Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stinky, stinky, Ramps!

This month’s weather may make some blue, for me, its accompanying warming makes me see blooms all around me even on dreary days. I must admit that this is the most visually exciting time of year for me. I am awed by nature’s endless display of color, shape, texture and smell all which cause my pace to slow down --I am well advised to always leave a little earlier then need be in order to be able to stop and take a whiff. There are few flowers that don’t appeal – my secret ambition is to be a farmer of only edible flowers. And, as a side business I’d maintain an apiary alchemically transforming those culinary beauties not only into plateful of whimsy but luscious honey.

But I digress, and so it is when my fancy takes flower.

Right now, there is a broad leaf allium that has no bloom to entice me but its fragrance is bolder than its inedible, botanical, identical twin, Lily of the Valley. Ramps, are the true sign of spring on the east coast – while California rolls into another harvest: artichoke; asparagus: avocado; strawberries. I do miss the wealth that a temperate, fertile region offers throughout the year – but absence does make the heart grown fonder and I am absolutely atwitter now that the first of the year’s foods has arrived.

Saut̩ Ramps Рyields 4
2 bunches of ramps (about 14-pound)
1-tablespoon olive oil
1 boneless/skinless chicken breast – sliced in thin strips
15 green olives – pitted
2-teaspoons lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim the roots from the ramps bottoms and discard. Cut the ramps in half, separating the white stems from the broad green leaves. Wash the ramps well.

Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over a high heat and then add the oil and chicken. Cook for a few minutes to lightly brown, and then add the ramp stems. Cook for a few minutes longer. Mix in the ramps leaves, olives, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Cook to wilt the leaves down.

Serve warm on toasted peasant bread slices.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Green is the Day

So, it’s Earth Day, and every media outlet is letting us know the fragility of planet we have been so heavily treading upon. They will for the week inundate us with statistics, tips and guilt for what we have done. Well, we are more than a few generations into industrial living and while reverting back to a pastoral lifestyle maybe a personal fantasy – it is not bound to happen. Instead, it is more of an evaluation of our approach to living and what behavioral changes we can put in place to help strength the ripple of change

The choice is what can I do and what do I want to do? Personally, I buy my food locally as much as possible – I wish I could say it is because of some environmental mission rather it was from the selfishness and my wanting the best flavor. How fortunate my artist need fell into alignment with the current social conscience. What I will do starting today is bringing my compostibles to the market where they will convert into soil, and then sell it back to me. If only my apartment got some got light. I don’t use air-conditioning; I have embraced my father’s cry, “shut off the light!” I am living my life as aware as possible and even if I am not prefect I have enough self-imposed guilt to keep me carrying my own shopping bags, rinsing out Ziplocs and remove my clothes from the dryer while still damp.

Sauce Vert - yields approx. 2 cups

1/4-cup capers
2 garlic cloves - chopped
1/8-cup chopped cornichons
1 cup pitted green olives
1/2-cup Italian parsley - leaves only
1/8-cup thyme - leaves only
1-cup watercress - tough stems discarded
1/4-cup tarragon vinegar
1/4-cup water
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2-cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place all ingredients, save the oil, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Blend the mixture until fairly smooth, and then with the machine running slowly pour in the oil. Correct seasoning.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What a dream

About two years ago I had a dream it involved a lamb, some yogurt and spices. I had a nocturnal vision of a slow, roasted leg. It is not that unusual for me to dream recipes, and in my dreams most recipes have been tested and proven a success or work in progress. This particular desire was the former, and I will admit to casually looking for a leg of lamb bone-in since that night. Here in New York they are not as common as one would have thought – sure bone-out was constantly available but that is not how I envisioned this dish. So, the formula sat on the back burner waiting. Well, this weekend my dream was fulfilled.

It was in Seattle I found that seemingly rare bone-in leg – I think it had more to do with Easter than location. Regardless, I was able to rub down that leg so the applied flavors would infuse and the yogurt would work its tenderizing magic. The only compromise I had to make was on the cooking medium. In my original revelation that leg sat on the in-direct side of a grill bathing in smoke as it slowly cooked. This past spring weekend did not allow a complete replication – it was pouring rain most of the days. So, an easy revision and into a low temperature oven it went.

After half a day in the oven that leg revealed itself to be caramelized to perfection; ready to fall off the bone upon command. Definitely a keeper of an idea as was confirmed during that REM sleep period, and finally eaten. Next time, it is going to get that soaking from the grill.

