Category Archives: recipes

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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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

Share Some Luck with Spinach Pie

By Mary Ann Ebner

There’s something organic about bring-a-dish gatherings with few rules to pull people together for musings on more than food. We all know someone who cringes at the mention of a potluck. He or she may avoid edible uncertainty, but that’s part of the point. Bringing something you love can spark fresh perspectives for companions.

The starting point, at a minimum, should be a dish that can be served on a plate and eaten with basic utensils. Even without rules, it’s unlikely everyone will bring their signature dessert, but worse things can happen besides a table loaded with sweets. There’s usually a taste or two for everyone, with a range of gluten-free, vegan and carnivorous recipes.

Years ago, when I worked at a campus radio station, it was announced that the year-end party would be a potluck. The general manager and engineer were full-time employees, but the rest of us were students with limited cash flow. We spent little time or money on cooking, and when we dined out it was usually at the Stagger Inn over pitchers of beer and platters of potato skins. That was high-end nutrition compared to the microwavable sandwiches peddled from campus vending machines.

As potluck day rolled around, our lack of money and cooking experience didn’t stop us from covering a couple of desks with an assortment of contributions. At least three salads turned up, along with a fruit pie that was probably stocked from the freezer section, although its creator chose not to say.

The fruit pie was popular, but the most sampled dish was a bowl of blackberry Jell-O. It wasn’t spiked (or so we were told) or topped with whipped cream but represented the willingness to take part without making a fuss over ingredients and temperatures.

Shared meals not only spread the work around but bring communities together — the best payoff. Fresh spinach is a reliable crowd pleaser and does its work in simple or lavish recipes. This variation of spanakopita is essentially spinach pie made with phyllo sheets, which are easy to use but require quick work to prevent them from becoming brittle. If you find a few triangles left over, wrap them up. They’ll taste even better the next day.

Potluck Spinach Pie

16 servings

3 eggs
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 small red onion, chopped
3 to 4 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup roasted sunflower kernels
20 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
sea salt
black pepper

Lightly beat eggs with fork in mixing bowl, stir in ricotta and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sauté onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add to ricotta mixture.

Cook trimmed spinach in remaining olive oil until leaves wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Remove spinach from pan, drain and chop. Stir into ricotta mixture along with fresh parsley.

After all other ingredients are prepped, unroll phyllo sheets and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel during assembly. Butter large baking pan and layer two sheets of phyllo dough over bottom of pan. Brush layer with butter and sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Repeat with three more layers. Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture over the top layer. Sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Cover with phyllo layer, brush with butter, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and repeat to use remainder of sheets. Brush top layer with butter. Using a serrated knife, cut into squares, then into triangles. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.

First published at The Highlands Current

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

Choose your filling

minimized-hamantaschenHamantaschen are three-cornered treats stuffed with many favorites—prune, apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese fillings. The traditional pastries of Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of the villain Haman, taste great any time of year. Make hamantaschen and test a triangle or two before curious neighbors smell the delicious aroma and drop in with an appetite.

Wrap and Roll

Puffy golden egg rolls may top plates at all-you-can-manage buffets or come with beef and broccoli servings to go, but when we rely only on these sources, we’re missing out on a joyous do-it-yourself meal.

Takeout offers convenience on busy days, but cooking Chinese food at home can bring on even more flavor. As the Chinese New Year approaches, falling on Jan. 28 this year, make room for a meal of Chinese cuisine or at the very least a Chinese-American recipe without ready-to-eat containers.

For the last few years, it’s been my good fortune to attend festive gatherings to welcome the holiday. The menu typically includes two to three versions of stir-fry, steamed and fried rice, dumplings, tofu with sesame, wontons and those crunchy yet tender treats known to some as spring rolls and to others as egg rolls.

Though contemporary fans of Chinese food may use the terms interchangeably, my Chinese cooking inspiration refers to her family’s carefully wrapped creations as spring rolls. No Chinese New Year feast would be complete without them as a favorite side that can easily stand in as the main attraction.minimized-make-your-own-spring-rolls-copy

Unraised sheets of dough wrap around a filling of chopped vegetables like cabbage, carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms while some variations include mung bean threads and pork or shrimp.

Tradition holds that spring rolls shared among family and friends trace their origin to the Chinese New Year to signify the renewal of springtime based on the lunar calendar. The term egg roll may be accurate for thicker wrappers made with egg, popularized by restaurants beyond the Chinese mainland during the last century. Other Asian cuisines claim their own varieties, and whether you call them egg rolls or spring rolls or shape them more squarely than roundly, those who pause to argue about names or misnomers could turn to find the platter empty.

Fresh spring-roll skins prepared with flour, salt and water may taste best, but you’ll find me assembling spring rolls with wheat-based ready-made wrappers sold in packages of 20 to 25 pieces for around $2. Local markets stock super-thin wrappers that fry up lightly and crisply.

minimized-spring-roll-filling-copyWhen using even the best ingredients, this easy endeavor can flop without proper technique. For her fried spring rolls, my guide in all things Chinese raises the heat and stirs swiftly when cooking the filling. She generously fills the wrappers and recommends rolling them tightly not only to keep the filling in, but to keep the frying oil out. Though she teaches the study of Chinese language professionally, spending far more time in a classroom than a kitchen, she’s very much at home sharing the joy of spring roll preparation and appreciation.

Find a little happiness in the new moon with this simple recipe. Serve with citrus sauce or plum preserves.

Spring Rolls

Yield: about 20 spring rolls

1 pound ground pork
8 to 10 stalks scallions, chopped
1 medium-sized cabbage, shredded into small strips
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups mung bean vermicelli (rinsed, uncooked and cut with kitchen scissors into small pieces)
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 package 25-count spring roll wrappers (skins, shells)
canola or vegetable oil
1 to 2 beaten eggs for sealing wrappers

  1. Brown pork with scallions over medium heat. Add cabbage strips, stir and cook on high heat to warm through completely. Lower heat to medium, stir in carrots and cook additional 2 minutes. Add mung bean vermicelli and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Season with 1 half teaspoon salt and a few twists of pepper. Drain any excess liquid to minimize moisture. Cool cabbage mixture completely to prevent wrappers from breaking while filling.
  2. To fill and shape rolls, lay a small stack of skins on a work surface with one corner of the skin pointing to you. Spoon a thick row of filling across the base of top skin, below its center. Fold bottom corner up and over filling, hold firmly and fold over left and right corners to opposite sides in envelope style. Complete rolling and brush the final corner with egg. Fold corner over to seal.
  3. To fry, use a 12- to 14-inch pan that allows oil to cover bottom to a quarter inch. Bring oil to high temperature before adding spring rolls individually. Just as pan is full, turn the first one, and then one-by-one turn the others in the order they went into the oil. Once rolls have all been turned, remove them in the same order and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil, allowing space between each roll to preserve crispness. Serve whole or cut diagonally.

First published by The Highlands Current

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

 

 

 

Too Good to Toss

Thanksgiving, with its signature feasts, is a fitting time to thank the farmers, bakers and specialty food producers who make it possible for us to find mounds of fresh vegetables, pastured poultry and cut-to-order domestic cheeses. While families and friends usher in the high season for sharing food and drinks, your to-do list should include a plan for leftovers. Finishing off the stuffing and sweet potatoes not only saves time and money but controls food waste. Ever slathered leftover sweet potatoes on corn tortillas to grill?

minimized-cranberry-sauce-compote-copySome food waste is unavoidable, but after the second or third day of overlooking leftovers in the refrigerator, options diminish. For those who eat turkey and welcome its protein value, eating the dark or white meat on Thanksgiving may be plenty, though some of us look forward to building a sandwich on toasty rye bread. To revive your leftovers, let them stand in for a breakfast change, like cranberry sauce compote, spiked with crunchy granola. Reserve potato peels for a vegetable stock and put the mashed potatoes to work in a classic dish.

With this year’s leftover turkey, I’m making a mashed potato dish that resembles shepherd’s pie and its close cousin, cottage pie. Traditionalists insist that only lamb can be used to make shepherd’s pie and beef is required for cottage pie. But whatever you want to call it, turkey works for me. In fact, this comfort dish can be made with fish or a mixture of lentils and crunchy carrots folded under the layer of potatoes.minimized-slice-of-leftovers-pie

Though this post-Thanksgiving mashup, which I call Gobbler Pie, may look like a shepherd’s pie, it takes on a character of its own with the help of blended spices and caramelized onions. If you can find a batch or grind your own, Lebanese seven-spice blend carries the pie across cultures.

To further prevent food waste and help alleviate hunger in the region, contact the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley (foodbankofhudsonvalley.org or 845-534-5344). It collects millions of pounds of food each year for distribution in Dutchess, Putnam and three other nearby counties.

Cranberry sauce compote

Serves 4

2 soft bananas
8 ounces plain yogurt
2 cups granola
leftover cranberry sauce (water, fresh cranberries, grated orange or lemon peel, sugar)
Blend bananas and yogurt. Layer yogurt, granola, cranberry sauce and more granola to enjoy the remains of fresh cranberry sauce.

Gobbler Pie

Serves 6

olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Lebanese seven-spice blend (a mixture of equal parts ground allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg) or your own favorite spice blend
4 cups shredded turkey
mashed potatoes

Shake shredded turkey with spice blend and 1 tablespoon olive oil in plastic bag or covered bowl until evenly coated. Set spiced turkey aside. In large pan, cook onions with salt in olive oil over high heat. Stir continuously until onions turn brown in color. Add spiced turkey and warm through.

Spoon turkey and onion mixture into greased baking dish. Cover turkey layer with leftover mashed potatoes. Drizzle olive oil over potatoes. Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 375 degrees until the top begins to turn golden brown. Sprinkle top lightly with spice blend.