monkeygreens


Kitchen Angels and Eggplant Stories
September 7, 2011, 5:15 pm
Filed under: Home Sweet Home, How I got Here, Recipes and Ideas

My dear friend Mary was kind enough to pass along a great chard recipe this morning and so I decided to clue her in on what I am preparing for supper at home tonight.

MonkeyMan and I have never been nuts about eggplant. We used to grow them but rarely ate them as they just didn’t offer much pizzazz. My favorite recipe for them is my mothers Eggplant Parmesan but I was never great at reproducing it. I decided to stop being a wimp and make it, and now the Mister is in love and wants it every week.

I will not pretend that devout prayer isnt the primary ingredient in this recipe.

However, ‘the key’ (I cannot stress enough) is to PRESS THE EGGPLANT OVERNIGHT. Since my husband and I are on a tight budget, getting 2 meals out of one eggplant too is really thrifty and a great weeknight supper.

 1 large epplant sliced in ¼ to 1/8 inch thick rounds

1-2 cups marinara

1 garlic clove

Fresh basil (opt)

Extra virgin olive oil

½ cup ricotta cheese or ! cottage cheese put through the blender

1 bag of shredded Italian cheese

Real butter

2 eggs

Fresh tomato rings (opt)

1 roasting pan or brownie pan about 2-4 inches deep

Flour

 

The night before, slice up the eggplant and salt each slice. I recommend using coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt. My method to press is: I load a freezer bag with the eggplant, seal the air out, and place on a roomy shelf of the fridge with two cast iron pans on top. Or you can stack books on a plate (mom did that)

Why press the eggplant: eggplant contains a bitter juice that contributes to its often sinuey and rubbery texture; it also adds an acrid flavor that is not altogether pleasant. When you come back to the eggplant the next day, you will see an ugly puddle of water that looks like weak tea or garbage juice. Drain it all off. Even rinse the eggplant if you must.

The next day, pour some flour and salt and pepper in a paper bag and dust the eggplant while you heat olive oil (with the garlic clove) in a wide skillet on the stove (remove garlic before adding eggplant) and brown until light gold each piece on both sides; drain on paper towels. You can easily whisk up your ricotta, eggs and cheese (like for lasagna) while you fry the eggplant. If you think its too heavy add some milk.

When the eggplant is done, melt some butter in the roaster in your preheated 400 degree oven. Layer the eggplant – eggplant, marinara, ricotta (tomato if you are using it) and keep that up til everything is gone, then smother with remaining grated cheese and bake. I think at least 50 minutes is needed (I like crunchy cheese)

It should be crunchy outside and creamy inside. 

If I were going to eat anything as my last meal, it would be this, made by my mother, with a really nice glass of Pisano.

This may seem irrelevant to the recipe, but the other night I had a major meltdown missing my mom, and I bawled for about an hour or two. Performing this ritual not only reminded me how much I still miss her but how much of her I carry with me daily. For those who have not yet felt the loss of a beloved parent, please please take the time to listen to their stories, enjoy the food they prepare, and the wisdom they impart. Our bodies are only vessels to carry us through this fleeting journey, and yet what we do while we are here is everything. The yellowed pages of a cookbook, and the faded tears of memory may someday be all we have, unless we carry on the beauty of tradition.



Well Hell I can do THAT!
July 27, 2011, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Recipes and Ideas

GET BEHIND ME SATAN!

No no …not really! Yikes! Just quoting the brilliant White Stripes there, in rhythm to my reference to Hell. I guess it is devilish to go into grotesque detail regarding my newest obsession….if not grotesque than certainly terribly idealistic and foolishly narcissistic.

I am very seriously contemplating an attempt at trying…to go on a stupid reality show.

