Tuesday, June 26, 2012

White Beans with Shrimp

Cool beans!

White beans--packed with protein, calcium and iron--are a meal in themselves. Paired with seafood, poultry or beef, they are a welcome change to the familiar potato and rice normally served as a side dish.

And they're easy to prepare.

They're also quite forgiving and adaptable. Don't be afraid to add whatever you like. Had I some Kalamata or Greek olives, I would have added them to this dish. You could just as easily add some crumbled Feta instead of the Parm.

White beans paired with fresh shrimp sauteed in olive oil, garlic and lemon.

You could also easily swap out the spinach and rosemary and add some chopped, fresh basil. In fact, you don't even need the spinach. But the artist in me wanted the color. You could also use a fresh tomato or two, but since such luxuries are not available in the dead of winter, I went with canned to make this a pretty simple "dump" recipe.

Since I live in the South, I have access to smoked pork jowl which I used in this recipe. Use several slices of bacon as a substitute and then remove them before serving. I like my celery larger than a dice. The bit of crunch contrasts well with the creamy beans.

  • 2, 15-ounce cans Cannellini Beans, rinsed and drained (about 3 cups)
  • 1, 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 3/4 cup roughly-chopped celery
  • 1-2 teaspoons minced jalapeno, seeded
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2-3 chunks smoked hog jowl (about 1/2 inch thick, 2" x 4") or several pieces smoked bacon cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock plus additional to add during the cooking
  • 1 tablespoon minced, fresh rosemary (or to taste)
  • 2-3 ounces fresh, baby spinach leaves, stems removed (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt to taste (beans take a lot of salt, so be sure to taste and adjust)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a medium Dutch oven, melt a bit of butter and oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and hog jowl. Cook just until veggies get a bit tender. Add the jalapeno and garlic. Stir until fragrant. Add the white wine and allow to steam a bit to get rid of the alcohol. Add the 1/4 cup chicken stock and allow to heat up. Then add the drained tomatoes and beans. Add about 1 teaspoon salt. Mix. Cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, adding more chicken stock if necessary.

The beans really only need to heat through since they are already cooked. After abut 15 minutes or so, taste and re-season if necessary. Stir in the rosemary and one tablespoon of butter until melted. Gently fold in the spinach until wilted. Gently fold in cheese. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes or so. Don't be afraid to add more chicken stock if necessary. That's it. Serve and enjoy!

Paired with summer's fresh garden bounty, white beans are an economical but luxurious meal.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Marninated, Whole Tomatoes

In some parts of the country, decent tomatoes are already appearing at markets. This recipe works wonderfully with medium-sized tomatoes. In the dead of winter when delicious tomatoes are a rarity, seek the ones still attached to a stem or use plum tomatoes. I place one marinated tomato on a bed of greens that always includes crunchy, cold, iceberg lettuce. I drizzle the marinade around it.

I like this recipe because it uses ingredients I usually have on hand. It is adapted from my grandmother's old cookbook. Go ahead and use yellow tomatoes for a bit of visual variety. One could, of course, include basil rather-than, or in-addition-to, the parsley. Sometimes I cheat and simply cut up the peeled tomatoes and just mix everything together and allow it to marinate overnight. But I really love the drama of a single tomato on fresh greens.

  • 6 whole ripened medium tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup salad oil
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (light or EV)
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onion and tops
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme flakes
  • Blue cheese, crumbled (optional)

Peel tomatoes (drop into boiling water for a few seconds. Remove and then peel). With  a paring knife, remove just the top green stem part being careful not to cut into the core of the tomato. This is optional, but I like to do it. Peeling and coring allows the marinade to penetrate the tomato.

Mix the remaining ingredients. Marinate the whole tomatoes in a refrigerator several hours or overnight (preferably overnight) in a deep, narrow bowl. If the oil congeals before serving, just bring back to room temperature before serving. To serve, arrange tomatoes on a platter and spoon a small amount of the marinade over each tomato. Sprinkle with additional green onions and parsley or serve individually over a bed of lettuce and use marinade as the dressing. For additional garnish (and recommended) add a few crumbles of blue cheese.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Salt Potatoes with Herbs

Fingerling potatoes with herbs, garlic and salt are brought to a boil,
removed from the heat and covered until cool or warm.

This recipe couldn't be more simple. Or delicious. I'll never "boil" potatoes again. No. Not. Ever.

I had intended to make a simple batch of garlic potatoes that uses whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic and tiny fingerling potatoes. It's a fun and easy dish. But I did some surfing and came across a blog written by a girl who once worked in a restaurant and who watched the chef make these amazing potatoes by adding a ton of salt to the water and some herbs.

