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Addictive, easy, produce-rich pasta. July 16, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, produce season is in full swing. Green and yellow wax beans are ripening faster than we can pick them; our basil, thyme, sage, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, and oregano are exploding. The farmers’ markets are full of fresh corn. Our own hot and bell peppers and tomatoes are coming on strong, and we have high hopes for our tomatillos and sweet potatoes. Snap peas, garden peas, and lima beans are available at every grocery, along with yellow summer squash, broccoli, kale, and spinach.

And that’s just scratching the surface. But it’s plenty to start with when planning a luscious summer pasta dish. Here are some tips for taking your summer pastas over the top:

* Use long pasta. I like spaghetti or fettucine, rather than the penne, shells, or elbows I enjoy with other dishes. The longer pasta just seems to go better with the veggies and sauce. And skip the flavored pasta to let the delicate flavor of the fresh veggies and herbs shine. The exception is artichoke pasta (such as DeBole’s), which adds protein thanks to its Jerusalem artichoke component without distorting the flavor.

* Blanch these veggies. Rather than tossing some veggies raw into your pasta, blanch them to get the perfect degree of tenderness. Dunk broccoli florets, chopped green and yellow wax beans, yellow summer squash slices or dice, and shredded carrots in boiling water briefly to soften them before adding them to a pasta dish.

* Saute the savories (plus). Saute diced sweet onion, minced garlic, mushrooms, and frozen white shoepeg corn kernels or fresh corn cut off the cob in butter, extra-virgin olive oil, or a mix of the two before adding them to the pasta. Ditto for the fresh herbs and greens like chopped kale or baby spinach. In fact, it’s far better to stir the pasta into them immediately before serving.

* Chop the fresh and canned stuff. Dice fresh red, orange, and/or yellow bell pepper. Don’t cook it at all, just spoon it in before serving. There’s no need to cook olives, pickles, or artichoke hearts if you’re planning to add them, or fragile herbs like cilantro or green onions (scallions). Just chop everything up and add at the last moment. But don’t forget that the oil from canned or jarred treats like artichoke hearts can enrich the pasta.

* Now for the sauce. When the pasta’s al dente and the veggies, herbs and etc. are ready, it’s time to make sauce. Drain the pasta; if you’ve sauteed veggies, you already have the base for a sauce. If you haven’t, it’s time to add olive oil, butter, or a mix, folding in the pasta and steamed veggies, with fresh-cracked pepper, salt (we like RealSalt, sea salt, Himalayan salt, or Trocomare), and the finish.

* Finishing touches. To make the sauce that you want, you’ll need to add something to your base. For a sauce that lets you see all the ingredients and tastes light and luscious, add dry white wine. For a rich sauce, add cream. For a creamy sauce that’s not quite as rich, add plain Greek yogurt. For a sauce that adds a surprising depth of flavor, add your favorite salad dressing: vinaigrette (not balsamic in this case), ranch, blue cheese, Caesar, green goddess. (Just make sure the dressing isn’t sweetened.) If you need a touch of heat, the finest-shredded jalapeno or a dash or two of chipotle pepper sauce would do the trick, but remember, this is pasta, so use a very light hand.

* Don’t forget cheese. Adding fresh bufalo mozzarella, or the shredded cheese of your choice (mozzarella, white Cheddar, Italian mix, Mexican mix, Parmesan, whatever), is a great way to bump up your pasta’s flavor and oomph.

This is pasta, not salad, so I would say no citrus, no fruit, no nuts, no seeds, much as I love them on salad. In fact, they’d be great on a salad that accompanied one of these pasta dishes. And again, let me just note that citrus and melon make luscious, low-cal desserts that are perfect after a summer pasta dish.

Yum! Now I’m hungry.

‘Til next time,



Unobtanium: The recipe. May 10, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, ranting again about one of my pet peeves. Fans of the movie “Avatar” will recall that corporate greed for a mineral called “unobtanium,” available only on the inhabited moon Pandora, led to the near-destruction of the moon and its native life forms. Obviously, “unobtanium” is a heavy-handed reference to unobtainable. But my peeve has nothing to do with “Avatar,” which I really enjoyed. Instead, it’s about recipes that demand unobtainable ingredients.

I love cooking, and I love reading recipes and imagining making them, what I would change if I were making them (if anything), and how I could adapt them to my limited range of cooking options. (Try: an ancient stove with two working burners and a defunct oven, a countertop convection oven, no food processor, no dishwasher—thus, no food processor, try cleaning one by hand—no microwave, and so on.)

