Tag Archives: food

I can rock a roux — and a stew

As I thought about making dinner this evening, about having too many vegetables in my fridge, and about preparing something for my family while I am away meditating in the beauty of southern Indiana woods this weekend, I realized that I only had one option: head to the cookbookcase for one of my favorite cookbooks. Besides all that, I was just in the mood to do some creative cooking.

One might argue that I have far more cookbooks than one person needs, but I like to read them. My go-to cookbook, though, is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food. Second in line? Without question, it is Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food. I just love that someone can write a 800 page cookbook about “everything” and then create a sequel that is just as long — and just as good!

So, what did I make? Let’s look at what I had:

Okra gets such a bad rap. Slimy? It can be if it’s old or if it isn’t cooked correctly. It also has a rep for being fibrous. Stringy and slimy? Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? But, okra is one of those foods that I think most people would like if they had it prepared correctly. And it isn’t difficult to do. Be sure to buy smaller pieces of okra, prepare it when it is fresh, and don’t overcook it.

I started with a recipe for Okra Stew with Roux (How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, page 324). From using Bittman’s cookbooks, I’ve learned about three things: technique, quality ingredients, and flavor profiles. When I was first learning to cook (not all that long ago!), understanding these gave me confidence to experiment with a base recipe. I didn’t have as much okra as the recipe called for, nor did I have enough tomatoes. But, I did have some green beans, having frozen several pounds bought at the farmers’ market earlier this summer. The recipe stated that any green bean was an acceptable substitute. I also had a zucchini that I thought was going to end up in a quick bread. It’s destiny was elsewhere. I needed one large onion, but only had a smallish one. I immediately targeted one of the monster-sized shallots in the bin to accompany the similar-sized onion.

First step was to lightly brown — golden is the actual color you want — the onion and shallot slices. After removing most of them from the pot, I began a roux. Roux used to terrify me. “Can you make a roux?” was something that Emeril used to say on his early Food TV program. That did nothing to convince me that I could. Roux, it turns out, is actually very easy.

For some people though, like me, the patience to make one is the difficult part! It takes time and constant stirring.

For this recipe, 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup flour, cooked over low heat with nearly non-stop stirring for about 10 minutes gives you the perfect base for a vegetable stew. Eventually the flour and oil mixture begins to thicken and brown. Bittman advises that you stir until the mixture “darkens to the color of tea and becomes quite fragrant”.

 It is a nutty scent, not a burnt odor.  If you begin to burn the flour, turn down the heat! If you burn it, throw it out and try again; it’s only oil and flour. You could make this stew without it, but you’ll miss the depth of flavor and the thickening you get from the roux.

When the roux was ready, I added the okra to the pot and seared it.

After a few minutes, I added garlic. A few minutes after that, I added some cherry tomatoes and 2 cans of diced tomatoes in their juices (any tomatoes would do) and some oregano.

Then I deviated from Bittman’s recipe, adding the thawed green beans,

the zucchini,

1 cup of Hoosier Momma Bloody Mary mix and about 1/2 cup of water.

Hoosier Momma’s is an Indianapolis company that I first became acquainted with at the local Farmers’ Market. Although they only sell in 7 states right now, they’re quickly expanding. If they aren’t in your area, you can buy online. Not only does this mix make a great Bloody Mary, but both the original and spicy versions are great to cook with. It is vegetarian and gluten-free, if those things are important to you. I certainly recommend this great mix. It’s not your father’s bloody mary mix!

I brought all the ingredients to a boil, then turned the heat to low, covered and let it stew for about 45 minutes.

The result? Delicious!

Ingredients for original recipe:
6 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, thickly sliced
1 pound okra
2 T chopped garlic
4 cups chopped tomato
1 T minced fresh oregano

I added:
1 large zucchini, chopped
1 cup green beans
1 shallot
1 cup Hoosier Momma Bloody Mary Mix

* So you know — and so that I’m following governmental rules — I have received no compensation for use or mention of any products in this post.


One of my favorite restaurant meals. (Travel theme: Food)

One day, a few weeks before my 40th birthday, my husband told me that he had a gift for me, a surprise. It involves a plane trip, your passport, and food. I’ve already checked with your mother; she’ll babysit for the week.

