Sochi salsa

It’s appropriate for me that the Winter Olympics are starting during New York’s Fashion Week, because a group of friends and I look at the opening ceremonies as a giant runway show. As we have for many times, on Friday we will gather to eat, drink and critique the athletes’ ceremonial uniforms as they walk in.

Many of us bring food inspired by the host country, although it’s not required. (One is bringing spanakopita, I found out today.) I have visited Russia and am interested in the country, so I brought out my Russian cookbooks and began considering dishes. There is more to Russian food than borscht.

Then I contacted my friend, Darra Goldstein, the author of “Taste of Russia” and “The Georgian Feast” and founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. She wrote a piece on the food of Sochi for Eating Well magazine.

Goldstein writes that Sochi has been a trade crossroads for centuries and was influenced by Greeks and other ethnic groups. (So maybe that spanakopita is appropriate after all.) Dishes often combine Russian flavors with those of Greece and Turkey. For example, she writes, Circassian chicken pairs poached chicken breast with ground walnuts, hazelnuts and cream. In the mild climate – this may the first time palm trees have been seen at a Winter Olympics – citrus fruits, grapes and tomatoes thrive.

Goldstein shared this recipe for a type of Georgian salsa in Eating Well. Sochi is near the border of Georgia. I was thinking of making Potatoes with Walnuts from “The Georgian Feast” for the party, but this sounds pretty darn good. It can be served with grilled meat or vegetables, or simply with crackers.

Adjika

1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded

1/4 pound hot red jalapeno peppers, stems and most of the seeds removed (she likes to leave some seeds to give some bite but adjust for yourself)

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 large celery stalk including leaves

1 1/2 cups firmly packed cilantro, including tender stems

3/4 cup firmly packed fresh basil

3/4 cup firmly packed fresh dill ,including tender stems

1 tablespoon dried coriander

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Coarsely chop the bell pepper, jalapeno peppers and garlic and place them in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely ground. Roughly chop the celery and fresh herbs and add to the food processor along with the coriander, salt and vinegar. Pulse just until well mixed; the salsa should still have texture. Transfer the mixture to a container and let sit overnight in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld before serving.

Makes about 2 cups

Game? There’s a game?

When it comes to the American holiday that Super Bowl Sunday has become, the game itself is as necessary to the celebration as a Christmas tree is to Christmas:it might be nice, but isn’t really required. With all the food, parties and scoping for possible wardrobe malfunctions, who is wearing the uniforms on the field is almost secondary. Or perhaps that’s just the Panthers fan in me talking.

People who don’t know a tight end from a tackle can still have a great time at the party, which is a little over two weeks away. And the food is vitally important. It must fuel fans for quite a period of time, since I think the pregame shows are starting in about five minutes.

Whatever else you choose to serve, wings are the classic sporting event food. And making them yourself is better than ordering out, for so many reasons. You can save money and they’ll taste much better. You can tailor the heat level, or make wings that have lots of flavor without the fire. Save even more on your spread by purchasing whole wings and cutting them up yourself. It’s easy. Just use a sharp knife to cut at each of the three joints. Keep the drumette and the long piece (called the flat). The pointy part, called the flapper, throw those in a freezer bag and use them to make chicken soup.

Wings can be grilled, baked, fried, even cooked in a slow-cooker, as I wrote in my book “Wings: More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack” published by John Wiley & Sons. And they don’t have to be covered in hot sauce to have a lot of flavor.

I enjoy hot food, but I prepare these for the Super Bowl spread to entice those of more tender palates. And for more of my Super Bowl tips and recipes, come to my class at Southern Season in Chapel Hill on Jan. 25. More info on that here.

Hoisin Honeys

1/3 cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

12 wings, cut in half at joints, wing tips removed and discarded

In a small bowl, stir together the hoisin sauce, orange juice, ginger, garlic, honey and cayenne, Set aside 3 tablespoons of the sauce.

Place the wings in a large reclosable plastic zipper bag. Pour the remaining sauce in over the wings and coat them well. Refrigerate the wings in the marinade for 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Remove the wings from the marinade and discard the marinade. Place the wings on the baking sheet.

