Wednesday, October 26, 2011

fall 'shrooms

If anyone can identify these fall mushrooms, please let me know. They are not in my repertoire although I wish they were, because they look delicious.

These are the ones in a fairy ring. They look like single oysters to me, and I believe they are rooted in some almost totally osmosed wood. These are quite large, as big as a coffee saucer, anyway.

Then there were these beauties::: I don't know them so I don't eat them. I barely touch them...

Now these I know. They are unmistakably Shaggymanes. I will eat them until the cows come home, or until they turn to black ink and drip themselves away. You can see some black on the bottoms of some of these:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

apples and onions

and the occasional mouse
the Buddha onion
I just cleaned out my pantry.

It was way past due.

There were those widgety moths that get into live grains, and messes that mice made.

Don’t ever put one of those metal containers (most people call them cans) of olive oil in the pantry with mice.  They chaw through the little plastic neck of the stopper and climb in. You can feel the ass-over-kilter of them slosh heavily around in there when you pick it up.

Hopefully you sense it before you’ve chowed down on some truffled mice. Well no, that would be mice confit, left to bubble only slightly in its own or another’s fat. But of course there was no heat involved here, just room-temperature olive oil and a slowly expiring rat. I mean mouse.

Maybe it was only a really tiny one, practically pink yet, and so tender. Barely grazed by the world. But, what would a pink infant mouse be doing climbing up the slippery sides of a can and chewing through the slippery plastic of its mouth? Nope. Had to’ve been a big, fat, athletic male.

Yum. Lent such a tang to that fresh and crisp frissée and that fine balsamic vinegar, thick as molasses with age. Greek sea salt. Coarsely cracked black pepper. Tellicherry, even. Something rare about that flavor, like truffles, or that coffee that is collected after it has passed through a certain rodent’s intestines, or that awful cheese that is infested with maggots that appears on some very rare tables. Or that fruit that smells like death, or that fish that if it is not cleaned especially correctly will kill you. Disgusting foods. We pine for them. Put conserved mouse on that list, would you? Just below escargot, please.

Truth in advertising, no mouse got into my olive oil lately, but it did happen some years ago. I believe I discovered it before using any, and after much thought I buried the whole can somewhere in the yard. Ugh.

Now how did you make me get on that subject? Please remember, this is a food column. Let’s keep it cute and pretty. Put on your patent leather heels and straighten the seams in your stockings and don that sweet little ruffled pink apron. Now. We’re ready to cook. Sweet things, like chicken breasts in cream. Lasagna for the daring. Long cooked tomato sauce – here, take a lick from this wooden spoon. Careful, it’s hot. Good isn’t it? I do so envy those people, able to enthuse about simple things and not worry about the seamier side of food, like mouse confit and which kind of onion caramelizes to the rich sweetness best for French Onion Soup.

Because that’s really what I mean to talk about this week.

some perfectly normal and beautiful yellow onions
before they were made into soup
I stopped by Radical Roots Farm on Creek Road to get enough of their small storage onions to store AND to make a French Onion Soup. I’d googled for a recipe I saw on one of the blogs but couldn’t find it. But I did remember a couple of the main pointers. Namely, to caramelize a good number of onions; #2, that there was no need for a meat broth to be added to it; and #3, in no particular order, that sharp yellow onions were best for it. "Sweet onions don’t caramelize as well," Carol Tashie told me (as she was told by Dennis Vieria, chef at the Red Clover Inn in Mendon). But my thought is that sweet onions are TOO sweet. I love the flavor of Carol and Dennis’s sharp little storage onions. But keep in mind that Carol prefers to caramelize the sweet ones, and she IS the expert.

So, when I got home on the afternoon of the evening that my friend Dana, from Virginia, would arrive, I peeled a good number of those little onions and sliced them thinly and set them to begin lightly browning in a cast iron pan over a fairly low heat. Once I saw they were not going to burn I went upstairs and finished the vacuuming and changing bed linen, coming down to check every fifteen minutes or so to stir the onions and make sure they were becoming golden and limp and giving off their lovely juices. Altogether I think they were over that heat for a couple of hours.

Towards the middle I sprinkled them with some salt, and towards the end I added a couple of glugs of sherry and six cups of water to make the onion broth and let them continue to cook over that medium heat. By that time they were delectable, but when I tasted the broth a little bit later I could not help but add a heaping soup spoon of Better than Bouillon beef broth concentrate.

