Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kale and White Bean Soup--Soup as an Improvisation

 The jazz pianist Keith Jarrett has spent a large portion of his career performing solo concerts, sitting alone at a piano and spontaneously improvising, allowing the music and his ear to take the music where inspiration leads. Of course, it helps to have formidable technique, perfect pitch, and a restless musical imagination.
A musician friend of mine has told me that he reads these dispatches but not necessarily for the recipes since, as he said, “I pretty much throw things together.” He is classically trained and is also a skilled jazz player well versed in improvisation. I am not sure if one’s musical abilities completely transfer to the kitchen but I understand. Good cooking, like music, has balance, dynamics and shadings (of flavor), a range of contrasts, and when you’re lucky, it should seem effortless like a natural extension of yourself.
Cooking aspires to this degree of spontaneity, of being inspired by ingredients and having the technique to make what you can imagine.
Soup is the perfect ‘food” improvisation. I based this on ingredients I found at the farmers market. What follows is a “transcription” of my improvisation, a recipe. You can choose to follow it or change some things and create according to your inspiration.
For instance, I used dried white beans but you could just as easily use canned white beans. It would shorten the cooking time. You would drain the beans and add them after the vegetables have softened.  Don’t want to use beans?  Use diced potatoes, (about 1½ pounds, peeled and diced) cooking them along with the vegetables. If you do either of these, you might need less water than what is called for in the recipe; the extra liquid is because of the use of dried beans. That is an easy adjustment.
I used Spanish chorizo, but you could substitute another kind of sausage. The Portuguese version of the soup would use linguica, a smoked, cured sausage that would be cooked in the same way as the Spanish chorizo. Any sausage will work in this recipe.
Or keep it vegetarian.
You could use spinach instead of the kale but you would add it to the soup only a few minutes before serving since it needs less cooking time than the 15 minutes that kale requires.
I know that this seems like a lot to think about just to make soup but everyone makes such decisions when they are cooking.  In their way they’re similar to of all of the split second decisions made by an improvising musician.  Soup is very forgiving.  Adjustments are easy to make and in the end you end up with something deeply satisfying and personal, which is what a good improvisation should be.
Is it any surprise that French chefs often refer to the stove as “the piano?”
Like any soup recipe, this makes plenty.

 Kale and White Bean Soup
1 cup dried white beans (such as Great Northern or cannellini)
       (or one 28 ounce can of white beans)
1½ cups chopped onion or leeks
1½ cups sliced carrots
½ cup Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced (or ½ pound sausage, sliced ¼” thick)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
One 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
4 cups water
8 leaves curly kale (will yield about 8 cups, chopped, loosely packed)
Salt and ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups cold water
Olive oil, for cooking
Grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)
1. If you are using dried beans, you will want to “speed soak” them to shorten the cooking time. Place the beans into a bowl and add enough boiling water to cover. Set aside and let the beans sit for about an hour. In that time, you can do all of the preparation of the other ingredients.
2. Place a 6 Quart Dutch oven onto the stove over medium-high heat. When hot, swirl 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil into the pot. Add the onions/leeks, carrots, and chorizo to the pot and sauté for about 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed. Season the vegetables with some salt and pepper. (If you are using a sausage other than Spanish chorizo such as an uncooked sausage, add it to the pot and cook for 3 to 4 minutes and then add the onion/leeks and carrots and continue cooking for another five minutes). After the onions/leeks have begun to soften, add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pot and stir. Drain the soaking beans and add them to the pot, along with the water; do not add additional salt at this point as it will toughen the outside of the beans as they cook. (If you are using potatoes instead of the beans, add them into the soup, and season with some salt). Cover and let the soup come to a boil, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Stir the soup from time to time as it cooks. Cook until the beans are soft; check one or two by squeezing them; they should give with no resistance. This will take about an hour or longer, depending on the presoaking. (If you are using canned beans, drain them, then add them to the soup after the carrots are tender).
4. At this point, the soup will be ready for the kale. Strip the kale leaves from the stems. Discard the stems and tear the leaves into small pieces; there should be about 8 cups, loosely packed. Add the kale to the soup, along with some salt. Cover and cook until the kale is tender, about 15 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add additional water. Taste the soup for seasoning. Garnish each serving with freshly grated Parmesan cheese if you choose, serve and savor. And then go back for more.
Any leftover soup can be stored in containers and frozen for use at a later time.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Swordfish with Pancetta Vinaigrette

                                                                  “Who are you?”
                                                 “I’m fine, thanks. Who are you?”
                             “I’m fine, too, but you can’t come in unless you give the password…
                                            I give you three guesses…..It’s the name of a fish.”
                                                                    “Is it Mary?”*

One Dude. One pan. One Meal.
I rarely talk about other cookbooks but having just riffed on its title I feel it deserves a mention. The book is Two Dudes One Pan, by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. The concept behind the book is that you don’t need a lot of equipment in order to cook great food. The book is filled with recipes that can be made in one pan, if you cook in the proper order. It’s a method that all chefs use but often utilizing more than one pan. The book comes from their personal experience as caterers where they were often short on space and equipment. I bought the book for oldest daughter’s southern beau, who doesn’t enjoy cooking as much as his better half. But on some nights he’s on dinner duty. And that no longer means making a phone call.
Shook and Dotolo are no longer short on space or equipment. They are chef/owners of Animal and Two if By Sea as well as partners with Ludo Lefebvre at Trois Mec and the recently opened Petit Trois, all highly successful and highly acclaimed restaurants in Los Angeles. No easy feat.
This recipe fits into the same concept. Everything can be prepared using only one pan. And this simple and quick sauce isn’t limited only to fish, but is good with chicken, pork, or turkey cutlets.
Pancetta is fairly widely available. I used pancetta that’s packaged already diced. You can use any type of acid, not only Sherry vinegar. Any vinegar or the juice from a lemon or lime will work.
If you have all of your ingredients prepped and ready- your mise en place- dinner will follow in short order.

