Successful Careless Cooking

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Some days I just don’t feel like cooking.  Can’t be bothered.  Could care less.  Today was one of those days.  It’s raining, there are still unopened boxes in the garage and everywhere, there is nothing truly exciting in my freezer and refrigerator.  Still, the spouse and child must be fed.  Time for careless cooking.  Careless cooking is only successful when you have the right audience, include certain essential ingredients and make the correct quantity judgement.

Baby boomers are the best targets for careless cooking (Boomers from the “deep country” are perfect).  Born between 1946 and 1964, these are the original one-dish casserole kids. Moms were mostly stay at home but housewife-ing with multiple children was and is an unpaid full time job that naturally runs into overtime; housecleaning, laundry, driving the kids to events, budgeting, cooking, etc. Food companies often advertised their products as time saving and economical which appealed to the housewife trying to find a little personal space for lunch, bridge, the hair salon or whatever.  Cans were good things and in the beginning the contents were not so bad. Casseroles were good things because you could dump a bunch of cans in one pot, sprinkle with cheese, add a little parsley, innovative presentation and you had a family meal.  Note: It is more than possible to successfully careless cook for the generations after the boomers; just add about 2 tablespoons of sugar and maybe some ketchup to whatever casserole you make.  Avoid vegetables that can not be pureed into the sauce.

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As to ingredients, careless cooking is centered around a well stocked pantry of canned goods; vegetables, tomatoes, beans, sauces and broths.  Use your imagination and do have on hand a ridiculous amount of dried herbs and spices.  It is essential that no matter what you are making, be sure to saute some onions, garlic and bell pepper to include in your one-dish triumph.  Above all, careless cooking must taste good and these vegetables and aromatic pretty much guarantee that.

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If you are cooking for carnivores, be sure to add a decent quantity of meat. Meat casseroles with fillers(rice, pasta, potatoes) that overwhelm to the extent that the carnivore has to search for the meat are not successful, just frustrating.  For vegetarians, just make sure that there’s plenty of sauce and serve everything with thick slices of bread and maybe butter if they’re doing butter.

Chili Mac

1 1/2 lb ground veal

1 lb ground pork

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, diced

2 cans diced tomatoes

1 small can tomato paste

1 1/2 tbsp Mexican chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp piment d’espelette

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 can pinto beans, drained

1/2 bean can of water

3 cups cooked elbow macaroni

1 mounded cup grated cheese

Brown the ground meats in a dry skillet, then remove and set aside.  Pour out the accumulated fat, wipe the skillet with a paper towel, then add the olive oil, onion, garlic and bell pepper, sauteing until the onion is soft.

Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, piment, salt, pepper, beans, water and reserved meat to the skillet, stir well, bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.  Stir in the macaroni and cheese, then allow to simmer, stirring for about 3-5 minutes.

 

 

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Smelt

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Whenever I see tiny fish like whitebait or sardines, I think of the fresh smelt my father used to fry.  I don’t know where he bought them but there was a season and he would come home with large sacks of unfrozen, small, whole smelts that he fried “hard” so that you could eat the head, bones and all without a squeamish pang.  Lovely.

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I found these smelt at the Super Duper Market and even though they were frozen, headed and gutted, I couldn’t resist.  No they didn’t have that just-out-of-the-water fresh taste, but I could taste the memory.

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Instead of reaching for a jar, I prepared some easy tartar sauce to combat any frozen, cardboard, fishy taste these smelt might have.  After all, Pennsylvania is landlocked and these fish had to travel.  Bummer that I couldn’t find the French cornichons but substituted with small dills.  This worked out okay but, if you can find them, use the cornichons.

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Most of my fresh potted herbs have suffered from the cooler weather and are stone cold dead.  I still have parsley, oregano and a little thyme.  I used them for the buttery herb and chilli topping, but dill in place of the oregano is perfection.  I had some chillies in the fridge and used them until I was satisfied :)

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A song in memory of my father.

