Monday, February 27, 2012

Longing for Winter Stews

 It's barely been winter this year.   Actually, it's only in these  last few days of February that I'm feeling chilled, and longing for those slowly cooked foods that not only warm my entire being - but also create the kind of earthy, spicy fragrance that warms up my whole home.  And, while I've prepared for several, favorite cold weather foods by having all the ingredients on hand - and my blue Le Creuset compote pot and French oven - I haven't actually manufactured anything until a couple of days ago.
Dried Fig Compote is a good item to have on hand.  Once cooked the compote will keep forever in the fridge and has oh-so-many uses.
I like to use semi-dried figs - which are usually found at shops that sell copious amounts of dried fruits therefore have constant turnover so even the dried fruits are fresh.
Add as many dried figs as you like to a compote pot (or heavy, non-reactive saucepan).  Cover with a fortified wine such as the Recioto which I used (a fortified Valpolicella) or Marsala, etc. by an inch.  Add a few heaping tablespoons of pure honey.  I use my brother-in-law's blue-ribbon-prize-winning Nantucket honey made by bees who feast on everything from cranberry blossoms to teasel grown especially for them by my sister.  Actually, I'm constantly searching for ways to use his Eat Fire Spring Apiary honey in my recipes. I added a cut up blood orange too.  Just because.  Just because there they were staring out of a bin at Lick the Market.  The winey, sweet citrus is a great foil for both the figs and musty Recioto.  They looked good too.   Cover the pot and simmer for a few hours or until the figs are soft and can be cut with the side of a fork.

Cool and serve with creme fraiche, whipped cream, ice cream, yogurt in a shapely glass goblet to end a meal with aplomb. Or, coarsely chop and use as a filling in a crostata, in mini turnover - or any other pastry that requires a filling.

Pot Roast is, to my mind, the quintessential winter dish, especially, Italian-style, stewed with lots of carrots, onions, garlic, red wine and peeled tomatoes, then served with polenta.  I had a nice little, about 3 pounds, bottom roast from Miller's Crossing.  Brown the roast in a French oven or heavy bottomed casserole in olive oil until nicely colored on all sides.  Remove from  the pot and reserve.  Add lots of coarsely chopped onions, thinly sliced carrots, a minced hot pepper, and chopped garlic to the pot.  Saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the roast back into the pot and turn to cover with the vegetables.  Add about 1/2 bottle of hearty red wine, pelati (peeled tomatoes) from a 2 pounds 3 ounces tin vine end removed and loosely broken up with your hands, and 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano to the pot.  Cover, askew, simmer, turning the meat occasionally until the meat is very tender - about 2 1/2 - 3 hours.   Let sit for at least 4 hours - in order to let it  continue to absorb the flavors - or overnight.  Even better.   Reheat before serving.  Remove the meat from the pot and thinly slice.  Arrange on a serving platter and cover with the sauce to serve.   Enjoy pot roast sandwiches with the leftover meat, and pasta covered with excess sauce.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  I enjoy stopping at Otto's Market whenever I drive through Germantown on route 9G, as it's just a short distance from the highway in the tiny Germantown center.  Otto's is an everyman's grocery store and reflects  the history and passion of owner Otto Leuschel who worked for Whole Foods for 17 years before opening his childhood dream shop.  The needs of the surrounding communities are evident in the product selection at Otto's.  Need a bag of Domino sugar or a box of Cascade dish deterent - or a jar of cornichons or  a bag of vegetable chips?  Otto's has them all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Just about Everything's Local

 I couldn't be happier than to know the provenance of every single item of food used to make last Saturday's dinner.  Talk about local.   The  cheese served with drinks was a fetchingly fragrant, kind of gritty Camembert-like goat's milk round threaded with fennel pollen called Pollenbert from R & G Cheese in Cohoes, NY - just a little bit north of here - but purchased at, where else (?), Lick the Market.   I served the cheese with roasted pears - roast unpeeled sliced pears, rubbed in fruity olive oil, in a 350 degree F. oven 'til golden and slightly crispy - about 30 minutes.

