Wednesday, January 18, 2012

fish lard and other delicacies

Now that we’ve had time to become hungry again, and curious, and winter is now perceptible, kitchen warmth may be the call of the day,  and a few stories might be told around the table.

...A Valuable Fat:
I worried all the time I was melting some of my freshly rendered lard to fry up some calamari that I was  wasting it. It’s very rare, you see, if not impossible, to find lard rendered down from hogs that have been raised correctly. And even though it’s fairly easy to render it yourself after you find the right fat, it’s an uncertain process. I’d been out of lard for six or so months until I found good fat at Pine Woods Farm.
So I was being stingy and agonizing over the depth of the lard I was allotting the calamari, and then I reminded myself that I wasn’t wasting it, I was using it for what it was made for! All physical things get used up eventually, and then you start over. Use it or lose it, Honey.

The calamari was very good, but then what did I do but pour that used lard through a sieve into a plastic container which I labeled ‘Fish Lard.’

Have you ever heard of anything more disgusting? I mean hell will have frozen over by the time I dig into the bottom of the freezer to rescue that little capsule of ‘fish lard’ because I need it to...  What? Make a potion? What in god’s name would I use it for?

This is the way that old people get a bad name. Packaging up something called Fish Lard for their progeny to discover after they are gone.
**Readers of Twice Bitten wrote with various suggestions. Of course, one said, you could fry some more fish in it -- which I think I will do tonight. Also use it instead of butter in fish chowder. Thanks, Readers!

...Weird Recipes:
Those are the best kind, don’t you think? This one is a cookie filling, said to be delicious, that consists of  1 small jar of grape jelly, 2 cans of chick peas, 1/2 quart of wine, 1 pound of chopped walnuts, 1 grated orange, 1 large Hershey bar, and 3 cups of sugar. You mash the chick peas and boil everything else together. I couldn’t find how they got put back together, and I couldn’t figure out if you were supposed to drink the wine or boil it up, so I didn’t make it. If any reader is weird enough to try it, let me know the result.

**Readers again came to the rescue -- apparently this is an old Italian family favorite, made for holidays.

...Superb Popovers:
I made these for Christmas dinner for the first time and baked them off  at a friend’s house. They were light and tall-hatted and crispy on the out, eggy within, but I couldn’t find the recipe this time. Luckily my friends had found it and stuck it on their fridge. It was called Marlene’s Yorkshire Pudding and it was from Michael Ruhlman’s blog.  Now, what is interesting – and I think probably effective – is that you  mix this batter a couple hours before baking. Now if that’s not convenient on a busy day I don’t know what is. You could certainly whip these up in the morning and bake them off at 4 for appetizers.  Excuse me while I do that right now!

Popovers, (or Yorkshire Pudding)
•    1 cup/5 ounces all purpose flour *
•    1 teaspoon mustard powder (I omitted this)
•    4 or 5 large eggs, enough to make 1 cup
•    1 cup/8 ounces whole milk
•    6 teaspoons lard or beef fat drippings (or try coconut oil if you are not roasting a meat)
Whisk the flour and mustard powder together into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and milk and blend on high speed with a mixer until fully incorporated. Let the batter rest for 2 hours (at least) at room temperature, stirring it up now and then.
When ready to bake, first, pour a bit of fat into each cup of a popover pan or of each muffin cup. Place the pan on a baking sheet and slide it into the oven to heat the oil while the oven comes up to temp 475°. When it’s ready, stir the batter and pour it into the pans until each cup is 3/4 full. 
Put the pan in the oven. From this point on, do not open the oven door. It helps if you have a glass door on your oven so you can watch them rise and brown, but I don’t. We’ll see how that works out.
Bake for 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 450° and continue baking until the popovers are puffed and golden brown, 13 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
Yield: 6 popovers of 12 small muffins; you can also bake it in 9×13-inch baking dish with some beef drippings in the bottom and call it Yorkshire Pudding.
*I mistakenly called for 10 ounces of flour in Twice Bitten, the same amount I called for in the scones, below, even though the scones called for 2 cups flour and the popovers only one. A sharp-eyed reader caught that error, so I made the popovers yet once more, with only 4 ounces of flour. They came out pretty much the same as the 10 ounce popovers, except possibly more delicate. Both highly edible.

...Current Favored Salad: 
This is fresh like spring. So sprightly with lemon. So flavorful with... Kale.
Massaged Kale Salad

1 bunch of kale from the farmers’ market. Tear it off the stems into a large bowl. I don’t think you want the stems in the salad, although they’re good. Use them as dippers for a nice spread.
Add to the torn up kale: a very thinly sliced clove of garlic; a sprinkling of salt and pepper; the juice of 1 lemon; the zest of 1 lemon; about a tablespoon of Worcestershire; several chopped anchovies (if you like); a few glugs of olive oil; a heaping tablespoon of Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, or other blue-veined cheese, pinched into chunks.
With your (spic and span) hands toss these ingredients together, squeezing handfuls, rubbing them together, until every leaf is coated and becoming if not limp then at least manageable. Toss some more.  Taste for salt and correct seasonings.
**I met a reader on the evening of the day this was published in the Rutland Herald, and he said, "In this weather (it was sleeting and slippery, do you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to drive into town to get some kale to make that salad. It sounds so healthy!"

