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Pulled Pork Sandwich with Carolina-Style Sauce

Pulled-pork-sandwichWhile the rest of the U.S. is braving record amounts of snow and ice, we're having a mild winter here in Maine – so the other day I fired up the smoker and made pulled pork for an appreciative crowd. It's an extremely simple preparation: a pork butt (which is actually the front shoulder of the pig, despite what you might have thought) is gently smoked for around 12 hours. The fat pretty much cooks away, the collagen slowly melts away, and what's left is a piece of pork that falls apart when pulled with a couple of forks (hence the name).

There are hundreds of versions of this basic formula, mostly related to regional traditions, each of which seems to have the force of downhome religion, complete with cadres of vociferous and serious defenders. Variations range from the super-pork-purists (no brining, no rub, no sauce while in the smoker, maybe a thin sauce of vinegar and red pepper flakes to be added by the diner) to more elaborate methods which include the aforementioned brines, rubs, and sauces (called "mops" if used while the pork is in the smoker). 

Sauces, by the way, are another source of regional pride and potential conflict – the main difference being the question of whether the base is tomato, mustard or just vinegar. Everyone agrees, however, that the main point of the whole exercise is the taste of slow-smoked pork, and if you do anything along the way to obscure that taste you're on the wrong track. (In that vein, if you really want to learn pulled pork, step one is to smoke one with no treatments at all, so you can become personally acquainted with the unadulterated taste.)

I don't come from the land of pulled pork (which is apparently the former land of cotton, more or less) so I don't have prejudices or traditions to defend. This leaves me free to try different methods to see which can wow my friends and family most effectively. This one – no brining, with a rub, no mop, with a mustard-vinegar sauce offered on the side – is my current favorite.

One thing that all factions seem to agree on: the bun must be a cheap, fluffy, store-bought hamburger bun – no seeds, no density, no whole wheat or unbleached flours, no frills. And the complete sandwich includes a knot of plain homemade coleslaw (I recommend my Killer Coleslaw, though you might want to omit the green chilies. Avoid if possible the commercial coleslaws sold in plastic tubs or at deli counters, which all seem to have an undertone of chemical preservatives).

If you are looking to control your glucose levels or lose weight this treat has to approached cautiously. One sandwich, with 4 ounces of pork, a quarter cup of coleslaw and a tablespoon of the Carolina-style barbecue sauce is 418 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of fat and 9 Weight Watchers points. (The numbers can be cut to 357 calories, 16 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 Weight Watchers points by omitting the top half of the bun.) This is not a disaster in the McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese class (734 calories, 45 grams of fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 18 Weight Watchers points) but with pulled pork on hand portion control and attention to the other items in your meal plan for the day is essential if goals are to be kept in sight. 

Continue reading "Pulled Pork Sandwich with Carolina-Style Sauce" »

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Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Strawb-rhubrb-cobbler2 

One of the tricks for getting through the harsh winters we have here in Maine is to fill our freezers with harvest bounty in summer, when our farmers' markets are full of the beautiful produce they manage to coax out of our short growing season. Every year I buy buckets and boxes of blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, peaches and corn (to list a few) and freeze them in 2- or 4-cup plastic containers. Then I forget about them...until I look out one snowy morning and suddenly think: I'll make cobbler today!

Today was that day, and these little cobblers did the trick, warming us up and helping us remember that summer isn't really that far away. (In February in Maine it helps to indulge in a bit of denial.) The picture, by the way, was taken in summer (you can see the fresh fruit in the background) and tucked away, like my frozen fruit, until now...

This recipe is particularly warming due to the addition of the Irish whiskey, and in terms of glucose and weight control it's not bad – at 170 calories, 28 grams of carbohydrate and a reasonable 3 Weight Watchers points per serving – especially considering how lusciously satisfying a dessert this is. (The ice cream shown in the picture is additional, so be careful!). 

Don't get me wrong, I love life in Maine all year round...but it's still nice to get a little taste of summer at this time of year.

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Fish Stew with Shrimp, Cod, Clams and Sausage

Fish Stew with Shrimp, Cod, Clams and Sausage
 
I love fish stews of all types but there's one problem I'd never solved until now: when I use white fish in the stew it tends to fall apart and get lost. The taste is there but the pleasure of the individual pieces of fish is lost. 

This recipe, based loosely on traditional Portuguese stews, addresses this issue nicely by preparing the white fish separately and then arranging it over the stew when it's brought to the table. The fish is instantly promoted from background player to star of the show! (Note that linquica is the traditional sausage for the Portuguese version; I used turkey sausage with a dash of hot sauce to keep the calories and sodium numbers within reasonable limits.)

I served this at our table the other night when the winter winds here Maine were howling mightily. We cozied up to the fire and ate this hearty soup, with a crusty Tuscan-style bread and a crisp Pinot Grigio, and gave thanks for the warmth of the hearth and the snugness of good insulation.  

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Killer Coleslaw

Killer Coleslaw
Every home cook needs a killer coleslaw recipe to bring to potluck suppers and picnics. It seems so simple that most people don't pay much attention to it, meaning coleslaw is usually the most boring dish at the party – but you can be a star with a coleslaw that hits just the right notes. And if you have a good mandoline slicer it's easy to make a bucketful for that big event.

I have two favorite coleslaw recipes that people ask for over and over. Both are on the spicy side so they make an especially nice complement to smoked or roasted meat. 

The recipe presented in this post is less aggressive than my Spicy Coleslaw, which has ginger and Indian spices punching it up, but it still delivers a memorable zing. 

Today's recipe was created by adapting one of my other favorite coleslaw recipes, from Gourmet magazine's June 2008 Barbeque issue. This version was a big hit at the Super Bowl party a few days ago so I'm sure I'll be making it again soon. 

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Hearty Lentil Stew with Sausage and Broccoli

Lentil-sausage-stew
Lentils are one of the oldest components of the human diet, dating back over 12,000 years. One of the first domesticated crops, lentils have been an important part of the cuisines of the Near East and the Indian subcontinent. Lentils were even mentioned in the Bible: "Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left." (Genesis 25:34)

That historical stuff is all good to know, of course, but here at Stephencooks the first question is, does it taste good? And following that is, is it a healthy addition to my diet? The answer with this hearty stew, on both fronts, is YES! We love this dish, with its zesty Italian flavor, and we love how the nutrition numbers fit so well in our glucose- and weight-control plans! And did I mention that it's fairly quick and easy? This is real food that's really good for you.

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Tagliatelle with Lobster Cream Sauce and Mushrooms

Lobster-cream-pasta 

 
I don't need much encouragement to want to cook with lobster, especially in winter, when lobster prices are low and hardshells are readily available. The occasion for this dish – and it is a sort of special occasion dish – was a New Year's Eve dinner last week, but it works well for a birthday bash or an intimate Valentine's Day dinner. In larger quantity it's a great offering for a potluck or an upscale Super Bowl party. 

Of course, by the time New Year's rolls around we're usually ready to call an end to rich, luxurious food, so I served this as a small taste to begin the meal. The heavy cream is a special treat, as is pasta if you're looking to control your glucose levels, so repeat after me: portion control, portion control, portion control! You can eat almost anything and stay healthy if you remember that mantra...

