Wednesday, December 30, 2009

chicken liver pâté

How did I make this really wonderful chicken liver pâté?

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Sautéed some shallot and garlic in lots of butter and olive oil, added really good chicken livers from Sunset Farm. Salt, pepper, a scraping of nutmeg. Low low heat. Turned them until they were just getting rid of their red, still slightly pink. Chopped them coarsely in the food processor after they’d cooled, then added a handful of pistachios, corrected the seasonings, a glug Calvados (perhaps half a drop of truffle oil?). Whirred it once or twice.

That's it! No extra cream, nor butter. No rendered chicken fat. No chopped egg. No frills. I did it without really thinking – mindfully but absent-mindedly, and was surprised at how wonderful it was.

Now if you peer at that photo you might see the shadowy outline just behind the pâté dish of what, if you knew, was the remainder of a jar of preserved lemon slices. It is sitting there on the way from cleaning out the fridge to getting its contents dumped into the compost.

I’d made them last early summer of sliced organic lemons sprinkled heavily with sea salt. We'd eaten most of them, sometimes just as a chewy, salty, almost sweet little snack, on the side of an appetizer plate. But they’d been in there too long. No doubt they were spoiled. So into the compost they went, right on top of coffee grounds.

Only then did I notice the gel in the bottom of the jar. I stuck a finger in and licked it. MMmmmm. Salty wonderful lemon gel! But the lemon slices were covered with coffee grounds. Unrescueable! Taste, Sharon, before doing anything rash.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

a fishy solstice

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Abashed that she is touching what she caught, Zoe is nevertheless proud of her catch. Local fish is probably
a better choice over ocean fish for the fish soup below in this land-locked state.


Dear readers, I suspect most of you would join me in grieving some circumstances in our lives, and in taking joy in others. It’s the winter solstice, you know, when the earth tips over from short days to lengthening ones in her relation to the sun. It is a dangerous time, this solstice season, when the skin of the worlds, it is said, are worn thin, and one must be careful not to glide too near that thin skin for fear of entering another world and leaving this one. Well, that’s as good an explanation as any, to my mind.

Which must be why our ancestors felt the need, so soon after Autumn’s plenty, to light their remaining candle units and begin with a vengeance to consume their hard put-up bounty. “We’ve had it with the darkness,” they seem to’ve said, “and so here is a splurge of light and food to welcome in longer days.” For that IS the irony, isn’t it, that winter only begins with this lengthening light.

Now just tell me if you’d like me to stop right here and if you do I’ll just rerun last year’s Christmas message – cookies, cookies, and more Christmas cookies. And even that column had a grumbling tone. Let’s face it, Christmas is a hard time, a time when you might feel obligated to shop at all the trash stores around just to surround the Christmas tree with presents. Tacky things, wrapped eptly in this dark time can be sources of great joy, whereas unwrapped, under the July sun, they would be subject to unwonted scrutiny and judgment.

But if you don’t mind, I’ll just keep on this tangent of thin places, the yin of things, with a nice brothy dish that is perhaps not soup, but if it is not soup, what is it? I think of it as a composed soup. It is made of a little mound of rice in the bottom of the soup plate, the rice surrounded by steamed vegetables, just a few, and laid over this are filets of steamed white fish, the whole sunk beneath a lake of pungent fish broth, and a scatter of chopped green over it, either parsley or, preferably, cilantro.

a fishy solstice

Rice is made.
(I cannot believe how many people swear desperately by the rice cooker, but I have never had the desire or need for one.) Two cups of water are brought to a boil. A generous bit of salt is pinched into it. A cup of rice is stirred into it, the pan is covered, a moment of contemplation while it comes again to the boil, then the heat turned down to a bare minimum. The timer set for 20 minutes.

Gently a carrot is scrubbed and then cut into irregular small chunks, turning, turning, sharp knife. A stem of celery is cleaned and sliced into half circles. A shallot is peeled, trimmed, and sliced thinly. An inch of good fishy broth or water is poured or drawn into a smallish sauté pan – if water, a cube of fish bouillon dropped into it. If you have it a bit of Asian fish sauce – Nom Pla – give it a squirt to deepen the flavor.
This is put onto a high flame, the bamboo steamer fitted over that, and the carrot and celery put into the steamer and covered. Five minutes after the boil and the heat turned down a bit the vegetables are becoming tender. Four small filets of cod or other fish are rested on top of the vegetables, cilantro is chopped, and ten minutes later the bell rings for the rice, the vegetables are tender, the cod easily flaked, and all is ready. Heats are turned off, or ever so low. A towel under the cover of the rice will absorb any residual moisture if one is not eating right away.

A fishy solstice

But no, you are hungry: Into wide shallow bowls are spooned a pile of rice into the center, and around it the vegetables and the fish. The cooking water has been enriched with the vegetable and fish juices and become a broth. It is ladled over all and the dish strewn with cilantro. Perhaps a drop of dark sesame oil.
There’s time enough before and after for those much-heralded long-cooked thick, cold-weather stews of beef and pork and chicken. For now, Soup’s on, and what a gentle and meditative and lovely thing it is no one can deny.

***

That said, I must confess my mixed feelings about that fish when I stood in front of the fish counter and said, “Give me a slab of that cod.” So simple, right? Give me a slab of that cod. How often would I eat cod if I had to catch it myself?

At least it was frozen. I often have a conversation with a very good friend who exults in finding fresh ocean fish here in Vermont. I’ve told her that I want my fish flash frozen as soon as it’s caught, on that big ship out on those deep gray waves. Fish is delicate, and by the time it gets to shore, unloaded, transported, and in my display case... it is NOT fresh. Even if it was caught yesterday, which is unlikely. The only fresh fish I want is the one I buy off the day boat at 4 in the afternoon to be put on the grill at 6. That’s, of course, when I find myself on the coast. That also determines that the fish is not scraped up with the ocean floor with everything else, leaving destruction and mayhem behind, but caught, hopefully, on a line with a hook.

A check at Seafood Watch tells me that I probably made a bad choice, because my cod was probably US Atlantic cod, and it was probably overfished: “Avoid” Atlantic cod from North America,” Seafood Watch tells us. “Decades of severe overfishing has resulted in massive population declines. Scientists agree that we’re now fishing the last 10% of this population and that the population may never fully recover.” The best choice would be the Pacific cod from Alaska. That would have been caught on a longline, with a jig, or trapped.

I avoid any farmed fish except shellfish because they’re fed what I like to call chicken feed. One of the reasons you eat fish is to get the Omega 3s and maybe a little vitamin D. By eating farmed fish you might as well eat chicken or even tofu. And in addition they’re subject to parasites and diseases which they spread to their neighboring free fish.

It's also best to eat small fish, as bigger fish eat smaller fish and on up, and Mercury and other contaminants are consolidated each step of the way, until the large fish is filled with them. But the most sustainable of all fish, and incredibly rich in nutrients, are the shellfish, the oyster, the mussel (even farmed), and the clam.

I was recently at the Hanover Co-op, attracted by some tiny Maine shrimp. They’re a seasonal delicacy, but I’ve seen the big trawlers sitting off Monhegan Island just scouring the ocean floor for them and anything else that gets in their way. We have a whole other world under our oceans that is all but unexplored, and we do great harm to that world without even recognizing it.

But we’re not perfect – certainly I’m not – and when I asked the woman behind the counter why the Co-op offered these unsustainable things she answered, “We can make recommendations to the buyer but we can’t police them. Now, do you want the shrimp or not?” Well, I grimaced, just this one time!!

You can download a pocket-sized Seafood Watch guide from that website.

And have a wildly happy and mindful solstice!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

a good pie crust

Let me hasten to assure you that as a rule I am very proud of my pie crusts. The post below was an anomaly, really! And just to prove it here's my latest one, made with a different batch of lard. It rolled out flawlessly. I was in a hurry, so I didn't gussy it up with egg wash or a sugar sprinkle. My main problem with making pies is I almost always almost forget to put some chips of butter on the top of the filling before covering with the top crust... Sure enough, I had to peel this one back and slip them in.

food - pies


It's an apple pie a la James Beard's American Cookery, to which I added a few shards of rosemary.


food - pies

When rendering lard do not add water. That first batch of lard was unnecessarily greasy, wet, and not malleable. Cut up the fatback or leaf lard, put into a pot, cover it, and put in a 250 degree oven for a couple of hours. Tip the cover during the latter part of the cooking to let the steam out. Strain into bottles and store in the fridge or the freezer. And don't throw away those cracklings!

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Eggs: of course...