Deep Fried Smelt

2 lbs fresh or frozen smelt, headed and gutted or not

1 cup flour

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp smoked paprika

Peanut oil for deep frying

2 cloves garlic, slivered

1 or 2 colorful chillies or to taste, seeded and sliced

2 tbsp butter

1 handful each; dill(oregano), parsley and thyme, chopped

Mix the flour, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and paprika together in a plastic/paper bag. Toss in a handful of the smelt at a time, coating well.  Fry in the peanut oil until golden brown and crispy.

Melt the butter in a small skillet, then add the garlic and chillies, sauteing until aromatic. Remove from the flame, stir in the herbs, then pour over the fried fish.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in American, Appetizer, Cooking, fish, Food and Wine, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Cordero’s – Honesdale, Pennsylvania

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Home-style, according to the dictionary,  means “such as would be made at home; simple and unpretentious”.  When I think of home-style I think of good food, served with warmth and caring, food served up in the style of my mother, grandmothers and aunts, not to forget my father, grandfathers and uncles as they presided over a down home barbecue or fish fry.  I hope, whether I’m making a foie gras saute or a meatloaf, that I manage to maintain this tradition of gifting my friends and family with food.

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Back in the day, popular home-style restaurants and diners managed to re-create this familial atmosphere of comfort, warmth, simplicity and good food.  Unfortunately today most of these restaurants have disappeared and been replaced by chain restaurants that cater to a population that is satisfied with fake, over-sugared, plastic fare, as long as it’s fast and copious.  A population that, even when eating together, eats alone.

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Cordero’s, a family run restaurant, has been in business for over 60 years and it’s easy to see why.  No matter how busy the wait staff is, they always seem to have time for a good morning, hello, coffee? or some form of friendly recognition to reassure their valued clients that they have been seen.  Multitaskers and in general just happy people, the staff greets their regulars, welcomes newcomers, takes and delivers orders with smiles, jokes and laughter.  We love these people!

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The counter seats are as comfortable as the booths and whether you drop in for a meal or a coffee and a look at the local newspaper, you know you’re in the right place.

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At Cordero’s the family has paid attention to every detail, and rather than the studied staginess  of chain diner/restaurants, the authenticity of Cordero’s speaks to a way of life that has not been forgotten or abandoned.

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Look at the “correctness” of the salt and pepper shakers, the sugar dispenser and the heavy solidity of the coffee mugs.  You could live here.  We almost do :D

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Cholesterol?  Not a problem.  We don’t mind taking a few risks for the quality of this real food.  Sausage, eggs, home fries and buttered toast.  To die for :)

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Shockingly, this summer I saw a sign at another diner that limited the time you had to finish your meal to 45 minutes from the time you were served.  Ironically, the server mechanically urged us to enjoy our meal!  How could we?  That was a little nerve-racking and we haven’t and don’t intend to return.

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Winter is coming but Cordero’s is on a main road that’s sure to be plowed by the time we’re ready for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Such a relief!

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Red Pears

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Haiti was my first experience living overseas.  We didn’t live in the capitol city of Port au Prince, but in the southern town of Les Cayes, about 12-13 hours over unpaved roads, about 190 km (118 miles).  But we were young and the trip was an adventure.  We thought it was so cool to have to ford rivers, sometimes getting stuck in the middle and then being pulled and pushed out by the very friendly locals.  Ah youth!  Idiots :D

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Because Les Cayes was in the “deep” country, there weren’t a lot of supermarkets.  There was one, a sort of general store that sold everything from pesticides to take out sandwiches, often side by side.  Most shopping was done in the country farmers’ market. It was in these local markets that my love affair with Haiti hit shaky ground.

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Cows, pigs and goats were slaughtered and butchered in open fields at the markets. It wasn’t that I didn’t know where meat came from, it was just that I was used to buying it on a styrofoam tray, wrapped in plastic, with a descriptive label.  Even back then, presentation was an issue for me.  I didn’t know what part came from where and every newly butchered piece of meat looked the same to me.  I would just choose a likely looking lump, take it home and try to cook it.  I hated not knowing what I was getting.  I still hate that.