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Rustic Blueberry Tarts with Ginger

Bluebry-tart-rustic


"Wild" Maine blueberies – the smaller berries borne on ankle-height bushes that cover Maine's sunny hillsides – are only in season for a few weeks in late summer and I love them. (They're actually cultivated, not wild-harvested, but genetically they're closely related to the wild varieties still found in abundance in Northern wilderness areas. Maine grows 25% of the U.S. harvest and is the world's largest producer of wild blueberries.) The only blueberries available the rest of the year are the "high-bush" variety – mostly hybrids, they're cultivated in Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina as well as South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand – which have a larger berry and, to me, far less flavor. Some say that the higher proportion of berry skin relative to the fruit in the small berries is the reason for this but all I know is that I like the little guys better and I can only get them fresh a few weeks a year.   

This year in August I bought a five-pound box of wild blueberries from one of the Maine blueberry farms and froze them, thinking that they would become blueberry pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas. An accident involving a broken leg, surgery, plates, screws, and a subsequent doctor's order not to put any weight on my foot for at least 8 weeks severely curtailed my holiday cooking this year so I didn't get to the pies. But now I'm back in the kitchen at least part time, so when we planned a New Year's Eve dinner I immediately thought of my blueberry stash.  

These tarts are relatively quick, decorative on the plate, and don't require any special bakeware. The blueberry taste is dominant and pleasing, with the ginger adding a surprise accent note. 

For people looking to control calorie or carbohydrate intake, these tarts fall in the middle range compared to other holiday temptations: at 218 calories each and 29 grams of carbs they aren't diet food, but on the other hand, many goodies on the holiday board can be much, much worse. My approach is to allow myself some moderate special pleasures like these, while keeping a lid on the more ordinary comfort foods like mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, and big slices of apple pie with ice cream. It's been working for me...

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New Year's Good Luck: Black-Eyed Pea Soup

Black-Eyed Pea Soup

 

"Did you get your peas?" My daughter had moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and I was calling to wish her happy New Year. 

"Did I what?"

"Get your peas," she repeated. "Down here, that's what everyone says on New Year's Day instead of Happy New Year." 

I grew up in the Midwest (Ohio and Michigan) and have lived my whole adult life in the Northeast so until Jenny moved south I never heard of the southern tradition of eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day to insure good luck. But since learning about this tradition I've rarely missed getting my peas for New Year. Have I been luckier than I would have been? I'm pretty pleased with the way things have turned out for me so far but of course I can't say with confidence that it was – or wasn't – the peas! 

Not that I need a holiday tradition to get me to make black-eyed peas. Any diet organized around healthy eating or for glucose control should include legumes on a regular basis: high in protein and fiber, low in fat, they are a nearly perfect food. The only caution is that they also pack a carbohydrate punch so portion control is important, as usual.

I use a hambone, or sometimes some smoked ham hocks, when I make my peas…while not essential, the hambone or hocks add depth and complexity to the soup. I always use dried beans for my bean dishes, but of course you can buy black-eyed peas (also called cowpeas) and similar legumes already cooked, in cans or frozen. In the South there are purists who scoff at anything but fresh peas, of course, but they can be hard to find in markets outside the South. (If you used canned or frozen peas, be sure to check the label for added sugar or fat if you're looking to control intake.) 

We usually have this soup with a simple salad and some of my favorite cornbread but if you want to go the traditionalist route you'd accompany your peas with rice, a baked ham and some collard greens. 

Another way to get your peas is in hoppin' john, which is made by cooking the rice in the black-eyed pea soup (see the variation at the end of the recipe).

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Lobster / Shrimp Broth

Lobster / Shrimp Broth   

This lobster/shrimp broth is an important ingredient in my kitchen and I almost always have several containers of it on hand in the freezer. It provides most of the magic in seafood risottos, omelets, pasta dishes and stews and it forms the base for many of the flavorful sauces I use with broiled, grilled and poached fish. 

Google "lobster broth" and you'll find a good variety of recipes, all pretty much along the same lines (lobster bodies, tomatoes wine, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, aromatics, some chile pepper and a long slow simmer). My recipe for this broth was adapted from one presented by Jasper White in his "Lobster at Home" – a wonderful book that opens the door to all the other things you can do with lobster besides boil them – combined with my Red Shrimp Broth recipe. As White mentions in his book, making lobster broth isn't an exact sicence, so it changes subtly each time I make it according to what I have on hand. 

Jasper White has been an inspiration to me for years. An award-winning chef who has had a varied career – which fortunately included the writing of "Lobster at Home" – and a Culinary Instiute of America graduate, he founded Jasper's, a popular restaurant in the 80's in Boston's North End. Jasper's is often cited as the first to introduce contemporary American cuisine in Boston, and I was fortunate enough to eat (and learn) there many times.

In 2000 White opened Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a casual restaurant specializing in traditional New England seafood. Since then he's opened three more Summer Shacks, in Boston, Hingham, Massachusetts and at the Monhegan Sun resort in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Summer Shack was nominated in 2001 for the James Beard Foundation Award (Best New Restaurant category) and has appeared in Sauveur Magazine's Top 100 list. 

I have a good bit of freezer space so as I prepare various seafood dishes I put aside all the shirmp shells and lobster carcasses produced along the way. When I've got a big bagful I make a new supply of this broth, usually about every two months. It's a bit of a chore but if fills the house with the most tantalizing aroma, and when completed a deep feeling of wealth and comfort descends upon me as I contemplate the new supply of lobster-ey goodness waiting to go into the freezer and eventually into my cooking.

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Six Surefire Alternatives to Turkey for Christmas Dinner

Wood Roasted Stanging Rib of Beef

Wood Roasted Standing Rib of Beef

 What's Your Favorite Alternative to Turkey for Christmas? 

Leave a recipe or a link in a comment...

A lot of families do a turkey for Thanksgiving and then another one for Christmas but I've always been of the school that holds with the idea that Christmas calls for a different sort of festive meal. All of the recipes linked below have been on our menu for Christmas dinner, one year or another so I thought I'd pull them together in a single post. For sides, soups, salads, and starters, check out my Christmas recipes list or browse in the Recipe Finder on the left side of this page...

 

Fish and Lobster Pie

Fish and Lobster Pie

 

Stuffed Pork Roast with Balsamic Reduction Sauce

Stuffed Roast Pork with Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

 

Tuscan Wood-Roasted Chicken with Porcini & Sausage Rice Stuffing

Tuscan Wood-Roasted Chicken with Porcini and Sausage Rice Stuffing

 

Tuna Livornese

Tuna Livornese

 

Pan-Seared Filet Mignon with Shallot-Wine Sauce

Pan-Seared Filet Mignon with Shallot-Wine Sauce

 

Have fun planning your own special Christmas dinner!

 

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Spicy Daikon Radish

Spicy Daikon Radish

 

What to do with those beautiful but huge daikon radishes in the store? Shredded raw for a salad, cut in sticks and cooked for a soup -– of course. But with some of those babies weighing in at two pounds or more there have to be other options. 

This recipe for cooked spiced radish was adapted from Sumana Ray's "Indian Vegetarian Cooking," a slim volume with big beautiful photos and simple recipes that's been an inspiration to me for many years. Low fat and low carb, it's quick and healthy. Served with Basmati rice and pita bread, this makes a nice side to roast lamb or maybe a chicken curry.

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Oxtail Soup

Oxtail Soup with Fritter Garnish

 

Nothing fancy here: just an heirloom recipe that qualifies both as comfort food and as food that's good for you. The comfort comes from the deeply satisfying warmth and complexity of flavor of this soup and the sumptuous mouthfeel that comes from the slow cooking of beef bones, which breaks down the collagens into gelatin. The healthy part comes from the fact that as satisfying as this bowl is, it contains only 114 calories, 4 grams of fat and 8 grams of carbohydrates per serving (not including the garnish).

