ThanksGiving Prep

Photos from past TG feasts are a good indication of what to expect this year.  Our turkeys are ordered from Detwiler’s Farm Market, the guest list is finalized (mostly), the scrapple for the post-TG scrapple tasting is in the freezer and the wine is selected.  My brother Hugh’s birthday – October 4th – marks the start of the Holiday Season, with Kevin’s on March 24th marking the end.  And then it’s Spring!  So we enjoy this six month long celebration of food, and start planning the first major meal weeks ahead of time.  Winter will just fly by!

For the past several years our turkey has not been the traditional Norman Rockwell centerpiece, but rather a “ballotine”, which is basically a de-boned turkey stuffed with turkey sausage.  You can see how this is done on the Serious Eats website, found here.  It is quite a dramatic presentation, carving is a cinch and everyone gets white and dark meat.  (If you have, like we do, a lot of dark meat eaters at the table, just roast a couple extra thighs with the main event and we’ll they’ll be happy.)  You can also watch Jacques and Julia put one together here.  It is a terrific change from the whole turkey with the dried out breast and tendon-filed legs which is often the result of roasting a 20 pound turkey, no matter how  well it is brined and basted.

Another option is to spatch-cock your turkey.  The presentation is not as dramatic as that whole roasted bird at the head of the table, but it solves the dried out breast problem, speeds up the cooking time, and guarantees plenty of crisp skin.  Once again, Serious Eats has a comprehensive tutorial for this method, which makes it look pretty easy and pretty delicious.

At our house, the sides are pot luck, with some repeats from year to year that we cannot live without – corn pudding and scalloped oysters are the two most constants on the buffet – but there is also always something new.  This year we’re thinking about ditching the Brussels sprouts in favor of curried cauliflower, channeling Mark Bittman.  I’m in favor because #1 the idea of a curry dish on the ThanksGiving menu adds a little diversity to the table and #2 the cauliflower is chopped up, which I’m hoping will help it retain its heat better than the whole florets sitting on the sideboard.  Here’s how you do it:

Gobi Taktakin from Mark Bittman’s “The Best Recipes in the World”

Finely chop a small red onion and a medium head of cauliflower. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skillet – large enough for your cauliflower to fit into in one layer – to medium high.  Add 1/2 Tbs. (or more if you like it) cumin seeds to the oil and let them fry briefly, for 20 – 30 seconds, then add half the chopped onion and all of the cauliflower.  Add 1 Tbs. curry powder and season well with salt, pepper and cayenne.  Cook, stirring and tossing until the onion has caramelized and the florets have lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro to the pan, toss and transfer to a serving platter.  Sprinkle with the remaining red onion and serve hot or at room temperature, garnished with wedges of lime.

(I will add that we really like this cookbook of Bittman’s, so much so that after having it out of the library for several weeks, Kevin found a used copy for our own shelves!)

And then there is the “pumpkin” pie, made with roasted butternut squash in lieu of pumpkin, fresh or canned.  Butternut or some other yellow fleshed winter squash (Hubbard is another good choice here) makes superior pie, IMHO, because it is drier when it’s cooked, which offers a better texture when made into a pie.  My recipe comes from the “Wilson Farm Country Cookbook”.  This has been my go-to pumpkin pie recipe forever:

“Pumpkin” Pie a la Wilson Farm

Preheat the oven to 425.  Prepare one unbaked 10″ pie shell.  Beat together 3 whole eggs.  Add 1 1/2 cups of milk and 3/4 cups of cream to the eggs.  In a separate bowl, mix 3 cups of prepared squash or pumpkin with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 Tbs. of your favorite pumpkin pie spice. (to make your own, sift together  1 Tbs. cinnamon, 2 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp. ginger and 3/4 tsp. cloves, mix it together thoroughly and measure out the amount you need.)  Beat the egg/milk mixture carefully into the puree.  Pour into your pie shell (which you can first blind bake if you prefer, but I never do) and bake for 20 minutes at 425.  Rotate the pie, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and continue to bake, rotating a couple of times, for about 35-45 more minutes, or until set.

This year I swear I am not going to make cranberry sauce.  Last year I caved and made some, which I just threw out about a week ago.  No one at our table ever eats it!  I’m thinking cranberry jelly out of the can is going to be just as welcome and can be reconstituted as a cranberry glaze later on, after it sits untouched during the meal.  But there will be homemade pickles available, for that sharp flavor you need to cut through all the richness – cucumber and cherry for sure.  (When we were kids it was very important that the ThanksGiving table was laden with produce and products from our own garden and pantry, and that still holds true today, although the mantra for produce is more local than hyper-local.  The Chestertown Farmers Market opens on the Wednesday before TG, which is always a very festive time and also when we hope to pick up our cauliflower!)

The next two weeks are going to go very fast!  Get your pie dough made and put it in the freezer, make that damned cranberry sauce now too, if you want, because obviously it keeps for a year.  Shop for all the non-perishables before the crowds at the local groceries become unbearable – and they will – and get your wine now too, while choices are still plentiful.  This weekend would be good time to write a check-list, so as to catch your spouse/partner/helper off-guard at your preparedness and make it easier to enlist their help.  Division of labor needs to be discussed and agreed upon, after all, no surprises.  Of course, if you are lucky enough to be invited to someone else’s home, all of this is moot.  Pick up a very nice bottle of champagne, for then or later, figure out what you are going to say when it is your turn to express Thankfulness, and you are good to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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Eating with the Farmer’s Market #4

The crossing from Summer into Fall at the Farmer’s Market is perhaps my favorite time – you can still get watermelon and corn, tomatoes and basil, but pumpkins and sweet potatoes are also popping onto the scene.  It’s a transitional time that sort of helps you navigate how you feel about summer ending and winter approaching.  Hey, you say to yourself, at least I can still have some cantaloupe with my acorn squash.  Things aren’t all turnips and rutabagas quite yet!

