Sunday, September 25, 2011

Green Tomato Beef Stew with Jamaican Spices

I spent last week in New York City moving my father out of his apartment.  The week was supposed to end with the sale of his apartment and him moving to Vermont to live in a retirement home.  I spent a week sorting through vast piles of books covered in dust, throwing out clothing that was not even good enough to be used as a rag, and throwing away mattress after mattress.  A the end of the week the apartment was miraculously empty, most of the clothing we were keeping was being shipped to Vermont, and the closing on the apartment did not happen.  So when he flew here to Burlington it was not to move in to a retirement community, instead he has been staying with a really good friend of mine who lives 15 miles away.  Every day when she drives in to work she has been dropping him off at my house for "daddy daycare".  Then she comes to my house after work and we all have dinner before they drive back to Jericho.  However guests for dinner every night does not mean I stay away from experiments in the kitchen, instead there are more tasters for new dishes.

At this time of the year I look at the green tomatoes on the vines thinking about ways to use them.  I could just can several batches of green tomato salsa and be done, but I enjoy the challenge of discovering how different flavors can be used.  One friend stays away from most green tomato recipes, saying they all smack of end of the garden desperation.  However I think green tomatoes have a role in the kitchen, one that works to highlight and balance their flavor instead of using them in an attempt to mask their presence and use them up.  Used correctly they are as much end of the garden desperation as rhubarb recipes are end of the winter desperation for something, anything, fresh. (I am not saying there are no desperation recipes for both vegetables).

When I first went in the kitchen I was planning on doing a stew with the last of the rhubarb that would be a riff on Molly Stevens' Pot Roasted Brisket with Rhubarb and Honey from All About Braising.  As I rubbed the beef with freshly ground allspice, coriander, pepper and salt I realized I could substitute green tomatoes for the rhubarb as an early fall substitution.  I used maple syrup instead of honey and added garlic and fresh thyme as my usual alterations to the regular recipe.  I replaced the golden raisins with dried apricots because they were the only dried fruit I had.  Now dried Califonia apricots will be my go-to in this recipe, any other dried fruit will be a substitution, because their tangy, sour, sweetness added just the right note.

This stew was enjoyed by all 6 people at the dinner table, from age 6 to 81.  My children even clamored over how good it was.  All the flavors came together as a cohesive whole, not a touch of end of the garden desperation, instead a new use for a unique vegetable.  It was tasty enough I think I won't wait to the end of the season to make it next year, instead I will pick some green tomatoes in the late spring.

Everyone was eating the stew so fast I couldn't get a good photo!

Green Tomato Beef Stew with Jamaican Spices
Serves 6
Serve this stew with mashed potatoes.  The amount of meat in this dish was enough to serve 6 with plenty of mashed potatoes and carrots on the side.  I prefer to serve a modest amount of meat but you can easily increase the amount of meat to suit your preferences.

1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/8+ tsp allspice berries
1/2 tsp kosher salt or other coarse salt

1 1/4 lbs beef stew meat (you can change the quantity as you like, if you go up to 2 lbs I would double everything else)

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions or 1 medium one Chop the onion into 1/2 inch pieces or slice thinly (I did a mix because slicing was easier and both were fine in the final dish.  Next time I will slice all of them).
2 large garlic cloves or 3 to 4 small ones chopped finely
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 - 2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger (I used about 1 Tbsp)
1/3 cup California Dried Apricots, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (sorry, the California ones really are that much better!)
1 cup riesling or other favorite white wine
1 cup water
1 lb green tomatoes, cored and chopped into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces (do not peel)
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
1 small bunch of thyme with the leaves stripped off (about 1/2 tsp leaves)
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup (I used Grade B)

Grind the coriander, peppercorns, allspice, and salt in a coffee grinder until finely ground.  You will have to stop and shake the spices down in the grinder a few times because this is a minimal amount.  Dry the stew meat with paper towels before rubbing the spice mixture on the meat.  Set aside while you prep the other ingredients.

In a medium sized dutch oven or heavy lidded pot heat the oil over medium high heat and add then onions.  Cook the onions, stirring frequently until they are softened and starting to caramelize (while they were cooking I prepped the ginger, apricots and tomatoes).  Add the garlic, salt and pepper, ginger and chopped apricots.  Saute for about one minute until the ginger is fragrant.

Remove the onions and other aromatics from the pan and return to medium high heat.  There should still be a thin layer of oil in the bottom of the pan, if it is not enough to keep the meat from sticking add a little more oil and then brown the meat in small batches on all sides.  As the meat is browned add it to the onions.

Once all the meat is browned set the meat and aromatics aside and add the white wine to the pan.  Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes until the volume is decreased by three quarters, while it is cooking scrape the sides to remove all the flavorful caramelized drippings from the beef and aromatics..  Once the wine is reduced add the water,green tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme leaves, and 1 Tbsp maple syrup.  Bring to a boil and allow to boil for a minute or 2 before adding the meat and onion mixture back to the pan.

Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook, covered, at a slow simmer until the meat is tender and the green tomatoes have mostly slumped into the sauce, (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours).   After about 5 minutes check the stew to make sure the stew is simmering quietly.  If it is too vigorous use a heat tamer under the pan.