This is true slow food: long cooking on a low flame completely reduces and transforms cheap bones and meat to richly flavored broth, overnight refrigeration allows the nearly complete removal of fat, and making the soup a day or two ahead allows the flavors to meld. It's the kind of recipe that I do on the back burner while I'm preparing today's meal on the front.

The fritter garnish adds a bit of fun: it's a little trick I adapted from a recipe in my 1975 edition of "The Joy of Cooking."

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Chocolate Espresso Mayan Cookies

Chocolate Espresso "Mayan" Cookies
 
This is a republication of an old favorite Christmas season cookie recipe – a dark chocolate cookie kicked up with a little cayenne pepper – originally published November 26, 2005.

These little guys are sneaky little chocolate bombs. They look innocent enough on the plate, but in your mouth they explode a burst of dark, dangerous flavor that will have you checking your competition and grabbing for more. You know who you are, you chocaholics, with your pulse quickening a little now at the prospect of a chocolatier cookie than you've ever had before, so just copy this recipe down and give it a try. I know my claims for this one are bold but I don't expect any complaints when the testers weigh in...

By the way: as I did with the other forays into the world of deep, dark chocolate, I have to credit my neighborhood purveyor of exquisite handmade chocolates, Cacao, for inspiring my experiments with cayenne pepper in chocolate treats. Their cayenne-laced "Mayan" truffle still leads the pack for extreme dark chocolate pleasure, so if you are one of the above-mentioned people of quick pulse, I suggest you plan a visit to Government Street in Kittery, Maine, as soon as possible, or call the number given in the link to inquire about mail order.

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Haddock Fillets with Cranberry-Ginger Butter Sauce

Haddock Fillets with Cranberry-Ginger Butter Sauce

 

This dish is a child of the holiday season. I don't usually have dried cranberries and crystallized ginger slices in the pantry, but last week I did so I thought to use them with fish in a new way. The result was both interesting and satisfying.

In addition to being a fresh take on simple haddock fillets, this is also a very quick dish to complete. A quick chop of the add-ins, a 20 minute simmer and the 2-minute cooking of the fish and you have your midweek supper on the table.

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Cilantro Shrimp Tempura-Style

Cilantro Shrimp Tempura-Style

 

Here's another dish to consider as you plan your Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, or any time you want a tasty bite to start a meal: lightly battered shrimp, with cilantro in the batter, quickly fried and served with a simple dipping sauce. A whole meal of tempura can be a messy, difficult undertaking but these by themselves these are easy and quick. For a simple, low carb supper I combine these with a substantial salad and maybe a side of broccoli rabe or other cooked greens.  

At 219 calories per serving they can fit into a weight management plan, and at just 9 grams of carbohydrates this dish works really well for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes who are looking for satisfying food while keeping blood glucose levels under control.

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Flounder and Maine Shrimp Brunch Tartlets

Flounder and Maine Shrimp Brunch Tartlets

 

With the holiday entertaining season heating up in earnest now, brunch recipes will come to the fore. This recipe was developed as my contribution to "The Original Maine Shrimp Cookbook," published here in Maine by The Island Institute, a "membership-based community development organization focusing on the Gulf of Maine, particularly the fifteen year-round island communities off the Maine coast," according to their mission statement. "The Original Maine Shrimp Cookbook" was conceived as a way to support the Maine shrimp fishery by acquainting home cooks and chefs with new and old recipes for using these sweet little morsels. 

As regular readers of Stephencooks know, I look forward each fall to the appearance of the Maine shrimp in our fish markets and take every chance I can to work them into my menus while they are in season (roughly December to March), so I was happy to contribute to the book. 

Of course, these little tarts are a bit of work but they really deliver flavor and satisfaction for that special holiday brunch. For me and others keeping glucose levels and keep weight under control it's no surprise that these are in the "proceed cautiously" zone (at 418 calories and 30 grams of fat per) but with only 20 grams of carbohydrate each they can fit in if you stay aware of the big picture on brunch day. A half-portion is always an option, too, if you find yourself picking your battles at the brunch table.


Continue reading "Flounder and Maine Shrimp Brunch Tartlets" »

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Delicata Squash Stuffed with Apples, Herbs and Spinach

Stuffed-delicata2

 

Fall is all about squash in my book, so when I go to the market I can't resist coming home with more of them every week. For this recipe I wanted to create a meatless side that would also be a low-carb alternative to stuffed squash recipes that include rice, bread or other grain ingredients. The result: a tidy little squash boat stuffed with apple, onion, spinach and herbs that just screams "include me in your Thanksgiving menu!" 

 

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Oysters Rockefeller Bites

Oysters Rockefeller Bites


In my quest to get through the holidays without blowing my glucose and weight control goals, I've been working on some lower carb and lower fat versions of old favorites. Oysters Rockefeller has been part of holiday gatherings in my family as long as I can remember -– and it's a year-round favorite of Elise's – so of course it was on my list.

There are about as many recipes for oysters Rockefeller as there are varieties of oyster. Most include bread crumbs, cheese, butter, cream or some combination thereof, in addition to basic spinach, oysters and anisette. The combination is usually spooned into an oyster shell for serving. Part of my strategy for keeping the counts within bounds in my version was to make the portion size smaller, in keeping with my philosophy that it's better to have a small treat than to do completely without. Then I went work to make a satisfying version of the old favorite that didn't depend so much on fat. 

The result: sastifying little bites for your holiday starter plates!

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Grilled Swordfish with Lentils

Grilled Swordfish with Lentils

 

Grilled swordfish is an occasional treat in our house, as we have become more aware of the issues related to sustainable fisheries and the danger of eating too many top-of-the-food-chain predator fish (they tend to have more concentrated levels of contaminants like mercury and PCB's). But we do love it so like to prepare it in a slightly different way each time, to make it a special meal. 

Lentils always make an appearance in my cooking in the fall, so the idea of pairing them with our grilled swordfish last week seemed perfectly obvious, and with both high protein and high fiber it fits really well into my diet. 

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Low-Carb Linzer Cookies for Christmas

Low-Carb Linzer Cookies for Christmas
 

I know, it's a little early for Christmas cookies, but – as regular readers of Stephencooks know – I love request cooking. Ask me to cook it for you, I'm there with the goods. This time the request was from Emily Fleischaker, Associate Multimedia Editor of Bon Appetit, asking me if I'd be interested in participating in Bon Appetit's "Blog Envy" Holiday Dessert Bake-Off

Well, Bon Appetit is the mag that recently named my town (Portland, Maine) as the "Foodiest Small Town in America" so already I'm predisposed to want to play along with them. And – did I mention that I love request cooking? I'm there!

Year-end holiday meal days – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's – are mine fields for people with diabetes. To survive with glucose readings intact you need a plan and a fairly high level of dedication. Missteps lurk at every platter and plate. So, as I considered what to present for the Bon Appetite bake-off, I wanted to make something satisfying but also something that people looking to control glucose levels can eat without suffering debilitating guilt with the morning-after finger-stick.

These sinful-looking cookies – inspired by the ancient Linzer Torte, which dates back to the 17th century -- are only 7 grams of carbohydrates each, thanks to the wonder of almond flour. Almonds, as you may know if you're on a glucose control regimen, are the ultimate wonder food: low in carbohydrates, high in fiber, high on the satisfaction index. 

