Sunday, March 28, 2010

Setting a Table

This week is sandwiched by two holidays that offers reflection about our abilities to make choices and embrace our freedom. It is precious and important to recognize the fact that we, as a people, all have free use of will, and that we employ it with a sense of consciousness as it will always impact the people around us; the land we tread upon and even the legacy we leave behind.

My people are starting the week with a holiday that celebrates the march into freedom, and the search for a homeland – a basic concept we all seek to achieve. As for me, the physical presence is less vital than the actually commitment to community and love – that is home. We all share, I think, a desire to belong and be seen by tender gazing eyes and a mutually respectful society. Maintaining humility and an appreciation of our place within the cycle of life, as well as the wake we create reinforces the honor of this coming week, and helps continue the thread of life – which in return will leave room for another to join.

Brisket – yields 10 to 12 servings
6-1/2 pounds top cut brisket
3-large onions - thinly sliced
4-garlic cloves – chopped
1-tablespoon tomato paste
3 fresh bay leaves
1-tablespoon fresh thyme leaves – roughly chopped
1/4-pound sun-dried tomatoes – roughly chopped
1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms
3-cups veal stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Trim the brisket of its excessive fat that is topically present.

Season the brisket with salt and pepper.

Heat a roasting pan on the stovetop over a high heat, and sear the brisket on both sides.

Remove the brisket from the pan, and add the onions, cooking until lightly browned. Then add the garlic, tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme, sun-dried tomatoes and dried mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes. Lay the brisket over the onion mixture, and pour over the stock.

Cover the pan well, and place in the oven. Cook the brisket for 3 to 4 hours.

Let the brisket cool completely overnight in the refrigerator, and then slice. Return back to the cooking mixture and re-warm. Serve.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In waiting

Everywhere life is coming back…daffodils, tulip and dogwood buds and a good friend’s newborn baby. The cycle of life and its return is present all around us. The trials and tribulations of surviving winter’s assault…both nature’s wrath and internal emotions that might have gone wry. A calm is replaces the anxiousness caused by another cold, grey day as the sun warms the earth and personally, heats up desire.

My argues is not of the kind seen on the National Geographic channel, but rather the want for green, chlorophyll rich foods stimulated by this shift in the earth’s axis that brings us all out ready to play. But, I wait knowing it is weeks away for desire to catch up with reality. So, while this is the season of renewal for me, foodwise, it is the season to fast. Not an absolute 30-day food free period rather the foods I am eating simple fare – salad greens, miso soup and the last of my pickles.

The irony of these exciting first sunny days leaves me saddened by the still barrenness of my market. So, it until nature starts to trickle in it is plates of comfort foods – thanks Mom.

Pork Loin braised with Potato, Sauerkraut and Caraway – yields 6 servings
1/4-pound bacon - diced
3 pounds pork loin chops (approx. 1-inch thick)
2-large onions – thinly sliced
2-teaspoons whole caraway seeds
1-pound Yukon gold potatoes – cut into 1-inch chunks
1-quart sauerkraut – drained
1-heaping tablespoon grainy mustard
2-tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
3 bay leaves (fresh if possible)
1-cup white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a 6 or 8-quart casserole pot over a medium heat, and add the diced bacon. Cook the bacon until it releases it’s fat, and crisps. With a slotted spoon remove the bacon, and hold to the side.

Sear the pork in the pot. Remove the pork to from the pan, and reserve alongside the bacon.

To the pot add the onions and caraway seeds. Cook the onions until they are completely softened, and just starting to color. Then mix the potatoes, sauerkraut, grainy mustard, thyme leaves, bay leaves and wine. Reduce the heat to a low. Cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Then return the bacon and pork loin to pot, and continue cooking, covered, 20 to 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Its coming

Early spring excites
More than nature's need to grow
Eyes that take in sight
Redolence perfumed glow
Fantasies - readied; set; go

Wild Mushroom Strudel - yields 6 to 8 servings
2 pounds assorted wild mushrooms such as shiitakes, oysters, hen of the woods
1/4 cup dried morel mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots - sliced thin
2 garlic cloves - diced
1/4-cup brandy
1/4 cup pine nuts - lightly toasted; roughly chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley - leaves only, chopped
1/8 cup thyme - leaves only, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/4-pound Phyllo dough - at room temperature
1/2-pound butter - melted

Clean the mushrooms with a damp kitchen towel and roughly chop them.

In a fine mesh colander rinse the morels under running water to rid them of any dirt and grit. Soak the morels in 1/2 cup of boiling water for 30 minutes. Roughly chop the morels and reserve its soaking liquid.