I’m an experienced cook, and an imaginative one, so I can usually spin a recipe into something our friend Ben and I would enjoy. The sole and very sad exception is fried foods. I hate grease, and much as I love fried foods, I’m not about to pour inches of oil into a pot and dunk anything into it. Eeeeewwww!!! If I’m craving yummy and fried, I’ll go out to eat.

I don’t resent recipes that call for techniques I’m not able to do with my limited equipment. After all, most people have fully functional stoves, microwaves, grills, food processors, dishwashers, stand blenders, and the like, even specialty stuff like ice-cream makers and juicers. It’s that “unobtanium” issue I take exception to, the “If you don’t live in NYC or San Francisco and are willing to spend $100 on one meal’s ingredients, forget trying to get these, but I’m going to put ten of them in this recipe anyway so there’s no way you can make it. Drool, fools, drool!!!” approach.

This morning, my ire was roused on this hot-button issue by a seasonal spring recipe for “Smashed Pea Toast with a Snap Pea Salad.” That sounded interesting, and even vegetarian, so I eagerly started reading. Certainly, it was nothing I’d ever made before. And nothing, I quickly realized, that I’ll ever make, period. The recipe starts with tiny peas from local farmers, procured within 24 hours of picking. Good luck with that! Then you need 1/2 pound of black trumpet or morel mushrooms. Good luck with that! Next, a Meyer lemon. Good luck with that! And finally, Idiazabal cheese. Good luck with that!

If you’re publishing a recipe in a national or local paper, it seems to me it should be one people across the country or locally could actually make. I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve seen this spring calling for ramps, a wild onion relative native to very limited parts of the country, that say “Oh, you’ll find them at your local farmers’ market.” Not anywhere I’ve ever lived. Not ever.

The point about unobtanium ingredients was inadvertently made in two other articles in the papers our friend Ben and I get. One was about a culinary travel adventure, where the writer went to the Andalucia region of Spain to sample all the marvelous regional specialties at the local restaurants, tapas bars, and markets. The second was about celebrity chefs who had come to Philadelphia and opened high-end restaurants. Both mentioned the (obviously unobtainable) ingredients and dishes they encountered or served.

But I had no problem with this. Someone who was thinking about traveling to Spain could clip the article on Andalucian specialties and stick it in their travel guidebook. Someone planning a night out in Philly could clip the article on all the great new restaurants and see if they could get a reservation. Unlike the recipe article, in neither case was someone promising that you could make this food. The implication was that you would have to go to experience it. That’s an honest implication, as opposed to implying that you could make a dish in your own home using locally unobtainable ingredients.

‘Til next time,


Coleslaw sees red. January 13, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Red cabbage and red onion, that is. Silence Dogood here, continuing my series of winter coleslaw recipes. This one is easy, very quick to make but very good and hearty, just right to accompany a warming winter meal. Mac’n’cheese, anyone? I call it Royal Coleslaw because both red cabbage and red onions are actually royal purple.

Silence’s Royal Coleslaw

1 head red (purple) cabbage, shredded, or 2 packages pre-shredded red cabbage

1 large red (Spanish) onion, diced

1 container crumbled blue, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, or feta cheese

1 tablespoon caraway, fennel, or cumin seeds, or to taste

fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste

salt (we like RealSalt), to taste

extra-virgin olive oil

bunch scallions (green onions), chopped (optional)

To make the slaw, mix the shredded red cabbage and diced red onion. Add the seeds of your choice, black pepper, and salt, mixing a second time. Add enough olive oil to coat the mixture. Gently add the crumbled cheese (if you prefer a milder flavor, use feta; otherwise, go for one of the others, which I prefer, as they stand up well to the red cabbage and red onion), tossing to mix. Taste and adjust seasonings, olive oil, and etc. as needed. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. If you’d like to add a splash of contrasting color, just before serving, sprinkle chopped scallions (including both the green and white parts) over each serving like confetti. Enjoy!

Note: This slaw is robust enough to stand up to considerable experimentation. You could add a pinch of chipotle powder to give it some heat, or a pinch of ground clove, cinnamon, or garam masala to add an exotic depth of flavor. (But in all these cases, just a pinch, please.) You could add fresh-squeezed lemon juice to give the slaw an acidic touch (which probably sounds awful but in fact perfectly complements the olive oil and crumbled cheese). You could add fresh-squeezed orange juice or golden raisins for a note of sweetness. You could even add diced pickled red beets to up the royal color scheme and add rich earthiness to the flavor. See what variations work best for you and your family, and have fun!

