Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

Maple Musings (and Maple-Glazed Carrots!)

22 March 2009


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Pardon me if I wax slightly sappy in this post. I’m talking about maple syrup so a little sap doesn’t seem inappropriate.


I like to think of cooking as a folk science. The science part is indisputable. Most cooking tasks—whisking, boiling, baking—are simply applied chemistry. We read books to help us figure out just the right formulas to create using our culinary versions of test tubes. Sometimes we experience a scientific breakthrough and discover a new formula in the kitchen.


Nevertheless, many of our most beloved formulas for cooking have been handed down to us, like a family story or a favorite lullaby. Perhaps the best analogy is a folk song.


My neighbor, composer Alice Parker, uses this analogy a lot. She points out that we don’t know who wrote a song like “Wayfaring Stranger.” In fact, the very definition of a folk song is that the composer and lyricist are anonymous. A song like this belongs to all of us, and we re-compose it every time we sing it.


(A choir director for whom I once sang that very song at a Lenten service thought I re-composed it a little too much, in fact, but I stuck to my guns and my version of the melody.)


Folk songs cannot be copyrighted, although arrangements of them can. Similarly, it is impossible to copyright a list of ingredients, but one can copyright the words one uses in the directions for a recipe. We don’t value folk songs or recipes any the less because they are not “original.”


In fact, we often value them more because they have sprung up in different places and been modified as they go from singer to singer, cook to cook. We certainly value not having to come up with something completely new every time we get out the guitar or the saucepan.


Musical tradition and culinary tradition are miracles we celebrate everyday.


At this time of year I’m particularly grateful for the tradition of boiling down the sap of sugar maples. Just as it’s hopeless to pinpoint the very first person who ever opened his or her mouth and sang “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger” (or “I am a poor wayfaring stranger” or any other version of this lyric) it’s impossible to figure out who first made maple syrup.


We assume it was a Native American since the original residents of New England were sweetening their food with maple long before Europeans arrived. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine how the first maple syrup came to be made. Did someone accidentally poke a hole in a tree that was near a cooking pot and then notice that the resultant food tasted extra sweet? We’ll never know.


I do know that my neighbors who have sugarhouses do what they do in large part because it is part of the history of their families and of this region.


I’m lucky to live in a place where a folk food tradition like maple still exists–where people are willing to do the hard work necessary to nurture the trees, maintain the sap lines, and boil (and boil and boil and boil) the sap. And I treasure the liquid amber they produce.


Here is another recipe that celebrates that tradition and the diversity of dishes one can make with New England’s folky, sappy mud-season staple.






Maple Glazed Carrots


I love stretching the uses of maple syrup beyond breakfast and dessert. These carrots get a lot of sweetness out of just a little syrup. (And they’re easy!) Feel free to use whole cut-up carrots instead of baby ones if you like.


If you want to add to the feast of flavors, add a little minced fresh ginger to the maple mixture—or toss some fresh dill on top of the carrots when you serve them. I think the dish is pretty terrific as is.




28 baby carrots

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons sweet butter 





Bring the baby carrots to a boil in a pot of lightly salted water. Boil them until they are ALMOST done. (This won’t take very long.) Put 2 tablespoons of the water in which they boiled in a small sauté pan. Drain the carrots, discarding the remaining water, and rinse them in cold water to stop them from cooking any longer.


To the 2 tablespoons water add the maple syrup and butter. Heat this mixture until the butter melts. Add the carrots and toss them in the liquid. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, covered but tossing frequently, until the liquid almost evaporates (about 5 to 10 minutes). Serve immediately.


Serves 4.





Sugaring Off at South Face Farm

20 March 2009


A Note to Readers:
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March is Massachusetts Maple Month according to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. This organization of professional and amateur maple farmers is headed by Tom McCrumm of Ashfield. I figured I couldn’t visit a more appropriate farm than his to kick off my maple recipes this month so I headed recently to South Face Farm.


The sugarhouse at South Face Farm looks exactly as a sugarshack should. It sits on a quiet road, not far from Route 116 in Ashfield. Its low ceiling provides eaters with a sense of intimacy, and its décor is old fashioned. Old food tins and antique cooking implements line the walls. Large windows (many of them sporting a jug of amber syrup) look out on the farm Tom and his wife Judy Haupt steward.


