Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A market stroll

I always say, the kitchen is an adult’s sandbox, and we should just remember the joy of making mud pies (and not the chocolate kind). As the market gears up I return to a warm weather pattern – always finding myself swinging through the market with or without a plan. Even if I am not marketing because my schedule has me out I find pleasure just spying the constantly fuller tables, and reconnecting with seasonal friends.

Living in a vertically stacked environment I find it difficult to fully appreciate the turn of a season -- snow is gone within days – the sun is always being blocked by a skyscraper. I rely upon the farmer’s market to keep me clued into what is really happening and help switch my seasonal dial. Though weather channel does act as my secondary guide to start my search, as well as an alarm when an unexpected cold trough pushes its way back in.

Regardless, if it is a morning where a T-shirt will suffice or a light jacket needs to be thrown on before leaving I am convinced I’ll find something clinging with damp earth of spring.

Ramp wrapped Scallop – yields 4 to 6 servings
1-bunh of ramps – root hairs discarded
1-pound scallops
1/8-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4-teaspoon salt
1/8-teaspoon whole cumin seed
1/8-teaspoon sumac
1-tablespoon olive oil

Wash the ramps well. Separate the white stem from the green leaf (save the ramps stems

for another day’s sauté).

Bring about 2-quarts of water to the boil, and blanch the ramps leave for about 30 seconds. Immediately drain into a colander and run cold running water the leaves to stop their cooking.

Toss the scallops with the olive oil, black pepper, salt and sumac to thoroughly coat. Then wrap each scallop with three at a minimum of the blanched ramp leaves. Drizzle each parcel with a scant amount of oil.

Over a high flame heat a 10-inch sauté pan, or ideally, a cast iron skillet to hot.

Cook the scallops about 2-minutes on each side.

Serve immediately.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Budding of the spring

Oh, how I miss living in the Bay Area – especially this time of year. There is always some bounty to be gotten twelve months out of the year, but right I am pining for the artichokes I use to get. Tight, little buds still attached to the arm that sprouted from its trunk. Those petite artichokes hardly had a developed inner choke that needed to be cared for, and I would blanch them whole to be finished on the grill – with a mint infused dressing and I was in bliss.

Now, I welcome the arrival of Watsonville’s harvest as it heads east granted I no longer can find them of their stems making me change up my springtime floral bouquets. It has not impacted my desire or ability to cook them. I still look for buds that are tightly packed together and firm to the touch and deal with the more matured artichokes that arrive here and their slightly more evolved internal thorny choke. It is spring and a pile of greenish petals is always a welcomed sight.

Artichoke Puree - yields approx 2-1/2 cups
2-1/2 to 3 pounds artichokes
3-scallions – green tops only, roughly chopped
2-garlic cloves – roughly chopped
1/4-cup mint leaves
1-cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Trim one to two outer layers of the artichoke’s petals. Rub with a lemon around that area. Cut the artichoke in quarters, and with a pairing knife remove the inner choke. Rub the cut side of the artichoke with the lemon.

Place the artichokes in a pot, and cover with water. Place one lemon in the water with the artichokes. Cover with a lid that is slightly smaller than the circumference of the pot. Bring to the boil over a medium heat. Cook the artichokes for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the artichokes.

In the bowl of a food processor add the cooked artichokes, the juice of one lemon, scallion greens, garlic, and mint. Process the mixture to start it breaking down, and with the machine running pour n the oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the artichoke puree in a fine mesh sieve, and push it through over a work bowl. Discard the fibrous debris. Readjust the seasoning of the puree. Refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ramps -- et arrive

There is a cultish fascination with the wild ramp. Yes, they are fabulous to play with – part scallion part onion part garlic all within its slender stalk to broadening leaf. I slice them into salads and grill them to be served as a vegetable all on it own. I have even quickly pickled the stalks to garnish a Sunday brunch’s Bloody Mary cheer. Depending on the quality of the earth from which they are harvested, more directly the amount of sulfur in the soil, determines their potency.