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Roasted Cauliflower with Tomato, Garlic and Basil

Roasted Cauliflower with Tomato, Garlic and Basil

This recipe – which has the power to convert even the most militant cauliflower-resister – was developed by transposing an old favorite Indian recipe from Sumana Ray's "Indian Vegetarian Cooking" into a Mediterranean version. I simply substituted basil for the Indian spices and omitted the fresh ginger she uses. Every time a cauliflower appears on the kitchen counter in our house after a visit to the farmers' market there's a clamoring call for a repeat performance of this dish. (We still like the Sumana Ray version, too, by the way, and I make it often.) The peas aren't especially Mediterranean but the Indian version has them and I like the way they look. You can omit them if you want!

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Stuffed Acorn Squash

Stuffed Acorn Squash

 

The farmers' markets here in Maine are full of squash and pumpkin just now so it seemed right to be thinking about stuffed acorn sqaush this week. I used farro because I had a small amount left in a bag but leftover rice works just as well.

Look for acorn squash on the small side when you're thinking of making this - the average-sized supermarket variety acorn squash I find to be too big for a single serving in this presentation, and the whole thing falls apart if you have to cut it into smaller portions.

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Apple Crisp (Reduced Carb Version)

Apple Crisp (Reduced Carb Version)

 

I recently went apple-picking on a beautiful fall day (on a visit with my daughter and her family, in upstate New York) and later the same day we made apple crisp for a neighborhood pot-luck supper. For the apple crisp recipe I turned – as thousands do every day – to Elise Bauer's simplyrecipes.com, one of the most reliable and comprehensive recipe sources on the web.

The apple crisp was perfect, and I recommend Elise's recipe wholeheartedly, but when I later did a nutritional estimate I found that a half-cup serving had 226 calories, 9 grams of fat and a whopping 38 grams of carbohydrates. For anyone looking to control blood glucose levels this dish, even in limited portions, is potentially too high in carbohydrates. (It scored 5 Weight Watchers points, by the way.)

Apple Picking I set out to reduce the calories and carbs in a new version of apple crisp, hoping of course not to lose any of the pleasures of a good apple crisp. I replaced most of the sugar with granulated no-calorie sweetener and most of the oatmeal with chopped almonds, and reduced the butter by half

The main joy in apple crisp is in the apples and in the crunch. In this version the apples are unchanged and the seductive crunchiness – normally provided by the combination of sugar, oats and butter, bound together by caramelized sugar – is provided by the chopped almonds, combined with the reduced amounts of butter, sugar and oats.

The verdict: a total success, with all the crunchy, apple-ey goodness of the original but less than two-thirds the carbohydrates, with a similar reduction in calories. Since the main ingredient (apple) is fairly high in carbohydrates to begin with (a medium apple contains about 24 grams) this dish doesn't exactly qualify as low carbohydrate, but it does fit much better into a restricted-carbohydrate regimen than the original recipe.

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Poached Haddock Fillet with Apple and Tomato

Poached-haddock-1009

Where I come from (Maine), fillets of delicate white fish like cod, hake, haddock or flounder are often the freshest of the local catch, so when I'm buying fish I'm drawn to them. But cooking these fish can be a challenge, both because they tend to fall apart if handled too roughly and because the flavor of these fish is subtle. Sauces and accompaniments have to tread lightly – often a squeeze of lemon is all that's needed.

Haddock is a sweet-fleshed fish that is today the main type used for fish-and-chips in England, the epicenter of the fish-and-chips world. Battered and deep-fried fish, however, doesn't fit in a diabetes regimen, or in a healthy diet of any sort for that matter, so this treatment of haddock is much better, in my opinion.

With late tomatoes and just-picked apples in abundance in the farmers' markets just now, I was inspired to combine them in this recipe. The sweet/tart tang of the apples combined in an interesting way with the tomatoes and onions to make this a memorable dish.

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Homemade Applesauce

Homemade Applesauce
 

Every fall the farmers' markets are full of beautiful pesticide-free apples fresh from the orchard. Ever the in-season enthusiast, I buy them by the bagful with no plan for how to use them. As a result this quick and tasty applesauce recipe has become a standbye in our house from September to early November.  We love it on our oatmeal in the morning or with a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt.

Here in New England the dominant local apple is the McIntosh, which is very good for applesauce, pies and eating fresh. However, when I can find them I prefer Macouns, a cross between the McIntosh and the Jersey Black. Mcouns are a touch sweeter than the McIntosh, with a satisfying crispness --  but they're  becoming less available because of challenges they present to orchard owners (they tend to fall from the tree prematurely and production is not as reliable year-to-year as some other varieties).

Picking the right apple for cooking can be confusing but fortunately almost all the apples generally available in the U. S. are good for applesauce, except for the Red Delicious. Check out this chart for more help choosing your apples. 

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Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Fresh Herbs

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Fresh Herbs

 

When Brussels sprouts appear in the farmers' markets in the fall they are usually sold on the stalk. This is great because there's usually less trimming required, and therefore less waste. The drawback is that the size of the sprouts decreases as you work your way up the stalk from the more mature ones near the base to the newest, nearer the tip. This makes it difficult to cook the sprouts uniformly.

Shredding the sprouts eliminates this problem, as well as making for a pleasant visual and textural variation on the usual presentation of Brussels sprouts. In some of my other sprouts recipes I add in richness, texture and flavor with nuts or bacon but this one is pretty much sprouts forward, with complementary onion, carrot, red pepper and fresh herbs to add depth to the flavor.

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Cipollini Onions Roasted with Balsamic Vinegar and Honey

Cippolini Onions Roasted with Balsamic Vinegar and Honey

 

Cipollini onions [chihp-oh-LEE-nee] have become a fall favorite in our house over the last few years, since I first encountered them in a jar at the antipasti counter at an Italian specialty store. They're sweeter than almost any other onion you can name.

Cipollini can be hard to find, but my friend Simon Frost, of Thirty Acre Farm in Whitefield, Maine, isn't afraid of growing unusual crops (see his black radishes) and this year he's bringing baskets of these beautiful little (about 2" in diameter) flying saucers to the market. Peeling them is a bit of work but I don't mind once or twice a year. Serve as a vegetable side to roast meat or cut up and include in a salad.

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Baba Ganoush

Baba Ganoush

 

The market was full of beautiful eggplants this weekend so I came home with a bagful, along with tomatoes, basil, zucchinis and peppers and a plan to make a pot of the late summer favorite, ratatouille. Of course I had too many eggplants – this happens every year – so my thoughts turned to baba ganoush.

Baba ganoush is everywhere but it's rarely satisfying if you've had the real thing. I was fortunate to have a Lebanese-American friend a while ago who took me into her grandmother's kitchen to learn a few of the traditional recipes. Born in Lebanon in the nineteenth century, "Situ" (grandmother, in Arabic) had learned to cook in her village in Lebanon – where there were no food processors and no bottles of tahini - and no measuring. The ingredients were set out – eggplant, sesame seeds, garlic and lemon – and the baba ganoush was assembled to taste.

We started by holding the eggplant over the gas flame on a serving fork, turning it this way and that until it was black and bursting. Meanwhile, Situ toasted the sesame seeds and then ground them into a paste with an ancient mortar and pestle. And then mixed and tasted and seasoned until it was pronounced to be finished. The result was a thick, chunky spread which presented a deeply complicated blending of smoky eggplant and nutty sesame, with bright notes of grarlic and lemon.

For a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate snack, I omit the added oil usually used and serve the baba ganoush  with crisp carrot sticks, instead of the traditional pita wedges. Not only do you skip the carbs in the pita but also the narrow carrots help keep portions under control!