Swordfish with Pancetta Vinaigrette
For two servings
Two 6 ounce swordfish steaks
3 Tablespoons diced pancetta
2 Tablespoons minced shallot or onion
1 or 2 teaspoons minced garlic
12- 14 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley
salt and ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

1. Place a large sauté pan onto the stove over medium-high heat. When hot, swirl 2 to 3 tablespoon olive oil into the pan. Add the pancetta and sauté until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the cooked pancetta from the pan and drain it on paper towels. Drain and reserve all but two tablespoons of oil from the pan.
2. Season the swordfish with salt and ground black pepper. Place the fish into the pan and sauté for 3 or 4 minutes, depending on the thickness, then turn and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. (Cooking times will vary. A 1” thick piece of fish takes 10 minutes total cooking time for well done so adjust the time to suit the thickness of your fish and your favored degree of doneness).
3. Remove the swordfish from the pan and set it aside, covered.
4. Let the pan cool for a moment or two, then return it to the heat. Add a swirl of olive oil to the pan. Add the shallot or onion and briefly sauté for about a minute. Add the cherry tomatoes to the pan; season with salt and pepper. Cook for a minute or two to soften the tomatoes. Add the garlic and cooked pancetta to the pan and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Check the pan; there should be about 3 tablespoons olive oil in the pan; if not add a little more. Add the vinegar to the pan, stir, and add the parsley. Remove pan from heat.
4. Spoon some of the sauce onto each plate. Top with the swordfish and divide the remaining sauce, spooning it over the fish. Serve.

                 *It should need no introduction. From the Marx Brothers classic, “Horsefeathers.”   
                                                         (“I think I got it! Is it swordfish?”)

("or with turkey......") 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Heirloom Carrots

                            “She’s like a rainbow, coming, colors in the air, Oh, everywhere.”*

Consider the carrot. It’s a workhorse of a vegetable. As one of the three vegetables in a mirepoix, the French trinity, it forms the base of all stocks, countless soups and braises. But when they’re stuffed into plastic and piled high in the store, no one thinks of the carrot in the same way as they do of our “new best friends” kale or cauliflower.
It’s not that easy being orange.
Carrot in the Juliana Anicia Codex
In the history of carrots, the orange carrot is a relative newcomer, crossbred and cultivated in Netherlands in the 17th century**. Before then carrots were white (perhaps confused with parsnips), yellow, red, and purple. (You need to have yellow and purple carrots to crossbreed into an orange carrot). There are even black carrots, bred and grown in India for their high nutritional content.
I have a book on heirloom vegetables published back in 1998. In it carrots only get a few pages and only four heirloom varieties are listed. All of them are orange. But that has changed. Seed catalogs now mention varieties as diverse as the yellow Amarillo, Atomic Red, Cosmic Purple, the lemon-yellow Jaune Obtuse du Doubs, Lunar White, Snow White, Old World Spanish Black, as well as many different orange varieties.
Bundles of these rainbow colored carrots begin to appear at our local farmers market as summer dwindles.
I like roasting carrots but it does alter their color; with heirlooms, it can mask their color altogether if roasted too long. You might ask why bother to roast these carrots if you end up losing their distinctive colors? These carrots are so sweet to begin with that roasting only intensifies that sweetness.
Here are two recipes using heirloom carrots. If you don’t have heirlooms, you can use any carrot that you have on hand, farmers market or otherwise.
In the first recipe, the carrots are spiced with curry powder before roasting and served with pan-seared salmon with a coconut/carrot sauce. The second is a salad.

Salmon with Curry Spiced Roasted Carrots and Coconut/Carrot Sauce
For two servings
Two 4 to 6 ounce portions salmon filet
½ cup carrot juice
½ cup coconut milk
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon minced chives, optional
4 Heirloom-variety carrots, in different colors
2 to 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon curry powder
salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Wash and scrub carrots under cold water; do not peel. Cut the carrots lengthwise in half and cut the carrots in half again; to assure even roasting the pieces should be about the same thickness.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together the olive oil, curry powder, salt and black pepper. Add the carrots and coat them with the seasonings. Line a baking tray with a sheet of aluminum foil.  Lay the carrots in an even layer onto the baking pan. Place the carrots into the oven and roast for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and turn the carrots so they roast evenly. Return the carrots and continue cooking for another 10 minutes, until the point of a knife easily pierces the carrots. Remove from oven. Use the foil to tent the carrots as they cool and set them aside.
2. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Heat a large non-stick sauté pan over high heat (alternately you could grill the salmon). When the pan is hot, swirl in a tablespoon olive oil. Place the salmon skin side up into the pan. Cook the salmon for 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon. Turn the salmon over and continue cooking for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, to your preferred degree of doneness. Adjust heat under the pan as necessary. Remove the salmon from the pan and place onto a paper towel lined plate. Cover with a piece of foil to keep warm.
3. To prepare the sauce, place the carrot juice and the coconut milk into a small saucepan. Season with sugar and some salt and ground black pepper; mix together. Bring the sauce up to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook to reduce the sauce by 1/3. Stir in the chives, if using.
4. Spoon the sauce onto two plates. Top with the salmon and place the roasted carrots onto the salmon and serve. Leftover carrot juice and coconut milk can be stored in the freezer for future use.