‘Til next time,


Veggie burgers rising. June 11, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As a longtime vegetarian (and now a vegan), veggie burgers have always been my guilty indulgence. Generally speaking, I don’t approve of or indulge in pseudo-meat, feeling that you should either just eat meat or eat the endless other things available to you. But despite the name “burgers,” veggie burgers don’t pretend that they’re meat. (The exception is Boca burgers, with a texture so meaty that the only time I ordered one I spat it out, thinking I’d been served a hamburger by mistake.) Instead, they’re more like a falafel patty with a lot less spicing.

Thing is, if you order a veggie burger in a restaurant, it tends to be boring. They bring it to you with lettuce and tomato, and, if you’re really lucky, raw onions. Even with mustard or ketchup, that’s not really enough to wake up your tastebuds. So I long ago learned to scan menus for the most flavorful burger options, then ask for them with a Garden Burger instead of meat. What a difference!

Just the other week, I headed out for lunch with our friend Ben and our friend Rudy to a delightful local restaurant, the White Palm in scenic Topton, PA. I’d recommended their premises-made veggie burgers to the guys, and to my astonishment, they both wanted to order them. But I suggested that rather than ordering them with the usual lettuce and tomato topping, they order them with the sauteed mushroom, onion and Swiss cheese topping of another burger, and get a side of sweet potato fries to punch things up. They did, and both of them loved it.

Ditto for my Red Robin burger experience. I used to indulge in their Whiskey River BBQ Burger, topped with barbecue sauce, shredded lettuce, tomato, fried onions, and shredded Cheddar cheese, and served on mayo-topped grilled buns with steak fries, substituting their Garden Burger for the meat. Yummo!!! Talk about decadent.

I was okay with treating myself to these “burger” extravaganzas because I only had them once or twice a year. But then I became a vegan. Goodbye, cheese! And suddenly, Memorial Day and the whole summer were looming, and there was poor OFB craving his burgers. I was determined to try to recreate the burger experience at home.

The first challenge was the veggie burgers themselves. If you’ve ever tried them, you know they tend to get dry, cardboardy, and tasteless when you heat them up. How can you make them tasty and succulent? I splashed a little veggie broth, liquid smoke, fresh-cracked black pepper, Trocamare (hot seasoned salt) and Frank’s Red Hot Sweet Chili Sauce on them before popping them into the oven. Sure enough, it worked.

Next, the buns: I thought Red Robin’s idea to put mayo on the buns, then grill them, was brilliant. So I spread grapeseed-oil Vegenaise, which is simply delicious, on the inner surfaces of some Ezekiel whole-grain buns and ran them under the broiler to heat up. Result: Soft and succulent but hot, slightly crispy, and yummy buns. Yes!!! I added frozen sweet potato “fries” to the baking sheet, topped with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and Italian herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram) along with the buns and let them roast for a yummy and healthy accompaniment.

Meanwhile, I made a simple, healthy slaw to go with the burgers. I bought the preshredded slaw mix at our local grocery (green and purple cabbage and carrots), added diced yellow bell pepper, purple Spanish onion, and Granny Smith apple, tossed in some dill, fennel, and caraway seed, added salt and cracked black pepper, and then mixed it all up with extra-virgin olive oil and cider vinegar. Then I tossed in some pepitas (roasted, salted pumpkin seeds) for extra crunch. Yum!!!

Finally, the add-ons. To turn a veggie burger into something everyone will clamor for (enough already, OFB!), you definitely need some primo toppings. Crunchy Romaine lettuce, sliced sweet onion, and tomato slices are obvious. But you can take a leaf from the famous Bardstown, Kentucky establishment, The Talbot Tavern, and kick it up a notch. The Talbot Tavern uses fried green tomatoes on its BLTs. You could fry up some green tomatoes for your burgers. Or, to crank up the heat, use sliced Kamikozee hot green tomatoes (produced locally here  in nearby Bowers, PA; check out www.greenkamikozees.com), or pickled green tomatoes or pickled peppers or sliced jalapenos. 

There are endless other options. If I’ve made grilled or sauteed sweet onions, bell peppers and mushrooms, they make a delicious (but messy) topping for veggie burgers. Beyond the usual ketchup, mustard and mayo, you could opt for horseradish, cocktail sauce, wasabi, salsa, guacamole, hummus, baba ghannouj, oil and vinegar, even tartar sauce: It’s your burger, after all, so it’s up to you what you want to put on it. You’re not accountable to anything but your tastebuds.

As for that cheese: Vegans like me might feel devastated at the lack of a cheese option. But I’ve finally found one that fills the bill: Follow Your Heart’s mozzarella “cheese.” The problem is that you have to slice it off the block yourself—no pre-cut slices—and once you open it, you have to use it all ASAP or it will mold, even in the fridge. But these are small sacrifices for something that actually resembles cheese, as opposed to really vile-tasting cardboard.