...you could bake the egg (from the recipe for creamed spinach in the last post) on top of the spinach in cream as the Wednesday Chef does on top of sauteed leeks, as in...

basket of eggs

Egg Baked in Cream

from The Wednesday Chef
Serves 1 with leftover leeks for many uses

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
    4 leeks, sliced, light green and white parts only
    Salt
    2 sprigs thyme, leaves roughly chopped
    2 sprigs parsley, leaves roughly chopped
    1 large farm-fresh egg
    About 2 tablespoons half-and-half
    Coarsely ground black pepper
    Grilled or toasted bread slices

1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. In a small sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks, a splash of water and a pinch of salt and cook until the leeks are tender, about 2 minutes. Add the herbs and transfer to a 6-inch cazuela, cocotte or other ceramic dish, covering the bottom with the butter, leeks and herbs.

2. Crack the egg into the middle of the dish. Add enough half-and-half to barely cover the white. Sprinkle with salt and coarsely ground pepper. Cook until the white is set, 8 to 12 minutes. Serve with grilled or toasted bread.

I like that idea. Fewer pans!

Monday, November 30, 2009

a jar of dandelion jelly

a jar of dandelion jelly

Here we are again, starting yet another gift-giving season, but thinking it over I find that I have been the happy and grateful recipient of many toothsome gifts all summer and fall, all year, in fact, and I want to talk about some of them. Yes, I realize this is a dangerous subject. Someone is sure to come up to me just slightly irate to say, “So you didn’t consider my gift of genuine Amazonian sperm oil important enough to write about, huh? See if I ever save you a bit of exoticism again!” But I’ll persevere. When was the last time you know me to flinch from confrontation? Canola oil, anyone?

I began to think about this when I was roasting vegetables for Thanksgiving and to that end went through my fridge and pulled out all the root vegetables I could find. There was a very large and beautiful Gilfeather turnip I’d bought at the Middlebury Co-op the week before, a month old rutabaga that I’d bought from Paul Horton’s Foggy Meadow Farm at one of September’s outdoor Farmers’ Markets, and way at the bottom of the crisper a bag of 3 or 4 gigantic parsnips that Paul had given me last spring. They had grown hairy in the intervening months, but were, if anything, and with a little trimming, better than freshly harvested ones. Too, I hauled out a bag of funnily shaped carrots that Paul had sorted into a bag for me last summer as he said, “Here, take these, Sharon. They don’t sell well.” Paul is a very generous person, and I think that’s not all due to the fact that he loves to see his name in print! Of course I'm only kidding about that. Paul is a humble man, though rightfully prideful in his work.

Sally Beckwith, Paul’s partner, has been generous (in absentia) to us all these last couple of weeks at the Winter Farmers’ Market – she’s been making Crispy Kale Chips for sampling at the booth and they’ve been the talk of the town. She even provides recipe cards:

Crispy Kale Chips

Tear a bunch of kale ruffles into a large bowl. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt, maybe sliced garlic if you like. Keeping a light hand, toss so the kale is coated with the oil and salt. Spread the kale on a cookie sheet and bake in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes. Fluff the kale to distribute the crispier edges with the damper center, return to the oven and bake 20 minutes more. They should be quite dry. Pile into a bowl for appetizers and your guests will rave. I’ve made these twice now and they are the first times I’ve bought kale without a good amount of foreboding.
***

Many of us were incredibly disheartened that the Kilpatrick boys had decided not to attend the Winter Market this year. I almost cried to see their big space taken up with other vendors, however excellent they might be. For the Kilpatricks could, these last two years, be counted on not only to have the widest variety of root vegetables all winter, but also spinach and other greens, and early spring vegetables, too. So that when I walked into the big indoor space a couple of weeks ago and stopped to talk to Greg Cox at Boardman Hill for a bit, then turned and caught a glimpse of a great spread of vegetables, and looked up to see one of the regular Kilpatrick vendors, I screamed! I really did. I screamed and then I slavered all over her with thanks and questions about how it had come about, and more thanks. I excitedly bought a bunch of stuff from her to show my appreciation and, perhaps to send me off to slaver on someone else, she stuffed two bags of spinach into my bag as thanks for my thanks.

A few nights later I became hungry for creamed spinach, and I served it with a poached egg on top and some good toast. What a lovely, simple, satisfying little supper:

Creamed Spinach

Take a pound of cleaned spinach, stems and all, and put it into a saucepan in which you have brought a little water to boil, maybe an inch. Sprinkle with half a teaspoon of salt – you can add more later, if needed – cover, and cook until wilted, maybe only 3 minutes. Drain well, take handfuls of it, squeeze gently to get most of the rest of the water out, put on a cutting board and chop coarsely.
In a sauté pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When it is melted, sprinkle in some flour – try 2 tablespoons. Stir, stir, stir, and when it is golden drizzle in a cup to 1 ½ cups whole milk or half and half, stirring all the while, and cook and stir until thickened. Add in the spinach. Add a scraping of nutmeg, to taste. Turn the heat to very low and partially cover while you poach an egg or two, toast some bread, grate some parmesan. Serve by spooning the spinach into a serving dish, nestle a poached egg on top, sprinkle with parmesan and serve with the buttered toast.

***

One of the most unique gifts I’ve received was from a neighbor with whom I exchanged some of the tarragon, that happens to’ve survived almost 30 years in my garden under less than optimal conditions, for some of the mammoth dill that grows in her garden, and has year after year. After the trade-off she whipped out a little jar of clear golden jelly. Dandelion! Now who woulda thunk? It is such an oddity that I have not opened it, nor tasted it, but kept it displayed prominently for that slight jolt it gives me each time my eye lights upon it.
More gifts! Annabelle thrust a head of radicchio into my hands straight from her garden, saying, “I knew I’d discover who this belongs to when I saw her. It is you!” Chris showed up on my doorstep one night with a bunch of beets straight from HIS garden, saying, “You wrote about the last sweetness in the garden, and here it is.” Julie handed me a pint of golden honey from the first season of Mark’s bees, and we opened it and dipped fingers into it. Sticky sweetness to our wrists. Bees: One of the wonders of our world. Skiing Fool (he emails a wonderfully scurrilous ski report starting when the snow flies) showed up one Saturday afternoon: “I missed you at the Farmers’ Market but I wanted to give you some of my grape jelly.” He’d made a most marvelous jelly from the grapes that twine up the pergola in his back yard. Somehow he’d left the velvety little skins in the otherwise clear jel and they hit the tongue most softly. And then there’s Janet , who gave me two quarts of lard she’d rendered a couple of years ago and sealed in a boiling water bath. I was just about to beg Monty for some fatback to render my own. Lard is a necessity in my life, but I won’t buy it from the supermarket – it’s full of trash that allows it to sit on a shelf far from the refrigerator case.

***

Sometimes you have to look for your gift, search it out, as I did with these little Whole Wheat Walnut Cookies. I found them on October 3rd.

a jar of dandelion jelly

You remember October 3rd! It was drizzly and cold and while we drove to West Haven it began to rain. Oh. Lovely! We were going to a wedding that was being held in the third meadow back of beyond, a half mile walk from the parking area, no house in sight. But once we got there, in the dining tent, I hadn’t seen so many trays of lasagna since the old hippy dippy days. And mac salads, and potato salads, and sauerkraut, and lovely little individual lobster quiches, and at the very end a platter of little rounded cookies, made with whole wheat flour, walnuts, and five spice powder. They were tremendous. I spent much of the rest of the time trying to find out who made them.
Finally I found Leah, who had made them from a recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book, one that I cooked out of with wonderful results back in the ‘70s. But they were in a newer edition, and so I had to haunt Leah again until she most graciously gave me the recipe:

Whole Wheat Walnut Cookies

Heat the oven to 350 degrees

Reserve ¼ cup of the flour and combine all ingredients in the order listed
• 1 cup softened butter
• 2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
• 1/3 cup brown sugar (or rapidura)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon 5-spice powder (optional)
• 2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
• powdered sugar (or rapidura) for dusting
As you mix the ingredients, add reserved flour as needed until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Form and roll into spheres about the size of walnuts. Place on a greased cookie sheet
Bake for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch.
Dust with powdered sugar.

These are sandy, like shortbread, not too sweet, absolutely delectable, and so fast and easy to make.
It turned out to be a lovely day for a wedding. And the sun came out just as the bride said “I Do!”

***

So! To all of you now I say thank you. Thank you very much. Thanks. Thank you. Merci. Gracias. Really: Thanks!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

cooking sublime thanks

We went to friends' house for Thanksgiving, so Leo made his fat noodles and I made a pumpkin pie, the Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart, creme fraiche, roasted vegetables, kale chips and... something else, I think.