Roasted Carrot Salad with Frisee, Almonds, and Pecorino Cheese
For two servings
3 or 4 Heirloom-variety carrots
olive oil
salt and ground black pepper
2 to 3 handfuls frisee lettuce
2 Tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
2 Tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese
1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Wash and scrub carrots under cold water; do not peel. Cut the carrots lengthwise in half and cut the carrots in half again. To assure even roasting, the pieces should be about the same thickness. Line a baking pan with a piece of aluminum foil. Place the carrots into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, and season with some salt and ground black pepper. Mix to distribute the oil and seasonings. Lay the carrots in a single layer onto the baking tray. Roast the carrots for 12 minutes; remove from oven and turn the carrots so they roast evenly. Return the carrots to the oven and continue roasting for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the point of a knife easily pierces the carrots. Remove from oven. Use the foil to tent the carrots as they cool and set them aside.
2. While the carrots are roasting, toast the almonds. Place a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. After the pan is hot, add the almonds to toast, stirring and tossing the nuts so they brown evenly. When the almonds are nicely browned, remove from heat, set aside, and let cool.
3. Prepare the lemon vinaigrette:
Juice of ½ lemon (about 1½ teaspoons)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoons  salt and ground black pepper
1. Place the lemon juice into a bowl. Add the garlic and let stand for about a minute. Add the salt and black pepper and mix in the olive oil. Cover and set aside until needed.

4. To assemble the salad, place the frisee into a medium-sized bowl. Add the carrots and almonds. Mix the lemon vinaigrette together and spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette onto the salad and mix into the salad. Divide the salad between two plates. Garnish each salad with the cheese and serve.

 *She’s a Rainbow,” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but you knew that already, right?

**There is a drawing of what clearly appears to be an orange carrot in the Juliana Anicia Codex dating from 512 A.D. but not too much documentation of orange carrots exists until the 17th century. And yes, there is a World Carrot Museum that contains more information and research into the humble carrot than you can imagine.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kale with Red Pepper and Onion Sofrito:Three Ways

                           “A mistle thrush is singing on my spade in the kale patch”*

I doubt that many of us were told when we were growing up to “Eat your kale, it’s good for you.”  Not anymore. Walk through any farmers market and every farmer has some variety of kale for sale.
While it has been available for years, to many it was only familiar as an ornamental plant for the fall garden. But the Portuguese knew all along; consider their kale and sausage soup, for example.
I will admit that I saw this idea on a television program but they apparently considered it unworthy of including in their recipes.
It’s not.
On the program made it was made for an appetizer, a bruschetta with ricotta topped with the cooked kale mixture. Which is one way you could use it.
By itself, it makes a delicious way to cook and serve kale or any green that takes some time to cook. I’ve made it with collard greens for oldest daughter’s southern beau. You can also use spinach, but the spinach will cook much faster.
So what is it that makes it so good? The base is a slow cooked sofrito, or flavor base, of red bell pepper, onion, and garlic. As the peppers and onions cook, they begin to brown. Some of that browning also collects on the bottom of the pan and when the kale is added it cooks in all of that caramelized sweetness.
You could also toss some pasta into it along with a little ricotta and Parmesan which is what we often do.
When you make this, don’t use a non-stick pan. The “brown bits” (the fond) that occur when cooking the vegetables won’t collect on the bottom as of a non-stick pan well as they will in an aluminum or stainless sauté pan.
You can use any variety of kale. There’s curly kale and “the kale with four names”: Tuscan (or lascinato, or black, or dinosaur) kale.

Kale with Red Pepper and Onion Sofrito  For two servings
One bunch (about 9 ounces) kale
2 cups sliced onion
1 ½ cups red bell pepper, sliced
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and ground black pepper
hot pepper flakes, optional
juice of ½ lemon
olive oil, for cooking
water, for the kale
1. Remove the leaves from the stems of the kale. Discard the stems. Chop the leaves into small pieces. Place the kale into a colander and rinse with cold water and set aside.
2. Place a large pan onto the stove over medium-high heat. When hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions and peppers; stir and sauté the mixture for a few minutes. Season with salt and black pepper and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes until the peppers and onions begin to take on some color; they do not need to be completely caramelized. Adjust the heat as necessary to prevent them from burning. Stir occasionally throughout.
Getting the correct color on the sofrito
3. When the onion/pepper mixture is soft and golden, add the kale to the pan. Season the kale with salt and ground black pepper. Add about ½ cup water to the pan, stir and cover. Lower the heat and let the kale cook. Check as the kale cooks, adding more water as needed. After about 8 minutes, taste the kale to see how tender it is. It will probably need about 15 minutes total cooking time, depending on the size of the pieces. Add more water, cover and gently simmer until the kale is tender.
4. Push the vegetables to the edge of the pan. Add a little olive oil then add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds, and stir the garlic into the kale mixture. At this point the kale is done. It can be held in the pan until needed. Before serving, heat the kale mixture and stir in the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and adjust; Gloss the kale with a little more olive oil if desired.