This summer, give veggie burgers a chance! And please, let me know if you have any special tricks for making them super-yummy.

                 ‘Til next time,


Amazing anise pasta. February 12, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s snowing, freezing, and generally miserable here, and I say, that calls for comfort food. As faithful readers know, I like pasta, and I like to create my own recipes. While I was trying to stock up on staples before our latest snowstorm, I saw that the grocery had penne pasta—the first time I’d seen it around here—and better yet, it had a ten packages for $10 deal on all its store-brand pasta!

All righty then. Since it seems like I can’t train myself out of an over-the-arm basket carrier (our friend Ben, by contrast, insists on grocery carts, more power to him), I only got two boxes, one of penne and one of spaghetti. Once home, I checked out the penne-making options, using produce and other ingredients we already had on hand.

Seeing that I had a pint of light cream and a package of fresh basil gave me an idea. I had both fresh baby bella and button mushrooms. Normally, penne pasta would have inspired me to make a baked pasta casserole with tomato sauce, mushrooms and onions, and lots of mozzarella. But if you’ve been reading our blog recently, you’ll know that something unfortunate has befallen our venerable Caloric gas stove and it’s now exceptionally difficult to fire up the oven. While we wait for repairs, I think it’s a better idea to see what we can do on top of the stove.

Now basil, as you know, has a strong licorice/anise flavor that I thought might work well with the mushrooms, penne, and cream. But why stop there? As it happens, I had a fennel bulb, also anise-flavored, and a bottle of Sambuca liqueur (also anise/licorice flavored) in the liquor cabinet. So why not make a sauce that combined the earthiness of the mushrooms and the creaminess of the cream and butter with the anise accents of the basil, fennel bulb, and Sambuca? Go for it, I say. This is what I made:

              Amazing Anise Pasta

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, or 1015 type), diced

small (8-ounce) box baby bella mushrooms, sliced

large (16-ounce) box button mushrooms, sliced

half a large fennel bulb (or a whole small fennel bulb), diced

bunch fresh basil leaves, minced (about 10 very large leaves)

1/2 stick butter or more as needed for sauteing

1 pint light cream

1 carton veggie stock (any brand)

1/4 cup or 1 small bottle Sambuca

Trocomare, RealSalt, or salt

lemon pepper

box penne pasta

Bring a large pot (such as a stock pot) of water to a full boil, then cover it and turn off the heat. Saute onion in melted butter in a heavy Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset) or other large, heavy saucepan with Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) and lemon pepper to taste. (Use cracked black pepper and a splash of lemon juice if you don’t have lemon pepper.) Once onions clarify, add mushrooms and fennel and cook, adding a little veggie stock as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan, until the mushrooms cook down. (I would have added shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, or any others to the mix if I had had them on hand, and certainly don’t think more mushrooms would hurt. Like all pasta sauces, this one is very forgiving.) Add minced basil and half the pint of cream and stir well. Reduce heat to low and allow sauce to thicken, adding more cream as needed and stirring frequently. Your goal is a very thick, silky sauce that will coat the pasta without being at all runny.

And speaking of the pasta, when you think the sauce is almost there, return the water to a full boil and pour the pasta into the boiling water and cook until al dente or your preferred degree of doneness (not too soft, though, please; it has to stand up to the mushrooms and fennel). Once you’ve added the pasta to the water, pour the Sambuca in a circle around the top of the sauce and stir it in. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings, drain the pasta thoroughly, pour the sauce over the penne and mix it in well so the pasta is thoroughly coated with sauce, and serve with a huge tossed salad.

Because this is a rich dish, I’d use full-bodied greens like Romaine, curly endive, arugula and radicchio in the salad, perhaps with a softer type like butter or Boston lettuce, and add red bell pepper, scallions (green onions), the rest of the fennel bulb (shredded like coleslaw) to echo the flavor of the pasta, and some shaved Parmesan. I’d serve it with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and, of course, a sprinkling of salt.

Note to all you meat eaters out there: Knowing how well baked chicken breasts pair with mushrooms and fennel seeds, you might want to try this with chicken. Just bear in mind that if you add the baked chicken directly to the sauce as opposed to serving whole breasts and using the pasta as a side dish, you’ll need to add more cream and veggie (or chicken) stock to cover it.

I hope you enjoy my latest creation! If you try it, please tell me what you think.

