Monthly Archives: May 2013

Red, White and Waldorf.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

“You’ve got to serve something red, white and blue,” says Valerie, a U.S.Department of State employee by day, farmer on nights and weekends (God, I love DC!). We were discussing the catering menu I was planning in celebration of a friend’s recent citizenship.

“What’s blue besides blueberries,” I thought. “Besides, they’re not locally in season yet.”

So, I settled for red and white, 2/3 of the way there. My homage to the salad Oscar Tschirky created for the Waldorf Hotel would have to make up the balance. Sweet strawberries replaced apple, while crisp fennel stood in for celery. Toasted pepitas lent warmth in place of walnuts and a sweet, light vinaigrette displaced heavier mayonnaise as the dressing.

Add a handful of the June’s first tart-sweet blueberries, and you may just have this season’s superlative summer salad.

Strawberry And Shaved Fennel Salad

Serves 6

Washed StrawberriesFor dressing:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp dijon mustard
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup White Balsamic or Tropical Spice* vinegar
  • 2/3 cup grape seed, vegetable or Avocado* oil

For salad:

  • 1/2 cup pepitas*
  • 2 cups hulled, sliced strawberries
  • 2 fennel bulbs thinly sliced
  • 1 tbs fennel fronts, finely chopped
  • 2 mint leaves, finely chopped

*We’ve been shopping at Sapore again! A mild tasting oil is important here. Olive oils will overpower the other flavors. Pepitas are raw pumpkin seeds. Smooth and green, you will find them with other packaged nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Substitute toasted sunflower seeds if you can’t find them.

Directions:

  • Combine shallot, sugar, mustard and salt in a bowl with vinegar. Whisk together.
  • Toast pepitas in a small skillet over medium heat, tossing often to prevent burning. Once you hear them start to pop, toast for a minute longer until at least 1/3 of the seeds are browned on 1 side.
  • Combine strawberries, fennel, fennel fronds and mint in a separate bowl. Toss together.
  • Whisk oil into dressing to form a creamy emulsion.
  • Season dressing to taste and toss with salad.
  • Top with toasted pepitas.
  • Can be served alone or over greens like baby spinach or butter lettuce.
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This is so difficult you may not even want to try.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

The gift of a spaetzle-maker, originally intended for the giver’s daughter – “Honestly, you’re more likely to use it.” – has plagued me for years. It sat in the cupboard leering, challenging me to finally take it from it’s simple, clear plastic wrapping and make a batch of the quickly simmered soup dumplings.

For some reason, however, making doughs, an activity involving things like measuring and specific ingredients, always seems so foreboding, a challenge best left to classically trained pastry chefs and German grandmothers.

Last week, the need to dress up my recipe for asparagus soup drove me to research spaetzle. Custards felt fussy, and a garnish of wild mushrooms just lazy. Mushroom spaetzle, though daunting, seemed the perfect solution. We carefully measured each ingredient only to discover that sweet, light Oyster mushrooms disappeared in the rich dough. We pressed on, sautéing hearty, bold Criminis for a second batch. They were delicious and we were in love.

So, was it worth the painstaking pain and suffering? Should spaetzle be left to the chefs? The answer is “no.” Made with four ingredients, simmered and served, spaeetzle couldn’t be simpler. Guten appetit!

Mushroom Spaetzle

Serves 6-8

Spaetzle makerIngredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped Crimini mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup Madeira wine
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

Directions:

  • Warm oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add mushrooms and cook until softened and golden on edges. Add wine to pan and scrape up any brown bits. Cook until liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper
  • Chop mushrooms and parsley together until minced.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a simmer.
  • Meanwhile, whisk together flour and salt. Add mushrooms and whisk to combine.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Add to dry ingredients and whisk until it forms into a smooth dough.
  • Press dough through a colander, or spaetzle-maker, over simmering water. Cook for 2-3 minutes and drain.
  • Serve with butter or over soup.

Asparagus Soup

Serves 6-8

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches asparagus, about 2 pounds
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbs chopped parsley, reserve stems
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 medium red potatoes, diced
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced
  • 2 tbs butter
  • Sherry vinegar

Directions:

  • Snap tough ends from asparagus. Add ends to a 4 qt saucepan with stock, thyme, bay and parsley stems. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Melt butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Simmer potatoes and leeks in butter. Add a little water as needed. Cook until potatoes are soft.
  • Strain stock into soup pot and cook for five minutes. Cut remaining asparagus into 2” pieces and add to stock. Remove 10-12 tips after 3 minutes.
  • When asparagus is just tender, pass soup through a food mill or processor. Stir through parsley.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, butter and vinegar. Garnish with asparagus tips.