... Much ado about Garnishes
What you put on top – like a bit of parm and olive oil on most soups – can really make the dish. I like to serve that kale salad with sliced hard boiled eggs on the side, and a few sliced almonds and pumpkin seeds that have been crisped in butter over the top. The latter are a wonderful garnish on almost anything.

As are a few raisins that have been plumped in port, Madeira, or sherry. I keep a small dish of raisins macerating in a flavorful alcoholic liquid on the counter for use in many dishes. A sherried raisin is a nice cook’s snack, too.

Too, I like the cascobel pepper salsa that I’ve mentioned several times as a garnish for many dishes.

And just lately I found a new favorite – Spicy Fenugreek Sauce – It’s from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, a travel/food book, a collection of breads and their accompaniments from exotic and mostly third-world countries.
My jar of the hard little fenugreek seeds dates from the mid-‘70s. I have never known what to do with them. Grind them up, said Naomi – a quarter cup of them (they are beans, not herbs, legumes in other words) and mix them with a cup of boiling water and let them sit for 3 hours. In this beginning mass they are terribly bitter but give off that sweet aroma that personifies Indian cooking. When they have soaked into a mass, add 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic, ¼ cup of finely chopped onion, 2 large tomatoes, chopped, ¼ teaspoon of cayenne, ½ teaspoon of salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

I ground it in a coffee grinder, used some frozen roasted tomatoes from my garden, some of the cascobel pepper salsa instead of cayenne, and served it over the coconut chicken I’d was making that night. It was very good. It makes a great deal of sauce, keeps well for at least a week, and tastes good as a garnish for many things. Although perhaps not scones.

...Scones and thick cream:

These were developed for a child’s history of food storybook I worked on  a while back. When I made them the other day my friend Ann brought sweetened whipped cream and we had Breezy Meadows’ elderberry/blackberry jelly. It was perfect.

Unfortunately, late that evening I discovered that bits of the scones broken off and used as dippers for as much whipped cream they could carry were indistinguishable from true joy. Uneasy dreams resulted from that discovery.

Pippin’s Scones
2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 scant teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup (4 ounces) butter
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1 large egg
¾ cup of buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375°.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl or a food processor. Cut or pulse in the butter, then the rolled oats, then the egg and buttermilk.  Then stir in the raisins and work them through the batter.
Flour a counter top, scrape the dough onto the flour, gather the dough and pat into a flat circle about 12 inches in diameter. Cut it into wedges with a sharp knife – the dough will be soft – like a pizza, and then carefully place onto a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
Alternatively you may spoon half cups full of batter onto a hot griddle, smooth into cakes and bake on each side until done.

Here’s hoping you find true joy on these cold but lengthening days, get to spend some time in the kitchen, with friends around the table, and have another sherried raisin – they’re good for you!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

future tense

ingredients for peasant cuisines found inexpensively at your nearby co-op: spices, fruits and nuts, beans, lentils and rice. plus a little bit of maple sugar
Two thousand eleven was the year that the cat clawed herself out of the bag! Finally everyone seems to know they need to be eating clean-raised local food, and they seem to know where they can find it, too.

Thank god for Roots, say those of us who are disgusted by the idea of a burger made of the ground up flesh of ten, a hundred, maybe even traces of a thousand cows who were fed antibiotics and hormones like gruel in their last days, and then were all ground together into a vast vat. Roots, the Restaurant, on Wales Street opened last winter and has made it their point of pride to serve food sourced from our local farmers – all across the menu.  They've bought almost $70,000 worth of local food from our farmers in the first 11 months they've been open! They have succeeded. Wildly!

We also recognize 3 Tomatoes, which has long made a valiant effort to serve a lot of  food grown in Vermont, which is to say pretty organically, and they do so beautifully. Dennis at Red Clover in Mendon is a pretty faithful Farmers’ Market customer. Downtown Grocery in Ludlow serves spectacular home-grown food – for spectacular prices, it must be said.  Splurge there, though, when you can. And both Cafe' Provence in Brandon and The Victorian Inn at Wallingford source local food, though Chef Stanti at the Victorian Inn balks at local meats.

But other restaurants are slow to catch on. When we all stopped by Sabby’s the other day I was told that local food was way out of their ball park. People didn’t care. We stayed anyway, but I’ll tell you that eating a pile of anonymous animal protein is not a very appetizing thing anymore.