‘Til next time,


A spiral side dish. September 11, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. First, two disclaimers: This really isn’t a post about cinnamon buns, no matter how it starts out. And second, being a Luddite, I don’t know how to operate a food processor or any other equipment that would be required to make this work. Having said this, however, I can’t help but think it’s a marvelous idea.

I happen to love cinnamon buns (Cinnabons are the exemplars) and the round cinnamon croissants that are spiraled and swirled with cinnamon filling. There’s just something about that rounded spiral shape and the contrast in color and texture that I find irresistible.

So today, as I was contemplating whether to make something new for supper or heat up some leftovers with a big tossed salad to go with them, inspiration struck. I happened to have some refried beans in the fridge. Now, my refried beans are thick and super-flavorful, with lots of onion and spices, including cinnamon and cloves, giving them an unforgettable edge. But sheesh, I was craving creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. Boom! Lightning happens.

What if, I thought, you could puree those refried beans or, say, a thick, spicy lentil dal or peppery creamed black-eyed peas or cooked-down black bean soup, then spiral them through a cinnamon-bun-shaped mound of mashed potatoes so you got spirals of contrasting color and flavor? Creamy and buttery, flavorful and spicy. You could use mashed Yukon Gold potatoes or whipped sweet potatoes for a different but delicious twist. Or how about creamed spinach or a curried carrot or broccoli rabe puree swirled through white or gold mashed potatoes, or an earthy beet puree swirled through whipped sweet potatoes? An incredible mushroom and leek puree swirled through any of the above?

Mercy. The mind boggles at all the delicious options. And of course, the base needn’t be potatoes. It could be polenta, grits, couscous, or arborio rice. It could be pretty much anything that could provide a creamy contrast to the more flavorful and colorful contrasting swirl. And of course that swirl could be pesto or pureed roasted red peppers or mushroom coulis or a brown butter-sage reduction or (for sweet potatoes) creme fraiche, marmalade, pureed spiced cranberries, or you name it.

I can see this now, served with roasted chicken or pork loin, with a salad of assertive greens like endive, radicchio, mustard greens, and kale. If you’re a vegetarian like me, I can see it served with an appropriate soup and a big salad.

Being a Luddite, I can’t process the beans and other ingredients to the smooth, lovely pastelike texture that would be ideal. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make a “rough version” by mashing the hell out of whatever it is and then see what I think. What do you think?  

         ‘Til next time,


Quick summer sides. August 22, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s high summer. Finally, there’s tons of marvelous corn on the cob. There are fabulous ripe tomatoes. There are a wealth of bell peppers in every imaginable color. You’d like to enjoy this abundance while keeping the menu light and easy. What to do? Here are a bunch of summer sides that our friend Ben and I (and our Supper Club friends) just love. They’re quick, they’re easy, they’re delicious, and they go perfectly with corn on the cob and a platter of sliced vine-ripened tomatoes (preferably with fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil).

        Carrot Cabbage Confetti Slaw

Try this take on quick coleslaw and you’ll boost your immunity along with giving a big boost to your tastebuds!

1 package shredded carrots

2 packages shredded red cabbage

1 carton crumbled gorgonzola cheese (or curmbled feta or blue cheese if desired)

2 tablespoons fennel seeds (or 1/2 fennel bulb, diced fine, or 2 T caraway or cumin seeds)

1/4 to 1/2 cup sunflower kernels

1 diced sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, Candy, or 1015 type)

1/3 to 1/2 bottle Greek salad dressing, vinaigrette, or oil and vinegar

salt to taste (we like RealSalt)

Toss ingredients well to mix, then add the dressing, stirring gently but well to coat everything thoroughly. Leave out at room temp, covered, for at least an hour before serving so flavors have a chance to blend. (Needless to say, you can shred your own cabbage and grate your own carrots for an only slightly less quick version.)

               Egg Salad a la Silence

We actually love this simple but flavorful egg salad as a sandwich filling on multigrain bread with crunchy romaine lettuce and thick slices of tomato. But it’s also perfect as a salad on a bed of lettuce leaves, with arugula or watercress, as a filling for endive leaves or celery stalks, or on rounds of toast.

6 hard-boiled eggs

2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons mustard (we like Jim Beam or Jack Daniels) 

1 heaping tablespoon horseradish

salt to taste (we like RealSalt)

lemon pepper to taste

Peel and mince hardboiled eggs in a large bowl. Stir in all other ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to eat.

         Silence’s Refrigerator Pickles

These are spicy, flavorful, and long-keeping, even in the fridge. Great as accompaniments with an egg salad sandwich, confetti salad, and sweet potato chips!