Rigatoni with Kale and Red Pepper/Onion Sofrito

Follow the recipe above for the kale and red pepper/onion sofrito and have it ready. You can use the hot pasta water for cooking the kale.
For two servings
the kale/onion/red bell pepper mixture
8 ounces rigatoni
3 to 4 Tablespoons ricotta cheese
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Cook the rigatoni in boiling salted water until al dente according to the directions. Drain the pasta, then place it into the pan with the kale mixture. Stir together. Add the ricotta cheese and mix together so the ricotta begins to melt. Remove from the heat, divide between two bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

*from “The Bone Clocks," by David Mitchell.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Crostata Redux:Peach/Plum Crostata with Vanilla Cream and Almonds

                                               “Fifth grade peaches, six grade plums….”

(Listening: Cold Blue Two*)

If you saw the recent recipe for peach crostata, this is an upgrade. If you have the crostata technique under your belt, this revisit includes a layer of pastry cream and some sliced almonds. It's a good way to say goodbye to peaches and plums whose season is drawing to a close.
The recipe calls for an equal combination of peaches and plums, but you can alter it and use just peaches or plums alone.
The pastry cream is a straightforward preparation. I used whole eggs for this small batch of pastry cream; for larger batches of pastry cream I use an equal combination of whole eggs and egg yolks. Either flour or cornstarch is used as a thickener for pastry cream; I use cornstarch. I prefer the texture and taste of a pastry cream made with cornstarch. This pastry cream recipe uses half the amount of cornstarch normally used for this quantity; since the pastry cream is going to be baked, I kept the finished consistency of the pastry cream looser than it would be with more cornstarch. The pastry cream can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator until needed.
As before, you will need one batch of pie crust dough for a 9” pie.

Peach/Plum Crostata with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Almonds

Pastry Cream (recipe below)
3 plums, pitted and sliced (2 cups)
3 peaches, pitted and sliced (2 cups)
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
3 to 4 Tablespoons sliced almonds
1 Tablespoon sugar

1. Begin by making the pastry cream and allowing it to cool. Recipe below
2. Place the peaches and plums into a bowl. Add the sugars and mix together; let stand for 20 to 30 minutes.
2. When you are ready to assemble the crostata, heat oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the crust into a circular shape, about 14” around. Place the dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking tray.
3. Spoon the pastry cream in an even layer onto the dough, leaving a 2” border around the edge. Add
the cornstarch to the fruit and stir until dissolved. Using a slotted spoon, place the fruit atop the pastry cream Fold the edges of the dough up and onto the fruit. Brush the underside of the folded edges with beaten egg to seal them, then brush the sides of the crust with the beaten egg. Sprinkle the outside of the crostata with the sliced almonds, making sure they adhere to the dough. Sprinkle the sugar around the outside edge of the crostata. Spoon a few tablespoons of the juices remaining in the bowl over the fruit; don’t over fill the crostata. Place the crostata into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35 to 40 minutes, until the filling is
bubbling and has thickened. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Pastry Cream
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Grade A large eggs
¼ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

1. Place the milk and butter into a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat. While the milk is heating, place the eggs into a bowl; add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Blend in the cornstarch, vanilla, and salt until combined. Set aside.
2. When the milk has come to a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and whisk a few tablespoons of the hot milk into the pastry cream (This is referred to as tempering the egg mixture). Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and whisk together. Place the saucepan back over the heat and cook until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, whisking throughout. Remove pastry cream from heat and transfer it to a plate or bowl. Cover the pastry cream with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the surface of the pastry cream. Let stand to cool, then refrigerate if using later.

*Cold Blue Two is a music sampler from Cold Blue Music in Venice, California. Started in the 1980’s, the label specialized in West Coast new music, specifically compositions in the style of minimalism and post-minimalism. (They originally released the music on vinyl, long before the recent hipster-driven resurgence of vinyl). Cold Blue Music disappeared but resurfaced 15 years later, around 2001, and continues to release only a few select recordings a year. Cold Blue Music was an early champion of the music of John Luther Adams who won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for 2014. Their recordings have consistently received the highest critical accolades. This sampler was given to me by one of my best friends who now lives in Los Angeles and was recently home to visit. He plays bass on two of the compositions. He is also busy playing in a symphonic orchestra, opera orchestra, teaching, and working in small ensembles such as the ones found on this recording.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Caesar Mushroom Salad

                   …not a mushroom Caesar salad.