Leo's noodles went together without a hitch. Here he is cutting

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

and hanging them

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

So far, so good.

But my crusts were a different story. Remember how I told you not to worry if you had to put them together like a jigsaw puzzle? Well, both of mine were jigsaw puzzles...
Here's the bottom crust of the IGTMT...

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

That's not too bad, right? After all, I told you it might be a jigsaw puzzle. Here's the top...

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

It looks messier, but it wasn't. Here is the way it came out of the oven. I think it looks like a Jackson Pollack, very rustic, very modern... There's something truthful about it, as though the baker had grown beyond worrying about it.

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

And, in spite of it all, it was really quite delicious. I think.

The real surprise is the regular crust for the pumpkin pie.

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

It would not. hold. together. I had to patch it and form it just like the cookie crust dough of the IGTMT. Which is NOT all right. You ruin the flakiness when you press it. But no matter, it, too, was good. I used Edna Lewis's recipe for pumpkin pie, using a heritage long pumpkin for the... well, you know, pumpkin. It has some bourbon in it, I believe, and I used... surprise... surprise...bourbon. And it calls for evaporated milk, which is a common ingredient of southern, turn of the century, early 20th century, recipes. But since I didn't have any, after a day's worth of interrupted thought about it, I used coconut milk. It was dense, but I think it always is, and very sweet! But then so was the IGTMT. Must be my tastebuds. This is how they looked when done. I decorated each with a single red oak leaf.

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

I love Thanksgiving, our wonderful secular holiday in stick season. I love the muted colors of the sticks and the old leaves, the mauves and grays multiplied now. I love the murmuring voices of Thanksgivings past. Happy Thanksgiving season, everyone.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart

Thanksgiving Morning after
No photos of the handsome Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart?? What a shame. So as a placeholder here is one of the Thanksgiving table the morning after. Looks like we made some progress on that jigsaw puzzle!

If you were provident you made your Green Tomato Mincemeat a month ago or so. Now here, as promised, is the recipe for this handsome rustic pie that is not shy of taking its place on the holiday table. When it is taken from the pan and placed on a pretty plate or, as I do it, on a large, round, cast-iron griddle, the top fits over the bottom like the lid of a pot. As beautiful as it is it is no less delicious. A slender slice succinctly complements slivers of roast meats as well as finishes a meal. And if there is any left over there's no better way to break the fast the next morning!

There are three steps involved, but the Italian pastry, which can be done by hand or in a food processor, and the mincemeat can be made ahead of time, preparatory to assembling the tart. To remove the tart from the pan bottom easily, use a flat, somewhat flexible piece of metal such as another tart pan bottom or a sharp-edged baking sheet without a rim to slip between bottom crust and pan.
Serves 8 to 12

Italian sweet pastry dough:
  • 2 1/3 cups flour (10 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (2.5 ounces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream cheese layer:
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 egg beaten (you'll use 4 tablespoons of it)
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • 2 cups green tomato mincemeat

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and zest. Cut the butter in with a knife or pastry cutter, then rub the mixture quickly between your palms until it is the texture of cornmeal. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and toss until incorporated. If you use a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest just until combined, then add the cold butter, the egg and yolk, and the vanilla, and pulse several times just until combined and only beginning to come together in a ball.

Turn onto a work surface, knead lightly with the heel of your hand to distribute the egg, form the dough into 2 disks, one slightly larger than the other, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Assembly:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, roll out the larger portion of pastry and with it line a 10-inch, fluted, removable-bottom tart pan. Press excess pastry back into the fluted sides, pinching the two layers together and forming a 1/4 inch margin above the edge to allow for shrinkage.

Don't become distraught if the dough tears -- it does so easily but it can all be pressed together to mend it. I've taught this dough and had to patch it like a jigsaw. Laugh it off.

Blend the cream cheese with the honey until soft, add 2 tablespoons of the beaten egg, the milk, zest, vanilla, and nutmeg, and mix but do not beat. You do not want to incorporate air.
Pour into the pastry-lined pan and spread evenly. Bake the pie for about 20 minutes or until just set.

Meanwhile, roll out the top crust and prick it several times, decoratively, with a fork.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Carefully spread the Green Tomato Mincemeat over the cream cheese layer in the pan. Drape the top pastry over a rolling pin and carefully lower over the pan. Arrange it evenly and then run the rolling pin across the top of the pan. The fluted edge of the pan will cut off the excess and seal the top to the bottom crust. Brush with the remaining egg. Bake until the top is delicate golden, about 20 minutes.

Let it cool and remove from the pan to a serving plate.

Serve in wedges, warm, with a spoonful of Creme Fraiche.

There may be no more fitting inscription on my tombstone, when the time comes, than
'Here lies she who developed the glorious Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart.

Creme Fraiche

Stir 2 or 3 tablespoons of sour cream or buttermilk into 2 cups heavy cream, not ultra-pasteurized. Whisk together well, cover loosely, and leave in a warm place until the mixture becomes thickened and of the tang you like. This can take half an hour on some days and all day on others.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

an autumn German layered soup

This soup seems to me to be the quintessential autumn soup. About this time of year it comes into my mind and I begin to think about it, and I make it again. The time has just changed – it’s light when we wake up here in Vermont, and dusk comes at 4:30, soon it will be 4. Root vegetables are rampant and fresh, tinged with sweetness because of the frosts and now freezes. A woman named El writes about them beautifully and practically here.

Cabbage AutumnSoup

I came upon this soup by accident. I had a bit of ground pork in the fridge, and half a cabbage. I sprinkled the meat into an olive-oil burnished pan over a really quite low heat. I didn’t brown it so much as just sprinkled it into the pan. I had in mind a layered soup, with meat at the bottom, hard vegetables – all the fall vegetables I could find, possibly a turnip, probably some carrots, certainly potatoes, all cut into a very small, regular dice indeed, the real imprimatur of a good vegetable soup – on top of that, increasingly tender ones layered over hard, until on top would be some half moons of celery, the cabbage, and then tomatoes. All to be cooked over very low heat just to sweat their juices and let them seep tenderly down through each layer, amalgamating the flavors. When they were sweated and tender indeed, stock, broth, wine, or just water would make the whole into soup.

Cabbage and pork equals German, I thought, and German would mean vinegar and sour cream, too, as a topping for each finished bowl of soup.

This last time I did not have ground pork, but I had mutton, and so I started with that. At the end I forgot I had sour cream, so I used a dollop of yogurt. It fell short, somehow. I did not have fennel vinegar, which would have been outstanding, but I had a jar of last summer’s plump red raspberries that had been marinating for months in white vinegar, so I spooned that over the soup and yogurt and it was inexplicably incredible.

But that’s the thing with good fresh flavors – you might start by hankering after fennel, but unexpectedly really, truly raspberry thrills you with a certain gratefulness and joy.

In my book Tomato Imperative I called this simply and, some might say, unimaginatively,

Cabbage and Potato Soup
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 large garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and chopped
• 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
• ½-1 pound very lean ground pork (or beef or mutton, or... ostrich. Whatever you have on hand)
• 1 small hot pepper, chopped, or crumbled if dried
• 1 ½ cups finely diced late season vegetables (carrot, eggplant, fennel, sweet pepper, turnip, etc)
• 2 large potatoes cut in ¼ inch dice
• 2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
• 2 cups finely shredded cabbage
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• 2 cups beef broth (thanks, SZ)
For the toppings:
• flavored vinegar
• crème fraiche, sour cream, or yogurt.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a deep but fairly broad pan. Strew in the garlic and onion, stir for a moment until they are slightly limp. Crumble the ground meat into the pan and mix with the onion and garlic. Add the hot pepper to taste and stir until the meat is just pink on the way to being browned. Layer in the mixed vegetables and over them the potatoes, then the tomatoes, then the cabbage. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the cabbage is limp and the potatoes tender, keeping them at a low simmer. This might take 20 minutes, or 40. Then stir in the broth. Heat, season to taste, and serve in bowls topped with a spoonful of sour cream and one of vinegar.

A deeply satisfying supper!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

nothing difficult about soups

nothing difficult about soups
I'd grown 3 beautiful butternut squash this summer.
T
hey were sitting on my counter just waiting to be eaten.