Roast the wings for 25 minutes. Brush the wings with the reserved sauce and bake another 5 minutes or until the wings are done.

Makes 24 pieces

Green grows the guacamole

Don’t like football? Who cares! It’s the NFL playoffs with the Super Bowl looming. And it’s all about the food at this point.

My friend, author and food blogger Becca Gomez Farrell, recently moved from Durham to San Francisco. And since the 49ers are playing my state team, the Carolina Panthers, this Saturday, I asked her if she has heard of any interesting game-day food phenomenons.

“Having best-guacamole competitions is pretty common in California for Super Bowl Sunday parties,” she writes. “Everyone learns a different way to make guacamole, so people bring in their preferred blend, dips are sampled, and a winner is declared. Or they just eat a lot of chips and get too distracted by the game to bother declaring a winner.”

Becca says her mother adds sour cream to her guacamole to smooth out the flavor. Becca likes to include pico de gallo. But everyone has their own twist – like we do with barbecue sauces in North Carolina. But, she adds, “you don’t want to know about the new friend we have in this area who thinks adding a handful of habaneros is a good idea.”

I personally don’t see a thing wrong with that, Becca. But for those who prefer a mellower guacamole, here’s an excellent basic recipe from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home,” published by Harvard Common Press.

Goal-to-Go Guacamole

2 small, ripe avocados

1 small tomato, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1 fresh green serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons canned chopped green chilies, drained

2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Salt to taste

Tortilla chips for serving

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits and scoop out the flesh into a medium-sze bowl. Mash coarsely. Stir in the tomato, serrano chile, green chilies, garlic, lime juice and cilantro. Taste, and add salt.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with tortilla chips.

Note: You can make this a few hours ahead, but press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the guacamole to prevent it from browning, then cover and refrigerate.

Day three: Emergency snacks

The phone rings. Guess what? Friends are dropping by. In the next 30 minutes.

This scenario is as common as that little drummer boy during this season of the year. You need a quick snack in your holiday arsenal, and this is a good one. It’s a savory alternative to Christmas cookies, and I often make it for New Year’s Eve munching. I keep the ingredients – including an overgrown rosemary bush – on hand year round.

The recipe is from “The Herbal Kitchen” by Jerry Traunfeld (William Morrow, 2005). Be sure to thoroughly dry the chickpeas on towels, because any water will spatter like mad.

Popcorn Chickpeas

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped rosemary

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Drain and rinse the chickpeas in a strainer. Turn them out onto paper towels or a clean dish towel and pat them dry. Pour the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and toss in teh chickpeas. Cook them for 5 to 7 minutes, shaking the pan often. They won’t really brown, but they’ll turn several shades darker, shrink a bit, and form a light crust. Pour the chickpeas back into the strainer to drain the excess oil and then return them to the pan. Lower the heat to medium and add the rosemary and garlic. Stir for another minute or two until the garlic begins to brown. Sprinkle with the salt and a few grindings of pepper. Toss again and pour them into a serving bowl. Serve warm.

Use up more of that rosemary with this cocktail from “The Herbal Kitchen.”

Rosemary Gin Tonic

Makes 1 drink

1 lime wedge

1 3-inch sprig rosemary

2 ounces gin

Tonic water

Lightly crush the lime wedge and rosemary in a 10- to 12-ounce glass with a few strokes of a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon. Pour in the gin. Fill the glass with ice and top off with tonic water. Stir to position the lime and rosemary in the middle of the glass.

Day two: It’s the office Christmas potluck!

Working on my own as I do, my holiday office party consists of feeding the cats and hitting my stash of Moravian cookies.

But when I worked in newspaper offices, I could predict one thing about the Christmas office potluck: The guys would fight over bringing the ice, soft drinks and chips. That left it to the women to provide the real food. Things are different today – I hope – now that more men are into cooking. But back then, there would be near-fights at the sign-up sheet.