Each weekly visit to the farmers market brings something new. This week “my” mushroom man Chris Darrah (Mainly Mushrooms) had Caesar mushrooms (Amanta caesarea), something I had never seen before. This mushroom is believed to be a favorite of the Roman emperors, but there’s no way to know for certain. There is the story of Agrippina, the fourth wife of the Emperor Claudius. She had a son Nero from a previous marriage. Having plans for her son in only a way a mother could, she persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero so he would be in line to ascend the throne. No patient woman our Agrippina, she hastened Claudius’s quick demise by preparing a meal of his favorite mushrooms, Amanta caesarea, tossing in some Amanta phalloides, the death cap mushroom, for good measure. There’s your quick lesson in Roman history. (Somewhere there are mycologists laughing, “Amanata phalloides…that’s a good one!”)
Normally I wouldn’t think of using wild mushrooms in a raw preparation. Some, such as morels, are poisonous raw. Chanterelles can produce a reaction in some people and are said to taste unpleasantly peppery when eaten raw. But raw is the preferred method for Caesar mushrooms. The simpler the better appears to be the rule. I have based this recipe on those that appear to be typical of Italian-style Caesar mushroom recipes.
If you don’t have Caesar mushrooms, you could use either white button or crimini mushrooms. It would also be good using warm sautéed mushrooms, either wild -chanterelles or Porcini, for example, or domestic, such as shiitake, oyster- you get the idea. Don’t let the lack of Caesar mushrooms prevent you from making a salad like this one. Unless you don’t like mushrooms, but I don’t think you would have read this far. Feel free to improvise. After all, I did.

Caesar Mushroom Salad                                        
For two servings
¼ pound Caesar Mushrooms
two handfuls baby arugula
3 Tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
shaved Parmesan cheese
1.Prepare the vinaigrette for the salad (recipe below)
2. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a paper towel. Trim off the bottoms of the mushrooms and thinly slice them lengthwise.
3. Place the arugula into a bowl and add the sliced mushrooms. Dress with a few tablespoons of the lemon vinaigrette and mix together. Add the hazelnuts and mix to distribute. Divide the salad between two plates. Using a vegetable peeler, shave some Parmesan cheese over each salad and serve. Hail Caesar.

Lemon Vinaigrette
Juice from ½ lemon, about 1 ½ Tablespoons
1 or 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Set aside until needed.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Peach Crostata

In Italy, it’s a crostata. In France, they call it a galette. Both are “freeform,” rustic tarts that can be either sweet or savory. In Italy, crostata recipes can be found dating from the 15th century. In France, the galette reaches its height with the stylized Galette des Rois, the traditional dessert pastry eaten on Epiphany (“J’aime la galette…*”).
Interestingly, while the word crostata is derived from the Latin crustare, "to encrust," galette is from the Old French galet, or "pebble." Mmmm...pebble..
Well, this is no pebble.
A crostata is easier to make than a pie. You roll the crust, add a filling to the center and bring the dough up around the sides of the filling, leaving the center exposed. Any fruit can be used of course but since freestone peaches are abundant, this week it’s a peach crostata.

Peach Crostata
For one crostata, approximately 9” to 10” round
Needed: pie crust dough for one 9” pie

4 cups peeled, sliced peaches (5 peaches, a little less than 2 pounds)
6 Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
sugar or cinnamon-sugar mix, to decorate the crust

1. Place the peaches into a bowl. Add the sugar and cinnamon and mix together; let stand for 20 to 30
2. When you are ready to assemble the crostada, heat oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the crust into a circular shape, about 14” around. Place the dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking tray.
3. Add the cornstarch to the peaches and stir until dissolved. Using a slotted spoon, place the peaches onto the crust, leaving a 2” border around the fruit. Fold the edges of the dough up and onto the peaches. Brush the underside of the folded edges with beaten egg to seal and brush the sides of the crust with the beaten egg. Sprinkle the outside of the crostata with sugar or a mixture of cinnamon & sugar. Pour about half of the remaining peach juices into the crostada. Place the crostata into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35 to 40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and has thickened. Remove from the oven and let cool.
And yes, some fine vanilla ice cream would be great on the side.

                                                *“J’aime la galette,
                                                Savez-vous comment?
                                               Quand elle est bien faite
                                               Avec du beurre desans.”  (from a French children’s song)
                                    (Mais s’il vous plait, n’oubliez pas les peches!)

                                                                 --C’est juste pour vous, ma plus juene fille. oxox

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Farmer's Song: Purple Bean and Potato Salad


                                             “This is my way to say thanks for the meal,
                                                 and I hope there’s no shortage of rain.”*

Farming at any level, whether it’s industrially scaled, mid-sized or small, isn’t easy. There are so many variables and concerns every day of the season. Particularly nagging is the question of will it all work out financially.
In a recent opinion piece written by a farmer and published in the New York Times, the author, himself a farmer, recounted attending a farm to table-style dinner. Sitting with the other farmers who provided the food, talk turned to profit margins and business models. The author admitted to working other jobs just to help make end meet. Yet he persists.
For the small farmer, farmers markets are one way to connect the farmer with the buyer. I always like seeing the activity of people looking, selecting, asking questions, and buying in order to make a meal to share and nourish.
On a recent Saturday I selected ingredients from one farm, Just  Kiddin’ Around Farm, who makes the weekly trip to our market from Germansville, a trip of almost an hour. Just Kiddin’ Around is neighbors with my friends, Mark and Catherine Muszynzski, who run Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn restaurant; their menu relies on locally sourced ingredients as often as possible.
The ingredients reflect what I selected but there is plenty of room for substitutions, such as a different variety of potato. The beans could be “plain” green beans, or even wax beans. You could use a sweet onion or even scallions. I left the beans raw; if you use another bean, you can precook them if you desire.
Purple beans get their color from anthocyanins. The bean is not purple all the way through, only on the surface. If you cook them they turn green, so I left them raw in the salad.

