Tag Archives: fresh

Of record.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Five or six years ago, my parents’ newspaper changed, and not for the better. The wonderful, large pages got smaller, and the bylines all read AP. Now, the Associated Press is an important news source, and do a much better job at covering Washington politics and major events around the country then the small writing staff in Springfield, MA, but I miss garden writers gardening in the same weather and soil that I am and reporters intimately knowledgeable of local politics.

The local Gazette and Penny Saver, still employing staff to cover local politics, sports, business and schools, have become local publications of record. While DC’s local paper is a national paper of record, we are also blessed with smaller papers employing writers who are embedded in our city. They cover the issues that impact our neighborhoods and the people who make them special.

Last week, we had the opportunity to host a writer from DC’s Hill Rag at #testkitchen. She joined us as we refined a recipe I had presented at an American University health and wellness event the day before. Annette joined right in helping to taste recipes and suggest ingredients and, as always, many palates make a stronger dish. Look for Annette’s write up in the May issue of the Hill Rag. In the meantime, enjoy this salad, and many thanks to the students, faculty and staff at AU for tasting it last Wednesday afternoon.

Lemongrass Fennel Orange Salad

For dressing:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup Lemongrass or other light, sweet vinegar*
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 2/3 cup Avocado or other neutral flavored oil*

*This is another chance to shop online or in person at Sapore Oil and vinegar. A strong olive oil will overpower these ingredients, so use something neutral like avocado, grapeseed or vegetable oil. For a vinegar, use something light and sweet. Unseasoned rice wine vinegar is easily available. This is also a good opportunity to break out the gift bottle of Pear Chardonnay or other fruit-wine vinegar that’s aging in your pantry.

For salad:

  • 1 head fennel, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 2 heads butter lettuce, gently chopped in pieces*
  • 1 orange, peeled and sectioned, sliced or chopped

*My big meathooks rough up easily bruised butter lettuce, so I chop mine gently.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Directions:

  • Make dressing. Whisk together shallot, vinegar and honey with a pinch each of salt and pepper.
  • Whisk in oil in a thin stream to form a creamy emulsion.
  • Toss together fennel, orange and cherries. Lightly dress with 1/4 cup dressing.
  • Lightly dress lettuce with 1/4 cup dressing.
  • Plate lettuce, topped with fennel mixture.

Earthy and French

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Photograph by Sam Armocido

God did just fine creating cauliflower. Pure, creamy and white, it needs nothing more than a quick steam before  tossing with salt, pepper and farm-fresh butter. That, however, is not the shortest path to impressing you with my culinary creativity. So, last week in the test kitchen we were faced with a decision: sweet and Indian or hearty and French? We stayed up until 1 AM and tried both. Here’s effort number one.

Cauliflower provides the comforting weight of potatoes with a mouth feel as light as zucchini or yellow wax beans. We found earthiness and luxury in Crimini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed, finished with thyme and white wine. Yukon Gold potatoes, relatively low in starch, gave heft without weighing our stew down. We needed depth, and found it in garlic and anchovy paste. A spicy, robust olive oil finished the stew richly.

We had achieved cauliflower stew Nirvana: hearty enough for a cold, damp fall night, but light enough that we weren’t crawling to bed from the dinner table.

You’re freaked about the anchovy paste, aren’t you? Your nose is wrinkled in disgust at the thought of that fishy, salty brown paste, oozing like toothpaste from a tube. Anchovy paste adds necessary layers of flavor in a dish that might otherwise feel one-dimensional. You won’t taste it. It’s one of those perfect stealth ingredients, delivering lots of flavor without getting caught. So go ahead, squeeze a little in, and don’t tell your kids or your picky eater of a boyfriend. They’ll never know.

Hearty Cauliflower Mushroom Stew

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 cups sliced Crimini mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup dry Vermouth
  • 1 tbs chopped, fresh thyme
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 3 Yukon Gold potatoes*, in 1/2” dice
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (here’s a quick and simple recipe)
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, cut in florets
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tbs Moresca Olive Oil**
  • Nutmeg

*This past weekend, Dan at Agora Farms introduced me to the Eva potato. Named after the mother of the Cornell researcher who developed it, Eva is creamy and white, with bold flavor (who knew potatoes could have flavor?!) and medium starch. They make a perfect, creamy mash, just sayin’…

**Sapore’s latest introduction, Moresca is a bold, spicy oil perfect for dipping bread, tossing with pasta, arugula and walnuts and gave great depth as a finish to this stew.