The first course soup was actually a combo of two pureed soups chosen for the availability of their ingredients and their stunning color alliance.   The base soup was a variation on the butternut squash soup that I always make as a base - the recipe can be found in an earlier blog - so, early that I'm sorry to say that I can't simply link you to it - so, I'll send you to Squash, Squash and More Squash, December 16th, 2010.  I added garlic, hot pepper, fresh ginger and fresh sage leaves to the original recipe.   The second soup was made by sauteing shallots in olive oil then adding peeled beet chunks to the saute. I covered the beets with water to 3 inches over them and simmered until soft enough to puree.  This took hours because winter beets are particularly tough - but ever so sweet.   I needed to add more water at several intervals in order to keep the ratio of beets and water.  When they were tender, I added  the juice of 1/2 of a juicy lemon.  Let cool and puree until smooth.   
To serve.  Heat the soups, separately, until piping hot.   Ladle the butternut squash into soup bowls, add a few heaping tablespoons of the beet soup into the center of the squash soup and swirl.  I garnished each bowl with a dollop of creme fraiche (local, from Ronnybrook Farm) and a shower of toasted, salted pistachios.   I served the soup with black sesame, brown rice crackers which appear to be navy blue.   It's about color as well as flavor.

The main course halibut was not local.  Obviously.  Purchased locally 'though.   The snowy white fillets were placed in a buttered baking dish and covered  with a mixture of Dijon mustard, horseradish, chopped red onions, then plain breadcrumbs, then sliced blood oranges and finally a dab of butter.  I had every intention of baking the fish at 350 degrees F. for about 20 minutes or until the fillets were opaque and the sides of the dish were bubbly.  But my oven went out an hour before dinner.  So, I covered the baking dish with foil and straddled it over two stove top burners set a very low heat.  It was cooked in 15 minutes and just right. 

I served the fish with a puree of celery root and apples.  Everyone of the three ingredients that goes into the manufacture of the dish was local.  Yay.    Peel the celery root, cut it into chunks and add it to a deep, non-reactive saucepan.  Cover with whole milk (Ronnybrook).  Simmer for 15 minutes (should be just about tender). Add a couple of peeled and chunked apples to the pot - the original recipe from Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of South West France ask for green apples - I used Golden Delicious to great results.  Simmer for another 10 minutes or so - until the apples are tender too.  Drain any remaining milk.  Let cool and puree.  Add salt and pepper if you like.  I don't because the subtle, yet emphatically-flavored puree is usually served with a dish that has plenty of seasoning to go around.

One of my dinner guests, Cynthia, made dessert - Nigel Slater's Simple Lemon,Apricot, Almond Cake - from his book Appetite.   She topped the moist cake, redolent of all the flavors in its name, with creme Chantilly -soft whipped cream - Ronnybrook.
 All perfect.   What a dinner.  Satisfying in so many ways.

In my constant quest to find new food sources I took a drive over to Great  Barrington, MA to check out two fabled Berkshire establishments; the Berkshire Coop at 42 Bridge Street, and Guido's Fresh Marketplace.  The former, as its name implies is a co-operative market, albeit , a very upscale one with a selection of all the latest in packaged organic products, vitamins, and a too small bulk ingredients section.  You'll find fresh produce, meat, fish, and dairy  departments at the coop.  But you will at find the same at Guido's an Italian oriented market that has grown into a kind of mini Whole Foods supermarket - with lots of organic products that crossover and even compete in price with the coop.   I liked things about both places.  Am I running back to shop there with any kind of regularity.  No.  There are great choices right here in Hudson.  However, my hunger - pun absolutely intended - for new food places knows no bounds.  I will continue to shop.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Favorite Things #1