Nothing difficult about soups. Little dice or puree of veggies – if leafy then julienned (cut in strips); little dice or grind of meat; stock, water and/or wine; maybe a handful of small pasta or rice thrown in to cook the last 20 minutes; herbs, seasonings, salt and pepper to taste – and you have supper, the first course of dinner, lunch, or even breakfast. Afternoon pick-me-up. Those veggies can be fresh or leftover, ditto meat, which is optional.

If you’re in a hurry perhaps you keep some good quality commercial soup around. I do. My favorite is found in the brown bag in the supermarket’s Italian section, called Alessi Traditional. And my favorites among them are Zuppa Toscana – Tuscan White Bean – and Pasta Fazool, which is what it sounds like (even if not spelled correctly) – Neopolitan Bean Soup. Just add water and cook. I cook them longer than the directions say, because it’s all dehydrated and the veggies tend to stay too toothy without longer cooking. (Be warned, however, if you’re bothered by MSG these soups are not for you. And no, truth-in-lending, I am not paid by this company.)

A steaming hot bowl of well-flavored soup – you really can’t go wrong. But lots of times, I hesitate ever to say always, that wafting bowl of soup is only finished after the fact, with what is put on top – a glug of good olive oil, say, some grated cheese, croutons – those are what bring completed pleasure to your mouth and brain. Alessi reminds you to top each bowl with olive oil and parm. It makes all the difference.

I suspected that might be true of the creamy butternut squash/ginger soup served at the Twilight in the Meadow Do that I wrote about a while ago. It was a wonderful soup in itself, but the tiny brunoise (very regular, very tiny dice) of apples and chopped parsley that topped it simply scored it immense points in my mind. Genius – creamy, slightly sweet, earthy squash vs the sharply sweet, crisp tang of apple. Mmmm Mmm.

I figured I knew how to make the soup itself, but just to be sure I called the chef who made it. Good thing I did, too, for I'd forgotten the ginger. (I won’t mention her name again because I talked about her a bit in my last column, and Randal talked about her in-depth in his, suffice it to say her initials are S.H. and her catering and take-out business in Middletown Springs is called Sissy’s).

She told me the soup started out with sautéing onion and ginger and then adding peeled and chunked butternut squash with a little cider and simmering until tender; pureeing that mixture, and thinning with cream. “Oh,” she said, “I flavor it with a little cinnamon, cloves, allspice.”

Do you use a lot of ginger, I asked? Yes, she did.

And that brunoise, I said, is it just apples?

“And a little parsley,” she said.

So I set to work, and here’s what I did.

nothing difficult about soups
For peeling a butternut squash or anything else, I love my Victorinox peeler.
I think my friend Carol Ann gave it to me decades ago. Thank you, Carol Ann.

Butternut Squash & Ginger Soup
adapted from S.H. with gratitude

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped carelessly
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) of grated ginger (see photo below)
  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves (I didn’t have any allspice, at least that I’d labeled, so I omitted it)
  • 3/4 cup apple cider (Neither did I have cider so I used a combination of 3/4 cup chicken broth and 1/4 cup cider vinegar)
  • Thin cream -- about half a cup per serving
  • 1 firm, large apple
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
Melt the butter in a fairly deep, wide-bottomed, heavy pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then the onion and ginger. Cover, turn the heat to low, and let this sweat. Don’t let the onion brown.

Peel a butternut squash, slice it in half, seed it, and cut it in chunks.

When the onions are tender, add the squash, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and cider (or broth and vinegar).
Stir, cover, and turn the heat to medium until it comes to a bubbling little simmer. Keep it there or turn slightly lower and cook until the squash is very tender.

Puree the mixture. An immersion blender is best for this – the mixture is too dry to use a regular blender, a food processor will chop it instead of pureeing it. You could use a food mill or a chinoise, but I think you’d save out the onion. Which probably wouldn’t matter, since it would be only the fiber, not the flavor, that is saved out.

Problems, problems. Since I was cooking for two, I didn’t want to add enough cream to thin the whole mixture because I was going to save half of it for use later, and would add the cream to that leftover portion just before serving it.

So, if you don’t have an immersion blender, you could put half the squash mixture in a regular blender and add enough cream to thin it, and puree it that way.

The apple brunoise: It’s difficult to make tiny squares out of a round object. I did my best, but my admiration grew for whomever made that beautiful tiny apple brunoise for the Twilight in the Meadow dinner for one hundred people! Must’ve taken one person all day to do that. My brunoise was rather uneven, but once I mixed it with chopped parsley and spooned it over the top of the soup it tasted just as good.

So, pour the thinned puree back into the pan and place over low heat until steaming. Ladle into bowls and place a tablespoon or so of the apple brunoise in the center of each bowl.

Eat!

Hmm. Did I start out by saying there was nothing difficult about soups? Mep! Little problems. You’ll figure them out. It’ll be worth it. Still a very easy dinner. Or breakfast!

nothing difficult about soups

Monday, October 19, 2009

food & the city

For ya'll who are not from these here parts, Rutland is a city at the top of the southwest quadrant of Vermont. It was always the second largest city to Burlington until the big-box Winooski took that distinction a few years ago.

At the final presentation of the downtown Rutland marketing study given by Tripp Muldrow of Arnett Muldrow & Associates, the final point made was this: “We think (and he was visibly thrilled) that Downtown Rutland is positioned perfectly to become a national model for promoting the link between farms and food.”
Two important entities in that vision are the Rutland Area Food Co-op as the anchor on the southeast of downtown (Wales Street), and the Rutland Farmers’ Market – in the west side Depot Park in the summer, and partnering with the Co-op in the winter.

That is tremendously exciting – that Rutland could be the National Model for this kind of food integrity and sustainability. But more than that – that food plays and will play such a huge role in Rutland’s present and future. Not since rail energized the city back in the early-1800s has Rutland had such an exciting purpose. It IS true that the Co-op and the Farmers’ Market comprise the big heart of Rutland.

Neither of these organizations are new ones – the Farmers’ Market gathered first back in the ‘70s, and the Co-op was formed in ’94. Both struggled at first, the powers-that-be ignorant of their potential importance in the case of the Farmers’ Market, begrudging them a space to gather; and damning the Co-op with faint amusement and then total forgetfulness. But each forged on and are pulsing away at their vibrant best these days. Very strong links, both of them, in a healthy food chain.

One reason for that resurgence might be the formation of Rutland Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) several years ago, by a small group of people including Tara Kelly, India Burnett Farmer, and Greg Cox, to help the public and its institutions connect with farmers and food processors and to celebrate that connection. One of those celebrations takes place in the theatre space behind the Co-op starting in November, when the Farmers’ Market moves indoors to set up every Saturday throughout the winter. Without a hitch, without an absence from the end of the last outdoor market on October 31 to the first outdoor market in May, the Farmers’ Market meets and celebrates food and community. Of course, the vibrantly successful summer Farmers’ Market – with 80 plus vendors – is successful in it’s own right.

In addition to the Winter Market, RAFFL is working on finding a home for an industrial kitchen in Rutland – a processing facility where value-added food products can be prepared. Too, they’re looking for land that will serve as incubator farms, and, well, let’s just quote from their web page: The Community Farm & Agricultural Resource Center will serve as an incubator farm for beginning farmers, a research and learning space to cultivate innovative agricultural and marketing strategies, a gathering space to be used for community harvest celebrations and educational programs, a consumer awareness tool and hub for RAFFL program activities and the location for regional agricultural processing infrastructure. In other words, a space in the Rutland area that will serve a very similar function as the Intervale in Burlington.
***
food & the city
Tara Kelly
All of this takes lots of moola, and when Tara Kelly recently became the full time Executive Director of RAFFL a flurry of copasetic fund-raising events ensued. Perhaps you’ve gone to one of the localvore dinners at the Marble Museum in Proctor, brought to you under the auspices of the Marble Museum to benefit RAFFL and Dimension of Marble? If not, you should keep your eye peeled for the next announcement of one. Lots of good and innovative food, reasonable price, and great company of farmers, localvores, community leaders and just plain foodies, all gathering together in the gorgeous cavern of marble that is one of our historic natural resources. That all adds up to just tremendous enjoyment and great networking opportunities, too. By that I just mean talking to people who are interested in the same things you are.
But RAFFL’s outstanding fund-raiser took place this October in the form of The First Annual Twilight in the Meadow – a white-linen sit-down dinner prepared by Sissy Hicks, the former owner of the Dorset Inn (of whom Jane and Michael Stern once wrote, “We see Sissy Hicks as the Alice Waters of Vermont...”), in a dining tent in the middle of a meadow at Milky Way Farm in Ira. Robbie Clark, the owner of the farm was there, milking, feeding the calves, leading tours, as were his supporting parents, Bob Clark and Mary Saceric-Clark. Everyone even remotely connected with RAFFL was serving and sch-moo-zing, petting the calves, watching the cows getting milked, and eating gorgeous food.
food & the city
the dining room in the meadow
It started with appetizers of chicken liver pate’ made by Greg and Gay Cox from their Boardman Hill chickens, spread on good rustic whole-grained bread from Naga Bakehouse, and local wines from Lincoln Peak Vineyard. The sit-down portion of the feast started with a creamy, delicate butternut squash soup garnished with a tiny brunoise of Macintosh apples. That was followed by a beet and chèvre salad, lamb-three-ways, roasted vegetables, fingerling potatoes, and finished with sumptuous apple cake and cinnamon ice cream. Raffle results and a small, laid-back auction followed. “In all,” Tara tells me, “twenty-two farmers donated their product – and that doesn't count the 14 specialty food producers that donated jars of salsa etc. for the table favors.” Everything was locally sourced and almost everything was donated.
food & the city
Chef & Cooks: Sissy Hicks, Jana Tournabene, and local farmer and RAFFL Board Member, Julie Barber
food & the city
Plating table -- Ready, Set, Go
food & the city
Young Servers

