Saturday, May 29, 2010

To the Market

It used to be that going to the market was a sort of chore, an obligation, the only means of getting vegetables, some cheeses, some meats, and bread. Every couple of days someone in my house made the 10 minute walking trek to the market and got some things they had on the list and some that were a surprise of a new season--seasonal produce. That was nearly 20 years ago downtown Bucharest, pre-supermarkets, pre-year-round everything-produce, even pre-plastic bags for groceries.

The newest craze of cloth grocery bags that you reuse was the norm and a necessity back in the day in Romania. Farmers markets are now novelties both here and there; being able to walk to one is a special treat. And going to the market is no longer a chore – it is my favorite weekly activity!

There are hardly seasonal surprises in our eating patterns these days- watermelons in January seem to do just fine, shipped from half way around the world. I buy into it more often than I should, but the price is hardly worth it. The magic of our taste buds' memory has vanished- having everything, all the time, means not as flavourful, not as sweet, hardly ever new, and certainly not that exciting.

It has been a long while but I do still remember the moment when I had the first strawberry of the season each year straight from the farmers market. Tasting a fruit anew each year, discovering it again, remembering its texture and scent was what my childhood was about. The sweet flavoursome tang of the strawberry that I got to experience as a child was replicated each time a new fruit and vegetable came in season.

What is in season right now at least where I live is still delicate spring produce- still some asparagus, a lot of greens, ramps and green garlic, perhaps some turnips and radishes, not much of anything else. Not a large selection yet but one that can be twisted around in several ways you may not have experimented with before.

Take radishes- or take these radishes- a beautiful bunch of French radishes, a spring or early summer radish variety, from Cure Farm (my favorite produce at the Boulder Farmers Market!).

I bought them three weeks in a row and cannot wait to get me another bunch today! They are stunning but we never really know what to do with them. Aside from adding them as a complement to various salad combinations or doing the old-school butter/bread/radish tea-like sandwich, the options are limited. Here’s the thing- you can make a stand-alone appetizer or a side dish from a bunch of radishes. Seriously- you can. Roast them- watch.

Cure Farm Roasted Radishes Two Ways

Ingredients: 1 large bunch of radishes, 3 tablespoons butter, salt & pepper, freshly chopped flat leaf parsley.

Plus: 2 oz goat cheese, 6 slices of baguette if you choose the canapé version.

Heat up the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the radishes and trim the leaves and top root end. Split them in half lenghtwise or in quarters if they are round and plump. Put them in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a pan. Pour it over the radishes and mix them around to coat them evenly.

Put them in the oven for 30-40 minutes until they are soft and the very edges of them begin to turn golden-brown. Remove from the oven. The texture and flavor change significantly when you roast them. They become sweeter, losing the sharp bite and the crunch, and mimicking in a more tender way the taste and flavor of turnips.

Now, here are your options. Serve them as they come out sprinkled with a bit of fresh parsley along side your main course.

Or create a little canape by chopping the roasted radishes into smaller bit that will top toasted the slices of baguette, slathered with goat cheese. Top, of course, with some parsley.

And just for the record, I didn't have the brilliant idea of roasting radishes. I read this article and could not wait to try roasting them myself.

Head on over to the farmers market and see if you find any. And if you don’t, just get what is in season, something exciting that will refresh your seasonal taste memory. I am (still) hoping for sweet peas and fava beans. Have a happy and fun Memorial Day weekend!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Confession Wednesday- Addictions

Some think I overdo the white powder. I admit I use a lot of it. Overdoing denied. I couldn’t imagine life without the dizzying white substance. It makes everything it touches better- more intense, more powerful, more complete. The feel of the tiny white flakes on the tips of my fingers tickles my taste buds before it reaches them. The slow melt on my moist lips only fuels the craving.

It is not good for you, I was told many times. But the craving is there- I need it. If it were scarce, I’d hoard it. And I am not exactly shy about my habit. I will use it as often as can, getting my fix over the gasps and health related warnings. The simple white dust transforms bland into extraordinary. A sprinkle of it turns blah into wow. A pinch masks bitterness. And as it disintegrates, its little particles release pure magic.

