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Pigeon Pea Redux and the High Holy Days

I was right to be scaird of my pigeon peas. They took two hours to cook. There are still two more dishes worth of them left (I call this two more goes.) in the container. One more goes for this Shabbos. The other will go probably during or after the High Holy Days. Field pea sason ended early. There were no crowder peas. I don't know why. I'm back to dried beans again. I'll use the next container of them up more quickly.

I did buy the purple yams. I bought three because they were so tiny, and one yam looked way too lonely in its plastic bag. If I have time tonight, I'll peel and cook them so I know what they taste like. If they are good, they'll find a place on the High Holy Day menu. How is that for "beautifying a mitzvah." My other adventure in kitchen beuatification is beet bread. That means peeling, quartering, and grating up two pounds of beets. The beets will go itno either two loaves of the amazing, crimson spotted bread, or one crimson spotted loaf and one batch of crimson spotted rolls.

The game plan for the fact that I'll be home a lot between Labor Day, the High Holy Days, and Shabbos Tshuva, is to make beet rolls and chili cheese corn muffins. These are a restaurant specialty that I sorely miss, but even the Broadway doesn't serve them. They are the one item I adored at Jason's Deli which is otherwise a third rate restaurant though their cauliflower and bleu cheese salad was a pleasant kind of indulgence. Jason's was one of the last treif places I ate before I decided to get serious about keeping kosher.

I also want to make either a ditalini and speckeled lima bean salad or a green bean and speckled lima salad. I guess you can kind of see this coming together. I sort of can. There are right now three competing/contingent menus.

Menu #1

Yard long and speckeled lima salad
Choice of rolls/muffins
Purple yams with pineapple and dried cherries
Fresh apples

Menu #2

Yard long and speckled lima salad
Choice of rolls/muffins
Winter squash or calabaza with apples and figs
Fresh apples

Menu #s (The lazy menu)

Ditalini and speckeled lima salad
Winter squash or calabaza with apples and figs
Fresh apples

You can see a lot is still up in the air. You'll see more as I get things straighter and find time to do some serious baking.

Eileen H Kramer -- 8/30/10

Scaird of Pigeon Peas

Now I love pigeon peas, but I bought these back in June and I'm scaird they are going to take forever to cook. Fortunately, tonight they only go in the soaker. I need to make corn bread or corn pone instead. Either of these will be good with chocolate soynut butter for dinner. Yes, it's going to be one of those weeks. Well, I do get to use up the cornmeal.

I guess the prudent thing to do is to look up this information and see if my pigeon peas are past their prime. According to most articles, dried beans store forever, but I don't believe this because I am lazy. Now, I'm not really lazy as a lot of cooks go, but I am fiercely spoilt. I go out of my way to get fresh dried beans at the Farmer's Market, and I'm used to seeing beans for salad cook up in an hour or less. These pigeon peas aren't going to do this. I'm going to budget three hours and hope I come in around two. Here is a reasonable web site on the subject.

The good news is my beans will be fit for bean and macaroni salad. The bad news is it's going to take a while. I should have not bought these beans because I have been using fresh field peas all summer, but we had an early season that is now pretty much over. I also feel the house is naked somehow without a bucket of beans. Every kitchen needs beans and pasta of some type. Bean and pasta salad is a summer staple and bean and pasta casserole is just plain good. Well, tonight the beans go in the soaker and tomorrow is the moment of truth.

If you are curious how I started eating pigeon peas, I got curious about them. Price Chopper up on Mohawk Street in Utica used to cater to a Latino population and they sold all sorts of interesting Hispanic foods. Among these were pigeon peas or gandules. I made them and found they tasted good when put in rice dressing. They also hold their shape well so make a good salad bean. I consider them somewhat exotic and very tastey. I'll let all of you know how my salad comes out.

