Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Green Beans

 As soon as the green beans are ready to be picked off the plant, after ferreting them out from under the shady leaves, even if I only have a handful, this is the first recipe I want to make.  I whip up this warm chicken salad and serve it over rice for a light summer dinner then eat the leftovers cold (if there are any) for lunch the next day, the flavors completely absorbed into the chicken and clinging to every last green bean.
  I first made Val's version of "Warm Chicken Salad with Green Beans" for tailgating at one of those long triple billing, marathon afternoon into evening summer concerts that only 20 somethings and aging hippies seem to be into.  It was not a fancy affair with grills, gourmet spreads, lounge chairs and RV's like you now see on the Cooking Channel during the height of football season.  This was an event better described by dusty bare feet, ratty old concert T's, loads of bad tattoos and warm cans of Bud Light.  It was a hot July day when we headed off to Great Woods, a concert venue that was an open stadium with a big dirt hill, the grass having worn away a long time ago, that served as the "bleacher" seats.  The idea was to spread out a blanket, bring a few lawn chairs, buy some over priced warm draft beers and enjoy a day into night of music under the sun and stars.  If you could make it that long before passing out from heat stroke, inebriation, or both.
  But my roommate, Sarah and my then boyfriend, Rob had our own plans.  We knew that we would never last the entire day full of guitar jamming no name bands in order to see the headliners later that evening.  This was not our first time heading into hippie concert land.  Instead, we packed up our own ice cold bottles of Miller Light (high end for us at the time).  I made a double batch of this salad and tossed it in the cooler.  Upon arrival, we popped open the trunk of Rob's black Chevy Cavalier, sat on the bumper and indulged, dunking wedges of pita into the soy and sesame juices and scooping up chunks of marinated chicken and crisp green beans with the bread since I didn't think to bring any forks.  Then we washed it all down with our contraband beers.  In the distance, we could hear a few opening acts as the guitar riffs floated through the air while we kept track of where the band was in the line-up and relaxed in the parking lot.  Finally, when we couldn't hold it another minute, Sarah and I entered the madness of the venue to use the bathroom that had by now turned into a swamp.  Barefoot treehugger girls wearing maxi dresses that dragged in the dirt trudged through the filthy facility. Sarah and I knew better.  Work boots and denim shorts may be a fashion faux pas for most events but at least our outfit choice kept our feet protected from the muddy cement floor in the ladies' room.
  After the bathroom adventure and locating Rob again amidst the crowds swaying to the deafening music, we managed somehow to sneak into the covered (more civilized) pavilion seats up in front of the stage.  During the last set of the show, just as eardrums couldn't take it anymore, we dragged ourselves back to the car for the last of the now semi cold beer and the remaining chicken salad.  We slurped up what was left, wishing there was more,  dying for a late night snack before we headed out to wait in the long line of cars and buses trying to leave the parking lot and head home.
  It's been a longer time than I would like to admit since those concert days. Now, when I pack up snacks, I usually remember to bring a fork so I don't have to use my fingers. I pull the Tupperware container with the ice cold salad leftovers out of my beach cooler and relax with my feet in the sand while I savor every bite. Instead of the thumping of a rock band, I listen to the waves lapping the shore and the noise of my children's laughter as I watch them jump off the dingy dock, playing a made up game with their friends.  But one thing will never change.  This tangy, salty, spicy and sweet marinade over fresh green beans and poached chicken really does go great with an ice cold beer.

Warm Chicken Salad with Green Beans
(Serves 4)
2 large boneless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
1/2 pound fresh green beans
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon dried onion
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons light vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Use spray oil to grease a small baking dish.
Place chicken in dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Cove dish with foil.  Bake 25-35 minutes until chicken is cooked but still very moist.  Cool chicken enough to slice.
  Meanwhile, wash and pick green beans by removing the stems. If they are long, snap them in half.  Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.  Blanch beans in boiling waiter for 1-2 minutes until they turn bright green.  Drain immediately and plunge beans into the ice water bath to stop the cooking process.  Let rest for 5 minutes and drain thoroughly.
  *Mix the dressing: combine celery seed through vinegar.  Add honey and whisk to combine.  Slowly add oil while whisking.  Add sesame seeds and mix thoroughly.  Place sliced chicken and green beans in a large shallow bowl or baking dish.  Pour dressing over ingredients and toss to coat.  **Serve warm or at room temperature.

