Friday, June 29, 2012

Ladies' Lunch

I've lived in Hudson, NY for about 7 months and have been lucky to have made a few nice friends.  It's all about those 6 degrees of separation that's really more like 2 degrees that allows one person to lead to another.  Among these friends - lady friends - are a group who work freelance.  I, who've always worked more or less in a freelance way, have noticed that lunchtime seems to be the most convenient time to pull off a meal.  After lunch  (which for me is the real start of the day) you can go back to your work and thoughts without worrying about stopping for a rendez-vous.   Bearing in mind those particular habits I invited a few friends for lunch.  Lucky for us it was a cool, dry summer day here in the Hudson Valley and not only was I able cook in comfort but our group sat at the table for hours without once complaining about how hot we were. 
I had, of course, provisioned aplenty at my favorite Hudson Farmers' Market.   For awhile I've had a hankering for an Armenian yogurt-barley soup called Tanabour.  When I opened my take-out/catering business - decades ago in the East Village- my first employee was a young woman of Armenian descent.  She generously shared many of her family's favorite recipes.  Tanabour, among several other recipes, has proved to be a real winner.  We would make it by the gallons then sell it by the quart to very gratful customers.   I made it for the first time in several years for our lunch with Maple Hill Creamery's plain yogurt and let me tell you - maybe because I hadn't tasted the soup in awhile - but this batch was sensational.  I credit the super-creamy yogurt.  You can find this yogurt many places - and most obviously from Cheese! at The Red Barn's Friday evening market, and Hudson's Saturday morning market.

TANABOUR  (for Margot & Garth - they know why)

The soup is wonderful summer fare chilled or at room temperature.  But it's good hot on a cool day.

Serves 6 - 8
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup barley, soaked over night in 1 quart water
5 cups chicken stock (or vegetable broth)
3 cups plain whole milk yogurt (or low-fat NOT non-fat)
1 large egg
3/4 cup finely-chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup finely-chopped fresh mint

1.   In a large, heavy, nonreactive  saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in the olive oil over moderate heat.  Add the onion and cook until very soft, about 7 minutes.
2.   Drain the barley, then rinse and drain again.   Add to the saucepan with 4 cups of the stock.   Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat until the barley is tender, about 50 minutes.
3.   In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt with the egg until smooth.  Stir it into the soup.  Cook over low heat for 10 minutes.  Do not boil.  Add more stock if the soup is too thick (I added more stock - that yogurt!).
4.   Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt the remaining tablespoon butter over moderate heat.  Add the parsley and mint and cook until wilted, about 1 minute.  Stir the herbs into the soup and simmer for 2 minutes to blend the flavor.  Season with salt as desired.
5.   Serve with a fresh mint leaf garnish in each bowl.

We ate the soup as a first course.   I served a few salads as our main.   I made the sugar snap, radish and feta cheese salad to which I added a sliced cucumber (first one this season).  I also made a plate of labane with  goat milk yogurt (also from Cheese!), extra virgin olive oil and za'atar

There was a beet salad made with candy-sweet red, and golden beets from Blue Star Farms.   I roasted the beets.  Peeled, sliced and piled them on a serving plate.  I drizzled a tiny bit of pomegranate molasses over them.  I toasted some chopped pistachios in a bit of grapeseed oil (for its neutral, non-invasive flavor), then just as the nuts were smelling toasted I added some chopped scallions and sauteed for another 30 seconds or so just until they wilted. Then immediately poured them over the the beets.  I sprinkled some pink Hawaiian salt over it all and served the salad just like that.

 I made some flatbread which was baked topped with extra virgin olive oil and some za'atar.  Cut it into little triangles to make it perfect for scooping up all the offerings.

Dessert was a combination of some favorite things: blueberries, lemon curd and creme fraiche.  Cooled, slightly cooked fruit is my go-to summertime dessert.  Bluberries, peaches, nectarines, plums separately or together.  I cook them with a bit of rapadura sugar and some creme de cassis liqueuer or vincotto.  The fruit becomes an intense version of itself.  Luscious and deeply flavored.  Serve with anything creamy and some cookies, biscuits or plain cake.  I served the blueberries with lemon curd - another hankering - and creme fraiche - and the always on hand, amaretti cookies, which I showed my guests how to crush and and add as a topping to the fruit.  They did not follow my lead.  They were right.  It was a gratuitous addition.
I love to make this in the vintage Pyrex double boiler that I recently inherited from my aunt.
Good as a fruit compote topping, as a pie filling or spread on toast.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup unsalted butter cut into bits

In the top of a double boiler over low heat, beat the whole eggs.  Beat in the egg yolks.  Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice, whisking continuously until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.  Remove from the heat and beat in the butter.  Strain and bring to room temperature.  Chill until ready for use.  Will last for weeks refrigerated.