3-6 slender cukes, sliced

1 cup sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon black mustardseed

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 large sweet onion or more to taste, diced

dash hot sauce, like Pick-a-Peppa or Tabasco Chipotle

Combine sugar and vinegar and heat until sugar dissolves. Add salt, spices, and hot sauce. Layer sliced cukes and diced onion in alternate layers in a glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. When the brine has cooled to lukewarm, pour it over the cukes and onions, close the lid tightly, and refrigerate. You can begin eating the pickles in 3 to 5 days; the flavor gets stronger over time. The pickled onions are fabulous in salads and sandwiches.  

Of course, you can make your own homemade fresh salsa from yoru garden bounty, too.

           Simple Fresh Salsa

2 large or 5 paste tomatoes, diced

1 large green bell pepper, cored and diced

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, 1015, or Candy type), peeled and diced

3 scallions (green onions), minced

1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

1 lemon, seeded and squeezed

1 jalapeno pepper, cored and minced

salt and pepper to taste

Mix all together and refrigerate overnight. You can subsitute lime, orange, or even grapefruit juice for the lemon juice if you’d like a different twist on an old favorite.

       Lentil Salad

The name may not be too enticing, but the dish is beyond fabulous. Serve it over lettuce leaves with diced tomatoes and plain yogurt on top. Serve this with hot corn on the cob and barbecued chicken or wings and you’ll be so addicted! Or tuck it in a hot pita with romaine, tomato, yogurt and paprika for a delicious lunch. Yum!!!

4 cups cooked lentils

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large sweet onion, diced

6 scallions (green onions), minced

1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cored and chopped

1 large yellow or orange tomato, diced

1 bunch fresh parsley, minced

1 bunch fresh cilantro, minced

1 bunch fresh mint, minced

juice of 1 lemon

extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Cook lentils until soft but still shapely (this shouldn’t take more than 1/2 hour, and you shouldn’t presoak them) and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in garlic, onion, scallions, pepper, tomato, parsley, cilantro, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Hmmm, looks like it’s almost time for dinner. Guess I’d better go see which of these tempting sides I’ll make tonight!

           ‘Til next time,


The Aunt Debbi interview: Cooking. June 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The ever-entertaining Aunt Debbi of Aunt Debbi’s Garden fame (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/) has been promoted to interviewer-in-chief at her local library, and in order to hone her interviewing skills she called for volunteers to practice on. Naturally, our friend Ben and I volunteered. Turns out, the interview topic is cooking! (Sorry, Ben; maybe she’ll ask you about your MacArthur aspirations and sock aversion some other time… ) Here are Aunt Debbi’s questions and my answers:

At what age did you begin cooking? I can never remember not cooking, but that’s probably more due to my mama’s letting me “help” her in the kitchen from an early age than to really being allowed to do anything much more complicated than assembling bacon-and-tomato sandwiches and making vinaigrette. I still have some of my grade-school-era recipes, and I can only hope that I wasn’t actually allowed to make them!

Who taught you? My mama taught me. Curiously, neither grandmother was a good cook. But Mama and our housekeeper Olivia were both fabulous cooks, and growing up in the kitchen with the two of them was like being in heaven.

What type of food is your favorite? Yikes, that depends on what you mean, and even then, that depends! I love veggies and fresh fruit. Then there are the four major food groups: pasta, pizza, popcorn, and potatoes, and the three minor food groups: butter, cheese, and salt. But if you mean what style of cuisine is my favorite, I’d have a terrible time trying to decide between Indian, Mexican, Thai, Greek, Lebanese, and Chinese. But if you told me I was being exiled to a deserted island and could only eat one style of cooking for the rest of my life, I’d go with the Southern food I grew up with and wouldn’t even have to think about it.

Where do you get your best ingredients? Whew, that’s easier. From our garden, our CSA, the local farmers’ markets (we’re lucky enough to have four here), and the Mennonite farms that have farm stores attached and sell raw milk, Amish-style homemade butter and cheese, every type of pickle and preserves on earth, and many another wonderful treat. I also have my favorite spice haunts: Rice and Spice in nearby Emmaus, PA for all things Indian; Echo Hill Country Store in Fleetwood, PA for herbs and bulk goods, especially pastas, dried fruit, beans, and grains; and Spices-N-Such at Zern’s Market in Gilbertsville, PA for a great array of wonderful herbs, spices and coffees.