Purple Bean and Potato Salad                                                               

For 8 to 10 servings
1 quart Yukon gold potatoes (about 1pound 10 ounces)
1 ½ cups purple beans, sliced into ½ “ pieces
½ cup diced red onion
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ cup basil, cut into ribbons (chiffonade)
Grated zest of one lemon
1. Rinse the potatoes under cold water and shake dry. Remove any surface blemishes and cut the potatoes into roughly 1” pieces. Place the potatoes into a pot and cover with cold water. Season the water with salt. Cover the pot and place over high heat and cook until tender, about 10 minutes; the point of a knife should just pierce the potato
to the center. Remove from heat and drain in a colander, shaking off excess water. Spread the potatoes in one layer onto a paper towel lined baking tray and let cool. Refrigerate the cooled potatoes until completely chilled.
2. While the potatoes are cooling, make the dressing.
3. When the potatoes are cold, remove them from the refrigerator and place them into a bowl. Add the sliced beans, diced onion, herbs, and lemon zest. Add enough dressing to evenly coat the potato salad; it will take about 3/4th of the amount you made. Mix together until all of the ingredients are combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning; the potatoes will probably need some extra salt. Cover and refrigerate the salad until serving.

Potato Salad Dressing
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2  cloves garlic, (to your taste), minced
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1. Place all of the dressing ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until combined. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Transfer the dressing to a container, cover and refrigerate until needed.

           ‘Thanks for the meal, here’s a song that is real, from a kid from the city to you.”*
                                             *Farmer’s Song by Murray McLauchlan

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad

            “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then you practice, practice, practice.
             And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”
                        -Charlie Parker

Recipes, like musical compositions, begin life as improvisations. Sometimes they work, or sometimes it’s a matter of rearranging the notes in another way. They are refined with work over time and then eventually written down so that someone else can follow the instructions whether it’s at a piano or the piano in the kitchen, the stove. The “reproduction” of these instructions depends on one’s abilities, one’s technique. When technique and understanding of what you are doing, the “practice, practice, practice” part, becomes internalized you don’t actually “forget all that,” it just doesn’t get in the way any longer, and you can “wail,” well, perhaps in the kitchen at least.
This recipe, like many others, was improvised. I wanted to use summer’s sweet corn and tomatoes as a salad, but how? Corn and tomato both like basil, all right, add that. And they sing with a little bacon thrown in, like a variation of a BLT. But how to bind it together? A vinaigrette is too thin. A ranch-style dressing would do the trick, the mayonnaise in the dressing again hinting at the BLT flavors.
And the "composition" came together.
I urge you to make the ranch dressing and avoid the bottle. I would guess that once you see how easy it is, you too will abandon the bottle, if you haven’t already, and leave behind the dehydrated ingredients and seaweed-derived thickeners—read the ingredients list and see what’s in it that’s not an actual salad dressing ingredient. It doesn’t make it bad, just unnecessary. And if the bottled kind you buy doesn’t come from the refrigerated section of your supermarket, it not fresh at all. Besides, when you make your own dressing, you can alter it and change it to suit your taste. Can’t do that with the bottle.
I chose to use cherry tomatoes. They are abundant this time of year, are super sweet and appear in endless varieties at a farmers market. Of course, you can omit the bacon, if you have to. A friend of ours calls bacon the “gateway” meat often snuck by vegetarians (don’t look away in guilt).

Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad
For 3 to 4 servings, even though my red-haired food co-pilot and I end up polishing this off by our selves. It’s easy to adapt and expand.

3 ears corn
1 cup assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
4 slices crisp bacon
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
1. If you are using bacon, cook the bacon until crisp and set it aside to drain on paper towels.
2. Shuck and clean the corn. Slice the corn from the cob; stand the corn upright in a bowl and slice down the length of the ear. The corn falls into the bowl and not all over the counter.
Place a sauté pan with ½ cup lightly salted water onto the stove and bring it to a boil. Add the corn and cook the kernels for a minute or two. Drain the corn into a colander; do not rinse. Spread the corn out to cool on a baking tray lined with paper towels. When the corn is cool, transfer it to a bowl to chill completely in the refrigerator.
3. To assemble the salad, place the chilled corn and halved tomatoes into a bowl. Crumble the bacon and tear the basil leaves into the bowl. Mix the salad with enough of the dressing to bind, about half the amount of dressing you made. Serve. It’s summer again.

Ranch Dressing
This is very basic, kept so because of the other flavors in the salad. If you want to make this for everyday use, you might want to consider adding some fresh chopped herbs, such as chives, thyme, or parsley to the basic dressing. It can be modified and flavored to make whatever kind of “ranch style” dressing you’d like it to be. This version is a little thick for salads so you might want to thin it with more buttermilk or milk if you plan to use it as an everyday salad dressing. Its history is recent, in the history of what we eat, dating from the mid 1950’s and popularized at the Hidden Valley Ranch, dude.

