Monday, November 13, 2006

More Haiku

Utter aloneness
another great pleasure
in autumn twilight


I promise to return to food and wine subject matter soon.
In the meantime I implore you to drink Cru Beaujolais, Alsatian Muscats,
Nahe Rieslings, and Saumur-Champigny more frequently. Along with
William Kennedy novels, Japanese Poetry, live John Fahey, and a nice gratin
of butternut squash and potaoes, these are making my November enjoyable.

Oh yeah, Howard Dean's fifty-state strategy and the success of Tester and Webb
to help gain back the House and Senate aren't hurting either.

Be good and never say "no" to your best intention.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bon anniversaire, DTG

Happy birthday, DTG

And another bee haiku:

A foraging bee
centered in one full-blown rose —
emerges gilded

-Helen Stiles Chenoweth

Monday, October 30, 2006

A new (really old) bee!

They've found a really old bee in amber. A 100-million year-old bee no less. That's quite a bee!

A bee haiku from Basho:

How reluctantly
The bee emerges from the deep
within the peony.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Kale Fest? Hell yeah, Kale Fest!

Do you find yourself lacking kale in your life? Is there a great cruciferous void that needs filling?

Well luckily for you Kale Fest has your answers! Our friends from Cherry Grove Organic Farm in Princeton, NJ will be bring forth the goods, the info and all kinds of delicious recipes at the Summit Farmers' Market Sunday, October 15, 8 AM-1 PM. Cherry Grove Organic Farm is located between Princeton and Lawrenceville and NOFA-NJ-certified in addition to being a CSA farm.

They offer stunningly fresh, beautiful vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Furthermore, they couldn't be any friendlier.

Last Sunday they had fantastic selection of beets, squash, leafy greens, hard-neck garlic, beautiful fingerling potatoes, herbs, haricots verts, scallions, flowers and so forth. They grow plenty of heirloom varieties and choose for flavor over durability.

Now on to the kale! In honor of Kale Fest, here is a recipe that could not be simpler and really highlights the beauty of a few ingredients combined with restraint making more than the sum of their parts. Caldo Verde (green Soup) is considered by many to be Portugal's national dish. Made with water, potatoes, olive oil, couve-galega (kale) and served with Portuguese bread, grilled linguica or chourico sausages and plenty of Tinto, this soup is served in many variations from upscale restaurants to bars to country homes. Some try to gild the lilly by making it with stock, but this tends to mask the fruity flavor of the olive oil. Also key is slicing the kale VERY, VERY, thinly. You may roll the leaves tightly into a cigar shape and cut with your sharpest knife. The kale only cooks for a couple of minutes, so the kale must be shredded very thinly.

Remember, dipping bread into soup is part of the ritual, so get nice crusty loaf and have at it!

Caldo Verde

2 Lbs. boiling or all-purpose potatoes
1 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil, Portuguese preferably
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound organic kale, washed thoroughly, stems removed

For serving:

2 Crusty loaves of Portuguese bread or a few Portuguese rolls
2 Lbs. Linguica, Chourico or combination, grilled over hardwood charcoal (I'm a fan of Ironbound's Lopes Sausage Factory)

1. Peel potatoes and slice very thin. Put in large soup pot or Dutch oven with 6 cups water and the olive oil. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir frequently to break up potatoes (this helps to thicken soup). Cook until potatoes fall apart and broth is shiny and slightly thickened. Check seasoning, add salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

2. Roll kale a few leaves at a time and shred as finely as possible. Add to pot. Simmer for another 2 minutes. Ladle into soup plates, serve immediately with grilled sausages and bread on side.

Serve with a nice Tinto from Dao.

Serves about 8.

You may-if you so desire-make this with the addition of garlic and onions by finely chopping 1 onion and thinly slicing 2 cloves garlic and sauteeing in the one cup olive oil until translucent and then adding the water, potatoes and salt.

Happy Kale Fest!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

An Autumn Haiku & Farewell to Two Giants

A First Day of Autumn Haiku:

Enviable leaves
Becoming so beautiful
Just before falling...
(Thanks to Isa for this lovely Haiku book)

And farewell to two giants-
Don Walser- 9/14/34-9/20/06
Texas Country Legend, Yodeler extraordinaire, devoted family man.

