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Archive for July, 2008

As the kitchen workhorse in my family, I tend to keep preparations fairly simple, hoping the ingredients will speak for themselves. John, my most frequent culinary co-conspirator is a bit more daring than I am, and if we cook something that involves blow torches or skewers or reduced sauces, he’s probably the brains behind the operation. So it was with this fish, of which, I admit, I was highly suspicious. I recant entirely. I t was fun to cook and extremely tasty. When It came time to file the story, I thought John should do the honors. — Maria

In what now seems like a biennial cooking device splurge event, Maria and I recently popped for a Big Green Egg, a Kamado-style ceramic cooker that uses lump charcoal. Why the heck would we spend that kind of money on a grill? That’s a question we went around on for over a year. We were drawn to the BGE for a variety of reasons, though not primarily the ability to cook a steak at a reliable 650deg without the flames scorching it to a crisp. High heat definitely was a factor, but primarily so that we could create a stand-in for the wood-fired pizza oven I lust after but probably won’t build until we move to Orcas Island. Another reason was slow cooking—the BGE’s ability to reliably hold a low temperature for many hours on to cook things like pulled pork barbeque or brisket. That said, when it came to our regular Saturday night extravaganza, the first thing we decided to try was whole fish.

The big question was what sort of fish to cook. Definitely not planked salmon–we wanted this baby to take advantage of the BGE’s ability to create a combination of baking (without losing moisture), smoking and charcoal cooking effect. I managed to twist Maria’s arm and to get her to try a recipe for salt-baked fish. This is one that’s well-treated in Epicurious and draws on a couple of excellent recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appétit. The recipe from the BGE Forum’s cookbook helps translate the more conventional recipe to the BGE environment.

The process is exceptional in a variety of ways. With regard to the BGE, there’s the prospect of putting this odd fish preparation on a stack of seven sheets of newspaper over 400 degrees of fiery wood heat without the whole thing catching fire. Amazing. With regard to the salt crusting process, it’s the element of putting a vast amount of salt with the consistency of wet sand on a couple of fish and having the resulting fish not only not be salty, but also be incredibly moist and tasty.

I won’t try to provide the recipe here (my suggestion is to have a look at the BGE recipe and the Bon Appétit recipe, and invent something yourself), and instead to show the steps in the process.

  1. It’s worth saying, first of all, that we hit the wrong time of year to get Branzini at a reasonable price. Rather than have us spend $60 on fish for two, Monahan’s, our great fish monger directed us to a sweet couple of white bass at about 1/10th the price. No, not a great Mediterranean fish, but this process took our two humble fish and turned them into something extraordinary. Here they are, stuffed with lime slices , garlic and flat-leaf parsley.
  2. Mixing the salt with egg whites created a substance like wet sand which we used to cover the fish in two great heaping mounds.
  3. As the BGE recipe suggests, what you want to aim for is something golden and cakey. That’s a breeze with the BGE, incidentally. Just peek through the chimney occasionally. Helps to have a flashlight! It took about twenty minutes to get to this point.
  4. Now, granted, a fully-cooked and partially prepared fish is not necessarily the prettiest sight, but it should be very clear from this picture that the fish was cooked perfectly and extremely moist. The taste of the fish was stunningly good.

Combined with a nice salsa verde like the one in Bon Appétit or the one we threw together with tomatillos, it makes for a pleasant summer’s meal under the stars.

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photo courtesy of Maria

photo courtesy of Maria

My favorite DJ on WFMU once told a story about the time she spun records at the wedding of a friend who insisted that she play songs from a prescribed playlist only and refrain from taking requests. But as these things often go, one of the bridesmaids got soused and asked the DJ repeatedly to please play some James Brown, to which the DJ replied that she had none of his albums on hand. The desperate bridesmaid made a last attempt, screeching “Come on–you really don’t have any James Brown? Not even for emergencies?!”

It’s true: some emergencies call for the Godfather of Soul. Others call for more humble–yet still soulful–pleasures, like sour cherry cobbler.

I had myself a little emergency situation this past Saturday at my moving-out yard sale. Two hours in, and a mere fifty bucks richer, the skies opened up and a summer storm rained me out. My morning help had left to tend to trifles like lawn-cutting and dissertation-writing, and I found myself in the unenviable position of trying desperately to save a bunch of crap I wanted to get rid of in the first place.

Enter the across-the-street neighbor with a plastic tarp with which to cover the final few items that didn’t fit into plastic tubs.

Enter two other friends, the afternoon shift, with fixings for mimosas and helping hands to shuttle my belongings to the covered porch.

Enter a sour cherry cobbler, baked the night before, to nourish the rescuers.

Disaster averted.