Monday, June 25, 2012

The Whole Hog

 Last Saturday the Hudson Farmers' Market inaugurated its Book Tent with author Libbie Summers signing copies of her new book, The Whole Hog.  It was a beautiful day in Hudson - a welcome relief after a week of unbearable heat and then a frightful lightening storm accompanied by a proverbial hail storm the "size of golf balls".  Charming Libbie, who had braved the storm by flying in from a job in Colorado - arriving in the Hudson Valley about 10 hours later than expected - then had gotten up early in morning on the "left bank" of the river, and arrived at the market just on time to sign the first copy of her book.
Libbie says her book  is "the quintessential pork for chicks cookbook that will make you laugh about old boyfriends, teach you how to make your own bacon, and give you the butchering know-how to boss your husband around in the kitchen."    I can only assume that that's Libbie's good natured way of saying that this book is  for everyone and the recipes are easy as can be.

Libbie went on to Rhinebeck and bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy and to do another book signing.  After that it was back over to the "left bank" to Kingston and a real honest to goodness whole hog roast at the brewery, Keegan Ales.
The meal included three dipping sauces prepared by Libbie; hot guava, pineapple chili and mustard,  pork and beans, radishes from the Hudson Farmers' Market, and bacon banana cookies all cooked to by a chef and students from the nearby CIA - not that one - The Culinary Institute of America.

Guest James Aguiar taking a brief rest best returning to the carving table for another roast pork sandwich.

Libbie read an essay from her book to the delight of the guests.

When I finally got a chance to seriously peruse the book I stopped at
 Best Ever Family Reunion Sheet Cake (with bacon pecan icing) and my mouth watered.  Non stop.   Libbie swears that this cake will take 20 minutes - uh hah.

Let's give it a try.
Serves 20

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teapoon kosher salt
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup leaf lard or vegetable shortening
1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bacon Pecan Icing (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 by 2-inch baking pan and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and lard.   Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a separate small pan.  Whisk the cocoa powder and boiling water into the butter mixture over the dry ingredients.  Stir until just combined.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Add to the cocoa mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.  Pour into the prepared baking pan and bake for 15 minutes, or until set.  Frost the cake while it's still warm.  Let the frosting set up for 10 minutes before serving.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bacon Pecan Icing
yields 3 1/4 cups

14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unslated butter at room temperature
1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
4 slices bacon, cokked crisp, finely diced

Put the butter, cocoa powder, buttermilk, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk until all the ingredietns are fully incorporated.  Add the confectioners' sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the pecans and bacon.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   I made a salsa verde with garlic scapes the other day;  finely chopped garlic scapes, finely chopped flat leaf parsley, chopped preserved-in-salt capers, the zest and juice of a few  lemons, and extra virgin olive oil. I already know the resulting sauce is going to be useful in many ways.  For a start I used it as a quick marinade before I roasted some chicken breasts.  I'm thinking about brushing it on just-grilled fish, mixing it with a bit of sour cream as a topping or dip for just about anything from raw vegetables to fried potatoes.  Anything.

Monday, June 18, 2012


If the dictionary definition of  bucolic - an idyllic rural life - were to be actualized then the example should be Turkana Farms in Germantown, NY.  The spectacularly beautiful 39 acre farm is hidden away off route 33 surrounded by other farms.   Farmers Peter Davies and Mark Scherzer came to farming a bit late in their lives, but like everything they do - they've built their property carefully, thoughtfully and with aplomb.  Davies, an academic with a lifelong interest in Turkey- so much so that he was one of the first sellers of the quintessential Turkish carpet, kilim, in this country, and now leads very particular tours to the country, and Scherzer, an attorney specializing in health care, are considered small scale farmers but the breadth of what they do is huge. They breed a considerable selection of heritage breed livestock - pastured and fed locally produced grains and never given antibiotics  -  and a wide assortment of vegetables and berries - grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.  

Three week old Toulouse geese will enjoy a wonderful late spring, summer and fall in the garden before they become the centerpieces of  delicious holiday meals for some lucky diners.