Last Saturday’s market was full of orange and purple, green and gold.

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Last Saturday night, at the Colchester OctoberFest, Kevin was in charge of the vegetables.  He roasted a ton of Colchester produce, from turnips to sweet potatoes, but he also made a sort of stew with pumpkin, peppers and ginger that he served out of the pumpkin shell:

And we have to include apples in the Fall Line-up.  As you know, we like to go up to Milburn’s Orchards outside of Elkton to get our apples every year, and we like to go early in September to get our HoneyCrisps, before they sell out, which they inevitably do.  We also get some baking apples so that Kevin can make his favorite apple dessert – Swedish Apple Cake.  Why Swedish?  because that is what the recipe that my sister gave us years ago is called!  This is an easy-to-make cake, chock full of apples and nuts, good for dessert or a sweet breakfast treat:

Swedish Apple Cake from the files of Marty Hankins

  • Cream together: 1 cup salad oil, 2 cups sugar, 2 large eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Sift and stir into the above: 2.5 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt
  • Add 3 cups chopped apples, peeled or not, and 1 cup nuts of your choice, toasted or not, and stir until mixed
  • Put into a buttered and floured 13X9 inch baking pan, or a 12 inch springform pan, and bake at 375 for about an hour
  • Let it cool a little bit before you dig in

And then there’s the promised world famous oyster fritter recipe:

Sylvia Sherry’s Oyster Fritter, as tweaked by Chef Kevin McKinney over the years:

  • For 4 to 5 large fritters
  • Whisk together 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Make a “well” in the dry ingredients and add 2 small eggs and 3 ounces of milk
  • Mix this until you have a thick batter
  • Clean 2 cups of oysters, strained, and gently fold them into the batter by threes (in other words, one third of the oysters at a time)
  • Have your frying pan very hot with a tablespoon of oil shimmering and ladle in about 6 ounces of your batter, making sure to include several oysters
  • Let it brown on one side, flip it over and finish cooking in a 375 degree oven until no  raw batter can be seen when you poke it with a knife – this should only take about 3 or 4 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is
  • Flip onto a serving plate, whip yourself up some lemon buerre blanc and have at it!

I guess Fall is okay.  I’m a summer weather person, but once the geese return and the oyster fritter is on the table, I can cope.  Plus, there’s eventually going to be pumpkin pie…

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Cheers!

 

 

Far Back Friday

Ironstone Cafe, circa 1987

Does this look familiar? 236 Cannon Street in 1987…

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…and again in 2017.

The news that Paul Hanley is shuttering the Blue Heron Cafe has rocked the world of restaurant devotees of Chestertown and beyond.  Not just because the BHC has been a staple of the Chestertown dining scene for 20 years, but because it is one less dining option in an area already lacking in that resource. The subject of the rapidly dwindling state of dining venues in our County Seat is being discussed all over town, and hopefully the idea that C’town could support a new eating place – or two! – will reach the ears of some young, energetic entrepreneur who is ready to make the move to the world of restaurant owner-operator.  The healthier the dining scene, the more they will come – diners and employees both.  Such a lack is not only hard on the hungry, it’s hard on the current crop of restaurateurs, since a lack of job opportunities does not necessarily bring in a lot of job seekers.  But that discussion is for another day.  Today we are going back in time.

Paul deserves a lot of credit for taking what was already a very vibrant restaurant and keeping it on that track for another two decades.  The picture at the top of the page was taken of that first restaurant we started, the Ironstone Cafe, in April of 1987, 9 months after our opening on Cannon Street in July of 1986.  We were young and naive, but we also recognized that we would be able to stand on the shoulders of giants of our industry, from whom we benefited much, and which would serve us in good stead in our new community.

Both of us had been working in the restaurant business for some 10 or 15 years already, in Baltimore, San Francisco, Annapolis, and we  translated much of what we had learned from others – both the good and the bad – into our own business model.  Our vision may have been a little grand for Chestertown in the late 80’s (creme caramel?  bread made in-house?  a small menu, sourcing local ingredients and changing with the seasons?  how curious!), but it worked.  We took off and for 10 years there was barely any looking back.

We had some good times there, and some good people were involved in our success.  For instance, Eugene Bethel, who Paul credits on his FaceBook page.  He has stayed on with Paul – as did much of our long-tenured staff, when Paul bought the business from us in 1997 – and remains one of the best people we have ever worked with.

We ran into Eugene recently at the Acme, and he looks just the same!

The kitchen at the Ironstone was teeny tiny teeny.  As mentioned in the caption above, the dish area was the prep area, the line was maybe 6 feet long, the pot sink backed up on the salad station and the dishwasher, and the place was hot.  (When we first opened we had no real wall dividing the kitchen door from the dining area – just a hand-made lattice screen! – which made for some really bad tables in the upper dining area!  It wasn’t until a year or so into it that the LandLord allowed us to build a real wall to separate the two spaces.) That miniature kitchen was not a threat to Kevin however; he did his thing with his professional and creative training on full throttle.

