Monday, March 30, 2009

Seeds to Plant

It has been over 50 years since we used any part of the eighteen acres that encompasses the White House’s footprint for the foods served at our national table. Now, after too many generations reared on manipulated, processed, and artificially seasoned foods we have a first family actually interested in fresh, seasonal and vibrant culinary offerings. Michelle Obama’s groundbreaking last week on an edible garden that is meant to supply the first family with tender greens in spring; saccharine sugar snap peas come summer, and hard-skinned squashes through the first frosts is a wonderful reminder to all of us of the opportunity and vitality of the seasonal plate. I do not live on 18 acres in the middle of a girded jungle and hence have little ability to shovel some earth and sow my own seeds.

It would be satisfactory, for me, if I had but a small parcel of worm rich earth to encourage some of my epicurean fancies to take root. Fortunately, on the outskirts of my fair metropolis there are denizens of the land who come to market, and share the largess of their loamy toil. It is not that I am complaining rather it is gardener’s envy poking out and I am grateful for the farmers I know who share my interest in the new, the re-discovered all for the chance of a play-date. So, while the White House staff is tending our national vegetable garden I will still be frequenting my local growers making sure regardless of the administration they know the importance of their work.

Wilted Escarole scented with Garlic - yields 4 servings
1/4 cup sliced,Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
pinch of red chili flakes
1 pound Escarole
3 garlic cloves - sliced paper thin
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Trim the root base from the escarole and wash well. Drain in a colander to allow some of the water to drip off.

Heat a 10-inch sauté pan, and add the oil. Sauté the olives, almonds and chili flakes for a few minutes. Then add in the escarole adding a quarter of the escarole at a time. Half way through the addition of the escarole, toss in the garlic and continue to add the remaining escarole. Cook the escarole just until it’s wilted. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Forward and Wait

And so, you arrived arms full of promise and a spirit as capricious as ever. Seeing you out my window you put on an aerial display more reminiscent of a wintry scene but I know you are not the most stable, and clearly are uncomfortable with change. Yet, that is who you are – the natural New Year -- the season of renewal and rebirth. Your first edible bud only eclipses my love of your emergence. I know to wait, and as I do the layers will be shed allowing tomorrow’s future to begin to take form and be the harbinger of things still to come.

Now, begins the struggle with culinary despair as nothing offers any luster to the eye. The weeks it will take for you to spring forth are for me the darkest of the year. I will not succumb and become too maudlin. I know this food depression will not prevail, and need to keep my strength in order to be ready to dig up what is going to pop up.

Salmon Fillet encrusted with Pistachio – yields 6 servings

1 cup ground pistachio nuts
2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 egg whites
6-4oz salmon fillets

Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together all the dry ingredients.

In a bowl lightly beat the egg white to just frothy.

Dip the salmon fillets into the egg whites to completely wet the fillets. Then remove the fillets to the spiced pistachio mix, and roll the salmon in it.

Place the salmon a parchment lined baking tray that has been lightly greased with olive oil. Bake the salmon for 12 to15 min. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

At Last

The return is scheduled to arrive four days from now yet is nature ready to release the earth. I am trying to spot crocus that have pushed through the perma-frost offering the first glimpse of color and tender reveal of the next season. I know though even with these signs it is still 4 to 6 weeks before I will be blessed with verdant leaves and crisp young stems to adorn my daily plate.

So, while I wait, and try to maintain my sanity during I what consider the worst food interval – that period between winter’s end and spring’s release – I am still able to live off my stores. I am knowledgeable enough to have squirreled away a sufficient amount to give some depth to the blandness of the moment. I still have a decent stash of tomatoes in the freezer; dwindling jars of pickled cucumbers, cabbage, carrots and chilies, and the last of the shelling beans dried for a future meal.

I will not watch the calendar rather I will be conscience of the weather, and light a candle to ward off any late season snowstorm. Let it rain. Let it sun. Let it grow!

Tomato stewed Black Beans – yields 6 servings
1-1/4 cup dried black beans
1-inch piece of ginger root – cut in half lengthwise
1-teaspoon whole coriander seed
1-teaspoon whole cumin seed
1-can (13.5 ounces) stewed tomatoes
1-tablespoon Mexican achiote paste
5 garlic cloves – chopped
1 medium-sized onions – chopped

Soak the beans in 4 cups of water for about eight hours. Drain the beans, and place in a 2-quart saucepan along with the ginger root. Cover with 4-cups of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook the beans for an hour to hour and half – until tender.

Drain the beans, reserving about 1/2-cup of the cooking liquid. Discard the ginger root.

To the 2-quart saucepan return the drained beans, coriander, cumin, tomato, achiote, garlic and onions. Bring back to the boil, and then reduce down to a simmering. Season with salt simmering for another hour.