½ cup buttermilk
½ cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Ready? Take all of the ingredients and whisk them together in a bowl until combined. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Transfer the dressing to a container and store in the refrigerator until needed. Now why haven’t you made this from scratch before?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Beer Battered Zucchini, or.....

When I was growing up, orphaned zucchini often found their way onto our doorstep. They were often zucchini that were very large, the “oops this grew too much let's see what you can do with it” baseball bat-sized zucchini.
If you’re looking for something different to do with zucchini, try this: Fry thin slices in a beer batter. The batter will, of course, work for just about anything—green beans, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, okra; you get the idea.
I know fried food aren’t for every day but these crisp-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside “chips” are great to serve to friends along with a preferred cold beverage. My red-haired food co-pilot and I polished off a recent batch despite the promise that we would only eat a few.
They don’t need to be deep-fried. Less than 1” of canola oil will do the job. Use whatever sized pan you have; a larger pan can accommodate more and will get the job done faster but I used a small pot. If you have a small fryer you could fry these outside and keep the “fry odor” out of the house.

Beer Batter
This is adapted from a recipe by Ian Knauer. What might appear to be a small amount of batter will coat about 40 zucchini slices. If you’re having a crazy fry party, increase the recipe.

¼ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder (or other chili powder)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
One medium-sized zucchini or vegetables of your choosing

1. Place a pan onto the stove. Fill it with about 1” canola oil. Heat the pan over medium heat. Line a baking tray with paper towels and set it aside.
2. Place the dry ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Pour in the beer and stir until smooth. The resulting batter should be thin.
3. Slice the zucchini into 1/8” thick slices- a mandolin-style slicer makes this task easier- or, if not using zucchini, prepare the vegetables you have chosen and set them aside.
4. Test the temperature of the oil by frying a small cube of bread in the oil or carefully dropping a drop of water off of your finger into the pot; if it sputters, the oil is ready. (The temperature should be around 375 degrees).
5. Dip the slices into the batter, allowing some of the batter run off and carefully place the slices into the oil. Fry for a minute or so and then turn the slices over, allowing them to cook on the other side. You may have to regulate the heat under the pot if the zucchini appears to be cooking too quickly. When the zucchini slices are evenly brown, remove the slices with a slotted spoon or “spider.” Lay the zucchini slices onto the paper towels to drain and salt them lightly. Repeat until all of the slices are fried. Serve along with a nice cold beverage. It would be a shame to waste the beer leftover from making the batter.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer = Crab: Crab and Sweet Corn Risotto

Remembering the great bassist Charlie Haden (1937-2014)

There’s a restaurant expression, which I will cleanup that goes, “You can sell shoe leather if you put crab on top.” And it’s true. Well, not about the shoe leather part but about the appeal of crab selling an entrée.
Crab is a great summer food. If you don’t believe me, try avoiding all of the chain restaurant ads extolling their crab fests/feasts/follies.
While crab can be expensive, watch for it on sale and stretch it over several dinners. I used it in a risotto one night, Singapore noodles on another, and lastly for crab cakes.
For the risotto, I also added some local corn, off the cob. I used the cobs for stock that went to making the risotto, but you don’t have to. In a restaurant-style twist, I also made a corn/ basil butter. Stirred into the risotto at the end, it elevates the flavor. You can skip this step but it’s not difficult.

Crab and Sweet Corn Risotto
Even though I have made risotto for a long time, I still set a timer (for 18 minutes after the wine is added) and cook the risotto while eyeing the timer.
As I said, I used corn stock for this. You could also use bottled clam juice, vegetable stock or a combination of the two. As for the crab, I added it to the risotto without measuring, eyeballing what “looked” like the correct amount. The recipe measurement is a guideline. Hey, who am I to stop you from using more or less?
If you are making the corn stock, begin with that using the corncobs left from the first step of the recipe.
For two servings:

