Green Beans!

Dear Friends,

Please tell your friends about my Facebook page. A link to this newsletter is posted weekly on the site.

Well, of course there’s a green bean festival. Silly me, why did I doubt it?  If the folks in Clinton, Montana can build a weekend around deep-fried bull’s testicles, EVERY food must have its rabid fans somewhere, sometime in this country. For green beans, it’s this weekend in Blairsville, Ga. (www.greenbeanfestival.com). Folks will celebrate  the verdant bean with a canning contest, a green bean pizza-eating contest, a beauty pageant, food vendors and a farmers market featuring green beans.

I won’t be sorry to miss the green bean pizza. I can think of better things to do with just-picked beans, such as showering them with toasted walnuts, rosemary and crumbled feta cheese.  Lately I’ve been cooking green beans almost daily at my own private bean festival. Every afternoon the dog and I saunter to the back forty (actually, the back two acres) and harvest a handful of beans. I planted two kinds this year: haricot vert (very thin green beans) and regular. I forget the variety of the latter, but it’s a bush bean that produced well for me last year.

Next year I intend to plant only haricot vert and yellow wax beans. The haricots vert are so sweet and tender that regular green beans seem oafish in comparison. I love wax beans, too, with their almost translucent flesh and slightly sweet flavor. I’ve been buying them at farmers’ markets, but next year will grow my own.

Meanwhile, unless you have a hankering for green bean pizza, you might want to try a couple of recipes I developed for beans, which are in plenteous supply right now. I haven’t bought a can of green or wax beans in years. Here are two of the reasons why.

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GREEN BEANS WITH ROSEMARY, FETA AND WALNUTS

  • 1/2 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, slivered
  • 2 tbsp. coarse-chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Fresh-ground pepper
  • 3 tbsp. crumbled feta cheese

Plunge beans into a kettle of boiling water and cook until beans just begin to lose their crispness, 1 to 3 minutes depending on thickness and age of beans. Drain and refresh  under cold water to set the color. Dry well. Beans may be cooked up to a day in advance and refrigerated.

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Stir fry garlic and walnuts until both begin to take on color. Add beans and rosemary and stir fry until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer everything in pan to a small platter and sprinkle with salt, pepper and feta cheese. Makes 4 servings.

SPICY WAX BEANS

  • 1 lb. fresh wax beans
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 3 plump cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 fresh chili pepper (size and heat level at your discretion), cut in slivers
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 tbsp. sweet soy sauce (kecap manis, available at Asian stores)

Wash and trim the beans (cut off the hard nub at one end of each bean). Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet. Sauté onions, garlic, ginger and chili pepper over medium-high heat until garlic is golden but not brown. This will flavor the oil. Add beans and mix well to coat  the beans with the flavored oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes, depending on size of beans, until beans are almost tender. Uncover, and stir in soy sauce. Continue stirring until beans are tender and glazed with sauce. Makes 6 servings.

HELP U COOK
Green beans keep better in the refrigerator than many other vegetables. If you store them correctly, they will remain perky and fresh for up to a week. Most important: Do not wash or trim. If they’re grimy, so be it. Place the beans in a plastic bag, close the bag to prevent the beans from drying out, and store in the crisper. Wash and trim the beans when you’re ready to use. The same advice applies to wax beans, which are a genetic variation of green beans.

THE MAILBAG
From Carol Pavlik:
Last year about this time you wrote about great peaches around the Damascus area.  We found the place with no help from our wonky GPS but can’t remember all the turns we made.  The peaches were heavenly.  Can you give me the address again?  Thanks.

Dear Carol: Thanks for the reminding me about those wonderful peaches; now if I could just remember the name of that farmer’s market. I was near Guildford Lake, I recall, in Columbiana County, I think. I combed through  past newsletters but couldn’t find the mention. Can someone help us?

From Jan:
Saw your truffled popcorn recipe and thought you might like this. A boutique bar in Toronto, Ont. regularly puts out little bowls of white truffle popcorn but it’s a bar not a restaurant so has no real kitchen
They make regular plain microwave popcorn. Then sprinkle it with some white truffle oil and a bit of dried Italian seasoning, then toss well to mix — quick and easy and yummy.

Dear Jan: Almost as good as the recipe is the thought of you swanning around boutique bars in Toronto, Canada. Ah, the good life.

From Lara T., Seven Hills:
Is there an easy way to melt the sugar on top of a crème brulee?  Every time I try to broil it, it burns in patches.

