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Archive for June, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons

Have you ever looked through a cookbook and you find a recipe think you’d love, but it has an ingredient you’ve never heard of and you just don’t want to deal with it so you  turn the page and decide to make something else? Preserved lemons always used to capture that feeling for me. They are almost impossible to find in stores, and few cookbooks give clear directions on how to make them at home. The truth is that they are incredibly easy to make and essential to many Moroccan, Middle Eastern and even Mediterranean dishes. They have become an essential ingredient in our house and we regularly teach students how to make them in our Spice Market classes.

 lemons selected to be preserved

 

This ingredient is seemingly exotic but oh-so-simple and will give so much zest to your meals that I just had to share it. Preserved lemons are tangy and have an interesting texture, a perfect addition to grilled meats in the summer, stews in the winter, or cous cous year round. Here’s how you make them:

 fresh lemons

 

First, try and find  small and ripe organic lemons. You will need between 8 and 12 of them, along with ¼ cup kosher salt and a one quart sterilized canning jar. Wash lemons thoroughly. Remember, you will be eating the peel, not the pulp. Cut a thin slice from the top and bottom of the lemons.

 

both top and bottom sliced

 

Make four deep vertical cuts three-quarters of the way down the fruit, but make sure the lemon is still attached at the base.

 

lemons sliced in 4 quadrants

 

Place a generous tablespoon of salt on the bottom of the sterile jar.

 

place salt on bottom of jar

 

Carefully open a lemon and generously sprinkle salt evenly throughout the quarters (about one generous teaspoon per lemon).

 

lemons sprinkled with salt

 

Place the lemon in the jar.

 

stuffing lemons in the jar

 

Repeat the process of salting and stuffing the lemons in the jar, making sure to press the lemons down hard with a clean spoon to release the juices and make room for the remaining lemons.

 

filing up the jar!

 

When the jar is full, place the remaining salt in the jar (it should be at least a tablespoon) and fill in the gaps with fresh lemon juice. Store the lemons in a cool place for at least a month, and shake the jar daily to evenly distribute the salt and juice

 

pouring the lemon juice to the top

 
When the lemons are ready for use, rinse the lemons as needed, or else they will be too salty. Cut away the pulp inside and then slice or chop the rind according to the recipe you are using. Preserved lemons will keep for at least 6 months before opening the jar, but do refrigerate them once they are opened. Enjoy!


finished preserved lemons

 

lemons ready to be preserved

When in Richmond: Halligan Bar & Grill

 

Once upon a time, by which I mean last week, we took a journey to the south land to visit my cousin Jessie and celebrate her recent graduation from Appalachian State University (yay Jessie!). Of course, never ones to avoid turning anything at all into a national eating holiday, we decided to take the opportunity to find the best food in North Carolina, or any other state we might be passing through at mealtimes. During our brief road trip, we hit up chicken and biscuits, maryland crabcakes, old fashioned milkshakes, coconut cake, peach cobbler, chocolate pie, and NC barbecue 5 times in 4 days. And you know what that means! Turn up the bluegrass and pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea… it’s road food time!

 

Firetruck

 

Our journey begins in Richmond, VA. Looking for nothing more than a pretty-decent place to eat that was pretty-decently close to I-95 and also not McDonalds, we stumbled upon Halligan Bar and Grill, an unsuspecting restaurant which hides away what is, in our opinion, the best barbecue in the entire south – better than anything we had even in North Carolina. An homage to all things firefighter, Halligan has a bar made out of half a firetruck (sliced the long way, obviously) and badges, license plates and inspirational posters decorating every inch of wall space. But the decor is only commentary to food that can only be described as indescribable.

 

Plate of barbecue

 

Smoky pulled pork and chicken fall apart with every motion of your fork, and their sweet, vinegary sauce warms your throat as only proper southern cooking can do. Sandwiches are served on buttery buns, and coleslaw (the natural accompaniment) is peppery and fresh. On the side, homemade baked beans are thick and smoky and hushpuppies are soft and crisp. Moist, tender, herb-studded cornbread is served with sweet and savory chipotle-honey butter (with visible, hand-chopped chipotle peppers, of course) and is perfect for mopping up absolutely everything. A perfect welcome to the south, everything we had at Halligan Bar and Grill was beyond worth both the calories and the trip.

