Archive for the ‘West of Boston’ Category

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September 27, 2015: Tri-color “Salt” Potatoes

September 27, 2015

Tri-Color Salt PotatoesOne is never sure what will work. Sometimes, what can seem at first mundane, is virtually unheard of to the world at large.

Back in December of 2010, I was stuck for a topic/food/recipe for the blog, and I got a brainstorm: I had never seen a recipe for “Salt Potatoes” in any of the sundry food blogs and magazines I subscribed to. At the time I thought that was because I couldn’t imagine anyone documenting such a common dish.

How wrong I was.

Growing up, salt potatoes were at least a weekly dish. We kids didn’t mind. Salt potatoes are tasty, go well with many meals, and with eight kids to feed…cheap and plentiful! Having an Irish woman as a mom probably added to the frequency with which she added them to the weekly menu.

Writing the original article, what I didn’t consider was how common this dish is to my locale and why. You see, I hail from Syracuse NY, which in an earlier American history was where much of our salt came from. The natural deposits of primeval salt in the local lakes made salt production easy and cheap. One main street of Syracuse is named “Salina Street” due to the impact the industry had for residents.

So, with cheap salt supplies and Irish workers digging the nearby Erie Canal, salt potatoes were pretty common. They are still often sold at open markets and fairs, often replacing french fries as the potato treat of choice.

So, I was pretty surprised when my (to my mind..a very, very basic) recipe was picked up by a national food blog! The recipe was “featured” as best recipe of the day and yielded my best day for the blog, with a total of 125 hits!

My sister Mary Lou, happened to call that day and I was excited to tell her the news. When, knowing my range as a chef, she asked what recipe was featured, and I told her…there was long pause. “WHY?” she asked! Turns out what a native Syracusan considers commonplace was not so for the rest of the world!

Salt Potatoes are indeed so basic, it is hard to improve them, but recently I picked up these tri-color baby potatoes in a local farm stand and these upped the ante! As well as color, each potato had its own individual taste, and I was surprised to find the inner part tinged with a slight color of the outside. The one that appears black, is actually a dark purple like a beet, so the inner potato had light purple color!

A good chef is always looking to improve on even the most basic recipe! Adding this one to my repertoire of cheap, easy, aesthetic, fun, and unusual dishes!

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September 17, 2015: Cucumber Soup

September 17, 2015

Cucumber SoupAs I mentioned in my last article, when my family visited last month we went to the Colonial Inn in Concord, Ma. Cooking for myself like I usually do, I’m very impressed when I go out to eat these days to find almost every restaurant caters to the vegetarian palate to some degree. Sometimes it’s just soup and bread, but I can almost always find something to eat.

Once in a great while I find a restaurant that raises the bar on their vegetarian dishes to the unique and noteworthy. Such was all the dishes we  tried at the Colonial Inn.

My niece ordered the Colonial’s Black Bean Burger. I saw this on the menu as was almost going to order it, but changed my mind at the last second. As she was on the other side of the table, I didn’t hear her order and was very pleased when she offered to share a taste with me.

One problem with black bean burgers, homemade and store-bought, is that they often add just a tad too much cumin in the mix. Cumin is one of those spices that it takes an expert hand (and tasting while tweaking the addition) to keep the balance from interesting that can quickly shift to overwhelming. The Colonial got that balance just perfect. Topped with a tiny corn relish and a fine roll, the taste was easily the best of any black bean burger I’ve ever had. The texture was very close to a meat burger, which shows the skill of the chef, as veggie burgers often fall to pieces when soft like this, but because we’ve never had one with such a delicate texture, both my niece and I agreed that it was rather unfamiliar.

I was pleased to find Truffle Fries on the menu and they were very good at the Colonial and seemed to be fried in truffle oil. But after one taste, I realized the down-side of knowing a master chef like Yoshio. He makes truffle fries and tops them with real grated truffle (which makes the dish far too expensive to make for mass distribution.) Yoshio has forever spoiled me this way, but the Colonial’s fries were a very delicious and welcome second.

I also ordered what the Colonial called their Cucumber Gazpacho Soup. The name was a little confusing (as gazpacho is usually a tomato-based broth and cucumber soup is usually a cream-based broth) so I asked the waitress to describe the soup. She explained that it was a cold, creamy cucumber soup with a topping of salsa. I loved the addition of a tiny bit of heat into the cool, slightly sweet, very smooth, cucumber base and I was inspired to make my version. Again, made for mass-consumption, there was nothing wrong at all with the Colonial’s soup….I just tend to like my soups a bit more on the savory side and I don’t mind a slight amount of texture that the Colonial carefully got rid of.

Cucumber Soup

2 Medium Leeks (washed thoroughly; chopped; green part for stock)

6 Large Cukes (washed; de-skinned (save skins for stock); de-seeded

2C. Baby Kale (washed; chopped)

6 Tblsp. Fresh Dill Weed   2 Bullion Cubes

2 C. Heavy Cream         3 Tblsp. Butter

Make stock of cuke skins, green part of leeks, and baby kale stems. Sauteé veggies in oil until tender. Add 1 Qt. H2O. Add bouillon cubes to fortify. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Strain.