The sugarhouse restaurant is open only about 12 days a year, on weekends during maple season. Nevertheless, Tom told me, those 12 days are vital to his sugaring enterprise. “The only way you can make a living in this business is to have a roadside sugarhouse and sell,” he told me, characterizing what he does as “agriculture as entertainment.”


“You’ve got to cut out the middle man. You’ve got to produce a good-quality product and sell it directly to the customer.”


Tom invited me into the kitchen to watch Skylar Abbatiello of Ashfield make one of the sugarhouse’s signature foods, corn fritters. Skylar is a lanky, genial high-school student who is in his fourth year at the sugarhouse but his first year of cooking. He sounded proud of having worked his way up through the ranks at South Face Farm. Tom told me that this pattern is common among the restaurant’s staff members, who are both local and loyal.


The kitchen definitely had a family atmosphere. Skylar was confidently and carefully supervised by the sugarhouse’s head cook (and kitchen designer), Bonnie, an Ashfield resident who preferred not to supply her last name. Bonnie explained that she and Tom McCrumm had developed the sugarhouse recipes to emphasize scratch cooking and local ingredients. The blueberries, eggs, milk, and ice cream served at the restaurant are all local—not to mention the maple syrup!


I asked Tom McCrumm about the ice storm in December, which damaged a lot of New England sugar maples. He informed me that his losses were moderately bad. “I lost ten to 15 percent of my taps,” he noted. “I put in a lot of time and labor for cleanup and replacing pipeline. It was a big expense.”


Nevertheless, he added, he perseveres. “I did what farmers have done for centuries. You put your head down and plow ahead and hope that next year is going to be better.”



Skylar with his Fritters

Skylar with his Fritters

South Face Farm Corn Fritters



1 cup flour

3/4 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3/4 cup milk

1 egg

3/4 cup corn—fresh, canned, or frozen (if using frozen, thaw and drain; if canned, just drain)

oil as needed for frying

lots of South Face Farm maple syrup




Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat together the milk and egg. Stir in the corn; then stir in the dry ingredients. The batter will be stiff.


Preheat the oil in a deep-fat fryer (or preheat a frying pan with at least a couple of inches of oil) to 350 degrees. Using a small scoop or a spoon, gently place quarter-cup blobs of batter in the oil. Do not overfill your pan; if it is too full the oil will cool off. Do not make larger fritters, or they will not cook through and will be doughy in the center.


Cook the fritters in the oil for 6 minutes, gently shaking them from time to time. Carefull remove and drain them. Drizzle maple syrup over the fritters. Makes about 10 fritters.




Washington Capitals Sweet Potato Pucks & Sticks

27 February 2009

Michael (center) plays goalie as one of the Mites on Ice.
Michael (center) plays goalie as one of the Mites on Ice.


A Note to Readers:    

This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.   


February is sweet-potato month. As I child I hated sweet potatoes—mostly because I saw them only at Thanksgiving goopily encased in maple syrup and other sweet substances. Once I realized they could be eaten in other ways I became a big fan. My favorite way to consume them is baked simply in the oven, split open, and smeared with a little butter. I’m always on the lookout for something new to do with them, however.

Last week my nephew Michael requested that I come up with a recipe that relates to hockey. At eight Michael is enthralled with this sport. He drills and plays every weekend with his fellow Northern Virginia Ice Dogs. I’m impressed with the amount of time these kids spend on the ice—and with the lessons they learn, which are as much about teamwork and sportsmanship as about winning.


Michael and his parents have season tickets to the Washington Capitals’ games. They started watching the Caps last year when Michael was in second grade and took up hockey. They were delighted to see the team get better and better as the school year went on.


Sports watchers credit much of the team’s newfound success to coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau fascinates me. His face at most games is impassive. He is famous for dressing down his players, however. Thomas Boswell recently quoted him in the Washington Post as saying of his team, “They’re good kids. But sometimes kids don’t do their homework. Coaching is a lot like parenting.” (Michael loved reading this.)

Michael's Bruce Boudreau bobblehead clutches his trophy for Coach of the Year.

Michael's Bruce Boudreau bobblehead clutches his trophy for Coach of the Year.


