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Monday, October 26, 2009

Dinner in a Hurry

It's been busy around the house the last few days. We finally had the basement drywalled and painted, after ten years of talking about it, and everything that was stuffed in that hideous, dark, dusty room is now spread throughout the house and garage. It's going to take the rest of the week to get it all back in there.

All this hullabaloo has made cooking difficult - it was dusty and noisy and all the mess was way too close to my kitchen oasis. The crew worked long days, leaving late, so I got into the kitchen with a hungry husband hovering. I just focused on food that could be made quickly with whatever was in the house.

I reverted to my favorite quick recipes - those that can be thrown together in less than an hour. This is a vegetarian, nothing fancy, but always satisfying, split pea soup. Less than an hour from simmer to dinner.

(Sorry there are no photos - the camera was never handy in the last few days.)

Simply Delicious Split Pea Soup

2 Tbls Olive Oil
2 onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into discs
2 celery stalks, diced
3 tsp fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1.5 c split peas, rinsed
6 c vegetable broth (I keep Penzey's Vegetable Broth Starter in my pantry)
4 small yukon gold potatoes, diced
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot.
Add the onions and cook gently for a few minutes, until transparent. Generously season with salt & pepper.
Add the garlic, cook for a minute or two, then add the carrots and celery.
Toss to coat with oil and cook until everything is softened and edges are getting a little brown.
Add the thyme, stir and toss to cook for a minute or two.
Add the split peas, stir and toss to coat with the oil and veggies, then add the broth and bring to a boil.
Stir. Add the potatoes, bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
Blend half the soup in the blender and add it back to the unblended soup. Or use an immersion blender and blend for a minute or two, leaving it a little chunky. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
Serve with bread or biscuits or even with some croutons floated on top.
If there's a carnivore in the house, you could serve a little country ham on that biscuit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Four Ducks, Three Days and One Recipe (Charcuterie Part One)

Perhaps I’m late to the table on this one, but in the last month, I’ve been pondering meat consumption in America. Dependence on choice cuts of meat for our dinner table, with a casual disregard for the rest of the animal, has proven to be totally irresponsible.

I switched to the farmers market and grass fed meats about five years ago, after Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemna made me face the environmental issues surrounding food. I have reduced my footprint. I am a more thoughtful shopper and cook.

But, it's now time to face the Nose To Tail question, head on. I want to be responsible. I want to use the whole beast. I want to understand food preservation. There is so much to think about, and I won't step up on the soapbox too much. Just sayin', it's time to realize we're eating animals, and do right by the beasts, for heaven's sake. And respect the meat we do put on our table, putting our purchasing dollars in the hands of ethical farmers.

For some excellent reading on the subject, I recommend The Compassionate Carnivore and Fergus Henderson’s marvelous book The Whole Beast: Nose To Tail Eating.

So, with an eye toward responsibility in my carnivorous-ness, I decided to search for ways to use all those supposedly “lesser” cuts of meat. Turns out they’re not lesser at all. They’re more-er. More fat, therefore more flavor, and many, many more ways to use them.

Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie provided engaging reading on the subject, and his recipes are somehow approachable, even when daunting. How does he do that? I considered shoulders – lamb, pork, veal – and how they become pates and sausages. Contemplated offal, and how liver changes to terrine. And I thought about all the ancient methods of preserving – confit! proscuitto! I was thoroughly seduced.

In one of those amazing moments of synchronicity, I received an email from L’Academie de Cuisine offering a two-day class in all things charcuterie – rillettes, gravlax, confit, pate, terrine, sausage techniques, as well as accompaniments – better yet, it was a participation class, not demonstration. I signed up instantly.

Chef Bonnie Moore is a wonderful teacher, and in her element when addressing traditional French cookery. There were eight students, all accomplished cooks and serious food lovers. The foods we created under her tutelage were stellar, and the opportunity to figure out how to use that KitchenAid meat grinder under Chef’s watchful eye made the class totally valuable.

One side note, I wouldn’t recommend eating rillette, terrine, pate, confit, gravlax, boudin blanc, and merguez all in one afternoon. But how could I resist? I spent the afternoon on the couch moaning, and ate salad for the next three days.

Knowing I would forget everything if I didn’t repeat it at home, I started shopping. It was important to me that the meats were locally raised, grass fed and finished, and between several of my favorite farmers, located and ordered everything I would need. I called Paul H., a good friend, fellow food-lover, and excellent cook, and planned a day of sausage-making for the end of the month. It is definitely a two-person job. I’ll be posting about that adventure in Charcuterie: Part Two.

In the meantime, I looked around for some ducks.

Saturday morning. Broad Branch Chevy Chase Farmers Market. Four beautiful 3.5# ducks (and two pounds of duck liver!) from Smith Meadows. They were fresh-killed, flash frozen, and needed a day to thaw before I dealt with them. And Farmer Betsy Pritchard told me to enjoy those ducks – she wouldn’t be raising them again! Evidently, raising ducks is more challenging than raising chickens and turkeys - her usual barnyard critters.