Office potlucks attract plenty of little weenies in Crock-Pots and meatballs in sauce, decorated Christmas cookies and mayonnaise-y pasta salads. Vegetable dishes, beyond tossed salads or raw-carrots-and-Ranch-dressing trays, tend to be rare sightings. This easy, do-ahead recipe has been a winner for me in almost every setting, from parties at my house to potlucks, picnics and tailgates. At least one of my friends is making it for her office party this week.

The recipe is from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home,” published by Harvard Common Press. I use herb-flavored vinegar that I make myself, and the flavor adds a nice touch to the salad. You can purchase vinegar flavored with your favorite herbs or use a plain wine vinegar.

Crowd-Pleasing Marinated Green Beans

1/2 of a large red onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup Italian herb-flavored white-wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 pounds fresh green beans, ends trimmed but beans left long

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Place the sliced onions in a colander over the sink.

In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper until combined. Stir in the garlic. Set aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add the green beans. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or so, jus tuntil the beans are bright green; do not overcook. Pour the beans and hot water over the onions in teh colander. Rinse under cold running water to cool down. Drain well.

Place the beans and onions in a large bowl or large zipper-top plastic bag. Pour the dressing in and mix with the vegetables. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight, stirring or shaking occasionally. Serve cold or at room temperature.

From “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” by Debbie Moose, published by Harvard Common Press.

Saucy arugula

Arugula in a salad – and that’s the end of my usual thinking about this peppery-flavored green which is populating my CSA box at the moment. To exit the salad rut,  I decided to use it as a flavoring herb in spaghetti sauce. It’s strong flavor meshed very well with the richness of the sauce – I might even add more next time. Be sure to treat it as you would a fresh herb and stir it in right at the end.

Pasta Sauce with Arugula

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped pancetta

1 pound ground beef

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons oregano

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste

1 1/2 – 2 cups shredded fresh arugula leaves (no stems)

Cooked pasta (spaghetti, linguini or penne)

Place a large saucepot or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion and garlic are soft but not brown. Add the pancetta and continue to cook, stirring, until the pancetta is cooked.

In a separate frying pan, cook the ground beef until cooked through and brown. Drain well.

Add the tomatoes, oregano, bay leaf, salt, cooked ground beef and 1 cup water to the onion mixture. Stir together and taste to see if it needs more salt. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover the pot. Let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off the heat and stir in the arugula. Serve over cooked pasta.

Serves 4-6

 

 

Cook on the good foot

Chicken feet….that’s something you don’t wake up every day thinking about. But I did today.

It’s October, the neighbor in the next block has put up a pulsing mass of orange Halloween lights and it’s getting chilly. So it was time to lay in a supply of homemade chicken stock in my freezer. It’s great on a cold night to know the base for soups, stews and other such warming things is waiting for me.

chicken feet begin simmering for stock

chicken feet begin simmering for stock

Usually I simmer stock from leftover bones from roasted chicken, after having consumed the chicken (it’s like free food). But I could find no chicken bones in the freezer, just bags of summer’s blueberries and The Hub’s Wolferman’s muffins. I remembered Hub telling me that his mother always said that chicken feet made the best stock, although he never saw her actually use them. There’s a lot of gelatin and collagen in the feet, which makes a rich stock.

But where to find them? I called Larry’s Super Market in Raleigh and they almost laughed – of course they had them, the man said. The center of Larry’s, which has been open for 44 years, is its meat counter. The produce and other stuff are mere garnishes. Larry’s sports varieties of meat that even I’ve never cooked, and I’m a native, carnivorous North Carolinian. Need pork necks or souse (aka head cheese)? Larry’s can satisfy your craving. The butcher told me that they always have chicken feet because many customers get upset if they don’t. At $1.39 a pound, I bought enough for two huge stockpots.

At home, I rinsed them and followed my usual stock-making technique. I added onion, carrot, celery, a couple of garlic cloves and a few peppercorns, then covered it all with water. When the water came to a boil, I reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 3 1/2 hours. I usually like to go for 4 hours and some change, but I had to leave the house, so I cut it short. After cooling and straining, I tasted the stock. The flavor was definitely richer than my bones-only stock, and it had more chicken aroma.

