Bacon Fried Rice and the Art of Getting Snowed In

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Northeast got hit with a record-making blizzard last weekend. Connecticut in particular, won the highest snow totals – the New Haven area received 40 inches. Won being a relative term. Yes, I know this is SNOWFLAKE Kitchen… but even I don’t know a single person in this universe that is happy to clean up after a 40 inch storm. Or 35 inches or however much my ‘hood actually got. It was pretty impossible to tell with the wind and drifting. I do know that I spent way too much time dually glued to the Connecticut Light and Power outage map and our Governor’s Twitter feed – which seems to become my m.o. for dealing with these ever-more-frequent natural disasters. And only because we were fortunate enough to keep our power. All of my loved ones stayed lit and warm this storm, but many Nutmeggers spent a cold, cold night in the dark in the howling wind.

snow_collage

Oh well, climate change is just a theory, right? Moving on.

Despite the cleanup, it was gorgeous outside. For a while, anyway. And as I reflect on it, the more I realize there is an art to getting snowed in. Part cliché, part doomsday prepper – anyone can hoard stuff. So why is it that when there is a forecast of impending doom, most people rush to the store to buy eggs, bread and milk? I never understood that. What are you going to make, endless french toast? While there used be forced inspiration in chest freezer triage, admittedly, our storm prep has changed quite a bit with the acquisition of a generator. We always buy plenty of things to eat and it doesn’t matter too much about its shelf-stability.

But oftentimes, you find yourself stuck inside with plenty to eat, but no fun food. A friend said it best this week – when you are snowed in you don’t want the same old thing to munch on with your newly purchased booze. (What – isn’t the first stop on everyone’s storm prep list the liquor store? I thought that one went without saying. Ahem.) I cooked half a package of Terra Firma Farm bacon Saturday morning – part of a late brunch to say THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU to my guy for beginning the long process of shoveling us out. Still – half a package for two people = leftovers. And wanting something warm, comforting and fun while Nemo or Charlotte or whatever-its-name-was raged outside. I looked in the fridge and after surveying all of the options, wanted none of them. My careful storm prep and planned meals aside – it was time for something different. And I daresay no one would call bacon fried rice unfun, especially during Mardi Gras season. Laissez les bacon temps rouler!

Bacon Fried Rice by Snowflake Kitchen

Bacon Fried Rice
4 slices cooked bacon, chopped
1 quart leftover Chinese takeout white rice
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 cup frozen peas
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup water
2 eggs, scrambled
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted

First and foremost – mise en place. This recipe comes together quickly. Place a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. In another small non-stick skillet, add your scrambled eggs. Do not stir – your goal is to make an egg pancake. Flip if necessary. Once solid, chop into small chunks and set aside. In the large skillet, add the oils and once shimmering, throw in the peas and bell pepper. Add the garlic to the peas and pepper and cook for a minute, then add the rice to your vegetables.

Quickly realize the fridge has dried out your takeout rice, stand back and add the half cup of water. Top steaming skillet with a lid and let the rice steam for a minute or so. Throw in chopped bacon and egg. You may need to add a little more oil to get the rice to fry – err on the side of less sesame oil.  Fry to the texture of your liking and top with toasted sesame seeds.

There are definite modifications to be made depending on what you have on hand and – full disclosure – how much you care. Fried rice is about making something delicious out of leftovers. Make it your own. And definitely make enough for breakfast the next day.

Bacon Fried Rice for Breakfast by Snowflake Kitchen

Preserver’s Tikka Masala

Like most people, J and I are trying to make informed choices to start off 2013. Move more. (Hooray desk jobs!) Spend deliberately. (Age old needs vs. wants, but also save and prioritize now that we both have stable jobs – for the moment, anyway. Ah, adulthood.) Eat smartly. (More fruit & veg, cook new things, eat out of our pantry). So – you know – the goals of probably 90% of us this time of year.

I have always loved Indian food. My hometown had just one Indian restaurant – nestled on the edge of town sharing space with a motel. It had at least three names that I can remember (and I assume just as many owners) – but it always had a Sunday fixed price buffet. It became a regular tradition to head out there after church (or – true confession – during “church!”) where we would nothing short of gorge ourselves on biriyani, samosas, pakora, and anything else that made it out to the buffet table. And I was hooked. To this day – if the budget allows, I will always go for Indian when given the choice.

And that’s a big if. While I sort of live in the boonies, I do have more than one takeout choice for my comforting curries and naan. But that said – takeout or eat in, its always at minimum $30 for two people. Not the least expensive option around. So in the spirit of the new year, when the latest craving hit, I started researching recipes. I found one that not only was fairly healthy, but would also please my picky eater better half. And – I had almost all of the ingredients already on hand.