Besides serving lunch and dinner five days a week, we did two major events every year out of that little kitchen – a celebration of the restaurant’s birthday each July and a prix-fixe dinner (prix-fixe? how curious!) on New Year’s Eve.  Both were sell-outs.  The Anniversary parties were held as a fund-raiser for a different local non-profit each year, from the Humane Society to 4-H, but the New Year’s Eve dinners were definitely for profit, and it was definitely our biggest night of the year.  All of this took place long before the days of Instagram and FaceBook, not to mention phones that serve as cameras, so I have very few pictures of the food we served, but here are two shots of some plates as they were getting ready to go out to the diners on a couple of those Big Nights:

The things Kevin and his crew wrought out of that kitchen would be impressive even today!

We took the show on the road a couple of times, most notably to the annual “Taste of Maryland, held in Annapolis at the Governor’s mansion:

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This was in March of 1992, where Kevin’s table displays an Ironstone tee shirt, a copy of the menu as well as a couple of pieces of Ironstone china, from which the restaurant got its name.  That china – from a collection of my parents – decorated the sills at the Ironstone and continued to grow for many years.

Family was extremely important back in those early days and forever after.  My brother worked the line and the bar for several months, his wife worked the floor.  (Both have some stories to tell about those experiences!)  My parents were regulars, and Kevin’s brother John came to visit so often – whether to help as needed or just to hang out – that he knew all the staff as well as we did.

My father loved to tell the story on his sister Frances, who, for several years, refused to come into the new restaurant run by her niece, because said niece was not married to the man she not only ran a business with but also lived (in sin) with.  My father told her not to worry, “they don’t need your five dollars”.  Eventually however, we won her over.  The fact that everyone she knew was coming to the Ironstone probably had something to do with her conversion…

We had some great times and we worked with some great people, another of whom is owed a boatload of gratitude for bringing to us one of the most famous menu items of all time.

Sylvia

Sylvia Sherry came to work with Kevin relatively early on, and one day she brought in a recipe suggestion for the menu – an oyster fritter that she had made in her prior life.  She and Kevin tweaked it, it went on the menu and it never left.  It stayed behind with Paul and Eugene – after all, Eugene had the recipe! – and while we took it with us to our next two projects, we have always given credit to Sylvia for bringing that now iconic dish into our mouths lives.  Another example of standing on the shoulders of giants!  I will post the recipe in my next installment (once I figure out how to link to a PDF….).

(Don’t you love that peek in the old Ironstone Kitchen, with the sign on the door for “in” and “out”?  I wonder how many crashes occurred before we thought to put that up?)

Lots of other cooks passed through those doors, including these two:

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Standing with Kevin is Chuck Reeser, a reliable member of the local restaurant scene at the time, and a very young Jeff Carroll, now the owner-operator of the very successful Fish Whistle.  This picture was taken in late 1995, shortly after we opened the Kennedyville Inn.  Chuck was the newly minted Chef of the Ironstone and Jeff was his sous-chef.  Eventually Jeff moved to the KVI with Kevin, but for awhile he and Chuck were manning the stoves at the Ironstone while Kevin was up in Kennedyville starting a second business.

That second business is why the Ironstone became available to Paul.  We had tried to get out of our lease – I think we had only a few years left, but it was enough and the LandLord would not let us go – and so we went ahead and thought, why not?  We can run two places.  We just need to get a Chef for the IC.  Well, that was not so easy – we first hired a fellow from Washington DC, who lasted all of ten minutes in rural Kent County, then a local cook who quickly came to the realization that working for us was not his cup of tea.  Finally we were able to get someone who understood the game plan and for eighteen months we worked both jobs.  It was an absolute nightmare.  We had purposefully made the KVI a completely different type of restaurant from the IC – featuring BBQ, no reservations, no white tablecloths, no tipping – so as to not cannibalize the existing business.  We did not take any of our IC staff with us – although in hind-sight, we should have – because we knew that we needed our already experienced employees to stay with the Mothership to help her new captain keep her afloat.  But it proved to be too much.  We are too hands on.  We traveled back and forth from one to the other, primarily putting out fires.  After too many tumultuous events, about a year in, we fired the dining room manager at the IC , which then meant that I would work day time at KVI, making desserts, come work the dinner service at the Ironstone and then go back to Kennedyville to help with nightly closing there.  There were several months of 90 hour weeks for me during November and December of 1996, and so, in early 1997 we stopped serving lunch at the Ironstone.  We promoted one of our most senior servers to Manager and life became a little saner.  Finally in August of that year, Paul and Kevin had a conversation at one of the Martial Arts classes they both attended and the rest is history.  Paul saved our lives and we handed our fully-staffed, fully-equipped and fully-established restaurant over to him for something like $57 grand.  We couldn’t have been happier!

There are many, many more stories, many more people and pictures, many more things to be grateful for.  We had a lot of help getting started in our quest for success, from my mother the realtor who steered us to the property originally, to Kevin’s dad who loaned us the initial funds when the local banks refused to take a chance on the two newbies,  to our previous co-workers who offered advice and invaluable support. And a lot of people thought we’d never make it.  Not on Cannon Street, of all places.  Not with our menu ideas.  Not in Chestertown. Not ever.  But Cross Street was bringing change to Cannon Street and Kevin was changing Chestertown’s thoughts about food.   Before you knew it, weekends were booked up a week in advance and we were saving money so we could buy our own building and be our own landlords.

