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WINTER MENU
by Elizabeth Norcoss



We’re in the deep of winter and when living on an island, it’s tricky to scare up food, so it’s best to keep things flowing.  Dried beans are big on my winter menus. Soaked and cooked up with fresh herbs they give a substantial tasty addition to any meal. A stuffed Cornish game hen with white beans and currants on couscous is absolutely delicious. Adding some potatoes means leftovers can be turned into hash. I hate to waste anything. My compost heap has frozen – deer got into it during a torrential rainstorm that went on for days. There’s a really nice feeling about wasting nothing, and it’s so easy to do. Eco, environmentally and sustainability friendly. But that’s the next column.

Today’s menu is a faux Moussaka. Years ago in Greece I had a Moussaka that used a béchamel sauce instead of stock and tomato juice. Free-range organically fed beef makes a huge difference in eliminating grease and enhancing the taste.  These kinds of dishes need to be ‘built’.  Each layer is made individually and then put together.


FAUX MOUSSAKA

1 medium eggplant, thinly sliced
1 lb. free-range beef or lamb
I large can whole Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
Garlic
3 Tbls. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 Tbls. unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste for each step.  Don’t oversalt.
3 Bay leaves


Slice the eggplant thinly and put in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for a couple of hours turning over midway. This drains the bitterness and moisture out.  Rinse the slices and  place on paper towels to dry. Some people peel the eggplant but I like the flavor it imparts.

Heat garlic cloves in a small saucepan with oil and butter and let sit to intensify the flavor while other prep work is being done.

In a cast iron skillet heat some of the oil, add a few cloves of garlic and add the chopped onion. Stir until translucent. Add the beef or lamb separating the meat with a wooden spoon until brown on the outside and pink on the inside. Grate the teaspoon of fresh nutmeg into the meat. Using freshly ground spices makes such a difference. Like so many others I use a coffee bean grinder to grind spices for the freshest flavor.Grind the cinnamon and add to the meat.  I let the meat sit in the fridge overnight so the flavors can meld. This is just a suggestion. Add salt and pepper and adjust seasonings as needed.

Next thinly slice the eggplant and chop up the whole tomatoes. Set tomatoes aside.
Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush both sides with the garlic butter and put under the broiler for about five minutes until lightly browned. Set aside.  Take the meat out of the fridge to come to room temperature.


BECHEMEL SAUCE

2 tbls. Butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk
Bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Dash of nutmeg

ROUX

In a small saucepan  melt the butter.  When it’s melted and beginning to bubble begin adding the flour working  in with a wooden spoon. It will thicken quickly so stay with it.  When the flour is incorporated into the butter and it is a nice golden yellow around the corners of the pan slowly start streaming the milk in whisking briskly.

Add more milk until you have a nice smooth sauce. Taste, add salt  and pepper and a dash
of nutmeg. Use as much milk as necessary until you have a nice thickened sauce, approximately one cup. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350*

Assembly:

In a buttered 13x9x3 glass pyrex dish cover the bottom with the meat; spread the tomatoes over the meat and layer the eggplant slices on top. Place the Swiss Lace cheese on top of the eggplant and carefully pour the béchamel sauce over the casserole making sure that the sauce goes down the sides instead of spilling over the top when bubbling hot.

Cook for about 40 minutes, check and  cook until bubbly brown on top. Let rest and cool before cutting.


EASY MIXER WHITE BREAD

This is a perfect time of year for baking bread.  This recipe makes a large loaf and a smaller loaf. Years ago I got smallish fluted bread tin from Ebay and have moved it from cupboard to cupboard, every time thinking ‘use it or get rid of it’. I’m so glad I kept it! It was like a new present.  Now I’ll be using it all the time. Removing  the cooked small loaf from the tin and putting the bread  back in the oven on a baking sheet for about  10 minutes gave a nice toasty brown like the larger uncovered loaf . Very attractive. This bread can be used for stuffing, toast,the smaller loaf for canapés or both for just plain peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This recipe is easy to make, short prep time, good texture, pleasant taste and excellent toast. This was developed in the Pillsbury Kitchens.

2 ½ cups warm water (105*-115*)
2 packages dry yeast
½ cup instant non-fat dry milk
2  Tbls. sugar
1 Tbls. Salt
1/3 cup oil
7 cups all-purpose or bread flour,  approximately

One large (9x5) loaf pan and one small (7 ½x3 ½ ) pan greased, or two medium pans (8 ½ x4 ½).       
      
If using glass pans lower the heat by 25* .

Place the warm water in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast over the top. Add dry milk, sugar, salt, oil and about 3 cups of the flour. Blend well at low speed of mixer, scraping the sides of the bowl clean with a rubber spatula. Increase speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes.

Remove bowl from mixer and stir in remaining flour, first with a wooden spoon and then with your hands. The dough will be stiff. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured board or counter top. Cover with a towel or wax paper and let rest 15 minutes.

Knead only until smooth – about 1 minute. Divide the dough into two pieces with a sharp knife. Shape into balls and let rest under a towel for 4 minutes. Form a loaf by pressing a
ball of dough into a flat oval, roughly the length of the baking pan. Fold the oval in half lengthwise, pinch the seam tightly to seal, tuck under the ends, and place seam down in the pan. Repeat for the other loaf. Place the pans in a warm place (80*-85*), cover with wax paper, and leave until the center of the dough has risen  one inch above the level of the edge – about  1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400*. Bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes,reduce heat to 350* and continue for another 35 minutes. Halfway through the baking process turn the pans. Turn again 10 minutes before done. Turn loaves out and test for doneness by thumping on the bottom– it will sound hollow. Turn out onto racks and let cool.


PUMPKIN SOUFFLES

This is a fabulous dessert, wonderful  texture and sweet flavor.   It can be reheated and will last for two or three days in the fridge. Depending on the size of the ramekins used, it will make 6-8 desserts, more if you use popover cups. The cranberry honey gives the sienna color a rosy tint. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

15 oz. pumpkin puree
8 oz. cream cheese
2 eggs, whisked
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. ginger
¼ cup regular honey
¼ cranberry honey

Preheat oven to 400*. Using beaters cream the cream cheese until smooth. Add the pumpkin puree and blend until that’s smooth and creamy.  Beat in half the egg mixture, then the other half until worked in. Combine the remaining ingredients. Fill the ramekins ¾’s full and cook for 25 minutes.  Cool and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Delicious! Bon Appetite! 

Next time:

       Stuffed Cornish game hens white beans and couscous
Chicken w/ spinach in lemon yogurt
Jasmine Riz Timbale
Spinach/Romaine Salade w/ blue cheese
Banana Bread
Snickerdoodles