Green fields all around, full moon, lively conversation, and lovely food accompanied by that faint, nostalgic whiff of manure to remind real epicures from whence their food comes.
***
So let’s make Tripp Muldrow’s enthusiastic marketing plan for Rutland’s future vitality work – support your Co-op, your Farmers’ Market, and support RAFFL in all its endeavors – it’s just lots of really rewarding fun – people, food, and oh yes, music!
food & the city
The meadow in question...

This post and the mincemeat one below were combined into the
Herald Column, Twice Bitten, which appeared 10/20/09

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Green Tomato Mincemeat

Green Tomato Mincemeat

I grew up with mincemeat pie, but only meat mincemeat, venison or beef neck, always made by Grandma, and I loved it as my absolute favorite holiday -- Thanksgiving and Christmas -- treat, as I wrote about here. But when I was working on Tomato Imperative! I realized that I would have to come up with a green tomato mincemeat. I was inspired by a cover photo of a handsome, rustic, double-crust tart made by Nick Malgieri for a glossy food magazine.

To keep it in line with Grandma's mincemeat, I used suet as the fat for a distinctive flavor, though you may substitute butter if you like. I wanted a sophisticated Italian twist to it which I provided with the addition of pine nuts and sherry.

This is yummy as a chutney accompaniment to a roast. As well, it has an affinity to cream cheese when spread on thin slices of brown bread, or, another time, served in tiny demitasse cups with good thick jersey cream over all for a special dessert. Most wonderfully of all, it is used in the filling of the Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart, the recipe for which you will find in Tomato Imperative! but that I will give you later on, closer to the holidays.

Now, though, is the time to gather those last green tomatoes and make them into this sumptuous thing.

It keeps practically forever in the fridge, but you may can it in pint jars in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes to be safe.

Green Tomato Mincemeat
Makes about 3 cups, enough for one tart, but can be doubled
  • 2 ounces beef suet, chopped
  • 3 green tomatoes (1 lb), cored and chopped
  • 1 large apple, cored and chopped
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar, cider, or hard cider
  • 1 quarter-sized round of fresh gingerroot, smashed and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 onion, sliced in 1-inch shards
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • More liqueur -- sherry, dark rum, or Calvados for preservation
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, render the suet over medium heat until crackling. Stir in green tomatoes, apple, zests and juices, vinegar, gingerroot, nutmeg, onion, brown sugar, cinnamon, coriander, and salt. Cook over low heat with the cover cocked, stirring often, for about 2 hours, until condensed and syrupy.

Meanwhile, put the raisins to macerate in the sherry.

When the mixture is very thick, correct the seasonings, stir in the raisins, sherry, and pine nuts.
Add up to a cup of liqueur -- to taste -- and bring back to a simmer for 3 minutes, then put into jars if you are not serving it in the near future.
Green Tomato Mincemeat

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

That last summer sweetness

It's Fall, folks, Autumn, but without our big freeze yet, this is the time to take full advantage of all the fresh tastes you can.

Last Summer Sweetness
Some of the summer etables still available pending the big freeze. Eat 'em up!!

I had the most perfect tomato the other day. It was an enormous Brandywine, perfectly ripe, grown by the Tomato Lady at the Farmers’ Market. I made a BLT for Leo with Bear Mountain honey/oatmeal bread, bacon from the pork people in Clarendon – J&S Davis – and iceberg lettuce grown by Paul Horton at Foggy Meadow Farm in Benson.

For me I made a BLT salad, because I’m not eating bread right now, nor potatoes, rice, nor pasta. No starchy things, in other words, nothing that can easily turn to sugar, and NO sugar. It was so good, that luscious tomato all juicy and sweet, and the crunchy, icy, substantial lettuce, and the salty crisp baconness, all dolloped and dotted with mayo. I ate and ate and ate.

“Iceberg lettuce!” you exclaim. “But how outré!”

Well. Maybe. But possibly trend-setting, I’d like to suggest!

I was re-minded of my predilection for the crisp-tender sweetness of that round balled lettuce – with leaves so substantial you can wrap a slice of ham with a slather of mayo in them and forego the bread while you munch – last late-spring when I sat on the deck leafing through the May issue of Saveur Magazine. Yes, there was a photo of Her Majesty The Ice Queen, as they called it, looking luscious with blue cheese, radishes and scallions.

Iceberg was the only lettuce to be had when I was growing up. Those big pale green balls would come home from the grocery store every week, the stem would be thumped on the counter to remove it, and it would be stored in a – get this – Tupperware container made especially for it! We ate it every night, usually with bottled red stuff called French Dressing. It was sweet. We liked it. Candied lettuce! Often, though, budding little gourmet that I was, I would top a crisp cold leaf of it with half a canned peach and a dollop of Hellman’s – not mayo, but – was it called “Salad Dressing”? It looked like mayo but it was sweeter. I think it’s still around. If company was coming, a plump red maraschino cherry would sit atop the whole elegant thing... “Just like downtown,” my mom would say.

Suddenly, sitting there in the backyard in that long beginning twilight that is early summer, I yearned for iceberg lettuce, but I would have to go to the grocery store to get some, and it would have been grown in California or even China, and I didn’t want it that bad. The Farmers’ Market overflows with gorgeous, splendiferous greens, and that’s what I buy.

But. That next Saturday I couldn’t help but ask Paul whether or not he’d ever thought of growing iceberg lettuce. He’s very open to growing new things, even asks for suggestions, and I never hesitate to oblige. “Hmm,” he said with interest, “I haven’t. But it’s not a bad idea. I’ll order some seed.”

We’ve had lots to think about over the summer, but the other Saturday I revisited the subject: “I did grow some,” Paul told me, “But the heads didn’t form up very well – maybe it was that last heat we had, or maybe all the rain early on – but it tastes good and it’s been going into the salad mix.” So I bought some of the salad mix and enjoyed it that way.

The next week, though, “Oh, I’ve got something for you,” Paul said, and handed me a ... real... head of iceberg!

Last Summer Sweetness
Tomato Lady's Brandywine Tomato and Paul Horton's Iceberg Lettuce

Now I can’t tell you how much pleasure that head of lettuce has given me. I know that sounds pathetic, but I live a simple life, with simple tastes and ... well, nevermind! But, it was perhaps at least partly responsible for my eating low-carb for a few weeks here, as I could see how I could do without some of those starchy enclosures, how a leaf of this crisp stuff could cup a tuna or egg salad or support that BLT salad I began with, tastily, crisply, and absolutely healthily. I feel better already.

As I spoke to some other farmers, including Greg Cox of Boardman Hill, and read up about the history of the lettuce, I found few facts but much conjecture. Greg told me that iceberg was the original desert lettuce, bred to survive the trip across the country from Sonoma County where it was grown, which is probably why it didn’t thrive in our cold, rainy summer. I read that it traveled heaped with ice chips, from whence comes its name, and that it was the picking of this lettuce that led, in the 70s, to Caesar Chavez calling for a boycott to protest the working conditions of California lettuce pickers.

The main point to me, though, and what makes me feel less than proud of my hunger for iceberg, is that it was bred for long-distance travel, and I have simply given up on long-distance foods. I said to Paul, I don’t know why I’m writing about iceberg lettuce when I have just finished the only head of it that anyone’s likely to see...” He had a thoughtful look in his eye. “Maybe I’ll try it again, make it the first seed planted, maybe in March next spring.”