Radicchio Smackdown

Sometimes you have to smack yourself. I buy radicchio without really thinking about it. OK, does anybody buy radicchio without thinking about it? I guess I come close. It's good in salad, keeps much better than ordinary lettuce, comes in a perfect size for a small household. What could be better? It's a bit bitter, but mixed in to a salad with other ingredients, especially pasta, that's a plus.

Now I also adore yellow beets. I like them better than red beets because as much as I love purple, I am not always in the mood for it. I also think yellow beets have that great beet taste. The problem is yellow beets are $2.68 a pound. Well radicchio is $1.89 a head. That is a good price, while yellow beets are a rip off. Right? The question as with the giant head of cauliflower I bought a couple of weeks ago, is how much does that fun size head of radicchio weigh. I put the red, Italian lettuce on the scale and found out it weighed in at under a pound. I did the math. Radicchio cost over $2.00 a pound. It cost about the same as yellow beets. I bought yellow beets without guilt last week on Sunday, and I'm going to blanch them and put them in the pigeon pea and pasta salad!

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/24/20

Putanesca, Bread and Butter

I had my heart set on making Spanish rice with fresh cranberry beans last night, but you can guess from an opening line like that, it didn't happen. I returned home in reasonable time, put down my purse and backpack, fed the cats, and then went to get the rice to get it started, and found...I did not even have enough rice for one cup. I needed to make a cup and a half of that stuff. Fortunately, I had egg noodles, capers, and lots of olives. It goes without saying, that I had tomato puree. Goodbye Spanish rice. Hello cranberry bean and egg noodle putanesca. I may have left it in the oven too long, but I think I got the taste right anyway.

Tonight I get to make coleslaw. I have a small, precious, .39 a pound cabbage that feels anything but new. I was going to make classic slaw with pineapple chunks, but I noticed a lonely, not too old (I hope) jar of Batampte bread and butter pickles in the fridge door. Wish me luck. Somehow my luck in the kitchen has been weird all over lately. By the way Batampte bread and butter pickles are a legendary cure for melancholia. They are better than chocolate and won't get you drunk like whiskey or beer. I hope they have not fermented during their week to ten days in the fridge. I think it may be more time. I can't remember when I bought them. I know it was after June 21st.

I also bought my first jar of honey roast peanut spread in ages. I ate my way through my friend who fled to Israel's forty-eight ounce jar of Jiff Creamy in three weeks and made all sorts of peanut butter recipes. I bought two more jars of Jiff. Now the third jar is almost gone. I decided it was time to go back to my habitual sweet taste even though I can't cook with it. When I want to cook with peanut butter again, I'll buy Jiff or some other conventional creamy. Right now I wannt to use up the pigeon peas I have not been eating since fresh field peas and beans became available. I guess I am one seasonal cook.

Actually, I decided that since my friend has vanished and not responded to an email message, a Facebook message, and a friending request in two months, it's time to stop eating his brand of peanut butter. Call it a mean and petty gesture. I deserve to find my bread and butter pickles all fermented, don't I?

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/19/10

Glory in the Fruit Bowl

I walked out of Your DeKalb Farmer's Market almost singing with triumph and only twenty-five dollars and change poorer. I'll have to spend a lot at the grocery store because I am out of crucial items, but that is another story. I got lucky. The place was full of prepacks which are twenty percent off the usual per pound price. I bought close to six pounds of prepack fresh stringbeans for stringbean salad which I am going to give to Open Door, but the best bargains were fruit. White peaches were finally down to $1.29 a pounda nd with twenty percent off on the prepacks, I bought two bags of five to six peaches at $1.04 a pound, almost the same price as yellow fruit, and yes the white peaches taste different. They are sweeter and more delicate. They also have to go in the fridge at the firm ripe stage or they become afflicted. White peaches are more delicate than yellow ones. They are fortunately, delicious when firm ripe. I like my fruit firm ripe so all of this suits me just fine. The white peaches are from New Jersey. Up north they take their white peaches seriously, unlike in Georgia.

