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Archive for November, 2008

Putting Down Roots

As most of you know, it’s getting pretty darn cold around here.  There’s no more flirtation with Indian Summer, no thinking that we’ll have some more long, warm afternoons to clean up the garden, maybe sit on the deck with a cup of tea, play some ball with the kids.  It’s all mittens and hats, waiting for the windshield to defrost in the car and hunching against the wind.  And root vegetables. Lots of root vegetables.

Shana did the honors of getting the Thanksgiving share from the market on Saturday morning. As the folks from Tantre Farm suggested, she went early, because the longer the vegetables were out the more likely they were to freeze.  It was seventeen degrees at seven a.m.  My household, taking advantage of her generosity, stayed home and warm, ate pancakes and made our way over to Shana’s place by 10 or so, to split up the big boxes of produce.

The vegetables were cold and most of them were a bit dirty (Shana and Naomi gave identical girl squeals when something with many legs crawled out of the bag of turnips).  But when I got home and sorted them out as the late morning sun streamed into my kitchen, I discovered that something in me has changed over the years in Michigan.  Each beet, sprout, and even rutabaga, objects I would have formerly eyed with suspicion and disdain, was lovely, their colors and textures as compelling as the summer seduction of peaches or bright berries. Not, perhaps, so easily loved, so come hither. But beautiful nonetheless.

And this is the lesson I’m trying to remember as we head into winter. Don’t fight winter — be in it.  In all the the cold and mud and ice and endless Michigan grey, there’s beauty too. You have to dig a bit for it; you have to stop, unclench your huddled shoulders, take a deep breath.  But it’s there and sometimes all it takes is a stray sunbeam to reveal it.

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Here are some things that are inspiring me this weekend:

  • Enjoying reading the special food issue of the New Yorker (11/24/2008) and Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook
  • Making and eating these molasses-chocolate-ginger cookies
  • Gearing up to make Texas Beef Brisket Chili
  • I can’t seem to stop listening to this song as I work in the kitchen lately (and really wishing I could dance like that. These folks have figured it out.)
  • Doing a bit of food-geeking-out on Cookstr
  • Exploring new (to me) Michigan food blogs, like fast grow the weeds
  • Reminiscing about the summer market:
    The way things were

    The way things were

  • Marveling at the seasonal bounty from our Thanksgiving share (many dozens of pounds worth), and at what was on view at the market this morning
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What has been inspiring you?

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It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving and good, well-organized cooks everywhere have planned their menus, assembled their shopping lists and are about to embark upon an epic cooking adventure.

And then there are the rest of us. Well, actually, and then there’s me.  About half the time I’m a good cook(the other half I would say I’m a very utilitarian cook).  But I would not call myself well-organized. Planning ahead, for me, generally means pulling the cookbooks out on Saturday morning when I’m starting to think about Saturday night.

But Shana and Anne? Man, they put me to shame.  These women know how to put together a menu. Anne, in particular, puts all of her considerable organizational skills into menu-planning. The woman is a demon with a pack of post-it notes and a pile of cooking magazines. They keep me on my toes, those two, and in effort to learn from their good example, I actually planned my menu more than a full week ahead.

But I don’t expect the same from you. So, in the spirit of sharing the planning load, I present three variations on a theme, in the hopes they might inspire. Each of us has started with the idea of Thanksgiving, but each of us is cooking for a very different crowd in terms of numbers, ages and tastes. We helped each other out a bit, and here’s what we came up. So, without further ado, three menus, each one constructed in response to constraints as well as opportunity.

Shana Cooks for the Family

The crowd: The Kimball Family

The constraint: As with every family Thanksgiving, some items are non-negotiable

Shana’s notes: This is a rough sketch. Starters and dessert are TBD. As is where I should source the turkey. I’m worried that this menu is too sweet. Suggestions are welcome about how to add some contrast or otherwise offset the carby-sweetness. (Though this is just the problem of thanksgiving, isn’t it?)