I have a feeling Michael thinks the Caps’ improved scoring is less due to their coach than to their new eight-year-old fan. Perhaps he’s right. Certainly, the team and its management are going out of their way to encourage family attendance. Michael seldom comes home from a game without a treasured freebie; recently he showed off a Capitals lunchbox of which I am very jealous. And he and his junior team are proud to have been invited to don Capitals uniforms and play as “Mites on Ice” during the intermission at one of the games.


Here for Michael and all young hockey fans are recipes for sweet potato hockey pucks (rolls) and sticks (roasted sweets). Maybe one of these days these treats will be available at one of the Capitals’ games…….





Sweet Potato Pucks


This recipe can be made two different ways, to produce a sweet or a savory roll. I personally prefer the savory version, but it never hurts to have a choice!




enough sweet potatoes to make 1 cup mashed (about 1 medium to large sweet potato)
1 packet yeast

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter, melted

1 tablespoon salt

4 to 5 cups flour (part may be whole wheat)

2 eggs, well beaten

2 generous teaspoons cinnamon plus 2 tablespoons sugar–OR 2 generous teaspoons Creole seasoning plus 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese




Wash and trim the sweet potato(es) and cut into manageable pieces. Boil the pieces they are until soft enough to mash. Remove them from the water—but do not throw out the water!
As soon as you can, peel the sweet-potato pieces. Mash them thoroughly, using a little of the water if they seem a little dry.

Measure out 1/2 cup of the sweet-potato water; you may discard the rest. As soon as the water cools to lukewarm (this will not take long), place the yeast and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl, and pour the lukewarm vegetable water over them.

While the yeast is proofing, put the milk in a saucepan over low heat. In a mixing bowl, beat together the mashed sweet potatoes and butter. When the milk is steaming but not boiling, remove it from the heat. Stir the yeast mixture into the sweet-potato mixture, followed by the hot milk, the salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Stir thoroughly, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Let this wet mixture rise in its bowl, covered, until it doubles in bulk (this took me about 1-1/2 hours).


When the batter has risen, stir in 1-1/2 cups more flour. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead it until it is smooth, adding more flour as needed. As you knead, you have a choice. If you like sweeter rolls, try kneading in the cinnamon and sugar. If you like tart rolls, knead in the Creole seasoning and cheddar. Your final product will be a little sticky but not too sticky.


Using your hands shape the dough into little balls about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Place the balls an inch or two apart on greased (or parchment-covered) baking sheets. You should have about 24. Allow the balls to rise on the baking sheets until they double in bulk again, at least 1 hour.


Preheat the oven to 375, and bake the risen rolls from 15 to 25 minutes, until their tops are golden. These pucks are best served hot from the oven with lots of butter. Makes about 24 rolls.


Sweet Potato Sticks




1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more oil as needed

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1 teaspoon salt

lots of freshly ground pepper




Wash and trim the sweet potatoes, and cut them into fingers about 1/2 inch thick. If you want to do this step early in the day, let them soak in salt water until you are ready to use them; then drain and blot them. Do not peel them.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a wide bowl, stir together the 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Throw in the sweet-potato pieces, and toss them well to coat them with the flavorings.


When the oven has preheated, place the coated sweet potatoes on a jelly-roll pan (that is, a cookie sheet with low sides). Bake them for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are brown but not black. Turn them at least twice to keep them from burning and sticking to the pan—and be sure to add a little more oil if it is needed to prevent sticking.


Serves 4.

Leigh, Michael, and David at a Caps game

Leigh, Michael, and David at a Caps game

Nibbling with the Oxen

24 January 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

Welcome to the Year of the Ox!

The Chinese New Year starts on Monday, January 26. Naturally, I’m thinking FOOD. We don’t have a Chinese restaurant in Hawley, Massachusetts, so I have to make my own fare. Despite our lack of Chinese restaurants, Hawley is a perfect place in which to celebrate the year of the ox. In New England oxen still do agricultural work. Ox pulls are major draws at our local fairs.

I know dumplings are a traditional New Year’s dish, and I plan to make them … next year! This year I’m concentrating on a couple of old standbys. Noodles are lucky for the Chinese New Year so I’m working on my friend Stu Cosby’s Sesame Noodles. I’m also serving spicy green beans because they go nicely with the noodles–and because I love beans any time.