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Grilled Baby Vidalia Onions

Grilled Baby Vidalia Onions

 

I've been on an onion binge lately...and there's more to come.

These beautiful baby vidalia onions turned up in the market last week and I jumped on them. They're quick to prepare and lovely on the table -- a perfect addition to a late summer salad.

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Salad of Black Radishes and Shrimp


Salad of Black Radishes and Shrimp
  

Black radishes were a new find for me last year when Simon Frost of Thirty Acre Farm brought a box of them to the market. The inside is white, as you can see, but the outside is in fact black. They're large, for radishes – about 2" in diameter – and the taste is like daikon but sharper. When fresh they have a satisfying snap to them.

This simple summer salad – a slice of tomato, a ring of radish slices and a tumble of  shrimp – is a great combination for the mouth. The insistent notes of the radish counter the softer tones of the shrimp and the juicy tomato adds color and depth to the composition.

 

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Onions

Onions

 

 

 

 


Beauty in a box at the Portland Farmers' Market.

Recipes using roasted onions on Stephencooks:

Braised Green Beans with Roasted Onions, Pine Nuts and Herbs

Roasted Baby Vidalia Onions with Balsamic Sweet-Sour Sauce

You might also like:

Vidalia Onioni Tartlets with Tomatoes Vidalia Onion Tartlets with Tomatoes

Or, from the blogosphere:

Today's Topic is Roasted Onions: Discuss - from Seven Spoons

Pickled Red Onions - from Simply Recipes

Roasted Red Onion Salad - from A Veggie Venture

Marinated and Roasted Vidalia Onion Rings - from Kalyn's Kitchen

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Roasted Shallots

Roasted Shallots

 

I've been hard at work on the new Stephencooks so haven't been posting lately, but that doesn't mean I'm not cooking and taking pictures of food.

After a rough start this year our Maine farmers are hitting their stride now and the markets are full of beautiful veggies every day. These plump sweet shallots are related in name only to the dry overpriced peanuts sold in supermakets.

Roasting them is very easy. Wash them, trim off the tops, toss them in some olive oil and roast in an open tray at 400º for about 50 minutes. Stir halfway through.

When they're very fresh you can just trim off the root ends and eat the whole thing. Older ones need to be peeled before serving.

Sweet and silky, roasted shallots  pair nicely with fresh garden tomatoes. Add some fresh minced herbs and a spash of balsamic vinegar for an easy summer salad. Or, if you toss the roasted shallots with some minced fresh herbs and a dash of salt they can stand on their own as a side vegetable.

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Seafood Stew Recipe with Lobster, Scallops and Clams

Seafood Stew Recipe with Lobster, Scallops and Clams

 

When you think of Maine you think of lobster. Shore dinners, lobster bakes, clambakes (which actually center on the lobster), lobster docks and lobster stew. Ubiquitous lobster boats, lobster buoys and lobster pots that weekend sailors spend their afternoons steering around in the summer. So, of course, living in Maine (and before that owning a vacation house here for a number of years) I have personally presided over the conversion of countless bags of "bugs" -- the lobsterman's traditional term -- into platters of steaming pleasure.

 I like lobster and I like making my family and friends happy so I'm not complaining, but for a cook, boiling up pots of lobsters is boring -- especially if you have to repeat it for each successive wave of July and August visitors. Usually it's served with more boiled food: corn on the cob, which when it's fresh cannot be ignored any more than can platters of fresh homegrown tomato slices, but from the cook's point of view that's boring too.

Fortunately for me, Jasper White decided to close his trendsetting first restaurant (Jasper's, in Boston's North End) in 1995 to take a break and write Lobster at Home, among other projects. Published in 1998, this book -- though of course it deals with boiled lobster -- opens up a whole new world to the cook whose victims are clamoring for lobster.

While there are many creative and unfamiliar recipes using lobster -- ethnic-influenced, updated signature dishes of other chefs, pastas, etc. --  lot of the book is actually about the many traditional New England lobster dishes that White has spent a good part of his life researching and, since 2000, serving to crowds of happy diners at his Summer Shack restaurants in Boston, Cambridge and at the Mohegan Sun casino: chowders, lobster rolls, baked and stuffed lobsters, thermadored lobster, Newburged lobster, lobster salad. 

This seafood stew was adapted from White's "Traditional Lobster Stew" -- but I hasten to add that if you want to make the real Maine lobster stew, follow his recipe to the letter. Mine has been modified to make it friendlier to healthy weight and glucose control -- primarily by reducing the butter amount and using 1-1/2% milk instead of the whole milk he calls for -- and, pretty much just on a whim that hit me when I was at the fish market -- the addition of scallops and clams. I served it with a salad of fresh greens, crusty French bread and a crisp pino grigio. Jasper suggests traditional common crackers, and some might say beer is a better pairing.

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Spinach with Leeks and Ginger

Spinach-with-leeks

 

Spinach is, as we know, a powerful food we should all be eating as part of a healthy diet, especially if you're a person with diabetes. Like a lot of leafy greens it's low in carbs, high in fiber and protein and brings very few calories to the table. It also packs a calcium and potassium punch. But by itself I find cooked spinach uninteresting, so I'm always looking to somehow add a twist when I'm cooking spinach.

Fortunately my friend Donna taught me about 10 years ago how to make braised leeks. I love those flavorful little threads and I use them in all sorts of ways, so the other night I combined some braised leeks with my spinach to perk it up. I also added some garlic, ginger and a little oyster sauce to make a very satisfying and healthy spinach side dish. It paired nicely with the Low Carb Lemon Chicken, for example.

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Low Carb Lemon Chicken

Low Carb Lemon Chicken

 

Skinless boneless chicken breasts -- or thighs, if well-trimmed of fat -- always work very well for a healthy diet, whether you're looking to control your blood glucose level or just trying to stay trim. They're low fat, have zero carbs and are a good source of protein and so they frequently show up in diet regimens or recommendations.

The challenge with boneless breasts is, lets face it: how to make them interesting. Marinated, grilled and cut up to serve cold in a salad is a standard treatment. Or marinated, grilled and served hot, perhaps with a sauce of some sort, and next to, instead of on, the salad. But -- excuse me:yawn -- the meat can be dry and relatively tasteless. And in my experience the marinade or sauce in my view can rarely overcome this flaw.

Of course they can be breaded and sautéed, like a veal cutlet, and served with a mushroom sauce, but then it's not low carb, low fat food anymore.

Chinese steamer basket. Note: This recipe requires a Chinese style steamer rack, but if you don't have one you can still do it. Click here to see how.

The Chinese have a technique, however, called veleting which, with a little planning and a few simple ingredients, turns bland, dry chicken breast meat into a tender, juicy treat with a nice slippery feel in the mouth. I've learned this technique from years of cooking from Irene Kuo's excellent The Key to Chinese Cooking. (There are similar procedures for pork and fish which I'll present in future posts.)

To velvet chicken, it's sliced very thinly and then marinated in a mixture of cornstarch, egg white, salt and a little dry sherry or Chinese cooking wine. It's then plunged in boiling water for about a minute and drained. From that point the chicken needs only the quickest of stirfrying to be ready for the table.

In this recipe, adapted from Irene Kuo, the chicken after marinating is covered with a sauce and steamed gently. The result is a satisfyingly interesting blend of flavors and textures that is certainly a long way from the standard bland broiled chicken breast.   