Dear Lara: I spent years trying to figure this out, and I came up with two methods. The first method is to use a blowtorch. Buy a regular propane torch in a hardware store. The slim propane tank screws into the nozzle gizmo. You don’t need a big tank and hose or anything.

The second method, and the one that produces the most polished result, is to melt the sugar over medium-low heat in a small skillet or saucepan and pour it over the cold custard. This produces a shiny, even caramel topping. The only danger is pouring too much onto the pudding. Use a light hand so that the caramel crust is thin and brittle.

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South Beach, Baby!

Dear Friends,

Before the models and glitterati moved in and ruined the neighborhood, I visited Miami’s South Beach annually on union business. I paid $60 a night for a room at the now-ritzy Edison Hotel. My buddies and I stayed there because it was cheap. Pre-rehab, the Art Deco-era hotel had a raffish tropical elegance. The airy lobby with its high ceilings and paddle fans gave onto a long arched  portico situated directly across the street from the beach.  Even then, the sidewalk along that street—Ocean Drive—was a circus. We’d sit under the Edison’s shady portico drinking Planter’s Punches and watching the bizarre parade. Topless women, roller bladers, a man with a 6-foot boa constrictor draped around his neck, ancient seniors from the nursing home next door…Ocean Drive had it all.

We usually ate a block inland from the beach at a mom and pop Cuban restaurant. Ropa vieja with black beans and rice was about $5, I recall. After dinner we’d hurry back to the Edison for a Planter’s Punch or two and a front-row seat for the nightly parade.

Now the Edison’s rooms cost $130 and up. The portico is still there, but you’d probably have to push your way through a sea of silk and sequins for a drink at the outdoor bar. I wonder if they still serve those luscious Planters Punches. The chic crowd  in South Beach is probably into martinis. They don’t know what they’re missing.

PLANTER’S PUNCH

  • 2 oz. (1/4 cup)  dark rum
  • 1/4 oz. (1 1/2) tsp. grenadine
  • Equal parts sour mix and pineapple juice
  • Club soda (optional)
  • Maraschino cherry, orange slice for garnish

Combine rum and grenadine in a collins glass (tall and narrow). Add sour mix and pineapple juice (half and half, as much as much as you want) and stir. Drop in a couple of ice cubes, top with a splash of club soda and garnish with a cherry and orange slice. Serves one.

CUBAN PLANTAIN CHIPS

  • 2 green plantains
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel plantains with a knife. Cut into 1/8-inch slices (a mandoline is recommended). Combine in a bowl with the oil and salt and mix well. Spread in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden, turning once. Serve warm as a nibble with drinks.

THE MAILBAG

From Michele:
I’m looking for something exciting to do with the two huge kohlrabi I got in my CSA share. Any suggestions for it or for two giant heads of escarole?

Dear Michele: The one time I planted kohlrabi I was so excited that they grew that I left them in the ground just to observe them. They were giant, woody and tough by the time I harvested them. I cut them into thick slices and simmered them in beef broth. Yuck. Maybe someone else has a recipe they’d be willing to share.

The escarole is easy  to use up. Fry a few strips of bacon in a big skillet. Remove the bacon but not the grease. Add one-fourth cup or more cider vinegar and sugar to taste to the bacon grease in the pan. Stir over medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Then wilt the escarole in the liquid (covering the pan at this point helps) and serve with the  crumbled bacon. My grandmother thickened the sauce with a bit of cornstarch, but I don’t think it needs it.

From Melanie:
Do you know if cherries can be made into fruit leather? I have an over abundance and no more freezer space.

Dear Melanie: Too many cherries? What is that like? While I attempted to work up sympathy for your problem, I cruised the Internet and found a recipe with photos at http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_fruit_leather/. Just about any fruit will work in the recipe. Enjoy those cherries.

From Karen, Chagrin Falls:
I’ve been making pie crust infrequently for many years, always uncertain how it would come out but usually pleased enough.  Recently, though, I’ve gotten a wonderfully flaky and delicious crust but it is sticking stubbornly to the bottom of the pan, to the point where I can only get about half of it out, particularly when it’s warm.  Not a pretty presentation, either.

I’ve been using the 1997 “Joy of Cooking” with its chilling and rest period, maybe that’s the problem? Do I need to use more water (I tend to underdo this)? I figured if anyone would know the answer, it would be you.  Thanks!

Dear Karen: Sorry, I don’t have a magic solution. The problem could be any number of things (but not too little water). Too little fat can cause the dough to stick, although if your crust is flaky I doubt that’s the problem. Does the recipe contain sugar? That could be the problem. Do  you press the dough into the pan with your fingers? If so, don’t. Just ease the dough into the pan without stretching.

