Tuesday, October 27, 2009

nothing difficult about soups

nothing difficult about soups
I'd grown 3 beautiful butternut squash this summer.
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.


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.