Saturday, September 5, 2015

Stuffed Grape Leaves - Dolma

Every summer for the past 15 years I've made stuffed grape leaves in abundance, but why summer? Here in Massachusetts and New Hampshire we have the concord grape which grows wild and out of control. Every. Where. So I decided one day that I am tired of paying $5 for brined leaves when I can just pick my own! So I did just that. I always pick them from the same spot at my mother's house in NH. Out back way behind the pool where nothing but wild life roam. I know that my leaves are organic as no one planted the vines and no one touches them. No fertilizer, no pesticides....nothing.

So, I spray my legs with bug spray as there are a lot of ticks and then I find the best and most perfectly shaped leaves I can find. I usually end up with about 100. If having a party and you know everyone loves these, you could easily collect a couple hundred leaves from one spot.

Next, you have to wash them. They are wild. There are birds, insects and other strange things flying around. Wash each leaf in a bucket of water. It's refreshing to do on a hot day. I just dip them in and very lightly scrub, and then add to the pile. To the pile, I add more water, salt and lemon juice to help kill anything else and preserve the leaves. They keep very well in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but they will change color from bright green to dull brownish green. THIS IS OK!

The next part is difficult, trying to find that perfect recipe. Well, here is what I do, and everyone is different. I use beef and ground turkey or chicken, mixed. I use a little bit of rice, fresh lemon juice and a little mint or dill, chopped and of course, salt.

Grape leaves
1 lb of turkey and beef
1/2 cup rice
juice of one lemon
extra lemons, sliced
1 tbsp chopped dill or mint (or both?!)

Mix everything together except for the lemon slices. Lay out a perfect leaf and be sure to cut off the tough stem and as much of the middle vein as possible. The rolling might seem daunting at first, but it really is quite easy, just a little time consuming so get a prep space in front of the tv ready.

1. With the dark side down, add about a spoonful of mixture at the bottom where you cut.
2. Roll the part closest to you over the mixture.
3. Fold inthe sides and quickly roll so they stay tight.
4. Keep rolling and folding the sides in until you have a tightly rolled grape leaf.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

All American Baked Beans

Nothing screams summer (or English breakfast) like a crock full of baked beans. I grew up on these beans, waiting for every summer BBQ because I knew my mom was going to make them. While she made hers with navy beans and salt pork, I used red kidney beans and no meat due to having some vegetarians in the family.  You can really use any bean you like as long as it holds up during the grueling cooking time these babies require.

First off, I usually do about 1-1.5 cups of beans for a fairly large crowd. It may not look like a lot, but they grow during cooking. A very important thing about many varieties of dried beans, SOAK THEM, at least overnight (8 hours). What this does are two things; re-hydrate and reduce cooking time (thus preserving the nutrients) them and removes some of the oligosaccharides from the bean. If you don't remove the oligosaccharides you are in for a musical day the next morning. It removes the sugar that causes us to ....well...toot.

I change the water every few hours, maybe you don't have to, but I do. I don't know why. Anyway....After soaking, add them to your crock pot and cover with water, just maybe half an inch above the top of the beans. Next, add your ingredients all at once and stir. It's not going to look pretty, but just you wait.

 The ingredients are simple:
1.Ketchup or a small can of tomato paste
2. Yellow mustard
3. Molasses
4. Onion
5. Brown sugar or Coconut sugar

Chop the onion into large pieces. It will break down during cooking. Add a generous squirt of mustard, maybe a table spoon. Next, add the can of tomato paste, about 1/3 cup of molasses and brown sugar. You might want to add some onion powder too. Any additions is totally up to you. In the picture below, I added cocoa powder to see how deep I could get the flavors, forgetting that there is a lot of sugar in the beans.

Stir and set the crock to cook on low for the next 12 hours or so. You can stir every now and then. The sauce will become dark, thick and rich.