That is a whole other tale to tell!

It’s CowGirl Candy Time!

As you may recall, we are regular producers of that hot ‘n sweet condiment known as CowBoy Candy, which is basically jalapeno peppers sliced and cooked in a vinegar-sugar syrup.  We refer to ours as “CowGirl Candy”, because the Boy name is trademarked…but it’s one and the same.  Anyway, today was the day for production.  We had a nice mixture of red and green jalapenos, some hot cherries and some sweet yellow bananas, from both Redman’s and the neighbor’s gardens.

The recipe I use comes from the internet – of course – and there are several places to find one, they are pretty much all the same.  Here’s a link to the one that is most similar to the one we use, as far as ingredients and methods go.  That being said, of course we tweaked it.

For one thing, after years of making the rings, we realized that when we eat the stuff we often chop it up into more of a relish, partly because it spreads out better on your sandwich or sandwich filling but also because it’s a lot easier to grind up a couple of pounds of peppers in the meat grinder than it is to slice them in the food processor, where the fumes alone may cause health issues.  We do not put in the granulated garlic called for in many recipes – we add fresh garlic to the peppers when we grind them.  Also, we don’t add the cayenne pepper because, well, why would you??  Mustard seed might be nice however…

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The chopped peppers and garlic cook for a few minutes in the vinegar syrup; then we strained them into another pot, taking care to shake out as much of the pepper syrup as we can.  The strained syrup is put back on the burner to cook down to a more syrupy level, while the peppers are put into the hot jars.  (One note to self – next year leave more room in the jar for more syrup.  One batch of peppers yielded only two pints because I filled the jars up in the traditional manner.  I should have left more like an inch before I added the reduced syrup.  We’ll see how it turns out, but I have a feeling that this will be the better way to go.)  After the syrup has cooked to an agreeable thickness, we ladled it over the peppers, put on the lids and processed them in a hot water bath. (I stuck a knife up and down within the jars before I put the lids on, to assure that the syrup and peppers were well incorporated with one another, another reason I realized maybe more syrup less pepper in each jar next time.)

It’s best to wait a week or so before you try it, so the flavors can meld and mature, but it will also be tempting on a burger as soon as it is out of the pot.

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Yes, this is yummy stuff, good on all sorts of things, from sandwiches to cream cheese to guacamole.  Depending on the pepper mixture you use, it can be as hot or mild as you want. All it really takes, to add some spice is a couple of hot peppers, so I’m thinking, if you use three or four really hot habaneros with a bunch of sweet yellow bananas, it might become a very pretty yellow relish with just enough heat! And now’s the time to make it, as peppers are at their colorful peak at the Farmer’s Market.

Let’s eat!

Eating With the Farmer’s Market #3

A trip to the Chestertown Farmers’ Market last week was an exercise in denial for Kevin.  There is just such an enormous selection of produce in prime condition and freshness and variety, it is impossible to draw the line.  He just wants to get everything!   This is where we shop for the K-B Market on a weekly basis, for both the Market Menu and for Dining Events, where we can get all the produce we need, from the mundane (never!) onion to the exotic Chinese long beans.  It is a wonderful resource.  It is just that sometimes it is hard to say “no, we don’t need that this week”, when you know so much is so very fleeting.

Typically we start at Redman’s Stand.

We always stop at Colchester, if only to say hey to Theresa, although generally Kevin is going get something from her beautiful vegetables.  Here’s how things were looking in late July:

Arnold is right up there in our top five vendors, especially for their tomatoes and corn and peppers and…just about everything!  I always want a bunch of sunflowers too.

Mr Jim at Anchor has the fortune – or misfortune as it may be – to be in the stall next to Carl’s Bakehouse.  Often the line for bread obscures Anchor’s offerings, but last week the customers did the right thing and lined up perpendicular rather than horizontal, and saved Anchor’s view for those interested.  So what was on the table?

Unity is a relative newcomer to the Farmers Market stage, and Kevin has  been very pleased with their organic offerings, particularly their colorful selection of tomatoes, which have been very nicely paired with crab recently.

Our Kennedyville neighbors – the ones with those wonderful eggs – are also new to the C’town Market.  They sell their famous BackYard Eggs there, plus a wide variety of certified naturally grown produce.  Kevin particularly likes their cherry tomatoes, little flavor bombs that they are.

Of course you know it’s July when Mr. Harlan’s peaches come to town.  White March Orchards, near Centreville, is always worth a visit for pick-your-own, if you miss him at the market:

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And this is just the tip of the VegiBurg,  there’s much more – you can find wine and beer, aronia berries and honey, Lapp pies and Carl’s bread, White House Farm figs and Chesapeake Greenhouse lettuce, soap and dog treats.  It’s all there on Saturday in the Park.  It’s only a matter of how much you can eat.  Or put up!  Sometimes painful decisions must be made…

And then there are all the other FarmStands around, if you can’t make the Market on Saturday.  Right about now, things do not get a whole lot better in the Farm-to-Table world of local produce.  It is peak.  And it is impossible to decide what to get, what to eat.  Yesterday we stopped at Redman’s FarmStand/Wagon and got some of the freshest, youngest, tastiest corn we have had this summer.  Tomatoes from Arnold Farm stand in Kingstown – their heirlooms in particular – cannot be eaten fast enough.  Peppers of all colors and levels of heat, new potatoes, summer squash in a myriad of shapes and hues, melons and cucumbers, onions and blackberries.  It’s all here now.  And it begs the question – what do we do with all of this bounty?

