CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Chicken Stew

A couple of weeks ago, I was wondering what to do with some leftover chicken, and with the temps in the teens, throwing together a stew came to mind. After all, stew has been known as a comfort food a long time.

The following recipe is the result. I didn’t have to venture out to buy any of the ingredients, either, since we still have carrots and onions from our garden as well as a nice supply of potatoes and frozen peas. Combined with the chicken, gravy and broth — which I made with the bird’s carcass — everything was in place for the stew.

Now I just wish we had some it for today, with 5 to 6 inches of fresh snow on the ground and temperatures in the single digits.

Chicken Stew
2 cups cooked chicken, cut into small bites
1 cup chicken gravy
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cups carrots, sliced
2 cups frozen peas
2 potatoes, cubed
1 bay leaf
3 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours. Serve with crusty bread.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Not Your Mom’s Ratatouille

If you’re a gardener who grows a variety of vegetables, the classic Nicoise dish, ratatouille, should be right up your alley.

The stewed vegetable entree consisting of eggplant, tomato, pepper, zucchini, onion and herbs has been has been a favorite in France for many, many years, but it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that ratatouille rose to the prominence it enjoys today.

That’s when the animated movie by that name from Disney/Pixar came out and a rat with a keen sense of smell named Remy became a great Parisian chef after a soujourn into French countryside.

I had been familiar with the dish since the 1970s, when co-workers Tim Fought and Marcia Harris, both prolific gardeners, introduced me to the tasty entree. Since then, I usually make a pot or two of it every summer — it’s very easy to prepare — with fresh produce from my own garden.

My recipe, which follows, contains all the vegetables listed above plus a few more, thus the name “Not Your Mother’s Ratatouille.”

It’s not the classical dish that you would find in an upscale restaurant in Nice, France, but I’m sure that my French-Canadians ancestors who came to North America as peasants in the 17th and 18th centuries would say “Oui.”

Not Your Mom’s Ratatouille
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato bruschetta
6 Roma tomatoes, skins removed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
½ green pepper, chopped
1 small or ½ large eggplant, cubed
1 medium summer squash, seeds removed and cut into small chunks
3 small okra pods, sliced
1 cup cooked corn kernels
½ cup kale, chopped
½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
¼ cup red wine
Place olive oil and add the onion, garlic and celery. Saute for a few minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients except the kale and basil. Cook for about 15 minutes and then add kale and basil. Cook another 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Broccoli Pasta Salad

Salads are for summertime — especially if you have a garden. There’s nothing like a bunch of fresh veggies from the garden — all tossed together in a bowl and seasoned with a homemade vinaigrette — to start off a meal.

With a nice crop of lettuce and kale in our garden, we’ve been enjoying fresh salads for going on three months now. And with the tomatoes just starting to ripen, the salads are only going to get better.

But there is more to salads than the greens. Take, for example, the following broccoli salad recipe, which has many variations, and is a favorite of ours in the summer.

We usually have three or four broccoli plants in the garden, which keep on producing right up until freeze-up. This summer, however, baby bunnies raised havoc with the plants, and we have only two out of four remaining, and they have been stunted by the “Wascally Wabbits,” as cartoon character Elmer Fudd used to call Bugs Bunny and his ilk.

The hasn’t stopped Therese from making the broccoli salad, though. I just finished the last of her most recent batch, all the while wishing there was more.

I guess I’ll have to settle for more garden green salads instead.

Broccoli Pasta Salad
2 cups broccoli, broken into bite-size pieces
4 ounces feta cheese
2 cups uncooked rotini pasta
½ cup black olives, chopped
1 7½-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1 16-ounce bottle Italian dressing (can use fat-free)
Cook pasta according to package directions. Cool. Mix in large bowl with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak Garden Notes No. 26: Hosta Harvest

This year, I resolved to try new things in life. After years of my husband urging me to write more, I started my blog. It has been surprisingly gratifying. I spent a lifetime writing newsletters, press releases, letters, memos, emails and the Stoxen Library blog, and one does get better at writing by, well, writing. Reading thousands of books by really good writers is helpful, too.  (Incidentally, my husband resolved to be more grateful, a worthy goal.) Healthy distractions from the nonsense out of D.C. is as much as anything that I seek.