Ok that didn’t sound pessimistic or passive. And I totally lied the show isn’t stupid unless stupid really means totally AWESOME! First off, it is NOT (contrary to anyone else’s belief) Intervention, Hoarders, or Celebrity Rehab. I prefer to deal with my ‘issues’ in the quiet privacy of my own cluttered home, thank you. With a nice big glass of wine. Just kidding. What I am not kidding about is the fact that I with complete and utter certainty think, that I could succeed, at LEAST to Round 2, on FoodNetwork’s latest cooking hit, Chopped.

If you haven’t seen it, other than being incredibly addictive, its dead simple to follow. The concept is ingenious to we who cook. A random menage of sous chefs, restaurant owners, cookbook writers, whatever…people in the food industry who think they have a lil gastro panache, all fighting for the opportunity to be on an episode. If chosen they compete with –typically– three other contestants. The contestants are given a kitchen, stocked with staples, and…a basket. And in the basket are ingredients–that may or may not, go together. They are super random. There are three courses: appetizer, entrée, dessert. The basket is different for each course.

You must incorporate all the ingredients into your dish–no exception. How you do this is really your choice, but you must choose wisely…and FAST. The time for each, from diagnosis to completion is really short — in fact, I am not sure how long but –never really long enough. So everyone is racing around Helter Skelter trying to make something out of nothing. What could be MORE FUN!?????

I have been really confident (and harping to MonkeyMan) about my ability to DO this for months –but last night? Oh last night I was sitting STRAIGHT UP in bed, wide awake, rigid with anxiety, CHOMPING at the bit.

They had swiss chard and collard greens in the same show. And not a one single person used either ingredient to it’s full potential. In fact, two of the contestants WHINED ad nueseum about their inability to determine HOW to use it. And that when I realized what this schtick is allllllllllllllllllll about. Not really knowledge, not really skill, maybe not really even creativity. Welllllll creativity is pretty key. But no. Science my friend! A mysterious blend of science and adventure! And how the heck do you ‘learn’ that? Well it doesn’t suck being a housewife and co-owner of a natural food business…on a tight income. It doesn’t suck that I know how to preserve food, I know chopping technique, timing, and the structure of nearly every vegetable. I told my husband the other day, when you GROW food…you KNOW food.

In other words, when you hold a seed in your hand, and you place it in the ground, and educate yourself on how to make that seed live, thrive, grow and produce flowers and fruit, you watch its evolution and become one with its process, and its progress. When it has reached maturation, you harvest it (correctly) you bring it in the house, inspect it, wash it, slice it (maybe) dice it (perhaps) and either store it, preserve it, or cook it. All of those procedures only induce you –almost by accident — to learn more about the food that you are cooking and become more acquainted with what happens to it when it is steamed, fried, boiled, mashed, frozen, etc. You also get super adventurous. You try things…things a student in a culinary institute would never try. I have eaten a lot of raw stuff, right off the vine. I have learned what NOT to do– real fast. And with a variety of subjects. We grow a ton of different types of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Things some people find foreign, and things that aren’t always used in a typical kitchen application.

So whaddya think? Am a just dreamer? Yes. And I always will be 🙂



Too many Zukes
July 7, 2011, 1:37 pm
Filed under: Recipes and Ideas, Saving the Harvest

I have to apologize I just realized that I am doing a really ratty job of proof-reading here; so if anyone went out and tried to kernal out their corn yesterday with a ‘nice’ — you have me alone to blame.

I won’t lie I am still in a funk this week. Its grey outside, and I have the blahs. So this may not be the most titillating post but its the only interesting thing going on right now, other than the fact that MonkeyMan cleaned the bathtub last night. Yes its a Sid and Nancy life at the MonkeyHouse.

We have three huge zucchinis that desperately need to get eaten. For those of you hoping that my sludgy mood catapults me into a spontaneous porn post here, I hate to disappoint you but, no. So I came up with this weirdo idea earlier in the week- mostly derived from the fact that I really did not want to go to the grocery store after work and I really did not want to eat any meat.