Sesame Noodles


8 ounces Chinese noodles (you may use spaghetti in a pinch)
3 tablespoons peanut butter (I used crunchy)
3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons light soy sauce (you may use regular if you don’t have light)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon hot oil
2 carrots, cut into julienne strips
1 cucumber, seeded and cut into julienne strips


Cook the noodles as directed. Drain them. Heat the peanut butter in a microwave oven just until it is soft and stir-able. Combine it with the scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, sugar, and hot oil. Mix until smooth.

Toss the noodles and sauce together. Place them on a platter or in a bowl. Garnish with carrot and cucumber strips. Serves 6 to 8.


Spicy Green Beans


1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons sherry
peanut oil as needed for frying
1 pound green beans, washed and trimmed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like things spicy)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 scallions, chopped


In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, water, and sherry. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan. Stir fry the beans for about 5 minutes or until they begin to brown. About a minute before you think they will be done, toss on the red pepper flakes.

Remove the beans from the pan, and add the garlic, ginger, and scallions. Stir fry for 1 minute; then add the beans and the soy/sherry sauce. Stir fry briefly-just until the sauce is warmed. Remove to a platter. Serves 6.

Red Beans & Rice

14 January 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

I have a bean.

Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 80 this January 15. In his honor I’m preparing Red Beans and Rice.

Making food to pay tribute to a civil-rights icon may seem frivolous. The choice of Red Beans and Rice for Dr. King is not entirely inappropriate, however. It was one of his favorite dishes.



Moreover, in an odd way, red beans are suited to the civil-rights movement.

Like that movement, they take long preparation and patience. Like many of the ordinary heroes of civil rights, these commonplace beans get together and over time manage to accomplish something quite wonderful.

The combination of the beans and rice, like the combination of races in our nation’s history, is complementary. When they finally join forces at the end of the cooking process, neither loses its identity. Together, however, they form a complete protein, just as the diverse races in the United States form a whole culture.

This particular Red Beans and Rice recipe is adapted from the formula used by my graduate-school friend Mike Mashon, now a Super Curator of Moving Images at the Library of Congress. In school we called him “Mike the Pirate” as a tribute to his extensive collection of videos of old movies, which came in handy as we studied film history. (Since the Library of Congress is one of our nation’s temples to copyright I should probably add that his videos were all legally duplicated for private use.)

Mike is from Louisiana, where I understand children learn about cooking Red Beans and Rice along with their times tables. I fondly recall his pots of this warm, hearty dish as ideal student fare–cheap, yummy, and nourishing.

Mike prefers Camellia brand beans and Rotel tomatoes with chiles. I was unable to find either here in Yankeeland so I used Goya beans and Whole Foods 365-brand canned tomatoes with chiles. Many of the flavorings are optional; I added the onion, garlic, and Creole seasoning myself. If you are a vegetarian, you may want to try the alternative suggested at a web site called  Instead of using meat, add a little vegetable oil to the mixture to replicate the fat in the meat, plus 1 teaspoon liquid smoke.

Mike cooks his beans in a large Dutch oven. He says they can take from 4 to 8 hours to cook that way. I used my slow cooker because it makes this easy dish even easier-no stirring involved!






Red Beans and Rice




1 pound red beans

1 can (14.5 ounces) tomatoes with green chiles

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

extra-virgin olive oil as needed to sweat the vegetables

salt to taste (I used a generous teaspoon)

1 pound spicy sausage, cut into small pieces and quickly sautéed to release flavors

(Mike’s mother likes to use half sausage and half cubed ham)

Creole seasoning or hot sauce to taste



Thoroughly wash the red beans. Drain them; then soak them overnight in at least 4 cups of water.


Pour the beans and their soaking water into a slow cooker. Add the tomatoes and chiles, plus enough fresh water to cover the beans if needed. Quickly sauté the onion, celery, and garlic in a little olive oil until they are translucent. Add them and the salt to the pot. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours.


At the end of the 3 hours, add the sautéed sausage pieces and a little Creole seasoning or hot sauce. If you’re not sure how spicy you’ll want your beans (remember, the chiles and sausage both add some kick), save the extra heat for the end product.


Continue cooking on high heat until the beans are soft (Mike likes to mash them almost to a paste), another 3 to 5 hours. Serve over rice. This dish is even better the next day.  Serves at least 8.



Mike the Pirate (left) with another darling from grad school, Dan Streible (Courtesy of NYU)

Mike the Pirate (left) with another darling from grad school, Dan Streible (Courtesy of NYU)