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Fennel, Apple, Onion and Pancetta Pizza

Fennel, Apple, Onion and Pancetta Pizza
  

Fennel seems to be constantly on my mind when I'm in the market lately, so I almost always seem to have a bulb or two waiting for me to use one way or another. And for me one of the best pairings for fennel is pork, in any format, so when I was thinking of pizza recently this fennel/pancetta combo easily came to mind.

Onions and apples are also great pals with pork so it wasn't a long jump to this happy grouping: fennel, onion, apple, pancetta. Add in my current favorite cheese combination -- Parmigiano Reggiano, Manchego and fresh mozzarella -- top with a few toasted pine nuts, dried grape tomatoes and some scallion threads and you have a very simple but interesting pizza. 

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Sweet Risotto with Pear Compote and Ganache

Sweet Risotto with Pear Compote and Ganache

 

Andrew Barrow is a busy British food and wine writer and photographer who writes for a number of print publications and maintains a suite of blogs about food and wine which are listed, linked and described on this page at spittoon.biz, his flagship wine blog.

I've been corresponding with Andrew about food and photography almost since the day I started Stephencooks.com and he has been both encouraging and inspiring. The stunning quality and mood of his photography, whether the subject is food or more general, is a pleasure every time I visit one of his sites, and the breadth and sophistication of his food taste is constantly eye-opening. Add in his fresh, low-key writing style and the result is a pleasant few moments returned on every visit to his sites.

When I checked in at Andy's food blog Spittoon Extra a couple of weeks ago it was therefore no surprise to be blown away by his Dessert of the Week feature, where he presented Sweet Risotto with Rhubarb Compote. Though I love all preparations using rice, including of course rice pudding, and have spent many, many hours standing with a spoon over pots of risotto, I had never heard of or thought to try a sweet risotto. However, within minutes of clicking on that post I knew that situation would come to an end soon.

Rhubarb isn't generally available in the winter in the U.S., but since every year around this time I become obsessed with pears and pear preparations I had no trouble deciding what to use instead. I tinkered a bit with the risotto recipe but basically it's the same as Andrew's, using U.S. measures and adding a bit of the compote to the pot at the finish. The pear compote is a simple poaching of diced pears in sweet wine with some subtle flavorings and the ganache is an adaptation of Emeril Lagasse's method, which adds a bit of light corn syrup to deliver a more reliable and pleasing consistency to the result.

As you might imagine, this dessert was a big hit among the diners at my table!

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Braised Fennel with Leeks and Bacon

Braised Fennel with Leeks and Bacon

 

My friend Donna -- a tremendously inspiring cook who has had a great influence on me -- taught me to braise leeks probably ten years ago and it's become a routine part of my schtick. I've varied the recipe this way and that over the years but this version is the winner so far and therefore deserves to be covered in a standalone post.

Of course, I've been braising fennel for a while too (see Seared Pork Medallions with Braised Fennel for example) but for some reason I'd never thought to do them together, or to add bacon to either, though now that I've done it I can't for the life of me figure out why it too so long to get this idea.

In any case, this is an easy side that goes especially well with roast or grilled meats. Leftovers of the preparation are also especially welcome in the refrigerator too, as a little knot of this stuff (warmed for a few seconds in the microwave) on top of a bowl of rice makes a quick and satisfying lunch. It also makes a nice addition to salads or hearty soups.

I served it the other night as an accompaniment to Fusion Flank Steak with Japanese rice and it was a pretty perfect pairing in my book.

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Roasted Pear Salad with Honey Butter Dressing

Roasted Pear Salad with Honey Butter Dressing

 

Winter brings the fruits of the Pacific Northwest pear harvest to our supermarket produce aisles and this salad of Bosc or d'Anjou pears has become an annual favorite around here when the cold winds blow. (Pears can be held in cold storage for up to six months after their fall harvest with little or no deterioration of flavor or texture, if picked before they are ripe. Ripening them at room temperature is actually considered preferable to tree-ripening, which can make pears mealy or mushy.)

Got Pears?Pear Bacon PizzaHere are some more pear recipes from the Stephencooks archives:
Pear Bread Pudding
Pear Gorgonzola Bacon Pizza
Crab, Brie & Pear Pizza
Roasted Beet and Pear Salad
Duck with Roasted Pears

This recipe, like a lot of the ones you find here at Stephencooks, was adapted from another one.  I got some nice pears for my Seared Sea Scallops with Roasted Pears when planning a dinner for some new friends but then got an email answer to my usual question to guests about allergies and strong likes or dislikes: "serious seafood allergy - no seafood of any type or quantity!"  This salad -- using a vegetable broth instead of fish broth, and serving the pears with a vinaigretted knot of baby spinach and scallion threads instead of seared scallops -- was the result of my last minute menu change for the evening.

I served this with the Fusion Flank Steak and the peppery accents of the steak went well with the sweetness of the pears.

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Poached Sockeye Salmon

Poached Sockeye Salmon
  

My neighborhood supermarket had wild-caught sockeye salmon for $8.99 a pound and a couple of different versions of farm-raised "Atlantic Salmon"  for an average of $4.99 a pound. For several reasons -- mostly related to sustainability and taste -- I've come to prefer the wild-caught salmon from the Pacific northwest to the pale, overly fatty and bland farm-raised East-coast product. Yes, I understand that the the fish has to travel 3000 miles to get to my table, and that it's therefore not local, but this is a matter of taste. Not only is the color of the uncooked fish an inspiring red-orange, but also the taste is stronger and more nuanced than the pallid farm-raised cousin.

Anyway, I bought it.

Poaching is the best way to go with most fish fillets, since it's gentle and allows delicate fillets to keep their integrity. And, the poaching liquid, when reduced, makes a flavorful sauce. This dish, though it has a fairly long list of ingredients, is actually quite simple: make a broth, poach the fish in it, then reduce the broth to serve as a sauce. The addition of some carrots, green peppers and cilantro serves to add interest to the sauce and the orange color of the carrots seems to intensify the visual appeal of these beautiful sockeye fillets.

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Fusion Flank Steak

Fusion Flank Steak
  

Fusion as a culinary idea has been around for a long time, and to call a recipe a "fusion" dish today has dated feel. Fusion came on in the 70's and 80's, at a time when Americans and Europeans were just starting to pay attention to the range and depth of Asian cuisines that lay beyond the familiar neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Sushi, Thai food (outside pad thai), and Vietnamese pho were still largely unknown and untried  by most Americans when Wolfgang Puck opened Chinois on Main in 1983, giving the movement a home and a platform.

I never quite understood what was so radical about bringing herbs, spices and techniques from Asia to western cuisine, but that was probably because I was doing business in Japan in the early 80's and taking side trips to other Asian destinations almost every time I went to Tokyo on business. In Tokyo, Taipei and Shanghai, especially, I ate at exquisite restaurants where Asian-influenced Western dishes were almost the rule, and, with my exposure to these new experiences (and probably also because I lived just a few short blocks from the markets in Boston's Chinatown at the time) Asian cuisine was exerting influence on my own cooking. Later I found out it was a movement in fashionable cuisine and was, uh, unimpressed.

In any case, this dish, adapted Irene Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking, is one of my oldest takes on the fusion thing, and the bottom line is that it's good food by any standard, old-hat though the style may be. My father, Grillmaster Bill, taught me in the 60's how to marinate a flank steak and cut in in thin slices across the grain and it's always been a favorite around my house. This version uses Chinese flavorings in the marinade and is served sitting in a puddle of flavorful broth made from the marinade.

