Thursday, June 26, 2008

Yes, Chef

I have decided my new moniker is going to be to the anti-chef. I am fed-up with the thought that food is something precious, and only those us trained professionally really know how to execute food. Now, granted I have been playing with this stuff for years and definitely have speed and organizational skills on my side. But those are learned traits my love of food and cooking came hard-wired. As I surf the shows on the Food Network and other video-culinary offerings so few offer me any more than a voyeuristic half-hour of banality. I want to be introduced to something new; something curious; something that will make my mouth salivate with anticipation. Not another vapid bobbing head yielding a knife, usually pathetically, bringing me to the culinary edge with the addition of a chipolte chili. Come on no matter where I have found myself there are fun stuffs to incorporate into my daily culinary repertoire and we live in a country rife with possibilities.

Lets not settle for the trivialization of foods that our network outlets tend to pander to and get ourselves to a market…talk to the producer, seller, fellow shoppers and start collecting some truly fresh inspiration.

Grilled Squid - yields 6 servings
2 pounds squid – cleaned, and cut into 1” pieces
1/8-pound garlic scapes
1/2-cup roughly chopped sorrel
5 scallions – roots discarded; white and green portion chopped
1/4-cup mint leaves
1/4-cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat an indoor grill pan or outdoor grill to very hot.

Make sure the squid is dried of any excessive moisture, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Quickly grill the garlic tops for a few minutes turning a couple of times in order to prevent them from burning. Grill the squid for 4 to 5 minutes turning once. Toss the squid, garlic tops and remaining together and serve warm.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

And now for the tip...

I have waxed amorously about the generosity of the season’s young garlic plant – the gentleness of its bulb; scented quality of its root hairs and edible possibility of its tender stalk. Now though the next phase has emerged. Its flower bulb has arisen from its stalk potential waiting to flower and seed. I am gladly truncating that process and hording these buds redolent, and chopping them up. Though I have also secured some away, my first pickle of the season. It is the second year I have pickled these buds – last as an experiment this year as a desire. I found myself judiciously fishing out those now briny, garlicky tips and adding them to pilafs, stir-frys and stews.

So, the start of my puttn’ up has begun…In the coming few months my freezer, refrigerator and cupboards will start filling up with the foods that will sustain and inform my foods of winter.

Pickled Garlic Scapes
1 pound garlic scapes (the unopened flower bud of the garlic)
3/4-cup kosher salt
3 cups water
3-1/4 cups white distilled vinegar

In a one-quart saucepan bring the salt and water to the boil to dissolve the salt. Once the salt has dissolved add one cup of the vinegar.

Sterilize a two-quart glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Firmly pack the garlic scapes into the jar, and pour over the water solution. Then pour over the remaining vinegar. If the garlic is not completely submerged in water-vinegar top the jar off with some extra vinegar. Secure the lid (if the lid is metal line the rim of the jar with a few layers of plastic wrap), and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Friday, June 20, 2008


So, it is the time again for tie-dye splatters on our shirts as well as pits scattering across the floor the first of the season’s stone fruit adorn my kitchen counter. Cherries have quietly appeared in the market here in the northeast, and I must say I happy to see them a couple weeks earlier than usual. A chilled, ripe cherry is as satisfying today as a jawbreaker was to the prepubescent lad who would drop his precious quarter in the slot of the candy machine. Cherries freeze fantastically given its thick outer skin. If buying a red Bing look for a dark sanguine cherry with a smooth skin; the Queen Anne and Rainer varieties should be firm and smooth skinned. These yellow to blushing latter cherries have a natural lower acidity making them seem even sweeter.

I did finally spring for a cherry pitter; it is easier then cutting them in half, which doubles as an olive pitter in the off-season. Though I have decided it is best to pit the cherry into a tall glass allowing the seed to fall to the bottom and avoiding the resulting splat of cherry juice everywhere.

They are the easiest of bowlful of pleasure but their usage does not stop there.

Whole Black Sea Bass with Cherries – yields 6 servings
2 three-pound whole black sea bass – scales removed
1-teaspoon coarse salt (such as kosher or sea)
1/2-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 scallions – green tops only; cut 1/12 inch pieces
2-tablespoons tarragon leaves – roughly chopped
1/2-pound cherries - pitted

Pre heat the oven to 475 degrees.

Wash the sea bass quickly under very cold water, and pat dry. Make three cuts, on the diagonal, through the flesh of the fish on each side. Sprinkle the fish with the salt and pepper. Place the fish on a parchment lined baking tray, and fill the cavity of the fish with the scallions, tarragon and cherries having the filling spill out of the fish. Cook in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Enough is enough

How many more warnings do we have to receive regarding the dangers about eating? I am not meaning a processed, canned convenience that went wrong. Rather, we are talking fresh fruits and vegetables tainted with salmonella or e-coli bacteria or fish with mercury levels that are harmful to the yet-to-be born.

This latest round of reports pulling tomatoes from shelves and cautioning about the possible contamination of lemons is too much to bear. If ever we need to start eating locally and creating a relationship with our food growers, not the distributor, is now. Securing our foods stuffs from tracts of land the size Rhode Island seems completely out of scale and is no wonder that suspect waters seem to able to get through adding only obiterating nutritional value.