So, yes, I will engage with these uncultivated alliums while their fleeting season lasts though I am more convince their trendy status is derived from the fact that are the harbinger of all that is in front of us. The earth has thawed from its wintry freeze and the risk of a hard frost is now, safely behind us. With the first of the season’s edible wonder filling our bellies it is our collective excitement that is starting to jazz up as we wait, knowing their arrival is assured, the first asparagus, sweet pea, peach and tomato. For those of us who have gardens this is the time we start digging on our knees. Personally, I watch the weather patterns hoping the old adage that April’s showers does bring May flowers and that we get a steady warming clime that will create a plentiful harvest in the weeks and months to come.

Ramp Soup – yields 4 servings
10-ounces ramps
5 stalks celery – minced
4 garlic cloves – finely minced
1-tablespoon olive oil
1/2-pound Russet potato – peeled and finely minced
2-cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Trim the root end of the ramps and discard. Then cut the ramp stems from their broad green leaves. Reserve the leaves.

Wash the ramps stems well. Then mince the stalks.

In a 1-1/2-quart saucepan add the ramps stems, celery, garlic and oil. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables have lost their raw look. Mix in the potato and stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and cover with a lid. Simmer over a low flame for 45 to 60 minutes.

Take the reserved ramp greens and about 1/2-cup of the cooking soup (try to take primarily liquid), and place in a blender. Process until smooth. Add the pureed ramps to the soup, and cook an additional 15 minutes. Serve hot or cold with a dollop of sour cream.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The satisfaction of Hospitality

While the eating within the cycle of the ripening season is palate exciting, nutritionally potent and socially correct the more rewarding component of preparing a meal is sharing it with others. Nature in her wisdom tends to produce items that are willing to feed more than a single. Clusters of grapes, that head of cauliflower, or golden skin roasted chicken all ask to be shared.

Even as I wait for the first harvest of asparagus and foraged bundle of ramps I set the table for my family. Offering food and its subsequent filled-belly is a tacit expression of love. Both the perusing of stalls dazzling the eye with earth born bounty and the enthusiastic forkfuls rising to welcoming mouths gives equal satisfaction needed to feel complete with the idea of cooking. Now, there are many days when I cook for one, and as I eat these feeds there is not a sense of place within a community and the joy I experience when others have gathered to eat with me. Lets not forget the most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, was about the autumn harvest and the shared table. It is my goal to make that acknowledgement of thanks is experienced and embraced, not annually, but daily.

Pineapple Roast Pork – yields 6 to 8 servings
2-cups chopped pineapple
1 lime – peeled
2-green Thai chilies
4 to 5 whole black cardamom
3-garlic cloves
1-teaspoon whole black peppercorn
2-teaspoons whole coriander seed
1/2-teaspoon whole cumin seed
5-pounds pork shoulder (bone-in)
2-large onion – sliced
6 stems of thyme
10 stems of cilantro
Salt to taste

In a blender place the pineapple, lime, chilies, black cardamom, garlic, peppercorn, coriander and cumin. Process until it is completely pureed and the seeds have been broken down.

Pour over the pork, and refrigerate for 10 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the pork from the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to cooking,

In a roasting pan scatter the onions, and lay the thyme and cilantro down. Season the pork with salt. Place on top of the onions. Cover the roasting with aluminum foil, and place in the oven. Reduce the heat of the oven to 250-degrees.

Cook the pork for 4 to 5 hours.

Then remove the aluminum foil, and turn the heat of the oven back up to 400-degrees. Return the pork to the oven, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes to crisp the top.

Once you take the pork out of the oven let it rest 10 to 15 minutes – then pull it apart.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Brilliance of Change

spring grabs one's heart ---- hunger
blushes of flowers blooming
bunches of greens bundled
awakened spirit
ideas waiting --- feed

Split Lemon Roasted Chicken - serves 4
3-1/2 pound whole chicken
1/4 cup Italian parsley - leaves only
1/2 cup basil - leaves only
1/4 cup chives – roughly chopped
1/8 cup rosemary - leaves only
4 garlic cloves - finely diced
1/2-cup lemon juice
1/4-cup olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Split the chickens down the back and remove the backbone. Flatten the chicken.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Mix all herbs, lemon juice and olive oil together and let sit for 1 hour to overnight to infuse the flavors. Rub the chicken with the herb mixture and salt and pepper.

Lay the chicken down on a lined baking tray, and place a piece of parchment on top of the chicken. Place another baking tray on top of that. Put a heavy lid or brick on the baking tray and place in the oven. Cook for 40 to 60 minutes in the oven.