Directions:

  • Melt butter over medium heat in large sauté pan. Sauté mushrooms until golden brown on edges. Deglaze with Vermouth. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. Reserve.
  • Heat olive oil in same pan. Sauté onions until translucent, add garlic and anchovy paste and cook 30 seconds.
  • Add potatoes and cook until onion begins to brown on edges.
  • Stir in the stock, cover and cook until potatoes have started to soften.
  • Add cauliflower and fresh thyme. Cover and cook until cauliflower is crisp tender.
  • Uncover and let broth thicken. Season to taste with Moresca oil, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Strictly off the record.

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Last night I jumped in front of the camera for the first time. After two hours and two recipes – a vinaigrette and cider-braised Delicata squash – we were all hungry and tired, so I threw some together dinner.

Digging through the vegetable bin I found two medium zucchini and a red pepper that had hours of viable edibility remaining. Into the pot they went with onion and garlic, and the last of a container of homemade stock. After a good press through the finest setting of my food mill, I added a good spicy yellow curry powder I had on the shelf. A little butter and cream for richness and the soup was ready to serve.

Honestly, this recipe was never supposed to be published. But, like some of the best food, it was created without a plan – no recipe. We had to rely on taste as the final arbiter of success.

Now enjoy. And if you don’t like how it tastes, change it. Make it better. Then tell me what you’ve done, so I can make it in my kitchen.

Curried Zucchini Red Pepper Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 -2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium-large zucchini, about 4-5 cups diced
  • 1 large red pepper, diced
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1-2 tsp yellow curry powder
  • Sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 2-3 tbs fresh cream

Directions:

  • In a 3-4 qt saucepan, over medium heat, sauté onion until softened, 3-4 minutes.
  • Add garlic and cook 30 seconds or so until fragrant.
  • Add zucchini and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to soften.
  • Stir stock into vegetables, add thyme and cook, covered, until vegetables are soft enough to mash with a fork. About 15 minutes.
  • Press solids through a food  mill and return to the stock. Alternatively, purée with an immersion blender or in your food processor.
  • Season to taste with curry powder, a splash of vinegar, butter and cream. A little bite of heat is nice in this soup. Add a pinch of cayenne if needed.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

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It’s been a dry summer in Southern Virginia on the Chesapeake. Irrigation ponds are down four feet or more and many farmers have  let row crops slide to take care of their livestocks’ drinking needs. on a personal – and  far lesssignificant – level, this means that Ellis and Paul won’t be picking up crates of late season tomatoes on their Sunday drives home from the Northern Neck.

My husband Jason has mixed emotions about this. On one hand, it means no frantic Tuesday nights spend blanching, peeling and seeding a couple hundred tomatoes before they go bad. On the other, it threatens a winter freezer free of quart after quart of tomato sauce, preserving the fresh, bright taste of late summer tomatoes and licorice-y basil.

I blame Jason’s conflicted feelings on Andrew Carmellini. His cookbook, Urban Italian, contains a fresh sauce recipe so perfect that we haven’t changed a thing. It may be the one recipe I have never tweaked, not even a little. Lots of fresh tomatoes, cooked quickly and seasoned with basil and garlic-infused olive oil create a bright, sweet and spicy sauce, as easy and non-complex on your palate as it is to cook in 45 minutes per batch.

In Ellis and Paul’s stead, I’m reaching out to Dan at Agora Farms, who can hook me up with the best tomatoes grown in Lancaster County, PA. Dan, we’re going to be needing tomatoes. And lots of them!

Summer Fresh Tomato Sauce

You can use plum tomatoes, like Romas or San Marzanos, for a richer sauce. I don’t even bother to peel and seed them. They will release a lot less water, so take less out and keep a close eye on them. 