Here are two ideas:

For the zucchini boat on the left – take one of those super huge zucchinis that have gotten out of control in your garden.  Or one of the ones your neighbor will leave on your porch later this month.  Scoop out the inside, leaving a strong shell, which should be baked in a hot oven until it has softened.  Kevin seasoned the shell with some olive oil, salt and pepper.  Meanwhile,   saute some diced eggplant, then add a little onion and celery.  Dice up the zucchini you’ve reserved and add that, with seasoning of your choice.  Cook it all together, then add a little breadcrumb to absorb any excess liquid.  Take it off the heat and add some freshly chopped tomato and grated cheese of your choice.  When this mixture is cooled,  pack it into the cooled shell.  At this point you can simply top it with a cheese/breadcrumb mixture and bake in the oven until nice and hot – at 400 degrees this will take about 15 minutes, depending on the size of your squash.  To fancy it up a bit, do what Kevin did in the picture: top it with sliced scallops and a sauce of mayonnaise, sour cream and something zippy to spice it,  and bake the same way.  Put it on the center of the table and have at it!

For the tomato/crab, even easier!  Take a crabcake – you can make your own, of course, or purchase a couple from your friendly neighborhood market – and slice a tomato into fat slices.  Take a slice of tomato, season it with salt, pepper and maybe a little bit of balsamic vinegar.  Put the crabcake on top and bake it in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes, until the crabcake is done and hot.  Meanwhile, put an equal number of slices onto a baking sheet, top them with some seasoned breadcrumbs (or not) and bake them for 5 or 10 minutes or so.  Pull everything out of the oven, carefully lift the bottom with the crabcake onto your serving plate, top with the other slice of tomato and serve with tartar sauce, or, if you are very lucky, some lemon butter sauce.  This is quintessentially summer.

And of course, for the rest of this short but sweet season, you can always have an ear of Mexican inspired corn, tomatoes sliced with basil and fresh mozzarella, pickled beets, fire roasted onions and carrots, poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, sauteed patty-pan squash, a wedge of watermelon with a squeeze of lime, some steamed green beans drizzled with sesame oil, a bowl of succotash – there were limas at Redman’s Wagon yesterday! – and a few peaches, blackberries and slices of cantaloupe for good measure.  Meat is optional this time of year!

Crabs are not:

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Thank goodness summer is only half over…

See you at the Market!

Ayden Can Cook and Other Stories

Ayden is in town again this summer, visiting the Grands.  They dropped him off to spend a little time in the kitchen with Kevin and the two fellows decided to make some pasta.  Here’s the proof:

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Getting started

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Ayden pays strict attention

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Kevin is a great teacher

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Rolling out the pasta

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Sprinkling it with flour

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I missed the making of the squid ink ravioli, but Ayden is getting ready to dig in to his work.

 

What a great kid!  He is so polite and poised, particularly for an 11 (12?) year old!  We look forward to his visit next year!

Next, a look at our pizza oven set-up on the patio:

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This is definitely one of my favorite Patio Meals.

We are having a busy week this week, with a LOT of Market orders going out plus three private events.  Today, among many other things, Kevin made three Peach Frangipane tarts and four quiches:

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That’s a lot of pie shells to roll out!

Lastly, take a look at Kevin’s sponge generating energy:

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We need to harness that gas!

Enjoy the heat of the summer, and just remember, if you get too hot, January is going to be here soon enough!

This and That

It’s mid-year.  Almost July.  The Fourth of July weekend is on deck and summer is decidedly here.   Is there much better than life here in the land of Pleasant Living?  I didn’t think so.  A few random thoughts have been bouncing around…