Since I was an undergraduate, I have enjoyed the essay form, and I rather like calling myself an essayist. It is not at all likely that fame and fortune will follow, but I care about that not one whit.

I also broke down and got on Twitter, @wilddakotawoman. It is a good source of headlines and such, and I follow writers and thinkers who I respect, including @RobertMacfarlane, @TimothyEgan and @TerryTempestWilliams.

The other day, I decided to try another new thing, in this instance with respect to gardening. I am harvesting my hosta seeds and planting in an area in the vegetable garden to see if I can successfully propagate my plants. If successful, I will add these to the garden sale that my sister and I are having this fall (perhaps this will be the “fortune” part).

Saturday was a pleasantly cool day with a gentle breeze, so I went to work. I cut off the stems with the blossoms and carefully placed the seed pods into envelopes, which I marked with the names of the plants.

At this point, I’ve harvested 11 varieties. There will be more, from plants that have not yet produced seeds. Before I plant, I will dry these in the sun for a time.

I was outside today, almost all day.  Now “that’s” a good day.

Speaking of the vegetable garden, Jim continues to harvest fresh vegetables each day. He is the little white speck you can see in this picture. He says planting the garden is very satisfying and harvesting it is the most satisfying thing he does, and he’s done it for many decades. Soon he is going to start making pickles, and I need a place to hide since I “hate” pickled anything.

Our year is anchored on gardening season, and we don’t travel far from home in the summer for this reason. At this point in July, I again find time to read books that are piling up. I highly recommend this book. Rebecca Solnit is a keen observer of the world and a brave writer. I’m savoring it. Her Facebook posts are excellent.

All good reasons to stay home. Cheers!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 19

Spring flowers have given way to the summer blossoms in our garden. We eat fresh greens every day and give away radishes. The garlic crop is pathetic, and it makes me sad to look at it as, the new bed Jim prepared last fall was too rich. Our purple-hulled pea crop is also a disappointment, as I fear we were too frugal in using last year’s remainder seeds.

I cannot buy purple-hulled peas here and, in my estimation, the black-eyed peas I can buy in Bismarck are like cheap whiskey is to Jack Daniels, much less savoury, no matter how they are prepared. My Aunt Frances from Alabama agrees with me on this point, so you don’t get much more of an authority than her.

It is time now to spend huge swaths of time sitting under the patio umbrella and reading. The house wrens have raised their first clutch and may be started on the second.


LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 18

On Thursday, I spent the day on my hands and knees pulling weeds at Red Oak House. I have no complaints, as this is a quiet task, and I like quiet, solitary tasks.  The millions of elm seeds that blew in have sprouted and needed to be removed, and aspens sprout in all sorts of unwanted places. While I worked, I was serenaded by my resident house wren.

Midmorning, Daddy stopped by to pick up his fresh radishes. And after Jim gave him a tour of the gardens, Jim surprised him with an early tomato. I wish you could have seen the grin on his face as he held it in his gnarled hand. This caused me to remember how valiantly he tried to grow tomatoes in Slope County, naturally with far less success than his kin in Mississippi.

Daddy asked me if we had our flag out for Flag Day, and my answer was, yes, we have it out every day. (Well, we do put it away in the darkest months here on the northern Plains, January and February.) Being retired U.S. Army, Daddy is a stickler for proper flag etiquette, and rightly so.

A few daylilies have made their appearance. There will be hundreds more in the upcoming months.

Dark Towers Penstemon.
Dark Towers Penstemon.

