Thursday, April 30, 2009

Carol's Chili Dip

I saw Carol at the little store last afternoon when she had just come back on Creek Road from Rutland, spying hordes (well at least three) of people along Otter Creek apparently picking fiddleheads. She didn't see any ramp picking going on, but looked for my ecstatically bent back.
But I was on my way to the Co-op and then to Montpelier for the Rural Vermont Annual Meeting, with speaker, Karl Hammer, the beleaguered compostist.
Carol's Chili Dip
Carol's presentation started out just fine! But after 5 minutes we'd made a travesty of it by gobbling.

But still, I took a moment to ask her how to make her chili dip: Take a can (or 16 ounces of home cooked) black or red beans, dump 'em in a saucepan. Doctor with tomatoes (if you like), Cumin, cinnamon, hot pepper (you could add a little chocolate).
"Just think Mexican tastes," said Carol carelessly. "You know, add a bit of this and a bit of that until it tastes right."
Now, I'm not going to tell you any more than that. That's what Carol told me and I've told you. Let's get busy, guess and taste and compare. That way it becomes your own!
And then she added, "Oh, I forgot to mention the enormous amount of sour cream and shredded Cheddar."
Glad she remedied that situation. This stuff is addictive. And easy!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fridays, Sundays, or even Tuesdays at 5

Cocktails at 5: The Whole Shebang

What have we here? Well, the usual suspects when it comes to a lovely traditional event for which we don't have to wait more than several days usually, and that is Cocktails at Five. Any Friday, any Sunday, any Tuesday for that matter, a few phone calls and we gather at five for convivial conversation and really great food! Membership varies, swelling in summer when it's held at our little Elfin beach. Everybody brings their own drinks and, most importantly, a small dish, an appetizer, as we call them. These were offerings from a recent Sunday at 5.

From lower left we have a bowl of baby weenies in BBQ sauce, an assortment of crackers, cheese, and sausage. Then, a seasonal treat -- a bouquet of ramps (wild leeks) that I scrambled up steep ledges to dig out of the muck. To its right, a beautiful assortment of 'leftovers', as David so humbly phrased it, those being asparagus spears wrapped in provolone and prosciutto, some grilled shrimp with a pesto-y kind of sauce, Grilled beef on skewers to be dipped into a Chinese -- meaning HOT -- mustard sauce.

Up on the left hand corner of that silver platter is something that totally blew my mind -- cubes of watermelon tossed with chopped mint! I may have a simple mind, but the sweet solid water of the melon combined so simply with the grassy taste of mint resulted in a phenomenally pleasant treat. Nothing else. I would have ruined it with salt, perhaps a drizzle of lime, but NO. The watermelon is perfect with new mint and nothing else.

Now I can't wait for watermelon season!

Okay, going on, those are three wedges of flatbread left on the cast-iron griddle. My favorite way of eating leeks is raw, with dipping salt, with a hunk of buttered baguette and maybe some Jarlsburg cheese. So to fancy it up I made flatbread and rolled it out almost as thin as I would for a pizza crust, drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkled it with coarse salt, baked it for 10 minutes, then loaded it with shredded Jarlsburg and baked it another 10. To go with the leeks.

Wait a second, now, I wouldn't want to overlook this: in the center of the photo is a kind of a messy looking little bowl, and the reason it's messy is that everyone had been filling up those little corn shovels in the bowl below it with Carol's Chili Dip. My goodness, it is good.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

out with beef, in with hogget

I’ve not been able to think deep thoughts nor spin them into equally deep word-webs for my readers these past few columns, but am satisfied to suggest to you what to eat (mostly from ingredients that are seasonal and local and can be got at, you guessed it, the Co-op and the Farmers’ Market) and follow that up with a recipe.

Who knows why this is the state of my brain, but those are the facts – I’m properly shut up, I think, by the sudden cessation of anger and worry that came about like an eclipse in November, and even more strikingly in January.