SALAD

greens w/ pears, walnuts, blue cheese

-or-

Radicchio and Radish Salad with Pear and Parmesan

BIRD

salted roast turkey with herbs and shallot-dijon gravy

TUBERS

mashed potatoes [a la my mom]

OR

w/ creme fraiche and chives

SWEET TUBERS

Garnet yams with maple syrup and maple sugar streusel

CRAN

cranberry-pomegranate

-or-
Cranberry Chutney with Crystallized Ginger and Dried Cherries

BRUSSELS

Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Poppy Seeds and Lemon

-or-

Brussels sprouts with currants and chestnuts

Anne cooks NY Style

The crowd: Anne’s hip New York City friends and family

The constraint: A New York City apartment kitchen

Anne notes: We are going to go to Chelsea market or somewhere else fun on Sat and buy noshes like cheese pate etc.,

My girlfriend is doing this panzanella as a first course:

then for the main I’m doing this:

Roast Squab with Bacon and Grapes

with a trio of purees:

Vichy Carrot Puree

Chestnut Puree

Celery Root and Turnip Puree

Then my friend is making an apple tart that we will serve with crème fraiche.

NB: Anne is actually cooking her dinner this very weekend, so early reports may be in on Monday or Tuesday.

Maria Cooks Thanksgiving in Minature

The crowd: Family of four, two of whom are way under legal drinking age, one of whom is under three feet.

The constraint: Pleasing four variously developed palates. The need to use up some of the great big Thanksgiving share due to arrive from Tantre Farm. And a smoked turkey. What sides complement smokiness?

Homemade assorted cheddar crisps to snack on

Smoked/grilled turkey (exact brining method is still under discussion) from The Big Green Egg.

Savory bread pudding (exact plan TBD but along these lines)

Cubed  turnips and sweet potatoes, tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper, roasted

Brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts.

Salad of some sort (On the light, palate cleansing side), with some cheeses

Pear cobbler with dried blueberries.

Shana kindly pointed out that there is no cranberry sort of thing here. Must think about that. Maybe those pickled grapes of hers?

Tune in next week to see if any of us actually stuck to our menus. The best-laid plans . . . Looking forward to hearing reports from out there in the cooking world.

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In the nearly thirteen years I’ve lived in Big 10 university towns, I believe I have attended three, count ’em three, college football games. One of my father’s favorite jokes is to call me up on days that Penn State and Michigan play each other and chide me about how difficult it must be for me — who will I root for?

It’s true: I don’t give give a hoot about college ball. But I can get into the rivalry when good wine is at stake. This Sunday night, our friend Julie invited the G3 to a Michigan vs. Ohio wine-judging event at Vinology. She lined up some expert judges to do the real evaluations and we amateurs followed along with our own score sheets. Had I known what was ahead of me, I would have trained–or at least eaten more than eggs and toast that day.

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From the press release:

Ahead of the legendary gridiron clash, wine lovers in Michigan and Ohio assembled to determine whose wines would triumph in a head-to-head clash. The Slow Food chapters of Columbus and Huron Valley are pleased to congratulate the winners:

Sparkling Wine: Shady Lane Cellars Blanc de Blancs 2000 (MI)

Aromatic White: Ferrante “Golden Bunches”Riesling 2007 (OH)

White Wine: Black Star Farms “Arcturos” Chardonnay sur lie 2006 (MI)

Pinot Noir: Black Star Farms “Arcturos” Pinot Noir 2006 (MI)

Red Wine: Kinkead Ridge Revelation 2006 (OH)

Michigan took 3 of 5 categories–go blue!

I tasted so many wines that night–more than 25–that I couldn’t quite keep them all straight. (Because there were so many, you see.) But I do remember digging the “Arcuturos” Pinot Noir, which one of the judges, Joel Goldberg of MichWine and of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Arbor Vinous column, pronounced a “hellaciousy good wine for 11 bucks.” I don’t know enough about wine to comment with authority about its body, texture, bouquet, and all that, but I did find the combination of thrift and local spirit quite appealing.

11/21/2008 update: The Ann Arbor Chronicle has written up a much more informative and thorough report than my little squib here. Check it out for all the juicy details.

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Photo used under a CC license, courtesty of that blonde girl on flickr

Photo used under a CC license, courtesty of that blonde girl on flickr

It’s taken a lifetime for me to get around to eating greens, especially any green other than lettuce. Growing up, greens were just not part of my vegetable lexicon (not much was).  In college, I started to eat some varieties of lettuce and learned to appreciate spinach, but for years I contemplated the acres of leafy green stuff in the produce section at the supermarket with incomprehension. Who, I wondered, really ate that stuff? Surely it was merely decorative, but if so, did it actually get replenished, or did it just languish there, somehow, miraculously and perpetually green?