Now just hold your horses. I’m all for purity and stuff, but the fact that bouillon – blocks or liquid – is used often by French cooks was uppermost in my mind. Except for the bit of MSG in it, I can’t find anything wrong with this habit, and it does make everything taste a little better.

Dana arrived, and after greetings and a bit of a walk around the garden, we drank some wine with some Blue Ledge Farm Camembrie cheese, and when we were ready to eat I made a salad with a wedge of that melty Camembrie over the top, with some toasted pumpkin seeds and a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I cut three apples in half and cored them and set them into an earthenware baking dish with a dab of butter and a sprinkling of sea salt on each one and tucked that into the oven. I sent Leo to the store to get some ice cream.

And then I ladled the onions in broth (after correcting the salt seasoning) into 3 ovenproof soup bowls, placed a slice of French bread that had been griddled in olive oil over the top of the soup, and sprinkled that with a thick layer of Southwind Farm’s raclette-style cheese. A very nice plethora of it. Slid that into a hot oven and let it melt and brown.

When it came time for dessert I alternated layers of apple halves, ice cream, and some Fat Toad Goat Caramel in goblets and topped that with some crunched walnuts sautéed in butter.

What a nice supper!

French Onion Soup

Makes 4 servings
•    3 tablespoons olive oil
•    3 pounds of sharp yellow onions
•    2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
•    ½ cup (or more) golden or dry sherry
•    6 cups water
•    1 heaped soup spoon of  Better than Bouillon beef broth concentrate (available at the Co-op) (optional)
•    ½ lb (or more) Southwind Farm cheese, grated (or other Swiss style cheese)
•    4 slices of good white baguette, cut thick and toasted in olive oil

Heat a deep heavy skillet or dutch oven over low to medium heat, add the olive oil. Peel the onions and slice thinly and spread in the skillet. Cock a cover over the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions give off some moisture and they seem to be browning nicely on the bottom. Adjust the heat. Let them cook for one to two hours, stirring often. Season with some of the salt.  Pour in the sherry and let them cook some more.

Add the water, bring to a simmer and let them cook for ten or so minutes. Stir in the broth concentrate if you are using it, taste for salt and add some if you like. Turn the heat to a very low simmer until you are ready to serve it.

In the meantime grate the cheese and toast the bread slices and, when ready to serve, ladle the onions and broth into four oven-proof bowls placed on a cookie sheet, top with the toastslices and lather liberally with shredded cheese.  Slide into a 400° oven for ten minutes until the cheese is melted and browned and the broth is bubbly.

Serve that up. Enjoy your dinner. Tomorrow? Clean out that pantry! It needs it.

Is that a frog in my soup?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

going not gentle but sassy

For lunch a few days ago I went out into the garden and picked a large green tomato that was turning just pink in places. I sliced it and coated it with panko bread crumbs and fried the slices in coconut oil. Golden crispy on the outside and tender and puddeny on the inside. Sided them with a relish of roasted peppers of all decibels and a spoonful of crème fraiche.

Those fried green tomatoes and the peppers and crème fraiche were so wonderful that I wish I could eat them all over again! Which of course I CAN do until the tomatoes freeze off the vine.

Where did this mélange of peppers come from? You’ll remember I wrote about Hedie Francis’s technique of roasting peppers and freezing them? Well, when we had danger of frost a few weeks ago I picked all my Hungarian Wax peppers and added them to an assortment bought at the Farmers’ Market of all varying degrees of heat and sweetness – Lipstick sweet, big red bells, long green pasillos, small bell-shaped fiery habaneros, tiny glossy-green needle-like Thais, and I spent a Sunday afternoon grilling them in my Big Green Egg, and when they had cooled I stuffed them into freezer bags. As is. I did not rub the skins off nor did I seed them or de-membrane them.

I saved out an assortment and did clean them up and then chopped them in the food processor with a little water and some salt. That made a pint of deeply flavored relish with some heat, and I’ve been spooning it alongside everything I put my mouth around. It lasted about a week and a half. You could, of course, add a bit of sugar and vinegar, and they would last longer because they would be pickled and preserved. I’m afraid, though, that the vinegar would mask the natural deep roasty flavor of the plain peppers. You could also omit the roasting/grilling, chop the RAW peppers with the salt and water and leave the mixture on the counter, loosely covered, to develop its own ferment.

