and budgets. More candidly, when debating the controversy of whether or not a chowder should be tomato- or cream-based, Fisher says, “who cares?” and suggests that readers simply cook what pleases them.Minimized corn chowder bowl

Cooking the wolf can satisfy even the loudest grumps and gripers. Invite friends and family to the stovetop. Cook something. How to Cook a Wolf was required reading in a food writing course that I took with cookbook author Monica Bhide about 10 years ago. What I found in that lesson illustrated Fisher’s candor and dry humor when talking about sustenance for the stomach and the soul along with her ability to write well with wit and without repetition. She called things as she saw them and so much of what she saw leading up to and into the World War II era seems to be ever-present in these current times. Chapter titles like How to Keep Alive, How to Pray for Peace, How to Comfort Sorrow and How to Lure the Wolf provide a framework to discuss nourishment for humanity with universal neutrality.

As for my latest pot of chowder, it filled a hungry family and disappeared completely the following day. The variation described here can be easily adapted for the vegan or the vegetarian diet or enhanced with clams or ham for the meat eater. To those home cooks who render the lard after frying up a pan of bacon, that mug of bacon grease stashed in the back corner of the refrigerator can add the right measure of fat to the base of your chowder. For big bacon lovers, crumble fried bacon on top of the chowder just before serving. That results in truly rich chowder.

With respect and appreciation for elaborate as well as basic meals like chowder, I am signing off from my regular column at The Highlands Current. In addition to writing this food column, I’ve enjoyed working in multiple capacities with the organization since its early digital-only days. I’ll still be writing and cooking, of course, and next up for me is the semi-annual Middle Eastern tasting that my husband and I prepare for about 30 people. The table entices with spicy meats, salads, stewed vegetables and freshly baked bread. Made with everyday ingredients, the mosaic of recipes from the Middle Eastern region turns out an embracing aroma that helps one disregard the wolf for a while.

Corn Chowder

Yield: 8 servings

2 tablespoons bacon fat

1 large onion, chopped

2 ribs celery, diced

½ cup green pepper, chopped

6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

6 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

5 ears corn, quick-cooked and cut from the cob

1 cup whole milk

1 heaping tablespoon flour

freshly ground black pepper and course salt

  1. Cook onion, celery and green pepper in bacon grease until browned. Stir in paprika. Add water, potatoes and salt and bring to a low boil. Simmer until tender.
  2. Mix in milk and flour, stirring until smooth. Add corn, fresh ground pepper and course salt to taste. Heat thoroughly and serve with crisp crackers.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

First published by The Highlands Current

 

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Apple Soup Sendoff

Farewells bring on mingled emotions. Some signal “goodbyes” and others “so longs,” with hopes to stay connected even over long distances.

When the time came to farewell Hungarian friends last week, I wished them well but the family was sad to leave and none of us wanted to overshadow the moment with the permanence of a goodbye. For my friend, Orsy, the thought of returning to Budapest brought on more anxiety than exhilaration.

I met Orsy and her husband along with their two young sons in 2016 when they arrived in New York with plans to spend about 15 months in the country for a work assignment. Even on its worst days, with flaws presenting themselves in many ways, America earned their admiration and respect. They made the most of an opportunity here as a home away from home for a short while.

Moving back to Hungary will reunite an extended family, but life in their native country promises challenging times, economically as well as socially. As a teacher herself, Orsy considers the job market unstable and the unrest of everyday Hungarians trying to prepare the next generation to be a concern, with her own children about to start elementary school. She’s not a worrier, but a practical realist.

There’s nothing posh or pretentious in her nature or her kitchen. She’s that neighbor who makes guests feel at home when the menu calls for little more than a cup of mulled wine shared around a crackling fire in her backyard. The fare is simple yet blissful. Flatbread pizzas, salads and soups are fitting remembrances of my Hungarian friends and with apple season near peak harvest in the Hudson Valley, Hungarian apple soup provides the perfect motivation to drop in on an orchard.