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I bought some red pears at the Super Duper market yesterday.  The sign above, rather redundantly, said “red pears”.  I thought the tiny sticker attached to each pear would enlighten me but it just said U.S.A.  Were these Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc, Concorde, Starkrimson, Williams???  Not that I know a lot about which varieties of fruit are good to cook with, but I could always look it up on the internet.

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I mean, what if I had never heard of or cooked spaghetti squash(my first time was in Sens) and when I saw it at the Scranton Farmers’ market, it just said “yellow squash?”

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Imagine what my reaction might have been when it fell to pieces in shreds and strings after cooking!  A perfectly good yellow squash tossed into the garbage bin!  Hello supermarket people!  We, the other people, need to know!

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Anyway, let’s get back on track.  I saw this marvelous recipe for spaghetti squash on the internet that sounded delicious and I wanted to make it or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Such wonderful ingredients; spaghetti squash, garlic, fresh basil, spinach, tomatoes, mozzarella!

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I went rogue immediately by crisp frying some chopped bacon that was languishing in the refrigerator, then toasting the chopped garlic in the bacon fat.  I added the bacon because it existed, but it wasn’t necessary.  The original recipe, Spaghetti Squash Caprese is wonderful as it was written.  I call my version Spaghetti Squash Capricious :)

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My husband mounded an unsightly amount of this casserole on his plate for lunch!  I was pleased ;)

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I’ve always thought that my favorite color was blue but I’ve changed my mind.  Red is my new favorite.  I mixed the red pears with red potatoes, white onions and green thyme whose scientific and common names will remain as anonymous as they were when I bought them.

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I bought the smoked pork chops at the Alpine Wurst and Meat House (German butcher). He purchases his meat locally and smokes selected cuts in house.  The chops were delicious as usual.

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Spaghetti Squash Capricious

1 large spaghetti squash

1/3 cup chopped bacon

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

2 handfuls spinach, chopped

3 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped

4 plum tomatoes, cut into chunks

2 tbsp olive oil

3/4 cup mozzarella plus extra, as much as you like, for topping, grated

Salt and pepper

Pierce the squash with a cooking fork on four sides, then roast for 40 minutes at 375 F, turn, and roast for another 40 minutes.  Remove the squash from the oven, cut off the stem end, cut in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and slimy stuff, then scrape with a fork and remove the spaghetti like threads to a large bowl.

Cook the bacon in a skillet until brown and crisp, then remove and drain on a paper towel. Add the garlic to the skillet and briefly toast.  Put the bacon, garlic, spinach, basil, tomatoes, olive oil, the 3/4 cup of mozzarella, salt and pepper in the bowl with the squash. Mix well, then pour into a baking pan, sprinkle with the extra cheese and bake at 375 F for 30-40 minutes.

Baked Smoked Pork Chops with Pears and Potatoes

1 large onion, cut into 8 wedges

2 red pears, cored and cut into 8 wedges

1/2 -3/4 lb red potatoes, sliced thickly then halved or halved and sliced thickly :D

Several sprigs of thyme

Salt and pepper

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp brown sugar

4-6 smoked pork chops

Mix the onion, pears, potatoes, thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil in a large bowl, then pour into a baking pan.  Roast at 425 F for 15 minutes, stir and sprinkle with the brown sugar, then top with the pork chops.  Return to the oven for 20 minutes, then turn the pork chops over and continue cooking for about 15-20 minutes more.

 

 

 

 

 

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Masala

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Wakeful in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, I mentally reviewed some of the great produce I bought at the Scranton Farmers’ Market, thinking of Indian masala.

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I still had some Tuscan kale and pretty, little red potatoes that remind me of apples when they are sliced.

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I remembered a large package of chicken gizzards that kept waving at me each time I opened the freezer and resolved to include them in my melange.