Condolences to his family. He was a terrific, generous singer with extraordinary range and emotion. Also, Don was incredibly kind to his fans new and old. When I lived in Austin in the mid-90's, we would see him often around town. His renditions of Texas Swing standards, other country classics, and his glorious yodel -to steal from Jeff Tweedy- used to sound like the sun on the horizon. "Rolling Stone From Texas" and his version of "Cowpoke" embodied the spirit of Bob Wills, open spaces, and the friendliness of small town Texas. In 2000 the National Endowment of the Arts awarded him with a National Heritage Fellowship. He was a treasure. To his lovely wife of 55 years, Pat (the same Patricia Jane, of "Rolling Stone From Texas" lyrics) my condolences. Meeting you and your husband when I lived in Texas is a memory I'll always treasure.

Henri Jayer 1920-2006
Burgundy wine-making legend/pioneer

While I don't have the same personal experience with Henri Jayer as I did with Don Walser, he was something of a hero. His dedication to relentlessly raising the standards of Burgundian winemaking and his quest to mine the fullest of the Pinot Noir grape's potential inspire countless winemakers to attempt the same. Whole segments of Oregon's Pinot growers can tell you of his influence- the Elvis of Nuits St. Georges. I've only tasted one of his incredibly rare and elegant wines once. Nuits St. Georges-Aux Murgers, 1986. I didn't have the palate, knowledge, or wisdom to truly appreciate that glass, but it was engrossing nonetheless. I can only compare it to viewing a sky full of stars in cold mountain air on a perfect fall night. Thank you for that brief glimpse into the mystery of geography, weather, time, fruit, history, culture, and craft intersecting to create the sublime.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Toujours la grenouille!

Je suppose que je serai toujours la grenouille.

I hope the French is right.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Vermont Trip and Market Cooking

Last weekend I traveled to Vermont to visit old, dear friends with a new one. Part of the pleasure of the journey was anticipating the meal when we arrived. Nothing compares to catching up over some lovely wine and a long, leisurely meal. Call it communion. Preparing food (I cooked) is strangely relaxing to me. Makes me feel useful, if you will- needed. Adding to this was the opportunity to cook for someone I've only known a short time (delightful as that brief span, has been). Having never cooked for her before and wanting to celebrate a late birthday of sorts for one of our hosts I wanted to strike the proper balance between celebratory yet casual. Not necessarily an easy balance.

Bearing in mind the weather (cool, maybe no grilling), the drive (six and a half hours), and the wine I hoped to drink (Sancerre- Chateau Maimbray 2004, Hippolyte Reverdy 2002; Syrah- Failla, Napa Valley, Phoenix Ranch 2004) and the diners, I visited the butcher, the fromagerie, and the Union Square Greenmarket to figure what to cook. This to many may seem backwards. Slave as we are when we start cooking to recipes- scouring the markets to find that one special ingredient- we can overlook what should be the basis of good, soulful cooking: freshness. This is paramount because it enables one to express the season and the best of the local soil and the cook's craft; it also reaffirms the relationship of diet to environment.

No high desert, irrigated, trucked 2000+ miles, bred-for-durability, monocultural, clam-shelled, factory vegetables. No rock-hard, aroma-free, picked green,all sugar/no acidity fruit. Honest, fragile trembling-with-promise peaches, tender heirloom tomatoes, verdant herbs, vibrant zucchini blossoms, pungent Rocambole garlic, sweet carrots, earthy shell beans.

The visit to a farmers' market for me is a mixture of hope, promise, and almost giddy anticipation. The hope: catching something in its brief moment of peak flavor- the short appearance of truly ripe and beautiful Queen Anne cherries, fragrant-almost floral- plums, still sweet green garlic, not yet bitter dandelion greens. Promise I see as the untapped possibility of vegetables and fruit- sort of the difference between kinetic and potential energy. Will you glaze some baby carrots in butter and some rosemary, or perhaps make a soup with a little stock and leeks and a hint of chervil? Will you use that beautiful melon as a starter with a little prosciutto San Danielle, or as a dessert with some Muscat de Beaumes de Venise? Anticipation? How can I make these beautiful expressions of ripeness and sun and sky and earth and care, shine? That is a matter of craft and faith.

I called ahead to Florence Prime Meats
on Jones street in Greenwich Village to see if they had some nice, fresh, American lamb. Fortunately they did. I went with frenched racks due to my time limitations for dinner preparation (no time for a braise, though a combination of braised neck or shoulder in combination with a more expensive cut makes an interesting contrast in texture, flavor, and makes a meal more affordable). Florence is a real treasure because they have beautiful aged meats, excellent meat cutters, and cut meat from primal cuts (none of that metallic tasting cryovac, B.S.). They really do beautiful work with great care and focus. If you can find a skilled butcher, you really need to support their work; they are regrettably a vanishing breed. Once New York City was filled with them. Now only a few true meat markets remain. True to form, the lamb was beautifully marbled, expertly trimmed, and as a nice surprise the rib meat from the frenching was rolled on to a couple of skewers for kabobs.

