Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Using what you have

In my on going effort to finish up all the winter stores, as late spring brings in its harvest filling my basket, I am actively working to deplete my puttn’ ups. In the refrigerator was the last of the pickled garlic scapes just enough to for a chopped salad - finished. But that brine, it had been sitting in for the last 9 months, was incredibly fragrant, I could not just toss it. So, over a pork butt I poured the brine along with some clove, cinnamon, dried ginger and chilies and star anise, and for about 36 hours the pork soaked up as much flavor as possible. I guess I was feeling a smidge Asian (sorry, Cinco de Mayo I did not mean to forsake you). It has to be that I have been thinking of Chinese bao, and the leftovers I feel might end up being shredded into some steamed buns.

This is not the first time I just could not toss the brine of a pickled vegetable. I have used them in vinaigrettes; soaked grains for a few hours in the salty liquid. I have also embraced the belief that everything has a second or tertiary purpose. The strawberries that are coming home from the farmer’s market right now find their hulls thrown into a bottle of white wine vinegar for a few weeks before being strained out, and add to the compost pile. Ramps bottoms are already pickling away though I did plug a bunch in the earth under the canopy of the maple trees in the hopes that in the coming years I will be able to harvest my own. Of course, herb stems are collected to be wrapped in a perforated foil packet for a little smoke on the grill.

Perhaps, it is a bit less of using up of what needs to be eaten, and making room for a new year’s crop of playthings.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Scratch and Sniff Heaven

I am making my list leaving plenty of room for impulse buys. I have made sure that my calendar in clear for the morning. It is so hard for me not to be too anxious, anticipating tomorrow. The Asheville Herb Festival begins tomorrow, sunny skies and warm temperatures are guaranteed, and this year I have a new garden with plenty of empty space. Last year, on my first visit, I was more of a voyeur with a wish list. The farmer selling mitsuba and shiso, which was able to go home with me, also had wasabi. The new house has a stream running through it where I have already planted watercress and ostrich fern is about to get another roommate. I am chomping at the bit to see if I can manage growing wasabi; stashed away, a shagreen wasabi grater I have had since living in Tokyo is ready to come out of retirement.

I love farmer’s markets, no great revelation, and all those brilliant vegetables and fruits I come across. However, it is the employment of herbs and spices that increases the pleasure of a dish: peas are taken
to another level with the simple addition of mint and summer savory should be as basic in your repertoire as parsley and thyme. So, heading to an event dedicated to olfactory satisfaction is pure nirvana. Even with more than fifteen herbs growing around the house, there is always room for more. 

 Bread Salad  - serves 6 to 8
3 cups of cubed bread – from crusty Italian peasant loaf or baguette
2 garlic cloves – crushed to a pasted
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes - halved
1 hot house cucumber - ¾” diced
1 small red onion - sliced thinly
3 celery stalks - ¾” diced
1-cup fresh peas
5 scallions - diced
2 bunches arugula - washed and roughly chopped
1-cup torn sorrel leaves
2-tablespoons pine nuts - toasted
½-cup torn mint leaves
¼-cup red wine vinegar

Spread the bread cubes on a baking tray and dry out in a 250-degree for about 10 minutes. Do not allow the bread cubes to develop too much color, but dry out.

Place the vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt, pepper in a food processor and pulse. Pour in the oil and process till smooth.

Toss all ingredients together making sure to distribute the dressing thoroughly.  Serve.

If you want you can assemble the components of the salad up to 24 hours in advance.  Keep the bread and dressing separate until you are ready to serve. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The waiting game

All that is left of the daffodils are its slender flat leaves. Pink, red, purple and white azaleas are just past their peak. The lettuce and radishes are still a week or two from harvest. Nascent green specks are uniformly taking root in the garden. But my cupboard is bare.

These weeks from last frost to first harvest are emotionally trying. I long for the profusion of summer’s largess and the variety I crave and the ease in obtaining it. Yes, ramps, fiddleheads and asparagus excite me to dizziness; their flirtation in the kitchen is short lived (and, in part that is why I love them so, they never overstay their welcome). The jar of pickled ramp stems will garnish Blood Mary’s and pulled pork sandwiches latter this summer in all probability. I am by no means ungrateful for their return, but their presence just heightens my desire to move it along.
I am ready now, to be overwhelmed by the day’s haul of zucchini and cucumber, and babysit a maturing watermelon in order not to grab it too soon. I get like this every year at this time – chomping at the bit for the full expression of summer.  

While I seem to display very little patience with Mother Nature it is my childlike enthusiasm for foods coated in dirt from the yard and farmer’s markets buzzing, just hours after the sun has risen, cures me of any culinary block/rut I might be experiencing; waiting is the only option. In the meantime, my freezer needs to be fully depleted of the vacuum-sealed bags that got put into suspension late-last summer into the autumn. There are enough tomatoes, sun-dried zucchinis, black-eyed peas and husk tomatoes to keep me busy until the red, purple and white shoulders of the radishes displace the soil out in the yard.

Husk Tomato Tea Cake – yields 10-inch cake
1-pound husk tomatoes (fresh or frozen)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1-cup sugar
4 eggs
½-cup sweetened condensed milk
1-tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1¼-teaspoon baking powder
⅛-teaspoon salt

Buttered and flour a 10-inch cake pan.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a standing mixer mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

In another bowl beat the eggs, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla together to combine.

In a separate bowl sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Then on a low speed add the flour to the butter mixture. Once the flour has been added to the butter pour in the egg mixture, and mix well.

Place the husk tomatoes on the bottom of the cake pan, and pour over the batter. Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely before un-molding.