Minimized applesDon’t settle for any old apples to make this recipe. Fresh McIntosh fruit softens up nicely and during the weeks ahead, macs will be ready by the bushels across the Hudson Valley. (Find McIntosh, Fuji, Gala and Jonomacs ripe for picking now at Fishkill Farms.) The apple soup works well puréed or as a chunky stew. Try it in between, with a few pieces of apple offering a more structured consistency.

To sauté the apples, choose quality butter for best results. Orsy insists that European butter tastes far different than American butter. She didn’t say “better” but I’ll say it. It does taste different and better. Imported butters are available at local markets, but I found a small tub of Ronnybrook Salted European Style Butter at Glynwood’s Farm Store in Cold Spring. The butter’s taste and texture, high in butterfat with less moisture than big commercial brands, makes it a perfect fit for the Hungarian apple soup ingredient list. It’s inspired by Europe yet slow-churned in small batches right in the Hudson Valley. With local butter, Hudson Valley apples and a little dry white wine from anywhere, the ingredients will produce a tangy taste with a kick of spice for a sweet fruit soup. For a more savory soup, sauté apples with potatoes and carrots and blend smoothly.Minimized apple soup

Best wishes go with Orsy as she heads back to Budapest. Revisiting the Hudson Valley and the USA through her eyes helps me realize the good fortune to live easily in my own backyard, welcoming the splendor of simplicity.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

First published at The Highlands Current

Hungarian Apple Soup

Yield: 4 servings

6 medium apples

4 tablespoons salted butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup sugar

1 clove

juice of 1 lemon

3 cups water

1 cup white wine

½ cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon flour

 

  1. Peel, core and dice apples. Cook apples with butter over medium heat 5 minutes, stirring until apples soften. Add clove, cinnamon, sugar, water and lemon juice. Simmer 5 minutes.
  2. Mix in wine, water and buttermilk. Whisk in flour, bring to a low bowl and cook 5 to 10 minutes to reduce wine. Remove from heat. Remove clove. For creamy texture, pulse mixture in blender 2 minutes. For a chunkier apple soup, cool and serve at room temperature.

Peppered Corn Meal

Preparing the perfect polenta sounds easy enough, but around my kitchen, it takes added patience to work with the grainy flour ground from white or yellow corn.

When simmering the flour in water to transform the fine grain into the consistency of porridge, I’ve stirred up thin batches and a few lumpy variations. Lately, a pre-cooked version makes a convenient heat-and-eat substitute. The packaged polenta is firm and ready to slice, as if a pan of my wishfully smooth porridge had cooled and set.

Adding fresh ingredients to the packaged product diminishes a bit of the guilt of not preparing the basic polenta from scratch. For this stovetop take on skillet polenta, shishito peppers make up for any shortfall with the grainy foundation. They boost the flavor and complement the dense cornmeal texture. Any mild peppers will do, but if you see these beauties at the farmers’ market, scoop up a few dozen. (I purchased mine from a farmer lady who guaranteed their great taste.)Minimized peppered polenta

A 24-ounce tube of the starchy ground corn costs little (under $3 at some local markets) and can be sliced, grilled, baked, fried or crumbled and mixed into a skillet. This easy working starch offers a change from the trite potatoes-rice-pasta routine. Polenta lovers in Italy have known for generations that the finely ground corn serves as a hearty filler, eaten alone as a creamy dish or enhanced with everything from tomatoes to cheese.

Minimized blistered shishito peppersShishito peppers blistered on high heat add a taste of sweet char without overpowering the cornmeal base. A cousin to Spanish Padrón peppers, Japanese shishitos taste sweet with a mild heat unit on the pepper measurement scale, nowhere near the fire of peppers like the habanero or serrano. Resisting the temptation to devour the slender green shishito pods may pose the primary challenge in reserving the blistered peppers for the medley. Combine sundried tomatoes or fresh mushrooms with shishitos and polenta to further satiate hungry dining partners. If eggs agree with you and your guests, make room for their protein-rich addition. Once ingredients warm through, crack eggs into the skillet and let them cook for a few minutes. Our family prefers cooking the egg to a soft-boiled consistency. With eggs, peppers and mushrooms mixed in, the polenta almost carries enough weight to stand alone as the meal. Finish the dish with a layer of grated Parmesan or your favorite cheese. To get the most from these grains, eat peppered polenta while it’s still hot.