But thanks to my CSA box, the past few years I’ve undergone a conversion experience.  The first year, I admit, a lot of green stuff found its way into the compost heap. But my guilt got the better of me, and in year two, I started tentatively exploring some ways to cook greens.  The third year was the turning point.  When CSA season had passed, I actually went to Whole Foods and plunked down money for kale. There’s been no going back. This year? Bring on the greens, baby.

Once you’ve learned to appreciate kale, you can feel really smug, because it is indisputably good for you. Vitamin A? Check. Antioxidants? You betcha.  Fibrous? Oh yeah.   But like so many of us, kale’s a little hard to learn to love.  A ways back when I wrote about our CSA, my niece Elsa, the coolest United Church of Christ minister in the state of Maine and young single person learning to cope with her first CSA box, said something along the lines of “I sure need those recipes for kale.” I failed her, until today.

So Elsa, this one’s for you, and for all those who are finding their way into the kale fold.

I had two gateway drugs:

The first is a non-recipe, really.  Remove the tough stems of the kale, chop what’s left, saute it in some olive oil at medium high heat until it’s melted down,  pour a little liquid in the pan, enough so the kale steams a bit in it, cover and simmer for five minutes. Meanwhile, saute some garlic, onion and crumbled hot Italian sausage in some olive oil; at the same time prepare some pasta — I like penne for this dish.  When the sausage has cooked through, add the kale and cook together for a few minutes.  When the penne is done, drain, reserving some of the pasta water, add the penne to the sausage and vegetables and moisten with the pasta water as desired.  Grate a ridiculous amount of fresh Parmesan cheese on top.

The second, and I’ve turned this one out week after week after over the summer, is a frittata recipe over at Orangette. Eggs, cheddar, red onion and kale. What’s not to love? The kale you say? Try it and see.

Kale actually seems to be quite trendy now.  I think the turn toward local sourcing has made necessity the mother of invention. Kale is easy to grow in cool climates and has a long growing season, so it’s often readily available when the more glamorous vegetables are gone.  If you’re ready to move on to greater kale adventures, try one of these:

Danny Meyer writes on Bitten about the Wonders of Stale Bread. One of those wonders? A bread soup with lamb sausage and kale, a simple soup of sautéed sausage, carrots, celery, onion, kale and garlic, simmered in crushed tomatoes and water (or stock) with chunks of crusty bread stirred in right before serving.

A couple of days before, on the same blog, Emily Weinstein explored three kale recipes: with a poached egg on top of toast, flash-fried and in white bean soup.

And just today, The Wednesday Chef cooked up some Taglietelle with Braised Kale and Ricotta

Work your way through those, and you, too will be thinking “kale, it’s what’s for dinner.

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Since sharing with you some stupid things I do in the kitchen, I’m finding myself in a rather tell-all mode. Don’t worry, I’m not going all truth & dare on you, but I do want to confess my undying affection for all things pickled. Since I was a little girl, kindergarten-age or so, one of my favorite snacks was kosher dill pickles. My brother and I were so into them that my mother had to keep gallon-size containers in the fridge just to support our habit. Strange, I know, but also typical of my and my brother’s weirdness as kids. (I.e., we were known in our teenage years to engage in screaming fights over whether the U.S. constitution should be interpreted according to the founders’ original intention (him), or whether it was a “living document” whose meaning would change over time (me). But I digress.)

We didn’t make our own pickles at home. That practice didn’t start for me until, after a visit to Seattle’s Boat Street Cafe and savoring a plate of assorted pickles that is a specialty of this Provencal-inspired restaurant. Each vegetable and fruit was pickled in a different brine, and I was blown away by the strong yet subtle and nuanced flavors in each. They were beautiful to boot.

I recently discovered that Boat Street is now selling their pickles to the world, not just to those lucky Seattleites, which is super exciting to me. Check it out: pickled figs, raisins, red onions, and prunes. I hope Zingerman’s is reading this.