Peeled tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 12 fresh beefsteak type tomatoes*
  • 1 head garlic, top chopped to expose cloves
  • 1 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups olive oil – the good stuff!**

*Three fresh tomatoes and a pound of pasta will make a hearty meal for four people. Don’t worry about being too exact on the infused oil proportions, just make a little less and add it to taste.

**I’ll be using the spicy Sicilian oil from Sapore.

 

Sauce on the stove

Directions:

  • To peel tomatoes, cut an “X” in the skin at the base and blanch them in boiling water until the skin wrinkles and cracks – 30 seconds to 1 minute. Shock the tomatoes in ice water. The skins will slide off easily. Return the water to a boil between batches.
  • To seed tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze them over the sink, watch for seed explosions that will cover the walls of your kitchen. Laugh richly and keep going.
  • Chop tomatoes roughly and place in a large, shallow stock pot over medium heat. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt.
  • Cook tomatoes until soft and bright red, about 45 minutes.
  • Remove liquid while cooking. A total of about 2-3 cups. You want the sauce to remain wet and liquid, but not soupy. Save some of the tomato water in case you take too much out early on.
  • While tomatoes cook, place garlic, basil, pepper flakes and olive oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until basil begins to crackle and pop. Reemove from heat and let the flavors infuse the oil for twenty-ish minutes.
  • Strain oil into tomatoes. Cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Blend with masher or immersion blender.
  • Will freeze through the winter. (If you don’t eat it all immediately!)

Simple. Saucy.

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It’s 5pm, and today has been long. The last thing I want to do is go home and cook, at least, not until I’ve opened a bottle of wine, which usually leads to an hour of sitting on the couch followed by dialing for dinner. I’ve got a fridge filled with ripe tomatoes, sugary-sweet peaches, sockeye salmon and crisp green beans. Honestly, I would rather debate Miley’s new haircut (get over it!) than face another night of steamed veggies and baked fish.

I’ve just killed your buzz. Here you are thinking that I will arrive home with a basket of farm fresh produce on my arm to be lovingly prepared, while discussing the events of the day with my loving husband soothed by a soundtrack of jazz vocals. A long-stemmed glass of something fabulous in hand, we’ll sit down to a candlelit evening at the dining room table, cloth napkins draped over our laps.

For real?! I’ve got a full time job, I’m beat and I want cheap Chinese and glass of whatever I know I won’t really taste after the second glass anyway. Which is when I think about compound butter.

Rolled in my fridge is a pound of farm-fresh, Amish butter (yes, from Dan at Agora). The other night I softened it and folded in fresh cilantro, lime zest, cumin and scallions. In under 30 minutes this evening I can sear a salmon filet, dress a salad and steam those green beans. A thin slice of the cilantro-lime butter will melt over the cooked fish. I’ll toss another with the beans. Suddenly I face the prospect of a richly sauced, yet light, healthy dinner on the table.

Plus, it’s cheaper than eating out, so we can treat ourselves to a good bottle. Something bubbly.

Cilantro Lime Compound Butter

Slices of the compound butter can be spread on fresh corn-on-the -cob, grilled meats or hearty fish like tuna or salmon. Try tossing a tablespoon with steamed green beans or zucchini.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound softened butter
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder or Spanish Paprika
  • 1 tsp finely grated lime zest
  • 1/4 tsp white balsamic vinegar*
  • 2 scallions, whites plus 1 inch greens, finely minced
  • 3 tbs finely chopped cilantro

*Or Champagne vinegar. I bought mine at Sapore.

Directions:

  • Soften the butter at room temperature and stir it briefly in a medium bowl until creamy.
  • With a rubber spatula, fold in the dry spices and lime zest.
  • Fold in the vinegar a few drops at a time.
  • Fold in the scallions and cilantro.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Using a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap, roll the butter into a log and refrigerate until firm.

 

My first cocktail. (Mom is so proud!)

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My mission: create a watermelon martini using Sapore’s new Ruby Red Grapefruit White Balsamic Vinegar as bitters. My thought? “I don’t know the first thing about mixing cocktails, and today’s tipplers have a discerning palate.” My first mistake? Publicly throw down the watermelon martini gauntlet on Facebook.