My husband will tell you that I am a quiche fanatic. I always have a couple of ready made pie crusts in the freezer. I think he silently hopes that I will just make whatever I am going to make and leave him out of it, or actually make a real pie someday (which I have MonkeyMan, its was strawberry rhubarb, you gobbled it down and I am the Queen). But before I digress further I had the notion that I would try to fashion some sort of an all veggie quiche-like savory pie thing using one of these monster zukes. On a side note — we do not grow zucchini anymore because our neighbors are always giving them to us. So we use the space for other oddities.

I started off using a hand held grater to grate the zucchini. My plan was to then squeeze out the moisture which is essential. After that I kind of didnt have a clue. Well I discovered almost immediately that this was going to result in a pile of mush, so I started to dice it instead in about 1/2 inch cubes. This produced a lot. And then I had to figure out what to do about the moisture factor, so I heated some extra virgin olive oil in a skillet and decided to sear it, with chopped yellow onion and one chopped tomato. This worked great and smelled fantastic but it began to reduce. I started to be afraid I wouldnt have enough, and seasoning was also an issue, so I dashed out to the front yard and grabbed a fistful of basil, ran back into the house and minced a little clove of fresh garlic and tossed that in.

I needed some bulk so I opened up the fridge to see what we had and realized that we had a big bag of flat leaf kale. This stuff is pretty interesting; it has amazing color (deep dark green with kind of a blueish hue) and a mild flavor, much less cabbagey than the curly leaf variety. After I filled the pie sheel with the ratatouille like stuff, I whisked 3 free range eggs, about 1/2 cup heavy cream seasoned with salt and black pepper and 1/2 cup grated cheddar with 1/2 cup grated mozzerella and poured that over the vegetables, then I pressed in the chopped kale. I topped the whole thing off with breadcrumbs and baked at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.

It turned out really perfect. In fact, maybe one of my better quiche-like creations…and I found a new fun way to use kale.

Now if you will politely excuse me, I am off to find some sugar and caffiene to appropriately rattle me out of this funk.



Odds and Ends
July 5, 2011, 2:48 pm
Filed under: Recipes and Ideas, Saving the Harvest

Here we are, back at work after the long weekend, and frankly I feel like shit. I ate entirely too many animal products in my ugly-American Fourth of July stupor, and I am terrribly ashamed of myself. I feel bloated and cranky and wasted. I had earnestly hoped to return to vegetarianism at the the start of summer, and even eliminate dairy products as they adversely effect my mood and –zappo. Nothing -nil-nitch-nada. The grill has been afire aplenty. The only good thing I can ever so slightly impart is that most of our meat is purchased from local farmers we know, who practice humane and organic methods but even that is sorry to say- -weak. I guess MonkeyGrrrl is having a blah day.

However, one really exciting thing DID occur this weekend and when I tell you you are going to be utterly convinced of the total mind numbing boredom of my life. But thats okay, I really am excited that we cleaned out our freezer.

Really.

Maybe because Saturday MonkeyMan and I put up corn. We really have it down to a science AND an art. It took us like — 45 minutes to put up 2 dozen ears of corn for the winter. And we had fun doing it. If you enjoy fresh sweet corn and have a deep freeze — here it is. I can’t tell you how happy you will be, how proud and satisfied you will be, if you do this.

We have a huge deck that wraps around the back of our house and that is where most of this process takes place. First you shuck the corn. Don’t look at me like that with that dumbfounded stare. Shuck just means rem0ve the husks and silk, and at this time I also chop of any blemished ends. While you are doing this is it wise to get a huge pot of boiling water going on the stove. When the water nears a boil, take a cooler and fill it with ice and water. Now– here is where we have a trick that works awesome. The Mister and I fill big plastic bottles with water and put them into our freezer to encourage a very low internal temperature. Using these recycled vessels in the water in place of ice is much more efficient and conserves water also. You want to barely blanch the ears of corn, so…three minutes is really all you take. After three minutes you need to plunge the corn into the ice water immediately to stop the cooking process. This all has to do with the conversion process in corn of sugar to starch…or something like that. There is a lot of chemistry in cooking, which is rad, but I don’t pretend to know all of it. I get bored easily and tune out.