The peonies and irises are beginning to fade, and so I deadheaded them. I go around the yard each day now with my bucket and my clipper and cut back spent blossoms.

When I work in the garden, I often think of my friend and longtime mentor, Bernnett Reinke, for whom I worked for 20 years, who was not only a top-notch librarian but also a master gardener. Bern generously gave me many plants and taught me much of what I know about flower gardening.

We had to take our mower to the shop Monday, and if I don’t get it back soon, I’ll be needing a swather for my tiny patch of grass.

It is a privilege to be able to quietly work in our gardens. My last task outside today was to weed the strawberry patch. I rejuvenated it last fall, pruning back the plants hard and composting from our compost pile (located in the very back corner of the yard, fortunately, near to the strawberry patch). Thus, it is that we are not harvesting much fruit this year. A blessing was that the wood rose bushes are blooming, and I got to revel in their fragrance.

My lavender has begun to bloom and will continue now for many weeks. I use a great deal of lavender oil for my bed sheets and such because it is such a pleasing and calming fragrance.

Jim spent all of Thursday weeding the vegetables, and today he has spent the morning writing on his blog. The wind is blowing too much for the “boys” to fish.  He wrote about a topic we are both passionate in opposition to: the proposed refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Gardening, writing and reading are three of our main activities here, punctuated by camping and going to concerts. My husband, Jim, says “he created a monster” when I started blogging, but I laugh and remind him that I created my blog all on my very own, thank you very much, and I’ve lived with him blogging for years now!

The temperature returned to a more pleasant 81, and we’ve been able to keep the windows open all the day long.

I got my bike fixed at the local shop and took my first ride of the year Wednesday on the neighborhood path around Tom O’Leary Golf Course. It felt good to be out with fellow North Dakotans enjoying the beautiful day, and I’m grateful that Bismarck has a great system of walking paths scattered all around the city. The path I took was busy with dog walkers and children.

My husband says that the most satisfying thing that he does is his vegetable garden. He actually bought more stuff to plant. Sweet potatoes and jalenpo peppers. Let the record show that he made the most recent trip to buy plants.

As for me, the most satisfying thing I’m going to do today is to take a hot shower!

The day ended with Caprese salad on our shaded front patio.  Doesn’t he look content?

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Our Gardens

When I moved back to North Dakota in 2005, I determined to plant a vegetable garden. I moved back to the Great Plains just in case the world collapsed and when it did, I wanted to be near farm country — where I could, like “The Martian,” grow just enough potatoes to survive.

The moment I got all the boxes into my house, I drove to Fergus Falls, Minn., to my grandparents’ old dairy farm, to get some of their rhubarb. They were long since dead, and the farm now belonged to the city of Fergus Falls, but I managed to dig up a few rhubarb roots before they bulldozed everything and transplanted them back at my house here in Bismarck, N.D. For me, this was as important as an ancient Roman transferring the family’s household gods — the Lares and the Penates — to the new hearth.

I’ve harvested rhubarb from that seed stock every year since. Every time I bite into a rhubarb pie or rhubarb bars, I think of my grandmother Rhoda Straus. She kept a garden all of her life, not as a privileged hobby, but out of actual necessity. As someone who lived through the Depression and the Dust Bowl, she needed to grow as much of her own food as possible — every single year — and then to can enough of it to get her family of five through the winter.

She’s my hero: Rhoda Straus. She was as close to a Jeffersonian as anyone I’ve ever met. She paid her taxes, voted every time, belonged to three or four church circles, made quilts, afghans, clothes, draperies, scarves, Christmas decorations, helped organize the annual farm bureau picnic. She had perfect penmanship, spoke and wrote in complete sentences, read all the county brochures on self-improvement and never borrowed a dime. She was what O. E. Rølvaag, quoting the Old Testament, once called a giant in the Earth.

