From the Market: Week 1

Kofta with Spinach & Arugula Salad

The Ringwood Farmers’ Market opened this weekend, and not one minute too soon! I’ve been craving their fresh produce since the weekly market closed last November; winter market (new this year) only took place once a month, and the pickings were slim. It was winter, after all.

But now we’re back to greens, berries, honey and meats from small local farms, so let’s dive in.

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What I missed most about the early markets was the amazing spinach and arugula from Bialas Farms, not to mention the rest of the veggies and fresh herbs that always make up the bulk of my shopping experience on weekends. Because I was impatient to try the first haul, I made brunch as soon as we got home — a quick pesto with the spinach and arugula, some walnuts and grated locatelli, all smoothed out with a Ligurian olive oil. The pasta was a gluten-free selection from Fontanarosa’s, which I only visited for the first time this weekend. I now plan to shop there all summer long.

[About the gluten-free thing: I cut out the major sources of gluten about a month ago after reading The GenoType Diet. I’m highly suspicious of any diet at all (and definitely didn’t try this to lose weight — so don’t worry, those of you who know me), but thought I’d give this one a try since a lot of what the author said about my type rang true, given my experience. Anyway, I can honestly say that the mild-to-moderate joint pain I’ve had for the past few years has completely disappeared since I cut the out the gluten. (Other things I won’t go into here have cleared up as well.) Maybe it’s all unrelated, and I hope it is, but we’ll see how I feel when I re-introduce regular pastas and whole-grain bread into my meals.]

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Even though we were invited to a BBQ Sunday afternoon, I had to get in a little grilling of my own this weekend, so I threw together a quick-ish lunch. The appetizers were inspired by this post at Smitten Kitchen and I was thrilled with the way they turned out:

That’s a lot of good stuff packed into a couple of bites, and it came together with almost no effort on my part. I just grilled 1/2-inch-thick slices of homemade bread till they were toasted, smeared them with loads of truffle butter, some room-temperature robiola (one of my favorites, but you could try whatever you like here), and topped them off with ribbons of asparagus, crunchy fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper.

To make the ribbons, just grasp the tip of the spear and use a vegetable peeler to shave down the length of the asparagus.

Our main course was a kofta salad. The spinach and arugula made another appearance here, tossed with tzaziki sauce for the salad base. I had a few extra asparagus ribbons from the appetizers, so I threw them on as a garnish. But the real draw was the kofta made with ground lamb from Snoep Winkel Farm. I used the recipe that’s become my standard, substituting walnuts for pistachios since those were, um, about 18 months out of date. Oops.

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And then we went to a BBQ where I consumed lots of steak and delicious veggie skewers, so I was pretty meated- and veggied-out by Sunday morning and took it easy with a little goat’s milk yogurt with fresh strawberries, blueberries and honey. (Sadly, the blueberries were store-bought since they aren’t quite in season here, but the The Orchards of Concklin‘s strawberries are as perfect as ever, and their peonies aren’t half-bad either. I’ll bring my camera next time we go so I can show you just how popular Rufus and Otis are with the proprietor. The honey is local, too — from Nina’s Red Barn Farm, where we buy our fresh eggs and where I’m evidently known as Rufus’s mom.)

gluten-free

Hope everyone had a safe and relaxing Memorial Day Weekend.

Mother and child reunion

A couple of months ago, I was inspired by Maggie Mason‘s Mighty Life List (a Bucket List for the young, healthy and positive-minded) to make my own (though I’m not so young and some might argue the other two points). As you probably could guess, quite a few cooking-related items are on there, despite their relative unimportance to the bigger stuff. But I’d argue that perfecting my smoker technique or turning out a sublime focaccia could add more value to my daily existence than seeing the Northern Lights, becoming fluent in French or going on an Auntie Mame-style journey around the world. (OK, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.)

Not one to dawdle when I have a goal in mind, I took my first steps to making the Weber Smokey Mountain my bitch this weekend. I’ve selected Gary Wiviott as my mentor/guru/pitmaster for this journey, based on Jason Perlow’s review of his program at Off the Broiler. I used my smoker a few times last year with imperfect results, so I consider myself enough of a novice to follow Wiviott’s program to the letter (begging forgiveness for changing the marinade to something more of my liking). The entire thrust of this book is that everything you know about BBQ is dead wrong and what you really need to do is learn to build a proper fire, arrange the meat correctly, leave it the hell alone and trust your instincts. No futzing with a fancy thermometer or different fire-building techniques for different meats for him; because I run from complicated grilling/smoking setups, this works wonderfully for me too. He gives explicit instructions in the book, so I’m confident that someday I’ll be able to get all Jedi on that BBQ.