However, there was the matter of those stewed chicken feet reaching up from the bottom of my trash can. It seemed that the more they were cooked, the more they resembled long-fingernailed alien hands.

Wonder if the neighbors need some more decorations?

 

Attack of the green tomatoes

It was time to get ready for fall crops at the neighborhood community garden, so the tomato plants had to

hot green tomato pickles and peach jam

hot green tomato pickles and peach jam

go. As we ripped out the drooping vines, I noticed dozens of green tomatoes. The voice of my mother – the person who saved, flattened out and reused aluminum foil – jumped into my head. “It seems a shame to waste all these tomatoes,” it said through my mouth.

We didn’t think that the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, where most of the garden’s produce goes as part of the Plant a Row for the Hungry program, would want green tomatoes. In a fit of optimism, I took them.

Even after becoming picky and only selecting the largest ones, I could barely drag my bulging bag the two blocks back to my house. There must have been at least 20 pounds of hard, green balls in there.

The green tomatoes led me to violate one of the cardinal rules of entertaining: Never serve to guests a recipe that you’re making for the first time. But I was surrounded by green things, and these were old and tolerant friends who would eat almost anything that wasn’t once hoofed or feathered. I found a green tomato pasta sauce recipe in “Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook” by my friend Miriam Rubin. It was simple – garlic, parsley, some hot peppers and the tomatoes – and I added crabmeat.

It was a success (although linguini might have been a better pasta choice than rigatoni). But if it was followed by The Hub’s chocolate cake, even shredded paper would’ve been proclaimed gourmet, so I had dessert as back-up.

Then I wanted to make green tomato pickles. I had never made them, and had eaten them only once. I purchased a jar for the Thanksgiving relish tray many years ago, and remembered their interesting flavor and texture. I combed through canning books and cobbled the recipe at the end together from several ideas. Easy? Yes. But it will be another week or so before I can say how they taste, because all pickles must sit for a period of time to, well, pickle.

Last night, it was the classic fried green tomatoes with our Labor Day grilled burgers.

The bag is much lighter now, but 20 or so of the greenies still lurk in my kitchen…

Hot Green Tomato Pickles

15 cups cored and sliced 1/4-inch-thick green tomatoes

4 1/2 cups white vinegar

1 tablespoon crushed dried red pepper

2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed

3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

2 teaspoons celery seed

6-7 cloves garlic

In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, red pepper, mustard seed, sugar, peppercorns and celery seed. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling, remove from the heat.

Have clean, sanitized pint jars, lids and rims ready. Drop 1 clove garlic into each jar, then pack in the tomatoes. Pour the vinegar mixture over the tomatoes, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Push a wooden skewer gently into the mixture and around the sides to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rims and screw on the lids and rims.

Process the jars in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner and cool on folded towels or racks.

Makes 6-7 pints.

 

 

Going to pot…slowly

The slow-cooker is back, judging from the number of new-wave books out there using the appliance. I’m IMG_2920always surprised to meet people who don’t have one, because mine has saved many busy, stressed-out days. Toss things into it, add some seasoning and turn it on. Six to eight hours later, with no further involvement on your part, you have dinner. It’s like your mother snuck into the kitchen, made dinner, and left without commenting on the state of your house, your children or your job prospects.

Even minimalist cooks can bring something tasty out of a slow cooker – it turns sliced potatoes, chuck roast, generous shakes of chili powder and a coating of bottled barbecue sauce into a quite acceptable dinner. One thing to remember when using a slow cooker is that, because of the long cooking time, you will need more seasoning for flavor. And vegetables like potatoes take longer to get tender than meat, so put them on the bottom of the pot, where it’s hotter.

Author Kendra Bailey Morris draws on her childhood in West Virginia and her years in Richmond, Va. for her new book, “The Southern Slow-Cooker: Big-Flavor, Low-Fuss Recipes for Comfort Food Classics” (Ten Speed Press, $19.99).  One interesting twist in this book is that several of the recipes come with cocktail pairings – now that’s something you never saw in your Mama’s slow-cooker cookbook.