It’s not perhaps the intuitive choice, but pepper relish’s natural flavor partner turns out to be crème fraiche – its creaminess and tanginess against the full southern flavor of the peppers with their certain number of scoville units, is perfect with almost everything.

I happened to have some around because I’d noticed a bit of heavy cream that was about to sour, so I whisked some Cabot’s sour cream into it and left it to ferment into the kind of half-sour thickened crème fraiche that we all like. Overnight, in a warm place. That fermentation gives a much longer life to the cream. The ferment keeps the cells busy adapting and not rotting.

You wouldn’t think I would have to call for a certain brand of sour cream, would you? Since I almost always use Cabots I kind of took it for granted and didn’t always recognize what a quality product it is. But Leo brought home some ShurFine sour cream from a stay in the Northeast Kingdom – where he obviously couldn’t get Cabots – and so I’ve been using it up. The first thing I noticed was that its texture was not smooth, like Cabots, but rather curdley. And the next thing I noticed was that it had gone bad! I’d put spoonfuls on the German Cabbage and Pork Soup I made the other night and kept getting a whiff of the rottenness that only really bad milk products give off.

I never usually worry about sour cream going bad – it’s fermented, and it just keeps on fermenting unless it grows mold, at which point you throw it out. So obviously this ShurFine stuff was not naturally fermented, probably had more ingredients than you would think it should have, and was doing something not in the natural way of milk.

As a matter of fact, isn’t the web wonderful, I was able to Google the ingredients in ShurFine sour cream:
Milk Non-Fat Cultured, Food Starch Modified, Whey Sweet, Cream, Propylene Glycol Monoester, Color(s) Artificial, Sodium Phosphate, Agar, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gel, Locust Bean Gum, Cellulose Gum, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Sorbic Acid Added as a preservative, Potassium Sorbate Added as a preservative, Vitamin A Palmitate, Rennet
Ingredients in Cabot sour cream?
Cultured Milk, Cream, Skim Milk, Modified Corn Starch, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Locust Bean Gum.
Hmm, that’s like five too many, too, but just about as good as it can get in the commercial marketplace.
So, after you’ve made this crème fraiche what do you do with it? Oh yes, make a potato salad or butter roasted pears.
Crème Fraiche Potato Salad
Wash russety or Yukon Gold type potatoes, cut them in quarters and boil them in salted water to cover until fork tender.

(The best way to test potato doneness is with a silver fork, a regular dinner table fork. A thin-tined cooking fork or the sharp tip of a paring knife are way too sharp to test for real tenderness.)

Drain the potatoes, put the pan back on the burner to sear off the little bit of water left, then crush them with a fork as you add olive oil that has been infused with garlic. Don’t crush them too much – they should be chunky – and use just enough olive oil to coat them and flavor them with garlic. Finally, fold in a luxurious amount of crème fraiche. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Butter-Roasted Pears
(you could use apples, instead, or even bananas!)
Cut pears in half and core them. You needn’t pare the pears. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter starts to brown lay in the pears cut side down and let them brown and caramelize undisturbed for some minutes.

You can peek, lifting one edge with a spatula, and adjust the heat accordingly, but if you start moving them around before the underside is caramelized they will tear apart.

When they’re quite browned, turn them over. You might slant a cover over the top of the pan now, just to keep some heat in. When the pears are tender and caramelized they are done.

You may serve them dolloped with the crème fraiche as a dessert or as a side for meats, or simply as a mid-afternoon treat. You could sprinkle them with a mixture of spices that have been toasted and then ground (a coffee-grinder is good for this) – a bit of cinnamon, cumin, and, say, cardamom. Sky’s the limit here, Readers. Try different mixtures. They add interest.

Stable whipped cream:
Folded into whipped cream, Crème Fraiche keeps the latter from weeping – about 4 tablespoons crème fraiche to 1 cup of whipping cream. Whip the cream and then gently whisk in the crème fraiche.
But above all, and for now, side everything (how about maple baked acorn [or other] squash) with crème fraiche and peppers, saying adios to summer and going not gentle, but sassy, into autumn!