Salt is amazing. And I have been addicted to it desperately for a long time. I have been known to have dinner somewhere and reach in the little jar with my fingers at the table only to taste it. A couple of times. Ok, maybe several times. If salt is as good as the one they have at say Frasca, I might sneakingly feast on it. It is flaky, subtle, and flavorful with particles that melt in your mouth quickly and leave a delicate trace of salty goodness.

While I may be heavy handed with these crystal grains, I seriously think that it deserves credit for transforming our food in a way nothing else does. It is a basic match with our taste and a necessity of the human body. I am not about to give you a speech on what salt is made of and why it is healthy or not or in what quantities. There are plenty of much more qualified sources to educate you on that. Take the Salt Institute for example- yes there is one. Or for a more fun approach Michael Ruhlman in this article. I will say that sodium intake problems are vastly related to processed foods and not the salt shaker; even sodas or cereal have hidden sodium.

Not all salt is created equal. Texture and flavor are major considerations in picking salt favorites. I like flaky, quickly-dissolving, gentle in flavor, ever so slightly moist. A treat for me is fleur de sel, a natural sea salt harvested by hand with flavors that vary from region to region. I hate table salt because of its texture and am not big on Hawaiian rock salt because of its slightly bitter taste. My everyday and much beloved salt is Morton’s coarse kosher salt. The flakes are perfectly sized, it disintegrates at the perfect rate, and it is mild in flavor, not overwhelming but simply complementing vegetables and meats.

I own up to my addiction- I love salt. And instead of trying to kick this not-so-nasty habit, I embrace it. And if you make this chicken, it may just be that one time you need to get hooked on the white powder.You can find this recipe in my favorite cookbook, the Colorado Organic- cooking seasonally, eating locally.

Salt Crusted Chicken, a recipe from The Kitchen

Ingredients: one 3-4 pound chicken, 1 to 2 pounds kosher salt. (and it's easy to make too!)

Heat up your oven to 400 degrees.

In a baking pan that fits your chicken loosely without leaving too much room, sprinkle a thin layer of salt. Place your chicken, breast up, on top of this layer of salt and begin to form the crust of salt.

Wield that box of white goodness over the chicken. Don’t be shy- I won’t tell anyone! Rain the white droplets liberally and as uniformly as you can. I use a spray bottle to make the salt stick to the chicken and the salt granules stick to each other. You can also wet your hands and get the salt moist enough to form a crust when it heats up. Form your crust and get it ready for the oven!



This 3 pound chicken took an hour and a quarter to be perfectly cooked.

Let it rest for 30 minutes. The crust hardens and will come off easy leaving your chicken intact. You will be able to crack it open and remove it in big chunks. This will leave the chicken virtually clean of it, but the skin will be pretty salty and is not to be served...although I may have nibbled on a few pieces of it every time I made it.

Juicy, tender, and gently infused with salt! Serve it with your favorite seasonal side dishes.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Secrets of the Lamburger!

Grilling "season" is a funny idea to me. Rain, shine, or snow, meat gets seared on the grill at our house throughout the year. I'd write our habit of grilling, regardless of weather, off to the convenience of having the grill right on our balcony except that we did the same when we had it in a courtyard and shared it with our neighbors. Our grill is a four season operation, no time off.

But because it is the weekend (or it was!) and because the culture around us says it is grilling season (have you seen the grilling season signs at Sur la Table or Bed Bath & Beyond?!?), I figured we'd break ground on the blog with ...ground lamb on the grill- the Lamburger!

After much trial and not very much error, we, and by we I mean the husband, perfected the lamburger and we, meaning I... am ready to share it. This lamburger is new and familiar at the same time, challenging yet simple, rich but not overwhelming. The recipe is original and its secrets rest as much in ingredients, as they do in preparation and equipment- the grill that is. Details matter, temperatures make all the difference, quality of what goes into the final product is key. Presentation is fun too- open face for sure!

If I were to list the secrets of this lamburger, I'd say: Colorado lamb, lovage, the Big Green Egg. You need quality ground lamb; this is actually probably the most important thing you can do to have a good lamburger. Colorado ground lamb is delicious so if you can get it, that is your best bet. Grocery store lamb is generally too strong for most people- the smell that is- with a game-like flavor. We get ours at the Boulder Farmers Market from a local farm. Just be sure you don't get duped by Whole Foods lamb imported from New Zealand.

