Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Used the Beef II

Three Down, One to Go.

The beef is making its way out of my freezer, slowly but bloodily surely.

It was very finely combined with ground pork, good parm and crusty country breadcrumbs to make meatballs in a red sauce. The meal turned into an impromptu extended-family dinner paired with an Italian Primitivo I wanted to try, which I think will be a new house red for the winter.

If I make a red sauce, which oddly is not all that often, I bring out the big guns: my favorite, tall, heavy-gauge stainless steel Williams-Sonoma pot with a glass lid. I received it as a Christmas gift, geez, probably 15 years ago. It was one of my first “good” pieces. Kitchenwise, I’ve learned that you’ve got to buy the best that you can. Things heat evenly and dependably, the pieces hold up and you’ll never have to replace a cheap pan again. This pot, together with some Le Creuset pieces, drives home what I also call The Shoe Rule: Your cheapest shoes are the most expensive, and your most expensive shoes are the cheapest. You will constantly break, repair or throw away cheapies that lose their shape and wear out before the season is through. Yet I have a pair of strappy, silver Italian high-heeled sandals from before I was married. They’re a summer constant and still look stunning.

But, I digress. Subconsciously, I’m getting off-topic, and that’s for a reason.

I’ve noticed that I have a habit of taking a long time to fess up about using the beef. This pot of sauce was made on Columbus Day, appropriately. I’m just getting around to dealing with, or at least acknowledging, my own personal fallout. It took close to one month to write about my first use of the beef over the summer.

Either way, it was a good, hearty meal for an October that’s been one of the colder ones on record.

One last block of beef remains in the freezer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nearing the End

I knew this day would come.

It’s time to put my beds to bed. I have been putting it off for reasons other than the cold and the tangled mess of refuse it will create. I just don’t want the gardening season to be over.

But my squash vines are unsightly and dying. The tomatoes are not ripening. The bean vines long ago stopped producing in any meaningful way and have lost most of their leaves. All my potatoes are harvested. The celery root is ready to come out of the ground.

I cleared out the first bed two Sundays ago by picking the last of the Swiss Chard, a double bale. The stems were narrow and tender, and the colors were far deeper than seen earlier, likely due to the cold weather and the fact that I left the leaves out for so long in the false hope that my garden could survive the winter. The Kentucky Wonder bean vines covering those trellises and winding up the gutter pipe managed to put out one last pound of beans. Not bad for four or five year old seeds planted “just to see” if they’d grow. Some beans dried and went to seed, so I collected those seeds for use next year.

The tomato vines have grown rattier with each passing day, yet they were still completely heavily laden with fruit, all green. We collected each possibly usable tomato and placed them in paper bags to ripen indoors. The brown and cold-injured fruits went to be composted. I pray the tomatoes will ripen in the bags and I can squeeze out one last panzanella from them, as they are largely Sungold and black cherry tomatoes. I’ll let you know what happens. The larger mortgage lifters, black Russians and my daughter’s yellow tomatoes did not fare well once the cold set in.

One and a half pounds of pattypan squash emerged from the squash bed, which started look a bit ratty during Labor Day weekend. The buttercup squash vines had long since died; the pattypans, a summer squash, gave a good fight. The butternut vines, however, keep pumping out flowers, even in their unsightly condition. They also bear two new squashes – little as they are, I’m keeping that area untouched, in the hopes that they will mature before a serious frost. Hope springs eternal.

It does, actually. Due to four days of rain in the forecast this past weekend, I decided to leave my celery root in the ground in the hopes that each will plump up just a bit more. I left the chili pepper plants alone, since those peppers stand on the ends of the plants like firecrackers – a bit of red-hot cheer in the shortening days of autumn. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Double Bunch of Swiss Chard: 2 lbs @ $2 = $4
One Last pound of beans @ $.99 = $.99
Pattypan Squash: 1.5 lbs @ $1.50 = $2.25
The last Zucchetta Trombolina: 1.5 lbs @ $.99 = $1.49
Total: $8.73

Last Eco-nomics posting: $177.32
This harvest tally: $8.73
Ahead by a Total of: $186.05
“Whole Foods” Pricing: $x 3.5 = $651.18

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

R.I.P. Gourmet

Say it ain’t so.

After close to 70 years in circulation, Gourmet Magazine is slated to cease publication at the end of the year.

Never mind the fact that I’m paid up through the year 2013. I feel I came in late to the game as it is: My subscription kicked in with the November, 2003 issue. I was planning on my own 70 years with it.

My husband and I bought our first house in 2002. I had always tried to be somewhat inventive and adventurous in the kitchen – in my own little somewhat-knowledgeable way. I would find things at the farmer’s market or on sale at the grocery store and figure out what to do with them. I came up with a few of my husband’s favorites along the way, but believe me, not all were winners. Mike has always said that I’m a very intuitive cook. I just like the process of figuring it all out. When I started buying the occasional newsstand copy of Gourmet that year, my eyes opened up to so much more. So did our palates. Mike bought the subscription for me. I’ve never looked back.

Although with Gourmet, you always “look back.” I still have every issue. I still use them over and over again. The Rolodex in my brain still somehow knows where each recipe, spice combination, idea and variation I’ve created is in each back issue. I hoped to line an entire room with my Gourmets over the course of a lifetime. Should I be buried in a mausoleum, I would request in my will that my Gourmets accompany me. You’re never done with them.

In the grand scheme of things, I’ve barely begun. But the memories are there.