Do you know any cooking tricks? You bet. I could go on and on, but here are ten: 1) Few things in life can’t be saved with butter and salt. 2) Always use the very freshest and best ingredients, then keep it simple. 3) Get over yourself and wear a full-body apron or you’ll be sorry. 4) Those boxed veggie stocks you can buy in the soup aisle now are God’s gift to cooking. 5) There’s no such thing as too much basil or cilantro. 6) Use sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla, 1015, or Candy type) and plenty of ’em when you can, and storage (pungent) onions only when you have to. 7) Put your (fresh, please!) herbs in your salad, then dress it simply with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 8) Mushrooms and sweet onion in a butter and wine sauce is a blissful side or topping for pasta or rice. 9) Secret ingredient for #8: a splash of bourbon right before serving. 10) Use bamboo spoons for cooking; they’re easy to clean, a pleasure to use, and they don’t splinter like wood. Here’s a bonus: 11) Use the heaviest pans you can lift. My cooking owes everything to my LeCreuset enamelled cast-iron cookware. I guess I’d better keep working out so I can still lift them a few decades from now!

Will you share a recipe? Sure. This being summer and tomato season, here’s my simple but scrumptious recipe for Caprese salad: Cover a large plate with leaf lettuce (such as Romaine or Butterhead), layering leaves to form a nice bed. Slice several large ripe tomatoes, then halve each slice. (The salad looks most spectacular when you use several colors of tomato, such as red, yellow, green-ripe, and/or black, but any color is fine.) Slice one or more balls of fresh mozzarella, then halve each slice. Wash and pat dry a big bunch of fresh basil leaves, removing them from the stems. To assemble, alternate tomato, mozzarella, and basil, starting around the outside of the plate and working your way to the center until the entire plate is covered. The alternating and overlapping red (etc.), white, and green will create a very colorful pattern. When the salad is assembled, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkle with salt (we like Real Salt). I like to serve the salad sliced in wedges like a pizza. Yum!

        ‘Til next time,


Does anybody cook like me? March 15, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. My dear friend Huma just forwarded a black bean soup recipe from today’s New York Times that incorporates two packages of fresh spinach into the soup. She thought it sounded really good.

I’ll admit, I was intrigued as well. I love cooked spinach on its own with some balsamic vinegar and salt, but am less enamored of it in soups or dishes like lasagna, where it just seems stringy and pointless. But because black bean soup is so thick and rich, I thought it could probably accomodate all that spinach and add a dollop of healthy greens without ruining the flavor or texture.

But then I started thinking. Okay, I like the idea of incorporating greens. But wouldn’t baby arugula, with its spicy flavor, add more to black bean soup than spinach? And what about doubling or tripling the wimpy amount of cilantro in the recipe? Black bean soup is so rich it can stand up to a lot in the way of flavoring. How about adding fresh basil leaves for a hit of anise? Or, better yet, cinnamon basil leaves?

I like my own black bean soup recipe (search for it in the search bar at the upper right) way better than the New York Times version, but I’m ready and willing to add greens to mine as they did to theirs. Great idea! I’d even consider adding shredded lettuce with sour cream, grated white Cheddar, and hot sauce on top. Why not make it the best it can be? Yum, now I want to make it for dinner tonight!!!

So okay, I’m flexible. In fact, I’m really flexible. I can never see a recipe without wondering what I could do to make it better. It doesn’t take long for a bunch of ideas to occur to me. What about you? Are you by-the-book cooks, or are you like me, brazen adventurers?

          ‘Til next time,


Spittoon or steamer?! A Thai culinary marvel. February 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. Fritzjambo has done it again. You may recall our friend Fritzjambo as the creator of “The BEST no-knead bread” ( see my earlier post of the same name for more on that, plus recipes), as well as the person who gave me a Swiss Army pot to bake my no-knead bread in.

Well, Fritzjambo and Mrs. F. were in the area this week and chose to host our weekly gathering of the Friday Night Supper Club at their place. When we arrived, Fritzjambo beamed at me and announced that he’d brought me something I was going to really love. Then he whipped out what appeared to be a matte silver spittoon with an inverted straw hat in the top.

“Uhhhhh…. ”

“It’s a Thai steamer. You put water in the “spittoon,” bring it to a boil, set your rice or veggies in the bamboo steamer, put a Revere-ware top over them, and voila!”


Fritzjambo was right: After recovering from my confusion, I do love my new steamer. I’m not sure I’d really be brave enough to steam rice (though, lacking a microwave, I have steamed cooked rice to rewarm it many times). But the possibilities for steamed veggies are right up there. I’d just bought a whopping package of snow peas on sale at my local store, as well as broccoli, green and yellow wax beans, asparagus… yum. Thanks, Fritzie!

Now, you all might not just stumble on a steamer like this; at least, I’d never seen one before. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help me celebrate my new acquisition by whipping up some wonderful Thai food at home. So I thought I’d dig up a few promising Thai recipes to share. After all, few things in life are better than Thai food!