Anyway. I marinated chicken halves in harissa with some olive oil, sautéed onion and the juice of a small (and old and somewhat withered-but-still-going-strong) lemon. Building the fire proved a bit, um, challenging with the windy day I chose, but I eventually got the whole thing built to spec, assembled the smoker, and let it go. An hour and a half later, I opened the lid to find The Most Gorgeous Chicken I’ve ever seen (at least at my house):

Daaaaamn…

After the chicken came off at the perfect temperature and at the exact moment Wiviott said to start checking for doneness, I threw a few hard boiled eggs on the top grate for smoked deviled eggs. As a mini experiment, I peeled three of them and heavily cracked the shells of the other three before smoking, hoping to get a Chinese tea egg effect on the whites. (It didn’t work; the eggs were much less smoky-tasting even with the cracks in the shells, so live and learn.) Because the fire was so low after 90 minutes with the chicken, I smoked the eggs for about 45 minutes, until the shelled ones turned a gorgeous amber color.

Homemade mayo has been vexing me lately, separating at the drop of a hat just to mock me. For these eggs, I wanted to give it one more try, and used the milk mayonnaise recipe from Food52 (which I’ve just joined – yay!). It came out thick, creamy, thoroughly delicious and was much, much easier for me to make than egg-based mayos (but also much, much messier).

I made a couple of fillings for the eggs and was pretty happy with both (though I lean more toward pickle flavor in my deviled eggs – personal preference).


with sun-dried tomatoes, up front


also, chives

So all told, it was a pretty good weekend for the Life List (which I’ll have to rename for myself sometime). Changes I’ll make for next time:

  • Marinate chicken for 8-12 hours — it was a pretty powerful marinade, but didn’t come through as strongly as I wanted, which was also the fault of…
  • Use pecan wood instead of hickory for chicken — hickory was delicious, but overpowered the marinade
  • Peel all eggs before smoking (and make the deviled eggs right away — a night in the fridge didn’t do them any favors in the looks department)

Recipes after the jump

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Finally, focaccia

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Finally.

It took two weekends of tweaking, combining and adapting recipes, but I finally settled on a Concord grape focaccia (inspired by schiacciata, but less desserty) we couldn’t stop eating. Gil did his damage to it while I was away at work, but each night before bed, I stood at the counter nibbling on tiny pieces that always added up to the one large piece I should’ve just cut for myself at the start.

Apart from the focaccia, I didn’t really do any cooking last weekend because I was working on my first (paying) portrait shoot! Last winter, Cara Packard, the super-talented owner of Cara Linn Cakes, hired me to take some promotional pictures for her business. She’s getting married next month, so her sister did a little sleuthing to find me and arrange a surprise bridal portrait session in the city. I had a great time working with someone so natural and relaxed in front of the camera, and found that taking pictures of humans is even more fun than taking pictures of food. Go figure.

a few bridal pictures and focaccia recipe after the jump

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Happy Bastille Day

We spent a very busy weekend with family, celebrating niece Sela’s SIXTH BIRTHDAY. Plenty of pics to come, but I couldn’t let this date go by without posting a French (ok, Cajun/Creole)-inflected dish from Saturday: Shrimp boil seafood salad.

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See, my parents sent me a lovely care package a few weeks ago, and that Zatarain’s had been taunting me every time I opened the pantry, so I decided on a shrimp boil seafood salad, using good gulf shrimp and lump crabmeat liberated from my parents’ freezer when I was home last month. Since Gil and I were the only two eating, I didn’t fire up the crab pot, but kept the whole thing indoors. I boiled water, salt and Zatarain’s seasoning together for a couple of minutes before tossing in 4 small yellow onions and a whole head of garlic to season the water to perfection. Once they were cooked through, I fished them out and added baby red potatoes, then shrimp in the last couple of minutes. I turned off the heat as soon as the shrimp went in, and when they floated to the top, the salad was ready to assemble.