Peppered Polenta

12 shishito peppers

1 small shallot, diced

1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

extra virgin olive oil

24 ounces pre-cooked polenta, crumbled

5 eggs

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

sea salt and fresh ground pepper

  1. In dry cast-iron skillet, cook peppers over high heat until skins blister and brown. Drizzle with olive oil and season with course salt. Remove from pan. Cool and cut into small pieces. Set aside.
  2. Add shallots and mushrooms to pan and sauté in olive oil. Mix in crumbled polenta and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook 10 minutes on high heat, stirring. Mix in peppers. Lower heat and make 5 wells in the polenta mixture. Crack eggs into wells. Cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes. Check eggs for doneness.
  3. Finish with shredded or grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Pepper Note: For a mild peppery snack platter aside from the polenta, prepare shishito peppers following the blistering directions but leave peppers whole with stems intact. Pass the platter and hope that it comes back with a taste for the host.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

First published at The Highlands Current

Pisco and pastries south of the world

Some people naturally throw parties where the food, company and spirits are all good.

Over the last two years during a stay in the Hudson Valley, friends from Chile repeatedly shared their party flair.

It started at Andrea and Rodrigo’s baby shower, where guests sampled a beverage featuring pisco, colorless brandy with an alcohol content that can range above 40 percent. The hosts served piscola, a chilled blend of cola and pisco (primarily produced in regions of Chile and Peru), as the shower’s signature cocktail. One tall slender piscola tasted just right (had I not been driving home later, two may have tasted better).

When Andrea and Rodrigo marked their son’s first birthday, we toasted again with pisco. Inspired to mix South American drinks, my husband and I asked Rodrigo where he purchased pisco (Payless Wine & Liquor in Newburgh) and we started experimenting to perfect pisco sours, a full-bodied Chilean cocktail.Minimized juicing the lemons

Pisco—a luxury spirit made from several varieties of grapes and distilled to proof—anchors the pisco sour, but freshly squeezed citrus juice turns the beverage into a lemony libation.

Last month, before the couple returned to Chile with their young son and another baby on the way, Rodrigo made the splashy cocktail while Andrea taught a group of friends how to create traditional empanadas.

“In Chile,” she said, “you always can find empanadas. It’s very typical and we eat a lot of them, out for lunch, at the beach, at home. I’m no excellent cook but I do know a good empanada.”

Her variation, which she credits to her mother Maria, stands up boldly to the savory sort sold at Rincon Argentino in Cold Spring and the flavorful Mexi-Cali-inspired empanadas stuffed with everything from chipotle chicken to kale and sweet potato at Beacon’s Tito Santana Taqueria.

For an empanada like her mother’s, Andrea cooks a spicy filling of beef, onion, garlic and cumin, prepared a day ahead to let the mixture rest.

“This part, the filling, is the most important part of the empanada,” Andrea insisted. “You don’t want too much onion or we say ‘this is no good.’ You taste and taste and taste the filling as you’re cooking and stirring, adding the cumin and some salt, until you find a good flavor and that’s it.”

These empanadas, empanadas de pino, include spicy beef filling as well as raisins, black olives and hard-boiled egg. The fillers are wrapped with dough made from scratch or purchased in prepared form. For the group assembly, Andrea provided ready-made “discos” packaged by Goya.Minimized filling the empanadas

To change up your party repertoire, prep empanada ingredients and invite all to join in the pastry assembly while sampling pisco sours. Icy-cold lemon drinks without pisco can be something special even for those who prefer booze-free beverages, so you can never have too many lemons on hand. The beauty of this south-of-the-world tasting brings guests together all in good spirits.

Pisco Sours

Yield: 1 serving

3 measures pisco

1 measure freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 measure simple syrup (1:1 water and sugar. In small saucepan, bring to boil. Stir, dissolve sugar, simmer and remove from heat. Cool.)

1 egg white

bitters

ice

Shake pisco, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white with ice for 20 seconds. Strain into glass and add a swirl of bitters on top of the foam. Serve immediately.

