Monday, December 29, 2014

the Lebovitz adaptation

I can scarcely read David Lebovitz  without wanting to share with you whatever it is he’s talking about that day. But then you might just as well read yourself instead of tuning into Twice Bitten every other Tuesday.
I have to admit that some of his recipes work better than others. For instance, in a braised endive dish that I couldn’t wait to try a few weeks ago, the endive is braised in butter on the stovetop and then tucked in with a parchment paper covering to the oven for about an hour before taken out and cooled, each endive wrapped in thin ham, then put back into the baking dish and covered with a b├ęchamel (white sauce) with Gruyere or other Swiss style cheese folded into it, and then browned back in the oven.
I made it and Leo thought it was dreamy, but I found a few things wrong with my execution of it. First of all, the sauce was brown instead of white and golden on top as in David’s photo. And there was something about the texture that I didn’t like, the endive being extremely soft and yet rather stringy. Neither of which was the fault of the dish but, as I say, in my execution of it and, possibly, in David’s directions as to the making of it. And perhaps the endive could have been fresher. A better cook than I would have adapted it to her own expectations, anticipating that the browned butter in the dish would turn the entire sauce brown. Which I may have recognized, but did nothing about.
So now, in hindsight, let me tell you, I would bake it until the juices had become a glaze, not liquid, and then, instead of a b├ęchamel, I would simply nap it with warmed heavy cream and the grated cheese and bake it until bubbly and golden. That would make a wonderful very low carbohydrate dish for this carb-hyped season.
Another thing that David did, recently, was to print another cook’s adaptation of a recipe from David’s book, My Paris Kitchen, for a slightly sweet Israeli cous cous! I’m unable to find that now – he may have taken it down for it’s circuitousness – but I did find the adaptation, itself, by Sara Rosso on her blog, It involves a lot of fresh lemon juice and cilantro along with dates and pistachios and a bit of cinnamon.
It sounded wonderful to me and so I tried it – adding bacon to the mix, and more lemon – and was blown away. I thought it was outstanding and I could eat it all day, while Leo thought it was good but too sweet for a main dish despite the bacon. Whomever you believe you can bet it would make a wonderful side dish for the holiday table.
Israeli or Middle Eastern (as the Co-op labels it in the bulk department) cous cous  is simply a larger grained cous cous. And of course cous cous is not a grain, or only remotely, being made from flour, traditionally from semolina wheat. I think of it as a pasta. Don’t ask me how they form regular cous cous  into those little balls::: Well, do ask me, and I would tell you women’s fingers and lots of gossip I would guess. Sitting outside on kitchen chairs in some North African landscape, deftly rubbing dough between their palms to form tiny little pellets. On the other hand, Israeli cous cous is actually extruded into larger little balls and then baked. It is cooked, then, by boiling briefly.
I am buying bacon made from the hog jowl from Plew Farm at the Rutland Winter Market on Saturdays. I keep it frozen and shave off just as much as I need for each use. I imagine I used 2 or 3 ounces in this dish – just enough for a bit of savory flavor. Excellent Medjool dates may be found in the Co-op’s produce section. Roasted and salted pistachios in their bulk section. As a matter of fact all the ingredients (but the bacon) can be found in different parts of the Co-op.
Here’s the recipe. It is Sharon Nimtz’s adaptation of  Sara Rosso’s adaptation of David Lebovitz’s
Lemon-Pistachio Israeli Cous Cous
3 or 4 ounces thin sliced bacon (see above)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ cup cilantro, chopped just coarsely
½ cup diced Medjool dates
½ cup salted and roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons very good salted butter at room temp
1 ¼ cups Israeli cous cous
sea salt to taste
 Freshly ground pepper
Add all the ingredients except cous cous, salt and pepper to a large bowl.
Boil the cous cous in salted water according to package directions, or simmer about 8 minutes until al dente. Drain, then add the cous cous to the bowl and stir until the butter is fully melted and all the ingredients are mixed well. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. I would not re-heat leftovers.
Happy Holidays, Dear Readers!
this Twice Bitten column was published in the Rutland Herald on 12/23/14

Tuesday, December 09, 2014 the most delightful way

Last summer when I harvested my delicious, pungent, crisp and plentiful 2014 crop of garlic, small-headed though they were (a whole other story), I peeled almost two cups of the cloves and put them into a pint ball jar, salted them liberally and let them sit over night in order to begin the fermentation. The next day I rubbed them dry and covered them with local Rutland honey from Right Mind Farm. I put the lid and ring on the jar and set it aside in a hidey place over by the coffee pot.
Now, a recipe for this substance called Ninniku Hachimitsu-zuke from the book Quick and Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes, does not call for the garlic being salted overnight, but just covered with honey and set aside in a cool place. Sarah Nelson Miller, who referred to that recipe on her blog, Killer Pickles, points out that not only is honey 80% sugar but it is also acidic, both traits that help preserve whatever’s in it. Like garlic. Miller also urges us to, “try using it in dressings, sauces, and marinades, and it’s a natural choice for many kinds of Asian cooking. I love to chop up a bit of the garlic and mix it with the honey and some raw apple cider vinegar and drizzle that over (a pork loin).”
This concoction was being raved about by posters on a Facebook thread called Fermenter’s Kitchen and another called Wild Fermentation (started by Miller) after the book by Sandor Katz. It was promoted as being, number 1, delicious and, number 2, a fantastic remedy for colds and flu due to the antibiotic and healing properties of both ingredients.
Truthfully, what I had in mind was an approximation of the delightful taste you get when you baste thin flatbread dough with garlicky olive oil, bake it off, and then drizzle it with honey and a sprinkle of coarse salt, and eat it while it’s warm. If you’ve never tasted this you must must must make occasion to try it.
But this was not to be, for when I tried the garlic and honey after it had fermented on the counter for a couple of weeks, the honey had watered down with the juices of the garlic, I guess, and simply did not have that unctuous mouth feel. And of course, then, also, there was the fermented taste, which is not to be scoffed at, normally, but in this instance was not what I was looking for. I left that jar alone after that, merely glancing at it balefully once in awhile, trying not to bewail the waste of valuable garlic AND honey......
But that was before this insidious little dry cough that came on slowly over a week or so became productive and near constant, keeping me awake at night and finally making my ribs hurt. That baleful glance happened once again on that little pint jar and this time lingered, and I thought well, what the hell, that’s what it’s s’pozed to be good for and I forked out a garlic clove and ate it! That was a treat! Then I spooned up some of the honey and swallowed that. Not bad.
Next morning, cough was still there, and still productive but with the air of clearing out and cleaning up rather than going deeper and despicable-er. Another clove of garlic and spoonful of honey – hot and sweet! there are worse ways of dealing with illness – in the morning and healing is definitely on the upswing.
Just proving that A Spoonful of Honey makes the medicine go down...
This Twice Bitten column first printed in the Rutland Herald 12/9/14 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

caramel alchemy

Partner-in-life has been on a too-long ice cream jag, which would be all right except for all the sugar carbs  that tempt me to share the jag, and two more reasons, #1 that he has eschewed Ben and Jerry’s creaminess (and priciness) for Second-Best-Local-Ice-Cream. SBLIC, which used to be really good, is now, due to a family quarrel regarding quantity vs quality, not as good as it used to be: It tastes icy instead of creamy.

P-i-L HAD brought home one of those B&J pints with a core of caramel down the middle of it. That was dicey in that it was TOO good. Next he bought the SBLIC Sweet Cream flavor, which sounds so good but was still icy, and a little jar of brand name (SureFine? Smuckers?) caramel which sported as first ingredient high fructose corn syrup. That was Reason #2. I put that little jar on the porch. I said, “You take that right back, we don’t eat that kind of Stuff in this house.” Dotter was home, knowing (as did he) that I was right. But. Caramel! “What do you think that caramel core in B&J’s was made of?” he whined. I hate to think.

Well, actually, I did think and so I looked it up. Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Core Ice Cream has about 23+/- ingredients but, though it does list corn syrup, it is apparently not high fructose corn syrup.

Twenty-three ingredients! Ice cream is best when you have three ingredients. In June those would be Cream, Sugar, and Strawberries. In July substitute blueberries for the strawberries. Caramel should have 2 or 3 ingredients: sugar, cream, and maybe butter. Added together that’s 4 ingredients, most of it sugar.

So one night, right after the marvelous shrimp dinner that I wrote about 2 weeks ago, that he and she had cleaned up after, with SBLIC Sweet Cream looming, almost without thinking I plunked the black cast iron skillet on the burner and turned it up to medium-high heat and, when it was getting there, poured a cup of white cane sugar into it, then shook it a bit, and turned the heat down a bit and stood looking at it, as did dotter.

“What...?” she said. “Just sugar...?” she said, as the edges of it browned and sank and ate at the interior, and a couple of hot spots in the center began to spread.
“Yep,” I said, “caramel.” A gasp. “I didn’t know it was such alchemy,” she said.

Alchemy, yes: When you think what different substances ice cream and caramel are, both made with almost the same ingredients.

I modulated the heat, picked up the skillet to that end, put it back down, turned the sugar with a silicone spatula, and when all was melted, white turned to amber and that turning dark reddish brown, watching witchfully, as soon as it “was just past the point when it starts to smoke,” (David Lebovitz) I turned the heat off and added heavy cream that I’d warmed in its own container in a bowl of hot water, Thomases again, and stirred carefully as it rose whoosh up the sides of the pan (silicone gloves are handy) stirring with that silicone spatula. I turned the heat back on low and when all was incorporated I turned the heat off again and added a couple lumps of salted butter and swirled them in. It was gorgeous. 

Ice cream sundaes were made with that Second-Best-Local-Ice-Cream’s Sweet Cream flavor topped with fresh, pillowy red raspberries and then that Surprise Caramel Sauce that astonished me as well as them, because it disappeared over the berries and ice cream only to be re-discovered in the process of spooning it up where it had formed its soft, round, buttery mouthfuls deep in the ice cream and berries.

Chemistry. Ain’t it grand?

Post Script: This is privileged stuff, having the sugar, the pan, the stove, to cook. How many people don’t. I can’t imagine. But I know it happens and so I give my money to people who can help those who haven’t even the basics, Vermont Foodbank. Please give to them this holiday season and every other season. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Shrimp with a Snap

Let’s just say that flaccid shrimp are not my cup of seafood!

I found the following instruction in a recipe posted by a popular cooking show: 

"Immediately drop in the shrimp (to a moderately hot pan) and stir for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until the shrimp are turning pink and are barely firm. Turn the shrimp into a serving bowl..."
Did you say UGH as loudly as I did?

A friend told me of his dear friend who habitually brought rather limp shrimp to events, so that one time when he forgot to cook them at all no one noticed. Flaccidity in shrimp is not your friend; as a matter of fact i can't think of an instance when it is a good thing. If you have anything in your home that the word flaccid could apply to it is probably a good idea to get rid of it.

But that wasn't the only thing that was wrong with that recipe. It called for the shrimp to be brined in a mixture made of water, 1/2 cup sea salt, 1/3 cup cane sugar, and 1/3 cup medium-hot chile powder! Soak for twenty minutes and then dump all that chili powder and sea salt out? I don't think so.

Sometimes we glom onto old advice that does not benefit us. For instance it is certainly possible to handle pastry dough too little and it is probably done quite often simply because everyone is paranoid about "handling it too much," advice that benefits only the makers of store-bought pie crust. After all, the stuff has got to hold together. 

Ditto about cooking shrimp and lobster for a short time "so as not to make it tough". Well, I'd rather have it tough than flaccid. But most of all I'd like it firm and with a bit of snap when you bite into it. A juicy snap.

A few weeks ago my daughter was flying out the next day to drive a u-haul back here from North Carolina with her significant other and all their belongings. That night called for a special meal for her to remember and come back to and that's why I picked up her favorite, shrimp, that had been imported from an Ecuadorian shrimp farm by Green Mountain Fresh down on State Street.

I'd been talking to Ingrid Wisell there about the advantages of farmed shrimp versus wild shrimp when owner, John Schramm, walked out and said he'd stack up his farmed E-Z Peel shrimp against wild-caught any old day. So I ordered 1.5 pounds of E-Z Peel. 

It's cheaper than wild-caught –  about $12 a pound that day as against just about $17 for the wild-caught –  and Ingrid had told me that most of its food is swept over it in the wild ocean, and that food is supplemented with appropriate other wild food. "It is definitely not fed chicken feed," she said, rather offended, but dispelling my greatest fear.
To prepare that shrimp I set my oven to 450° and placed a heavy cast iron griddle in it and as it heated I peeled the shrimp. E-Z Peel means the shells have been cut up the back, which makes them perhaps E-Zier, but not really E-Z, to peel. As I peeled them I lined them up on a flat, rimless pan so they would be easier to slide onto the hot griddle when it was time. 

I have an old oven so by the time it had come up to temp I had prepared the shrimp and thin-sliced the last green tomato from the garden and fried it in some lard (rendered by Pine Woods Farm in West Pawlet) in a heavy cast-iron frying pan. 

I removed that flaming hot griddle from the oven ever-so-carefully, drizzled it with just a bit of olive oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking, then slid the shrimp onto it and placed it back into the oven for about 2 minutes. Back out they came to be doused with half a stick of melted butter and 2 or 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Back in for another 2 minutes, and when they came out this time I sprinkled them with the juice of half a freshly squeezed lemon, some coarse sea salt, and covered them with a bit of parchment paper and let them sit and sizzle and drink up the flavorings for a few minutes. 

They were served atop polenta made from a bit of masa harina that I'd cooked down for a long time until it was positively gluey, then thinned with Thomas’ heavy cream and grated cheddar. Slices of that wonderful green tomato went on the very top, juices were drizzled and chopped fresh parsley was strewn over everything.

It was exquisite, the shrimp snapped with flavor and texture, and the meal did its job – Daughter showed up safely, right on time a few days later and again lives in Rutland. 

Good shrimp'll do it every time!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

wild apples and rutabaga

Apples gone wild -- Good taste and, seen with your taste buds, beautiful.

 Last September I went to a friend’s house and picked apples. They’d planted heirloom trees back in the ‘70s, a dozen or so different kinds of them, specimen trees, I think they’re called, but no matter what you call them they produce a lot of apples each year. But unless it’s an exceptionally bountiful year, my friends don’t bother picking them; if it IS a bountiful year they have a cider pressing party, and that’s all good, too.  But, because these apples don’t appear to be beautiful with their spots and blotches, my friends don’t pick them to eat.

But I had discovered that the imperfections were superficial and did not affect the taste, and I enjoyed comparing the offerings of the different trees – the hues from magenta to chartreuse, the sizes from golfball to almost grapefruit, and the flavors from sweet mallow to spicy cinnamon, bland to intense. And once I took them home I found that they really were beautiful, not in spite of and not actually because of the spots but because they were all just... beautiful together.

Just a week or so ago I saw some of these spotted apples at the Dorset Farmers’ Market with a little sign that said that the spots did not render the apples inedible but were indicative that the trees had not been sprayed. And that might be the best thing about the spots – when you eat the apples they are on you are not ingesting yet another, and apparently totally unneeded, industrial poison! That’s not to say, of course, that all apples with black spots have not been sprayed – they may have been sprayed with something that does not affect black spots – but I knew for a fact that my friends’ apples had not been sprayed or ‘aided’ in any way whatsoever –  I’m actually pretty sure they’ve never even been pruned.

Fall crept on from there – actually it flew by, but then all time does at this age – until it was almost Thanksgiving. The Winter Farmers’ Market had been going on for a few weeks at the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center down on West Street and I had already bought some Brussels sprouts, some of which had taken me an immense amount of time to snap from the stalk and to prune out the bad parts only to end up with a small bowl of them for all my work. And that’s when I spied some pale green rather small orbs on stalks at the booth of a new vendor, and when I took one of those stalks home the sprouts snapped off and needed very little paring. As I believe my apple anecdote shows, I am as accepting of imperfect organic food as the next purist but this perfection was a welcome thing as it made them so much easier to render edible, with so much more to show for my effort.

Next Saturday – the one before Thanksgiving – I sped to his stand again to find people buying up his veggies higgledy piggledy as they were from all the vendors –  the Saturday before Thanksgiving being the busiest market of the winter. By the time he got to me there were only two stalks of sprouts left and I took both of them, then sold one to the next person in line who had been crestfallen at my purchase. I used them – delicately steamed – to complete the casserole of  root vegetables I’d roasted for Thanksgiving dinner. Mixed with a bit of quinoa and topped with melty, creamy, cheese, it was a very good dish.

Weeks went by, it’s the new year by now – 2014 – and I notice that John – for that’s his name, John Falk of Neshobe Farm in Brandon, partners with Hannah Davidson – is back to the market sporadically and that his veggies  – he does not have a great variety – have dwindled as the canning jars have increased, until finally there are only two gigantic rutabagas on his stand amidst the jars of zucchini relish and pickles and jams. And who needs a gigantic rutabaga? But these rutabagas are so fresh and lovely that I am intrigued and after a little chat and a weighing I actually buy the smallest of these monsters even though it weighs six and one half pounds!

I don’t even like rutabagas, do I?

And as he’s weighing and I’m buying and we’re exchanging money for rutabaga I’m also raving to my friend about John’s blemishless Brussels sprouts when John jumps in. He has an eager, open, laughing demeanor, friendly and talkative, and he gives us a little lecture on how you should never judge organic vegetables by their looks because no matter how delicious they are, and good for you, organic vegetables may be just a little ugly. He is, of course, preaching to the converted – my food sense developed in the ‘70s, don’t you know.

Oh John, I think, Shut up! If the goodness of vegetables were to be proved by their ugliness then you would lose, hands down, but this is getting so convoluted that I cannot even begin to open my mouth and I bid the boy adieu!

Above: Not so difficult to pare
Below: Simmering in water and coconut oil

That enormous rutabaga? It was perfect, of course, thin skinned, smooth, not gnarly, not a lot of trouble to peel, not fibrous; tender, sweet, golden orange, and plenty enough to prepare every which way. First I cut it into cubes and steamed it until crisp tender, then froze at least half of it, probably more.  But even before that I took a goodly portion of the raw cubes and simmered them with a little water, some salt, and a nice amount of coconut oil and, when they had absorbed the water and caramelized in the oil – I stirred them as they did that – I mashed them together and perhaps I added a bit of coconut mash and corrected the seasonings – more salt? – and maybe I grated a bit of nutmeg into them. Oh yes, delicious. (Note: Coconut mash is the whole ground coconut, and although it does not contain sugar it does lend sweetness and flavor.)

A few days later I put some of the steamed cubes into an earthenware dish in which I had melted some coconut oil (yummy stuff), salted and peppered them, dotted them with a few spoonfuls of coconut mash, tucked parchment paper around them for a porous cover, and put them into a low oven for half an hour or so until they were caramelized on the outside. I served them with slices of orange. Scrumptious.

Leo said, “Yes. Very good, but how much more rutabaga do we have, exactly?”

 “Oh don’t worry. We won’t run out,” I said. 

Tonight will be the third time – two suppers, one breakfast, and numerous snacks – that this first one-quarter of a rutabaga will be eaten in our house. There are only two and one/tenth of us, for little dog Dakity loves a good rutabaga herself.

And really, who could protest having a beautiful, wonderfully-grown, bright-tasting vegetable in the February of a frigid winter