All of your emergency situations will be thus easily dispensed with, if only you have sour cherry cobbler–heck, any summer fruit cobbler–at the ready.

Well, that, or a James Brown record.

Sour Cherry Cobbler for Emergencies

1) Filling, via Epicurious

4 cups sour cherries, picked over, rinsed, and drained well
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Working over a bowl pit the cherries, discarding the pits and reserving the cherries and any juices in the bowl.

Add to the cherries the cornstarch, 2/3 cups of the sugar, the lemon juice, and almond extract. Stir, and set aside.

2) Topping, via Alice Waters’s recipe for Sweet Cream Biscuits from The Art of Simple Food

Stir together:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 t salt
4 t sugar
2 t baking powder

Add:
6 T (3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces

Cut butter into the flour with your fingers or pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

Measure 3/4 cup heavy cream. Remove 1 T and set aside. Lightly stir in the remainder of the cream with a fork until the mixture just comes together. Lightly knead the dough a couple of times in the bowl, turn out on a lightly floured board, and roll out about 3/4 think. Cut into circles or squares (I like the square shape, just to be different), re-rolling the scraps if necessary.

3) Putting it all together:

Pour the cherry mixture into a 2-3 qt. baking dish.

Carefully lay the biscuit circles or squares, depending, on top of the cherries, in a pattern that pleases you.

Brush the tops with the tablespoon of heavy cream and sprinkle a generous amount of demerara (about 2 T) on top before placing it into the oven.

Bake for about 30-40 mins at 375, until the biscuit top is golden and the sugar goes all crystallized. Serve with lots of freshly whipped cream, to which you’ve added a teaspoon or so of vanilla and sugar to your liking. Feed to heroes of all stripes, small children, lovers, or perhaps beloved pets.

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Gathered in season, served at the peak of ripeness, fruit is a perfect reflection of the moment. — Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food

I know what T. S. Eliot says about April and all, but sometimes I wonder if the cruelest months aren’t the hot ones of summer. At least, that is, if you long for the produce that comes in during high summer. I mean, I do long, I yearn, I stay awake at night, fretting over unrequited desire. Each week, I throw sidelong glances at the market tables, restraining my hope, prepared for disappointment. It’s too soon, too soon, there can’t be corn yet, any tomatoes would only be regrettable and forgettable. Peaches? Surely not.

And then it happens. Really, there are hints, if you look closely. A few ears of corn shoved to one side of a table full of greens and beans and the first summer squash. Some baskets of cherry tomatoes, the early raspberries trickling in. Despite these early indicators, the true summer harvest always seems to hit for me with gale force winds, sprung up overnight. I sail right in. Swamp me, please.

I’ve waited so long, but then, and here’s the cruel part, when summer finally arrives, in all of its abundance, it’s almost too much. After those weeks of holding back, summer’s suddenly all wanton and abandoned, and I can”t keep up. There’s just not enough time, money and room in the belly to appreciate it all. I wander the aisles of the farmer’s market, a bit dazed, and within about half an hour I’m thirty dollars poorer, my bags are overflowing, and I’m not sure how I’ll ever get to really enjoy all those tastes I’ve spent ten months waiting for. Now I’m awake at night scheming menus and meal plans to use up the piles of wonderfully ripe produce that sit on my counter, always inching perilously nearer to the precipice of rot.

And of course I wouldn’t change it for the world. Summer, the real summer of the possibility of heat stroke and the infinite wonder of ice cold lemonade and slipping into wading pools and tossing off the sheets at night, that kind of summer, happened these past couple of weeks. And brought with it the produce-that-seemed-like-it would-never-come. We sliced the first tomatoes. I taught my almost-three year old how to shuck corn. I bit into the first ripe Flaming Fury peach, and really, for a moment, I wanted to cry, overcome by the taste-memory of peaches of the past, the hope of years of peaches to come, and the unalloyed pleasure of the peach of the moment. Ah, cruel summer. Torment me some more.

So. Saturday night dinner. Almost too simple to record, but I offer it here to remind that sometimes the best preparations are the simplest. With one little flourish, an espresso based rub via Bobby Flay that we made a few weeks ago and have been going to over and over to add a touch of complexity to grilled meats.