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As the masala started to come together, my husband could not stay out of the kitchen.  I should have used his distraction to ask for something utterly expensive.  Like a diamond bracelet.  Next time :)

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This time I just took the picture, poured him a glass of wine and handed him a plate full of rice and masala. He was glad.

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Chicken Gizzard and Potato Masala

1 lb chicken gizzards, halved

1 bay leaf

1 thick slice of onion

2 cups chicken broth

Salt and pepper

4 tbsp ghee

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp cinnamon powder

1 tsp crushed red pepper

1 large onion, processed into a paste with 3 tbsp water

1 1/2 inch fresh ginger and 6 garlic cloves, processed into a paste with 4 tbsp water

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp sugar

2 cans diced tomatoes

8 small red potatoes, cut into eighths and boiled for 10 minutes.

2 cups Tuscan kale, chopped

Bring to a boil and simmer the gizzards with the bay leaf, onion, chicken broth, salt and pepper.  Drain, reserving the broth and set aside.

Melt the ghee in a wok and cook the cumin, fennel, cinnamon and crushed red pepper until aromatic.  Add the onion paste and continue to cook for about 8 minutes.  Add the ginger/garlic paste and continue to cook for about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garam masala, tumeric and sugar, blending well.  Stir in the tomatoes, gizzards and reserved broth,  bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the potatoes and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.  Finally, add the kale and cook until wilted.

Serve with rice or chapatis.

 

 

Posted in Asian, Cooking, Food and Wine, Indian, Main dishes, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

The Regular Farmers’ Market

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The regular farmers’ market is in Scranton, a pleasant drive, about 25-30 minutes from Honesdale.

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It’s big and the vegetables plentiful, varied and pretty.  They have, wait for it, fresh borlotti beans!

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They call them cranberry beans and they seem to be a bit larger than the French borlotti but peu importe!  I cooked some today and froze the rest for later :)

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The market also had Tuscan kale which I’ve never heard of or seen.  Alien!  And also normal hakurei turnips that I knew about :)

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What-a-relief!

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Bavarian essence rubbed pork rib roast from the German butcher.  Gina assured me that all of his meat is sourced locally :)

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We’re living high on the hog here in Pennsylvania, baby :D

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Bavarian Pork Rib Roast

1 5-6 bone pork rib roast

Bavarian essence

Score the fat on the roast top, then rub Bavarian essence all over.  Refrigerate overnight. Place the roast in a tajine, cover on, in a 375 F oven for 1 1/2 hours.  Remove cover and continue to roast for 30 minutes.

Hakurei Turnip and Tuscan Kale Stir Fry

6 hakurei turnips, cut into cubes

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup cooked ham, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cups Tuscan kale leaves, chopped

2 bay leaves

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

Brown the turnip cubes in the olive oil.  Add the ham and garlic, then cook until the garlic is aromatic.  Add the kale, bay leaves, vinegar, salt and pepper, then cover and steam for 4-5 minutes.

 

 

 

 

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Muffuletta in Honesdale

 

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This was probably the best loaf of muffuletta bread I’ve made.  I don’t know how it happened.  Perhaps it was my disregard of rising times because I was too busy wandering around town and the Dyberry Cemetery behind the house.  Pardon the artificial light; my husband, Jade and Laura (old, old friend and house guest) rather churlishly refused to sit in the dark while I got the shots, and I refused to use automatic.

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I would like to thank my ingredients; King Arthur bread flour, Morrell Snow Cap Lard and good old reliable Fleischmanns yeast.

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Last but by no means least, I’d like to give all praises to my Pennsylvania Kitchenaid that I whined my husband into buying, even though I have one just like it in France.  Without this machine, you’d be looking at this sandwich on Wonderbread :D  I do not knead nor do I need to.

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No baker, I do love to see the miracle of rising dough.

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Mah-velous.

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For recipes

 

Posted in American, Cooking, Food and Wine, Recipes, Sandwich | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments