Tuesday, August 18, 2015

clafouti patootie

Last Saturday I came home from Market with a fresh chicken and corn on the cob, respectively from Plew Farm and Charlie Brown. I take turns getting corn from Grabowskis, Charlie, and Woods. They’re all good, only difference being Woods’ is organic. Problem is, Leo likes his corn small and tender and sweet (you may precede each of those adjectives with ‘very’ if you like). I like mine assertively corny, with large, firm kernels, probably because I grew up with what I think was young, field, dent corn, at least at the beginning of the season. Cow Corn. Then we would switch over to real sweet corn from Grandma’s garden. That was a treat.
So I was looking forward to firing up the big green egg come evening, and sitting out on the deck with a glass of wine, my journal, my book, and NPR to satisfy my various senses while I grilled dinner, and to that end I cut up the chicken and, salting each piece well, fitted them into a bowl. In a couple of hours I’d add water to them and put a plate on top, thereby combining dry brine with wet in order to tease out those sinewy little chicken joints that happen with happy, flavorful, free-range chickens.
I don’t put anything else in the salt or the water because I’m convinced marinade is just a waste of good ingredients unless you do a dry rub just before grilling. Most people I know are passionate about their marinades, though. They’ll describe all these wonderful ingredients they put together to soak their meats in. I’m like – What a waste! But I just nod my head because what can you say. People think they’re tenderizing and flavorizing. Who am I to object? They only look at me in a puzzled way and kind of fade away. “I thought she was a foodie,” they’re thinking. It’s enough to make a person doubt their own findings, so I was glad to see Russ Parsons of the LA Times last week spouting my opinion in an article called “The Truth About Marinades: Most are a waste of time,” (not to mention product). He does recommend salting the meat in advance, an hour or two, or brining. “Simply salting meat and letting it stand may not have the romance of more complicated marinades, but it works.”
Anyway, then I saw my phone message blinking and it was my friend Wendy inviting us up for dinner that night! My first impulse was to make a counter invitation – invite them down, because I had this chicken, you know, and fresh corn... “But hey,” Friend said, “My dining room table is unloaded, uncluttered, and we have to take advantage of that...” She’s a set designer, so that’s her mindset, and after all, I could sit on her deck with a glass of wine and good conversation with good friends, so of course... My chicken would only get tenderer in the fridge. The corn was a different matter... day old corn? Doesn’t compute! So I sliced it from the cob and froze it. We will appreciate it even more come February.
My only problem then was to come up with a dessert. It’s kind of understood in Wendy’s and my dining relationship that I’ll do that. It’s usually a pie, but I didn’t want to make a pie. So there. I’d made a peach upside down cake for Leo’s birthday a few days before, so I had a couple of peaches – 3, to be exact – left over. I had eggs, very little flour, very little sugar... what could be done with these things.
As I was going through my ‘old recipes’ file, somehow – from whence? – up popped the word ‘clafouti’. I hadn’t made one in years, the idea had dropped right out of my food memory, but I did remember it was simple. And I did want simple. And really good. Delicious, in fact, and you always want Delicious!
And there were my notes on it, Larousse Gastronomique explaining that it was from the French Limousin region and consisted of unstoned black cherries arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a fairly thick pancake batter, served lukewarm, dusted with sugar.  Clarifying that Clafir in Provencial dialect means “to fill”. It’s odd that the French dictionary calls it a pancake batter rather than a crêpes batter, which I think it more accurately resembles.
And Madeleine Kamman, comparing it to a cobbler “without baking powder”, although she also says the batter is never made according to fixed rules, and contains as much fruit as you can afford, “a good way to use bruised and partly overripe fruit”. And, might I add, fruit of any kind. Cherries, peaches, plums, berries...
The recipe I used – and wrote down so many years ago – came from the New York Times magazine, back when it actually had a smart cooking column. This is a cakier clafuti than what many people think – some think of one as simply a puff, a shell that then is filled with fruit. Anyway, this is the one I make:
Please note: Make the batter ahead of time, at least 15 minutes, but you could make it an hour or so ahead of time, too, to allow the gluten to relax.
Cherry (or Peach or Plum) Clafouti
or berry or apple or...
Preparation time: 10 minutes. Baking time, 40 to 50 minutes.
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled; Plus a tablespoon for buttering the pan;
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar (4.5 oz.)
  • ¼ teaspoon or pinch of sea salt
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (4 oz.)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (this really is optional; I’ve made them with and without)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 quart of Bing or Queen Anne cherries, about 1 pound, stemmed and (if you like) pitted, OR 3 or 4 peaches dropped into boiling water briefly, peeled, halved, and stoned OR a pint or so of plums, halved and stoned OR... your choice of fruit;
  • Confectioners’ sugar for decoration
  • lightly whipped cream*
Heat the oven to 350°
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and salt until the mixture is thickened and light lemon color. Add the melted butter, flour and vanilla, and beat until thoroughly blended. Set aside for at least 15 minutes.
In the meantime, evenly coat a 10 inch pie pan with the 1 tablespoon butter. Place the fruit over the bottom of the pan.
When ready to bake, pour the batter evenly over the fruit and bake for 40 minutes or until golden and puffy.
Put a couple tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar into a fine sieve and gently tap it to sprinkle it on the clafouti.
*If you’re transporting whipped cream put a sufficient amount of heavy cream into a pint canning jar, add a sufficient amount of sugar and a touch of sour cream, buttermilk, or yogurt, put the lid on and shake it until it thickens. Proportions might be ¾ cup to 1 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon. A touch of the sour stabilizes the cream so it doesn’t weep.
We had a marvelous dinner... Grilled corn on the cob (from Woods at the Market) smeared with a mashed cumin, garlic, and chili butter, marinated pork kabobs (grilled and charred, that marinade toasted the outside of the kabobs quite nicely), and a pestoed pasta.  And the peach clafouti ended it nicely.

I liked this so much and the batter is so simple (and tasty) that I made a savory – Chiles Relleno – clafouti with poblano and jalapeno chilis, garlic, cheddar, tomatoes and some of that corn off the cob midweek. It was delicioso. And today I’m going to make one with little golden plums that I got from Rebecca Worthing at Rebecca’s Kitchen at the Rutland Farmers’ Market. She took time out from making her marvelous French pastries to pick them from her father’s trees.

Now, I know you’re wondering::: What does clafouti have to do with patootie. Well, if nothing else, you can bet your sweet one that it rhymes!

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

vitality veracity

I lie about my garden all the time, if not overtly then at least covertly. I allow you to imagine my wafting lofting hillocks and berries and greens and pods just bursting with color and clarity and taste. And no weeds.
What was it last time? Oh, peas. Well, they were quite wonderful, but then it got so exasperatingly hot, and then it poured. Another thing I allow you to think, really exhort you to do, too, is that I get out there every day to see what needs to be done. You can’t garden from behind your desk. Sometimes days slip by so fast, almost as fast as weeds grow and so do zucchinis.
The other day a friend stopped by and wanted to see the garden. How embarrassing! The peas should have been pulled this long time if only to allow the Brussels sprouts and broccoli to get some sun and perhaps begin to thrive. The lettuce has been allowed to bolt, weeds are taking over the herb beds, the kale is blowsy and tough, the chard has gone wild, and tomatoes need to be tied up higher. Zucchini is in logs and its enormous leaves are shading the eggplant. Even the grass needs to be mowed.
The mere thought of all that work makes me sag. Some people need a pool boy. I need a garden girl.
Thank goodness for the farmers. I mean really. Thank God For The Farmers. Those hardy fighters that started the first farmers’ market back in the early ‘70s – that would be the nineteen 70s. It was tough going. They – the growers and their eaters – really had to fight the city to find a place to set up, and then a larger space, and then even larger. The starters were Jeff Bender, Andy Snyder and jonny-come-lately Greg Cox. Along came Steve Chamberlain of Dutchess Farm, and Ray and Chris Powers powering their Bear Mountain Bread stand.
Because of them – and others – my fridge now contains slim little French green beans, a pint of tiny patty pan squash with their blossoms, 17 pounds of Pratico tomatoes waiting to be frozen, a lovely large cauliflower, a magnificent ovoid purple eggplant.
A fresh chicken went into a strong brine yesterday as soon as I got it home from Market, and then onto the grill last night. This would not be the picture without comparative newcomers Alchemy Gardens, Grabowskys (grilled corn on the cob, too), Radical Roots, and who had those beautiful little beans? It might have been Scott Hewitt from Fields of Manna in Wallingford. Or maybe it was Singing Cedars from Benson. Plew Farm has fresh chicken all summer, they told me. Larson’s Farm is able to sell raw milk from the Market due to new licensing laws.
Plethora, Baby! Plethora!
My only problem now is how am I going to eat all this stuff. And, what with planning and cooking, where am I going to find the time to mow and weed?
Nice thing about this kind of plethora is it all needs to be very simple. Simplicity allows the wonderful fresh taste to come through.
So, I won’t lie to you, I rely on some quick sauces and cool techniques to get through this so-highly-prized time of year.

#1: The first is quick fried tempura.  Eggplant, green tomatoes, just-ripe tomatoes, zucchini, okra, those little patty-pans with their blossoms on. I slice them – not the okra or patty-pans – dip them into a tempura batter and fry them in some lard, or coconut oil, or a mixture of butter and olive oil. I don’t deep fry them, just pour in a kind of lavish amount of oil. Garnish them with little Thai (or other) basil leaves. Eat’em up.

Elizabeth David’s Tempura Batter
This is an excellent coating. I think it’s the oil in the batter that keeps the coating on the food rather than in the grease:
Take 4 ounces of flour, about a cup, and put it into a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt, then gently and slowly whisk in “3/4 teacup of tepid water”, or until the mixture is about the consistency of somewhere between thick cream and half and half. Let it sit for a while to let the gluten relax, and, when you’re ready to use it, whip one egg white and fold it in. Dip your food into it and fry it up.
I’ve been using 2 egg whites lately, and I think it makes a better covering.

#2: The other day I had some friends over on the spur of the moment, or hour, and I hustled up a few tidbits quickly to nosh on. One of them was zucchini cut into sticks to be dipped into this dressing. It got accolades. It has no added salt but it is salty enough. Probably because of the Hellman’s.

Creamy Dill Dressing
Whisk together ½ cup Hellman’s or homemade mayonnaise, ½ cup sour cream, 1/3 cup dill weed, chopped fine, 1 clove garlic, chopped fine. Allow the flavors to marry, and serve it up.

#3: And this! Kind of a first-timer, the first time, I think, that my dotter Zoe arrived with a jar of homemade stuff and off-handed it to me without much ado and... it was wonderful – as dressing, as dip, as marinade, as eat it with a spoon. My little string beans, lightly steamed, buttered, are going to love this drizzle. The recipe is from her friend Caroline’s Aunt Jane. Caroline lives in North Carolina. I don’t know where Aunt Jane lives. Make it!

Aunt Jane’s Ginger Dressing
      • 3 inches of ginger, grated (minimum)
      • 4 (or more) garlic cloves, finely chopped
      • ½ cup tamari
      • ½ cup olive oil
      • ¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
      • ¼ cup or more tahini
      • 1/3 cup raw honey
      • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
      • ½ cup water
There are no directions, but I think I’d put this all into a blender and process it, in which case nothing would have to be finely chopped.
Yes, it’s been a long, worthwhile road from that first Farmers’ Market up to the present when it’s accepted as one of the premier events on a Saturday – outside in Depot Park in the summer and in the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center in the winter. Wednesday late afternoons present a smaller version.
Now, if the City would only recognize how important the Market is to Downtown, and put the benches back so longtime supporters like me – who are, after all, not as vital as we were in the ‘70s – could take a rest in the midst of the festivities, that would be nice. And smart. And maybe the gravel that has supplanted the grass could be dealt with in a splendid way? Get with the celebration, City Guys!
The next step in this glorious food revolution is to continue renovating the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center to make it truly a center for food for the entire area.  Greg Cox and his Board of Renown is on that like stink on a pig. Important revelations and revelry are on tap for this Sunday, the 16th.
$20 a ticket, friends, all proceeds to go to building a shared use commercial kitchen and processing facility, and a large scale storage and aggregation infrastructure. A biomass Heating System is in the works, as is a community teaching kitchen.

Okay, and now, no lie, I need to get out there and weed!