I recognize this as a state of shock, and I believe many others are suffering from it, too. This winter has been a cold but careless time in the true sense of without a care. Remember the old Smothers’ Brothers routine where the brothers are playing along together, then Dick suddenly stops playing and says, to the other brother, “Take it Tommy,” and Tommy falters and looks bemused and everything goes haywire? Well, that’s what I’m saying, “You take it, Obama.” But in this case Obama is taking it in stride, except that his eyelids are becoming purple with exhaustion.

I want to take him aside and give him some cod liver oil. That would fix him up royally.

But today, I’m not talking about fish. I’m talking about hogget.

Ann Tiplady, of the Wallingford Red Houses Farm, is out of grass-fed, free-range beef for a month or two. Business has been good for that delicious stuff.

Hear this baby call its mutter
All she has left is what she calls mutton, ground mutton, with which to make mutton-burgers. More correctly, she would call it Hogget, but that would mean that no-one would understand what she was talking about. What she is talking about is the meat taken from a sheep, a little older than a lamb, and with, she thinks, and I agree, more agreeable flavor. Wikipedia classifies them like this:
  • Lamba young sheep under 12 months of age which does not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear [?]
  • Hoggeta young male sheep or maiden ewe having no more than two permanent incisors in wear
  • Muttona female (ewe) or castrated male (wether) sheep having more than two permanent incisors in wear.
That's a New Zealand definition, but I must say Ann's mutton is very tasty, and I believe it is not old enough to be called mutton, but of the age that it should, instead, be looked upon as hogget. By the way, “in wear” means, Ann tells me, that the incisors have grown in all the way and are being used.

After a wonderful Easter dinner of perfectly done rack of lamb, I was loathe to cook mutton-burgers plain, and the hogget was defrosted and ready to be cooked. So I googled recipes using ground lamb. I found nothing satisfactory.

Then I remembered the wonderful Claudia Roden's Arabesque, the gorgeous book I have not cooked from anywhere near as much as it begs to be cooked from. "A taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon," it boasts. I got it down from the shelf and in short shrift (ignoring the beautiful paper and photographs and words – all business, in other words) found a recipe for spiced lamby-balls that would do nicely for my purposes.

Meatballs with Pine Nuts in Tomato Sauce
otherwise called Daoud Basha, after a 19th century Governor of Lebanon
adapted from Arabesque by Claudia Rodin

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 pound lean ground lamb, hogget, or mutton
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (see note below)
  • 1 cup red wine
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Grate, or finely chop the onion in the food processor, drain, and turn them into a bowl. Add the ground lamb with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice, and work into a paste with your hands. Add the pine nuts and work them thoroughly into the paste. Roll the mixture into small walnut-sized balls. (Alternatively, form the balls, then press 3 or 4 pine-nuts into each ball, rubbing the depression to enclose them).

Pour a little olive oil into a casserole, rather shallow, about the size of a deep pie-plate, place the mutton balls into the oil and shake a bit to coat them with olive oil. Put the casserole into the oven for 20 minutes.

For the sauce, cut up the tomatoes and liquify them in the food processor. Add a little salt and pepper, the wine, the lemon juice, the sugar, the garlic, and the red pepper flakes. (Alternatively, use a good, bottled tomato sauce if you like, and doctor it up with the wine, juice, pepper flakes and garlic). Pour over the meatballs and bake them for another 35 minutes, turning the meatballs once.

Serve with plain rice.

Now these were good! And simple to make, and the leftovers were oh, so luscious sliced in half and eaten on a slice of buttered Bear Mountain Honey Oatmeal Bread.

So, that’s that for now. Off I go into the wild blue yonder to rake before it rains, and perhaps all that fresh air will get my synapses snapping in time for more of a diatribe next time!

Monday, April 13, 2009

a baking quandary

bars for quandary

This is the picture of two cookie bars.

This is the story, or is it a question: Last summer, my friend Dana, in Virginia, had bumper crops of berries (didn't we all?) -- blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries. She thought she would make those cookie bars, very thin, dry, with a hint of fruitiness that we could only surmise was achieved by cooking the currents into a sweet paste, rolling out a cookie/cracker dough into a great rectangle, spreading the fruit paste over it, rolling out another sheet of cookie dough, placing it on top of the paste, then squashing them together some way, like a flattened sandwich. The fruit paste remains between the cookie layers, but is also, at least slightly, incorporated into them. These are not two halves filled with fruit. They cannot be separated like an oreo, nor even like a fig newton.