The farm raises four varieties of turkeys: Bourbon Reds, Spanish Black, Holland White, and Narragansett.  The birds are the farms' claim to fame.  Reserve your Thanksgiving bird in time (I'll be sure to give you a reminder).

The Karakul sheep add scenery and comic relief to the farm.   They live for their "teatime" snack - a bit of grain added as a treat to their otherwise grass fed diet.   They hear Mark pour the grain into their trays and literally tap their hooves in anticipation waiting for the barn door to open and let them at it.

The sheeps' unusually fat tails are a source of cooking oil and the fat that puts the shish in shish kabob.

Guinea hens are called faraona in Italian - and doesn't this white one look like a pharaoh?

That very handsome bull, called Titan,  a British White breed is the "husband"  of the seated cows, Daisy and Roxy and the dad to those beautiful chalk white calves - one of whom got close to him for protection when it saw us approaching.

A very beautiful peacock, and peahen live in a lovely fenced in area - on their own.

The leaf, peeking through the straw is a kind of Romaine with a rosy blush called, forellenschluss.

These fava beans are just about ready to harvest and be cooked using one of Peter's favorite recipes.

For 1 pound fava beans

.    Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil to a heavy cast iron skillet or heavy enamel pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat.
.    Add a couple of cloves, peeled, of garlic.  When they're soft add the fava beans.  Toss in the oil to fully coat.
.     Lower the heat, cover tightly and cover in the oil (stirring once or twice) for 10 to 15 minutes, until the pods begin to turn a little yellow.
.    Add boiling water to cover, the juice of one lemon, a tablespoon of sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
.    Simmer, uncovered, on low heat for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours, until the beans are soft and the liquid turns to a syrupy consistency.
.    Let cool to room temperature - or something near that.
.   Serve with chopped dill as a garnish.    
The above recipe comes in a bag with the favas, dill and recipe.  It's for sale at the farm.  Contact them to reserve.

Gooseberries.  Almost ripe.  Ripe.

Mark and Peter enjoying a much deserved refreshing drink at the end of a very busy day.  Wait.  I think Mark just said he had to go feed the pigs - Ossabaws, who have their special diet made for them by Lightening Tree Farm in Millbrook, NY - and Peter who had some of last season's guinea hens primed for his fine culinary touch - dinner.   Whose work is never done?



Authors Libbie Summers will be on hand signing copies of her book "The Whole Hog Cookbook"

Monday, June 11, 2012

This Week (2nd weekend of June 2012) at the Farmer's Market

I gathered all my favorite late spring crops  from both the Friday night market at The Red Barn and the Saturday morning Hudson Farmer's Market;  strawberries, beets, shelling peas, and radishes and
turned them into food for various occasions - not to mention breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As you know from reading my last entry I've been concerned that my favorite strawberries are going to run out before I can get my fill.  To wit I froze some last week and this week I made what I call "refrigerator jam".  The jam is not processed to preserve.  I just put it in a jar and it should last for weeks, perhaps months in the refrigerator- but it won't.  Probably won't last 'til the 4th of July.  It's that tasty, and its applications are numerous.  I like it on toasted, and almond buttered quinoa bread from Loaf, with plain yogurt, and as you will see as I write on, with beets.
I add whole berries - if they're really huge, cut in half - to a non-reactive saucepan with fresh lemon juice and pure, unrefined cane sugar, like rapadura, and cook on low heat until the berries are soft and seemingly spreadable, about 30 - 40 minutes.  Remove the berries  with a slotted spoon to a glass or ceramic bowl and reserve.  Reduce the remaining syrup until it's as dense as grade B maple syrup. 
Pack the cooled strawberry jam in a glass jar and cover with some of the strawberry syrup.  Refrigerate it, and the syrup in a separate container.  The syrup itself will serve you well on ice cream or mixed with Prosecco to make a Tiepolo ,or with vodka to make a delightfully colored, and tasty warm weather cocktail.   NB - the jam, sweetened with unrefined sugar , will turn deep burgundy in color.  If you must have bright red jam use refined sugar - just not as good - to my palate.