So that’s okay – as a long-time local-eater (before localvore was coined) I know that I can’t have everything I want exactly when I want it. I can wait. In the meantime there are other crisphead lettuces. A silky butterleaf is as encompassing if not as crisp, and we’ll have lovely spinach all through the winter, most likely.

And, truth to tell, this diminuendo of eating mainstream carbs has paid its benefits – I no longer have an insatiable urge to eat more and more; to, in the midst of a meal, be planning the NEXT meal! Because that’s what sugar does to you, you know, it makes you want MOWAH, as Oliver so plaintively pled in the midst of his pallid porridge.

So now it’s time to allow in starchier veggies, such as beans and lentils. They’ll taste sweet enough, because when you cut out the blatant sugars in your food the subtle sweetnesses that remain step up to the plate. How to get your sugar fix? Go without carbs for awhile and a bowl of split pea soup will taste like ambrosia. A very thin slice of Bear Mountain Honey Oatmeal sourdough bread will be orgasmic! Slathered, I don’t have to tell you, with butter.

So forget about iceberg lettuce for now, wait for spring and see what Paul’s efforts bring, and truly enjoy those wonderful tomatoes that are still vine-fresh as I write. Eggplants. Peppers. Go hog wild on those things while they last.
**
Corn on the cob is getting scarce, but when you can find it it’s starchy and sweet, maybe a little tough for some of you dainty cob-gnawers out there, but it’s great scraped off the cob (maybe with a round cookie-cutter?), perhaps scored with a knife, first, so as to get its milkiness in with the kernels, then baked with lots of butter in a hot oven for half an hour, 45 minutes. Caramelized, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to corn heaven.

My latest favorite rendition of this is from Michael Ruhlman’s blog – his wife is a photographer and the photo made me want to fly down to Manchester to get myself a corn scraper just like Michael’s. If you have one you don’t have to use a cookie cutter or a knife:

Baked Buttered Corn
adapted from Michael Ruhlman
These are the ingredients for four servings:
- 8 ears of corn
- 4 tablespoons butter, cut in 4 pieces
- salt and pepper to taste

Scrape 6 ears of corn using a corn cutter, [but we’ve talked about this, right?] so the kernels are opened and all their sweet starchy juices fall into a bowl (you can also slice the kernels with a knife and scrape the ears that way or you could probably use a box grate. Cut the corn from the remaining two ears into the same bowl. Season well with salt and pepper. Pour the corn into a baking dish (choose a dish or individual ramekins that will give you a depth of a couple inches). Push the butter into the corn and bake uncovered at 425 for 30-40 minutes.

Last Summer Sweetness
The more common scene: Sarah Seward's Farm Stand, East Wallingford. Gorgeous Fall.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Good Fats and Bad & the truth about canola oil

Dear Readers, I love most of you, but a few of you get a little overheated. Riled up. Just downright sad. And sometimes out and out belligerent.

good fat bad fat
Good fats to use include butter, olive oil, and coconut oil. They're good for you, and they're delicious Real Foods.

Case in point: I’ve slung a few arrows at the promiscuous use of Canola oil by everyone from home cooks to commercial fryolator drivers in my last few columns. Admittedly, I just slung ‘em, didn’t stop to correct my aim, didn’t explain – yet again – why I was slingin’. Maybe I never have – that’s the problem with writing columns – you can’t assume that your present reader has read the column from two years ago about the downside of vegetable oils, and assimilated the info thoroughly enough to be able to draw on it again when you mention canola oil today. Actually you can’t REMEMBER if you’ve already explained your bias.

First came four ladies with downcast eyes, who told me they were disturbed that I didn’t approve of Canola oil. Why didn’t I? They had thought they were being virtuous by using Canola oil. I felt badly about that, but I threw off four or five facile reasons, ending with “it’s a man-made oil and why trust man-made foods when we have great whole animal and vegetable foods readily available to us?”

We should know better, having been the recipient, en masse, of governmental and industrial proclamations and directives to eat fake instead of real – margarine instead of butter; something called, I believe, Eggbeaters, instead of eggs. Why? Because butter and eggs were bad for us! Why? Because they contained cholesterol, and it was believed that cholesterol in our food translated into cholesterol in our blood. And it was believed by some that cholesterol in our blood built up on our arteries and choked them off, so that blood couldn’t get to the heart, or that chunks of that plaque would break off and shoot directly into our brains or our hearts. Killing us. Incapacitating us. Chilling, isn’t it? Do you doubt that fake-food companies instill fear of whole foods into us so that we will buy their product?

How did this come about? Someone, long ago, back in that early and mid-century just behind us, got this cholesterol-as-demon idea in his head and instituted several massive studies, which never really proved his point. Nevertheless, cereal companies were really big, and they took the idea and ran with it. Kellogg. Post. People like that. They grew grains, puffed them up, flaked them, and sold us cereals. What a great boon if they could also sell us vegetable oils from those same seeds and grains to take the place of butter, lard and other animal fats, even olive oil, if anyone even knew what that was back in the '50s. The 1950s!

They got their chance when the McGovern Committee on Nutrition and Human needs began to meet back in 1968 in response to an increase in chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. But many renowned scientists of the day objected to the lipid hypothesis. They said that there was nothing to link cholesterol or saturated fat with the diseases. George McGovern replied, “I could only argue that senators don’t have the luxury a research scientist has of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in.” Watch that on a new video that’s just been released! Fascinating stuff!

In 1977 the McGovern Committee issued dietary guidelines that called on Americans to lessen their consumption of red meat and dairy products. The red meat and dairy industries objected, so the Committee replaced that wording with “choose meats, poultry, and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake.” Now THAT is an oxymoron. It’s also the beginning of ‘nutritionism’: that practice of recommending or dismissing parts of foods instead of whole foods.

They thought – 'well, it’s probably true that we should eat less red meat and fat even though we have no scientific proof for it.'
And they thought, 'even if it isn’t true, it can’t hurt us to eat less meat and dairy.'

Little did they know that by replacing animal fats with vegetable fats we would alter our diets, our environment, our health, our very way of life, our world, irrevocably. The entire middle of our country – millions upon millions of acres – is paved over with the industrial crops of genetically modified corn, soy, and rapeseed – the seed that makes canola. The residues of those crops drip down the waterways into the Gulf of Mexico creating environmental catastrophes in their beginning, on their way and upon their arrival. And the subsequent upsetting of the omega 6 to omega 3 ratios in our diets is increasingly being considered to be the cause of many of our chronic health problems, including a massive increase of autism in children.

But, specifically, Canola?
About 50% of that fat in traditional rapeseed was erucic acid, which causes heart lesions. Back in the ‘70s scientists bred a new rapeseed oil low in erucic acid, and called it canola, for Canadian Oil. In 1985 that new oil was granted the status of 'Generally Recognized as Safe' from the FDA. The coveted GRAS designation.

Note that erucic acid was not eradicated, but was merely lessened.

Nina Planck, in her book REAL FOOD, tells us that “animal studies have linked canola oil with reduced platelet count, shorter life span, and greater need for Vitamin E. The United States and Canada do not permit canola oil to be used in infant formula because it retards growth in animals. In one human study, canola oil raised triglycerides... while saturated fats lowered triglycerides.” She also points out that, since canola oil is a ‘new’ food, no long-term studies of it have been made.
“I never use canola oil,” writes Planck, “largely because I have no reason to. For flavor, health, and cooking, I simply prefer other fats. The flavor is nothing special.”

She, as I do, too, uses olive oil and butter for sautéing, and butter and lard for baking.

I simply do not use any vegetable oil except small amounts of dark sesame for flavor, perhaps a nut oil sometimes for the same reason; and I simply do not deep-fry, but if I did I think I’d splurge on beef tallow. That’s what many commercial establishments used to use before forced by the cholesterol scare to turn to hydrogenated fats, and then when the truth about trans-fats came out they switched to ... mostly canola oil as far as I can see. Beef tallow is also a very tasty fat and makes fabulous French fries.

But be sure to get beef tallow from grass-fed beef, and lard from foraged pigs, or you will be loading up on the antibiotics and hormones fed to enslaved animals.

I also love coconut oil – there is quite a bit of proof that the slathering on of coconut oil can help you lose weight. Besides, it's delicious. You can buy it at the Co-op.