The other key ingredient is lovage. Lovage is an herb that looks kind of like a giant italian parsley leaf crossed with a smaller celery root leaf. It has an amazing flavor and will definitely change the way a burger tastes. It is common in Southern and Eastern European cuisine - I had plenty of it in Romania- and is generally used to season soups and stews. Alice Waters uses it in hamburgers, which is where we got our idea from.

I bet you've never had lovage before! You should be able to find it at the farmers market. In Boulder, Red Wagon has it. I doubt that you will find it in a regular grocery store.

The kind of grill you make your burgers on makes a big difference. We are very committed to the Big Green Egg. If that is not your grill, consider buying one. No no...seriously, at least use wood charcoal. Briquettes (made of saw dust) are not an option. Mesquite charcoal is pretty amazing but not compatible with the 'Egg.'

With those few secrets out of the it comes...

the Colorado Lamburger!

Ingredients- for the patties: 1 lb Colorado ground lamb; 3 large garlic cloves minced; 1/4 preserved lemon (1 wedge), rinsed and minced finely; 3-4 large lovage leaves chopped finely; kosher salt; fresh ground pepper, a drizzle of olive oil. To assemble: 1/2 white onion sliced into 1/4 inch pieces; 4 large slices of great bread (we use the Denver Bread Company boule); Dijon mustard; a handful of fresh baby arugula.

Fire up your charcoal grill. Give it enough time to get the temperature up to 400 degrees and to have your coals hot and all the way gray.

Make the patties- mix everything together and taste it--I know it's raw, but taste it--it won’t kill you and you might find it to be actually tasty. I do. Form five or six patties and set aside.

Sprinkle the onions with a little salt and drizzle with olive oil. Mix to get them coated somewhat evenly. You want to grill the onions first. A grill pan helps; otherwise your grill grate will be very tempted to swallow them up. Get a nice char on them for 2-3 minutes monitoring closely so you don't burn them and set them aside.

Put your patties on in the middle of the grill where it is nice and hot. Keep the grill covered while you cook the burgers but allow the vents to be open. Two-three minutes later open up and flip them. You want to cook them about two to three minutes per side.

Quickly brush the bread on both sides with a little olive oil and place it next to the patties on the grill. The goal is to warm it up and get a nice char on it.

Take everything off the grill. Lather the bread with a little Dijon mustard. Add the lamburger patty. Top with some of the grilled onions and a few arugula leaves. Open face!

Once the burgers are ready, you want to get eating. They cool very quickly and lose a lot of the juiciness and freshness the longer you wait. Have fun grilling!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Confession Wednesday- B.A.D.

I have suffered for a long time of BAD (Baking Anxiety Disorder). Self-diagnosed.

Baking anxiety disorder (BAD) is a pattern of frequent, constant worry over anything involving actual baking. The main triggers include yeast foremost, but also any flour concoction that must rise with the aid of baking power and/or baking soda. Symptoms include difficulty concentrating on quantities of the triggering products; excessive sweating, palpitations, shortness of breath while preparing to bake; severe worrying over the rising of the baked good; muscle tension while kneading, rolling, or punching dough; sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep) if the item must rise overnight; restlessness when the product has been put in the oven.

Baking anxiety disorder (BAD) is a common condition, not a new and suspect ‘disease’ like restless leg syndrome or fibromyalgia. This is real and I have it. The cause is not known, but both biological and social factors play a role. People with a neurotic personality like mine and those who love to keep on trying, like me, are more prone to BAD. The disorder may start at any time in life, including childhood, with the first failed attempt at baking. Symptoms worsen with repeated failed attempts to bake. Compulsive cooking to avoid direct contact with baking may occur.

Treatment is desirable with the goal of helping the person function well while baking. Among ineffective techniques for curing BAD are good intentions, a solid sense of food, an extensive background in and knowledge of cooking, and an obsessive desire to succeed in baking.