It turns out the same skill set you use to hone a recipe for farm-fresh produce works pretty well for cocktails. I wanted something that showcased bright, clean, sweet watermelon flavor, like the fruit, not the Jolly Rancher. I wanted cool, herbal notes to ground it and lend some depth.

Fresh pressed watermelon juice was the place to start. Gin gave it herbal depth as did basil simple syrup, whose sugar brought out the sweetness in the fruit. The Ruby Red Grapefruit vinegar lent that certain je ne sais quoi – depth, brightness? A squeeze of lime made it pop.

I’m no mixologist, but I’ve got a new favorite cocktail, at least for the next few weeks.

The Mid-Summer Ruby

Ingredients for one cocktail:

  • 3 ounces fresh pressed watermelon juice (see below)
  • 1 ounce smooth gin – use Bombay and save the Beefeater for a great gin and tonic!
  • 1/4 ounce basil simple syrup (see below)
  • 1/2 tablespoon Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinegar*
  • lime round to garnish

*You can find Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinegar at Sapore – order it online – or look for grapefruit bitters at your local specialty liquor store.

Directions:

  • In a cocktail shaker with ice, add watermelon juice, gin, simple syrup and vinegar. Shake and strain in to a martini glass or a lowball with ice. Garnish with a lime round. Squeeze over the cocktail before drinking.

Watermelon juice and simple syrup:

  • Watermelon juice can be made by pressing cubed watermelon through a food mill and then straining it through cheese cloth. Or, you can purée it in a blender, strain it through a sieve and then strain again through cheese cloth.
  • Make the basil simple syrup by stirring together 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water over medium high heat. Let cook until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, and add 1 packed cup whole basil leaves. Let steep for 15-20 minutes and strain to remove solids.

I’m bringing salad back (Part 2 of 52)

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Raw kale is a current darling of the food scene, and kale salads have appeared on hip restaurant menus across the country. Why? Well, it’s good for you. It’s also fairly inexpensive and counter-intuitive. Hey, who doesn’t love a counter-intuitive vegetable?

Here’s the problem. It’s still kale. No matter how freshly-picked those leaves are, they are still tough and still a little bitter. One solution the food hipsters have identified is to massage your kale. Now, while I love my veggies, that’s a lot of affection just to get a salad on the table.

Here’s my solution: make a fresh, bright vinaigrette with just a pinch of sugar to offset the bitterness. Chop the kale thin –  chiffonade – and let it rest for 5 minutes after you dress it to wilt the greens slightly. That’s a salad you can love.

*As some of my demo audience noted last Saturday, this vinaigrette was closely inspired by a recent tropical cucumber salad. The good news? That bottle of tropical spice vinegar can do double duty!

Kale With Tropical Cucumber Vinaigrette

This vinaigrette would also be great over a piece of grilled fish like tilapia or over mesclun greens.

Ingredients:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup Tropical Spice Vinegar*
  • 1/2 cup seeded, minced cucumber
  • 1 tbs cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs mint, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup Lime Oil*
  • Sugar
  • 1/2 pound kale, ribbed and thinly sliced
*No lime oil tropical spice vinegar? You can order them online from DC’s Sapore or sub a good quality white vinegar and olive oil with 1/4 tsp lime zest and a splash of tabasco for heat.

Directions:

  • Mash garlic into a paste with 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt using the back of your knife or a mortar and pestle.
  • Whisk together garlic paste, vinegar, cucumber and herbs. Let dressing rest for at least 5 minutes for cucumbers to soften and flavors to blend.
  • Whisk in olive oil. Season to taste with sugar, salt and pepper. Correct vinegar and oil balance with kale.
  • Dress kale and let rest for 5 minutes to soften.

Eating salad should be a “want to,” not a “have to.” (Part 1 of 52)

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Remember that point when salad became something you had to choke down with dinner each night because it was good for you? That was when you fell in love with salad dressings: Ranch, Thousand Island and Italian started a habit that lead to more sophisticated dressings like jars of Marie’s Blue Cheese, Judie’s Poppyseed Dressing (and popovers!) and Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette.

These dressings were all good, but it was like doctors treating the symptom while missing the disease. We were covering up for the increasingly tasteless vegetables we were bringing home from the grocery store. No more. Welcome to 52 weeks of holistic healing for your daily meal.

