Friday, October 31, 2008

A wasted squash

On stoops throughout the land we are being assaulted by a seasonal enthusiasm that lets the passerby know that that household supports…Halloween. All the jack-o-lanterns will be played out by the week’s end -- they should never by abused and wasted in such a way. I know the duration for the hard-skin winter squashes is long so what is the harm of cutting up the few sacrificial squat vegetables. I guess I should go as a grinch for I also have no attachment to Charlie Brown and the patch that raised these versatile New World edible gourds. I am pragmatic and there is good eats on those stoops!

It is my vote to eat them not to display them.

I was in the market last week and came across the most ugly, warty-skinned pumpkin I have ever seen. Given it was a variety I had never seen before I was immediately drawn to it. It is my food hunting motto if I had not seen it before it goes home to my kitchen. I found it easiest to break pumpkins down into large-ish pieces, scoop out the seeds and then bake them at 350-degrees until fork tender. I remove it from the oven, and using a large spoon I scrape the meat from its skin. Any pumpkin meat that you don’t use can easily be frozen for another occasion.

Ginger Pumpkin Pie
3/4-cup ground macadamia nuts
3/4-cup breadcrumbs
1 egg white
3 cups pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 whole eggs
1-1/4 cup cream

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl mix the macadamia, bread crumbs and egg white together to thoroughly combine. Distribute the nut mixture evenly in a 10-inch pie pan. Place in the oven and cook for 10 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and cool the crust.

Mix the ginger, nutmeg, cayenne, brown, salt into the pumpkin puree.

In a small bowl mix the whole eggs and cream together to completely combine. Mix the cream mixture in the pumpkin and then pour into the prepared nut crust. Place the pie into the oven and cook for about 45 minutes. Cool and serve.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Brussels Sprouts

My earliest memories of autumn’s bonsai cabbage heads have always brought me dinnertime pleasure – even as over-cooked as those ruminations are. I would eat Brussels sprouts leaf by leaf munching my way to its core of tightly packed leaves that were the only part that still retained some crunch. It must have been this surprise center that intrigued me given that I was raised on canned yucky peas and carrots; tumbled perfectly smoothed questionable new potatoes; fancy cut “French” green beans. The limited exposure to seasonal, unprocessed foods gave me a particularly keen interest in those foods that did not come from a container filled not only with vegetables but a slightly viscous soaking solution.

I could never disparage one of the lone moments of freshness of my youth. In the spirit of full disclosure, I also liked lima beans, spinach and basically, any vegetable I could consume raw. So, one can be surprised by my Brussels sprout tolerance.

Brussels Hash – yields 6 servings

1/4-pound bacon
1-tablespoon olive oil
1-1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
2 garlic cloves – minced fine
5 scallions
Slice the bacon into small strips – about 1/4-inch.
1/4-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Trim any bruised out leaves of the Brussels sprouts. Then shred the sprouts and hold in a bowl. Clean the scallions and discard the root hairs. Slice the scallions into 1/2-inch pieces, and hold with the sprouts.

Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over a medium high heat, and add the bacon and oil. Once the bacon starts to crisp add the shredded Brussels sprouts, garlic, scallions and pepper. Cook the mixture for five minutes, and season with salt if needed.

Serve warm.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A final grip

I am one recalcitrant market shopper. I seem to have a problem letting the warmer days go – I have recently bought the last of the tenacious corn on the cob; not quite juicy tomatoes, and even, green beans clearly beyond their prime. All these last season foods have recently made it to my plate. In truth, I know these items are taking their curtain call, and I must solider up and let the season close.

I have always suffered some degree of seasonal disorder, and perhaps there lies my distress with the sun setting on summer. Though not all is dark and frosty. Perusing the stalls the other day I spied cilantro that had been allowed to flower and proceed to seed. Now, these seeds are more commonly recognized as coriander. It tickled me to see those still immature seeds, and reminded me of a moment in Australia when I spent an afternoon winnowing coriander seeds free from their stems. It was a prefect tropical day about 8 hours north of Sydney, and the world I was visiting was temporarily filled with the scent of coriander, cockatoos calling for a mate and me.

I have been throwing the green seeds into various vegetable cook-ups. I did of course, bury a bit in my usual salt preserve, and I just needed to put up one last pickle – coriander carrots.

Pickled Coriander Carrots – 1 quart
1-1/2 pounds small carrots – cut into 2 to 3 inch sticks
1-1/4 cups white distilled vinegar
2-tablespoons kosher salt
1-tablespoon whole coriander seed
1-teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/4-cup bottle water

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, and add the carrots. Blanch the carrots for a minute, then
drain the carrots and run under cold water.

Bring the vinegar and salt t the boil to dissolve the salt.

Place the coriander and peppercorns in a sterilized glass jar, and then snuggly fit the
carrots in. Pour in the vinegar and water, and fit with a lid lined with plastic warp.

Refrigerate for one to two weeks before eating.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Celery Root

Celery root is one of those vegetables that one is quite likely to walk right by. It is not particularly pretty; with its tangle of roots that must be removed along with the outer skin that is bumpy and knurled. How does one even begin to attack it? Ideally, I look for celery root that still has its stalks attached which will give me a good indication of how fresh it is – the perkier they are the shorter the distance that brought it to my plate. As an added bonus the stalks are good for stocks not so much as an eat.