Sweet, shelling peas have a fleeting season as well.   I like nothing better than a dish of risi e bisi - the Venetian classic pea and rice dish.  Technically this dish is not risotto.  But it tastes like it could be.  I cooked the shelled peas in salted water for about 15 minutes.   If I had been paying attention I would have discarded the few over-ripe peas before cooking because they're too mealy and are annoying - in a way.  I cooked the rice separately and used vialone nano - a short, chubby grain used for risotto - which gives the dish its risotto-like texture.   When the rice was tender I drained and added it back into the pot with a knob of best quality unsalted butter, a fistful of grated Parmigiano, and the cooked peas.   I stirred to combine all the ingredients.   If you like the flavor of peas and mint - as I did and swirl  some fresh mint sprigs through the still hot rice and then discard the sprigs. You want to add a soft scent of mint to the dish.  Mint leaves turn black when added to heat and would be most unattractive in an otherwise pristine dish.

I was invited to a party down in Red Hook and asked to bring a dish - What's needed, I asked.  Oh, something to nibble on before the main course.   Hmmmm, radishes, radishes, RADISHES.  Not just radishes, but radishes with butter. The sweet, creamy butter softens and tames the feisty radishes.  Finely chop up radishes, tightly wrap them in paper towels and let them sweat for 1/2 hour or so then add them to room-temperature-softened, highest quality, unsalted butter along with chopped chives, chopped flat leaf parsley and some flaky sea salt.  Serve with garlic toasts or as I did with black sesame crackers.  Because, wow, what a contrast.

Beets - be still my Russian heart.  I love their sweet, earthy flavor, and I love their vibrant color that turns to the most stunning shade of shocking pink when combined with sour cream or yogurt, or  anything white.   First remove the beetroots from their leaves - and reserve the leaves (later).  Rinse them and pat them dry, and salt them - I used pink Hawaiian salt for pure visual pleasure - and wrap them up in parchment paper and bake at 300 degrees F. until a tester easily, very easily passes through them 1 - 2 hours (depending on their size).   The skin comes off the cooled beets as simply as removing a glove from your hand.  Start the process at the root end with the tip of a paring knife.     You can make a tangy Russian-style salad by marinating chunks of peeled beet with whole cloves of smashed garlic, apple cider vinegar and pure honey.  Marinate for at least a few hours and up to overnight.   Drain and remove the garlic.  Add a blob of sour cream and chopped flat leaf parsley. Eat with hard cooked eggs for a simple meal or use as a side dish with any grilled meat or fish.  Would be sublime with caviar.   Keep the beets around to add, chopped into a green salad.  Or, eat, as I just did with plain yogurt and some of that aforementioned strawberry syrup.   Weird?  Maybe.  But the combination of flavor and color were hard to beat.  Pun absolutely intended.
NO NEED TO ADD SALT to anything where the beets are an ingredient.  The cooking salt has adequately salted them.

Remove the beet leaves from their stems and saute in olive olive and garlic as you would do with spinach or chard.  A wonderful cooked green with an ever-so-slight beet flavor.

And sweet cherries - just into the market for the first time this week.   I like to eat them until my stomach hurts.  They are divine.
SUSANSIMONSAYS:    SATURDAY, JUNE 16th - YARD SALE  at 112 Union Street in Hudson, NY - 9am - 3pm - NO earlybirds, please.  Collectibles and lots of interesting household items.  Buy them here first before they wind up in a shop on Warren Street

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Last Gasp of Aspara-gasp (Sigh)

With the last few local asparagus  in  market bins I was reminded to make a favorite recipe from
Faith Willinger's glorious book, RED, WHITE & GREENS .  It's kind of perfect to make this dish, Penne with Asparagus-Lemon Sauce, as the coda to the other asparagus dishes that I've enjoyed for the past few weeks as it uses the stalk in a few ways to complete the dish.

4 - 6 servings

Faith says that she was inspired to make this dish by a lemon peel-olive oil pasta that she enjoyed from one of her favorite Tuscan home cooks .She has lived in Tuscany for decades