*I double the amount of dressing because I like a lot of sauce!
**Serve with rice for a satisfying dinner.

Monday, July 4, 2016


Let the hoarding begin!
  My freezer is already packed to the gills with chopped rhubarb, hulled native strawberries and a stockpile of homemade Backyard Mint Ice Cream (recipe courtesy of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home).  Yet, I still feel the need to buy more strawberries to make my stomach and freezer burst as well as find as many ways as possible to use up the rhubarb in Val's garden until the stalks get so fat in the July sun that no one can possibly consume and digest it.
  The problem is that rhubarb, while it makes a lovely tasting sweet/tart jam, it's color once the rhubarb is cooked turns into a disgusting yellowish green.  Think of a runny nose when you have a very bad cold and that is the exact shade of this delicious, sour treat.  Upon seeing the nauseating hue of this confection, most people run for the hills rather than slather it on buttered toast.  So, I only make a few quick jars of this concoction, knowing that I am likely the only person who will dare devour it.  And to be quite honest, I prefer it that way.  At least I won't have to share any with the little hungry mouths in my home.
  But that doesn't solve my need to hoard the rhubarb since the freezer is already full.
  Luckily, I also accumulate recipes.  I have a cumbersome file box full of recipes torn from magazines and printed off the internet.  Many I have tried and use over and over again.  So many more, I have yet to get to, or even remember that I thought enough of it to file it away for future use.  But, as luck would have it, I did save an obscure rhubarb recipe from Mother Earth News back in April.  It's kismet really, that I came across it  this week, just when I needed one more reason to climb back into Val's immense rhubarb patch to harvest the last remaining edible stalks. The plants are now so gargantuan, it's getting to the point of me needing to use the largest, sharpest knife kept in the wooden block on the kitchen counter in order to hack off the plant and surgically remove the leaves that have grown as big as couch cushions. But I persevere, determined to mine every last available bite, wielding that knife as a machete, like an explorer would hack through a dense tropical jungle.  All to put up few jars of pickled rhubarb.

Immense, man eating rhubarb leaves
  Don't be afraid of the bizarre idea of pickling rhubarb.  The uber tart stalks lend themselves well to the process. And the leftover brine is so good, I want to drink it straight from the jar.  So, I'll have to think of a way to use that up too, once I eat up all the marinated rhubarb. I updated the original directions of cutting the stalks into batons to cutting up the rhubarb into chunks.  When I tried to bite into a long piece of the pickled rhubarb, my teeth would not cut through the stringy stalk.  Very disheartening.  Also, because of necessity and the fact that I store my ginger root in the freezer, I grated it instead of adding slices and I don't know where to find whole allspice, hence the use of powder.  Regardless of these changes, I think the recipe is pretty damn amazing and my sister does, too.  She keeps demanding more "crack" as she calls it.  I guess I won't be hoarding all of these jars of pickled goodness to myself, after all.

Pickled Rhubarb
(adapted  from Mother Earth News )
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 inch grated ginger (I freeze the ginger root for easier grating)
1 heaping tablespoon dried chili flakes
1 heaping tablespoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 pound chopped rhubarb (1/2 inch pieces)

  Boil vinegar, sugar, salt, grated ginger, chili flakes, cloves and allspice in a medium sized sauce pan until the sugar and salt dissolve (about 5 minutes).  Strain out the solids and set the liquid aside.
  Pack chopped rhubarb into sterilized jars.
  Pour hot liquid over rhubarb until just shy of full.  Screw on lids and allow to cool.  Refrigerate for up to one month. 
* Do not use canning process as rhubarb tends to turn to mush in the process.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Strawberry Dreams