My mother, who is a remarkable woman, walked away from Jeffersonian agrarianism when she was 18 and never looked back — not once. She wouldn’t crochet or make a quilt if you paid her by the inch. When she sees me out weeding my garden, or bringing in vast bushels of tomatoes to blanch and can, she can barely hold back a sneer. At her very-most generous, Mother will say, “Better you than me,” and from time to time, she explains that farmers’ markets are the best of both worlds: high quality, organic, locally grown food — and somebody else does all the work. But she loves, even covets, my creamed corn, and I have begun counting the frozen in my chest freezer before and after she visits.

I am not quite sure why I chose to leap over my mother’s indifference and back into the arms of my maternal grandmother, but I’m not sorry. My favorite meal of the whole year — whether I dine at my favorite restaurant in front of the Pantheon in Rome or at Delmonico’s steakhouse in Manhattan — comes about Aug. 15 when I come home from work, walk out into the garden, snap off two cobs of ripe sweet corn, pull three pear-shaped tomatoes off their vines, grab a cucumber and pull a baseball-sized onion out of the warm earth. I wash them in the kitchen sink, boil the corn, slice up the rest, add a little feta — if I’m feeling frisky — and some zesty Italian dressing, and then I eat what I regard as a perfect meal.

The taste of this salad to the one you get in a restaurant is the difference of hearing Paul McCartney sing “Hey Jude” live in concert or listening to the song on an 8-track tape that went through the wash. It is the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Matthew (13:31). It is, in its own humble way, a kind of agrarian Declaration of Independence. It is to make a sacrament out of the mingling of hands in the soil, modest little seeds, water and the sun.

Farmers are dreamers — and gardeners, too. I have big plans for this year’s garden. I’ve been buying and ordering my seeds. Yesterday, after work, I started up my lawn mower (first pull) and my rototiller (7,000th pull) then, like Romulus among the Seven Hills, I made one round with the tiller to claim my precinct and got started. I spent part of the evening trying to decide where to plant what. I will start my tomatoes this weekend inside — this is North Dakota, where you don’t dare plant a tomato outside until after Memorial Day — including, this year, several Joe Cocker tomato seeds given to me by my friends in western Colorado. I’m not even sure what that means — Joe Cocker tomatoes — but I plan to make them flourish with a little help from my friends. I planted potatoes on Good Friday, as the old wives recommend.

So where does Jefferson come into this tale of Rhoda Straus’ grandson? I think I speak for my friend, David Swenson, the semipermanent — well, you know what — when I say that Jefferson has changed both of our lives in all sorts of ways, including out in the garden. First, we keep careful records, thanks to the master. Second, we experiment with new crops and new varieties even when we know that might not work out. Third, we both truly believe that those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God. And perhaps most of all, we take solace from Jefferson’s letter to Charles Wilson Peale on August 20, 1811. Here’s Jefferson:

“I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another.”

The failure of one thing repaired by the success of another. If you think about it, this wisdom applies to all of life, not just a vegetable garden up where Lewis & Clark wintered between 1804 and 1805.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Country Goulash Skillet

Goulash has a long history, dating back to the ninth century in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Today, gulyás is one of Hungary’s national dishes.

Without getting into too many specifics about the original version — the dish might be a little too much for those with a weak stomach — old-fashioned goulash featured meat that was cooked and dried (pemmican), stored in what we would consider a less-than-desirable container and then reconstituted for use in a soup or stew.

I’ve prepared and eaten a couple of different versions of goulash over the years. One came from a former co-worker, Brad Schlossman, who told me his recipe was one that had been passed down from his grandmother, Jennie Nartnik, who was of Slovenian descent. Its main ingredients were beef, potatoes and pasta seasoned with a generous amount of paprika.

The other was my cousin Tom Menard’s version, which I wrote about a few months ago and basically is a hodgepodge of canned ingredients (cream-style corn, Veg-All, Campbell’s Vegetarian Alphabet Soup and tomato sauce. Tom said my Uncle Fritz used to make it.