My treatment includes sessions with seasoned bakers like Bob (who cured my scone-making phobia), buying and eating too many brioche loaves from In Season Market, chasing the perfect croissant available for purchase, and deep relaxation complete with visions of the warm yeast-flavored room at the Denver Bread Company. It also includes the pursuit of (very) small baking victories through the completing of BAD-approved recipes that include biscotti, clafouti, or crisps.

The disorder may continue and be difficult to treat, but most patients see great improvement with these small victories in baking and behavioral therapy lowering expectations for success.

Here’s the thing, those who can bake - truly and successfully bake - are a small and gifted percentage of the people who set foot in the kitchen. Some know they have the gift, many take it for granted. A lot of those who think they can bake are just fooling themselves- they don’t suffer from BAD, but rather delusions of actually being capable to bake.

The climax of true talent in baking is reflected in the making of a croissant. The croissant is a glorious pastry that combines art and science into a faultless, ideally sized, flawlessly shaped, unquestionably flaky, impeccably golden brown, unmistakably buttery delight of all senses. Delicate yet scrumptiously laminated layers of butter and flimsy dough come into perfection through constant and careful monitoring of every element surrounding its birth- the flavor of the butter, the temperature of the room, the timing of creating each layer. An impeccable equilibrium of flakiness, crust and body, butter and flour, weight and lightness.

Once you eat this croissant- the perfect croissant- you are doomed to always seek for it, most times in vain. The chagrins of eating mediocre croissants are as harsh as the sin of baking such an item. I have not found a croissant that matches the description above in the greater Denver metro area. Some come close, some believe they got it, most fail miserably. Making croissants is a crazy and beautiful adventure, one someone with BAD is not advised to embark in, but it is certainly the supreme measure of baking skills.

The treatment for BAD specifically prohibits engaging in behaviors that challenge the baking skills to the max because failure damages any progress. It is however recommended that small steps in baking be taken. I took mine with this Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp, a recipe by Teri Rippeto of Potager included in my favorite cookbook, Jen’s creation, the Colorado Organic Cookbook.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp, a Potager recipe

Topping: 1 cup organic flour; 1 cup oats; 1 1/2 cups brown sugar; 1 cup sliced almonds; 1 lbs butter; 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes crumbled with your hands into smaller pieces.

Fruit filling: 5 cups rhubarb cut into ¾ inch chunks; 5 cups strawberries stemmed, cut in half to match the size of the rhubarb pieces; 1/2 cup cornstarch; 2 cups sugar.

Crisp topping
Mix dry ingredients together in a food processor or mixer equipped with a whisk. Add the cubed butter while your machine is still running (on a low speed in the mixer). Pulse until the butter is incorporated the size of peas. Blend the coconut in with your hands.

The mixture should be crumbly, which is pretty appropriate when you think you are make… a crumble.

Fruit filling
Preheat oven to 375F. Toss the ingredients together.

Butter up a 9 inch square baking dish. Add the fruit to the baking dish then top with the crisp mixture as evenly as possible, a generous 1/2 inch layer will likely result. To avoid the fruit bubbling up out straight into your oven, place the baking dish on a cookie sheet that will be much easier to clean.

Bake for 45 minutes. The topping should be golden brown and the fruit should be bubbling.

The result will amaze you- flavorful from the coconut, crunchy from the almonds, sour from the rhubarb and sweet from that deadly mixture of strawberries and brown sugar. Oh, and let’s not forget the butter!

Serve warm with ice or without! And enjoy your first step of the BAD treatment, if you have it that is.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A little won't kill you

It is not often that this will happen- the last recipe I posted, the vichyssoise, can in fact become another soup, a very different one with the touch of a button, the blender's button, well and a bag of greens. Too often some of my recipes yield no actual meal- stock, jus, butter, preserved lemons, garlic confit- delicious, but nothing to actually eat at the end of your efforts. This is the opposite. You have your soup and you can now have a brand new one.

When I saw this article the other day, I realized that my favorite thing to do is not to try to accommodate different tastes like the author attempts but rather to figure out a way to create a whole new and from an existing one without much more effort. It is possible. Not often, but for sure today.

