French Food for Families: Day 1 – Coq Au Vin

The Recipe:

Alton Brown’s Coq Au Vin (co-co-vah)

 

The Process:

It’s Alton Brown. I’m not going to pretend I can one-up his cooking prowess. Just follow the recipe (it’s fun to watch the episode as you cook, or before you cook. or both, really). The only thing we really changed is that we use frozen pearl onions instead of fresh. They stew for hours, and have you ever tried to peel those little buggers? No. thanks.

 

The Result:

Presentation:

It's like a more herbal, win-y, flavorful stroganoff. minus the dairy.

Grown-up Thoughts:

  • Ommnomnom.
  • But seriously, broken into two days of prep (one to prep chicken and refrigerate overnight, and another to slow cook in the oven), this dish was pretty simple and mostly a matter of waiting for things to cook. Who says French is a lot of fussy prep work and knife skills?

Kid Thoughts:

  • 8 year old — I liked the meat and noodles.
  • 3 year old — I liked everything we had tonight, but I would only like the noodles again.

Sigh. At least the only thing left on their plates were bones, an itty-bitty pile of mushrooms (paige) and an itty-bitty pile of pearl  onions (alice).

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French Food for Families week(ish): starting… now.

The sudden change in weather (moving from early autumn into late autumn always feels like you’ve crossed some sort of invisible line into oktoberfest beers and dressing in layers) has provoked a longing in me for certain, lesser-publicized fall flavors: earthy mushroom, rich caramelized onion, the salty-sweet tang of slow-cooked meats.

As I was putting the meal plan together this week (including rabbit. Rabbit!), I was pleasantly surprised to notice myself instinctively hunting down farm dishes… coq au vin, pork provencale, boeuf bourgingnon.

These also happen to be French dishes. Weird, because I always think French Food is Fancy Food. Got me to thinking: could I pull off an entire week of French dishes? I work full-time, have a family to feed. Would my children starve to death? Would my self-proclaimed Frog Disdainer ™ of a husband allow me to sleep in the house (because, BRR, it gets cold at night these days)?

I think the answers here are: yes, no, and no. Honestly. I think you can cook traditional cuisine with minimal adaptations over the course of a normal, typical fall week, and live to tell the tale.

We start with the coq au vin, and go from there, including:

10/20: coq au vin with garden-fresh broccoli and cauliflower (yep, we’re still pulling produce out of our dirt. Neat, huh?)
10/22: Rabbit with mustard
10/23: Pork Provencale with sage dressing and roasted sweet potato
10/24: lentil soup
10/26: Grilled Chicken with Mustard and Red Pepper, pan roasted potatoes and spinach salad
10/27: Boeuf Bourguignon
10/28: Seared scallops with tarragon and beurre blanc, cous cous, and fall harvest salad

Allons-y… think we can do it? Please follow us as we attempt to feed our family seven french meals over the next week.


salsa = summer

My mother-in-law has brought this for us a few times, and I’m a little more in love with it every time I eat it.

Watermelon Salsa

  • 4 cups chopped watermelon
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallion
  • 1/2 large bell pepper (yellow or orange makes the best presentation), chopped fine
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
  • 2-3 Tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

 

Mix the whole works together; chill  and serve. Serve with chips, or on top of a light meat like fish, chicken, or pork. Honestly,  I just eat this stuff by the spoonful.

Weekday Meals: Spring Pizza

A very kind neighbor brought over about a half-pound of morel mushrooms for us this week, which left us both extraordinarily grateful and pondering what the best way to enjoy them might be.

I’m a big fan of the morel in eggs, so I was surprised and intrigued when Dave said he was making pizza.

from L-R: dough, goat cheese, morels, mustard greens, dandelion greens, ramps, and bacon

We used Alton Brown’s pizza crust recipe, pureed the dandilion and mustard greens (a couple of cups worth of greens) with olive oil (a couple of tablespoons), salt and pepper that, and voila – sauce.

Dave sauteed the morels:

oh baby. mushrooms.

crisped up bacon, roasted whole ramps, scattered some thinly sliced ramps and some whole greens, added clumps of goat cheese, then layered it on all on the pizza stone.

Baked for 10  minutes, the result was phenomenal:

Now you understand why I married this man.

We’ll be making this again next ramp season. Five stars.

Minneapolis, Food City.

It’s always busy during May for us. So I’m probably more excited than usual to get to the Mill City Farmer’s Market for the first time this season.

Mill City has been “our market” since we met five years ago. It’s not the biggest, and it’s not the closest to our house, but it’s a fantastic bike ride over the Stone Arch Bridge. The Chef Shack is there. And there’s a ton of really high-quality food to bring home, to boot.

And it offers a list of food that makes my mouth water… case in point, this week’s list of goodies (it’s so helpful that the market is offering a Produce Planner this year!):

  • Asparagus
  • Morels
  • Green garlic
  • Ramps
  • Rhubarb
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Spring salad mix
  • Spinach
  • Nettles
  • Fiddlehead ferns
  • Herbs
  • Salad turnips
  • Dried peppers
  • Baby bok choy

Drool. That is all.

leftovers

One of the conundrums which accompanies hosting the holidays is what to do with all your leftovers.  Sometimes we have a party to rid ourselves of the extra (Leftover Thanksgiving, a hit two years running with our friends).  Sometimes we just give them away (my sister-in-law typically comes over to stock up on weekday lunches on Sunday nights.  Love getting rid of our leftovers that way!)