Anyhoo, after the corn has cooled down in the cold water bath, I take it back outside to the deck where I have a cutting board and sharp nice. If you have a bread knife use it. Otherwise the odds of cutting yourself on a slippery ear of corn is HIGH. In long strokes cut the corn off the stalk and place the cobs in a bin for your compost heap. If you have dogs beware — they are going to want to snatch out a cob or two for munching. This is not bad for them but last year I saw what happened when one of our pootches tried to pass a cob after binging on them and it wasnt pretty. Its not always easy to determine the difference between good and bad fiber.

Since its just the two of us, we pack the corn into little sandwich bags, and then take like 6 of them and place them into a big freezer bag, which discourages freezer burn.

I think our neighbors think that we are crazy. I mean– why would two thirty somethings want to live like it is the 1800’s…right? And the crazy part is…we were laughing and joking and having a blast. I mean– even our arguing about methodology was hilarious; I am the worst bossy-pants in the kitchen EVAAAAAAA and yet, MonkeyMan just uses that as fuel for teasing me endlessly, and we just end up in verbal fits of hysteria. I think at one point I had him crying he was cracking up so bad.

And it not only cost us nothing, it made us wealthier in spirit and in home. Putting up corn for the winter– who knew?



We Be Foodies/ to be continued
July 1, 2011, 2:22 pm
Filed under: Recipes and Ideas

Collard greens have become a staple in the MonkeyHouse.

Granted a large part of that is because its THE crop we grow and sell but also? WE LOVE THEM. Yesterday I was puttering around on the net, doing a little research (since MonkeyMan is the real brains behind the operation but I am writing this here blog I determined I better get a bit of knowledge also) and I realized a lot of stuff about collards I didn’t already know. I mean– I knew that they are a phenomenal source of Vitamin K, excellent for the colon, and downright delicious, but I didnt know that they are actually more nutritious after being cooked than they are raw. This surprised me because for about the last six years I have really JUMPED the raw bandwagon. The kale we grow provides my lunch all summer long in the form of a raw green salad. However, when collards are cooked it actually RELEASES many ofthe nutrients which give it the biggest bang for your body. I internally and externally smiled at this fact because —man, stewed collards are just HEAVENLY. Even our Man-Cat, Commander Stinky Poo, cannot resist swiping an eager paw against my plate to snatch up a slippery pile of collards – he loves em!

So, hot off the tails of some real Collard-inspired enthusiasm, I decided to share with you a recipe I prepared for myself and the Mister last night. Now– this is not my creation, its my hubby’s, but I did mine last night with a little different spin. I traded the honors of making dinner for his deft skills at swapping out my license plates.  His version is much more simplified. In fact, I will offer both. You decide for yourself which you prefer.

MonkeyHouse Weeknight Greens

1lb ground beef (we strongly suggest, if not insist, that you use grass fed beef here)

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 medium sized ripe tomato, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

tiny pinch of sea salt (optional)

This is MoneyMan’s recipe; dead simple. Just brown and drain (if you need to– grass fed beef is very lean) the beef with the onion and garlic, then fold in tomatoes and about a 1/2 lb to a lb of torn washed and cleaned greens. They will wilt in within minutes and you are done, save for a nice salty grated Italian cheese sprinkled on before serving. Now for my mess.

I make them the same way except, I am a bit of a ‘clean out the fridger’ when it comes to preparing a dish. I can’t help but keep wondering ‘what if I add this? or this? or …” You get the picture. So…..mine includes:

1/2 diced green pepper

2 tsp ground tumeric

the freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon

If I had my way I would probably add about 1/4 cup of a nice dry red wine too….maybe a little curry (I can’t help myself with curry!) And once, I made a sauce to heap over this of good greek yogurt, chopped cucumber, and fresh dill and mint. That was quite lovely.