Preserver's Tikka Masala

You’ve got the spices, chicken, herbs and pantry essentials ready to go in addition to that multipurpose tomato puree you put up in September, right? Right. If you have a reasonably well-stocked pantry – you should only have to go out for some cream. Yes, CREAM. Given there is an overwhelming half a cup in a recipe that served two of us for dinner in addition to two leftover lunches, I think it can still be considered a healthy recipe.

Pull your chicken out of the chest freezer and thaw in the fridge overnight. You can marinate the chicken in spices if you wish, but I noticed no flavor difference when I made this all at once after work. Dredge the chicken in flour and then sear in a skillet – in batches if necessary. At the same time, melt your cilantro cubes in a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven. What? You have no cilantro cubes in oil? Seriously – I saw that post EVERYWHERE this summer. If you still have fresh herbs on your windowsill this time of year – of course use those, but add them at the very end. I add the frozen cilantro in oil at the beginning of this recipe to make use of the oil – otherwise adding it at the end would be too much. No cilantro at all? No sense in buying one of those terrible plastic packets at the store – just add extra coriander or omit – up to you.

Once the oil has melted, add your ginger, garlic, and onion. Once they have browned a bit, add all of the spices. The goal is to toast and brown the mix to give it flavor. While you can toast your spices and then add them, I find it easier to take an extra few minutes to brown them in the same pot. Add chicken once the spices are fragrant. If it looks too oily, add another tablespoon of flour and cook for another minute. Empty in a pint of roasted tomato puree and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Just before you are ready to eat, stir in the cream and simmer for another few minutes.

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Serve with rice, homemade naan & aloo gobi, and enjoy a quick departure from your normal routine. Here’s to 2013.

Nola. Gra-no-no-no-nola.

Do you officially have the Kinks stuck in your head now? Good.

It’s officially granola season in our household. Ok – maybe granola season is the wrong word. When the weather begins to show the slightest warming trend, my brain has a switch where all comforting winter food turns completely unappetizing. It’s not that I crave summer food, rather it’s that I really can’t stand the winter food anymore. Soup turns to sandwiches, everything can now be cooked on the grill, and all my coffee is iced. And for breakfast, I can no longer bear eating oatmeal.

Oatmeal and jam or fruit butter is a staple from the fall until my mental switch flips. But these days, the thought makes me slightly queasy. So we switch to granola. It’s so easy, I don’t know how or why anyone still buys it from a store.

His & Hers Multigrain Granola
Makes 1 big batch for a week of breakfasts for two people
1.5 cups spelt flakes
1.5 cups rye flakes
1.5 cups oats
3 tablespoons golden flax seeds
1/2 cup neutral oil such as canola or grapeseed
pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup maple syrup, preferably grade b (or if you’re anywhere near Stonewall Apiary, toss with their amazing honey butter)

Combine all grains and Toast at 250° until crunchy – stirring every 15-20 minutes – approximately 45 minutes. When toasted to your satisfaction, combine fruit, nuts and if you’re a maple syrup fiend like Jon, additional maple sugar.

His:
Raisins – golden & regular
Maple Sugar

Hers:
Coconut flakes
Dried cherries or apricots (or both)
Dried cranberries
Salted pepitas or toasted chopped hazelnuts (or both)

I find its easiest make a big batch of granola basics (grains, flax, canola oil and maple syrup) and after toasting, seperate it into two batches. Don’t think you’re being clever by tossing the fruit into the oven either, unless you’re really into shriveled black used-to-be-fruit (ahem). And I like toasting any nuts separately. Serve by itself with your milk of choice or with yogurt for a quick breakfast on a morning where oatmeal would simply be intolerable.

Dark Days: Week Six

This is the time of the year where I eat soup. I mean, a LOT of soup. All three of my meals seem to come out of a bowl these days. Yogurt or oats for breakfast. Lentil soup for lunch… lunch that is totally around 2:30. A bowl of beans soaking on the counter and a request for tortellini for dinner lead to another bowl of soup with some crusty ciabatta garlic basil bread tonight.

On top of my inner demands for soup, January is usually when the National Soup Swap takes place. Last year, I came home from our local soup swap with six quarts of soup and it fed me for months. Its kind of like dating: you might come home with a soup you want to try before you decide, a soup with a great story and maybe even a soup that you decided to take a chance on. Luckily, I am fortunate to swap with some great cooks, so I always come home with at least one soup I am in love with.