There are things that I just keep making over and over again.  They taste THAT good, and are THAT easy, really easy to make.  Of course, like with any other piece of food that you put in your mouth - it all depends on the ingredients.    
My go-to roast chicken is based on the one that I read about in Thomas Keller's cook book, "Bouchon".   The method for roasting this chicken wasn't even in the recipe section - instead it was explained in Keller's introduction to the book as an example of how he likes to cook.  This patted dry chicken, goes into a very hot oven and roasts quickly.  The skin immediately separates from the flesh allowing it to crisp up nicely and the meat to be lubricated by the gushing fat.  Keller adds thyme, I don't.  Keller likes to serve the just-out-of-the-oven bird with butter and Dijon mustard.  It's delicious that way - but gilding the lily a bit.  I try to resist.  I always roast in the chickeen in a cast iron skillet - it holds the heat very well.  I think this method is just about the only way to roast a chicken. 

I've loved pomegranate seeds for years.  I used to eat them for desseert when I lived in Italy.  At  ristoranti and trattorie they would be served in a glass coppa  with orange juice or red wine.   I was pleased when fresh pomegranates started to have a following in the USA and they could be found during the months of November and December in certain upscale markets. By now they are ubiquitous and their season has been prolonged.  To this day I can still find fresh pomegranates at my local Shoprite supermarket.  God only knows where they come from - they're not local, that's for sure.  But every now and then exceptions must be made.    I love fresh pomegranate seeds with my morning oatmeal.  Also added to the oatmeal; top quality butter, a splash of maple syrup and ground cinnamon.  What a way to start the day.

Remember those poached pears from my last posting.  Remember how I said be sure to make extras because they can hang around the fridge for at least a week.  Oh boy - was I ever grateful to have a couple of pears still sitting in their poaching liquid last Friday when my sweet tooth was aching to be satisfied.   Poire Belle Helene may be counted among my top three favorite desserts (other will be revealed in a timely way).   This simple dessert was created by the 19th century chef, Auguste Escoffier and is named after Jacques Offenbach's opera buffa - Belle Helene.  ( there are so many desserts that have musical themes - either named for a personality, Peches Melba, Pavlova, Tournedos Rossini - or like this one, a work).   Escoffier poached  pears in a simple sugar syrup and served them with vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce.   Mine are slightly more complex (partly because I like to poach the pears in wine, red or white, and spices) - but still very simple.
My  chocolate syrup - which may make some of you shudder in horror- simply involves melting, in a double boiler, top quality chocolate - milk, bittersweet, as you like (I used Callebaut milk) with some milk or heavy cream.  I used almond milk and a splash of Amaretto liqueur. Stir  1/4 pound broken pieces chocolate in the top of a double boiler until melted.  Add the milk and stir until thoroughly combined.  Add a splash of liqueur as desired.    Remove from heat and let cool - it will set up and thicken.   Split a poached pear, stem to stern, add a scoop of ice cream of your choice in between the halves (I used Jane's toasted coconut) and top with chocolate sauce.

Bloody Marys, Chocolate desserts, and Esopus Falls

On Sunday I attended, with my friends, Mark & James,  Chocolate Lovers Brunch in Saugerties, NY.  The event benefited a good  and (unfortunately) in demand organization FAMILY  which provides, as its name implies all sorts of family services.    Guests were invited to bid on a variety of items in both a silent and live auction.  We were treated to a variety of brunch offerings from chocolate chip waffles, to eggs benedict and all important chocolate desserts; pots de creme, brulee, mousse, Sacher torte, and on and on.  The geneorus brunch was offered by Diamond Mills in Saugerties


Monday, February 6, 2012

Dessert First, Always

 I just about always think about dessert first.  Even when I go out to eat, I ask to see the dessert menu along with the customary one.  Seeing what's for dessert informs what I'll eat before its turn.  
My friend, Roy, was coming up for the weekend.  I needed to plan at least our first meal together.  I mean the first meal at home, because soon after he got off the train and stashed his stuff in his bedroom we drove up Warren Street to Grazin' Diner for one of their delicious, local, grass-fed beef burgers (more on them soon).   Dessert - I had some red wine poached pears that I cooked the day before Roy's arrival at the ready.  