A Saturday Summer Supper

  • Sliced tomato with fruity olive oil and coarse sea salt and thin ribbons of fresh basil. (Normally, I would sprinkle on a little balsamic vinegar, but I really wanted to taste just the tomato on that first one. The flavor really opens up after the tomato for a half hour or so in the oil).
  • (Tantre Farms) corn on the cob. My oh-so-secret method is to shuck, rinse, drop in boiling water, cover the pot, turn off the flame. Take out in four or five minutes. Roll around in unsalted butter and sprinkle with fleur de sel which is like fairy dust or crack for fresh vegetables. Make sure to leave a puddle of butter and salt on the plate for mopping up with a baguette.
  • Alice Water’s Swiss Chard Gratin. This was written up the other day over at The Wednesday Chef, but I swear to god I had The Art of Simple Food open to that page before I saw the post. Of course butter and cream help just about anything, but this is one of those more than the sum of the parts dishes. Easy and delicious and its creaminess a nice counterpoint to the rest of the meal. Highly recommended for those of you with CSA swiss chard languishing in the fridge.
  • Thick cut bone in pork chops, coated with espresso rub (see below). I never remember to put the rub on until about an hour before and that works fine, but I suspect longer would be better. Chops a little more than an inch thick took about twelve minutes on the grill and rested for ten (we were aiming for medium rare and these tilted toward medium, so you could be even more aggressive in pulling them off the goals).
  • For dessert, a peach. Ah.

Bobby Flay’s Espresso Rub for Grilled Meats

Combine:

1/4 cup ancho chili powder
1/4 cup finely ground espresso
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground ginger

Coat the meat with a bit of olive oil first and then rub all over with the mix. Works really well for pork loin and ribs, in addition to chops. Rub keeps well in a jar in the refrigerator.

From Bobby Flay’s Grilling For Life. (A very nice book, by the way, for those who are in the process of moving beyond basic burgers on the grill but still need some good advice and recipe ideas).

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Several days of vacation and intense engagement with my farm-share have made me much less cranky then when last I posted. Since the psychic and monetary cost of fuel consumption has become so crushing, we engaged in (what I understand to be) the very trendy “staycation,” Which was actually pretty great. There were potlucks, fireworks, visits to the farmer’s market, visits to the black raspberry bushes in the backyard, lots of gardening for me (with a little poison ivy to spice it up), a trip to the Toledo Zoo, DVD watching (The Spiderwick Chronicles for the kids, Knocked Up and LOTS of The Wire for the grown ups), shopping at thrift stores, hanging out at Top of the Park, splashing in the little backyard wading pool, bike rides, swimming and a little camping. (As a gratuitous aside, the day we went to the zoo we also hoped to hit a Toledo Mudhens game but we were afraid of overtaxing the kids. I was quite sorry though because it was “Prostate Health Awareness Night” at the park, and I was really curious about the give-aways.)

And of course, as with any good vacation, the question of “what shall we eat tonight” consumed an inordinate about of conversational space. The leitmotif of most of the week was a big pot of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans. These beans were featured in some pretty high-class quesadillas, in a penance (that is, after-decadence) meal of sauteed kale and beans, and in a farm-share dinner of sauteed greens, shreds of proscuitto, and a smattering of flageolet topped with softly fried eggs. All humble but worthy dishes.

Where did all this flageolet-ness come from in the first place? (And did you know that a flageolet is also a woodwind musical instrument and a member of the fipple flute family and that the flageolet register is highest register of the human voice lying above the modal register and falsetto register? But now I seriously digress and must be recalled from my pleasure in saying “flipple flute family” ten times fast.) About two months ago, the forces of the blogosphere, coupled with my nagging guilt that I was in some way cheating by always using canned beans, drove me to order a Rancho Gordo sampler (cannellini, borlotti, scarlet runner and flageolet beans). They arrived in the mail, I unpacked them with pleasure and put them away with a sense of anticipation

And there they sat. I opened the cupboard and pointedly looked past them. I reached for the pasta. Risotto is good. I feel like a salad tonight. Because, you see, dried beans scare me. I used to try to cook them in college, when I shopped in dusty hippy stores and fished beans out of deep bins, and I remember days of soaking, followed by hours of cooking, resulting in eating something resembling the surface of my driveway. Later I bought a pressure cooker, which did much better with my beans, but since I was usually recovering from heart palpitations induced by fear-of-pressure-cooker (“she’s going to blow Jim, she’s going to blow!) by the time dinner was ready, I didn’t really enjoy the results too much.

But vacation and its long stretches of lazy time makes one brave. I pulled the beans out and dumped them in a pot and covered them with water. I looked around a bit on the Internets and didn’t actually find much advice about what to do with flageolet except straight from Rancho Gordo’s mouth — “don’t mess with them much.” Instructions I heeded, to good effect. I soaked the beans eight hours or so (I peeked in the pot about halfway through and all the water was absorbed, so I dumped some more on). Then I turned the heat way up under the pot, looking for a hard boil. While that was going on, I sauteed some minced garlic and onion in olive oil (carrot and celery would have been good too, but there wasn’t any). After the beans had been boiling for about five minutes in their water, I turned the heat, way, way down, dumped in the aromatics, covered the pot and left it mostly alone. Oh sure, there was the anxious glance into the pot once in a while, but really, I barely stirred. After about an hour, I threw in some strips of fresh sage from the garden. After an hour and twenty minutes, I pulled out a bean and tasted, sure that I was about to experience a revelation. A pebble, albeit a tasty one. An hour and forty got me to something more like a relatively fresh peanut texture. Two hours? Very good indeed. Leftovers, after two reheatings? Magnifique. Patience is rewarded.