Sauteé white part of leeks in butter until tender. Add de-seeded cukes (cubed into 2″ pieces) and baby kale. Add stock and H2O to cover veggies. Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover until veggies are tender. At the end of the simmer, add dillweed, salt & pepper and grind with an immersion blender. Add cream.

Top with a splash of hot sauce, then sour cream and a dab of mild salsa.

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September 09, 2015: Beer Accents

September 9, 2015

Lime-Crusted BeerA couple of weeks ago, my family did me the honor of visiting me. They had seen all the sites in the Marlborough area, so this time I took them around to nearby Concord, Ma.

To my surprise, they were game for “Sleepy Hallow” Cemetery, so we saw the resting places of Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts. Just down the road from Sleepy Hallow was Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Here, my family braved the observation tower heights to get a spectacular view of the vista that is Great Meadows. We caught the season perfectly as water-lilies were still in bloom and purple loosestrife lining the edges of the pond.

Then, it was down to walk the paths for an up-close encounter with Nature. This was cut short by the presence of a large, black snake sunning itself at the beginning of the path. My niece and I were at the fore-front of our group. Seeing the snake at the same time, we had polar reactions: mine was to move closer for a better look, and my nieces’ was to skedaddle post-haste back to the parking lot!

Perhaps indicative of a much earlier garden of Nature guarded by snake, our mutual reactions were consistent: the descendant of Eve expressed a natural caution, perhaps motivated by the memory of have been burned before. Adam’s scion however…has never learned, and still has a bumbling attraction to all things reptilian. Our Nature-hike ended, my nephew etched “Big Black Snake” in chalk on the nature watch chalkboard and it was into town, to allow sleeping reptiles to lay.

We bounced from shop to shop with no particular agenda. I tend to shop, by myself, as if a mercenary with timed mission: in and out, so I enjoyed the luxury of just ambling around (and spending nothing!) We also had the pleasure of lunch at the Colonial Inn. Before a rather amazing meal at the Inn, the waitress suggested to me a pumpkin ale, the rim of the glass lined with a cinnamon-sugar. Never having even considered a libation as perfect as pumpkin ale needing embellishment, I was intrigued…and subsequently pleased with the effect! The balance of spice-to-sugar at the Inn was so perfect, I was itching to try it myself.

I thought I had gotten my chance a few weekends later. I was asked to work on    a Saturday which has the fringe benefit of being mere steps away from a Farmers Market. Amidst stalls selling unusual veggies like baby bok choy and tri-colored potatoes, I found a stall selling mead…specifically pumpkin mead!

In my beer-making days, my two best concoctions were a pumpkin stout and a raspberry mead. Through chance or  some mistake of mine, the mead had a little bit of fermentation still going on at the end of the aging. This shouldn’t have happened, but the tiny bubbles made the mead taste like a champagne with slight tastes of the raspberry and the honey from which the mead gets its main flavor.

I rushed home to sample the mead that I had bought to see if I could then add the cinnamon accent. At this point, let me mention, that while my raspberry mead was perfection, I have never had a bad mead, even the store-bought ones. And I love pumpkin. I’m one of those people who just go ga-ga in the Autumn, scarfing up pumpkin cookies, ice cream, butters, etc. So, the first taste of the pumpkin mead was more than a letdown…it was seriously one of the most awful libations I’ve ever tasted! Like…spit-take worthy! Picture…if you can stomach it..turpentine and cat piss, mixed with a tad of dishwashing soap! Later, I was thinking perhaps I had overreacted, and tried another sip. NOPE! I finished the rest of the bottle by cleaning out my kitchen sink with it!

So, my plans bruised, but not broken, I thought, “OK, if what you expected to like didn’t turn out, what do you know you like and adapt the idea to that?” The answer to that was pretty easy. My  Summer guilty pleasure libation is lime-beer. It’s affordable, easily obtained and refreshing on those really hot days. And I like lime almost as much as I like pumpkin!

I took a lime and used a fine grater to get zest and added the tiniest bit of sugar to make it bind to the rim of the glass. I juiced the lime and dipped the rim into the juice and then into the zest-sugar. Delicious, decorative, and unusual. This beer-accent has broadened my Summer drink repertoire by one!

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September 27, 2013: Harvest Moon Cornucopia

September 27, 2013

Harvest Moon CornucopiaLast week, I got an opportunity to visit my friend Ellen, whom I had worked with at my last temp job. The job was a miserable, dirty one scrounging trough and cataloging old financial records. What made the job palatable were the fine people assigned to get this odious chore done.