But sometimes — like this weekend — we just have a lot of leftover food to contend with.

This is a problem for me.  I really can’t stand eating the same thing for more than about 2 days in a row (it’s actually nauseating).  To compound the problem, Dave has an aversion for wasting food (so I can’t just throw stuff out, which is wasteful, yes, but what I would probably do).

What do you do with leftovers?

We had a bunch of ham leftover from the holidays — and roots galore in season right now, so I perused the internet for a little inspiration… and didn’t get a whole lot.  I’m wary of gratins with ham (I’ve been burned before)… but really, REALLY wanted to use up some of this damned ham.  But I don’t like clumpy cheese or watery taters… and that got me to thinking about how AWESOME my dear husband’s mac and cheese (a basic bechamel combined with cooked noodles, shredded cheese, and baked with a breadcrumb topping)… And then I got hungry.

But it also made good sense to apply to ham and taters, so I modified about 6 different recipes, the result of which is follows (and, I think will be going into regular rotation.

Green Toews Ham & Cheese Gratin Hotdish

(serves 6-8)

  • 4 cups diced russet potatoes, skin-on
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced shallot
  • 2 cloves super-fine minced garlic
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon Coleman’s mustard (really, don’t bother with any other kind)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (I used half-sharp, but you can use whatever your palate prefers)
  • 1 cup finely-grated Parmesan
  • 1 cup finely-shredded extra-sharp cheddar
  • 2 cups diced cooked ham
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sautee onion, shallot and garlic in a large saucepan til just softened (you’ll want to use a little olive oil in the bottom of a hot pan to get this process started).  Add potatoes (and more oil if necessary) and cook the aromatics and potatoes together til softened and beginning to brown – about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In another saucepan, melt the butter.  Once melted, add the flour and whisk to create a roux.  Continue whisking til slightly browned.   Slowly stir in milk and whisk constantly til smooth and thick; then add mustard, paprika, salt and pepper to taste (under-salt this as your ham and cheese are going to add plenty to this dish).  Remove from heat and set aside.  (This is basically a bechamel… which I’ll refer to it as going forward).

Grab your lasagna pan (this is a 9×13 pyrex casserole dish, in my house) and toss in the potato/aromatics mixture.  Add ham and stir to combine.  Add shredded cheese and give it another stir. Use a rubber spatula and pour the bechamel over the contents of the pan.  Use the rubber spatula to gently combine.  Top the casserole with bread crumbs.

Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350.  You might want to use the last 5 minutes to broil the top and brown your breadcrumb

The Green Toews kitchen manifesto

“How do you guys eat so well, all the time?”

I often find myself equal parts perplexed and flattered when a friend or family member comments on how our household runs what I consider to be the epicenter of life — our kitchen. I’ve fielded questions about why we grow our own food AND participate in a CSA — why we shop at 3 or 4 local food providers, including stops at the butcher, bakery, coffee shop, and fishmonger, pretty much weekly, in addition to the grocery store — how we manage to turn out 5 or 6 home-made meals a week — and do it all within a family of four, average-joe budget.

I realize that our obsession over food isn’t everyone’s passion. And I remember a time when cooking for one (or two) seemed like more of a hassle than what it was worth.  And other times, I stop and think: have we as a culture gone soft? Do we, as a race, know how to feed ourselves, without the packaged food aisles in the supermarket and processed meat squares that come from a fast-food window? Don’t get me wrong — we feed the kids mac and cheese; our car can and will be found at a drive-through window on a roadtrip. But that’s not our day in/day out. So how do we make our kitchen happen? We follow these simple rules. And no, it doesn’t take all my time. And no, it’s not my only hobby. But my kids did eat ratatouille from scratch last night (and watched me cook as they watched the movie) — and at ages 2 and 7, sang the praises of couscous and goat cheese. So maybe we’re on to at least a little something…?

Take or leave these tips as they serve your life; they have, and will continue, to serve our family well.