I was confronted by these ducks – I was going to have to take the birds apart. While I’ve cut up many a chicken, I haven’t deboned breasts, or done any carving on a RAW bird. Always after the chicken was cooked... never really worried what the parts looked like. This was a whole new story - these duck parts needed to look dinner party pretty.

Sunday morning. In the kitchen with a super sharp knife, four ducks, and my computer. Gotta love YouTube. I have a new boyfriend – his name is Killer. He’s made an incredibly useful video on deconstructing the duck. After watching it FOUR times, I took a deep breath and started slicing. I’m really very pleased with the results. There are more photos on Flickr.

I started an enormous pot of duck stock and made the house smell gorgeous. Already planning, I know it will be perfect to fortify the Thanksgiving gravy. Wrapped and froze the breasts in pairs, ready for dinner parties. Finally, in a big bowl, I readied the confit rubbing the duck leg quarters with salt, pepper, thyme and garlic, and refrigerating for 48 hours.

The stock cooked for four hours, after which I strained it and then cooled it quickly in an icebath. The original 12 quart pot of water and bones now held about 6 quarts of stock. And fat. Glorious duck fat. I chilled the soup overnight to help the stock and fat separate.

I spent awhile picking the duck off the bones. It was fantastic, moist and flavorful. That night, I used it for a quesadilla, and that's the recipe I'm sharing today. Made in an instant after scrounging through the 'fridge, it was an instant hit.

Monday: I skimmed the fat from the soup. I realize this isn’t the official way to render the fat (slowly simmering fat & skin and other scraps from the butchering table until you have clear fat and cracklin’s) but it worked out beautifully. I missed the cracklin’s but my cholesterol didn’t. Skimmed off about 2.5 cups of fat. The stock went into the freezer in 1.5 qt. bags.

Tuesday: Removed the leg quarters from the garlic/herb mixture, rinsed and patted them down with a paper towel. Using my favorite Le Creuset buffet pan, in went the duck legs and fat and it started warming on the stove. I was a little worried that the legs weren't immediately submerged, but more fat rendered off the ducks, so eventually they were under the fat.

Pay attention here… this is the secret to confit success… (thank you Chef Moore!) ADD A LITTLE WATER TO THE FAT. I know, sounds crazy, right? But you don’t want the duck to FRY in the fat, you want them to poach, essentially. And as long as there is water in the fat, and steam releasing, the temperature will stay at 212•, below the frying point. Brilliant.

Confit needs to cook until the meat is falling off the bone and the fat is nice and clear - what amounts to a very long time. After the legs and fat came to a good simmer, I put the pan in a 225• oven, uncovered, for six hours. I checked every hour or so to see if the steam was still releasing, and added a little bit of water (3 Tbls?) a couple of times.

At the six hour mark, the duck looked spectacular. And the fat was clear and golden. That fat is going to make some seriously good roast potatoes.

Packed in a crockery dish, the legs submerged in fat, all of it covered with parchment paper, plastic and foil, and then frozen; this lovely duck confit will be part of a glorious, celebratory Cassoulet at a holiday party.

For now, I’ve been enjoying the shredded duck in quesadillas. I hope you do, too. (I suppose you could substitute chicken breast if you don’t have any shredded duck, but that would be a shame. I recommend cooking a duck breast just for this dish, it’s That Delicious.)

And that's my Nose To Tail tale.

Shredded Duck Quesadilla
Serves 2 for dinner or 4 for appetizers

1 c onion, sliced into thin halfmoons
2 Tbls unsalted butter
1 c shredded, cooked duck
1 tsp. chili powder
2 c micro greens, stir fry greens or baby arugula
1 c queso fresco, crumbled, or jack cheese, grated
½ c chopped fresh cherries, mango, or peach (dried, frozen or home-canned can be substituted)
4 large flour tortillas
Canola oil

Garnish (any or all):
Pickled jalapenos
Chopped scallion
Chopped cilantro
Avocado slices or Guacamole
Lime wedges

Heat butter in a skillet and cook onions slowly until they caramelize. Set aside. In the same skillet, heat a little canola oil, toss the duck in, add the chili powder and about 1/2 c. of water. Cook until heated through. Set aside.

Heat a whisper of oil in a large skillet to medium high. I like to use my cast iron pan for quesadilla-making, but any pan will do. Add one of the tortillas and cook briefly, flipping it over a few times. You’ll start to see bubbles forming. Place one quarter of the duck, onions, cheese, fruit and micro greens on top of the tortilla.

Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. When the cheese is melted, fold the tortilla in half and flip from side to side until it is slightly browned and gooey.

Repeat with the additional three tortillas, keeping each warm until they are all finished. Cut each quesadilla into three or four wedges and serve with the garnishes.