Mom smells.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

I knew the smell long before I knew the recipe. Hitting me as I entered the kitchen, it was intoxicating and made my mouth water. It was the smell of sharp, acidic Worcestershire and red wine, the bite of red onion and clove after clove of garlic. Pungent rosemary and the dry, grassy smell of fresh thyme blended with a sweet hint of fresh orange juice.

The skirt steak would spend an afternoon on the counter soaking in the bright, earthy marinade, telegraphing hours ahead the meal that would follow. The minute I smell this combination of flavors, even before seeing it, I am in my Mother’s kitchen, safe and happy at home.

We all have Mom smells – as opposed to Moms who smell – those scents that bring us home. (I know you exactly what you were thinking, ’cause I’m twelve years old too.) Whether its lilac or peonies from the garden, tomato sauce simmering on the stove or steak marinating on the counter, these sense memories are – if you will excuse a moment of sincere sentimentality – like a hug you can access any time. And they are a testament to our mothers who gave us these gifts.

I love you Mom.

Marinated Skirt Steak

Serves 4. To feed more people, buy a bigger steak, or a second steak. Cook this steak to medium or medium-rare. It’s a bit chewy at rare. (And you weren’t even thinking about well, right?)

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup Merlot or other acidic red wine vinegar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tbs fresh thyme, separated
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1-1.5 pound skirt steak
  • 2 tbs cup brandy – it’s a steak, use V.S. Courvoisier.
  • 2 tbs chilled butter

Directions:

  • Make the marinade: combine red onion, garlic, Worcestershire, red wine, orange juice, vinegar, bay leaves, 2 tbs thyme and the pepper, in a bowl. Pour over steak in a freezer bag and marinate in the fridge for 4-8 hours.
  • Bring the steak to room temperature for 30 minutes. Remove steak from marinade and pat dry.
  • Grill: prepare a medium-high fire. Sear over direct heat for 3 minutes per side,  and finish the steak off to the side to medium or medium-rare.
  • Stove top: Over med-high heat, warm 1 tbs vegetable oil in a heavy skillet until almost smoking. Sear both sides of steak, about 3 minutes per side. Reduce heat to medium and cook steak to medium or medium-rare.
  • Cover steak with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before carving across the grain.
  • Meanwhile, strain marinade into a skillet, add brandy and bring to a boil. If you cooked the steak on the stove top, reduce the sauce in the same pan, scraping up any brown bits. Reduce liquid to 1/2 cup. Remove from heat and whisk in cold butter.
  • Season to taste and serve over sliced steak.

    Photography by Sam Armocido

    Photography by Sam Armocido

Why cook anything else?

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Photography by Sam Armocido

I blame bacon. Amish bacon.

You see, until last week, I was living in a beautiful fantasy world where people came to my Eastern Market demos each week to taste new, farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients. We were learning new foods, new recipes and new techniques together. But it was all a lie.

One of my farmers, Dan, picked up four pounds of bacon during his weekly run into Lancaster County, PA. “Fry it up at the end of your demo,” he asked, so he and his staff could eat it for lunch between slices of bread with fresh baby arugula. I got more attention and more questions during 20 minutes of frying bacon then I had throughout three hours of strawberry soup, spinach salad and fiddlehead ferns. Most of them were, “Is that bacon?”

But, Mom and Dad didn’t raise a quitter. So sorry folks, you’re just going to have to suffer through asparagus soup with mushroom spaetzle this week. As my Dad used to tell me, “People in hell want ice water.” And, apparently, bacon.

Spinach With Spicy Bacon Vinaigrette

This is not the salad to use baby spinach for. The hot vinaigrette will wilt it right down into soup. Buy grown-up spinach with good substance to the leaves. Yum! No Cabernet Sauvignon jam in the fridge, bust out just about any jam with this salad from tart beach plum or cherry to acidic orange marmalade.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 4 thick slices bacon, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 red onion cut in thin slices
  • 1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon or other tart jam
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • 1/4 cup Sherry or Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
  • Ground Habañero chile or cayenne pepper
  • 1 orange, sectioned
  • 1 pound grown-up Spinach, de-ribbed

*You can find Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar at Washington, DC’s Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Stop by or order online. I love it and easily go through a bottle a month.

Directions:

  • Warm oil in a 10” skillet over medium-high heat. Brown bacon and remove with a slotted spoon, leaving behind rendered fat.
  • Add diced onion, reduce heat to medium and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes.
  • Add Cabernet Sauvignon jam and mustard and cook, stirring, until jam liquifies and liquid reduces by half.
  • Add vinegar and whisk until vinaigrette comes together and thickens.
  • Season vinaigrette to taste with salt, pepper and Habañero or other hot chile powder.
  • Toss spinach, sliced onion and oranges with vinaigrette and serve. If you want this to look extra special for guests, dress the onions and orange sections in a separate bowl and plate on top of the dressed spinach.