I diced the potatoes along with carrot, avocado and red bell pepper, added some of the boiled garlic, salted capers (soaked in water and chopped) and the seafood, then tossed everything with a gorgeous Creole remoulade from Chef John Folse. Shame I didn’t make more, but there were tacos and cake to look forward to at Sela’s party and it would’ve just put us over the top.

But if you’re looking for something more properly French on this date, you could take a gander at my Paris pix from our seven-month anniversary. What I wouldn’t give to go back…

Odds & ends

As you can see, I’ve been cooking. Oh, how I’ve been cooking. But there hasn’t been a lot to say about the food. I mean, we can all get behind a great roast chicken, but really, what more could I possibly tell you about it? Well, OK, just a word about this one, then we’ll move on…

I was craving another Zuni roast chicken for dinner during the week, but my way-back machine was in the shop and I couldn’t have one seasoned in time for that evening’s meal. So I did the next best thing; I used Thomas Keller’s method of seasoning and dry roasting a chicken in a 450-degree oven for an hour. (Thanks for the heads-up, Dietsch.) It’s very similar to the Zuni method, only it requires no advance planning. It’s also very similar to my grandma’s roast chicken: 500-degree oven for an hour, but she bastes it in butter whereas this one stayed completely dry, the better to crisp the skin, my darlings. It was a delicious bird, only not seasoned through the way it would have been if I’d started the project three days earlier. Live and learn.

One thing among many I’m grateful for is that my husband remains unmoved by chicken butt. Rufus and I go crazy for it, so there must be some primal instinct that Gil’s missing. Whatever — more for me. (What? You don’t really think I’d actually share this little morsel with a dog, do you? He got a few bites of chicken skin after we’d finished eating, which was all the reward he was getting. Did he help me lift the heavy cast iron pan into the oven? No. Did he help me make gravy from the salty pan drippings? No. He just napped cutely while I did all the hard work.)

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The meal in the iron pan

This slushy winter weather has pressed my cast iron skillet into heavy rotation lately. As our mothers and grandmothers knew, cast iron cookware is perfect for homey meals or stove-to-oven cooking with a minimum of mess.

Awash in laziness last weekend, I decided to try my hand at a Spanish torta, as it required the relatively simple journey from living room to kitchen instead of a more arduous trek to the grocery store. The recipes that turned up in a Google search varied only slightly from each other, so I got the gist of them, used Martha’s (yes, we’re on a first-name basis) as a guide to ingredient amounts and oven temperature and set out to create my own vegetarian version.

To the basic recipe, I added diced red bell pepper, sautéed broccoli rabe (leafy greens only), garlic and a hefty dose of hot pimentòn. (Several of the recipes I found called for chorizo, which I agree would be a superb addition, but there was that whole going-out thing to avoid. The pimentòn seemed an acceptable substitute under the circumstances.) Since I don’t have much experience with cast iron pans, I was concerned that the potatoes would stick, but with the pan preheated and coated with a thin film of oil, that wasn’t a problem in any way.

The torta alone was our lunch, but I had a few tricks up my sleeve for dinner. OK, only one trick, but what a beauty — Zuni Café roast chicken. I made the turkey version for Thanksgiving and was so shockingly pleased with the outcome, I had to try the chicken sooner rather than later. And it didn’t disappoint. All of the raves you’ve probably read across the internet are absolutely true — the chicken is moist and perfectly seasoned with delicious crispy, browned skin. Mmmmm. We managed to keep some of it for leftovers the following day, but only just. I think it’s likely to go into the weekly rotation.

recipes after the jump

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The final countdooooowwnnnn

(OK, there’s nothing final — I hope — about tonight’s countdown. We’ve just been watching more Arrested Development this week.)

We’ll be ringing in the new year with blini, sour cream & caviar and toasting with prosecco. A bit of a culture clash, I’ll admit, but our movie marathon this year will be the great American saga The Godfather (parts I & II only), so you could say we’re into the melting pot thing. Though the cultures did clash terribly for Kay & Michael … hmm, maybe this is less a celebration of melting pot-ness than one of capitalism. The caviar is from Trader Joe’s, after all.