Without further ado, you can reserve half of the vichyssoise, and turn it into Sorrel Soup -green, slightly tangy-lemony - the taste and flavor of spring in every scoop. Sorrel is all the craze these days- it certainly has a unique flavor and it is not that easy to find so in the spring when it comes out, farmers market junkies such as myself look for it with excitement.

Apparently the unique taste of the sorrel, a sharp sour taste, is due to oxalic acid, which, turns out is a poison. This recipe is not a plot to rid the world of those willing to make it. In small quantities, sorrel and its oxalic acid are harmless, but don’t sit down with a basket of sorrel snarfing it down- large quantities can be fatal. I can report that we ate the soup and we all survived.

Sorrel Soup, a Bouchon-inspired non-lethal green concoction

Ingredients: half of your vichyssoise, 6 oz sorrel; for garnish: creme fraiche or goat cheese for garnish, and a couple of sorrel leaves cut in chiffonade.

Bring the vichyssoise to a simmer. Turn the heat off and add the sorrel leaves. The hot liquid will blanche the leaves without overcooking them. Puree in batches. I will repeat myself from some of the previous recipes- don't overfill the blender and remove the little plastic cap from the blender's lid before you turn it on. Cover with a clean kitchen cloth and turn it on. This way you won't burn your hands.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.

Serve hot or cold with a little dollop of creme fraiche or goat cheese and a few strings of the chiffonade. Add some fresh ground pepper and enjoy!

And you have to tell me what you think of the larger size pictures!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Confession Wednesday- Knife Matters

I kind of break the rules of the knife skills class. Well, kind of is not really accurate- I just break them. Not the obscure footnoted rules- no, no, the first tuck-your-fingers-under rule. I can't be bothered with the tucking-the-fingers-under thing. I’ve been cutting without my fingers tucked under for so long, it is second nature. I hardly ever cut myself and I never really thought about being self-conscious about my knife skills until Jen asked me if I was going to give her a proper knife cutting technique for the picture. So I did. There!

But I don’t do that when I cook. I was just mugging for the camera. Or my fingers were. My fingers are used to stabilize whatever I am cutting and more often then cutting my fingers, I have cut my nails. And more often than cutting my nails with a knife while not observing proper knife skills, I have cut my nails with a vegetable peeler. Those things are not nearly as harmless as a knife.

And since the picture above is of me prepping for Vichyssoise, here’s the recipe!

Bouchon-inspired Vichyssoise

Ingredients: 4 tbs (1/4 lbs) butter; 2 lbs leeks, white and tender green parts only, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and rinsed; ½ heaping cut shallots peeled and sliced into ¼ inch pieces; 1/3 cup yellow onions chopped coarsely ; 1 tbs garlic minced; 1 sachet; 6 cups homemade chicken stock; 1 lbs potatoes (about 2 medium potatoes), peeled; ¾ cup heavy cream warmed; chives; salt; fresh ground pepper; extra virgin oil.

The sachet is simply a piece of cheesecloth containing the following: outer leaves of a leek- 2 layers; 2 springs of thyme; 4 springs of parsley; 1 bay leaves; 10-15 black peppercorns. Tie it up and voila your sachet!.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, shallots, and onions, season with salt and pepper, and allow them to soften and sweat 5-7 minutes without browning.

Cut them into quarters lengthwise. Then cut the long potato sticks into ¼ inch pieces.

Add the garlic to the sweating vegetables and cook for another minutes stirring. Add the cut-up potatoes and the sachet, stir again and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Pour in the chicken stock and taste for seasoning. Adjust salt and pepper if needed. Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to low maintaining the simmer for about 30 minutes.

Check the potatoes to make sure they are tender. If they are not, allow the liquid to simmer longer.

Remove from the heat and allow the soup to cool for 15 minutes. Puree the mixture in batches in your blender. Don’t overfill it with hot liquid. Before you turn it on, remove the little plastic cap from the blender’s lid. Cover with a clean kitchen cloth then turn it on. You are trying to avert a hot liquid explosion.

Strain the soup through a fine sieve and return it to a clean pot. Bring the soup back to as simmer. Warm up the cream and add it to your soup.

Garnish with freshly cut chives, a drizzle of olive oil, and fresh cracked pepper.

Enjoy the soup cold or serve it hot and watch those fingers!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.