Hmmmmm . . .

Just bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Cover until cool. Perfectly cooked and seasoned. Yea, right ..... Of course, I had to try it.

I was blown away.

These are wonderful! I kept eating them right from the pot! The salty, seasoned brine that drips from the skins is lip-smacking delicious. And then the creamy interior of the fingerlings. I thought I would serve them with a bit of sour cream, but that was total overkill and way too overpowering. 

The liquor in the pot was too good to waste, though. Redolent from the herbs and salt, it was also imbued with the earthiness of the potato skins. I mixed equal parts of the pot-liquor, melted butter and sour cream to use as a "dipping sauce." Bliss.

I think these are best served "warm." And do use fingerlings or tiny Yukon Golds. 

  • 1.5 pounds fingerling potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • 6 tablespoons KOSHER salt, not table salt (2 tablespoons per 1/2 pound of potatoes)
  • 2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme (about 1/2 dozen stems--see picture above)
  • 2-3 cloves whole, unpeeled garlic, slightly smashed

Sauce (optional)
  • 1 part pot liquor
  • 1 part melted butter
  • 1 part sour cream

Place potatoes in a pot. Fill with water until covered by an inch or so. Add the salt. Add the herbs and garlic.

Cover loosely and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Cover.

Allow to cool. To make the sauce, simple mix the equal parts of pot-liquor, melted butter and sour cream. Serve on the side or drizzle on top of potatoes.

Alexandra also suggests roasting or crisping the potatoes in a cast-iron skillet with a bit of olive oil and some freshened herbs. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Advice to Graduates

Receiving graduation invitations was part of having taught school for twenty years. To bring something unique, I began devising “Advice to Graduates” that I sometimes slipped into cards. I’ve added to it year after year. And I probably will continue to do so. Such is life and its lessons.

Gary T. Czerwinski

We live in an age of technology that is shrinking the world. Ironically, at the same time, it is alienating societies and individuals. Tribalism isn’t diminishing, it is growing. So be careful to what “tribe” you choose to belong. And that includes techy toys. Do you own them? Or do they own you?

Much of what we learn growing up is how to function in a group. Not how to function on our own. When you can function on your own, you can never be alienated. Instead, you will become a magnet. Never underestimate the power of one. One has changed the world. One idea. One action. One vote. One step. One by one.

Be an example. Examples stand alone. They are not part of the problems on the page. They are the solution of how to solve them.

Trust in the Universe, our last frontier. Learn from it. The greatest strides in civilization have come from looking up, not down. The Universe is limitless and undiscovered. There are no horizons in space. No ups. No downs. No sideways. Don’t be afraid to make your own horizons. Make your own directions. Make sure your mind is as open and as vast as space itself.

And, yes, we are not alone in the Universe. Get used to it.

Honor Nature, for we are losing it minute by minute. We live on a wonderful planet! What have you done to make it better? To preserve its beauty? To guarantee its success?

And take care of your body. Health is a life-long process. Don't be a slob. Your environment is a reflection of your brain. And personal hygiene and dress is a reflection of common sense. Even a cat cleans itself.

It is okay to be afraid. Fear is often the harbinger of growth. Don’t run. It is better to be scared and to go forward then not to be scared and end up going nowhere. As Einstein said, “Adversity is opportunity in disguise.”

There is no such thing as “absolute truth.” The purpose of being human, the purpose of being educated, the purpose of being civilized, and the responsibility of living in a civilized and free culture is to question and to learn. Learn from everything. Take what is best from all ideologies, cultures, individuals, religions. To do so means your are always building your life, not just living a life. Not to do so means others are living your life for you. And that has led to every major war in our time.

Success really is measured in “having,” “getting,” and “acquiring.” And, yes, money really can make you happy. But it is also measured in what you give to others. And the grace and manner with which you receive when given to. For those to whom much is given, much is expected in return.

Start an emergency savings account today. Put change in a jar. Put dollar bills in a can. And then put it out of reach but within easy access.

Remember Emerson who said we always know when we are about to do something that is wrong. Listen to that inner voice. Cultivate and meditate in its silence. Intuition can save your life.

There is no such thing as a good secret. The easiest way to destroy a relationship, family, business, government, even yourself, is through secrets. There are two sides to every story. In politics, there are six.

Guess what? It really does make a difference who is the President of the United States. Don't just cast a vote, cast an informed vote.