I have yet to find a vegetable peeler that can successfully tackle the rough topography of the celery root. So, grab your chef’s knife to get this job done. It is so well worth it for this tuber offers a myriad of possibilities. It finds its way into my soups and stews and is even is willing to get mashed along with parsnips for a potato alternative. Though, I am frequently called to an admittedly slicing intensive salad with apples, onions and blue cheese. You have been warned that everything has to be sliced julienne now be advised the salad is even better a day or two later.

Celery Root and Green Apple Salad - yields 6 to 8 servings
1 medium red onion
1/2 cup apple cider Vinegar
2 pound celery root
2 tart apples such as Granny Smith, Mutsu
2 small carrots - sliced julienne
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 pound blue cheese - crumbled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

Slice the onion in half through its root base – by cutting the onion in this way you prevent it from falling apart on you as all the leaves of the onion attach at the root end. Trim off the stem and peel away its outer layer. Slice the onion into a very thin julienne, which will actually be a half moon shape. Toss the onions with vinegar in a work bowl and let sit for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, peel the celery root by cutting off the root and stem portions to create a flat, stable surface. Using a pairing or chef knife peel the skin from the celery root. Given the thickness of the vegetable’s skin I find it much easier to use a knife than a vegetable peeler. Slice the celery root into 1/4 inch panels and then cut those panels into 1/8 inch wide julienne strips. Place in with the onions and toss. Core the apples and slice into 1/8 inch thick julienne strips and toss with the onion mixture along with the carrot, chives, mustard, blue cheese, oil, salt and pepper.

Serve this salad cold or, I like to warm it before serving.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

That summer

Mother nature is surely a tease. Just as we thought we were turning the page on a season one last snippet of warmth lingers about. Indian summer is that stretch of seemingly balmy days after a frost; a taunt that perhaps summer has not completely surrendered to autumn. And, alas, here in the northeast there has been a few evening frosts that has crystallized on many a leaf. For those of us vertically stacked in an urban landscape we tend to forget that just an arm’s stretch from the city the chill sets quicker and deeper. If the farmer can they blanket their fields with lightweight burlap to insulate those delicate plants of true summer that we just have a hard time letting go of. I have stubbornly bought tomatoes over the last couple of weeks knowing they are past their peak but tenacious enough to survive. Regardless, they are less insulting than those mealy imposters sitting in the supermarket. So, my meals are sprinkled with summer and autumn at the moment -- not fully committed to either.

Spaghetti Rustica – yields 6
1-cup olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
4 garlic cloves- sliced very thin
1 pound beefsteak tomatoes - seeds removed and chopped
1/8 cup fresh oregano leaves - roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves - torn
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves - roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound Spaghetti
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

In a sauté pan heat the oil over a low flame with the red pepper flakes and garlic for about 10 minutes. Be careful not to let the garlic burn, or color too much. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer an additional 10 minutes.

Cook off the pasta in plenty of boiling water, and drain. With water still clinging to the pasta add into the oil mixture along with herbs, salt and pepper. Toss all the ingredients together to thoroughly combine and serve immediately.

Garnish with the parmesan cheese.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

My sweetness

I say I don’t have a sweet tooth but perhaps that is not completely true. Or, more specifically I have a vanilla tooth. I will eat a few too many custards, if simply classic, stopping usually with the on-set of a bellyache. Walk into an ice cream parlor resplendent with an array I will walk the edge with vanilla bean be-speckled cone. Now, if you really want to watch me rise and fall on a sugar high place a white cake with an Italian buttercream I will become right-out aggressive in protecting my slice of heaven.

It is not feasible to whip up a cake on a moment’s notice – fortunately. However, I am preoccupied with a simple cake formula that I can keep in my head, and bake as individual cakes freezing them to be called into service as my tooth calls. I have never been particularly good at memorizing recipes, formulas or anything that I can easily look-up. Though the idea of 1-2-3-4 cake made sense to me. I just had to remember the order…butter, sugar, flour, egg. It is a dense, rich cake that is difficult to go wrong with.

1-2-3-4 Cake – yields 3 9-inch cakes
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/2-cup milk
1-tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-teaspoon baking powder
1/4-teaspoon salt

3 9-inch cake pans buttered.

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, milk and vanilla together to combine.

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

Divide the batter between the three pans, and bake for about 30 minutes until set and a cake tester comes out clean.

Quince Upside Down Cake – yields 12
2 quince – peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1-cup sugar
1 recipe 1-2-3-4 cake

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a 9-inch cake pan or 12 individual 3/4-ounce ramekins evenly distribute the sliced quince – gently packing them in.

In a 2-cup saucepan add the sugar and 1/4-cup of water. Over a high heat melt the sugar and water together, and cook until the sugar turns a light amber. Pour the caramelized sugar over the quince, and allow to cool.

Pour the cake batter over the quince, and bake for 20 minutes, or until tester inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. While still warm invert the cake and remove the pan. If any quince has stuck to the bottom gently remove to the cake. Cool the cake completely.