Then I went looking for pears in the market. There were no pears that were this year's crop even though I know they exist. I used to buy pears in mid to late summer in the Ithaca Farmer's Market years ago and haul them back four miles and up a flight of stairs and steep hills to Zeta Psi. They were little bitty bartletts that probably were too small to ship, so they got sold locally in seven pound bags. They were worth the trip. In mid to late August summer apples appeared. I am waiting for all of this, and so far none of it is here.

What there was were prune plums, or as we called them in my family, little blue plums. They were a bit bigger than large, mutant strawberries and had very blue skin. Hence, they received the precise name from one with few words (me). The name stuck. Little blue plums, or little blue prune plums were a sign of approaching fall. Even Mimi Sheridan in the New York Times rhapsodized about them. My mother would buy them in five or sven pound baskets depending how fruit was sold. Some places sell a half bushel which is about seven pounds. Others go for more familiar quantities for us city folks.

These prune plums did not resemble the little blue plums of my childhood. They were paler in color with a golden blush under their blue, and they were large, the size of a santa rosa or stanley plum. Plums have been getting larger due to consumer demand. They came from California, not the Northeast. I am leery of all Western fruit except peaches, apricots, and citrus. Well, I figured plums were a stone fruit like peaches and prune plums are terrific. I bought several prepacks. The prune plums have not disappointed. They whip pluots for flavor. They have the great taste I remember, and they are huge. They also travel even when fairly soft. Anyone who bag lunches needs fairly durable fruit. There is nothing grosser than packing a nice ripe piece of fruit and arriving at work to find it afflicted or mushed. A bit of getting banged up on the skin is fine, but no one wants their fruit to tear or split during the commute to work or school.

So far this week, I hav not had one piece of afflicted fruit. I did cut up a prune plum last night to add to a not quite full portion of the last of the papaya. The Farmer's Market was out of papaya. Fortunately, it was not my week to buy papaya. My doctor only lets me have papaya every other week due to its high potassium content. My tropical fruit this week is mangoes. None of them are ripe enough yet to cut up. Hopefully, I'll have one or two ripe ones tonight. I want to make moqua and mango salad. There has to be more to do with mangoes than just eat them for dessert, though they make fine dessert. Mangoes were also a bargain at .49 a piece and prepacked at three for $1.29.

My bargain hunting self who ran to the Farmer's Market in desperation due to an empty fruit bowl (Oh the horror and disgrace!) won't do the happy dance tonight in Publix. I need to get far too many things that will not be marked down in any way I know, but buying fruit on Sunday was definitely a sweet experience.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/17/10

Making Dollars Scream

I want to brag about all the money I saved, not because I'm a coupon clipper. I believe coupons are just hype to make you buy stuff you don't want and need. Saving money on something you really want and buying it an amount that is sane is the way to go if you ask me. That said, I noticed the beautiful cauliflower in the Farmer's Market last Sunday. It mesmerized me. I love cauliflower, and August is cauliflower season. I do not habitually buy cauliflower because the fresh product is expensive. Like cherreis, which I also adore, they are carriage trade food. Pluots and apriums are also carriage trade food, but they at least have the excitement of not existing when I was young. Chayotes and spahgetti squash are both new and reasonably priced.

The sixteen count (small) cauliflower were $1.49 a head and the nine count (giant) cauliflower were $1.99 a head. I wanted a cauliflower. I was not spending $2.00 a head for it. I was not. I got profoundly rational. I love cauliflower, and I had no idea what a head of the stuff weighed. I'm good with by the pound produce. I took a nice, giant head of cauliflower and stuck it on a scale. It weighed in at four pounds. I did the math. Cauliflower was .50 a pound! That made it thirty-three percent cheaper than carrots. What was I waiting for?