  • Our favorite Kennedyville BackYard eggs are now available at the Chestertown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.  Look for the Snyder/Malone table over by the Fountain and especially look for their blue cooler, where you can reconnect with the best eggs in Kent County money can buy.
  • So, how’s that 5:2 diet going?  We’re still on it and still fairly successful.  Kevin has dropped almost 20 pounds and I’m down a solid 6. I know, I know,  big difference.  I think maybe if I stopped dipping into the candy drawer I’d see more progress (ya think??) but I’m still not unhappy.  And this last two pounds I want to lose have been with me for at least 25 years, so they are very reluctant to go.  I’m not giving up.  And I also haven’t had to give up fruit pie! It’s getting much more pleasant with the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit we can add to the plate.  And while I sort of can’t wait for the maintenance days to begin, it really has been the most painless diet I have ever been on.  (Well, at least 5 days a week it is painless!) Here are a couple pictures of the last two fast-day meals we had:
  • We have not been doing much to support the local restaurant industry lately, I am reluctant to say.  Too busy, too nice out.  Last Thursday we had solid plans to visit Barbara’s Deck on the Bay, got home, poured a pre-dinner glass of wine (first mistake), sat down on the patio (second mistake), looked at each other and said “Do we have anything here to eat?” and that was the end of the going out plans.  That being said, we’ve managed lunch at a couple new neighborhood joints that are worth mentioning, both reincarnations of previous venues.
  • First is Las Marias, which took over the space Monica’s Country Kitchen held in Galena.  Yes, this is the Mexican restaurant you have been looking for.  We went on a Sunday for our inaugural visit and our only mistake was that we were starving.  Since we couldn’t decide what to get, we just got everything!  We had way too much to eat, but oh! it was all good, better than any local Mexican-American we’ve had in for ever.  And very, very nice people both in the front and the back.  This is going to put Galena on the map, for those of us craving cilantro and carnitas!
  • Second is the “new” Molly’s, in the Mason complex outside of our hometown of Kennedyville, formerly known to the world as “Vonnies”.  Having a lunch place just down the road from the office is obviously quite appealing, especially here in Center City Kent County, but close is no substitute for good.  The first Molly was fine, if uninspiring.  The second Molly completely missed the mark of the market they were supposed to be targeting (the market that would actually be supporting them) by a mile, a country mile, so to speak.  Even though the food was “creative”, it had to get past the local audience which was vital to its survival.  And to do that it had to be more than “creative”.  Good bye.  The third was okay if you wanted a grilled cheese sandwich and didn’t mind some of the worst service ever.  Now the fourth.  Word on the street is that it is being run by the fellows who own 1861 in Middletown.  Atmosphere is only slightly different, menu also tweaked, with a Southern food subtitle.  We had the crab bisque, a side salad ranch and two sandwiches – their twist on a Cuban and a BLT.  The cons – was that cheese in the crab bisque?  The pros – everything else.  (Except maybe the AC blasting down on me, but that happens to me everywhere I go this time of year…)  We left thinking we would most likely be happy to return, since it was close and close to good.
  • Summer in Kent County means crabs, and in particular, soft shells.  Here are the six we got last week, fried up in Bertha, just the right size for a sandwich. (disclaimer – I used these pictures all over our social media accounts, so bear with the repetition; there is no such thing as too many soft shells!)
  • Yes, that soft crab sandwich is on a split-top roll, made by our resident chef.  Last week he made multiple loaves of bread in the oven within a dutch oven, which come out looking like this:

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  • One of our favorite occupations in the summer months is to take the Ruby for a swim on Still Pond Creek and maybe, on the way or on the round-about-way back, we’ll come across a Farm Stand, selling just picked produce that you can see growing in the garden or plot or field just over the wagon.  I mean, I know we can always succeed with Redman’s wagon on Route 20, or hit Arnold Farms stand at KingsTown Tractor or the newest one at Los Jarochos in the Austin Complex on 213, but I’m talking small, like the one you might have set up at the end of your lane when you were a kid.  That is the inspiration for our new summer menu item – FarmStand Salad.  Made up of a melange of whatever is looking good at the FarmStand, be it the one we like to go to outside of Kenton or the one down the road from Ruby’s favorite swimming spot.  This week we couldn’t say no to “candy” onions, the just-picked green beans, summer squash, new potatoes, freshly dug radishes or the local Arnold corn. So it all goes in. With a light dressing of Kevin’made mayo and fresh backyard tarragon, it is the essence of summer.  And of course, with someone else doing all that chopping and dicing, blanching and roasting, what’s not to like?  This is the salad you will see on our Market Menu all summer long, with variations on that FarmStand theme prevailing.
  • And pie!  This week I am making six.  Five blueberry and one cherry.  Four of the blueberry are 9 inchers, made for Fourth of July carry-outs.  I’ve got the shells all rolled out, the crumb topping made and tomorrow I will bake three of the blueberry; Saturday will put the rest in the oven.  Hopefully there will be something left over for Sunday breakfast…

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  • In closing, I leave you with a little smiling sunflower for one more seasonal dose of summer.  Let’s toast to a beautiful Eastern Shore Fourth of July holiday weekend, with all the food that goes with it!

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Cheers!

Cherries are Here!

Aside from watermelon, I think cherries are my favorite fruit of summer.  I love Bing cherries, just for eating out of hand, but pie cherries are like gold.  Most years we manage to get hold of a quart or two, and if our tree is producing we pick as many as we can use.  This year our tree held nothing but disappointment and it would have been quite depressing if we hadn’t been able to get on the Godfrey List.  They have cherries!  We got a flat of the the sour and several pounds of sweet this week, and have been busy putting them to good use.

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I am a champion cherry pitter.  I can pit two quarts an hour with my handy hairpin, a kitchen tool I prefer for this job because it causes less damage to the cherry.  If I am going to chop them up, say for jam, it doesn’t matter, but for pickle or preserves, it’s nice to see the whole cherry in the finished product.  These cherries from Godfrey’s were beautiful, just at the peak of ripeness and without stems, which made the pitting process much easier.

First on the list of “things to do with cherries” is cherry pickle.  We love this stuff, on duck or pork or right out of the jar.  And while they take time to mellow before you get gratification, it is worth the wait.

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Start with your pitted cherries – and btw, you can also make these with sweet cherries – 2 pounds, or about 7 cups.  Split them between two quart (clean/sterile) jars and cover them with vinegar.  You can use distilled white for this, or white wine vinegar.  I wouldn’t use cider vinegar, as the cherry flavor is a little too delicate for that apple flavor.  It will take about 3 cups of vinegar.  Let the cherries stand in the vinegar for three days.  That is what the picture above depicts.