But until Soup Swap weekend, I am left to my own devices. I tend to make chicken stock in six quart batches, so I almost always have some on hand. I also freeze trays of slow roasted tomatoes in August and September. Cut in half, roasted at 170° for about 5 hours – they’re perfect to freeze in a quart jar. Sure, you could dehydrate them all the way and store them on the shelf. I don’t have a dehydrator, and like them ready to drop into soup or risotto. Plus, pre-freezing they’re concentrated bits of flavor perfect for a mid-summer salad.

This soup was spur of the moment, and really hits the spot when the heater is struggling to maintain any degree of warmth and I sit under not one but two blankets. Jacob’s Cattle Beans, chicken stock, slow roasted tomatoes, spinach, garlic, onions, and some frozen chopped basil from my garden. All of the produce homegrown or put away from this summer’s CSA. Seasoned with decidedly non-local but very necessary salt and pepper, it was just about perfect. I’d even say a soup you’d want to go home with.

Community Supported Agriculture… more like Farmer-Supported Kitchen.

So, not to sound like a broken record, but things are tight this summer. We don’t have a lot of discretionary income in the SK household. Luckily, in the midst of winter, we made the decision to find $300 to put away for summer vegetables. Normally, this would be a luxury expenditure. Don’t get me wrong but local agriculture can be (justifiably) more expensive – and though I manage to carve out some spending money each week at our fabulous local market, its not alot. (Sidenote/shameless plug: Vote for CRFM until midnight at http://www.greatbarngiveaway.com!) So I had to justify this one.

Membership is a CSA is sort of a symbiotic relationship. The member supports the farm, by providing literal seed money – you help the farmer with expenses before the season starts. This is why many CSAs require payment/commitment in winter. Luckily, some farmers are awesome enough to just let you put down a deposit to reserve your spot. In exchange for your pre-payment, you get a share of the produce every week for a certain amount of weeks. In tight financial times, I get a boatload of fresh local veggies every week throughout the summer. I get the best of whats in season because, indirectly, I helped (provide some of the funds) to grow it.

CSA grilled eggplant & heirloom tomatoes, my basil and fresh mozz. A perfect mid-summer dinner.

Our CSA hails from the lovely Windham Gardens. Our half share is the equivalent of one reusable bag worth of produce per week for 20 weeks. I can’t rave about Windham’s CSA enough. Unlike other CSAs, Windham Gardens lets you pick out what you want. Some people like the challenge of a set CSA box. If kolhrabi is in season, you get to figure out what to do with it. If its early in the season, you may find yourself overloaded with greens and make lettuce soup. These days, the variety is plentiful: tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, onions, garlic, greens, corn, squash…

A typical haul from the market, without spending any money: swap goods and CSA produce.

What I really, really (REALLY) like about Windham’s share is two-fold. First, I have the option to pick up at my farmer’s market, five minutes down the street. Second, I get to pick what I want. I go to Windham’s table, check in, and fill my bag with my choices. This week, I picked up three pints of cherry tomatoes (I snack on them like candy at work). I did not, however pick up the giant bag of various hot peppers. There is no impetus to use what you’re given – you pick it out. Thats not to say its challenging to use all that produce in one week.

Enter: CSA salsa. Who says salsa has to be red and spicy? This particular recipe used a little bit of everything in my CSA that week and provided something to swap at our pre-market homegrown swap. Plus, I got to empty the last jar of last year’s tomatoes.

[Early Summer] CSA Salsa
Adapted from Roasted Corn and Zucchini Salsa from Just the Right Size
Three medium zucchini, cubed
Three medium summer squash, cubed
One large/two medium red onions, diced in similar size to the squash
Four ears of sweet corn
One quart whole tomatoes
One jalapeño, seeded and diced
Three cloves garlic, minced
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon pimentón
Juice of one lime
A splash of Red Wine Vinegar

Take the kernels off the corn, toss with olive oil and roast about half an hour at 350°. Roast (in a cast iron pan if you have one)  until they get a slight bit of color – its very easy to dry them out. In the meantime, cube your squashes and toss with 1 tablespoon of salt and let drain in a colander. Put everything together on the stove – you can squeeze the tomatoes into small pieces in the pot (also strangely satisfying). Of course use fresh tomatoes if you have them – this salsa was made just before the onslaught of local tomato season. Cook for a little bit, until things come together but everything is still fairly solid. Let cool and eat immediately or freeze for future use.

I like to use only a splash of vinegar to give it a little acid, I like my salsas fresh. This means this NOT a canning safe recipe. Not that you’ll need it to last that long…

Heatwave Carnitas

This recipe became another 90° day keep cool meal this past week. Dinner Hummus was lovely for one night, but we had three straight sticky days and beans weren’t going to cut it. We had some Woodbridge Farm Heritage pork shoulder in our freezer. How to cook it without a huge hassle?