Because buckwheat just doesn’t do it for me, I made these blini with a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat flours. Because I’m lazy, I searched for a recipe that didn’t involve yeast. Don’t worry if you’ve never made blini; if you can make pancakes, you can make these. It’s only slightly more tedious measuring out the batter in tablespoon increments, but they cook so much faster than a full-sized pancake, you won’t really notice the extra effort.

As for new year’s resolutions, I try to avoid making them, but think it would be a very good thing if I could manage to worry less and enjoy things a bit more. How about you? Any resolutions this year?

Have a safe and happy turning of the page. See you all in 2009!

recipe after the jump

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’08 Advent Calendar, Day 7

Considered a symbol of resurrection in Christianity (via the ancient Greeks’ myth of Persephone), and a symbol of fertility in Judaism, the pomegranate has a long and luscious history. It’s closely tied to the Christmas season and in supply only briefly, so be sure to try some of the tart, juicy seeds while you still can.

For the 2007 Advent Calendar, click here.

recipe after the jump

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Are you ready for some football (-shaped nuggets of deliciosity)?

It’s strictly coincidence that I made gnudi on the NFL’s opening weekend. (A quick note to the league: Many thanks for kicking off the season with The Hochuli last Thursday night! Your female fan base was pleased, I assure you.) You see, I had planned to revisit the egg yolk ravioli I made a few months ago, only with sheep’s milk ricotta per cook eat FRET‘s suggestion, but with all of the excess moisture in the air I decided not to test my pasta-making skills in such a hostile environment. So gnudi it was! And what a happy turn of events, really.

Cuz, wow. Good stuff.

All of the recipes I found online were variations on the same basic theme — ricotta, parmiggiano-reggiano, an egg, and some flour. I figured I could work on proportions to taste, so I just winged it from there. How can you go wrong with a bowl of sheep’s milk ricotta?

Turns out, you really can’t.

I tasted as I mixed the ingredients together, adding a little more grated cheese here, some salt and pepper there to offset the addition of flour, then rolled a tablespoon of the mixture at a time into little footballish-shaped dumplings before rolling them lightly in flour. They cooked in almost no time — about 5 minutes or so in a pot of simmering, salted water. I took them out shortly after they rose to the surface and let them drain on a paper towel-lined plate while I was getting the sauce and garnishes together.

To start, I browned walnut pieces in a small pan with about 1/2 tablespoon of butter, then put the walnuts aside on a cutting board to cool. They seemed a little bland at this point, so I sprinkled them liberally with salt & black pepper and um … ate about half of them before the rest of the dish was even finished. Highly recommended.

After washing the pan (and my delicious buttery, salty fingers), I added about two tablespoons of butter and fried the sage leaves just as soon as the butter had melted and started to sizzle. By the time they were done the butter had started to brown, so I added the gnudi to the pan and cooked them for a minute or two on each side, until they’d developed a thin crust and smelled heavenly. A quick spritz of lemon juice brightened the flavors just enough so the dish didn’t feel as heavy or rich as it really was.

I only cooked six of the 30 or so gnudi I made, so I froze the uncooked ones on a baking sheet before transferring them to a plastic storage bag. Now we’ll have plenty for leftovers when we want them again, which should be in about 24 hours or so.

Of course, what I really need to do is get to The Spotted Pig to try the real deal even though mine will inevitably suffer in comparison. Hey, I’m willing to take my lumps; it’s the only way to learn.

Lest you think I only post the success stories…

After the success of the grilled salmon with blueberry salsa, I decided to try my hand at a similar combination over the weekend — grilled shrimp with peach salsa. (The original plan was for pork and peaches, but we had dim sum Saturday, which pretty much topped off our pork tanks for the week.) And “meh” doesn’t even come close to describing it. I’m practically dozing off just writing about it now.

It was a good idea in theory — ripe peaches with brandy, cilantro, red onion, cumin, and jalapeno. What could go wrong? I blame the peaches, which were ripe and smelling quite peachy, but tasted like not much of anything, to be honest. I tried doctoring them with pineapple juice and a touch of brown sugar, but to no avail. The best parts of the salsa were the red onion and jalapeno, which do not a complete salsa make.

So it’s back to the drawing board. I’ll try the peaches at the market again this weekend to see if they’re better this time around, and if the weather cooperates, I’ll grill them, too. But perfecting this one’s going to take some work, I can tell…