Ellen was a particular solace. She is one of those rare individuals who is not only easy to converse with, but who constantly looked out for her fellow workers. To my memory, not a single day went by that Ellen did not supply us with baked goods, either made by her or from various bakeries. She also had a knack for bringing in cleaning supplies, that she had collected from sundry supply centers to repurpose to people she knew. With every penny counted, it was a relief for me not to have to worry at all where detergents were coming from. While reading a story of Lafcadio Hearn, where he cites the particular human quality of “active beneficence” it was a revelation to look beyond my page and recognize a living example of this quality in one of my fellow workers.

Ellen’s active beneficence does not end with her fellow humans. She is very committed to programs that help to neuter abandoned cats and dogs, and even uses her own home as a half-way house to help place strays to willing and responsible owners.

Ellen used to tell me about her husband, Jack and his fine garden. As gardening is one of my  interests that have fallen to the wayside due to hard financial times, I was curious to see his.

And what a garden! Even in late-Summer, Jack’s garden had an obvious bounty of peppers, sunflowers, squashes, eggplants, various greens and tomatoes. Through the blur of my imagination, I could picture how full it looked a month ago, at the height of a home garden. I love talking to experienced gardeners like Jack. They are always full of helpful advice and knowledge, and especially a pride in what they have grown.  I found his use of support of vines by 5′ aluminum poles to be a practical (and perennial) solution. To be truthful, I did not absorb all he told me about the individual pepper plants he had, but one thing stuck: watering peppers well decreases the capsicum (the “heat” element) of peppers.  I found this true when I made a tomato and cheese omelette  and topped it off with not only grilled spring onion and peppers from Jack’s garden but also with Ellen’s wonderful homemade salsa.

Tomato and Monteray Jack Omelette, topped with Ellen's homemade salsa and Jack's grilled spring onions and peppers

Tomato and Monteray-Jack Omelette, topped with Ellen’s homemade salsa and Jack’s grilled spring onions & peppers

Jack and Ellen supplied me with a cornucopia of delicious veggies from their garden:

Garlic; Tomatoes; Spring Onion: Summer Squash; Eggplant(both Globe and Japanese varieties); Swiss Chard; Bok Choy; Various Peppers; Thyme; Cantaloupe; Beets and Beet Greens.

Harvest Stir Fry

Bok Choy, Swiss Chard, Beet Green, Spring Onion, Pepper stir-fry with Black Rice/Orzo and Basamati Rice in veggie broth and Thyme

I also made  fine stir-fry from all the greens, onions and peppers. A splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, plus a grind of pepper was all it needed. I made a combo of black rice+orzo and basamati rice, both cooked in the veggie broth from the green leavings and flavored with Jack’s fresh Thyme.

As Ellen was taking me around to show me her flower gardens, it was clear where she had gotten the habit of repurposing. Generations of her family members had repurposed, what was essentially junk, into quaint, personal, and eclectic decorations for the yard: a huge, brightly colored windmill and the painted planters made from old factory hardware held Ellen’s beautiful late-Summer flowers.

I wanted to meet all the animals, both owned and boarded. I first met “Nippy” a miniature Pincher who, despite his name, did not nip at all, but was quite friendly. He was a bundle of constant energy ‘tho, and did not once stop moving until we had a tug of war with a tennis ball, where his abundant energy was momentarily stalemated by mine.

Next was a beautiful Siamese: clear, crystal blue eyes with soft fur of shades from brown to black. At first skittish, he quickly decided I was the OK sort and cozied up. Ellen said he was most likely abandoned due to the “imperfections” in his markings. Ellen had matched him up with a young Cambridge couple, so he was off shortly to a new, posh life.

Then there was a tiny black kitten. As I picked him up, he was so gentle and content that my first thought was “Oh, here is an old soul.” The poor little thing was suffering from a cold and as soon as my attention was on him, this set off Nippy to rough-housing with him, in a bid for attention. The besieged kitten finally had enough of his ears being chewed on and gave Nippy  a soft bat with a hiss and went up on a table, snuffling out of reach.

As I was heading home, my trunk full of Ellen and Jack’s active beneficence, the tawny Harvest Moon skipped over the bough-tops and I thought of those words we associate with this season: harvest, bounty, cornucopia (the “horn of plenty” representing the harvest bounty.)

HMC-BannerI do admit, in my darkest hours, I consider my own late harvest to be a bitter one: my good and earnest labors left wasted as if a barren field. Still…life is painted by so many forms and is colored by so many sundry good things…so I will take these precious moments: the generosity of the wise and the good (which can never be undervalued); the cleverness of repurposing our resources; the richness of a well-tended garden and the bounty of the good Earth.

Even the little ones had lessons to teach: the friendly comfort of a sultry, posh kitty; the stillness-in-tension from a hyperactive puppy; and the zen-like patience of a beleaguered, snuffling kitten.

By this age, I am supposed to be wise, yet often feel anything but (save if wisdom be the stoic acceptance of one’s ocean of ignorance.) But, the cornucopia of kindness and experience, acquired my Harvest Moon evening west of Boston, is something I can safely say is truly known.  One could not  wish for a better bounty.

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