I used red comice pears.  Place the peeled and cored pears in a deep, non-reactive sauce pan. Cover them with  hearty red wine and a bit of water.  Add about 1/2 cup sugar for 6 small pears, 3 slices of orange and the juice of the remaining piece, and a cheese cloth packet of cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cardamom pods, and a few fennel seeds.  Poach the pears at medium-low heat (don't let boil) until a tester easily passes through them - 1 - 1 1/2 hours.   Remove the pears from the liquid with a slotted spoon and reserved.   Remove the orange slices and spice packet from the liquid and turn up the heat. Boil until a syrup the consistency of maple syrup is achieved - about 20 minutes.  Watch carefully as the syrup can turn to glue in the blink of an eye.  Pour the wine syrup over the pears and refrigerate.  They last for days and days.  So, even if you're only feeding 2 people - make 6, because what a nice surprise to have the pears just waiting for you to have one for dessert, any time, simply with the syrup poured over the top, with some ice cream (in this case, Jane's rum raisin), heavy cream, yogurt or, you know, my favorite, ricotta.

Around the same time as I poached the pears, I made a salsa verde - green sauce, convinced that it would somehow work with dinner.  Dinner starred the last pound of Nantucket bay scallops that I had frozen on December 28th, 2011, the day after they were shucked - and I returned home to Hudson from spending Christmas on Nantucket.  Scallops freeze very successfully.   And, the salsa verde - which is a bit like the chimichurri  recipe  I gave you over a year ago seemed like an excellent match.  However, here's how I make the green sauce:  add lots (almost 2 cups) of fresh, flat leaf (Italian) - cleaned and dried - parsley leaves to a food processor with a large clove of garlic, 1 small hot pepper (I used Thai), the juice of 1 juicey lemon, 1 heaping tablespoon capers (I used the kind that are preserved in salt, rinsed - because I think they have more flavor), and a few anchovy fillets which are optional.   With the processor's motor running, slowly add a cup of extra virgin olive oil, or more.  Process until the parsley is chopped somewhere between finely and coarsely. You want this sauce to be slightly loose.   The sauce will last for weeks, refrigerated.
I had a bag of polenta from Wild Hive Farm that I had purchased at - where else? - Lick the Market a few weeks ago and I had been looking for a way to use it.  Dinner was  coming together.   Scallops and polenta and salsa verde.  So Venetian.  Wet, loose polenta, in the style that  the Venetians refer to as all'onda - like a wave, with seafood.  Just the thing.  Roy patiently stirred the polenta.  This is NOT instant polenta - and who would want instant polenta anyway????  Add 1 of cup polenta to 6 cups of barely salted water and cook it  slowly stirring with a whisk (to keep lumps from forming) for almost 40 minutes - which goes quickly when 2 people are standing around the kitchen with a tasty cocktail. The result was a perfect polenta  which was finished with a large lump of butter and a bit of grated Parmesan cheese.   At the same time the polenta was finishing off I added  butter to a skillet over high heat.  As soon as it melted I added the scallops and let them cook for 90 seconds, at the most.  They don't need much. They just need to become opaque.  To serve; add the polenta to a warm bowl, add scallops and splash with as much salsa verde as you like.    And a sprinkle of just-gifted, Hawaiian pink salt.  You know, salt is the gift to give someone who has jut moved to a new home so that they will never shed tears.
The Wild Hive Farm polenta was great.  Very corny and a nice texture.

The next day we made the rounds of all the Hudson food establishments then took off for Rhinebeck.  There was an special occasion which brought us to Rhinebeck and the Blue Cashew, Kitchen Pharmacy - it was a personal appearance by the cookbook author, Rose Levy Beranbaum who was at the shop to sign copies of her latest book, Rose's Heavenly Cakes.  Roy did the prop styling for the book so we were especially pleased to be there.  Personally, I was happy to continue with the dessert theme.  There were a few samples of Rose's cakes, and  champagne-filled flutes.