Empanadas

Yield: 1 dozen

Dough

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup butter

1 egg yolk

8 tablespoons cold water or milk

Combine flour, salt and baking powder in mixing bowl. Cut in the butter, mixing evenly. Mix in egg yolk. Gradually add liquid. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Separate dough into 12 balls. Roll into 5-inch circles.

Filling

2 tablespoons canola oil

½ yellow onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pound ground or finely chopped beef

½ cup white wine

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Stuffing

2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into 6 lengths

1 cup raisins

2 dozen black olives

1 egg, whisked (set aside)

  1. Over medium heat, cook onion, garlic and cumin in oil until softened. Add meat and wine. Cook until browned, seasoning with cumin, salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Place dough rounds on floured surface. Add 1 tablespoon of filling to center. Top with egg slices, raisins and olives. Moisten dough perimeter with water. Fold pastry in half and crimp edges. Turn ends into middle.
  3. Brush sealed empanadas with egg wash. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until golden.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

First published at The Highlands Current

 

 

 

Share a summer salad

Need a flavorful #salad to share at your table? Toss one up with chickpeas and let this salad work like a meal.Minimized chickpea salad

Day-old bread panzanella

With your best extra virgin olive oil and a loaf of day-old crusty bread, add a few juicy tomatoes and toss up panzanella. Try this amazing and simple take on the Tuscan salad in my Cook On food column. Minimized panzanella

Confined Confection

For the past few weeks, it feels as if I’ve been camping out in my own kitchen. To acclimate a four-legged family member to our home, we gated off and puppy-proofed that room. We may come to regret the kitchen location, but it seems to make sense for the baby who needs easy access when heading outdoors on quick notice.

Already named “Denver” before he joined us, this puppy’s routine around the kitchen finds at least one of us playing with him, brushing his chocolate-brown coat, teaching him to sit with miniature milk bones, or bumping into each other while opening the refrigerator to search for treats for the trainers.

Now that Denver’s entertaining himself for longer stretches of time, he runs loose around the corner into the butler’s pantry—a safe puppy play environment with no carpets or butler to be found.

Denver, like our older dog Cammie, loves tiny pieces of raw carrot, which make great little training rewards for warm, furry creatures. A more mature pet now, Cammie trained with carrots starting at 8 weeks old and they remain her favorite puppy perk. It’s impossible to bring an orange bunch into the house without her waiting patiently in hopes that one will fall to the floor.

Though the carrots serve as rewards, tiny dabs of butter work well as diversions. When we were training Cammie, she wanted to nip at everyone, and we learned from a devoted dog lover to curb her mouthing and nipping habit with a slather of chilled butter. Within 48 hours, she received countless praises and stopped the nipping. We’re keeping the butter to a minimum with Denver, and he nips when seeking attention or alerting us to his needs. A little sweet creamy butter even helps prevent the rest of the household from nipping at each other, too.

Minimized gooey butter cake tasteWhen a cake appears around our place, we’re suddenly all on our best behavior. Just as with puppies, where behavioral experts advise to have a toy ready at all times, it could prove beneficial to have a slice of cake ready at all times for people. If there’s a stick or two of quality butter on hand, use them to make this dense cake-based crust that holds a gooey layer of cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar.

If you can call it traditional, original gooey butter cake may be made with basic staples stocked in home kitchens. Quality butter and cake flour are worth the extra effort of rounding up, though any will do to turn out a rich gooey butter cake. In St. Louis, where locals claim to have created the confection, commercial bakeries offer the cake laced with everything from chocolate chips to key lime. The recipe shared here resembles the original.

Gooey Butter Cake

Crust

1 cup sugar

2 cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder1 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 eggs, beaten

Filling

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups powdered sugar

Topping

¼ cup powdered sugar

  1. Sift dry crust ingredients together. Add beaten eggs and melted butter and stir until thoroughly mixed. Press thick, sticky dough into greased 9 x 12 baking pan.
  2. Mix cream cheese with eggs, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Pour over unbaked dough.
  3. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees until puffy and golden. Cool completely and dust with remaining powdered sugar.

 

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner, Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

First published by The Highlands Current