We had the first beans with grilled lamb loin chops and a very nice Chateauneuf de Pape that was a gift from neighbors who moved to Seattle (“we can’t take this on the plane, do you want it?” — well, gosh, if it will just go to waste . . .) and ended the evening with a broken bar of bittersweet chocolate and dark cherries just hours off the tree. There was a little firefly watching involved and much praising of the weather. Summer has many pleasures.

Don’t Mess With It Much Flageolet and Lamb

Cook the flageolet, as above. Perhaps add a half hour to the cooking time (making it closer to two and half: I understand this varies with the freshness of the beans) for a just-right consistency right out of the pot the first time.

While the flageolet are cooking, take some fresh oregano (a really good fistful; if you are a smallish person, perhaps two) and put it in the blender or food processor with a couple of cloves of garlic and some coarse salt. With the motor running, drizzle in half a cup or so of olive oil, until you have something that looks more or less like pesto. Rub this paste all over some lamb loin chops; cover with plastic and set in the refrigerator. Poke at them once in a while. Or not.

Near the end of the bean cooking process, prepare a grill, wipe the paste off the chops and cook them over a relatively hot fire for probably a little less time than you think you should unless you are devoted to eradicating all pink from your meat. These chops were a bit more than an inch thick and we grilled them for five minutes a side. Let the chops rest for ten minutes or until your patience wears thin.

Arrange the lamb as decoratively as you can on the beans. Drizzle with some lemon juice and sprinkle a little parsley on top. Sit outside, if possible. Toast the wine-giving neighbors, the soft night air and the virtues of simplicity.

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Regular readers will know that we’ve been following the developments at Everyday Cook for the past year or so, because a) we like the people over there b) we love the food and wine over there and c) we really love the way in which they/re trying to make quality food and wine and the fun that comes with it an (yes) everyday and affordable part of Ann Arbor life. We were really pleased to stop by Everyday Wines this week and see the news about their new downtown development liquor license (the first awarded!) and all the plans afoot for the Everyday Cook space — including, in the near term, takeout. I’m especially looking forward to that, hoping it might fill the hole left in my life (and stomach) left by the departure of The Jefferson Market. Congratulations to Mary and all the good folks over at EC. Read all about it on their blog.

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It’s not easy to love kohlrabi. Just look at it. It’s a stout, chubby bulb with little spindly little arms, which you must hack away in order to peel, slice, and eat the damn thing. It looks like what the Ewoks could have nibbled on when they weren’t fighting stormtroopers. An alien thing, this unlovely cousin of cabbage. I’ve honestly been a little scared of it. In fact, Maria and I pretty much ignored our kohlrabi from last year’s farm share. An e-mail exchange last July went pretty much like this:

Maria: Do you want anything extra this week from the share?
Me: Nah, but thanks. I really, really hope we don’t get kohlrabi.
Maria: I still have my kohlrabi from about a month ago. I can relieve your conscience and toss back a kohlrabi if you want.
Me: That’s hilarious, because I still have all 3 I’ve ever gotten. Every time I open the right crisper drawer, there they are, staring at me.

[Well, I ignored it; she boldly did her kohlrabi duty.]

I’m happy to say that I’ve now come to terms with this oddball vegetable. Unwilling to face the guilt of throwing away good food, and determined to come up with a pleasurable way to consume it (not raw!), I did my research. I turned up many a colelsaw-like recipe, and transformed them into something I’m inclined to call “kohlrabi confetti.”

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To make this slaw, you’ll need:

2 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled
1 apple (preferably a tart one), peeled
4 radishes
2 scallions
a handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves
a handful of mint leaves
juice of 2 limes
salt

If you have a food processor, making this coleslaw is a breeze. Just chop up the apple and kohlrabi into chunks and let the grater attachment work its magic. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate by hand. Slice the radishes into little matchsticks. Coarsely chop the parsley and mint — the exact amounts do not matter. Toss everything together in a bowl, and add lime juice and salt to taste.

This slaw is cool, crisp and refreshing, an excellent foil for spicy food. I served it with grilled jerk pork tenderloin sandwiches, on challah hot dog buns.

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Other kohlrabi slaw recipes from around the web:
Kohlrabi & Apple Slaw with Creamy Coleslaw Dressing
Kohlrabi Slaw
Asian-style kohlrabi slaw

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