Monday, April 30, 2012

Milk, eggs, and more asparagus

"The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star" is the often quoted piece of wisdom from the epicure Brillat-Savarin.   For me it's the discovery of the ingredients that go into the making of the dish that thrills me.  When my friend, Michael, told me about a small farm out on Fish and Game Road - Hudson, NY - that sold the "most creamy raw milk"  and most startlingly colored eggs - olive green ones in addition to blue, shades of white and brown - I was intrigued.  I couldn't wait to go there.   One sunny day last week I took a meandering ( it's several miles east of the route 9H junction) ride out Fish and Game Road until I reached Mary and Bill Koch's lovely Rocky Fresh Farms at number 671.   The contented, Dutch Belted cows who give the NYS certified raw milk are strictly grassfed.  The benefits, or not, of raw milk have been discussed since the industrial revolution when the process of pasteurization was devised.  My overly simplistic reason for liking raw milk, from grassfed cows (and I'm not a big consumer of straight milk - I prefer it fermented, as in cheese - or swirled with sugar and other flavorings and frozen into ice cream) is that I feel like I'm getting the benefits of all the good grass that the cows having been dining on - it's not boiled away.
The eggs from Rocky Fresh Farms are laid by a variety of chickens  from the ubiquitous Rhode Island Reds to the sturdy Buff Orpingtons to the more exotic  Araucana (becoming less so thanks to Martha Stewart) who lay baby blue to olive green colored eggs.  The yolks on all the eggs that I purchased that day were just about neon orange.

I decided to experiment and make a caramelized rhubarb custard with my most recent purchase.  As you can see it looked like a disaster.  Should I even be sharing this with you?  Sure.  Do as I say, not as I do - did.  The idea was good - it tasted dee-licious - it just didn't stay together.  I know why.   I made it in a charlotte mold which was way too deep to accommodate all that liquid.   Had I cooked it longer - the outer part of the custard would have gotten too tough.  It just needs to be cooked in a more shallow receptacle - and it will work.  Promise.
The previous week I had stewed some rhubarb with the zest and juice of an orange, rapadura sugar -  organic brown sugar which I like to use with fruit because I think it adds deep flavor - and a cheese cloth bag filled with a cinnamon stick, a few cloves and a few whole cardamom pods.  Cook at medium heat until the rhubarb is soft - 15 - 20 minutes.  Let cool with the spice bag before you remove it.
In a small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar  with 1/4 cup of water.  When the sugar has melted and become dark amber pour it into an oval or rectangular baking dish.  Repeatedly tilt the dish in a circular motion until the sides and bottom are evenly coated with the caramel.   Place on a wire rack to set.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the custard:  Beat 5 whole eggs and 4 yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until smooth and creamy.   Bring 2 1/2 cups milk an to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and pour it into the egg mixture beating continuously.  Pour the custard into the caramel-lined  dish.  Swirl a cup and a half  cooked rhubarb through the custard.   Place the dish in a large baking dish and fill with hot water.  Bake for about an hour  or until the custard seems firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.   Remove the custard from the water and let cool.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.  Run a knife around the edges of the dish and invert onto a serving platter.   Eat as is - or decorate with peaks of whipped cream.   The custard that I made with the raw milk and fresh eggs was super creamy and rich and didn't need embellishments.

More Asparagus:
As I mentioned in my last post I only eat local asparagus.  Right now I'm eating them more or less daily because all of a sudden they'll be gone.  The other day I decided to make an asparagus, taleggio cheese and lemon pizza because I had all the ingredients at the ready.  Including the pizza dough.  When I make the dough and I'm not feeding at least 4 people I freeze the leftover dough in individual serving portions.   My pizza dough is not conventional - it's actually more like a schiacciata - a flatbread.

Makes enough for 4 good-sized individual  pizzas
1   1/2 ounce package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water, about 90 degrees F.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for moistening the mixing bowl

1.   Combine the yeast, sugar, and water (I use a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup).  Let stand until foamy (draft-free environment), about 15 minutes.  Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Add the olive oil to the yeast mixture.  Mix well.   Turn out onto a floured surface.  Knead until soft and elastic, 3 to 4 minutes.
2.   Swish a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large bowl and place the dough in it.  Turn the dough so it's thoroughly covered in oil.  Cover and place in a warm draft-free environment to rise.   It should double in size in 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Punch down.  Cut into 4 pieces and return to the bowl.  Re-cover.
3.   Preheat an oven to 500 degrees F.  Prepare your choice of topping.  For my pizza I scattered pieces of taleggio  - an aromatic cow's milk cheese that's tangy and rather mild from the Lombardy region of Italy - on the stretched dough, topped with blanched asparagus and thin lemon slices.  I drizzled a bit of extra-virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkled some sea salt on it.  
4.   Bake until the crust is golden and the topping is sizzling, 12 - 15 minutes


Even more asparagus.  Blanched asparagus tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and grated Parmesan cheese.   Top the asparagus with sliced radishes.  I grated (because it arrived in chunks), just-delivered, black salt from Uganda - by friends who had just returned from that country aglow with tales of walking into the impenetrable forest to find gorillas.

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