Suffice it to say, I'm going to be eating a whole lot more cauliflower. This is a fantastic thing, no questions asked. If you ask me what I do with cauliflower, I can give you a dozen answers. Well, not maybe a dozen, but definitely half a dozen or more. There is cauliflower au gratin, a fancy luncheon/dinner dish, cauliflower in macaroni and cheese, gardiniera, gardiniera pasta salad, gardiniera style casserole, home made Italian vegetable medeley, cauliflower and rice salad a la agridoche (which means sweet and sour with raisins), cauliflower bleu cheese slaw, creamy cauliflower slaw etc.... If you like cauliflower, you find plenty of uses for it. Most of the salads use blanched cauliflower. I've got a big blanching kettle, or they use frozen cauliflower that's just barely cooked. The fresh, blanched product is definitley more flavorful. Caulfilower lives to be dressed. It also makes an excellent soup ingredient especially with tomatoes and olives. Are you hungry yet?

Then we have my second story of a bargain. I wanted butter milk to make butter milk ranch dressing. The Farmer's Market had fancy brands in its dairy case that were two to three dollars for a quart. I did not need a whole quart. I ended up not buying any buttermilk, until I went to Kroger's down on Ponce de Leon. There it was in the dairy case, .89 a pint. Patience is a virtue. Persistence is a bigger virtue.

Sometimes I joke that I am a Morelock. Morelocks are troglodytes but they run the show in H.G. Wells' future world. H.G. Wells' Morelocks were supposed to be canibals, but in my imagination a Morelock eats anything and does so without complaining. A Morelock particularly likes "peasant foods" and will eat anything in the fruit bowl if he or she can bite it, or if it's full of fruity flavor. In my imagination Morelocks adore good fruit, not out of season or precut mellons or pineapples shipped in from God knows where, but mangoes and peaches (or plums or pears) in summer, apricots in June, the first apples, etc... Morelocks are easily pleased and enthusiastic and when it comes down to it, not overly particular.

The Morelock in me made the Shabbos dessert. I was low on peaches. I bought just enough of them, and two of them looked afflicted. Afflicted is a Kramer word for fruit or vegetable that is bad enough to require surgery to be edible, but still good enough not to discard. In practice, the afflicated fruits stay in the refridgerator until they go bad and get tossed. If one is vigilant one finds a use for the afflicted fruits. Vegetables can become afflicted too, but afflicted fruit is more of a problem.

I realized that the papaya I processed Sunday night was nearly gone. There wasn't going to be any papaya for Shabbos. This made the Morelock in me unhappy. Also there were two very sad peaches. I went to Publix last night because I needed oil. I remembered the dire fruit situation and came up with a plan any Morelock would love. In my fridge door was a bag of dried peaches. I don't know why I bought them or what I planned to do with them, but they were still good. Dried fruit lasts forever. I also knew I'd need an extra can of tropical fruit salad. I picked that up. When I got home, I cut up the dried peaches, and the two fresh peaches. Only one of them proved afflicted and I had to throw about a third of it away. I then opened two cans of tropical fruit salad (I bought two and had one in the house). I horde canned fruit, olives, and pickles. This works out in practice. I mixed it all together and put it in a plastic container. There is now a most excellent tasting fruit salad. The Morelock in me is salivating at the thought of it.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/13/10

Some Like it Hot

Please excuse the clich´ of a title, but I still remember the pain. Sharp, sudden pain is not the kind which the mind suppresses, and the single Hungarian wax pepper was the source of a lot of pain. Fresh chilis are that good. Fresh chilis once cooked and mixed with other things, behave well, not repeating on you like onions or garlic. Their heat is no match for stomach acid, so they are digestible, besides, I'm not going to eat a whole bag of them. They are hot things, and it only takes two pablono or anaheim's or one Hungarian wax pepper to flavor a whole casserole. Yes, I bought just one little Hungarian wax pepper. Five hundred Scoville units of caspacin was waiting to burst forth on the scene. I could smell the burn and it made me cough, when I pithed, seeded, and washed the chili. Then I forgot capsacin is fat soluble. I tried washing my hands repeatedly, but when I put a finger in my mouth, it burnt my tongue and lips. I also forgot about the huge eczema outbreak all over my fingers. Let's just say capsacin and eczema are not a great combination, but my right hand burnt worse. The tips of my fingers flamed with pain. I kept sticking my hands under cold water. Eventually, in about two hours, the pain eased, but I still remember it.