It is time we demand our food production take a step back to a smaller, more human scale production where regions feed themselves and smaller independent farms become the rule once more. If we continue to allow multi-national concerns to own, operate and disperse the products that end up in our bodies we are destined to suffer further advisory broadcasts. If our legislators do not want to step in then we must take our shopping bags and go somewhere else. If a farmer’s market is problematic ( or try a CSA (, and take control back about of the foods you eat.

Kale with Caramelized Onions and Portabello Mushrooms - yields 6 servings

2 pounds Kale
2 bunches spring onion - sliced into pieces
2 Portabello Mushroom - sliced into 1/4-inch strips
1/4 cup Olive Oil
salt and pepper to taste

Pull the leaves of the kale from the stem, and blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain. Sauté the onions in olive oil until they start to turn golden this will take about 10 minutes, and then add the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes. Toss with the kale and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

This is great on toasted peasant bread or as a bed for a piece of chicken.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oh, that smell

The stink that is spring is perfuming every market currently. No, I am not referring to the floral notes of Lily of the Valley or the seductive sortie of a cluster of phlox. Rather it is time to buy all those yet-to-be papery-coated garlic bulbs and fragrant your dishes with spring’s tender, completely usable garlic. Right now they should look like very large scallions with perhaps the start of a flower bud showing. At this point in garlic’s maturation the plant is 100% edible – that’s right from root hairs to tip.

I snip off the roots and store them in the freezer, and come winter I throw them into soups and stews for an ethereal garlic note. Otherwise, the rest of the plant is not safe from the slashing of my knife. It needs little to no cooking and is far gentler in flavor than is fully developed parent. Once the flower bud fully forms and opens the stalk of the garlic becomes tough and is no longer suitable for eating. However, that stalk still contains plenty of scent, and I will make a garlicky stock for soups, risottos or for storage in the freezer for a future fancy. So, for now I am chopping up garlic with reckless abandon into every salad, stir-fry, pasta dish I make.

Lamb Ragout - serves 6

1/2 pound Coarsely Ground Lamb
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 spring garlic - chopped
1 Tablespoon Red Chili Flakes
2 Bay Leaves
1/4 cup Red Wine
16 oz canned peeled whole Tomatoes
2 Red Peppers - roasted, peeled, seeded and sliced thin julienne
1 pound Spinach - washed and roughly torn
1/4 cup Black Olives - pitted (such as Kalamata, Nicoise or Gaeta)
1/4 cup Pine Nuts - lightly toasted
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese - grated
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat a heavy lined pan to hot, and add the oil. Cook the garlic, chili flakes and bay leaves for a few minutes. Add in the ground lamb, stirring, until browned. Pour in the wine and reduce for a few minutes until its syrupy. Mix in the tomatoes and peppers and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Mix in remaining ingredients and cook an additional 10 minutes. Correct the seasoning and serve over your favorite pasta or toasted bread.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

To a little dirt

So, strawberries are starting to peak. Those beautiful crimson gems that should release a gentle aromatic and explode a big sugary hit on your tongue. But everyone washes them – yikes. They are little sponges absorbing the moisture diluting their potency and worst of all breaking down. Now, I am personally all for a little dirt especially on a strawberry. If that grit annoys you at most take a damp towel and wipe the berry clean. I can never figure out where the seeds start and the dirt ends.

Do not tell me you are washing the berry to remove the pesticides for while I will agree that you can remove a certain portion from the berry topically they are rife with bug killers, mold retardants and fungus zappers throughout. I am not deluded into believing I am ridding these late spring arrivals of a quintessential tenant – eat organically. I have yet to find an organic supplier of these earth-hugging droplets. Not being too militant about life, and I refuse to deny myself of such a natural treasure I eat them – but never wash them.

Strawberry Compote with Homemade Ricotta Cheese - yields 6 servings

For Ricotta cheese
2 quarts Whole Milk
1/2 cup Distilled White Vinegar

In a four quart sauce pan bring the milk to just below the boiling point, approximately 180 degrees and remove from the heat. Stir in the vinegar giving the milk about three stirs only. Allow the mixture to sit for 20 to 25 minutes at room temperature. You should notice the milk starting to curdle almost immediately. If the milk does not start to curdle within the first five minutes add in an additional 1/4 cup of vinegar.

Line a sieve with about 4 to 5 layers of cheese cloth and place over a deep bowl or pot. After the milk has sat for the prescribed amount of time gently pour the curds and whey into the sieve. Allow the cheese to sit for 30 minutes to drain off the whey. The curds are your ricotta. Use immediately or store, refrigerated for a few days. You should store the ricotta in a glass bowl with a piece of plastic placed right down on top of it to prevent a skin from forming.

Strawberry Compote
1 quart of Strawberries
1/4 cup Honey
1/4 cup Lemon Balm - leaves only, roughly chopped ( or use mint, hyssop or lavender)

With a damp towel wipe the strawberries clean of any dirt. Cut off the green tops from the strawberries, known as the hull. Then cut the strawberries in half or quarters depending on their size.

In a sauce pan large enough to hold all the ingredients, add half the strawberries, honey and lemon balm. Over a medium flame cook the strawberries until they just start to breakdown, approximately 15 minutes. Then mix in remaining strawberries and remove from the heat.

To serve place a dollop of the ricotta on the plate and then spoon over the strawberry compote. Garnish with a crisp almond cookie.