Unfortunately, this proved to be a bit more of a challenge than I’d expected. I first reached for a cookbook I really love called simply Red Hot! (Hermes House, 2007) This book has almost everything: It’s beautiful, it’s helpful, and the recipes are delicious. Hmmm, here were two Thai recipes that sounded especially good: Thai Tempeh Cakes with Chilli Sauce and Thai Mixed Vegetable Curry with Lemon Grass Rice. But, er. When I looked at the bazillion ingredients and complicated directions for each dish, I decided that this was a really good reason to find a good Thai restaurant near you! (Our favorite, alas, is way up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in a bright-purple house on the main drag, in case you’re ever up there.)

Never willing to give up without a fight, I turned to another amazing cookbook in my collection, Global Vegetarian Cooking by Troth Wells (Interlink Books, 2001). Ah, much better! Mushroom Soup with Lemon Grass and Noodles with Basil leapt out at me. But, hmm, not everyone has a huge lemon grass plant growing in their greenhouse like we do, much less access to lemon grass, galangal, and lime or lemon leaves at the store. So let’s go with the noodles, shall we?

             Thai Noodles with Basil

1/2 pound flat rice noodles, fresh or dried

3 tablespoons fresh sweet basil, chopped

1 to 4 bird’s-eye chilis, halved and de-seeded

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon concentrated yellow bean sauce

1-2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon sugar

a little water


lemon juice

If using dried rice noodles, soak them in hot but not boiling water to soften them. Fresh rice noodles can be added directly to the wok or dipped in hot water to separate them before cooking.

Mix together yellow bean sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and water. Heat oil in a wok and fry the chilis for half a minute to make them less fiery. (Unless you know you can eat fire, it’s best to start with half a chili and work up from there.) Add the noodles (thoroughly drained if they were soaked in hot water), and fry for another minute or so. Add the sesame oil and 2 tablespoons basil. Combine well and then add the yellow bean sauce-soy sauce mixture. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, until it looks done. Add a splash of lemon juice, stir, remove freom the wok and keep warm. Heat a little more oil in the wok and fry the remaining basil for a few seconds ’til crispy; sprinkle over the noodles and serve. Serves 2.

Finally, here are two super-simple recipes from another favorite cookbook, Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books, 1997). (Non-vegetarians, note: Nancie also wrote a bestselling cookbook called Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking. Check it out!) The coconut rice goes beautifully with any Thai food, though the author especially recommends it with Thai curries, grilled vegetables, and green papaya salad. And of course, I have to give you a Thai curry!

           Coconut Rice with Cilantro and Fresh Ginger

1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk (about 1 3/4 cups)

1 3/4 cups water

6 quarter-sized slices peeled fresh ginger

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups jasmine rice (can substitute basmati or any long-grain white rice)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the coconut milk, water, ginger, and salt and bring to a rolling boil over medium heat. Add the rice and stir well. When the liquid boils again, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 25 minutes. The rice kernels will be tender and the liquid will be absorbed. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover the pan and remove and discard the ginger. Add the cilantro and, using a fork, toss gently to distribute the cilantro evenly. Fluff the rice kernels and serve hot or warm. Serves 4-6.

               Red Curry with Red Sweet Peppers, Snow Peas, and Tofu

1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk (about 1 3/4 cups)

1 to 2 tablespoons red curry paste

8 ounces tofu or tempeh, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1/4 cup vegetable stock

1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 red sweet (bell) pepper, cut into long, thin strips

4 ounces snow peas, trimmed

Shake the coconut milk can well. Spoon out 1/3 cup into a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden or bamboo spoon, until it thickens and releases its fragrance, about 3 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook for another 3 minutes, mashing, scraping, and stirring often to soften the paste and combine it with the coconut milk. Add the tofu or tempeh cubes and stir gently to coat with the curry sauce. Add the remaining coconut milk, vegetable stock, sugar, soy sauce, and salt and stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain at a gentle boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add the red pepper strips and snow peas to the curry and stir gently. (Note from Silence: At this point, I would also add a couple of tablespoons of shredded basil leaves and possibly a handful of cashews.) Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve hot or warm with rice. Serves 4-6.   

Yum!!! Are you feeling inspired? I certainly am! Clearly, a delicious Thai meal is in our immediate future. If you have any favorite Thai recipes, please share them with us! (Becca, I think you need to post that amazing Thai noodle recipe you shared with us over at BrightHaven Times. Talk about perfect timing!)

           ‘Til next time,