Recently, I gave goulash a third shot. The recipe was a variation of one I found in a Taste of Home cookbook. It contained ground bison (subbed for beef), home-grown vegetables (green pepper, corn, onion and carrots) as well as some frozen peas, canned tomatoes and cream of mushroom soup.

My Country Goulash Skillet doesn’t have the pedigree of Brad and Tom’s recipes, but it’s surely one that I would have no trouble passing down.

Country Goulash Skillet
1 pound ground beef
1 28-ounce can stewed tomatoes
1 10¾-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup frozen peas
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 cups cooked elbow macaroni (1½ cups dry)
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet, cook meat over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Stir in the tomatoes, soup, corn, green pepper, onion, peas, carrots and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in macaroni and heat through.
Yield: Serves 8.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Hamburger Vegetable Soup

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be able to make great soup.

That’s what I’ve been telling my friends and acquaintances for years when they’ve inquired about why my homemade soups are so tasty.

Actually, there is one thing that sets good soups apart from those that are just fair or mediocre: the stock.

Of course, you can always buy vegetable or meat broths at the supermarket, but many of those tend to be costly as well as loaded with sodium. Those are two of the reasons why my soups contain only stock that I’ve made myself.

The biggest reason, though, is the flavor that is derived from homemade meat and vegetable stocks can’t be found on a grocery store shelf.

The base for my stocks vary from soup to soup. It just depends what I have in the freezer. Sometimes, it might be water that I’ve saved from steaming vegetables such as beans, carrots or corn. Or potato water, the remnant of either mashed spuds or those eaten whole.

Then, there are the meat stocks. Whenever I fix a chicken or pheasants, which usually are deboned, the scraps go into a pot, are simmered for about an hour, cooled and then frozen.

Oftentimes, we have four or five containers of vegetable or meat stock in the freezer compartment of our refrigerator. And in the fall during hunting season, my chest freezer usually contains a half-dozen to a dozen containers of wild-bird (pheasant, grouse and partridge) broth.

Once you’ve decided on what ingredients to use, making soup ― such as the following ― is easy as 1-2-3.

Hamburger Vegetable Soup
12 cups vegetable or meat stock
1 pound ground beef
2 potatoes, cubed
5 carrots, sliced thinly
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
½ pound green beans, snapped, or 2 14½-ounce can green beans
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup pearled barley
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
Brown the ground beef. Set aside. Add the rest of the ingredients. Add the ground beef. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 1 to 2 hours. Serve with hard rolls or homemade buns.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Turkey Vegetable Soup

Thanksgiving Day has come and gone. But don’t tell that to those who consider the leftovers from a big feast such as “Turkey Day” a mere extension of the holiday.

Not only do you have plenty of meat, potatoes, stuffing and gravy in the refrigerator for a nice day-after meal or two, there is the traditional turkey soup.

Making soup is what’s on my agenda today. I have a pot simmering on the stove now, and it will serve as lunch for the next two or three days.

And it’s not just plain old turkey soup. I’ve incorporated the leftover whole-kernel corn and some of the carrots from the relish tray as well as some frozen beans and peas, a couple of small potatoes, an onion and celery. What I’ve got might be considered a vitamin bonanza by most dietitians and nutritionists.

And that’s why all of the hard work that one puts into a 10- to 15-minute Thanksgiving Day meal well worth it.

The coolest thing about making the soup? You can extend the satisfaction of all the hard work that went into the Thanksgiving Day meal in just 15 minutes of effort.

Turkey Vegetable Soup
1 turkey carcass
8 cups water
1 cup frozen peas
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 cups green or yellow wax beans
1 cup whole-kernel corn
2 small potatoes, cubed
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste
Place turkey carcass in pot of water. Bring to boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Take out carcass and remove meat. Strain broth in large bowl as to remove any bones. Return both to post and add remaining ingredients and cook until vegetables are cooked through.