Monday, April 27, 2015

King of the Road

Ever heard this song?  I love it, an oldie but a goodie.  One of my favorites, and it reminds me of a great little idea to try out for dinner tonight.  "Hobo packs" are a cooking technique that Boy Scouts have been using for generations.
Photo via The Unorthodox Epicure
The idea is simplicity itself.  Take a piece of heavy aluminum foil (if you don't have heavy foil, double layer the regular stuff), add in whatever is for dinner, and seal the edges tightly.  Put it over a campfire, or a grill, or even a burner on the stove set to low, and in a little while you're ready to eat.

Hobo packs can be adapted to pretty much anything you're cooking:  Meat, fish, chicken, vegetables... anything.  In my decades of Scout experience, I've come up with a couple of rules of thumb.  Let me share the results of my many experiments.
  1. You need some fat in the pack.  This can be butter or oil.  If you're including a meat whose fat will render (e.g., ground beef, pork, or lamb), use less and put the oil mainly on the meat.  That'll ensure it cooks nicely until it gets hot enough for the fat starts to render.
  2. Include at least some of an aromatic vegetable.  Onions are the most commonly used ingredient, but celery, carrots, or any other aromatic will work.  For chicken, fish, or veggies, I've found fennel is my favorite.
  3. Season it.  That means salt and pepper.  And don't skimp.  If you've got some fresh herbs, add them too.  Think about the classic, time-honored pairings:  mint with lamb (where I went camping, spearmint grew everywhere in the woods and we used it), dill with chicken, etc.
  4. If you're making more than just a side item, include your starch and protein in the packet as well.
Tonight we're having zucchini and carrots with fennel, olive oil, dill and chives.  Since we're not camping, we'll use plates instead of eating right out of the foil.  But I won't fault you if you do it the rustic way!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I had lunch today at one of my very favorite places, a tapas restaurant.  For those of you not familiar with the genre, tapas originated in Spain.  Sangria is a wine with fruit and brandy in it, served frequently there.  Unfortunately, it attracts flies.  Spanish taverns began covering glasses of sangria with a small plate to keep them out.  Not wanting to serve their customers an empty plate, they came up with small appetizers to put on the plates.  So tapas are small Spanish dishes that are meant to be shared.  They have a beautiful profile of sherry, olive oil, and garlic.

So I thought, what tapas dishes can we make from items we've recently had in our boxes, or things in season now?  Well, here goes!
Photo via Steamy Kitchen


A number of wonderful tapas dishes involve a strongly garlic-flavored olive oil.  It's great on artichokes too.  Another preparation uses lemon along with the wonderful garlic oil.


Manchego cheese is a sheep milk cheese commonly used in Spanish cuisine.  It pairs well with apples.  Slice the apples thinly, soak them in rum or brandy for a couple of hours, and serve with the cheese.  Another option is to make an apple paste.  A creamy salad of apples and walnuts is another classic tapas dish.
Photo via


Valencia is a city on the Medeterranean (east) coast of Spain, and they grow oranges in that region.  So yes, there are many tapas dishes that have oranges, such as this orange and onion salad.  There's plenty of beautiful, young asparagus in the store, so don't use canned asparagus when you make orange and lemon sauce to serve it with.


One of my very favorite tapas dishes is this one, spinach with currants and pine nuts.  I add a teaspoon or two of good sherry vinegar just before serving.  This chickpea and spinach stew from Seville is another delicious option. 
Photo via

Friday, April 17, 2015

If I Can Do It, So Can You

All winter, going to the grocery store was an exercise in frustration.  I get so used to cooking with fresh herbs, I want them to cook with over the winter, too, but the prices are exorbitant.  Plus, the packages contain more than I need at the time, so I wind up tossing some in the trash when it goes bad.  Ugh!

On top of this, I'm the biggest brown thumb on the planet.  Seriously, I try every year.  I try hard.  But my little 35 square foot garden usually yields about 3 carrots, 2 tomatoes and a handful of jalepeƱos in a year.  Yes, I'm that bad.

But herbs are different.  Maybe they're more foolproof than veggies.  In any case, about this time I plant a bunch in pots, and I don't have to buy any for months.  One plant, that will yield all season long, costs about the same as 1 or 2 small packages at the grocery store.

Come fall, we'll talk about how to preserve herbs over the winter.

One more note.  Have you tried Trickling Springs's ice cream?  Waaaay good.  Their Strawberry is about the best I've ever had -- and when it comes to ice cream, I'm really addicted.  The seasonal flavor right now is Lemon Chiffon, and it's pretty darned incredible too.  Hurry up and get some, before I eat it all!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Don't You (Forget About Me)

This song has been stuck in my head for the last couple of days.  For those of you who also grew up in the 80s, it's pretty easy for that one to be an earworm.

What is it we shouldn't forget?  As spring really gets started, we all start looking forward to fruit.  Very soon we'll all be stuffing our faces full of berries and starting to make jam.  I've been craving strawberry jam for some time now, so believe me I'm looking forward to the berries too.  Shortly thereafter (maybe six weeks from now-ish), we'll be eating... well, let's see if you can guess from this:

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.  As I see these favorites arrive, I also can't forget that another will be leaving until the fall:  pears.  I love pears.  Remember when we talked about pear desserts? They're also great in salads.  And we're really getting lots of different kinds of lettuces right now, so a beautiful salad would be a great way to say, "see you next time, and I won't forget about you" to those beautiful pears.
Photo via MyRecipes
  • Do you have any apples left from last week?  Paired with some of the pears (sorry couldn't resist), this salad comes together with an amazing mix of textures.
  • Pears pair well (yes, I'll stop now) with strongly-flavored cheeses, like bleu, stilton, and gorgonzola.  This salad is a great example.
  • Radicchio is a bitter lettuce that I've only recently discovered.  I do love the color it brings to dishes.  It also pairs well with fennel, as in this recipe.  I've made this similar one for a while, too, and pears would contrast well with its saltiness.
  • If you'd like to go all-out with the lettuce varieties, here you go!
Photo via Whole Foods

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ogres Have Layers

When I saw all of the beautiful spring onions in our box last week, with more on the way this week, for some reason this scene flashed in my head.  Ah, the wisdom of Shrek.  I love my cartoons.

The thing about onions is that they form the base of so, so many things we cook.  I don't know about your kitchen, but my family of three easily goes through half a dozen in a week.  The question is, when we get beautiful onions like these, the early spring ones, how can we actually feature them in the dish?  What can we do beyond just using them in mirepoix?

Photo via Epicurious
Here are some ideas for you.
More onions, please!

Friday, April 3, 2015

They're Finally Here!

We're getting a treat this week.  It's the thing I wait for all winter long.  When spring gets here, so do the artichokes. They've only been a recent discovery for me, but all spring long I could eat them day after day after day.  My six-year-old son also thinks they're very fun to eat.

Artichokes are related to thistles. So, technically, they're a weed.  The artichoke that you see is an unopened flower. If you let it bloom, they turn into very large, beautiful purple flowers.  But don't do that. You're wasting a perfectly good choke!

Photo via Wikipedia
If you're not familiar with artichokes, I highly recommend you watch this video clip from Alton Brown.  As a matter fact, if you're cooking anything for the first time, see if you can find a video clip of Alton cooking it. He's a great teacher.  A few months ago, when he was in town, I went to see his live show. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard.

Artichokes are easily made simply by steaming them. What you want to do is cut off the sharp tips on all of the leaves, and then steam them upright until they begin to open. This might be 25 or 30 minutes.  Practice making fancy sauces, Hollandaise or Bernaise or something similar, or even just a vinaigrette, and you're good to go.  

Photo via Cooking With My Kid
There are three phases to eating an artichoke. First, are the leaves. They are tough and fibrous, but when you pull them off right where they attached to the choke they have a whitish flesh that is soft and delicious. So dip that white part in your sauce, and scrape the meat off with your teeth.  This is the fun part.

The heart of the artichoke is the most prized piece.  After eating the leaves, there will be a fuzzy part with purple tips on top of the flat part of the artichoke. The fuzzy part isn't good to eat, so take the edge of a spoon and scrape it all off. Make sure you get it all.  You can cut the heart of the artichoke into bite-size pieces and eat it. Dip it in your sauce.

Photo via Epicurious
The inner part of the stem is also soft and very good to eat. You need to take off the outer husk that's stringy, and then eat the delicate part inside. When I cook artichokes, I use a vegetable peeler to take off the fibrous part before cooking them.

This is my favorite recipe for artichokes.  While they steam, make a simple vinaigrette of Dijon, lemon juice, and olive oil.  Slice the artichokes in half, drizzle over the dressing, and finish under the broiler.  A couple more of my favorites are here and here.