Sometimes a sugary, liquid filling (such as for pecan pie) will seep through the dough and cause it to stick to the pan. Whatever the cause, I do have a potential solution. Lightly dust the bottom of the rolled-out dough with flour before fitting it into the pie pan. Hope this works.

From Jan:
A few red hot cinnamon candies in place of sugar is a nice addition to rhubarb or apples when making sauce. Rhubarb sauce and rye toast is a fond childhood breakfast memory I still enjoy.

Dear Jan: Rhubarb and rye sounds like a strange combination, but I can imagine the flavor. I’ll try it some day.

From Rob, Phoenix:
Your Vietnamese coleslaw recipe sounds great. I’ve made a similar dish for several years that has become my daughter’s favorite salad. To your mix of napa, red bell pepper, green onion, carrot and cilantro, I will add a handful of chopped mint and Thai basil (sweet basil will work, too). To dress, I just toss with seasoned rice vinegar and a splash of toasted sesame oil to taste.  Will definitely have to try it with the Vietnamese sauce, too, and the peanuts would be a great addition.

Regarding the lobster crackerjack: I’m guessing that it really is just the six little legs (isn’t that one lobster’s worth?). You really couldn’t roll the meat out of the claws with a beer bottle, plus I would think that the meat from the little legs, all chopped up, would add good lobster flavor without making the popcorn too soggy. (When we occasionally cook lobster, I invoke Julia Childs’ rule that all the little legs belong to the cook – me — although no one ever listens.)

Dear Rob: Thank you for your input on the lobster-leg question. Sounds logical. Plus, I like Julia Child’s rule, which I’d never heard before.

Throwing a July 4th Menu Curve Ball

Dear Friends,

You’re having a July Fourth picnic tomorrow, right? It’s almost un-American not to. Whether you pack lunch in a cooler for a swimming expedition or fire up the grill in the backyard, dining outdoors is a big part of this laid-back midsummer holiday.

Although I’m a fan of the standard picnic fare of hamburgers, potato salad and baked beans, I like to throw a curve ball into the mix just to make my family nervous. These are the kind of people who, except my niece Heidi and brother-in-law Rob, wrinkle their noses at seafood and consider avocado exotic. I like to mess with them.

I do this to be helpful.  If I keep introducing them to new foods they  may find one they like, thereby enriching their lives. This has actually happened. After a couple of years of demurring, my brother finally abandoned canned cranberry sauce for my homemade whole-berry sauce with apricots and Port. Who knows, my sister may one day try shrimp.

Anyway, when my sister’s family visits for a picnic this week I’ll introduce them to an incredibly yummy salad I dreamed up recently. It’s kind of a slaw, with a Vietnamese bent. I’ve been using my own Vietnamese stir-fry sauce on salads and vegetables all summer because it’s fat free, it has lots of flavor, and it’s handy. I make it in batches and keep a jar in the refrigerator year-round.

Last week I poured some over chopped vegetables left from another recipe – thin-sliced Chinese Napa cabbage, chopped green onions, slivered red bell peppers and grated carrots. I added a handful of fresh cilantro, dressed it with the sauce, and tasted. Wow. All it needed was a scattering of chopped peanuts, which I also had on hand.

I turned the salad into an entrée last week by tossing in some rotisserie chicken, but it would be a fine side salad for a picnic without any added protein. That’s how I’ll serve it at my Independence Day picnic. Just in case, I’ll keep the burgers coming.

SHREDDED ASIAN SALAD WITH CHILI-LIME DRESSING

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  • 2 cups finely sliced Napa cabbage
  • 1 large red bell pepper, finely shredded, or a mixture of bell and hot peppers
  • 6 finely sliced green onions, including green tops
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup or more Vietnamese Lime and Chili Sauce (recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts

Combine cabbage, bell pepper, green onions, carrot and cilantro in a medium bowl. Add about 1/2 cup chili-lime sauce and mix well. Refrigerate, mixing occasionally. Just before serving, toss again and top with chopped nuts. Makes about 8 servings.

VIETNAMESE LIME AND CHILI SAUCE
(Makes a big batch)

  • 10 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • Grated zest of 2 1/2 limes
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 5 tbsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Nam pla (Vietnamese fish sauce)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 7 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 5 fresh small red chilies or 1 or 2 jalapenos (or to taste), seeded and minced, or 1 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups papaya or mango nectar or unsweetened pineapple juice

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar. Keeps for weeks in the refrigerator. Recipe may be cut in half.