On the fourth day, strain the cherries out of the vinegar.  Save that vinegar!  You can either start another batch of cherries in it, or use it in salad dressings and the like.  You will find it to be one of the best by-products ever!  Take the drained cherries and layer them back in the jars with sugar – about 2 cups in each jar.  Cherries sugar cherries sugar.  Set your jars in a cool place where you will remember to give them a gentle shake now and then, completely inverting the jars to get the sugar that will invariably settle at the bottom to join its peers in becoming syrup.  Eventually all the sugar will dissolve and your vinegared cherries will be marinating in a sweet sugar syrup.  Let them do this for nine days.  After nine days you can transfer them to new clean sterile jars and lids, and process them for about 10 minutes in a boiling water bath for preservation.  Wait about a month before you try them, for best results.  You will love them.  And the syrup is great added to club soda for a most refreshing shrub, another unexpected by-product of your hard labor.

We also tried something new this year.  Rather than jam I made cherry preserves.  I have an old canning book – “The Complete Book of Home Preserving” by Ann Seranne – from 1955 that has some wonderful recipes in it.  It contains, among other treasures, my go-to hot sauce recipe. (And listen, I know I just said it’s an old canning book born in 1955, but at least I corrected it from “very” old to just “old”.)  Since our cherries were so pretty and fresh, I just didn’t want to chop them all up, and this method of preserves was so easy, it was worth a try.

Take your pitted cherries and mix with 3/4 to one pound of sugar for each pound of fruit.  Let them sit overnight.  The next day heat them to the boiling point and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes until the cherries get very tender but don’t break down completely.  Take them off the heat, and let them stand in their syrup until they are cold.  Strain off the liquid and set the cherries aside while you continue to boil the syrup until it gets as thick as you like – or until it reaches 224 degrees.  When it is nice and thickish, pack the cherries in hot sterile jars, pour the syrup over them and process with clean sterile lids for about 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Haven’t tried ours yet but I am pretty sure this is going to be a real treat come December, introduced to vanilla ice cream perhaps.

And then of course there is cherry pie!

Also on the shelf we have Cherry ‘Shine – from the previously mentioned book “Saving the Season”.  This is where you take your (washed but not pitted) sweet cherries, clip the stem to about 1/4th inch, pack them in a clean quart jar and cover them with good quality vodka.  In about a month you are supposed to be rewarded with some super electrifying Bing cherries and some delightful cherry moonshine to go with it.  We’ll see – our month is just about up!  And in the same vein, we took about a half pound of the pitted sour cherries and covered them with Luxardo – a maraschino liqueur – to make a version of maraschino cherries for your occasional Manhattan.

Cherries!  The possibilities are endless.

In closing, just because, here’s something that has nothing to do with cherries.  Dinner on the fire-pit this past Thursday night – Thumann dogs and Kevin’s homemade buns, sugar snap peas from the garden and Anchor’s new potatoes roasting in the coals.  Plain and fancy!

Summer.  Gotta live it!

Eating with the Farmers Market #2

This morning the Chestertown Farmers Market was busy busy busy!  Check out this line for Carl’s Bread:

It stretched all the way to the end of the park!  See Terry waving?  He’s pretty much where it ends.  And you know it’s worth it if people are willing to wait for those scones and cornmeal rolls and cranberry nut loaves.  Carl’s BakeHouse.  Yes please.

His line crossed directly in front of Anchor Nursery’s stall this morning, which may have impeded your progress to their offerings if you weren’t aware of their presence, but that would have been too bad because then you would have missed the new potatoes!  Is there anything better than that first batch of spring spuds?  Hotly roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper and your favorite herb, eaten just like that, right out of the oven?  Not too much, I’d say.  And of course that picture of Anchor’s potatoes was the one that came out blurry, but you can get the idea:

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Anchor also featured some really beautiful spinach, which we could not resist, plus strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus, all looking so fresh and delectable it was hard to say no.

As we managed to creep past Carl’s hordes of hungry carb seekers, we got to Colchester, where Theresa was manning the station with her customary good humor and beautiful smile.  She had a type of potato called “satina“, a yellow variety which looked quite intriguing, but since we’d picked up a few quarts of potatoes already we had to take a pass…until next week maybe.  But there was also some beautiful sugar snap peas to be had, and garlic scapes and early broccoli and so much more.  Sugar snap peas are the lazy person’s choice for spring peas, eaten pod and all, with more pea than snow peas.  Kevin is actually growing some of these at home!

So, what the heck do you do with all those garlic scapes? (“Scapes” are basically the flower stalk of a garlic plant, which will not produce a flower but rather seed garlic cloves.  If you don’t cut them off you risk weakening the remaining garlic plant and diminishing your future crop of garlic heads).  I took the liberty of googling this for you and the best site I found was at Serious Eats, which had several great ideas, including making pesto with them or grilling them like asparagus spears.  Kevin likes to pickle them, and also will give them a small dice and then sauté them with mushrooms.

Further down the line we stopped to say hello to Bill, who was a little frustrated because the Redman Truck, coming from the farm on Baker’s Lane, had not arrived yet with his supply of asparagus and strawberries for their stand at the Market.  He did have some peas though, and they were quite handsome:

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I’m not sure there is another early spring vegetable to rival the appeal of fresh sweet peas.  And goodness knows there is no more satisfying, if time consuming, job than sitting on the porch on a late spring evening shelling them for supper.

