Tag Archives: food

Rule 1: No one cooks better than Mom.

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Our weeknight dinners are built around turning the bags of farm-fresh produce we carry home each weekend into new recipes for Saturday morning demos at Washington, DC’s Eastern Market. Recently, our friend Sam has joined us for Thursday night’s six-hour marathon sessions where we finalize Saturday’s menu.

Last week, eying a bag of Agora Farms black-red sweet cherries, he said” My Mom used to make a sweet and sour sauce with cherries and peaches. It started with a can each…”

I know. You’ve got a mental image of a loud record scratch accompanying this look of horror on my face. But you’re wrong. No one cooks better than your Mom. No one. At that goes for each and every one of you.

However, since Sam thought it would be fun to go home for a visit sometime and show Mom a new upscale version of her sweet and sour, cherry-peach chicken, we started experimenting. Sweet and sour dishes hang on the balance of sweet, acidic and salty. We began with shallot and fresh cherries, added brown sugar for sweetness and depth, and rosemary for a savory bite. Peach infused vinegar replaced the canned peaches and orange zest add citrusy brightness. The cherries we had were so sweet, and the the peach vinegar mildly acidic, that we added a splash of sharper vinegar to finish the thick, jammy, sweet and sour cherry chutney. Then we served it over wild boar sausages.

I’m still willing to bet that Sam’s Mom’s is better. After all, Mom’s who cook are nigh invincible in the kitchen. But we had a pretty darn-good meal.

Sweet and Sour Cherry Chutney

Sweet and sour is all about the balance of sugar, salt and vinegar. Taste often as you finish the sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs grape seed or vegetable oil
  • 2 large shallots, diced
  • 4 cups sweet cherries, pitted and quartered
  • 3 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tbs minced rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  •  Peach Vinegar*
  • Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
*More wonderful vinegars from Sapore Oil and Vinegar on Capitol Hill. You can substitute with any fruit vinegar, just make sure you get enough acidity. We used about 1/4 cup Peach vinegar and reduced it down slightly as the chutney finished cooking. A splash of the Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar gave us the extra acidity that we needed. Sherry or cider vinegar would be a good substitute.
Directions:
  • In a small sauté pan, warm oil and cook shallots over medium heat until soft, without browning.
  • Increase heat to medium high and add cherries. Sauté 5 minutes until cherries start to soften and liquid begins to evaporate.
  • Reduce heat back down to medium. Add sugar and cook another 5 minutes until chutney starts to become jammy.
  • Add rosemary and orange zest and cook another 5-10 minutes until chutney is thick.
  • Season to taste with salt and vinegar. This sauce is all about balance, so taste after each addition of salt or vinegar. If your fruit vinegar is not acidic enough, add a splash of something a bit sharper. Add more sugar if needed.
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Without exception.

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Absolutes are rare in cooking. Once you learn the basics of technique and flavor you can experiment freely – recognizing you’re going to bomb every once in a while and that every truly great dish has been practiced and refined over time. While researching broccoli rabe last week, I discovered an exception to this rule. Every single recipe I read began with blanching and included garlic and red pepper flakes.

Now, I’m sure there’s an exception out there somewhere, but once I spent some time getting to know broccoli rabe, it all made sense. Though it looks like broccoli, broccoli rate is closer in relation to the turnip, another member of the brassica family, which includes cauliflower, cabbage, mustard and kale. It has a sharp bitterness to it which is abated by blanching. The heat of the pepper flakes and richness of lightly browned garlic reveal subtler flavors in the rabe.

While there is no sauce in this pasta, I used a common Italian technique of adding the pasta cooking liquid to the sauté pan, along with slightly undercooked pasta, and letting the dish come together while the liquid is absorbed or evaporates. This leaves the pasta almost as flavorful as the greens.

Broccoli Rabe with Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches broccoli rabe, stems cleaned and peeled, and damaged leaves removed*
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbs red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbs chopped oregano
  • More olive oil – the good stuff!
  • 1 pound dried penne or farfalle
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
*Chop off the bottom 1/2″ of the stems, then peel them. If your rabe is very leafy, remove the leaves, blanch them separately, and add them about 2 minutes after adding the stems so that they do not become over-cooked.

Directions:

  • Blanch broccoli rabe for 1 minute in salted, boiling water and remove to ice bath. When cool, drain.
  • Chop broccoli rabe into 1” pieces.
  • Boil water and start cooking pasta.
  • Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium low heat. Add garlic and cook until starting to light brown. Be careful not to burn.
  • Add pepper flakes, cook for 30 sec.
  • Add broccoli rabe and cook 2-3 minutes until crisp tender.
  • When pasta is almost ready, drain, reserving two cups of liquid.
  • Add pasta and liquid to broccoli rabe. Cook until liquid reduces to coat pasta.
  • Toss with oregano, additional olive oil, cheese, pepper and salt.

“I’ll take the light potato salad, please.”

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With each new summer cookout, looms the threat that someone is going to show up with those clear plastic containers from the deli counter of potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw. Now, rumor has it that these salads actually  contain potatoes, macaroni and cabbage, but the protective coating of mayonnaise obscures any possible proof.