I also remember times when I have stayed away from chilis to protect my skin. Then there were the times, like last night, when I rushed in like the proverbial fool. The first meal I fixed in my current apartment, bean and mushroom soup, had two pablono chilis in it. Let's just say I didn't think I could sleep that night, my hands burned so.

This time around, I feared I would be unable to peel three atefulo mangoes I had waiting for me. Mango peel contains irritants, but not as bad as papain which sends eczema ridden hands into their own form of agony. Papain is a meat tenderizer. If you have open spots on your hands or just sensitive skin, oh boy does it get tenderized. As it happened, I could peel my mangoes without incident. I was glad the papayas had been lousy this week.

Now you might ask why I go near foods that irritate my fingers. Well, first those foods taste good. Second, they don't irritate my digestive tract. Eczema is auto immune and once it is off and running, my fingers are essentially allergic to the whole world. Second, secondary metabolites are what gives food a good flavor. The heat from chilis keeps a curry from being cloying. The papain in the papaya make it taste like canteloupe on steroids. The mango is not just sweet and sour like an orange, but complex and aromatic. Onions and garlic on the other hand are nasty beasts. Vidalia onions leave me nauseous and even regular onions and garlic have a taste that doesn't know when to leave.

Can I advise any one else to be as foolhardy as I am around foods that burn and sting? Well, chances are you have no eczema and if you do, you've got your own comfort zone. For your own safety, stay there unless you have your own reasons for leaving. My hands were healed by the time I went to sleep. I was grateful for that. I probably won't cook with chilis next weekend, but I hope there will be papayas. I'm not ready to give up yet. I guess I really do like it hot.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/5/10

Squeezing a Dollar

This could be a smack down but there is nobody to smack but the media who decries the high cost of fruits and vegetables, and my kosher keeping friends who decry the high cost of obeying Jewish dietary laws. As I once said to Scott Sidlow, there is always a lower cost option. This applies to both kosher items and to produce. In fact, nearly all fresh produce is kosher and the key to keeping a kosher diet flavorful and reasonably priced. Fresh produce and also most frozen vegetables (the ones without sauce) are what are called "free pass." This means they are automatically kosher and require no certification (or hechsher).

The trick to bringing produce costs to heal (and also kosher food costs) is being aware of your options and purchasing the less expensive product. Salad, for example, does not always have to be lettuce and tomatoes. Beets are .79 a pound and make great salad. There is home made carrot salad (Carrots are pricey at .79 a pound but they are a treasure like beets!) with raisins. Moqua squash and zucchini are reasonable and there are zucchini salads galore, and several ways to make baked zucchini medeley. Chayotes often are the cheapeast thing going. All of these things (moqua, zucchini, and chayotes) taste something like cucumbers so they are either zucchini or cucumber analogs. They are also more digestible than cukes.

Sunday, I put my budget savvyness to work. It came rather naturally. I desperately wanted to make spinach salad with heirloom tomatoes and buttermilk ranch dressing for a Shabbos side dish. I do my Shabbos menu planning on Sunday and then go shopping. I could almost taste the buttermilk ranch dressing. This is a reason to go dairy if you ask me. I walked through the Farmer's Market, which by the way is not a real farmer's market, it is a large green grocer and gourmet food store that offers amazing discounts on produce. That makes it my kind of store. Anyway, they had heirloom tomatoes and yellow tomatoes at three dollars plus per pound. They also had spinach but wanted $1.69 for a ten ounce package. I did the math. A pound package of collard greens or kale (or turnip greens) sells for $1.99. You can see that this was an obscene price. I saw it too. I also realized that tomatoes were out of my reach. I back pedaled. I had not enjoyed bok-slaw all summer. Bok-choi was either .59 or .69 a pound. I found a decent looking (salad-worthy) head of the stuff. It has a good shelf life. It is now in my fridge. I even bought a jar of Batampte Bread and Butter pickles (food served in the Elysian fields and rumored to drive away melancholoy), and $1.99 apricots (I bought half apricots and half .79/peaches. The law of averages is your friend.), my grocery bill at the Farmer's Market was down to $23.00 and change, much better than the $30.00 bills I had been running when indulging in the latest variety of pluot and fresh figs.