Life isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. You don’t have a right to expect it to be. Treasure its challenges as difficult as they may be. Difficulties are often hidden clues that point the way to your destiny and identity. Suffering will cleanse your pride and strengthen your humility. Much of life is a fight. If you aren’t fighting, maybe you are not living.

Speaking of life . . . Life is creation! So never stop creating. Draw. Paint. Plant. Sculpt. Bake. Read. Think. Write. Sing. Compose. Share. But, for heaven’s sake, make something from nothing! Don’t be someone who makes nothing from everything.

Volunteer and praise and support those who do. 

From this moment forward, life becomes less and less about you. And remember this: marriage is less about love than it is about the other person. Anyone can fall in love. And most do. But only half can love their other half more than they do themselves. And if you have children, life is all about them, not you. Marriage is for life. Choose a partner wisely. 
When all else fails, family is all we got! Keep those doors open. But if you can’t, if you have to close them, don’t turn the key. Don’t lock them out. Just close the door and keep the key in your pocket.

Children are like credit cards. Easy to get, difficult to pay off. Both begin with temptation. If you can’t afford either, don’t apply!

Pray. Choose a god. Choose a deity. Choose a rock. Choose something. But spend several minutes before beginning each day with a prayer. Say thank-you. Your prayer should be a life-long quest. And remember, unanswered prayers are often the ones that actually have been answered. Learn discernment.

The most important events in our life are often the ones over which we have no control. Be receptive to chance and luck. It will change your life. Our time and the Universe’s time are not in sync. What seems bad or evil on our time often has better consequences and revelations on the Universe’s time down the road. Be patient. 

Never give up. Never stop believing that there is good in the world. Your journey in life is to be that goodness.

Most of all, be happy! The test of its fruition lies in its foundation of responsibility, respect, honesty, patience, knowledge, truth, spirit, beauty. These things actually grow. They will help others to grow, too. Their opposites: lying, cheating, greed, ignorance, jealousy, envy, pride . . . are all short-lived and ultimately lead to failure and destruction.

Now here is your last assignment: Keep this list and start adding to it!

--copyright 2013 Gary T. Czerwinski

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Couscous Salad with Dried Fruit and Citrus

If winter weighs us down with heavy meals and darkness, summer is just the opposite. In winter, we tend to pile things on which includes extra clothing and extra helpings of food. But summer is all about light, in both senses of that word. Lots of sunshine. Reducing and shedding. Becoming less: Less clothing. Less stress.

The same goes with summer food. No one wants to be burdened with a full stomach of beef stew and dumplings in the middle of summer.  No one wants the doziness of a nap  after a heavy meal when it's still light outside and there is still so much to do!

Summer's bounty is all about fresh fruits and vegetables. They become our kitchen bounty for only a few months. Nature knows our needs during the warmest time of the year.

This "salad" or side is light but not bland. As an accompaniment to, say, grilled salmon, it's a real winner. Try to use an "authentic" curry powder. I get one from World Market that I love. 

Feel free to add other dried fruits, such as apricots. Even apples. That combination would be great with a grilled pork tenderloin. It's a forgiving recipe.

This also works as a great side for ham or lamb. Its festive colors are perfect for a quick Christmas sidedish. 

  • 1, 10 oz. box plain, instant couscous
  • Chicken stock (optional)
  • 2 tsp. mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt plus more for seasoning
  • 1 cup dried, sweetened cranberries and/or part raisins, golden raisins
  • 1/2 - 3/4 orange, squeezed
  • Orange zest to taste
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions, white and green parts
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 small garlic clove, grated
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced, fresh parsley
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Black Pepper

Half the amount of water called for on the couscous box directions and add half chicken stock to measure full amount. Bring to a boil.

Cut the orange in half. Then cut each half in half again. I think quarters are just easier to squeeze. Juice 3 of the quarters and save the remaining quarter for zest.

In a large (heatproof) bowl, mix the dried couscous with the curry powder, sugar, salt, dried fruit. Pour in hot liquid. Add the fresh orange juice. Stir to combine and cover with cling film for about five minutes or so until water is absorbed.

Uncover couscous mixture and fluff with fork. Add chopped, green onions, lemon juice, several grates of garlic, olive oil, parsley and, if desired, several grates of orange peel. Mix. Give just a sprinkle of Cayenne pepper to add a bit of heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and allow to rest for about an hour so the flavors marry. Uncover, mix, taste and re-adjust seasonings, if necessary. 

This also works well as a cold, refrigerated salad. I had mine with a side of fresh shrimp.