Once the meat is tender remove the lid, increase the heat to medium high and reduce the sauce (however I suggest you do not go to check email while reducing the sauce.  If you do not listen and become distracted you may need to add some water to the pan because you reduced it too much).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Preserving Tomatoes: Freezing

Every summer I can an obscene amount of crushed tomatoes.  I make deals with farmers for the tomatoes that are too ugly to sell, harvest flats of them from my plants and keep some out from my CSA share.  As tomato season progresses I begin to panic, fearing that I will never preserve enough to last until the following summer.  Until one day I look at the jars lined up in the basement and I decide I can stop.  Then, as long as I have made enough salsa, and tomato orange marmalade, I freeze the rest.  In addition I freeze any smaller tomatoes throughout the season, because I learned the hard way, canning small tomatoes is time consuming, overly fiddly, and frustrating.

I know many folks who prefer the ease of freezing tomatoes and preserve all of their harvest without canning.  For the bulk of my tomatoes I prefer to spend more time on them in the summer months so I can use them more easily in the winter.  With a quart of crushed tomatoes I can make pasta sauce, soup, or chili easily enough that I think of them as convenience food.  In addition, if the power goes out, or my freezer dies, I won't lose my entire tomato stash.

However frozen tomatoes do have a purpose that goes beyond preserving the tomatoes I can't or don't want to can.  I will admit their primary use is running out of tomatoes too early insurance.  However they are also perfect for recipes that call for just a few tomatoes.  Many times I use part of a quart of tomatoes assuring myself that I will find a use for them in the next few days.  However many times the jar gets lost in the back of my fridge until it resurfaces in scary new colors.  Instead of using a partial quart I take a few tomatoes out of the freezer, rub the skins under running water to remove the skins, cut out the core and proceed with my recipe.  For a small number of tomatoes you can even do this without getting frostbite.

Frozen Tomatoes
I hope it doesn't insult any ones intelligence to write this in recipe format.  I just know some folks skip the blog chatter and scroll down to the recipe.

Tomatoes, local vine ripened flavorful ones
Zip top bags or Pyrex dishes with lids or plastic storage containers

Place the tomatoes in the bags or containers and close.  Place in the freezer.  To use just remove the tomatoes from the storage container or bag, reseal, and return the remaining tomatoes to the fridge.  Rub the tomato under running water while rubbing the skin.  The skin will rub right off.  Cut the core out with a knife.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Helping Burlington's Farmers: From Flood Plain to Table

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm

As I am sure you are all aware Tropical Storm Irene devastated Vermont when it came through last week.  Some towns were completely cut off for days with no roads in, no telephone service, no electricity, but an attitude I could learn from.  There was a covered bridge completely swept away, with three more damaged by the rushing water and debris. It is really surreal to sit in Burlington and read about the damage around the state, because this widespread devastation is so close to home... and yet when I look out my window, there is no evidence of Irene's work here. In Burlington, Irene's destruction was mostly limited to our farm lands.

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm
Burlington's Intervale is 350 acres of farmland along the banks of the Winooski river.  There are 13 farms in the Intervale producing organic berries, vegetables, chickens, honey and flowers.  An impressive percentage of the fresh produce consumed in Burlington is produced in the Intervale with the Intervale Community Farm alone serving 500 families.  All of these farms dealt with record breaking floods this past spring.  Floods that had many of them joke about turning to rice production as they waited weeks for their fields to dry out enough to plant.  The first floods destroyed the crops already in the ground and over the spring new plantings were often greeted with new flooding and destruction.

The day after Irene came through the Winooski river once more flooded the fields, coming up so fast Arethusa Farm could not harvest any more then a field of salad greens, fast enough that the farmers and volunteers walked out of the fields with the water often up to their knees.  For the farmer's it meant they would lose everything still in the fileds, because the water from the Winooski is contaminated.  The chance to pay back loans made necessary by a soggy spring were covered in water.

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm

After the season they have had many of these farms may be forced to shut down unless they receive help.  I fear that the disaster relief efforts will leave them behind or won't cover enough.  The Intervale is such a large part of Burlington's food landscape.  The role these farmer's play was evident at the spring farmer's markets when the Intervale farms were all missing, waiting to have something to sell.

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm

For my family the farms in the Intervale have a real personal connection.  the Intervale houses our CSA.  A farm that defines our summers with food, socializing and a chance for my boys to dig in the dirt (organic dirt!) and run around in the fields.  In addition to all the other farmers who I like to believe see me as a a valued customer (although I fear I am really an annoying farm groupie), our neighbor and good friend is co-owner of Arethusa Farm.  Since the flooding on Monday I have been trying to think of fundraising and ways I could help.  The financial loss to these farmer's is not going to be solved with a single silent auction or fundraising dinner, there needs to be much more then that.

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm

My idea is a fundraising cookbook with recipes from the restaurants who bought produce from the farms, the farmers, cookbook authors, as well as bloggers.  The photos and art work would also be from local artists.  The finished cookbook would end up being the ultimate guide to eating locally without getting tired of the same produce repeatedly appearing on your table.

I am looking for recipe testers, artists, recipes, photos and thoughts or contributions towards publication.  I am excited about this idea and will happily volunteer to make it happen, if in the end it really can contribute money to the farmers relief fund.  I think the largest hurdle is the cost of publication.

 If you have any ideas or talents that you can contribute, please let me know in the comments, by emailing me or posting a comment on the Hippo Flambe Facebook Wall.  I am so excited, but I need your help!

Photo Courtesy of Debbie Krug