Sorry I am not better with traditional measurements. I just don’t use them. Maybe it is because my utterly scatagorical and charmingly disorganized mother (also my culinary mentor) never used them, or maybe I am just lazy, but they simply arent a part of my repetoire. Many frustrated family members and friends get recipes with words like ‘dollop,’ ‘handful,’ ‘slug,’ ‘gob’……luckily they know I am an eccentric and go with the flow.

I hate to be pushy or marketing my own ideals here, but I strongly suggest hitting a nearby Farmers Market this week, scoring some collards and grass fed beef, and trying this out for yourself. <insert shameless plug here> Oh wait, I already have!

Stay tuned for my afternoon installment: All My Friends Have Four Legs



We Be Foodies/ Part 1
July 1, 2011, 1:51 pm
Filed under: Recipes and Ideas

Yeah I know its a bit of a catch phrase and it even has a certain elitist arrogance to it right??? Foodie. It eludes to a secret society of knowledge and prowess, where those of us included in the very selective group know something YOU don’t. Quite the contrary. In fact I think it has more to do with the fact that there are some of us who consider eating kind of — a hobby. And when cooking is already your hobby, and growing what you eat is practically your religion….well than food is HUGE in your life. At least it is at the MonkeyHouse. Yes I will go so far as to say that to MM and MG food has a spiritual impact on our lives. And I have the gut and the cellulite to prove it!

So last night I, MonkeyGrrrl, had a humidity spawned migraine and the Mr. was sweet enough to turn on the air for me to cool things off. You see, our house turns 100 next year! And its pretty big, especially since its just us and our kids (3 cats, 2 dogs) Its expensive to heat and cool, but more importantly, we enjoy seeing just how far we can go without having to waste energy for our own comfort. Well…. last night we caved.

Anyhoo, so I am upstairs with one of my feline companions, luxuriating in the air conditioning, watching The Big C on dvd, and in wafts (UNDER THE DOOR MIND YOU) the most seductive smell. It smelled like the most delicious exotic dish…I was thinking lamb stuffed grape leaves (even though I don’t eat lamb I still respect its allure) or beef sautteed with onions and collards (which my hubby does make often and I cannot describe how scrumptious it is in all of its simplicty). The scent was growing stronger and beyond description…whatever lay downstairs needed to be in my belly. So I slid on the flip flops and pad pad pad downstairs where the kitchen was empty — and clean! I wandered down to the basement to find out what was happening — had I imagined it all???

MonkeyMan noticed my excitement right away and informed me that alas, he had only been putting up our leeks. You see, this year we are on an all out ONION BINGE (I will definitely describe the onion experience later) and since we are amatuers when it comes to growing leeks, we just now realized we gotta pluck those suckers and start putting them up. If you aren’t familiar with leeks, well, they are like super big green onions, but they have layers which grow vertically like cylinders. They make great soup (especially with potatoes) and they also are terrific in quiche and other egg dishes, but really they can be used in a variety of applications. As a child my mother used them to make Vichyssoise (a French cold potato soup). When mom bought them they were always hoary and thick and tough, and I never saw their appeal. That is probably because the groceries sell them past their ultimate prime, which is in their youth, when they are still tender and a beautiful bright green. We were given two options to preserve, either light blanching and freezing or blanching, a quick sautee in butter sauce and then freezing. Both of us were hesitant to use the butter as we feared rancidity.

So all he was doing was blanching leeks. Where that meat smell came from we have no idea, but even this morning as we rose to prepare for work — there was still the lingering odor of a fabulous carnal feast. It’s so interesting the things that you learn when you grow your own food and preserve it for winter. You always discover new procedures and the experience is never dull. As we dig into those leeks this winter for our piping hot soups and ‘kitchen sink’ stir frys…we will never forget the first time we learned how fabulous they smell…and how they tricked us into thinking they were meat.