The recipes range from simple combinations to ones that require a little prep work before hitting the pot. But those show that a little effort pays off in raising the level of flavor above what you’d expect from a slow-cooker meal. Dr. Pepper Sorghum Roasted Ham rings so many Southern holiday bells: it has ham, uses a soft drink for cooking and includes sorghum. Until recently, sorghum wasn’t widely available, but now it’s regaining its place in today’s Southern cooking. Sorghum is made from sorghum cane, not sugar cane, and is lighter in flavor than its cousin molasses. Sorghum shows up again in Orange Sorghum Sweet Potatoes with Cornflake Topping, which would be a great new dish for Thanksgiving (and a low-effort dish, thanks to the slow-cooker).

Recipes range from breakfast to dessert. There’s corn pudding, buttermilk chocolate cake and even the slow-cooker apple butter recipe that I’ve heard tell of and long wanted to try. There’s a lot in this book for fans of Southern flavors to love…slowly.

IMG_2921Kathy Hester’s “Vegan Slow Cooking For Two or Just For You” (Fair Winds Press, $19.99) aims at one drawback of slow cookers: they prepare enough food for a horde. No matter how much you like your spouse’s bean chili, you don’t enjoy eating it five days in a row. Hester, who lives in Durham, created recipes using 1 1/2- to 2-quart slow cookers, because with the larger cookers, the cooking quality changes if you don’t fill them up enough.

Hester’s earlier book, “The Vegan Slow Cooker,” used the large-size cookers, but most recipes in “Vegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just for You” are new. As with the previous book, each recipe includes options to make them gluten-free, oil-free or soy-free.

Recipes go from breakfast to dessert and snack time (including a decadent hot chocolate). Hester has a great way of making vegan dishes exotic and intriguing. I will say upfront that there is no chance of me becoming vegan anytime soon, but the Creamy Veggie Curry, using a plethora of Indian spices, is tempting no matter what one’s dietary philosophy. And Corn and Basil Risotto might tempt the most ardent carnivore.

Jump in, the water’s fine

lavender mint

lavender mint

When I’m thirsty on a hot day, like the ones we’re finally having in the Carolina urban swamp, I find Vintage Raleigh Tap perfectly refreshing. But some people I know (primarily male people, for some reason) simply won’t drink plain, old water. The bulging supermarket shelves dedicated to flavored waters of all kinds bear out my impression. I laughed when I first saw a product in a small flask that allows you to flavor your own bottle of water. We had that when I was a kid. It was called Kool-Ade.

Many of the products also claim they’re making H2O healthier in some way, adding a miniscule amount of minerals of vitamins. What most of them add is a lot of sugar or fake sweeteners. And they add to company

other mint, maybe kentucky colonel

other mint, maybe kentucky colonel

profits.

Confirmed agua-phobes don’t much listen when I attempt to convince them that naked water is good. I see them reach for caffeine-free, sugar-free sodas and point out that, except for the color, chemicals and fizz, they’re basically getting what flows from the kitchen spigot. Doesn’t work. And that stuff costs more, too.

Here’s an easy way to refresh yourself or try to tempt the anti-water crowd: Infusing water with herbs. Mint is an obvious choice, and my mint is overflowing. I have two kinds, a conventional type (I think it might be Kentucky Colonel) and a lavender mint with a fascinatin hint of lavender flavor and scent. I grab about a half a cup of each – stems and all are OK – or a whole cup of one kind. Wash it. Put it in a pitcher. Pour about a quart of boiling water over it. Let it sit for 20 or 30 minutes or longer, however much flavor you want. Then remove the herbs. I sweeten mine with a little stevia, or sometimes sugar. Or you could leave it as-is.

The same thing works with other herbs: lemon balm, lemon verbena, other mints; even basil, if you’re adventurous.

The infusion will keep in the refrigerator several days. Mix it with ice if the flavor is too strong for some people, although I can’t imagine who that might be if they’re used to drinking those jelly-bean waters.