Well, I hate surprises and emphatically said that I would not go anywhere if I didn’t know where, arguing that I would find out once at the airport, so it might as well be at home. My mother said I was being a baby. My boss told me that I wasn’t being adventurous. My husband finally gave in: he had made reservations on my birthday at Le Café Jules Verne, the Michelin-starred restaurant at the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived in Paris the day before my birthday and started to plot out our week. Several museums were on our list — The Louvre, Musée Rodin, Musée Picasso, the d’Orsay. We knew that we wanted to go to Giverny to see Monet’s gardens and tried to figure out the best day to go. We went to the Jules Verne and enjoyed a lovely lunch overlooking Paris. It was fun to do something so extravagant — lunch at an expensive restaurant in Paris to celebrate a birthday — but I don’t remember much about the experience other than we had good food and an enjoyable time, although the restaurant seemed a bit touristy.

The next day we were moving at too leisurely a pace to get to the train station on time to catch the train to Giverny, so we changed our plans, thinking that we wouldn’t make it to the gardens this trip. But, the next day, a bright sunny day without a cloud in the sky, we decided spur-of-the-moment to see if we could catch the morning train. We made it to Gare St Lazare with just enough time to spare and settled into the 45 minutes trip through the countryside.

To say that the gardens are magnificent is an understatement bordering on redundancy. Even for the viewer who doesn’t like Impressionistic art, Monet’s paintings depict a gloriously lush vegetation, full of color, light, and texture. It isn’t hard to imagine what the gardens might be like. But, on a beautiful Spring day, they are even better than that! The house itself isn’t much, but it is the same structure where Monet lived. If you visit hoping to see Impressionist Masterpieces, you will be disappointed. Monet’s works are in museums and collections throughout the world, but his home in Giverny is only decorated with reproductions. And, even at the dawn of this century a large portion of the house was devoted to the requisite tourist gift shop.

After we maneuvered our way through the house and past shoppers in the gift shop (zee big spendurhs as a French tour guide was overheard saying), we spent a few hours in the gardens. Unlike the house, the gardens are a delight to stroll through. Paths that lead through rose gardens. Paths that lead to ponds. Row after row of a colorful, scented sensory assault. And, of course, there is the famous Japanese bridge and waterlilies.

When we were finished with our walk, we could have rushed back via taxi to the train station, or we could have waited a few hours to catch the bus. We opted to stay and wander through Giverny, hoping to find a little restaurant to have a bite to eat. What we found, instead, was a beautiful French country house with a wonderful restaurant. Le Jardin de Giverny was only a five-minute stroll from the Monet house. We had taken the other fork in the road, wanting a meandering route back to the main road where we were told we would find a café. So, you might say that it was serendipity that we saw a path that lead to a garden and then noticed a car park and a restaurant sign. We continued down the drive to Le Jardin de Giverny.

I don’t remember the specific things we had for each of the courses, except for the fois gros appetizers and the truly exquisite chocolates for dessert. But, I do remember that we had a four-course meal with champagne. The restaurant was charming, and with only two or three other tables seated, it seemed that our little table in front of the large window was our own private dining room. The wait staff spoke little English, but they were as attentive as possible. With my scarce-remembered high-school French we figured out how to communicate our menu selections. We looked out over the rose garden and the dappled ginkgo trees and enjoyed wonderful food and a peaceful afternoon.

More than 10 years later, both my husband and I would quickly list this among our best meals ever. I think it says something about my dining priorities that I don’t remember the entrée. I’m not sure that I have that sort of sense-memory for food tastes. For me, dining is much more than the food: it is the presentation, the surroundings, a friendly and informed wait staff, a chef who prepares not a meal, but an experience.  Fine dining  doesn’t have to be a Michelin rated restaurant, or prepared using the latest culinary technique, but an opportunity to remember a point in time: where you were, who you were with, what you felt.

Sadly, based on an internet search, it doesn’t appear that this restaurant still exists and even if it does, I’m not sure that I’d make a trip to Giverny just to dine there.   But,  if I’m ever in the French countryside again, I hope that I’ll stumble upon another out-of-the-way restaurant, a place that is fine dining not because of the food prep or the view or the decor are prized by a guide book, but because it provides an amiable, pleasant, complete experience to accompany the food.  Fine dining is memorable dining.

This is my submission for Ailsa’s weekly travel theme. This week’s theme? You guessed it: food.

I don’t have any photos of the restaurant, but I do have some of Monet’s gardens. Most of these were taken by my husband.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Create

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo challenge is CREATE. This is a timely topic, as I was thinking last night about how many things are creative even when we don’t think of them as crafty or artistic.