In my entry for a simple vinaigrette, I mention that it is the most asked for recipe I serve in my home, and the variations are without end. Starting this week I am going to blog 52 weeks of recipes that will take the salad from a must eat back to the vaunted want-to-eat status it deserves.

This is the last time you go to the grocery store, pick up a bag of tasteless Romaine hearts and slather them in thick Ranch or Blue Cheese to stop the pain. Today we start with fresh ingredients, make our own dressings and dress our ingredients lightly. Your perfectly dressed salad should glisten lightly with dressing. When you are done serving there should be almost no dressing in the bottom of the bowl.

To good taste and good health (and the occasional wedge of iceberg slathered in Marie’s rich blue cheese).

White Peach and Nectarine Salad with Mesclun Greens

The honey helps bring out the sweetness in the fruit. White peaches and nectarines taste sweeter than their yellow cousins because of lower acidity.

Ingredients:

  • 1 white nectarine, thinly sliced
  • 1 white peach, thinly sliced
  • 4 -6 cups mesclun greens – two big handfuls or so

For dressing:

  • 1/4 cup peach vinegar*
  • 1 tbs chopped tarragon
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1/2 cup mild grassy olive oil like Koroneiko*

*Peach vinegar and Koroneiko olive oil are now available online from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in DC. If you want some quick substitutions to toss this together tonight, use a light white wine vinegar with a good quality olive oil.

Directions:

  • Whisk together vinegar, tarragon, shallot and honey with a pinch of salt and crack or three of pepper.
  • Mix the fruit and greens in a large bowl.
  • Whisk the oil into the dressing in a thin stream until it gets thick and creamy.
  • Taste your dressing with leaf of the greens. Correct seasoning and lightly dress your salad.

Dinner, July 4th 1999.

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My husband, Jason, will tell you that I can’t remember what I was just talking about, but I can tell you exactly what I had for dinner on the third Tuesday of June in 1996. I’m not quite that good, but I do have a memory for meals.

Many of those memories come from summer. Long, late, lazy meals with family and friends. Fresh fish with the Creelmans in Madaket, lobsters and cornbread with the Bugbees on Southport Island, my first frogs legs at Bastille Day on the beach in Newport, RI. I remember fourth of July 1998 at home making the same baked beans and ham that Gram Forgiel made for my Mom. Fourth of July 1999 was a honeydew and cantaloupe salad with ginger and honey, grilled lamb chops and a tequila, lime, kiwi chutney cooked quickly in the microwave to keep the colors bright.

Summer meals are memorable because they don’t compete. There’s no thirty-day buildup, panic or planning like we have for big holidays. The meals are not grand nor the expectations high. The food is fresh, the techniques simple, and the flavors are as bright as our memories of them.

This peach salsa is quintessential summer. Quick and easy – no cooking – colorful and fun, flavors light and fresh, and pairings are simple – cumin spiced shrimp, grilled chicken or pork, a bowl of crisp tortilla chips. It’s delicious. Dare I say, memorable.

Peach Tomato Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 2 peaches, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup finely diced bell pepper
  • 1/2 large cucumber, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/2 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 tbs Smoked Olive Oil*
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbs honey

*The smoked olive oil from Sapore is like catching a mouthful of campfire smoke (this is a good thing!). To substitute, swap out the smoked oil and jalapeño for a chipotle chile or two.

Directions:

  • Mix peaches and vegetables together in a bowl.
  • Stir through oil, then cumin and cilantro.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and honey. The salt will bring out the flavor in the veggies, especially the fresh tomatoes, while the honey brings out the flavor in the peaches.
  • If this makes it into the fridge before you eat all of it, check the seasoning when you bring it back out to serve. It holds up beautifully for a few days, although the colors will darken a bit.

*Peeling peaches is fun for nobody. We all hate doing it. Cutting that “x” in the bottom then blanching. 1/2 the peel is left behind and the outside of the peach starts to soften, making it hard to cut neatly. Visit Bob King at Washington, DC’s Eastern Market and buy one of his magic peelers. Ask him to show you how to shake it back and forth to peel the peaches. Come back and thank me. 😉