2 ears of corn (3 ears, if making the corn/basil butter)
1 cup crab meat
2/3 cup Arborio rice
3 cups stock (vegetable or clam juice)
2 spring onions (scallions) chopped
½ cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 to 3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, optional
olive oil, for cooking
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Husk the corn and remove the corn silk. Hold the ear of corn upright in a bowl and carefully slice down the length of the ear to remove the kernels. Repeat with the second ear of corn. Reserve cobs for the stock. Recipe is below. Set aside the corn kernels for the risotto.
2. Place the broth into a saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Keep it at a low simmer as you cook the risotto.
3. Place a second saucepan for the risotto over medium heat. When hot, swirl in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the spring onions and sweat for 2 to 3 minutes, until tender; adjust heat if necessary. Add the rice and stir to coat it in the olive oil. Pour in the white wine and stir. Stir until the wine is almost absorbed. Ladle about ¼ cup of the hot broth into the rice. Now begins the process of stirring the rice and adding the broth, about ¼ cup at a time. Adjust the heat to keep the risotto at a gentle simmer. Add broth when the liquid is almost absorbed into the rice; stir throughout at this point of the cooking.
4. Continue cooking the risotto by adding more broth as needed. After about 10 minutes cooking time, you won’t need to stir constantly but watch that there is enough broth in the pot and the risotto isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot. At this point, add the corn to the risotto. You may need to add additional stock. Season with some salt and continue cooking.
5. After about 18 minutes total cooking time, taste the risotto. The rice should be firm but it shouldn’t have any undercooked crunch to it. If it does, continue cooking for a few more minutes.
6. When the risotto is al dente, remove risotto from heat. Stir in the crabmeat and the reserved crab/basil butter, if using; if not add the unsalted butter. Add the Parmesan cheese, if using. Check the seasoning for salt and add freshly ground black pepper and stir. Cover the pot and set it aside for two minutes. After two minutes, check the risotto. Add a little extra broth if you like your risotto a little loose.
Portion the risotto into two bowls. Drizzle each with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Corn Stock
Corncobs from the corn
¼ onion, chopped (or the green parts from the spring onion)
1 carrot, sliced
2 stalks celery
½ teaspoon salt
5 to 6 cups cold water
1. Place all of the vegetables into a pot large enough to hold them. Fill with water to cover; season with salt. Place the pot over hot water and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until reduced by 1/3.  The stock should have a good corn flavor; if not, cook a little longer. Remove from heat and strain through a colander, reserving the liquid; discard the solids. Taste and add additional salt if necessary.

Corn/Basil Butter
This can be made ahead of time and set aside until needed.
For two servings:
Corn kernels from one ear of corn
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon chopped chives
2 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1. Place the cold water and salt into a saucepan and place the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, add the corn and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the corn until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the corn from the heat. Let it stand for a minute or two then puree it in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the herbs and continue to blend until smooth. Add the cold butter at the end and blend until the butter is emulsified into the sauce. Set the butter aside until needed.

A recipe for Singapore Noodles with Crab will follow in the future.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer = Corn Grilled Chicken with Corn Salsa

The first of our local corn is arriving. Used as a key ingredient of a salsa along with some other flavors of season, this will put summer smack dab onto your plate.
This was largely improvised but the measurements are fairly close to what I used. Don’t get hung up on exact amounts in a recipe like this one. What is a medium-sized tomato anyway? If yours is bigger than mine and you have more tomato in your salsa, it will still taste great. Free yourself and allow your judgment and taste inform you.
Instead of a raw corn salsa, I cooked the corn first. When I drained the corn after it was done, I didn’t rinse it opting instead to spread in out onto a paper towel-lined baking tray to cool, then transferred it to a bowl and then to the refrigerator.
This recipe is for two servings. It might seem like a lot but it wasn’t just used as salsa but also as our “vegetable” as well. I grilled chicken for this but it would work with just about anything. And like all things should be in the summer, this is easy.

Grilled Chicken with Corn Salsa
For two servings

2 ears corn
1 medium tomato
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
2 to 3 Tablespoons minced onion
juice of one lime
hot sauce, to taste
salt and ground black pepper
6 to 8 basil leaves, cut into ribbons (about ¼ cup fresh basil)
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Husk the corn and remove the silk. Hold an ear of corn in a bowl as you carefully slice the corn off the cob. Repeat with the second ear of corn. Place a sauté pan filled with ½ cup lightly salted water onto the stove over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the corn, reduce the corn and cook the corn for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and drain the corn into a strainer, shaking excess water from the corm. Spread the corn out onto a paper towel-lined baking tray and allow to cool. Transfer the cooled corn to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
2. Remove the stem from the tomato. Slice the tomato in half lengthwise, and cut each half into thirds or quarters, depending on the size of your tomato. Remove the center part with the seeds and discard. (You can place the discarded bits into a strainer and let the juices drip into a bowl and add them to the salsa.)  Slice the remaining tomato pieces into strips then cut them crosswise. Place the diced tomato pieces into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, along with the corn. Season with salt and black pepper and mix until combined. Cover and let the salsa stand allowing the flavors to combine.

Grilled Chicken
This marinade for the chicken is my “go to” marinade suitable with any meat. Sometimes I will include some lemon juice and a chopped fresh herb, such as thyme but since the salsa has basil and lime juice, I omitted them this time. I prefer to salt the chicken as it cooks instead of including salt in the marinade. Again, this is improvised based on experience but the amounts should get you started. Feel free to improvise with in the future. Just don’t reach for the bottled dressing as a marinade anymore. Have you read the ingredient label?
For two servings
8 to 12 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast
2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon minced shallot (you can substitute with onion)
ground black pepper
red pepper flakes, optional, to taste

1. Trim the chicken breasts, if necessary. Carefully slice the chicken breast into cutlets, depending on the size and thickness of the breast. Place the chicken into the bowl with the marinade and mix to cover the chicken with the marinade. Wash hands. Cover the bowl and set aside. If you are not going to cook the chicken in 20 minutes or so, refrigerate the chicken.
2. Heat grill and when it’s hot remove the chicken from the marinade. Place the chicken on grill, season with salt, and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, then turn and finish cooking on the other side. Since the chicken has been sliced into thinner pieces, it will cook faster. Remove chicken from grill.
3. Spoon salsa onto the bottom of two plates. Top with the chicken and top the chicken with additional salsa. Summer is served.