Next, to the cheese shop. Due to time limitations and some regrettable refrigeration issues, I couldn't visit my favorite fromagerie/ affineur, the Summit Cheese Shop. Instead I visited Murray's. Enough ink has certainly been spilled about this establishment. I miss their cramped, nudgy atmosphere from their former location across the street. But I suppose progress has its place. Here I picked up some fresh crottin, a bit of red cow Parmigiano, a French triple creme (they were sadly out of Delices de Bourgogne), Comte, and a nice hunk of Pleasant Ridge Reserve
, a beautiful, Beaufort-esque cheese from Wisconsin. I also selected a pane puglise from Sullivan Street Bakery, a bit of prosciutto di Parma (I prefer San Daniele, but sometimes one makes do). With the above goodies in hand I figured I had a nice breakfast cheese, the makings of a gratin, and the possibility of a salad or pasta in hand.

Off to the Greenmarket. En route I considered what might be fresh and thought of what I could accent the lamb with. Perhaps a ratatouille, or a caponata. Would there be any beautiful mushrooms to bake en papillote with some herbs, shallots, and a bit of the prosciutto? Any nice greens for salad or perhaps to braise? Would there be peaches so achingly sweet that they would be perfect for dessert mixed with a little brown sugar and the last of the red wine as in Beaujolais? I love this anticipation. Sometimes it is validated by the flavor "picture" you have in your head when you leave the house being matched by what's available; sometimes you are completely surprised by what you find and get to improvise.

With iffy weather of late, much that I hoped for wasn't looking its best. Some of the vegetables seemed to be a tad waterlogged. Too much water can leave them tasting a bit washed out unless you figure a way to eliminate it. Slow cooking can do the trick (overnight roasted tomatoes, for example). Thusly with the eggplant not looking as taut and shiny as I hoped and with the summer squashes appearing a little worse for wear, I decided to make a ragout of summer vegetable as a sort of contorno. I grabbed some beautiful cranberry beans, a handful of haricot vert-sized wax beans, some small sweet carrots, green onions, radishes, and a few ears of corn. I figured these blanched individually, shocked in ice water, and reheated together in a beurre fondue flavored with torn herbs, halved grape tomatoes, and julienned prosciutto would make a lovely side.

I didn't see any wild/exotic mushrooms or stand out greens, but the tomatoes looked pretty so chose a few heavy heirloom varieties for a salad. Beefsteaks, green zebras, Brandywines, golden tomatoes, and a few others. They will need just a hint of sea salt, fresh ground pepper, green fruity olive oil and some torn basil and mint to shine. Perfectly ripe tomatoes make any cook appear the genius.

I happened upon some Rocambole garlic, a hard-necked variety known for its pungent, aromatic quality which can be tempered by roasting or making a confit of it. (Place a number of peeled clove in a small saucepan that will hold them in one layer; cover with cold water; bring to a boil, drain; repeat thrice; cover drained garlic with extra-virgin olive and cook over VERY low heat-you may need a diffuser- until the garlic can be pierced easily with the tip of a paring knife; you now have garlicky oil and very sweet confited garlic.) I grabbed a number of heads and bought numerous herbs from the same stand.

Finally, with dessert in mind I sought some white peaches. There were a few that appeared either rock-hard (no thanks) or partly bruised, none white. Perhaps, the red wine/peach idea was going to be nixed. They were still in fair enough shape for pan-roasting to be an option. Caramelizing them in a skillet would concentrate the flavor and any juices left behind could be deglazed with a little of the dessert wine, flavored with vanilla and cinnamon, and reduced to create a pan sauce. I also grabbed some raspberries and alpine (day neutral) strawberries to either make a sauce for the peaches or perhaps for breakfast.

Leaving the market, I saw some beautiful squash blossoms and purchased them thinking I could stuff them with herbs and goat cheese and steam them or perhaps batter and fry as an appetizer (neither of which cam to pass). I also grabbed a few small summer squash.

I then headed down to St. Marks to pick up my lovely friend at her wonderful tea shop
. She works nonstop to make this tranquil and somewhat funky establishment the gem it is. Frankly I was delighted I could persuade her to leave it for a couple of days for a road trip. If you are anywhere near, you absolutely must visit. Their selection of loose teas is astonishing. Many
fair trade
, organic, or biodynamic with all sorts of elegant blends. My happiness at having stumbled upon this little bijou cannot be adequately described.