So until I place my order, or until my local gourmet food emporium starts carrying them, I’ll continue making refrigerator pickles chez moi. Until the other day, I had only made quick vegetable pickles. I was a little skeptical of giving the pickle treatment to fruit–in this case grapes–but I needn’t have been. Making pickles out of fresh or dried fruits makes you feel like you’re tasting that fruit for the first time. It tempers and heightens the sweetness of the fruit, confusing your tastebuds a little bit but only in exciting, tangy ways. I’ve been eating these pickles with pork and duck, and I have a mind to serve them as a bold alternative to the canonical Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. Renegade pickle-lover that I am.

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Pickled Grapes
Adapted from a recipe in The Times Picayune, which I tracked down after reading about Orangette’s adventures with quick pickles

Makes about 3 cups

1 pound seedless grapes (I used a combination of red and green)

1 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon allspice

1 (2 1/2-inch) cinnamon stick

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

Rinse and dry the grapes, and pull them carefully from their stems. Put the grapes into a medium bowl, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; then pour the mixture immediately over the grapes.

Stir to combine. Set aside to cool at room temperature.

Pour the grapes and brine into jars with tight-fitting lids (or cover the bowl with plastic wrap), and chill at least 8 hours or overnight. Serve cold. Keeps for a few weeks in the fridge, if you can leave them alone for that long.

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Shana and Maria have been carrying the load as usual lately, so I volunteered to post this one.

From Maria:

Our weekend was all about Project Get Better. We had David and Anthea and Mia (David says “hi Anne!) over Friday and ate NYPD pizza and drank bad box wine (we have to do a post on the pizza in this town; I used to think NYPD was a good fallback, but it’s really taken a dive. And Silvio’s wouldn’t even pick up the phone Friday night!) and felt like crap the next morning, both of us manifesting sinus infection symptoms.  So the rest of the weekend was all about ginger infusions and oatmeal and antioxidant smoothies and long saunas and deep cleansing breathing. By Saturday night, I was seriously on the mend and pulled together a braised pork shoulder with apples and those roasted brussel sprouts with gorgonzola Shana recommended last weekend. Good! And only one short glass of wine in deference to the project.  Sunday night, John rallied enough to turn out a very nice white pizza (Zingerman’s fresh ricotta and mozzarella, blended with some garlic and rosemary and drizzled with hot chili oil when it came out of the oven), while I pursued bread baking. It was quite the yeast filled afternoon.  A pleasant weekend, if a bit inert. I need to get some physical activity soon or I’m going to go nuts.   I didn’t get to work on the the Thanksgiving menu or recipes for Locavorius.  Sigh. I guess that’s what work time is for.

Pork Shoulder Braised with Apples in Cider

Pork Shoulder Braised with Apples in Cider

From Shana:

(Shana is excused because she already posted about her amazing pre-Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday- although when I called her for menu advice on Friday night, for my own pre-thanksgiving menu (which will be next Sat with my NYC friends/family), she was making marrow bones to serve on toast, with possibly an omelet to follow. So very Shana!)

From me (Anne):

Friday night Lenny had rehearsal so we had a late supper of pan-fried fillet mignons, sauteed shitake and crimini mushrooms, and garlic bread (made with a Jeff Renner baguette that was fortunately still available at Fresh Seasons when I got there around 7:15). There was something else with it but I’m too embarrassed to say – except that it was a vegetable-ish thing and it comes frozen in a box and I always crave it with steak and garlic bread. I’ll leave it at that. (I’m not spilling this time Maria so don’t even ask!)

Saturday was cold and lazy but Lenny was inspired by a picture on foodporndaily.com of a mustard glazed salmon served on green French lentils and mustard greens with a tarragon, mustard, chive butter. We had some kale on hand so substituted that, and it made for a great one plate dish with the lentils secured between the pan sauteed salmon filets and the sauteed kale. Phil at Whole Foods suggested a Northern Cal pinot noir (2007 Uptown Cellars) that went spectacularly with the dinner. All in all it was filling enough to forget about the piece of Achatz four-berry pie we had bought for dessert.

Sunday was another gray day, and after a very satisfying breakfast of canadian bacon nestled between fried eggs and multigrain toast, we staved off our hunger until the Michigan/Ohio wine tasting at Vinology (stay tuned for a post with all the details).

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