Leg of Lamb – yields 4 to 6 servings
5-pound bone-in leg of lamb
2 lemons – zested and juiced
1 head of garlic – peeled and finely chopped
2-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-tablespoon smoked paprika
2-teaspoon turmeric
1-teaspoon fennel seed
1/2-cup plain non-fat yogurt
1/4-cup cider vinegar

Trim the lamb of excess fat leaving some small patches of fat on the leg.

In a small work bowl mix together the lemon zest, juice, garlic, black pepper, paprika, fennel seed and yogurt to thoroughly combine.

Lay the leg on a sheet of plastic wrap and slather the yogurt concoction all over the leg. Wrap the leg of lamb in the plastic wrap tightly. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 325-degrees.

Take the lamb from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for a half hour.

Place the lamb on a rack that is sitting in a roasting pan. Season the lamb with salt. Pour a cup of water in the bottom of the roasting pan (though not over the lamb). Cook the oven for 4 to 5 hours. Remove from the oven, and immediately pour over the cider vinegar, and allow the lamb to sit 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hyacinth stirs my sleep
spring’s soft light washes upon my face
A hunger is fed

Egg Bread - yields 1 (12-inch) loaf

5 cups all-purpose flour
1/3-cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1-cup warm water
2 1/2-teaspoons yeast
1/4-cup walnut or almond oil
1-tablespoon orange blossom water
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
Egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon cream)

Place the flour, sugar and salt in a work bowl, and mix to evenly distribute.

Dissolve the yeast in a small bowl in the water. Then mix in the oil, orange water, eggs and yolk. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the yeast mixture. Work to form a dough mass, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead the dough until it is smooth. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature until double in size. This will take approximately one hour.

Return the dough a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate the dough with the palms of your hands. Divide the dough into thirds and roll each piece into 12 inch long logs. Place the strands side by side on a lined baking tray and begin to braid the bread. Start braiding from the center of the loaf to one end and then turn the pan around, and
finish braiding. This technique helps create a more uniform thickness. Pinch the ends closed and tuck them under the loaf. Loosely cover the loaf with oil plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise again until almost double in size.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the top of the bread with the egg wash and place in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and has an internal temperature of 210 degrees. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow the bread to cool completely before slicing.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Culinary SOS!!!!

Perhaps it is time a divorce is considered – therapy at a minimum. It does not seem that the FDA is a well functioning relationship. Chilies, scallions, spinach, peanuts and the latest, pistachios have all fallen under direr warnings. For the last hundred plus years we have accepted a federal agency that divides its attention between food safety and drug regulation under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services. Dare I suggest that the food part moves back in with its parent – the Department of Agriculture. I must say, I do not think the relationship is really working out. Our food supply has gotten too complex – how can we safely manage imported foods; consistently inspect domestic food production facilities or offer a greater focus on small, family-run farms when a major pharmaceutical company has a drug on the market with a full page of potential side-effects. I don’t mean to advocate the demise of any relationship but maybe we really need a food administration that is fully capable to fully focus on the source, safety and future of our foods.

In a whiplash snap I support these terrors in our food supply for it makes knowing your local growers even more vital. I can ask Ted how he raises his hogs and what is in his Andouille sausage; engage Betsy on the potential of the tomato season, or Lou whose pheasant eggs come to market when the pheasants are in the mood. Until I can be assured by our federal agency’s commitment and ability to know what is happening with our foods I will do my own investigation and monitoring.

Serrano Ham Pressed Sandwich with Spiced Guava Paste – serving 4 to 6
1-cup guava paste
1 jalapeno pepper – finely minced
1/8-teaspoon ground cloves
1/4-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8-teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 baguette – cut in half lengthwise
1/4-pound thinly sliced Manchego cheese
1/2-pound thinly sliced Serrano ham
1/4-pound arugula

In a 1-quart saucepan add the guava paste, jalapeno, clove, black pepper, cinnamon and half cup of water. Melt the guava down stirring in the spices. Cook the mixture for 10 minutes over a low flame.

Hollow out the baguette, and on both trenched out halves spread the guava mixture. Then place down on one half some the cheese then the ham, arugula and then remaining cheese. Place the other half on top, and place the sandwich on a baking tray. Place another baking on top, and a weight (such as a heavy lid, cast-iron skillet).

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cook the sandwich for 10 minutes.
Slice and serve.