I served the steak with a mound of Japanese rice and a knot of my Ginger-steamed Cabbage (with the shrimp omitted due to a guest's allergy issues and some shaved fennel and leeks cut in spaghetti strips added before cooking). The combination was well-received by the first guests to eat a meal cooked in my new kitchen.

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Scallop and Pancetta Pizza

Scallop and Pancetta Pizza
  

People sometimes ask me how I keep coming up with different pizza combinations, and the answer is simple: what I have on hand + what the food mood is at the moment = the next new pizza. This pizza is a perfect case to illustrate how this works.

We're in the middle of what seems like the fifteenth snowstorm of the season. I just got my lungs full of good Maine air with half an hour of shoveling and so the food mood in the kitchen is: warm comfort food! On hand is a container of scallops and three of my favorite cheeses: fresh mozzarella, Manchego and Parmigiano Reggiano. In the freezer is the chunk of pancetta I always keep on hand for moments like this, and of course there are onions, garlic and parsley available. So there it is: a very satisfying winter pizza, perfect for refueling shovelers (another 4 inches fell while I made it) or for greeting skiers, sledders, skaters or boarders on their return.

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Moroccan-style Lamb Meatballs in Tomato Sauce with Orzo Risotto

Moroccan-style Lamb Meatballs in Tomato Sauce with Orzo "Risotto"
  

This was a nice bonus from a leg of lamb I prepared for another occasion. After trimming and boning the leg I had a pile of lean bits and pieces and a good amount of fat, which I put aside in the freezer for another time...which turned out to be a very good move, since I eventually thawed the package, ground the meat and made these tasty gems.We just moved in and I'm setting up my new kitchen, which will be the subject of a post in the near future.

The recipe is a typical pseudo-ethnic product of mine. Of course, if I were a chef and had to market it I'd call it "Moroccan-influenced" instead of pseudo-ethnic, but it's the same thing. Not the real thing and not pretending to be. Developing these recipes involved my usual loosey-goosey procedure: I read a bunch of recipes from disperate sources (cookbooks, files of torn-out recipes, the 'net), then close the books and throw stuff in that's available from my larder and seems to fit the theme.

The result -- a flavorful meatball with curry undertones and a sweetish tomato sauce redolent with cinnamon, saffron and mint -- was a big hit around here, especially paired as it was with the orzo, which was cooked risotto-style using a dilution of the sauce for the broth. Despite the long list of stongly-flavored ingredients in the meatballs none dominates, so the flavor of the lamb survived quite well. I served the dish with pita bread and a fresh salad of mesclun, lettuce, quick-blanched sugar snap peas, baby carrots and baby turnips, topped with sweet, juicy nectarine slices and a crumble of goat cheese.

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Poached Cod in Lemon Fume Broth

Poached Cod in Lemon Fume Broth
  

I've been going through an obsession with poached fish lately. This was one of the first "serious" cooking techniques I learned, when I was young and poor in New York City. A Julia Child recipe for poached fillet of flounder, with a velouté sauce made from the reduced poaching liquid, became my routine dinner-date-at-home recipe. Once mastered it was easy, and produced enough of a flurry in the kitchen to let my guest know she was getting something that took a little work. Add a candle, soft music and a bottle of wine and it made my little railroad flat in the East Village into a pretty romantic place...

Fast forward a good many years to Portland, where we are living in an apartment with no grill while we wait for renovations to be done on our house. I have access to fabulously fresh fish at the dockside markets and we eat several times a week at the excellent restaurants we have here.

This current situation has led me to more and more prepare dishes like this poached cod in lemon fumé broth, which, to be honest, are inspired by dishes I've been served on my nights out. Ok, to be different I put my rice (molded into a hockey puck shape with a ramekin) next to the fish, whereas some would have put the fish on top of a less architectural mound of rice.

The main difference between this sauce and the velouté is the omission of flour and milk (but not the butter!), so this dish has a lighter feel than my old standby, in which the delicate sides of flounder were draped with creamy white sauce and decorated with a scattering of minced herbs. Here the fish is out front, with the sauce in a more supporting role, and it seems to me that the flavor of the broth is more pronounced and accessible than when it's used as a base for velouté, and this in spite of the lemony slant of this particular version. In any case, this is an easy, flavorful way to prepare any fresh fish, especially if it's delicate and less likely to survive more stressful methods like sauté or grill. I usually pair with a small nest of cooked greens, a good fresh bread and crisp pinot grigio.

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Late Summer Pizza with Four Cheeses, Sweet Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Oregano

Cherry-tomato-pizza3

 

The story this week is that the  ripe cherry tomatoes from our farm share was remarkable for their juicy sweetness -- so when Elise asked if we could have a pizza night I knew those little beauties had to have the star position.

This is a simple pizza made of the most basic ingredients: cheese, tomatoes, oregano, onions, garlic and a few bits of meat and olives. As I usually do when using fresh tomatoes for a pizza topping, I dried them for a while in the toaster oven and this seems to have increased their sweetness. The combination of the sweet juice with the bacon bits and tasty cheese mixture, accented by the fresh oregano, made this a memorable pizza of the season.

We ate this pizza with a simple green salad, accompanied by a bottle of pinot grigio and Kenneth Branagh's exuberant and summery HBO Films version of "As You Like It" -- with memorable performances by Kevin Kline (Jacques) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Rosalind).

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Farro with Kale, Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella

Farro with Kale, Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella
  

I'm a little late getting on the farro bandwagon, it seems, but better late than never.  I was browsing for a gift in the spectacular Browne Trading Company store here in Portland and found a pack tucked away on a shelf, grabbed it, and now I'm an enthusiastic convert.

Farro (also called emmer wheat, and sometimes confused with spelt, a similar grain -- check the label for the genus/species, which is triticum dicoccum for farro) was apparently first cultivated around 10,000 years ago and may be one of the first agricultural products. It fed countless generations in the Middle East and later in Europe and what is now India and Pakistan, but was gradually replaced by other higher-yielding grains and has become a niche-market product, with relatively small acreage dedicated to its production. As a result the cost is high (around $12/lb at Browne Trading). It seems ironic that foods such as lobster (fed to prisoners and used for fertilizer in colonial times) and farro,  the food of the masses for thousands of years, have become high-value delicacies, though it seems understandable -- though not pleasant to contemplate -- when we recognize that probably the only way to feed the Earth's current population is through high-yield factory farms and livestock operation.

FarroIn any case, it's a wonderful grain. Somewhat like large barley or wheatberries, it has a pleasing mouthfeel -- firm to the the tooth but at the same time yielding, with no chewiness -- and clearly is a candidate for many different uses, especially since, like rice, barley and pasta, it absorbs and is transformed by flavors from the cooking liquid. In researching the possibilities for future farro forays I've bookmarked many nice alternatives for inspiration (see the links in the last paragraph before the jump).

Many of the farro preparations are hearty soups and stews, which seem to me to be perfect fall or winter fare, but the idea of a lighter dish based on seasonal vegetables seemed to me to be the right way to go in August. The juicy picture at The Food Section -- just farro, ripe tomatoes and mozzarella -- got me started, and, after reading a bunch of recipes I went to work with the produce I had on hand from my farm share. The results were pronounced "outstanding" by Elise.

I served this warm, with a side salad of simple greens and some crusty bread, but the leftovers were very satisfying served as a cold side salad to accompany a steamed fish fillet on the following day. When served cold I found a nice addition was something crunchy: cucumber chunks, fresh celery slices or perhaps walnut pieces are good candidates.