HELP U COOK

If you’ve ever used Parmesan cheese, you’ve come up against recipe instructions to “grate” or “shred.” The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and often used incorrectly.

And how about julienne, chiffonade and matchstick, the fancy cousins of grate and shred? Here are the definitions:

  • Grating is done with a fine-holed implement. It turns food (hard cheese, onions) into crumb-sized pieces.
  • Shredding is accomplished with a large-hole utensil, and produces ragged, wider pieces of various lengths.
  • Julienne is a technique for cutting food into long strips that are thin but not gossamer. The cutting is often done by hand, although it can be done with the julienne disk of a food processor. In France I once bought a hand-held julienne utensil that looked like a vegetable peeler, but with evenly spaced holes along the blade. It didn’t work.
  • Chiffonade is long thin strips of a leafy vegetable or herb. Stack the leaves, roll them and make cuts one-eighth-inch apart.
  • Matchstick pieces are slightly wider than julienne, and about 1 to 2 inches long.

THE MAILBAG   

From Anne:
I searched for a while and finally found this Lobster Crackerjacks recipe that supposedly is what the contestant Johnny B. made for his Master Chef audition. (I was disappointed that he was eliminated, btw).

Johnny B claims that his Lobster Crackerjacks is a favorite dish among his friend and family that is requested at every party, dinner, or gathering that he throws or attends. If you want to give it a shot and make this interesting, but supposedly delicious seafood dessert/snack dish, here’s how.


LOBSTER CRACKERJACKS

  • 1 bag microwave popcorn
  • 6 lobster legs
  • Homemade caramel (recipe follows)
  • Shaved coconut

Johnny B starts out by using a beer bottle to roll the lobster meat out of the lobster legs. He then adds the lobster to a bowl that already has popped popcorn in it. Then Johnny pours his homemade caramel over the lobster and popcorn. Finally, he gently mixes the popcorn, lobster, and caramel so it is all well coated, then spoons it into martini glasses and sprinkles a small handful of coconut on top.


Homemade Caramel:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a sauce pan, mix the water and sugar together then cover it and let it cook on low heat until the sugar dissolves. This should take between 5 and 10 minutes.

Without stirring, take the lid off and simply increase to medium heat.

Let the sugar water boil until it is a warm brown (caramel) color – this should take about six minutes. While the color is turning, you will want stir the mixture by swirling the pan. Do not use a spoon. Be very careful not to boil it for too long as caramel can very easily go from sweet to being burned.

Turn the heat off and add the vanilla and cream slowly. Turn the heat back on low and simmer. At this point you will want to stir the caramel constantly until the proper texture is reached.

Dear Anne: Yay! Thanks for finding the recipe. My only quibble is with the lobster legs. Do you think he means claws? Six of those skinny little legs would barely produce a mouthful of meat.

From Nancy Holmes:
Regarding Master Chef, I love to watch Graham Elliot too! Frankly I don’t really know who he is, or why he is a great chef, but I do love to watch him sample food and he mostly says positive things in a nice way to the contestants. I’ll have to go to Wikipedia and check him out. I was dying to taste his soup on the last episode at the wedding, it was gorgeous! I watched the Master Chef show for the first time last year and am now hooked.

I was wondering, do you think that the contestants are given basic recipes for challenges such as the macaroons? I can’t imagine being thrown the ingredients to some of the dishes they are supposed to make with no guidelines whatsoever.

It definitely inspires me to step out of the box a bit too.

Dear Nancy: That’s exactly what I’ve been wondering. How can they prepare something like Hollandaise sauce when they’ve never made it before? Even I have to refresh my memory with a recipe before I begin. I think they must have access to recipes. On the other hand, last season one woman was faulted by other contestants who said she wasn’t a great cook, she merely memorized recipes before she tried out for the show.

From Jan S.:
Great newsletter as always! Just wanted to let you know that your link to the popcorn site should be:  http://www.popcorn.org/. Also, my daughter has been making flavored popcorn for a few years now, and that her favorite flavor is a mixture of cinnamon sugar sprinkled on after popping!  Yum!!  Also, others have made different flavors by lightly sprinkling Jell-O or even pudding right from the box onto the hot popcorn, shaking to coat evenly.

Dear Jan: Thanks for the correction on the Internet address for the Popcorn folks. The cinnamon sugar popcorn sounds good. The Jell-O, not so much.