During Christmas of 2005, my daughter was fourteen months old, not fully verbal and learning to walk, still holding onto furniture to get around a room. While gripping my living room coffee table, she happened upon the December, 2005 issue of Gourmet, which featured a plethora of cookies on the cover – the December issue always delectably does. She honed in on the black and white cookies, her favorite since solid food, looked up at me, and let out an “Mmmm, Mmmm.” “Oh, yes, they look good,” I said. She looked up at me again, furrowed her brow and let out another set of “Mmmms,” her eyes locked on mine. “Yes, little one, the cookies are good,” I cooed to assuage her.

My daughter was adamant. She let go of the coffee table, held the magazine over her head with the front cover facing me, and let out a loud, guttural final “MMMMMM” before I said, “Alright, alright, we’ll make the black and whites!” Finally satisfied, she put down the magazine, never held a piece of furniture after that, then walked on her own out of the room. And yes, I did make the cookies.

When my April, 2006 issue arrived (“Italian Regional Cooking”), I devoured it, cover to cover. Then I immediately hit my local newsstand to pickup a second issue. I knew the one that came in the mail would become completely spattered with food, pages stuck together and unusable by the end of the month. It was. I like to think I did that issue proud.

And Thanksgiving has never been so “same” in my family since the year my mother put me in charge of the pumpkin pie. I never really eat pumpkin pie. I may pick at the filling, but never touch the crust. I agreed to bring it, saying, “Sure, I’ll do the pumpkin.” I never said the word “pie,” not even once in the weeks leading up when she’d call to double check that I was bringing it.

I made a pumpkin flan from the November, 2005 issue. My mom hollered at me the second she saw it as I walked through the door (I’m in my 40’s). The crowd was skeptical. My cousins tossed a few jokes in, such as “Is what they have in Spain on Thanksgiving?” and the like (Spain, flan, I get it. Hardy har har.) But Holy Mackerel: It was Delicious, with a capital D. The toasted pepitas, a garnish, nearly didn’t make it through the day once my dad and Uncle Vic discovered them! Cheers and cries for encores closed out that holiday evening. A new tradition was born.

I’m just not ready to say “Good bye” to Gourmet. Neither is my daughter.

Now five, she pretty much hijacks each issue from my hands after it arrives to select recipes, sometimes from the pictures, sometimes from the voluminous recipe pages. “We should totally make this,” is her favorite come-on.

She has been reading since the age of three – thanks in part, I’m sure, to following recipes together. It makes our adventures in cooking that much easier as she dashes off ingredients, measurements and steps to me. Her little hands are adept at measuring, too, and she can fold even the most delicate ingredients into a soufflĂ©. She does most of the stirring, sifting and counterwork, while I tend to more dangerous areas, like a hot stove or oven.

And it’s not even a matter of using the recipes word for word, ingredient for ingredient. I’ll remember back to a treatment, technique, flavor combination, marinade or the like and translate it to the ingredients we have. Make a recipe once, and it’s yours forever, from new variations on old favorites (braised duck legs with sautĂ©ed duck breasts, “Paris on a Budget” September ’08) to attempting a traditional Russian Orthodox Easter dish (Paskha cheese, April ’04) to bring to a family friend’s celebration as a surprise. I’m Italian-Catholic. They were impressed, gracious and flattered that I’d attempt the Paskha, a three-day recipe. I was honored to make it. Thank you, Gourmet.

Even so, I seem always to be on a backlog.

I still haven’t gone through all of the tapas from January ’05. I constantly skim that issue every time I host a dinner – either for an appetizer I’ve made, or for a new one to complement the dinner itself. Heck, my October issue just arrived and I haven’t finished the key recipes on all those dog-eared pages of September.

Sadly, I suppose I’ll have time to catch up on all of them after my last issue comes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Earth Gives

Remember, “It’s a Potato! It’s a Potato!”?

This time, it was 65 potatoes.

We harvested the fingerlings to utter amazement – truly shock and awe.

One fingerling potato went into the ground this spring. Sixty-Five came out this weekend. I am not kidding. Some are the size of golf balls, but most are quite sizable and eminently roastable with garlic confit and a crunch of sea salt. I’m salivating as they cure for a few days on the back porch.

The quantity simply blew me away. My daughter counted them out as we sat on the patio, enveloped by the flame sunset of autumn. The counting just went on and on, our eyes widening further at each turn of ten: 30, then 40, then 50, then 60 …

And thank goodness she came out to help. The roots and tubers spread into a circumference far beyond anything I would have expected. We kept digging, excavating, and finding more and more roots that wended their ways sideways in a starburst throughout the bed. Some roots were thick, some were spidery, but when we pulled them gently, guaranteed there would be more tubers greeting us at the ends.

The Earth gives and gives. One thumb sized fingerling yielded just so much. I saw firsthand why potatoes are a staple crop in the world, how civilizations have been built upon successful crops, and have fallen in their failure. The garden has given me a great deal this year, more so than in years past and not just in terms of crops. Add to that a new level of respect for Mother Earth – it seems in a way almost crass that I’m doing a running tally of monetary gains.

Suffice it to say, once the garden is put to bed, I can’t wait to start composting and amending her soil until a hard freeze, then commence again come spring. Dirty work it is, but it’s the least I can do.

Fingerling Potatoes: 9 lbs @ $.99 = $8.91
Butternut Squash: 24 lbs @ $.99 = $23.76
Tomatoes: 4 usable lbs @ $.99 = $3.96
Pattypan squash: 2 lbs @ $1.50: $3
Zucchetta Trombolina: 6 lbs @ $.99 = $5.94
Total: $45.57

Last Eco-nomics posting: $129.65
This harvest tally: $45.57
Ahead by a Total of: $177.22
“Whole Foods” Pricing: $x 3.5 = $613.27