Isn't this amazing stuff? You probably don't believe me --it is, not to put too fine a point on it, unbelievable that a hoax such as this has been perpetrated upon an entire country! So, to you doubters, it's time for you to do your own work:

Watch THE FUTURE OF FOOD to see to see how some of our so-called healthy industrial foods are grown, and the effects on the land and the farmers who farm it. Read QUEEN OF FATS by Susan Allport if you’d like to know more about the omega 6/omega 3 conundrum. And certainly, if you have not read IN DEFENSE OF FOOD by Michael Pollan, do that. I also like THE GOOD FAT COOKBOOK by Fran McCullough, the aforesaid REAL FOOD by Nina Planck, EAT FAT LOSE FAT by Dr. Mary Enig, and... well, that should keep you busy for awhile. But if you still have time, read GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES by Gary Taubes. He takes on all the studies that have been done trying to link saturated animal fats with cholesterol and cholesterol to heart disease. The proof is simply not there!



I really did not want to spend my Sunday afternoon getting these particular fat ducks in a row, but after the opening at the Brick Box a week or so ago, when one of my “Fans” actually became rather physical in his frustration with my denigration of poor little canola, I felt the need. And when I got a note from another dear reader saying, “Perhaps sometime you can educate readers a bit more about so-called ‘canola’ oil,” I knew Sunday was a bust.

So there you have it, and for being such good and attentive readers, I’ll give you a technique for

Corn Fritters
Very seasonal just now.

TAKE 2 or 3 ears of cooked corn and scrape the kernels off into a bowl. You might use the edge of a round cookie cutter for this, to get the most cream out. Make a tiny dice of whatever complementary vegetables you might have – jalapeno, sweet pepper, tomato, that’s about it. Add them to the corn.

Whip an egg or two, a tablespoon or two of milk or cream, a tablespoon of flour, salt and pepper... mix them up. Add them to the corn. Let the whole melange just lie there and meditate with each other for awhile.

Then, when you are ready to eat, heat a pan, scrape some butter and olive oil into it, let that get hot and just beginning to brown, and ladle in a half cup or so of batter. Turn it after three or four minutes. When it is done, put it on a plate, sprinkle, if you like, with some very finely chopped onion, some lime juice, pour a few drops or spoonfuls of maple syrup over it, add salt if you need to, and eat it
up.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tomatoes! Get ‘em while they’re green!

Fried Green Tomato
This was an enormous just-ripening Striped German tomato, the flower end of it fully yellow, the rest still green.
I sliced it rather thin, dredged it in flour, then beaten egg, then panko crumbs.
It was totally delicious. I had the leftovers for breakfast this morning.
Greasy, salty, hot and crispy on the outside,
and al dente sourness inside. Mmm.


A year ago about this time, Leo and I were in a little hamlet called Hot Springs, in North Carolina, the town that straddles the Appalachian Trail on the one hand and boasts a beautiful place called the Mountain Magnolia Inn on the other. Different clientele, you might say.

It was our daughter Isobel's birthday and we took her and boyfriend-in-law Jesse to the Inn to celebrate. By far the most interesting item on a menu that did not lack interesting items was a fried green tomato and lobster appetizer. Rustic and elegant – down-home and up-town. I envisioned medallions of lobster tail alternating with medallions of fried green tomatoes. Instead, the chef used claw-meat, which was cheaper, to be sure, and just as tasty as the medallions would have been, if not as intuitively beautiful. But appearance hardly mattered, since we ate on the sweeping veranda and the lighting was less than brilliant, unless you count the moon and stars pointed to by the tall pointed mountains. As a matter of fact, it was an interesting experiment not to know what you were putting in your mouth until your tastebuds went into effect. How good are YOUR tastebuds.

I had not a bit of trouble recognizing the taste of a good fried green tomato – I could do it in my sleep! Greasy, salty, hot and crispy on the outside, and al dente sourness inside. Mmm. One of my favorite things. Another is fried eggplant, treated just the same way – dipped in flour, then egg, then flour again or crumbs – and fried in... oh, butter and olive oil or lard or coconut oil, until crisp and golden outside and puddeny on the inside. The difference between the two is that texture as well as the taste: the tomato’s tang is recognized in the back of your throat; the eggplants’ with a slight puckering of the roof of your mouth.

A platter of fried green tomatoes, fried eggplant, fried zucchini blossoms, and fried okra, with basil leaves and nasturtium blossoms tucked in here and there would seem a very good thing. With one caveat – it’s pretty, but it takes too long to fry each of these things, while the ones already fried sit on newspaper, cooling and uncrisping. Each one of these foods should be eaten hot, straight out of the pan, with a good shake of salt.
Olive oil is a very good oil for frying. Somehow people worry that it can’t stand extreme heat. Well, no fat can stand extreme heat for very long, nor can our innards, but olive oil is sufficient – if the miracle of an extra virgin olive oil by any name could ever be deemed only ‘sufficient’ – to most tasks. Adding butter to it creates more complicated taste and a good color.

Eugene Walters, who styled the movie Fried Green Tomatoes some years ago, suggests frying in olive oil and bacon fat, and he likes to use celery seed and dillweed in the flour binder. Another time he suggests using truly hard green tomatoes and coating them with mayonnaise before dipping them into toasted breadcrumbs. My grandmother always used smashed saltines as a coating.

If you love fried green tomatoes, but no one else does, yet, I suggested this in my book, Tomato Imperative! “Make a private treat for yourself of a fried green tomato in the middle of a hot summer day. Take the plate of slices with a big napkin and a good book out to the hammock, and if there’s anyone else around, particularly children, even picky eaters, pretty soon they’ll come nedging along and asking, “Whatchoo doin’? Whazzat yer eatin’... all alone?” And then they’ll want a taste, and then you’ll have to get up and fry another tomato.”

This year, of course, our entire crop of tomatoes is imperiled by the dratted Black Death, or more precisely Late Blight. I thought I was escaping it, having planted an heirloom Striped German along with a newfangled Sweet Olive miniature tomato together in a sunny spot in rich soil. They were mammoth, with multitudes of green tomatoes on them, when suddenly I spotted a wrinkled leaf, then the black spots, the bruises on the stems, and finally, looking closer, the incipient black sores on the tomatoes themselves. Oddly enough it was the miniature, hybrid, tomatoes that showed the blight first. But since the two plants were so intertwined, I just picked off leaves and diseased tomatoes in order to save the heirloom. I harvested a lot of the Sweet Olives, one or two ripe Striped Germans, and finally picked all of the green Striped Germans, which had finally succumbed, trimmed them of bad spots, sliced the rest and fried ’em up. Yumm.

I’m not quite sure how Grandma, of good northern European stock, learned to take such satisfaction in frying green tomatoes. It seems to have remained a southern technique, probably an African one, brought forth to utilize New World foods such as tomatoes and cornmeal and, from the ubiquitous pig, lard. But since she did, the mere thought of the taste of them brings to me a stab of excitement, of nostalgia for long-lost times and loved ones.

Most northern people pickled green tomatoes, made them into chutneys and mincemeat, and there are recipes for that. But I think that come early season or end of summer, people through the centuries have been tossing a few chopped green tomatoes into soups and stews, paellas, risottos, and/or pastas – depending upon their culture of origin – without thinking about it too much or writing it down in a recipe to pass on to future generations. There lies the danger that, as youngsters spend less time learning from their elders, this kind of unwritten wisdom will disappear from culinary practice.
Green Tomatoes
Farmers' markets are good sources for green tomatoes. At this peak season
time of year, if you don't find any, ask the farmer.
S/he'll be sure to bring some to you.

Still need a recipe? How about some guidelines, a technique? Let’s start with one large green tomato with just a blush, somewhere on it, of incipient pink. Core it. Slice it about a third of an inch thick. Dredge it in flour and tap off the excess. Dunk it in beaten egg, tap off the excess, then dredge in seasoned flour, crushed saltines, cornmeal, or fine bread crumbs. If you have a bag of Panko around, try that. Gently tap the slice again, then place on a folded newspaper, preferably one with my column on it. Let them dry a bit, to create a harder coating, as you heat a sauté pan over medium high heat. When the pan is hot scoop about a tablespoon of butter into it and pour in an equal amount or a bit more of olive oil. You want a little depth to the oil on the bottom of the pan.

When that is hot, place the slices into the hot oil, maybe turn the heat down a bit – you want the coating to become crisp and golden in the same amount of time it takes the inside to become tender. After 3 or 4 minutes – watching carefully – turn the slices and allow them to cook just the same way. When they’re done, sprinkle with salt and eat them!

If there are more slices to be fried, run the pan under hot water to get out the burned bits, wipe with a paper towel, and start all over again with new butter and oil.

Now do the same with eggplant. Ditto Okra.