I decided several months ago that I would try canning this summer.  I’ve thought about this previous summers walking through the abundant farmers’ markets, but I had never thought about it seriously.  The overabundance of ripe berries right now prompted me to buy an enormous amount of them. “It’s now or never” I thought, although I suppose it really is a “now or sometime” sort of endeavor.   I bought 9 cups of raspberries and thought I would start looking for canning equipment.   The berries continuing to ripen in my fridge sent me to the grocery to buy a stock pot and jars last night.   The canning had become “now-or-never” for this bunch of berries.

Looking at various recipes, it seemed so simple:  berries, sugar, boil.   Most steps in cooking are simple, but you have to know the specifics and be precise — and sometimes patient.

I cleaned the new jars and lids, placing the jars in a warm oven and the lids in a pan on the stove.  I started the water boil in the stock pot knowing that it would take a long time to bring the water to a boil.  I was using a 20 quart stock, so it was a lot of water!  I started cooking the berries and 6 cups of sugar.

One has a lot of time to think when stirring 9 cups of berries, but this isn’t a job to leave unattended.  They hold their shape for a few minutes, but they quickly turn to a mush as you stir.   Just as quickly, the sugar begins to melt and before long you have a pot of warm berry liquid.

A slow process

The recipe called for stirring frequently until the mixture thickened, about 10 – 15 minutes of boiling. It started a very slow boil and maintained this for about 5 minutes. A bubble would rise and pop, rise and pop, but it wasn’t a full on boil for a long time. Then, it was very bubbly and as liquid as juice.

The faster boil continued for about 5 – 7 minutes. Suddenly, the tone of the boil changed. I looked up to see that the mixture, while still very runny, was beginning to change slightly in tone, and appeared very seedy. I continued to stir and continued to refer to the recipe.

“How is this suppose to look? What does it mean that it will fall off like a sheet?” I thought. “Will I know when it is done?”

After 10 minutes, I put a teaspoon of the mixture on a chilled plate, as instructed, and put it in the freezer for 1 minute. The edges were suppose to crinkle and appear set. They didn’t — so back to the boil. I tried again in 5 minutes. This time I understood — it was exactly as described. I stopped the boil and took my jars out of the oven.

I filled each jar carefully, glad that I had bought the jar grip set with the wide-mouth funnel. It made the messy task easier. I carefully filled the jars, measured the distance between the preserves and the top of the jar, and put the lids and rings in place. The water was boiling now in the canner and I carefully lowered the jars, put the lid on and waited. “A watched pot never boils”. Or so it seemed.

Finally, I heard the unmistakable sound of water roiling in a pan over fire. I set the timer and began to clean up the mess I had made in the kitchen. I had just a bit that hadn’t fit in the jars and I could see that it was setting up the way you expect preserves to congeal. After the kitchen had been cleaned and the jars cooled, I treated myself to a spoonful of it on top of a scoop of ice cream. Yum!

More than I can eat in a year

The 11 jars of jam — one jar didn’t make it through the boiling process, the lid having come loose — are lined up on my counter. I heard a few of them “ping” last night as they cooled, the created vacuum pulling the lid securely in place. I can’t wait to open one of them to eat. In a few weeks, once I’m sure that this worked the way it was supposed to and I don’t have 11 jars of spoiled preserves, I’ll likely give a few of these away.

This isn’t the type of thing that I usually create. While cooking can be enjoyable to me, often it is just a task. Engaging in a process like this though — going from berry to jam — is a creative act, one that I’m glad I tried. Although it isn’t difficult, it takes a long time in a hot kitchen. I don’t know that I’ll do this regularly, but I’m ready to try a few other canning adventures. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this creation for many months with the occasional small bit of raspberry jam on my toast.

The one where I try to write about food

Part of our Saturday routine  — “our” referring to my spouse & I, not some royal ‘we’ — is to go to the Farmers’ Market and the butcher shop.   Additional stops may be at a supermarket, though I try to avoid those on the weekend.  In the winter, this routine changes slightly since there aren’t many fresh vegetables around. We are, however, fortunate that there is a Winter Market downtown.  Although the vegetable crops are sparse, we still go to get farm fresh eggs, fresh-baked bread, and sometimes out-of-the-ordinary items that other vendors may be selling.

Back in November, I noticed that a local charcuterier was selling merquez sausage.  I had only had merquez, a spicy Moroccan lamb and beef (or sometimes pork) treat, a few times in restaurants.  I’d never seen it in stores around here.  Not knowing how I was going to prepare it, I bought a 1 lb package and figured I’d spend the afternoon researching what I was going to serve for dinner.   I didn’t have to search long!   Although there were many recipes on the web that I could have used, what evolved is a combination of several recipes.  Since I first tried the following dish, it has been a favorite in my house.    This recipe is for 2 plentiful servings; adjust as meets your needs.