Dana brought back the smaller bar -- I didn't write down the name, but I think it's Sunshine -- from a vacation in Bequia this winter, and sent it to me. I had gotten the larger bar from a trip to Vermont country store -- they're made by Crawford and are called Garibaldi bars. Both of them fill the bill for what she was describing, but the small, Bequian bar is the better tasting.

So, my dear readers, any ideas how to accomplish this?

I asked Leo for some input, and his only suggestion was that after making the sandwich, the baker walk over the concoction with hob-nailed boots! He might have something there, however: Perhaps the way to get the oneness of the filling and dough is to prick it all over, kind of amalgamating the three different layers through friction!

What'choo think?

Dinner Resurrected

Thou shalt not waste a feast day, was the unexpected commandment uppermost in my mind when I bought the rack of lamb from On the Edge Farm last Saturday. Just because it would be just Leo and me at the table on Easter was no reason not to eat well.

Out front, in the Co-op, thinking about a citrusy salad to complement the richness of the meat, I chose a grapefruit and an avocado, for the sharp tang against the voluptuous. The avocados were hard, but I remembered Peter's admonishment that most people buy avocados too soft, so I selected one with just a hint of 'give'. Cilantro and limes were already mine, and Paul from Foggy Meadow had already given me a red onion.I had garlic. What else?

Gabrielle was at the check-out counter about to buy a lovely rosemary plant and that jolted me into looking for one myself. You need Rosemary for proper lamb, don't you? But woe was me, Gabrielle's was the last one to be had. Oh well!

Rosemary for dinner resurrected

I followed Gabrielle at the checkout counter and just as I was paying for my wards she whirled and said to me, "This is yours. It's paid for. I want you to have it! No. No. It's yours," and thrust that rosemary plant at me.

How sweet is that?

Easter day was dynamically cold. I took Mo, the old poodle, for a walk (rather HE took me, dragging and yanking just like the wind), and nearly froze my fingers off. At about 3, when I came back into the warm house, I trimmed the rack of lamb, crushed garlic with rosemary and coarse salt in the mortar, and rubbed the rack all over with it. I cut the peel from the grapefruit and cut out the segments between the membranes, then sliced the avocado.

grapefruit for dinner resurrected

The best way to handle an avocado, of course, is to halve it, give a light, deft,chop into the pit with a sharp knife, give it a good twist to remove the pit, and then take a silver knife and slice each half, still in its stiff skin, into thin slices. Then you can turn the skin inside-out or, with the knife, pry and scrape the slices out of the skin.


I added some crushed and chopped garlic, finely chopped cilantro, and thinly sliced red onion to the bowl with the grapefruit segments and avocado slices, ground coarse salt over it, and set it to marinate for an hour or so. Now, I think that pitted Moroccan olives, those little, almost dried black olives, would have been a perfect addition. Next time.

I made a vinaigrette with chopped garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and a bit of maple syrup, whirring it with the hand blender until it was creamy, and set that aside, too.

Half an hour before we were ready to eat, I heated water to boil the potatoes for Leo's desired mashed potatoes, then moved the top rack in the oven up a notch or two and began preheating it, with the black cast-iron pan in it.

The water boiled, the potatoes went into it, and a few minutes later I plopped the rack of lamb on the hot pan, set the oven to broil, and broiled that baby for about 4 minutes to a side.

rack of lamb for dinner resurrected

A little pile of mesclun went on the plates, the grapefruit and avocado on the mesclun, a sprinkle of farro on that, then a nice drizzle of vinaigrette. A pile of potatoes, with a little lamb jus (and extra butter) and then two perfectly pink segments (2 ribs each)of lamb rack.

Everything was perfect!

Except that I had forgotten dessert. Leo wanted ice cream, went to the store and came back with this:

dessert for dinner resurrected