King Mushroom is a stand Kevin cannot often resist, and he ended up with some King Trumpets for our dinner tomorrow night.  He thinks that is their house mushroom…

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Meanwhile, the basil at Chesapeake Greenhouse was as big as spinach!

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Dolce la Vita Farm (which I am not sure is quite the right name, but something like that) had a stall situated basically across from Colchester, with some especially nice looking greens, plus these rosy radishes, just begging to be roasted:

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Nothing says spring like a big crop of radishes!

Our Kennedyville neighbors, Dean and Jane, had their maiden voyage at the C’town Market today, and their table of tasty offerings was a picture of good eats.  They also were offering their BackYard eggs for sale, which we all know are the best in Kent County, at least the best that we have access too!

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That is green garlic in the center, and of course if you grow a lot of garlic you’ve got more garlic scapes.

We have something growing in our garden that I bet you do too:

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Lambs quarter!  This year I’ve been harvesting the entire young plant, snipping off the root end and sautéing them up with garlic, or adding them at the last minute to the pasta water for a brief boil and tossing the spaghetti with the greens and lots of Parmesan cheese.  Delicious, and easy to grow!  Cheap too!  And the bonus is you are getting your weeding done at the same time you are picking the vegetable for dinner…

Saving the Season

Saving the Season” is not only a good thing to do, it is also a very good cookbook by Kevin West, published in 2013 and available at your local library (once I return it).  The recipes inside this hefty volume range from your basic strawberry jam to Scottish scones (makes sense, something to put that jam on!) to a Gibson, for which you need the recipe for cocktail onions.  Beginning with Spring strawberries and ending with Winter kumquats, the recipes and ideas are interspersed with prose and poems that continue the theme of appreciating seasonal foodstuffs in their season.  Recipe ideas like “Slow cooked strawberry jam with rosé wine” (page 57), “Cherry olives” (page 117) and “Curried cauliflower pickle” (page 405) are enough to sell me.  It’s a great book and I don’t know why I haven’t come across it before…

As most of you know, preserving is not new to us – we’ve been “putting up” our own jams and pickles for a long time with fairly good results.  Last year we made the giant step of going from commercial pectin based jam to the old fashioned  natural pectin style, with hugely satisfying positive results, from which we have not looked back.   Without the commercial pectin there is a bit more time at the stove, but there is also a lot more flavor in the jar without using nearly as much sugar.  (Mr. West notes the fact that making jam inherently involves using a lot of “white death”, but, he argues, a half pint of home-made jam contains as much sugar as a single 12 oz soft drink.  Since no one is going to eat an entire jar of jam in one sitting, just sayin’…)

We returned from Godfrey’s on Monday with yet another flat of their so-delicious strawberries, plus some huge stalks of rhubarb, with visions of strawberry-rhubarb jam floating in our head.  (Is it just me, or are strawberries particularly good this year?) Yesterday we got to work, taking some guidance from the aforementioned cookbook.

(And yet another aside – Kevin has discovered the best way to keep those fragile berries at their peak: store them (unwashed) in the walk-in within a Styrofoam cooler.  He already does that with tomatoes and figured, why not strawberries?  It works amazingly well – berries we might get on Monday or Tuesday are still perfect for a party on Friday night.  Not that most people have room for a Styrofoam cooler in their home refrigerator…but, maybe a small one?)

On thing Mr. West does which I have not seen or done before is to sometimes macerate his fruit in the sugar for a time before starting the cooking process.  Makes sense.  For the strawberry-rhubarb he recommends a 30 minute maceration time, other recipes call for as long as overnight (such as for Apricot jam, page 184).

Here is his recipe for “Basic Strawberry Jam” (page 53), which is pretty much his blueprint for any berry jam, adjusting sugar to taste, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.  Words enclosed in [] are my two cents comments.

  1. Rinse well two pounds of [the tastiest] strawberries [you can find] and remove their caps.  Combine with 2.5 cups of sugar and 1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Add a bit of lemon zest if you wish.  Crush the mixture with a potato masher or your hands.
  2. Turn this mixture into a [wide, relatively deep] preserving pan [or rondeau].  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring regularly.  Reduce the heat a bit when the fruit comes to a full rolling boil, [which is a boil you cannot stir down], and stir constantly.  Boil to the gel point, 8 to 10 minutes, or until the jam falls from the spoon in “sheets” rather than drops, and will coat the back of a cold spoon.  [Temperature wise, gel set is 8 degrees above boiling for your altitude, which here in flat-land is 212 degrees, making gel set 220 degrees.]
  3. When gel set has been reached, remove the pan from the heat, skim if necessary [rarely need to] and ladle into four prepared half-pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Seal and process in a ten minute boiling-water bath.  [Or ladle into a similarly prepared quart mason jar and store in the fridge for immediate consumption!]

How hard is that?!?  Just be sure to stir stir stir all the while – especially as it gets thick – and you will easily have some very tasty summer-in-a-jar to spread on the breakfast toast all year long.

Here’s a quick slide show of our recent adventures in jam-making:

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The next recipe I plan to make out of this book is for “Cherry ‘Shine” (page 115)!  And then…