Place four merquez sausages with a 1/4 cup of water in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook slowly — about 25 minutes.  The water will have evaporated and the sausages browned and heated thoroughly.

The pleasant aroma of these spicy sausages will fill your kitchen!

In another pan, bring water to a boil and add leafy greens to blanch for 1 minute.  I think this is best with a hardy kale, but have used collard, spinach and Red Russian kale.  Red Russian Kale, pictured in the photos below, was a bit too delicate for this dish in my opinion.

Drain the greens and reserve one cup of the cooking liquid.    Admire how pretty the liquid looks.   Cool the greens and then chiffonade.  If using something like Dino Kale, you may want to remove the leaves from the stems before blanching.  Don’t throw them away —  just add to the boiling water for an extra 2 – 3 minutes before the leaves.

Reserved liquid from the greens. Looks like mint tea!

In a skillet, sauté 1 onion and 1 -2 gloves of garlic.  I think that butter always adds a nice richness to sautéed onions, but olive oil is perfectly fine.   When the onion is a nice brown color, add 1/2 t of red pepper flakes, 1 t of cumin, 1 t of cinnamon. Continue cooking for 1 -2 minutes.  Then add any combination of the following:  red raisins, golden raisins, chopped apricots, chopped figs.   My favorite is figs and apricots, but I will throw in raisins too if I have some on hand.  I didn’t have any last Saturday, so I added dried cherries, which was a flavorful change for this dish.   Stir for another minute or two, add the greens, and the reserved liquid.   It should come to a boil quickly; reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 5 minutes.

The cinnamon and cumin will blend nicely with the onions, adding a sweetness that balances with the red pepper.

This dish comes together quickly & is very colorful!

Cook 1 cup of couscous according to directions on the package; usually 1 cup water, 1 cup couscous. Most couscous suggests adding butter; I usually don’t.   I like the look of the tri-color couscous, but plain tastes the same on my palate; I’d use either in this dish.   By the time that the couscous is done, the sausage should be too.   Plate the greens & fruit combo on top of the couscous, and then top with sausage.   If you like to have wine with dinner, a Rioja or a Shiraz would be a good choice.  For something non-alcoholic, consider a traditional Moroccan mint tea.


If you can’t find merquez in your area, substitute another spicy sausage, such as Spanish Chorizo or andouille.

Eat…Drink…Be Merry

This week’s Photo Friday Challenge is: EAT.

After trying several times in recent weeks to get decent pictures of food, I have come to understand why there are people called “food stylists”. Getting a picture of food is easy. Making it look appetizing is a completely different thing.

Fresh from the Farmers' Market


The veggies photo was taken in ’09; the drinks photo a few weeks ago. My dinner this evening? Photos will not be published, but it tasted better than it looked.

Remember: Everything in moderation.

Odds and Ends, An Experiment for February and Fun

My husband asked me yesterday why I was so obsessed with discovering the make and model of the car pieces I found in the woods last week. I think that my first reaction to his question was certainly a look of disbelief: how could he not understand what fun this was? It was a mystery that I found right at my feet — and it didn’t involve finding gruesome remains or scary people in masks. Not that I think such things would happen, but this wasn’t far from the House of Blue Lights, a legendary spot that has haunted Indianapolis children since the mid-1950’s, so who’s to say that there wasn’t something mysterious in those woods.

I had a FaceTime chat with my son this evening (A first; we both thought it was a bit weird) and I explained my find and how I figured out the make, model and year. I think he was astonished that his mother, who can’t find her own car in a parking lot, could have figured it out. Perhaps because he is a reader of mysteries, he was curious how I pieced it all together. I explained the clues and the research — and confessed that if I had understood the last piece I used to unravel the mystery first, I would have been done. The coding of the part number contained all of the information that I needed. But, like any good mystery, even though the information was at hand, it didn’t make any sense at first. You can see more info and photos here and here and here.

So much for my oddities and foibles. Here are some other bits & pieces:

* This recipe for Chicken Fricasse was Freshly Pressed by WordPress last week. I made it this evening and it was quite tasty. This was my first introduction to the blog Assia’s Kaleidoscope, but after looking through only her most recent posts, I see that she has some wonderful-looking recipes. I’m sure that there are a few more that I will try.