Heat a 10-inchsauté pan to hot and add the olive oil. Sauté the shallots until lightly golden and then add the garlic and, the fresh mushrooms and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add the brandy and morels along with the mushroom liquid. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the liquid has evaporated. Mix in the pine nuts, herbs and season with salt and pepper. Cool the mushroom mixture.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lay a sheet of phyllo out flat and using a pastry brush lightly paint the sheet with the melted butter. Always start brushing the phyllo with melted butter from the outer edges working your way inward as the phyllo starts to dry on the outer fringes first. Place an additional 5 sheets on top of this first one buttering each layer. You must hold the phyllo you are not working with spread out flat under a damp kitchen towel in order to prevent it from drying out. Spread half of the mushroom mixture along the length of the bottom third of the phyllo. Then carefully roll up the phyllo over the mushroom mixture and continue to roll the mixture completely up into a tight log. Once you have rolled the strudel half way you will have edges that you should fold in just like if you where wrapping a gift, and then continue to roll the strudel completely up. Transfer to a parchment lined baking tray. Cut three to four slashes in the top of strudel. These cuts allow steam to escape and helps prevent the strudel from bursting. Lightly brush the phyllo with some melted butter. Repeat this with the remaining mushroom mixture. Place the strudels in the oven and baked for 15 minutes or until golden and crisp. Slice the strudel on an angle while warm and serve.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Holding tight

I am counting. We have had a full week where the daytime temperatures have hovered in the 40’s and 50’s. Nights have not even kissed the freezing mark. Precipitation has fallen from the sky, not in light crystallized shapes, but heavy droplets of water. Green tender shoots are cropping up around the base of trees, and a crocus or two have been spotted. The time of renewal is imminent.

I figure I have about four weeks or so before my market starts receiving the first signs that spring has sprung – ramps, fiddlehead ferns. Though I did spy sad, limp, unfurling coils of fiddleheads in a “high-end” produce market this past week. I surely hope that the buyers of such a pathetic representation of spring’s potential will not be so put off that they won’t succumb to its true season. For me, a sideward glance is all they could get from me.

So, I am still cooking from my stores well on schedule to run down by the end of the month. The back of my freezer is now clearly visible; shelves in the refrigerator are available once again, and jars of fragrant salts are emptying out. I anticipate in the coming months arguments about my obsession with putting up enough inventory to feed the building, but for now, I am basking in the bounty of potential always keen to trap that exuberance.

Corn and Seafood Chowder – yields 4 to 6 servings
5-cups corn (frozen or fresh)
2- cups chicken stock
1-tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion
4-celery stalks - roughly chopped
1 Anaheim pepper – seeds discarded; cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2-teaspons fresh thyme leaves
4 heads roasted garlic
1 red pepper – seeds discarded; cut into 1/2-inched pieces
1/2-pound fingerling potatoes – cut in thirds
1/2-can canned tomatoes
1/4-pound turnip – peeled; cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Pinch of saffron
1 zucchini – cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4-scallions – sliced
1/2-pound cleaned shrimp
1/2-pound cockles
1/2-pound halibut – cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a blender add 3-cups of the corn and the chicken stock, and blend until smooth. Hold to the side.

Remove the garlic cloves from the skins of the roasted garlic, and reserve.

In a 4-quart pot add the oil, onions, celery and Anaheim pepper and cook over a high flame until wilted and lightly browned. Then mix in the thyme, garlic, red pepper, canned tomato and turnip. Mix to thoroughly combine and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes add the saffron, zucchini and remaining 2-cups of corn as well as some salt and pepper. Cook another five minutes then mix in the scallions, shrimp, cockles, and halibut. Cook 5 to 10 minutes longer. Correct seasoning and serve.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A moment of change

Every season has an arc. Those initial days when we receive a gentle nudging from nature that something is in the air -- we find ourselves frolicking in the nascent awakening of a change, which eventually transits, into familiarity and at times boredom of the expected. As the cycle continues we are presented a burst of energy and excitement heralding the change that has come. The embracing of tomorrow full of promise and hope tastes bittersweet as a twinge of sadness fills the good-bye.

With an eye on yesterday and foot into tomorrow we must navigate this emotional rollercoaster, and not forget that the succession is ours to witness – ours to harness – ours to cherish.

As this evolution unfolds it is our responsibility to be present ready to store the memories, experiences and ideas that every season so generously offers and secure them somewhere safe.

Tomorrow’s dawn may ask for some of that knowledge.

Caramelized Banana Upside-down Cake - yields 8-1/2x8-1/2 cakes
3 bananas – peeled, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/4-cup freshly squeezed orange or tangerine juice
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
2-cups all-purpose flour
2-teaspoons baking powder
1/4-teaspoon salt
6 egg whites
1/2-cup mascarpone cheese
2-teaspoons orange blossom water

Lay the sliced bananas down in an 8-1/2x8-1/2 inch cake pan.

In a 1-quart saucepan add the 1/2-cup sugar and 1/4-cup orange juice. Bring to the boil, and cook the sugar until an amber hue. Immediately drizzle the caramelized sugar over the bananas.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until very light in color and fluffy. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk the whites, mascarpone and orange blossom water together to completely combine.

To the butter mixture add a third of the flour, and mix to combine. Then add a third of the egg mixture to combine. Continue to add the remaining ingredients ending with the flour. Pour the batter evenly over the bananas, and then place in the oven. Cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove to a cooling rack, and rest the cake for 5 minutes. Turn the cake out of the pan onto a plate, and allow the cake to cool completely.