The author, Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Sean Nutley, co-owner of Blue Cashew, and guests.

Ben Fink and his husband, Joe Tully.  Ben photographed the book.  He loves food and it shows in his stunning work.

Roy Finamore - prop stylist for the book, Cynthia Lathrop, art archivist and Steve Izos, co-owner of Gris an antique shop in Hudson.

Bryan Graham, owner Fruition Chocolate, and friend.

You probably already know how to refresh a baguette (or any bread) by sprinkling water on it then heating it up in the oven until it's dry and crunchy again - well, Roy just showed me another way to achieve the same thing.   Dampen a paper bag, add the bread that needs perking up to it and put it in the oven.  When the bag dries the bread is ready.   Good as new.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sunny Weekend, Good Food

What a difference a week makes.  One weekend snow, followed by a positively balmy one.   The most recent weekend started on Friday with what has become a habit - a stop at Lick the Market.   Among the items that I purchased were 4 gorgeous, golden delicious apples  (Michael's recommendation for baking).  I couldn't wait to get home and get them in the oven.  No special occasion- I just like to have them hanging around in the refrigerator at the ready for a simple dessert, or afternoon pick-me-up.  These apples were so huge that I ate them one half at a time. sometimes with that mind-blowingly delicious ricotta - also purchased at Lick.

I scooped out the core of each apple and made a neat hole to which I added a few raisins, some chopped walnuts, grade B, dark maple syrup, a dab of butter, some crumbled amaretti cookies (completely unnecessary - but I couldn't resist) and a shower of ground cinnamon.  I moistened the apples, and the pan with some port wine and water.  They baked at 350 degrees F. for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  I like to cook the apples until the split a bit so I can spoon the pan juices over them and it'll sink through.  As a matter of fact I basted the apples every 20 minutes or so as they baked.

Saturday morning - Allegra and I were happy to be outside on the sunny day and strolled up Warren Street, in Hudson, to 7th Street where we turned left and walked one more block to the retail space of the newly created Acres Co-op Market.  The Co-op is dedicated to showcasing the food of the Hudson Valley - especially for the producers closest to the city of Hudson.  Among the huge variety food that you will find at the Co-op is fresh organic produce, tamales made with local produce and a sumptuous pesto made with lacinato kale.

Steaming tamales from Block Factory Tamales.   The tamales are truly authentic.  I tasted one made with barbecued pork.  Owner, Lisa Krivacka, makes them with squash, chicken and beef as well.  Check her site for options.

The lacinato pesto from Oliva Provisions has become the talk of the town.   Most people don't want to wait to cook up some pasta to serve with it - they just smear it on crackers or toast and enjoy the pesto canapes with a cocktail.  It's also a great addition to a tuna fish sandwich.

The granola from Platte Clove Naturals uses pecans as its base.  It's sweetened with Catskill Mountain maple syrup.   It may never make it to your breakfast if you dip into to the bag too often - just for a taste.

After making sure that I'd seen everything at the co-op I released Allegra from the parking meter and headed back down Warren Street and stopped at Olde Hudson for a piece of fresh salmon - they receive fresh fish every Thursday.     I covered the fillet with a mixture of Dijon mustard, dry white vermouth, freshly ground black and white pepper, some fresh thyme leaves (because I had them around - I usually use fresh dill- but the thyme turned out to be very good too), and some capers.    I let the fillet sit with its topping for about an hour before loosely closing up the packet and cooking it at 450 degrees F. for 4 to 5 to minutes (depending on how you like your salmon cooked).  Had the piece been heavier than 1/2 pound I would have cooked it for a few more minutes.

SUSANSIMONSAYS   OOPS , I pressed PUBLISH by mistake - I hope that you're reading this version and not the previous, mistake-ridden one.     There's lots of delicious food in Hudson so the next time you're visiting the antique shops - check out all the good food as well.