1 pound fresh asparagus
5 - 6 quarts water
2 - 3 tablespoons sea salt
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
14-16 ounces penne or short pasta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1.   Snap the tough butt ends off the asparagus or peel to  the tender core.  Cut the stems into 1-inch pieces.  reserve the asparagus tips.
2.   Bring 5 - 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil, add 2 - 3 tablespoons salt, and cook asparagus stems for 6 - 8 minutes until soft and totally tender.  Remove stems with a slotted spoon, refresh in cold water, and drain.
3.  Cook the tips in the boiling water for 3 - 5 minutes until tender, remove with a slotted spoon, refresh in cold water, and drain.  Reserve asparagus cooking water.
4.   Puree the stems in a food processor with lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup asparagus cooking, and salt and pepper to taste: transfer the sauce to a 3-quart pot.
5.   Return the remaining asparagus cooking water to a rolling boil, add the pasta, and cook until it still offers considerable resistance to the tooth, around  three quarters the recommended cooking time.  Drain, reserving 2 cups of pasta water.  Add pasta, asparagus tips, and 1/2 cup starchy water to asparagus stem puree and cook in a 3-quart pot over highest heat, stirring for 3 - 5 minutes until pasta is almost cooked and sauces coats pasta.  Add more pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, if sauce becomes too dry.  Sauce should surround pasta but be slightly liquid since cheese will thicken it.
6.   Add the grated Parmesan, heat for an additional minute to melt the cheese, and serve immediately.

When you make a dish as important as this one it needs to be shared.  And so I did - with a couple of friends from the "left bank" (Kingston) in town for a shopping expedition.  I added a few other dishes and there we had it, an ode-to-late-Spring lunch.

I made a salad with blanched sugar snap peas - which are as advertised, snappy as in crunchy and sugar sweet - with thinly sliced, peppery radishes, crumbled salty feta cheese, lots of chopped fresh chives (one of my few personally grown "crops"), extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice and brown rice vinegar.  
The day before the lunch I had been in Albany at Honest Weight, the great food co-op, where I picked up a container of goat's milk yogurt from R&G Cheesmakers, Cohoes, NY (no website). 
R & G makes exquisite goat's milk cheeses and their yogurt is exceptional.  Michael Harris of Cheese! (Hudson Farmer's Market) warned me not to expect a loose yogurt - or even a Greek-style yogurt - that this was was more like a fresh chevre cheese.  I planned accordingly and decided to treat it as if it were  labane, the Middle Eastern-style yogurt cheese.  Labane is usually served spread on a plate covered with fruity olive oil and possibly, a sprinkle of za'atar - a spice and sesame seed mix - as an appetizer or meze together with assorted salads and plenty of warm pita bread to scoop up all the offerings.  I served it with a warm Loaf baguette.

Dessert had to be something with strawberries.  While there are varieties of strawberries that will last for almost the whole summer, the kind I've been buying for the past few weeks are just about finished.
I sliced the berries and macerated them with fresh lemon juice, rapadura sugar - unrefined and unbleached organic sugar from Brazil, and vincotto - the cooked must of Malvasia grapes- which gives anything it's added to deep flavor.   Honest Weight sells vincotto and so does Buon Italia (they do mail order).  I had every intention of making cornmeal-pecan shortcakes but never seemed to get there.  I called my friends who were out shopping somewhere on Warren Street and asked them to please go directly to the farmer's market and get a loaf of Loaf's other-worldly cinnamon  bread.
As long as Rachel continues to make the buttery loaf with a generous whirlpool of cinnamon and a crackling maple-glazed top, I may never make shortcakes again.   Here's what I did; cut 3/4-inch slices of the bread, toasted them and placed each piece on a plate.  The strawberries and a bowl of whipped cream were served separately.  Everyone assembled their own dessert.  It was fragrant, tart, sweet, spicy, crispy and creamy.  Need anything else for dessert?

I bought a few extra quarts of strawberries for the freezer to be pulled and defrosted in a time of emergency.   Hull the berries then lay out, single file, on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet.  Freeze, then store the frozen berries in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag.   To defrost do the whole thing in reverse - lay the frozen berries on a baking sheet, thaw and you will have perfect berries to use as you like.  Use semi-thawed berries in a smoothie.

If you find yourself in downtown NYC (not all the way down) and are desperate for sweet refreshment
go here on the east side:

Zucker is a small east village bakery with all the charm of a coffee house in central Vienna.  Their cold brewed Stumptown coffee consumed with  alfajores ( Argentine sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche then rolled in coconut) is the pause that refreshes.  No doubt.

L'Arte del Gelato on the west side, in the Chelsea Market serves the real thing.  Real Italian gelato - ice cream with about 1/4 of the butterfat as found in American ice cream.   My benchmark gelato is straciatella - literally "a little rag" - it is plain (not vanilla) white, gelato with chocolate "rags" swirled through.  L'Arte del Gelato's straciatella  passes the test, it tastes like Italy.  All the other flavors do too.