Thanks to a slow cooker, it was really a breeze. The addition of a few lazy margaritas [1) limeade + reposado + triple sec + ice, 2) shake, 3) imbibe], dinner was on the table in about 10 minutes and without overheating. Really, what more do you need?

Pork Carnitas
→ For the crockpot:
Pork butt or shoulder, trimmed of most of the fat
Coarse mustard
Hot Sauce
Garlic
One 28 oz can whole tomatoes or one quart home-canned tomatoes

→ For the carnitas:
Equal parts chili powder, pimentón and granulated garlic (more or less 1 scant tablespoon each per person)
Bacon fat
Grilled corn tortillas
Toppings of choice

Put the pork in the crock pot, covered with the mustard, hot sauce and garlic. If you don’t like hot sauce, don’t worry, the pork isn’t spicy. The point here is to get super flavorful, moist pork. Add the whole tomatoes, and squish with your hands to break up a bit. I wouldn’t recommend wearing white, even if you are super careful it always ends up on your shirt. I speak from experience. The pork needs to cook on low for at least 8 hours. Prepare first thing in the morning, head to work, it will be ready when you come home.

To make carnitas, heat flour tortillas until soft and a little browned on a griddle or a cast iron skillet. Place in a clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Add some bacon fat, and more or less one cup of shredded pork per person – your mileage may vary. Once warm, toss in the spices. You might need a bit of liquid here – either a bit more fat, some water, or some beer. Mmm beer. Ahem. Wait until the pork gets crispy – it will be quickly – and add toppings. I recommend sharp cheese and/or sour cream, fresh mustard greens, and chipotle hot sauce.  Add at least one margarita, go sit in front of a fan, and don’t move for at least 30 minutes.

Options
1. For the initial crockpot liquid, you can change it up in a variety of ways. Beer, wine, homemade stock, chipotles in adobo, worcestershire, onions… any combination of liquids and spices would be great. Anything to lend flavor.
2. Do you really need the bacon fat? Probably not. But it was in the fridge and pork cant go wrong with more pork.
3. Some pickled shallots or onions would be great. I happen to be all out – time to make some more!

NOTE:
These were NOT inspired by The Kitchn’s Heatwave Carnitas – I swear – even though the method is essentially the same. Great minds think alike!

Dinner Hummus

In case you’re not from the Northeast or haven’t heard – we’re currently in the midst of a heatwave. Today temperatures in Connecticut were well above 90°, and tomorrow its more of the same. 90 is not totally unheard of around these parts, but its pretty rare for the beginning of June. July or August is really where it belongs. Personally, I wish it never would come around (Snowflake Kitchen, remember?) but at least the tomatoes and peppers seem to like it. Luckily, we’re supposed to see some relief by the end of the week. When it gets this hot, the last thing I want to do is cook. I have some rhubarb macerating in the fridge, but there it will sit for another day – there is no way I am preserving in this weather. I began to hunt around for dinner and found almost nothing that didn’t involve a stove one way or another. I hate picking up prepared food or takeout almost as much, because to be perfectly honest it still involves moving from my comfortable spot in front of the fan. In my moment of desperation, I spotted a lone can of garbanzo beans in the back of the pantry. Hummus can count as dinner, right?

Dinner Hummus (that works equally well anytime)
One can (cooked) garbanzo beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
Approximately half a cup of olive oil, as green as possible
2-3 garlic cloves
Two heaping tablespoons of tahini
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Blend beans in the food processor until finely minced. Drizzle in the olive oil while on low speed until it comes together. You may need more or less olive oil depending on your preference. Scrape down the sides of the food processor and blend again. Add in the garlic, tahini and lemon and process briefly until blended.

It should keep in the fridge for a week or so, if it lasts that long – this stuff is worlds away from storebought hummus. I came home with a loaf of wonderful bread from the equally wonderful folks at Farm to Hearth yesterday – it was the perfect vehicle for dinner hummus at the end of a scortcher (or, in proper New England parlance, a wicked scortcha). But if you are unfortunately no where near F2H, then some pita (or homemade naan!) will work just fine. Hummus + bread + wine – a perfect summer meal when the stove simply won’t do.

Options
1. Preserved lemons would be the perfect bright note to balance the raw garlic in this. I would only add one (in my case the rind of one quarter) so as not to overpower the rest of the flavors.
2. Roasted red peppers or harissa. I am only too sad that I am out of homemade harissa right now.
3. Roast the garlic before blending. You could add more roasted garlic than raw, as the roasting will take away the bite.
4. Another favorite way to serve (pictured) is topped with a little pimentón, coarse grey salt and an extra drizzle of olive oil.