Even the New York Times’ Mark Bittman, whose food politics have been somewhat middle-of-the-road until the last year or so, understands that studies finding that eating meat is an unhealthy habit are not studying locally grown grass-fed beef, pork and fowl. In other words, they’re not studying the effects of meat-eating on human health, they are studying the effects of the antibiotics and hormones the meat is fed on the health of the eater. So Bittman, realizing that most people do not have access to grass-fed meats, suggests abstaining from meat on certain days of the week and simply eating less. And he's not alone in this fall-back stance among food experts who are talking to a large number of people. And it is not an unappetizing idea.

Peasant and ethnic cuisines that rely on a preponderance of vegetables and spices with very little meat to produce great flavor are a fantastic place to start. We can teach ourselves their ways by picking up a book or looking online.

If you are as ignorant as I am you might start by picking up a copy of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook – It’s chock full of inexpensive and for the most part simple recipes and techniques. After all these years since it was published, this is the first time I’ve really examined it. I made a little ‘garlic dip’ she wrote about and it was not bad. It was not good, either – it involved boiling some potatoes until very tender and then fo-proing them with lots of garlic and some mayonnaise into a slithery mass that tasted like very garlicky potatoes. Of course it did.

If you really want to fix something good to eat, quick, and cheap, try this, one of my favorite meals: It’s basically red lentils and rice, with perhaps a sausage. The lentils are rinsed, put into a pot, covered with cold water, and cooked over medium heat until tender but still (if possible) retain their shape. This takes only about 15 minutes. Add a little salt to the water towards the end of cooking. For the rice, bring two cups of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt, pour in 1 cup of white rice, stir, bring back to the boil, cover, and turn the heat very low. Cook for 20 minutes. When these two foods are done, they’re piled into a plate, dolloped with plain yogurt, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, and drizzled with a little garlicky olive oil. Salt and pepper. Maybe some hot peppers. You could sprinkle with Asian seasonings such as 5-spice powder. Add any crunchy vegetables you might have lying around. It takes about 25 minutes to make and costs about 3¢ per serving. It’s good, plain, proletarian, peasant food that can be gussied up.
This one from last summer included sausages and lots of fresh veggies. Yum.
Of course, for home cooking there are few places more liable to supply good makings for our kitchen than the Farmers’ Markets and Co-ops. Here in the Rutland area we are blessed with the best year-around Farmers’ Market in the state, probably in the northeast, possibly in the country. It’s impossible to walk through without engaging in many conversations with people ecstatically commenting about the good feeling there, the wonderful food, the festive atmosphere, how lucky we are, yadda yadda. Shopping at the Farmers’ Market is just a very uplifting experience. Here are some vendors and foods that are new favorites. 

I LOVE having Peter McGann – who used to give away samples of his food free at the Co-op – offering his Mexican fare – all the way from tamales and enchiladas to the lovely cascobel pepper salsa, guacamole, and tomato salsa, as well as his Tortilla Espagnol – a thick potato omelet. His orange scented rice pudding studded with big plump raisins? Well...

Too, I enjoyed Maya Zelkin’s steamed tamales there one Saturday, and she will be back with more the last Saturday in January. I keep nattering at her to supply us with freshly made tortillas, but they are labor intensive and she does not see her way to doing that just now.

Pine Woods Farm is also new this year, with their excellent beef and pork. I bought pig fat there that I rendered down into the best lard I have ever made – creamy white and solid. It’s a once-a -year process I go through, and so worth it! You can also get organic suet – for cooking or for the birds. After all, why would you feed birds suet with antibiotics and excess hormones in it?  Love their sausages and roasts, too.

Meadow Squire is there with her Breezy Meadows booth from which she is still selling baby greens, most especially fresh cilantro, as well as the bibelots she puts together, like the tiny jars of maple sugar last Saturday. I wrote about their rice crop here.

Meadow is just one example of the biggest boon the Rutland region has going for it right now – a preponderance of young and very determined farmers.

A few years ago Greg Cox told me, “We’re getting tired. We’re getting old. We need nothing less than an influx of young people going into farming.” Guess what? Suddenly we have them, and they are committed to the land (even when it slides out from under them as Evening Song’s did during Irene). And Greg, who has hosted many beginning farmers on his land at Boardman Hill, is very responsible for this resurgence. He has long worked with RAFFL to offer an incubator space for new farmers and POW, we look back and what do we find? He has, perhaps unwittingly, provided it on his own land!

I hope that 2012 proves to be the year that the Rutland Co-op assumes its diversified and indispensable roles for Rutland, for instance as a teaching venue for people who want to learn to shop the Co-op and the Farmers’ Market and learn to cook the food. There is a very nice kitchen that was built a few years ago expressly for that purpose. Now there’s a “Private” sign on its door most market Saturdays.

I’m not grousing about 2011.  I still have not needed to get up from my supper table, pack up a few things, and walk down Rt. 7 to get away from the enemy. Wars always take place upon other people’s soil, isn’t that true? All I really wish for in 2012 is peace and a contentment with what is without losing the edge that makes us do better. A less tense future. And I wish that for you, too. That’s not much to ask, is it?