* Since I’m on the topic of food: As the lucky winner of a blog giveaway, I received The Feast Nearby, a collection of essays & recipes by Robin Mather. Many thanks to Amy Gutman of Plan B Nation for the copy of Robin’s book. It arrived on Friday, immediately causing revisions to my weekly menu plan and Saturday grocery list. This, from the cover, describes the book: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week). I’m looking forward to reading Robin’s essays about her year-long journey as well as trying out more of the recipes. Tomorrow’s dinner: Robin’s recipe for Red Beans and Rice. I’ve been considering beginning a series of posts reviewing the cookbooks in my collection. I have enough to last for several weeks months. The Feast Nearby will be one of the early ones reviewed.

* Another shout-out to Plan B Nation: Amy has blogged about her “year of experiments”, a project involving adopting a particular theme each month and devising activities around that theme. Her theme for February is “Creating Order”. This could be my theme for my life! But, while I wanted to play along with Amy’s Life Experiment project, I have been on a steady organizational roll with my house for several months and felt that I needed to do something else, something not currently on that long, household projects list. I thought of several possibilities but quickly rejected them: something with photography (I experimented and learned new things about photography by shooting daily in January); something involving all of the collected items, awards and pictures from my son’s childhood before he graduates in May (I’m not a scrapbooker, and that is probably more for me than for him; while it would help with two or three boxes of clutter, it is goal-oriented rather than process-oriented); healthy cooking (too guilt inducing); writing letters (my bad handwriting is too embarrassing); listening and reading news sources from the opposite side of the political spectrum (considered this for a few days but one hour in my mother’s car, unable to change the station, listening to hateful talk radio made me want to pull out my own teeth without anesthetic).

I considered one of Amy’s rules: activities should be satisfying and maybe even fun. This, I decided, should be the most heavily weighted in choosing this month’s theme. Finally, thanks to a suggestion that Amy posted on Facebook, I decided to participate in the 30 Days of Good monthly challenge. This month’s challenge is Good Citizenship. Today’s task: Visit a news source you don’t agree with. I laughed. I have already done this once or twice recently and I will continue to do so on occasion — just keep me away from talk radio because if it isn’t fun, I’m not participating. I’ve set up a February Experiment Tab on my home page. Check back weekly for updates.

* I can’t end a post — well, I could, but I won’t — without a photograph. I’ve been experimenting with macro photography this week. There wasn’t much that I liked in today’s batch of photographs, but that’s okay. I did play around with a few of them, cropping and changing the contrast, tint and saturation levels to create abstracts. Still not wild about them. To me, a lot of photographic abstracts just scream: I took this with wrong lighting, wrong aperture, wrong shutter speed, wrong focus, but I’ll turn it into something arty. Meh. What do you think?

Blue and a Twist

Thanksgiving Traditions and Root Vegetables

Writing today over at Open Salon. Click to read my Thanksgiving essay Helen and the Rutabagas.

That's not a turnip!

Is there a special dish that is always on your family’s Thanksgiving table? Let me know in the comments!

Words and Images

I came across two very different sites today that combine words and images. What extraordinary finds!

A Humument is artist Tom Phillips 45+ year endeavor to take a work– W. H. Mallock’s 1892 A Human Document — purchased at random (the only criteria that it cost 3 pence) and to remake the work by using words from a given page and adding images. At first a page may look like someone has taken random words, as if cutting up letters for a cliché ransom note, to form the text, but the words are taken from “rivers” of text appearing in the order printed on the page. Phillips first published A Humument in 1973 and it is now in its 4th edition. Recently he added an Ipad app which I can’t wait to explore. To see some of his work, check out his Tumblr, and his website.

Also combining words and images is the site They Draw and Cook, where artists illustrate recipes. Siblings Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell are the creators of this wonderful assortment and will publish their first cookbook based on the site in October, 2011. The site’s goal is to publicize artists — and to provide you with some great foodie love. They Draw & Cook is searchable by meal, ingredient, location of artist. What fun it would be to follow this recipe for Quiche Lorraine. You could print it out to show your brunch guests if you were that sort of Martha Stewart-y hostess. You can even submit your own illustrated recipe. I think I’m going to make Lina Winkler’s Curry Onions for dinner tonight! Be sure, too, to check out Nate and Salli’s new sister site, They Draw & Travel, which features artists’ maps. I like this one of gourmet coffee shops in Manhattan. Attention entrpreneurs: it suggests that there is a scarcity of such shops north of 59th.

Some day I would like to do something similar, combining writing with my photographs.