After a fairly smooth drive up the Northway we crossed into Vermont at the Rouses Point bridge and arrived at Isle La Motte only slightly worse for wear. We unloaded the cooler and wines and I got to cooking.

First I unwrapped the lamb. It was beautiful- a little salt and pepper, a quick sear on the stovetop, a light crusting of chopped rosemary and thyme with a little mustard and some confited garlic mashed to a paste after browning, cooked to medium rare- I couldn't wait to cook it! I started the confit of garlic; it's a fairly effortless process with a nice result. Any leftover garlic can be stored under the oil in the refrigerator under the oil, the oil being useful for sauteeing and also as a flavoring for pasta or as a finishing oil.

Next a potato gratin- garlic rubbed gratin dish, thinly-sliced russet potatoes, layers of Pleasant Ridge and Parmigiano, finished with heavy cream, into the oven. Perhaps a little rich, but there is a slight chill to the night air, summer will be over soon.

Moving on to the ragout -festivale!, as my friend Eddie calls it- top and tail the wax beans, shuck the corn & slice kernels from cob, peel and slice carrots, top and tail green onions, shuck cranberry beans, cook in a little stock with a bit of prosciutto and a handful of savory and a few garlic cloves. Blanch assorted vegetables in plenty of boiling salted water until just underdone (they will be reheated in beurre fondue right before serving), shock in ice water, dry, set aside.

Goat cheese is mild and creamy with a slight tartness; I decide it will go nicely with tomato salad. Best to serve that with well-chilled Sancerre; it has a vibrant acidity to stand up to the acid of a vinaigrette (sherry, in the this case) and bright fruitiness to echo the late-season sweetness of the tomatoes, with just a hint of grassiness to highlight the herbs and the crumbled young crottin. I slice a sweet onion thinly, sprinkling it with a good sherry vinegar; this eliminates the harshness of the raw onion while gracing the vinegar with its flavor. I slice the tomatoes and dust them with Maldon salt. Later when I anoint them with the vinaigrette their juices will mingle with the fruity olive oil and the tart vinegar. Add torn fresh herbs- basil, apple mint, parsley- and the onions and goat cheese and you have something that just radiates late summer ripeness.

The lamb having rested at room temperature sprinkled with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper was placed in a very hot pan that had been filmed with oil. Browned well on all sides (eye, included) , it was then coated with a paste made from some smashed garlic confit, mixed with Dijon mustard and minced herbs. This allows the meat to caremelise in the pan developing complex flavors and then for the addition of more aromatic flavors that with permeate the meat under the less extreme heat of the remaining cooking time in the oven.

While the lamb finished in the oven I made a beurre fondue in which to heat the vegetables for the ragout. Beurre fondue is very helpful for warming delicate items for service and giving them a little flavor. It's also handy for finishing shellfish (the now ubiquitous butter poached lobster). After emulsifying the butter with just simmering water, I added the blanched, shocked, and dried vegetables to make a light stew. This allowed each vegetable to retain its integrity while blending as a whole with the sauce as its medium. Some torn herbs, sliced radishes, quartered grape tomatoes, and julienned prosciutto to finish and we were in business.

I removed the lamb from the oven and let it stand before carving, the residual heat bringing it from almost bloody to medium rare. You have to let the juices redistribute before carving or all their flavor will lie in a puddle on the board and not within the meat, a tragic ending after careful meat selection and proper cooking. Do not underestimate the importance of this. These details distinguish and good cook from an adequate one. After the appropriate wait the lamb was carved, placed on a platter and garnished with the flowering tops of a few sprigs of savory and thyme.

Finally sitting down and catching my breath, I was thankful for the company and the opportunity that all these lovely ingredients had provided me. The tomato and goat cheese salad and crisp Sancerre were summery cool and refreshing. The ragout a reminder of the wide range of possibilities at the Greenmarket. The gratin, something rich and hearty for the cool evening. The lamb juicy cooked to the right temperature, the herb/mustard/garlic coating it accents the rich mineral flavor of the meat. The Napa Valley Syrah perhaps a hint too tannic, brash in its youth, but full of promise, making me glad I've a few bottles in the cellar for later.
Most of all I'm delighted to be sharing this evening with friends, each of whom makes me feel lucky for knowing them, and amazed by this good fortune.