By the way, there's some disagreement about how to cook farro: there's the "soak-it-first" crowd (Paula Wolfert, Guiliano Bugialli and Bon Appetit) and the "just-boil-it" group (Ilva at Lucillian Delights, Giada di Laurentis, Lidia Bastianich and Gourmet). There's also a wide range of opinion among the soakers on how long, from 30 minutes to overnight. I decided to follow the package instructions (I was using the vacuum-packed farro intero from Rustichella d'Abruzzo -- they also sell farro spezzato, which is a cracked version of the same grain), which called for a 45 minute soak. Also, I cooked it in unsalted water, since the package directions didn't mention salt, though some of the others cited used salted water.

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Summer Squash and Fresh Corn Soup

Summer Squash and Fresh Corn Soup
  

It's zucchini and summer squash season...an old joke in Maine is that you have to be sure your car doors are locked in August when you go to pick up the mail or you'll find the car full of zucchini when you get back! And I guess the growing conditions are pretty good this year, since I got a single summer squash in my farm share box last week that was just two ounces shy of two pounds...

My friend Alanna, the Veggievangelist, posted a nice cream of zucchini soup the other day, and it sounded so perfect that I set out to make her recipe (which she said was adapted from Julia Child's The Way to Cook) but of course I can't help going my own way once I'm in the kitchen, even if the map is from Julia by way of Alanna.

The presence of a couple of leftover ears of fresh Maine corn influenced me, of course, and the incredibly flavorful celery on hand from last week's farm share box also was crying out to be included, as was some tarragon from the herb garden and some of the nice carrots that also came in from the Wolf Pine farmers. Oh - and I tossed in some saffron to juice up the already-beautiful yellow color.

I usually make soups with my left hand while I'm cooking something else for dinner, and often over several nights, so this was no exception. I think the flavor gets better if the ingredients have some time to get to know each other. In any case, this was easy and also a big hit around here. I served it with salad from the Wolf Pine Farm box, and the usual casual summer supper accompaniments, white wine and crusty French bread from Standard Bakery.

If you're really swimming in zucchini and summer squash you might be interested a couple of other recipes from the Stephencooks archive -- both of which just scream summer on the farm:

Lobster, Zucchini and Corn Pizza

Zucchini/Rutabaga Cakes with Tomato Marmalade

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Salad of Chiogga Beets and Romano Beans

Salad of Chiogga Beets and Romano Beans

 

Last week in the farm share box we had -- along with summer squash, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and parsley --  beets and green beans, two of my favorites. But they were both unfamiliar versions so I checked in with the Veggievangelist herself, Alanna Kellogg at A Veggie Venture.

Romano BeansAlanna instantly identified the newcomers:  romano beans -- a broader, flatter bean than the usual variety -- and chiogga beets. The beets were such a bright red that I first thought they were radishes, but when they had been roasted  they were a pale translucent pink, slightly redder on the root end. Their taste was earthy and sweet, with a silkier mouthfeel than the deep maroon variety.

Chiogga BeetsI have my regular routines, and with beans I usually blanch them and then season them with salt or sometimes a fresh herb while they are still warm. Great in salads or all by themselves. With beets I nearly always just roast them and skin them and then use them in salads. So, after going through the usual routines with these two (the beans were a little tougher than regular string beans so they took a little longer in the boiling water) I had the idea to bring them together in what seemed to me to be a perfect midsummer salad -- with some sweet onions, a few slivers of blanched baby carrots and a dijon vinaigrette dressing they were a perfect addition to a casual supper of poached fresh fish and fresh corn on the cob.

By the way, Alanna has more great ideas for these two vegetables: see Chiogga Beets with Horseradish Cream and Garlicky Romano Beans - take note, by the way, in the bean preparation, of the rosemary-infused oil(!).

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Marinated Lamb Kebabs with Onions, Peppers and Nectarines

Marinated Lamb Kebabs with Onions, Peppers and Nectarines
  

The American Lamb Board, seeking to shore up demand which, according to their market reports, has fallen off significantly over the last two years, has enlisted a top-flight PR firm to spread the word. Apparently getting bloggers to write about lamb is part of their strategy so they Fedexed me a nice gift box containing a boned leg of lamb on ice, bags of dried herbs, some skewers and a leaflet with recipes.

Farmgirlfarebannersummer220Since I never heard of the American Lamb Board I asked my friend Farmgirl Susan, a bonafide sheep farmer and the creator of the wildly popular blog Farmgirl Fare, if she could tell me something about the organization.  She said:

""I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't know anything about them. We're not currently members of the Sheep Society or whatever those groups are called. Usually they're aimed at larger producers and/or people who don't know the words 'organic' or 'natural.'

"That said, I am certainly in favor of anything that helps to not only get more people eating lamb, but lets them know that their lamb doesn't have to come all the way from Australia or New Zealand (or Iceland, which is the place Whole Foods is touting their lamb is from now).

"But of course, naturally raised, grass-fed lamb that is hopefully locally produced is not as easy to come by--and it's going to cost more than the stuff at your average supermarket whether it's American or not. Unless it's marked otherwise, supermarket lamb will most likely come from animals fattened up quickly on grain in feedlots."

I get such offers of marketing swag every now and then and accept them with the warning that I may or may not write about the product, and that if I do write about it my comments may be positive or negative. Usually I don't write about the stuff that shows up (cookbooks, spice mixes, useless cheap kitchen gadgets, etc.) but I like lamb and so decided to cook it and blog about it.

A friend was throwing a graduation party so I offered to bring lamb kebabs. Since it was a party I spent a little time on design of the kebabs and ended up with an appropriately festive look: red pearl onions at each end of the skewers, wrapped in pepper slices (green at one end, red the other), flanking two chunks of marinated lamb separated by a slice of mango apricot. The vegetables were blanched before being marinated since they need a longer time to cook than the meat they 

The kebabs were served with triangles of pita bread and most guests washed them down with beer or wine. The result was generally acclaimed by the 30+ guests at the party. For my taste the marinade obscured the flavor of the lamb (I like a chop, simply grilled with rosemary and garlic), but since the dish was such a crowd-pleaser I can certainly recommend it.
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By the way, if you want to see what some of your other favorite food bloggers have been doing with the American Lamb Board goodie bag, click the links below: 

Amuse Bouche
Livin' La Vida Low-Carb
White Trash Barbeque
Get Your Grill On
Christine Cooks
Kalyn's Kitchen
Simply Recipes

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Seared Tuna with Avocado and Fennel-Onion-Caper Salsa

Seared Tuna with Avocado and Fennel-Onion-Caper Salsa
  

When the local fishermen are bringing tuna to the docks I can't resist this preparation. Most of the local catch goes directly to Tokyo, but apparently not all of it, for which I'm grateful. We may be getting tuna that doesn't, for some reason, meet the Tsukiji Fish Market mimimun standards but, not being as knowledgable as the legendary fish-graders there, I'm pretty happy with the cuts that show up in the case at Harbor Fish here in Portland.

The tuna is given a quick sear in a hot pan, leaving the center raw and fresh. The pairing of seared tuna with avocado is, of course, a reference to a popular maki item at sushi bars, and the salsa was inspired by the fennel and parsley in our farm share basket this week. I served this with a fresh salad and -- what else? -- a mound of Japanese rice.

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  • Stephencooks is...

    Sas-new-pic-v3-port140 ...a personal blog about creative home cooking, with hundreds of healthy recipes. I'm Stephen.



    I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2008 so I've adapted most of my recipes to fit into my diet – without losing all the flavor and joy food brings me. More »