But this is not brain surgery. The other night I had no eggs, but I did have green tomatoes that needed to be used before they got ... gasp... ripe! So if I couldn’t do the traditional flour, egg, flour coating without eggs, what would I use to make those slices crisp. I remembered cornstarch, and poured and thumped a quantity into a used plastic bag, along with a quantity of flour and salt. The result? Best Fried Green Tomatoes ever.

Bon, as they say, Appetit!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Splendid Burgers

A visit to the Farmer's Diner in Quechee yesterday was spectacular. This is what I want Rutland and Wallingford to offer me -- a 6 ounce hamburger made of grass-fed beef with a tomato slice, onion, lettuce and blue cheese all from local farms within a 70 mile radius. And a homemade bun from Klinger's. And a pile of hand-cut potatoes grown right here -- at Chapelle's Potato Farm, in fact -- and, I would like to think, deep fried in suet (but no, I called them and found out they deep fry with bleccchhh Canola Oil that man made stuff that used to poison cows. But I digress.) And lemonade/iced tea in a pint canning jar with a handle and no bottom. It was refilled three times! And hush puppies made of cornmeal grown at Butterworks Farm, served in a little cast iron frying pan with a maple BBQ sauce.

Grass Fed Beef Burger
Photo by Lowell Snowdon Klock
Lowell had a NY style Rueben with Farmers Diner house cured corned beef, Boggy Meadow Swiss, sauteed
sauerkraut, creamy 1,000 Island Dressing on grilled LaPanciata rye, and Claudette, was clearly drawn to the Cock and Fire, which billed itself as a tender roasted Misty Knoll Chicken, finished with housemade buffalo sauce, topped wth GreenMountain Blue Cheese, all wrapped in a soft, warm flour tortilla.

Reuben
Photo by Lowell Snowdon Klock

The wait-staff was made up mostly of pert young things, but our waitress was mature woman, Judy, who, when pressed just the slightest, erupted with passionate pride in the place and the product. Soon she brought out the young chef, Scott, who showed equal passion and accessibility. We talked and talked, and learned that there's a Farmer's Diner in Middlebury, too, that I will visit next week with my friend Dana, who will be visiting from Virginia. And that there are plans for one to open in Burlington. And two in San Francisco.

Tod, The only fault I can find is that you fry in Canola oil. Please consider switching to something more sustainable, like cow fat.

Please note, all you local mid-priced restaurants (my meal cost me a whopping $13), that it can be done. Note it, and do it!

Please, I mean.

Please, please, please, please!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Life with Julia

My life with Julia -- big fish

Julie Powell never met Julia Child, though she cooked her dishes every day for one whole year, as I understand it, and wrote a blog about it called the Julie/Julia Project. Then there was the book, and now the movie, and what a lot of bling there is about that, mostly because Meryl Streep reportedly does such a fantastic job ‘getting’ Julia’s warble and stance while at the same time softening the granite outlines of the large woman in a way we have never seen before but know must exist.
My life with Julia -- and Paul

Julia so adored her husband, Paul Child that we know there must have been a winsomeness beneath it all; and she was so passionate about France and food that we know her public persona must have been but a banked and presentable version of the white-hot passions that filled her.

Poor Julie, though – she’s not getting much respect from most critics. How she must wish that director Nora Ephron had not tied HER book to Julia’s. Or not. After all, what would JULIE AND JULIA be without Julia’s MY LIFE IN FRANCE? But then, would it have occurred to anyone to make a movie without Julie’s blog/book?

Well, who knows. What I do know is that I’ve watched and heard a multitude of interviews with Meryl Streep and Nora Ephron, and others peripherally associated with the matter, but I’ve not heard nor seen hide nor hair of Julie Powell. But more to the point is the fact that the interviewers are always saying “I never met Julia Child, but...”
Nora Ephron said that, too. “I never met Julia...”
“But,” I suddenly think with a jolt, “I did!”

And I did, not only once but several times – well, at least three. As a matter of fact, lots of Vermonters met Julia and spent some time with her – the students and instructors at the New England Culinary Institute, for example. That’s where I first met her, in 1990, when Julia and Robert Mondavi had founded the American Institute of Wine and Food. She was at NECI at the Inn at Essex, to promote AIWF, to preside over the first commencement there of eight young cooks, and to promote her latest and last book, THE WAY TO COOK. I followed the great lady on her rounds all day and wrote about it in a piece for the Vermont Sunday Magazine called The Zen of a Day with Julia Child. When I said goodbye to her she told me, “Keep talking about food. Write about it. Keep it in front of others.”
The Zen of a day with Julia

She was concerned, she told us, that a fear of food generated by contradictory reports on the bugaboos of fat and cholesterol and pesticides, etc., at a time when the old avenues of learning about food had fallen into disuse, would permanently cripple American gastronomy.
“We must try to make sense about ridiculous things like oat bran – things that keep popping up and scaring people.”

The next time I met Julia was the celebration of her 80th birthday with a glorious dinner at Hemingway’s, orchestrated by Ted and Linda Fondulas. That was on August 18th, 1992. I wrote about that, too, but I can’t find the article though I’ve searched high and low. In so doing I’ve had a fascinating time looking through old columns – I had two columns a week in the Herald back then – and I have to say that I did my best to recognize and battle against the deepening degradation of our diet even then, and to celebrate real food.

That wasn’t easy, because the government and the big food producers were feeding us a lot of crapola that we had only our own hunches to rely on in opposing it. We have a lot more proof now that it WAS not only rubbish, but deadly rubbish, but we also have twenty years of brainwashing to undo.

Just the other day I was listening to an interview done by the host of the radio show Here and Now with some peripheral Julia people, when she squeaked, “but we can’t go back to eating that way – Butter!!! Now that we know it’s killing us!”

Oh. My. Dear. God! If butter is killing us, imagine what the antibiotics, hormones, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are doing to us. Just imagine what Julia would say to such idiocy! Food Science? What an oxymoron. We don’t know enough about food to invent it.

I never did find that article about the Hemingway/Child dinner, but I wrote about it later in Issue 1 of my foodletter Cook/Speak, where I detailed one of the dishes we had at Hemingway’s that night – Halibut and Lobster with Vanilla Butter and Sweet Corn. I went into great detail in that recipe (which Ted Fondulas graciously explained to me) but the main point to be gleaned is that a vanilla bean cooked with wine and shallots until reduced is a wonderful drizzle for lots of foods in the vegetable and fish families, and maybe even beef.

I sent Julia a copy of that first Cook/Speak, and have a lovely little thank-you note from her still, signed by her in green ink.
Thank you note

The last time I saw her, Leo and I were just leaving a food seminar at Radcliffe, in Cambridge, when I heard that familiar trilling voice and, before I could stop myself, had turned and said hello. Julia was flanked by two equally tall people bundled in winter coats – it was November, just before Thanksgiving as I remember – and they created a warm and intimate coterie of which I immediately felt an interloper. But she was charming, and I had no choice but to introduce her to Leo, who said, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mrs. Child.” And he should have stopped right there but did not. “We so enjoyed hearing you on Garrison Keillor last night.” She may have looked puzzled as I looked at her, aghast.

I think, I hope, I truly trust that Julia Child had never sat down to a lovely glass of wine and a sumptuous Saturday night supper in her beautiful Cambridge kitchen with the radio tuned to Prairie Home Companion, and listened as Garrison’s sound effects man warbled a bad imitation of her. I’m sure she hadn’t – didn’t she always have good friends with whom to enjoy food and intelligent conversation?

I clamped Leo’s arm firmly in mine and dragged him away, waving my last goodbye to Julia Child. As I say, so many people are exclaiming that they never met Julia Child. Why, I lament, oh Why could not Leo have been among them?

Julia, oh Julia. Thank you for championing good food for nearly fifty years.
I’m so glad I knew you – ever so slightly!

... we’re so lucky...

Rutland Area Farm and Food Link is sponsoring Jill Richardson, one of my favorite speaking-out bloggers and author of RECIPE FOR AMERICA: WHY OUR FOOD SYSTEM IS BROKEN AND WHAT WE CAN DO TO FIX IT, on Tuesday August 18, 6:30pm at the UU Church of Rutland on West Street. Jill is a fresh voice in the movement to create a healthier and sustainable food system. This book will be part of the burgeoning food social movement, as it provides a guide to the most important issues and how to work on them. This event is free and open to public. Come learn more about the work that RAFFL is doing to create a sustainable food system right here in the Rutland region and how this work relates to the bigger national picture. And enjoy a tasting of locally grown and produced food!