In addition, mangoes were in season. Some people get fussy about mango varieties. I find as long as they are ripe and not mostly pit (Mango pits are simply huge), mangoes are always good. I bought five of them. Two I needed for the carrot salad. The other three are for dessert. They all arrived so ripe, they needed immediate processing and are now in two containers, one for the dessert mango pieces, and one for Tuesday night's carrot salad. Mango like papaya improves if it sits in a fridge. Don't ask why. I was not raised eating tropical fruit which was just too expensive to be worth trying. Here in Atlanta, it rains down in abundance. I don't have to tell you that .79/each mangoes compete favorably with bakery cake and cookies, both on price and taste.

And there are other low cost substitutions that are not produce substitutions or that are not entirely produce substitutions. If you bake your own bread it is cheaper than bakery bread, and often healthier since it can be entirely whole grain. Yes, you can even make your own rye bread. I rarely make challah, too many eggs, and it doesn't slice well for sandwiches. A peanut butter (or chocolate soynut butter or sunbutter Yes, you get all those choices! You have to indulge somewhere, and the per sandwich cost will not eat you alive.) is a great lunch, and my staple lunch during the week. You don't need a machine to make bread, just a board and a rising container. In the heat, you can raise bread out of doors too. Then there are the beans. Dried beans, fresh field peas, and even frozen beans (Even those Ford Hook limas!) are cheaper than kosher meat. Finally, there is the shehakol (Named for the blessing made on miscellaneous objects) kiddush. You can say the ritual blessing over wine (according to Rabbi Michael Broyde) over other drinks such as ice tea or lemonade that are much cheaper than kosher grape juice.

Of course there are a bunch of downsides to all this cost cutting. No smackdown ends without a few smacks in the other direction. First, it requires more labor in the kitchen. This going "hands on" is not miserable work in and of itself. It's even a nice change of pace for any adult who works in an office. Children can help. I used to wash and cut up vegetables as a kid. The real labor cost is acquiring a different mind set, planning ahead, changing your supply chain, and bringing home a lot more food. Fruits and vegetables, when cosumed in mass quantities or instead of prepared foods are heavy. Fruit needs to be sorted and often set out to ripen. You need a fruit bowl in your fridge to serve fruit attractively and give it its rightful place. You need to check ripening fruit daily, moving ripe fruits to the fruit bowl and removing afflicted fruit (Yes, that is what my Mom and I always called fruits with nasty spots, either mould, or bruises or tears) to a separate place in the fridge so it does not damage any other fruit. You want to have as few afflicted fruits arriving in your home as possible so it is better to buy a lot of your fruit a bit green in the summer and then let it ripen. Using up afflicted fruit is a sore spot. I often end up tossing it. Sometimes I perform the surgery on it and eat it. Sometimes I mix cut up formerly afflicted peaches in with the mango slices. You could bake with afflicted fruit if you are ambitious, but the goal is zero afflicted fruit.

In addition, you need to be ready to try new foods and eat in the long tail of the produce department. If you've never eaten chayote, what is stopping you? Likewise have you enjoyed beets lately? How about escarole or pluots? Eating seasonally means a varied diet and requires a taste for adventure. You don't get apples in the summer. You don't get strawberries or tomatoes in the winter. You do get new foods, and yes new foods are habit forming. Sometimes I find myself tempted to splurge for pluots or a new variety of radish or squash.

Still it was great to see six extra dollars in my pocket yesterday. I did not even mind peeling and sliceing up five mangoes. Mango is just that good, and work in the kitchen can be pleasant if you have the right attitude.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/2/10