Okay, that was a bit of hyperbole, but most summer cookouts abound with rich, grilled meats and sauces, toasted buns and baskets of chips and dip. What I want from my salad is something light and bright to balance the plate, and a gloopy heap of mayonnaise just doesn’t cut it. Enter the “French” potato salad.

Like may other American “French” delicacies like fries, toast and dressing, I’m not sure how french this is, but I think they would approve. Boiled potatoes are tossed, still warm, in a sharp, buttery vinaigrette, with garlic or shallots and fresh herbs. They soak up the dressing and releasing the flavorful oils from the greens; exactly what you want sitting next to your burger, hanger steak or chicken thighs, complete with flawless grill marks.

This is a recipe I served at Eastern Market recently, but experiment throughout the summer. Toss with halved cherry tomatoes and basil, use fresh tasting tarragon and shallots, baby arugula or minced red peppers. But please, I’ll take my potato salad without mayonnaise. and I like my burgers rare.

French Potato Salad with Mint and Garlic Scapes

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups small potatoes
  • 3 tbs mint
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic scapes

For dressing:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa Vinegar*
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup Koroneiko Olive Oil*
*More magical ingredients from Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Champagne or white wine vinegar can replace the Champagne Mimosa. The Koroneiko Olive Oil is Greek. Mild and grassy. Substitute another high-quality olive oil.

Directions:

  • Boil potatoes in salted water until still firm but can be easily pierced through to the center with the tip of a knife. Drain potatoes.
  • Meanwhile, mince garlic and mash it into a paste with coarse sea salt. Whisk with Champagne Mimosa Vinegar. Season with pepper. Set aside.
  • Mix mint and garlic scapes in a salad bowl.
  • Cut warm potatoes in 1” pieces – halved or quartered – and toss with mint and garlic scapes. The heat will release oils in the mint.
  • Whisk oil into vinegar mixture in a steady stream until creamy. Toss with potatoes. Dress lightly so not to overpower the other flavors.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional mint.

Until next year.

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Gardeners, cooks and farmers share a unique awareness of the changing of the seasons. Crocus and radishes give way to irises and asparagus. Early summers pinks, blues, English peas and sweet cherries change to late summer yellows and oranges, summer squash, sweet corn and tomatoes.

The seasons are changing right now. Farmers at the Market admonish us to enjoy the spring’s last rhubarb and asparagus, while filling the gap with the year’s first tomatoes and squash, helped along with early season cover. They taste richly of the soil they’re grown in, but not yet sweet from the summer sun.

Seasons of eating start with hunger, built over months of waiting. That first spear of asparagus or first ripe tomato is wonderful eaten raw and fresh. Over a six to eight week season your recipes progress from old favorites to new experiments. Finally, when you think you can’t eat another zucchini or ear of corn, they are gone until next year.

Here, then is a celebration of the passing of asparagus. It’s been a wonderful spring for it, although May’s heat led many farmers to end their harvest earlier than usual. Enjoy this salad, simple and fresh, elegant enough for fine dining, quick enough for a Tuesday supper. Until next year.

Asparagus Mimosa Salad

The name of this salad refers to the similarity in appearance between the grated egg and the foamy yellow/white flowers of the Mimosa tree.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, hardboiled
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 2-3 radishes, cut in matchsticks
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa vinegar*
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup Olive oil – the good stuff!
*Another treat from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in DC. You can substitute champagne or a tarragon,white wine vinegar.
Directions:
  • Begin vinaigrette: whisk together shallot, vinegar,mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Peel and finely grate the hardboiled eggs. Set aside. You won’t be able to get the entire egg grated. Pop the larger, leftover pieces in your mouth.
  • For a special presentation, line up your asparagus spears and cut them to fit the plates you will be serving this salad on.
  • Blanch asparagus in a large boiling pot of salted water for approximately 3 minutes, until crisp tender. Shock in an ice bath.
  • Complete vinaigrette by whisking in olive oil in a thin stream. Taste vinaigrette with an asparagus stalk and season to taste with additional salt pepper, oil or vinegar.
  • Place asparagus stalks on individual plates, drizzle with vinaigrette, top with radish and egg.

*Thomas Keller takes the tender ends of the asparagus, left over when you trim the spears to the size of your salad plates, and blanches them for about five minutes. Shock them in an ice bath, then puree them in a blender with a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. That’s the green sauce you see on the bottom in the photograph.

Really good, farm-fresh butter.

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If you’ve watched me cook at Eastern Market, or ventured into my home for a meal, you’ve probably heard “the butter story.” It goes like this:

Four years ago I started using farm-fresh butter in an effort to cook with the best ingredients I could find. My husband, upon discovering that  fabulous, farm-fresh butter can cost twice as much as grocery store butter, started giving me a good ribbing. “Local, farm-fresh butter can’t possibly taste twice as good as grocery store, stick butter.”