  1. Get a solid handle on the basics of good cooking and baking. Make time to learn a few crucial things like knife techniques, ratios, herbs and spices, and flavor profiles. If you have ever felt anxious walking into the kitchen because “you don’t know how to cook”… this is where you start. Get a book; take a class; ask a friend who knows this stuff to mentor you (trust me, we love to pass down the knowledge). We won’t all turn out to be epic chefs. But we all have the ingrained ability to feed ourselves well. It is how our species has survived for so long. Don’t let Betty Crocker and Hamburger Helper fool you; we ALL are smart enough to put together delicious meals, all by ourselves.
  2. Buy a few really great cookbooks you like and know you’ll use; find websites with trusted recipes and make them your go-tos. Try new things from them, and make peace with the occasional failure (there’s a restaurant open somewhere that will feed you if you burn the biscuits or ruin the roast). Donate or sell the cookbooks you don’t use; they’ll only frustrate and discourage you, but they may inspire someone else.
  3. Invest a little bit of money in quality kitchen tools that make your job a million times easier. A good knife and sharpener, a solid cutting board, high-quality food processor, and top-notch mixer can make what seems daunting pretty easy.
  4. Plan your meals weekly. Balance the menu (rotate meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes as well as flavor profiles) and plan for specific recipes. You won’t overspend at the grocery store, you are less likely to give up and go out to eat.  Incredibly important key to success: plan in one or two days per week where you do nothing — eat a bowl of cereal,  reheat leftovers, or grab take-out. Don’t kill yourself in the kitchen every day.
  5. Keep track of what you have available. We use a simple spreadsheet on Google docs that inventories our freezers, and add or delete as items are purchased or used. We throw away less freezer-burned fruits and unintelligible leftovers.
  6. Shop around and find the least expensive way you can buy local. This is a big fad right now — and a good one, in my opinion, but this is America, after all, and even the best fads allow an opportunity for someone to rip you off. Be smart. My neighborhood gas station sells the same eggs and milk I’d buy at the co-op for well less than half the cost. Same brands. So yep, I do make the trip into the gas station to save myself 5 bucks on eggs and milk every week. And you know what, everyone wins… I support my neighbors and local economy,  I pay less because I don’t have to pay someone to ship it.  Also, local food is delicious food. I think of it this way: imagine how you feel after walking to the corner store. Then, imagine how you feel after being on a 8 or 12-hour plane ride. That bag of spinach from Argentina tastes the same way you feel after that plane ride, compared to the bag of spinach from the farmer’s market, picked yesterday and driven 40 miles to get in your belly.
  7. Buy in-season. Lots of  cash (and pollution, and unnecessary plant stress, and chemical fertilizers, and so on) goes into things that are force-grown/mass produced. Besides, in-season food tastes better (when it’s allowed to do what nature programmed it to do). No one wants to eat that mealy peach from Chile in  February. Especially not at 3 or 4 bucks a pound.
  8. Avoid anything that has extra packaging. You pay a (relative) fortune for the packaging – and, when things are packaged, they often need preservatives, which is another thing you don’t need, but still pay for – and, ultimately, you just throw it all away.
  9. Learn how to grow the things you use most. You’ll save time and money if you’ve frozen a giant green bean harvest for the lean winter months, instead of buying a bag at the grocer’s every week. And again, have I mentioned how much better it tastes?
  10. Make it yourself (even if you have to freeze, can, or otherwise preserve it for later) whenever you can.

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Everybody, eat now!

It’s a little like Christmas this week, because tomorrow our CSA share starts up again (after the long winter hiatus from mid-January to early May).

Both adults in our house cook (and I bake). But there’s something, at least for us, about not having fresh food (from the CSA, or that we’ve grown, or that we’ve procured from a local market) our household finds de-motivating.  Sure, we freeze soups and preserve fruit and freeze veggies. We’ve eaten through our backlog of pickles and sauerkraut;  we have made short work of several cans of peaches and applesauce (and frankly, have more to go in some of these categories).  But there’s only so much frozen broccoli and snap peas you can eat before it all just tastes routine, at least to our household’s palate.

2010 marks our third year of participating in a CSA and committing our family to eating local, in-season produce. It’s a little stunning to me how our eating habits (and preferences) have evolved in the last 3 years. I’m just thrilled to get the sorrel in this week’s CSA box; I can’t wait to pick up a few morels at the Mill City Farmer’s Market this weekend. These are foods I definitely wasn’t experiencing as a 2 or 7 year old (like our daughters will); and frankly, until I married a fellow foodie, I had no real reason to search after such things myself.

Anyway, we’re once again exited to cook and plan and eat in-season at the Green Toews estate, and if you want to join in, we’ll be posting weekly meal plans (complimenting what’s in our CSA Box) for the foreseeable seasons to come.

Happy local, in-season eating!

Spinach and Ramps and Rhubarb - oh my!

What’s in The Box this week?

  • Ramps
  • Spinach (this spring spinach is the best stuff on earth)
  • Saute Mix
  • Rhubarb
  • Asparagus
  • French Breakfast Radish
  • Sorrel
  • Sweet Overwintered Parsnips
  • Sunchokes
  • Overwintered Red Russian Kale
  • Chives
  • Dogwood or Willow

And what are we cooking?

Thursday:
Chicken stir-fry with saute mix, chives, sunchokes, broccoli, etc. (recipe to follow)

Friday:
Ramp, asparagus, spinach and feta frittata with french breakfast puffs (recipe to follow)

Saturday:
Blueberry muffins; then to the Farmers Market!
Salads and sandwiches, rhubarb cobbler

Sunday:
Mother’s Day Picnic

Monday:
Meatloaf, roasted parsnips and kale

(Typically we spend Tuesday and Wednesday cleaning up leftovers, so it will be rare to see meals planned on those days.  Plus, we’re working extra-hard right now to clean out our freezer of soups and stews from this winter so we’re able to start preserving anew once the garden gets going).