 

I made a smiley face out of barbecue sauce

 

 

Amazingly, we only found this because the other place we were going to go to was closed. Nothing in richmond is open on mondays :P

 

We’re writing up more good, strong and messy American cooking in every free moment of the next few days so we cordially invite you to get fat with us over the next few posts. Stay tuned ;)

 

Bumper sticker just outside Haligan

As Seen at the Market: Pasta with Kale and Butternut Squash

 

Several weeks ago I was speaking to Keren Kurti-Alexander, the Manager at the Cityseed (link) Farmers market about our demos for the summer. I had all kinds of yummy surprises involving fun fruits and vegetables like blueberries, strawberries, and corn. But it was late May and the crops have been slow for his year, and she asked me the question I’ve been dreading ever since I started: “Could you do something with kale?”

 Picture of kale

Panicking, I punted and promised that I definitely would sometime during the season. I could push it off until late fall since it is such a hearty vegetable that always seems to be available and just hope that inspiration struck at some point in the interim. And of course Keren being a nice person said okay, I could do the fun stir fry and make great strawberry breakfast smoothies I was planning instead. But I could tell that in her heart of hearts she was hoping for some kale. I realized that it really was time to get over my kale fear. I’ve been cooking for longer than I can remember… surely I could find a way of making a dish that wasn’t bitter and didn’t look like putrid green slime.

 

Squash:  They're so cute, aren't they?

 

It happened that we had just made some vibrant roasted butternut squash with a bit of butter and sea salt, which made Gabrielle remember that her friend Mia had raved about a pasta she’d had with kale and butternut squash at a restaurant in New York. From there, everything else fell together – I could tell that the colors, textures and flavors of these ingredients would compliment each other perfectly, and I could already see that with a little inspiration and improvisation, we could create something really memorable. The recipe that follows is probably one of the healthiest, tastiest and certainly one of the most colorful pastas ever. Here are the steps:

 

First peel the squash, admittedly one of my least favorite jobs. The skin is tough on this curvaceous vegetable and it is difficult to peel. If you’re wise you’ll get somebody else to do it.

 

Peeling Squash: Seriously, avoid this if you can ;)

Be sure to get all the stringy stuff out of the middle (we use a tomato de-seeder to scrape out the seeds and pulp, but a ice cream scoop, a spoon or your fingers will work just fine)

 

Scooping out the squash

 

Some very silly textbooks would tell you to trim the squash so you have perfect squares and discard the rest.

 

I suppose it's wrong that we've stooped to eating squash that isn't perfectly square.... the horror ;)

 

But seriously, look at the waste. Just cut it up to be as square and uniform as you can and distribute the squash over two parchment lined cookie sheets. It may not be culinarily correct, but we’ll deal I think.

 

And can you even believe that these aren't perfect cubes?

 

Melt some butter, sprinkle some sea salt and pepper and roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes.

 

 salt and pepper squash!

 

Here is the finished product. (The recipe, by the way, calls for three squashes, about twice the amount you will actually need, but trust me you will want left over squash, the smell is so heavenly and it makes such a wonderful side dish to any meal.)

 

Seriously, squash is so yummy i feel like you could eat this instead of squash

 

In the meantime prepare the kale. Make sure you buy kale that is deep green and fresh. Don’t wait until it gets like this.

 

isn't it hauntingly beautiful?

 

Tear the leaves from the tough spine.

 

I feel like you could put this in a horror movie

 

Chop into bit size pieces, and set aside.

 

whatever you say about it, it is super cute and curly though

 

You will need two cups of chopped onions and/or scallions of any sort. We had plenty of spring onions left over from a cooking demo at Wooster Square from Sun One Farms in Bethlehem, so that’s what we used.

 

artsy!

 

Sautee the onion mixture until soft and glassy, about five minutes and add some garlic.

 

 

Add the kale and cook only until it is soft but still bright green. Add two cups of cherry tomatoes and continue cooking for about a minute, or until the tomatoes just begin to soften and are slightly warm but not mushy.

 

this stuff is not good yet, but we're going to fix it

 

In the meantime, boil a pound of dried fusilli or another favorite medium sized pasta, and cook according to instructions. Drain and add an 8 ounce container of mascarpone cheese. Stir well.

 

calories make everything taste good

 

Add the kale mixture to the pasta, and then the squash with the parmesan cheese.

 

omnomnomnomnom

 

Mix well and Serve. This dish is so hearty, it doesn’t really need any bread.

 

we did it! and so can you!

 

Click here to see the recipe on Food52.com. Enjoy!

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