Friday, September 21, 2012

Good News... No, Great News!

Yeah, you!
Faithful reader!

I'm not going to write here anymore. 

Don't be sad!
I'm still going to write just for you, just, somewhere else.


There's a whole blog page there and it'll be everyuthing you like about bigcitycountryboy and more.

So, come on by!


Monday, September 17, 2012

Just Beet It

Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Pickled Beets
These pickled beets are gorgeous -- and tasty. (Photo: Ian Knauer)

When I was a kid, we never ate beets. It wasn’t until I was a teenager, helping my grandfather with his garden, that it even entered my mind that they were edible. As we were finishing the day’s weeding he asked my if I liked beets, to which I had to respond that I had no idea. His eyes almost popped out of his head.

An hour later we were standing in my mother’s kitchen with four paper grocery bags that were overloaded with beets. We never ate beets at home because, as it turned out, my Mom hated them (she still does). She was cringing at the thought of having to cook them. My grandfather was beside himself, laughing.

It turns out, I love beets. I’ll take them any way they come, but that day, since we had so many and Mom wanted them out of her house, we pickled and canned them so she could send me off to college with a year’s supply and hopefully never see a beet inside her kitchen again.

Every year at this time I gather as many beets as I can and put them up in jars for the following year. I crack them open for a snack as a part of a cheese plate to serve in soups all winter long. And every time I get the chance. I teasingly offer them up to my mother. She politely declines.

Picked Beets
Adapted from: The Farm - Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food
Makes 6 pints
6 pounds beets
6 fresh dill sprigs
3 shallots, sliced
2 tablespoons pickling spices
11⁄2 cups distilled white vinegar
11⁄2 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wrap the beets in three separate packages of aluminum foil and roast until they are easily pierced with a knife, 1 to 11⁄4 hours. Let the beets cool to warm, then peel and slice them and divide them among 6 sterilized pint canning jars, along with the dill, shallots, and pickling spices.

Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil. Pour the mixture over the beets, leaving 1⁄4 inch of space at the top of the jars.

Cap the jars and process in boiling water for 20 minutes. Let the jars cool at room temperature until they seal. They will keep for at least a year.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tomato Pie - nuff said...

Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Tomato Pie
Ripe, summertime tomatoes take center stage in this savory pie. (Photo: Ian Knauer)
Colavita founder John Profaci Sr. told The New York Times last month that, “There is no tomato in this country or in Italy that’s as good as the New Jersey tomato. Some of the characteristics might be good, but there’s nothing that can match it overall.”

I happen to live two miles from New Jersey, just over the border in Pennsylvania, where I grow my own tomatoes. I have just three plants. This summer, my tomato plants grew to be almost seven feet tall. On any given day, I can pick between two and 12 ripe, red fruits. I’ve been eating a lot of tomatoes.

I’m not telling you this to brag. I’m telling you this to prove one of the points of this column: When you choose to eat with a hyper-local mantra, you’ll be eating a lot of a certain thing for a short period of time, and that thing you’ll be eating might be the world’s best. I live in a part of the world that, according to Mr Profaci—a verifiable expert when it comes to flavor—grows some of the best tomatoes, so I grow tomatoes. If I lived in Florida, I’d grow oranges and you’d be reading a recipe for marmalade. If I lived in Michigan, I’d grow cherries and you’d be reading about pie. Well, you’re still reading about pie—tomato pie.

I waited to make this recipe until I had a pile of tomatoes that were so ripe they bruised if I looked at them the wrong way. When I cut into them, they poured with juice. Normally cooking such ripe tomatoes requires a lot of evaporation, but this pie has a biscuit crust that sucks up the excess tomato juice. It is great hot, cold, or at room temperature. Most importantly, it uses up a lot of tomatoes.
Tomato Pie
Serves 6 to 8
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
fine sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup whole milk
2 1/2 pounds very ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
Stir together flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips, then stir in milk with a fork (dough will be wet). Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Unwrap 1 dough, spreading the plastic wrap on a work surface. Cover the dough with another piece of plastic wrap. Roll dough out to fit in a 9-inch pie plate. Remove top layer of plastic, transfer the dough to the pie plate using the remaining plastic wrap, and then peel off plastic.

Slice tomatoes into 1/2-inch slices and layer them over dough in pie plate. Whisk together the mayonnaise, juice, scallions, basil, herbs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Pour mayonnaise mixture over tomatoes, then sprinkle with cheese.

Roll top crust out in the same manner as the bottom crust, transferring to the pie plate using the plastic wrap, then peel off plastic. Cut 1 steam hole in crust, then bake until the crust is golden and crisp and the filling is bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Homemade Yogurt and the Very Best Way to Use it - Chocolate Cake

Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Cocoa Yogurt Cake
Homemade yogurt gives this chocolate cake an appealing tang. (Photo: Ian Knauer)

One of the greatest thing we cooks can do is to become self-sufficient so we stop relying on large food conglomerates for our dinners—and desserts. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to learn how to make things from scratch. Start canning your own tomatoes and make your own ricotta cheese. Then, move on to yogurt.

Making yogurt is so simple that it’s almost magical. You’ll need milk (or if you like your yogurt to be richer like I do, milk and cream) and a couple tablespoons of plain yogurt. This could be the last yogurt you ever need to buy. From this point on you’ll have everything you need for the rest of your yogurt eating days.

The bacteria in yogurt is a living thing and, like most living things, it likes to eat and multiply—it just needs the right conditions. If you supply those conditions, the lactobacillus does the rest of the work, fermenting the lactose and turning the milk into yogurt. After the mixture has set I like to strain it through a sieve to make a thicker version, similar to a Greek-style yogurt.

Now, I like yogurt. I’ll eat it drizzled with honey for breakfast. But, there are things I like more than yogurt—like chocolate cake.

Recently I’ve been toying with a cocoa-yogurt cake using my homemade yogurt. The batter bakes up extra moist and the yogurt adds a curious tang, making it a perfect cake to serve with ice cream as a late-summer dessert.

Homemade Yogurt
Adapted from The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons whole milk yogurt
Bring the milk and cream to 180°F in a saucepan. Cool the milk mixture to 110°F, then stir in the yogurt. Transfer the milk mixture to a pint jar and place the jar in a warm water bath. Replace the water with warm water (100° to 105°F) as it cools. Let the yogurt incubate at room temperature until thickened, 5 to 7 hours. Pour the yogurt into a paper-towel-lined sieve set over a bowl. Cover the surface of the yogurt with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Cocoa Yogurt Cake
Serves 6 to 8
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Greek-style yogurt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil or butter a 9-inch square baking pan. Cut a 9-inch square of parchment paper and place it in the bottom of the pan. Oil or butter the paper.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, powder, soda, and salt.

Beat the butter together with the sugar with a mixer until it is pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla.

Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating to combine. Add the yogurt, beating to combine. Add the remaining flour mixture, beating to combine. Put batter in pan and smooth top with a spatula. Bake cake until a tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Let cake cool completely in pan, then place a serving platter over the cake pan and invert the cake on the platter. Serve cake with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries.