May 22, 2015

Off to Argentina!

Many of you know my son Mike, his wife Katie and their three little boys (yes, three little boys!) are traveling South America on a 7-month, 7-country journey.  They left Houston in February, spent eight or nine weeks traveling around Ecuador, a week or so in Peru, a couple of weeks in Chilé and are now in Mendoza, Argentina.

Harry and I leave on Saturday to meet up with them and spend 8 days traveling Argentina with them.  We are SO excited!! Not only to see our kids, but to visit and experience a part of the world we have never seen.  It should be an amazing trip.

If anyone wants to follow Mike and Katie's incredible journey,  check out their beautiful blog:

You can be sure I'll write and post pictures on our trip when we return.   In the meantime, Bon Voyage!

May 20, 2015

Chuck Roast Braised with Rhubarb, Apples and Honey

How's that for a recipe title? :)

I've been eyeing this recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, All About Braising, by Molly Stevens for a long time.  But she emphasizes to try and make this in the early spring (April and May) when fresh local rhubarb is at its peak.  So when Harry and I went to the market last weekend, I was seeking out fresh rhubarb and was pretty sure I'd be able to find it and indeed I did!  I'm making this dish with the gorgeous chuck roast I bought at the farmer's market from Buckham Farms, a local farm here in Schoolcraft.

It's not a difficult recipe; braising is really a very easy technique, but there are a few steps to it.  Let's just say it's not a quick weeknight dinner.

12-36 hours in advance, make the spice rub:
Spice Rub
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries (I didn't have any of these so I left them out)
1 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 4-5 # chuck roast or beef brisket
1 pound fresh rhubarb

Make the spice rub:  Combine the first three ingredients in a small dry skillet over medium heat and heat, shaking the pan frequently until the spices are fragrant and lightly toasted, 1-2 minutes.  Let cool for a minute and grind the spices to a coarse powder in a spice grinder or small mortar and pestle.  Add the salt and grind to combine.

Wipe down the meat with paper towels and rub the spice mixture over both sides of the meat.  Lay the roast on a rimmed baking sheet, cover loosely and refrigerate for 12-36 hours.

The Aromatics and Braising Liquid
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or bacon drippings
1 medium onion, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 cup beef, veal or chicken stock (and maybe a little water)
2 strips orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler, each about 3 inches x 3/4 inch
2 leafy sage sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoons honey, more if needed at the end

Brown the meat: Heat the broiler on high. Slide the meat under the broiler so meat is about 4-5 inches from heat.  Broil, rotating as necessary, until the surface is beautifully browned and crusty, but not charred, 2-5 minutes.  Watch carefully as the meat can brown very quickly.  Turn the meat over and brown till crisp on both sides.  Remove and set aside.  Lower oven temperature to 300.

Trim the Rhubarb:  Trim both ends of the stalks of rhubarb, making sure to remove all traces of any leaves as rhubarb leaves are toxic.  With a vegetable peeler, strip away the stringy outer layer from the rhubarb.  Chop into 1/2 inch pieces.  You should have 4 cups.  I, however, did not.  So I improvised as I often do.  I had a beautiful Honeycrisp apple in the fridge that I peeled and added to the rhubarb mixture.  That made it nearly 4 cups.  

The aromatics:  In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil or drippings over medium high meat.  Add the onion and sauté until softened and beginning to color, 5-7 minutes.  Season with salt & pepper, add the ginger and raisins and sauté for another minute, until the ginger releases its fragrance.

The braising liquid:  Add the wine, bring to a boil, and boil until reduced by about three quarters, 5 minutes.  Add the stock, 2 cups of the rhubarb, the orange zest, herb springs, bay leaf and 1 tablespoon honey.  Bring the liquid to a boil and boil for a few minutes, stirring once or twice, to dissolve the honey and meld the flavors.  Lower the meat into the pot.  The liquid should come about 1/2 up the sides of the meat.  If it does not, add a little water or chicken stock.

Deglazing the pan:  Pour off and discard the fat from the pan used to brown the meat and remove any dried, burnt looking spices.  Set the pan over one or two burners turned to medium high.  When the pan is hot, add 1/4 cup water, bring to boil, and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to dislodge and dissolve the cooked on juices from the meat.  When the bottom of the pan is clean and the liquid is simmering, pour it into the pot with meat.

The braise:  Cover the pot with parchment paper, set the lid in place and slide the pan into the lower third of the oven to braise.  After 10-15 minutes, check it to see that the liquid isn't simmering too fiercely.  If it is, lower the oven temperature about 10-15 degrees.  Then continue to braise at a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes.  Then turn the roast with tongs.

Braise for another 1 1/2 hours, then turn the roast again and add the remaining two cups of rhubarb and apples in this case.

 Continue braising for another hour or so until the meat is fork tender, a total of 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

I've cooked many braises over the years and my experience is that a braise ALWAYS tastes better a day or two later.  Always.  So I put this one in the fridge overnight and the next afternoon, I pulled it out and this is what it looked like:

It looks like a lot of fat but it's really not.  I just remove most of the fat and save it to use in sautéing vegetables, to fry eggs, as a base for soups and basically anything you would cook in bacon grease.  I then shred the meat, removing big pieces of fat, gristle and bone.  The bones I save and freeze to make beef stock. 

And this is what you've got left.  I slowly heat it over low heat and serve it over anything from mashed potatoes, polenta, or roasted sweet potatoes (which is how I served it for dinner).  

I can't tell you how yummy this dish was!  Harry loved it and made me promise to make it again.  It's a promise that will be easy for me to keep :-)

Chuck Roast Braised with Rhubarb, Apples and Honey 
served with roasted local asparagus
Buon Apetito!

May 17, 2015

New Roses

When Harry and I built out lovely retirement home here in Michigan three years ago, we spent a lot of time and money planning and laying out the landscaping of the property.  Most of what we planted has done very well, surviving the winters and coming back in the spring.  Except my Knockout Roses.  They have not done well at all.  Out of the 10 bushes we planted three years ago, two have come back fairly well; four have sort of come back, but look pretty anemic; and we completely lost four.

I decided it was time to replace the ones that had died and hopefully rehab the ones that had not.  So that was my project yesterday.   It was an absolutely gorgeous, but chilly, spring afternoon.  A great day to be outside!

Last week I made a trip to one of the nicest greenhouses here in Portage and bought four beautiful "Scentimental" Floribunda Rose bushes, Rosa Wekplapep.  And they smell divinie!  Like roses should smell :-)

First thing I did was remove the dead bushes.  This was pretty dicey because as you know, roses are covered with thorns!

But I was able to remove the dead bushes relatively easily, although with two of them I had to dig pretty deep to remove all the roots.  Then for each new rose bush, I dug a hole twice the size of the container and a little deeper.  I then put about an inch of composted cow manure in each hole to provide nutrients for the new roses.

Since most roses are grafted, I planted the graft about an inch below the soil.  Digging a larger hole will give the roots space to grow and help establish the plant.

Of course, Miss Laci was very interested in what I was doing!

 Next I turned my attention to pruning and cleaning up the Knockout rose bushes that had survived.  This was an exercise in patience and careful pruning.  Dead, thorny rose branches are not to be taken lightly.

Once I was done, the Knockout bushes looked great!  Or at least I think that maybe they'll have a chance to grow this summer and maybe survive the winter.  Hopefully. . .  :-)

It was a fun day for me.  I love our home here in Michigan but I really miss my garden.  Today I got to play in the dirt and that always makes me happy!  I even had an Eastern Kingbird visit me while I was working.  And that was icing on the cake of this wonderful day.

May 13, 2015

Roasted Turnip & Ramp Salad

Very unusual but very good.

So I bought all those gorgeous vegetables at the farmer's market last weekend and I bet you're wondering--what's she going to DO with all that produce?!  Yes, well, I've been wondering the same thing.

But I've been cooking for such a long time that I'm pretty good at improvising-'"what do I have" kind of cooking.  I found this salad recipe online for roasted turnips and ramps and since I just bought both at the market, I thought I'd give it a try.

Well, I cant' leave well enough alone so I borrowed this basic recipe then made it my own and it turned out very good.

Roasted Turnip and Ramp Salad
1 bunch turnips, trimmed, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4-5 small ramps, cleaned and trimmed
good extra virgin olive oil

couple tablespoons good mayonnaise
teaspoon or so of grated lemon peel
teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
tablespoon good prepared horseradish
tablespoon or so of whatever fresh herbs you have (parsley, chives, thyme)  I used chives and thyme because that's what I have growing
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.

Place turnips and ramps on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and place in oven to roast.  The ramps will be done after 10 minutes or so and the turnips will take about 20-30.

Meanwhile in mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and mix well.

When ramps are done, remove from oven, chop and add to bowl.

Remove turnips from pan when finished and add to bowl.

The salad was good at this point but in my opinion, it was missing something, something crunchy.  So I looked in fridge and found this lone radish from my last trip to Wiley Farms.  So I cut it up, added it to salad and Done!  It was delicious.  

Sorry that the bowl looks kind of messy, but the salad was quite tasty.  I'm not sure I'll be able to recreate it anytime soon, but it was good this once :-)

May 9, 2015

First Trip to the Farmer's Market

This is the first weekend the Farmers' Markets here in Kalamazoo were open and although I didn't expect much in the way of vendors and produce (it's still pretty early in the season), I was pleasantly surprised!  There were quite a few vendors selling locally grown, seasonal vegetables and humanely raised and harvested meats.  There were many people coming and going as well.  Always a good sign ;)

I brought home an armload of fresh vegetables and meats.  Take a look:

white turnips, baby carrots, green and purple asparagus, rhubarb and fingerling potatoes

bok choy, ramps and baby beets

 whole chicken, gorgeous chuck roast, ground beef, pork tenderloin and pastured eggs

Not bad for a first trip, eh? :)  I"m so excited that the markets are open and I plan to visit as often as I can.  In addition to regular stops at Wiley Farms of course :)

I plan to write about the meals I create with all this yummy food so stay tuned :-) 

Back Home in Michigan!

...and so very happy to be here :)

Harry and I got back to Michigan early in the evening on April 23rd.  It was a long and uneventful trip of 1376 miles.  But it is SO worth the two-day drive.  Our lake is beautiful and it is wonderful to be back in our adopted home of Southwest Michigan.

I didn't blog much last summer while we were here but I intend to begin blogging again, hopefully quite regularly.  Even if no one reads it.  It's just a great way for me to document my life with Harry, our family and our travels.  It's also a great outlet for me to write about how I feel as life events unfold.  In any case, it's great to be home :)