At the time I was reading Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook, Fat. Extolling the virtues of good butter, she recommended doing a tasting. So off we marched, Jason and I, into the kitchen, with a block of local, farm-fresh butter in one hand and a stick of grocery store butter in the other. One at a time, we cut a small sliver of each and let them melt on our tongues.

The first thing you notice about farm-fresh butter is the rich taste of cream. Then you notice the season and diet of the cows. In spring the butter is herbal and floral, light and perfect against grassy spring vegetables – asparagus, spring onions, fiddleheads and radishes. In summer the butter turns grassy, pairing perfectly with zucchini and tomatoes. In fall and winter when the cows switch to a feed diet, the flavor is rich and mellow, perfect for pumpkin, beets and holiday baking.

The grocery store butter was nearly flavorless. Softening on your tongue it gave the feel of greasy fat with the taste of cardboard.

When cooking from scratch you’ve got six, maybe ten, ingredients in a dish (that’s if you count salt and pepper). You can’t afford to have one of those tasting like cardboard, and not pulling its weight.

That’s the butter story. Every word of it is real and true. Every week I bring home a block of butter from Dan at Agora Farms from his stand at Eastern Market. I finish soups with a tablespoon or two for added richness. I’ll whisk a tablespoon into the deglazed pan juices of a sautéed chicken breast or bone-in pork chop to make a quick sauce.

This coming weekend, as part of my weekly cooking demo, I’m making Hollandaise. It has four ingredients – water, egg yolks, clarified butter and lemon juice (plus salt and white pepper). Strawberries and rhubarb are in season and I’ll make a pie next weekend as well. The dough contains flour, water, a pinch each of salt and sugar, and butter. In each case the butter is on stage, exposed, and it had better be good.

Good butter – good ingredients – matter. And they matter greatly. They also cost more.

A friend of mine passed around a blog entry listing five lessons learned from an evening with farmer, Joel Salatin. In one of those lessons, he challenges, “Do you have a cell phone? Do you have cable? Drink beer on the weekends? I bet you do. If you can afford those things, you can afford to eat good food, real food. And if you tell me you still can’t afford it, I will tell you the issue isn’t with money. It’s with priorities.”

Prioritize good food. Cut out something small this week and treat yourself to a pound of incredible, farm-fresh, Amish butter this weekend. Or local asparagus, really exceptional olive oil, or strawberries that will travel less than 50 miles from the field to your shortcakes. Good food is worth it. And so are you, your friends and your family.

Homemade is better. Part II

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Chicken stock is cheap and easy.

Okay. Go ahead. Get the jokes out of your system. I like my coffee black too*. Ready to move on?

Stock is the perfect weekend project. Hit the market in the morning for your ingredients – or pick them up on your way home Friday night. Saturday or Sunday you are going to be home for a few hours: working in the garden, cleaning house, or sitting on the couch watching an America’s Next Top Model marathon while recovering from Friday night happy hour, right? So, dump your ingredients in a pot, set it to a low simmer, and kick your feet up on the couch. Tell everyone not to bother you. You’re cooking.

*I’ll buy you a cup of coffee if you got the joke.

Homemade white chicken stock

“White” here refers to the fact that your ingredients go right into the pot without browning them first.

Ingredients:

  • 6 lbs chicken parts (see notes)
  • 1 large carrot (2″ diameter and 8″ long)
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 1 large onion (about the size of a baseball)
  • 1 leek, white parts only (optional)
  • 8-10 black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6-8 parsley stems
  • 4-6 sprigs thyme
Directions:
  • Cut the chicken into 3 inch pieces. Better yet, have your butcher do it. Place them in an 8 quart stock pot and add water to cover the chicken by 2 inches.
  • Meanwhile, roughly chop the vegetables. This is not the time for fine knife skills.
  • Bring the pot to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat and hold at a slow simmer – just a few bubbles per second.
  • Cook the chicken for 15-20 minutes. Skim off the grey/brown foam that gathers on the surface, and discard.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to simmer for three hours.
  • At the end of three hours, remove and discard the solids.
  • Strain your stock through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth or a coffee filter.
  • Remove the fat from the stock. the easiest way to do this is to cool the stock to room temperature and cool it in the fridge overnight. The fat will congeal on the surface and is easily removed. If you need the stock right away, let the stock rest for 15-20 minutes. It will float to the surface of your stock. You can remove the liquid fat with a spoon.
  • If the stock is too thin, or bland, reduce your stock down to 8 cups over a gentle boil.
Notes:
  • Most grocery stores have their chicken delivered pre-butchered. Buy cheap meat with plenty of bones, like thighs and wings. You could also chop up an entire chicken. If your market or specialty grocery breaks down whole chickens into parts, ask them for chicken backs and have them cut them into 3″ pieces for you. You will pay about $.98 a pound.
  • Letting the chicken cook for 20 minutes first makes it easier to skim off the foam. Otherwise you are fighting with the veggies floating on the top of your pot.
  • Don’t let the stock boil until the end, after you have removed the solids and the fat. Otherwise your stock will get cloudy
  • You can test the level of flavor by putting a little in a small dish and adding a pinch of salt. Taste it. If it tastes to watery, reduce the stock further.