 The hand written sign jammed into the front window said,

Open 8:00AM

"I'll be there at 7:45am" I muttered to myself as I turned the car around in the dirt parking lot.
   Damn social media!  Before technology, they probably would have had a few pints left when I rolled in after work at 1:45pm.  Unless they sell out, the farm stand is open until 2.  But not today.  Not a berry left by 12:00pm.  Tony Andrews Farm didn't even post on Facebook until 9:00am, an hour after it normally opens, and it's Friday.  Most people have already gone to work or about their busy lives.  How could this be?  And tomorrow is Saturday!!  I've got to get here before the throngs of native Cape Cod strawberry freaks, like me.
  You may think my behavior a bit extreme.  But I've waited all year for these particular strawberries.  The growing season here on the Upper Cape is shortened by the cool ocean breeze and I've been counting the days since June 1st. These singular berries are perfect in every.  So sweet, red and juicy.  The stuff that strawberry dreams are made of.  Picked at the peak of ripeness, ruby red on the inside,  tangy, warm juice running down my hand and arm as I take a bite.  Half the basket is gone before I can get them home.  
  Ever since I was a kid living down the street from Tony Andrews Farm, I have felt territorial about these particular strawberries.  So much so that I hesitate to write about them at all and let the secret out to anyone else who may however unintentionally keep me from my over the top, gluttonous share.  Which is not at all a fair allotment but the amount that I truly feel I need.  I must get enough for multiple large batches of jam, to fill my freezer, to devour strawberry shortcake, strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberries and cream, strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar dribbled over vanilla ice cream...... I could go on and on.  Perhaps I am trying to recapture those fond memories of picking strawberries with Val. Fighting with my sister and brother in the designated "Kids Patch"  (meager pickings) while my mother filled large baskets and Tupperware containers to take home her own haul.  We got up early to be first in line and pick as much as we could carry home.  Later in the day, Val worked tirelessly, hulling each berry.  Freezing whole washed berries on cookie sheets and boiling batches of sticky jam filled with large chunks of sweet goodness like hidden treasures to find inside a school lunch PB&J, my tongue feeling the nubby texture of the strawberry seeds dotted in it's soft flesh. She macerated sliced berries in one of her silver metal mixing bowls with the ring attached by dumping a heap of sugar on top and leaving them to do their thing on the kitchen counter for a few hours.  Those were to adorn the Bisquick shortcake that was baking in the oven, topped off with a dollop (or two) of fresh, cold whipped cream. But the best part, was always when Val paused for a moment in the middle of all that shucking, berries heaped high in bowls around her.  She stopped to examine an utterly perfect berry, with a flick of her metal paring knife, she gently removed the tiny green leaf cap.  She looked up at me, smiled and popped it into her mouth.

Here is a basic recipe for strawberry shortcake.  You could actually use any berry you like.  Also, this recipe does not include Bisquick.  However, you can never go wrong using the recipe on the back of the box.

Strawberry Shortcakes
(Serves 6)

 Berry Mixture:
1 quart fresh native strawberries
1/2 cup sugar

Shortcake Biscuits:
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar plus more for sprinkling on top of biscuits
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup cold buttermilk, plus 1 tablespoon for brushing top of biscuits
1 teaspoon vanilla

 Whipped Cream:
 2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Slice strawberries into a large bowl and top with 1/2 cup sugar.  Mix gently.  Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for about 1 hour or more.

  In a large bowl, mix flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add butter pieces and combine with  pastry cutter until mixture resembles a coarse meal with small pea size chunks of butter still remaining.  Combine 1 cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and slowly add the buttermilk mixture while gently stirring to combine all ingredients.  Do not over stir! 
  Dollop 12 scoops of the batter onto lined cookie sheets.  (Use the type with a rim as the butter can melt and cause a problem in the bottom of your oven!)  Gently brush cakes with 1 tablespoon buttermilk and sprinkle more sugar on top.  Bake for 12-18 minutes until edges and tops are golden brown.  Remove bicuits from cookie sheets onto wire rack to cool.

To serve:
Add whipping cream, 1/4 up sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Cover the entire situation with a dish towel.  Mix cream on high for about 2 minutes until cream forms soft peaks.   
Break 1 or 2 bicuits into a serving bowl.  Top with desired amount of strawberries and juice (I like a lot of juice to absorb into my biscuit!) Finish off with a few dollops of whipped cream.  Savor every bite!!