PS Wouldn't these be gorgeous little passed hors d'oeuvres? A 2" tortilla layered with shredded duck, queso, tiny greens, one fat sauteed cherry, a chunk of avocado.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lemons, Pickles and Ducks

A recipe in pictures or pictures with a couple of recipes.

Limoncello and Lemon Curd. Click here Flickr for the details.

And here's a quick recipe for pickled peppers, with a nod to Michael Ruhlman's Ratio.

When you're at the farmer's market, grab a container of super fresh pretty peppers.
Find a jar that will fit the peppers. Any jar with a lid.
Wash the peppers and stab them with a sharp knife in a couple of places.
Fill the jar with the peppers. Now fill the jar with water.
Pour the water into a measuring cup. Pour half of it out. Replace the water you've poured out with vinegar.
Pour the water/vinegar mixture into a saucepan.
For each quart jar, add to the liquid
1 Tbls. kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp black pepper
Bring to a boil. Pour over the peppers.
Put the lid on the jar. Cool, then refrigerate.
They'll be ready to eat in about two weeks. In the meantime, they look really pretty in the 'fridge.
(peppers, left to right - "snacking" sweet peppers, whole jalapenos, jalapeno rings, peachy mamas)

I'll be back soon with a post about my Charcuterie class and a three day encounter with four ducks.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Meet the Farmer: Bending Bridge Farm

It's a beautiful fall day, and I am heading north to Mercersburg, PA and Bending Bridge Farm. I've been buying gorgeous produce from Farmer Audrey Fisher all summer. This visit is what I hope will be the first in a series about the farmers supplying all the lovely, local, sustainable, seasonal foods in my kitchen and on my table.

It was a sensational drive. I passed Federal style brick homes with the most modern farm buildings (silos, barns, etc etc) and fields of corn stalks drying, soybeans, wheat. Fields filled with lazy cows enjoying the sunshine. Many modest farms, tidy and picturesque, with horses, hay fields, and in one instance, a remarkable planting of sunflowers.

Arriving at the house Audrey shares with fiancé Cameron Pederson, the air smells fresh and the trees have just that hint of red and gold. Clearly, a little slice of paradise. Audrey welcomed me in to a lunch (nice!) of farm fresh savoy cabbage and kale tossed with bacon and a drizzle of brightening vinegar (sherry?), hearty Firehook Bakery bread, sharp cheddar, apples and mulled cider. We sat in her sunny kitchen and talked about farming in 2009.

Bending Bridge is in its first year. Audrey and Cameron met while apprenticing at a large organic farm nearby, and after two years, decided to begin by cultivating one acre. They are working on getting organic certification, a rigorous undertaking of recordkeeping. As though farming isn’t rigorous enough, hm?

Audrey and Cameron work with their local farmer’s cooperative – Tuscarora Organic Growers (TOG) – to supplement the produce they bring to market, and to sell the crops they are raising. It all sounds wonderfully idyllic and I have movie-worthy pictures in my head as she describes this relationship. I realize I am romanticizing it all.

As a gardener, I loved the walk down to the planting field, passing the additional three acres that have recently been mechanically tilled, rocks removed, cover crop of winter rye and vetch planted to enrich the soil, readied for next year. All those rocks in a pile were way too reminiscent of my own garden’s soil, and I felt immediate empathy for both of the farmers!

The one acre patch is producing, still. Beautiful curly heads of savoy cabbage. Peppers still ripening. The last of the tomatoes, the ones that survived the late blight, are a particularly wonderful tiny variety called Matt’s Wild Mexican Cherry. It is everything you want in a tomato, in one tiny bite.

Audrey is passionate about what she does, and very thoughtful. Is this The New Farmer? I certainly hope so. To hear her speak about seed sourcing, soil testing, crop rotation – they so readily take on all the challenges. This is not an easy profession. I also heard an impressive idealism, an interest in being truly connected to their work. We both smiled when Ghandi's “ Be the change you wish to see in the world” was spoken, but we both knew full well that Audrey meant it. Hey, I’m a child of the 60’s – this is right up my alley.

Of course, the current near-political interest is in food that is Local-Sustainable-Seasonal. Dennis and I are trying our best to live that way for so many reasons (maybe another post,) but there’s another aspect we may all be missing. Audrey was veering toward poetic when she addressed sustainability, as her perspective also includes sustaining the farmer.

Currently, Cameron works off the farm to make ends meet, and Audrey is managing the crops and the market (although Cameron's there on Sundays.) How they make the transition to self-sustaining will be a juggling act. If they plant four acres next year, they'll need help during planting and harvest, and maybe more, if attending more farmers markets. It's a balancing act in a tough economy with a narrow margin. And they will need retirement plans and health insurance! Our small farmers are struggling. They need us. And we need them.

Sustaining the Farmer. This idea knocked around my brain for the next several hours. Certainly organic certification is the small farmer’s best chance these days, but we can’t undervalue the benefit of an educated, passionate consumer.

from the USDA -- “Between 2002 and 2007, nearly 75 percent of U.S. agriculture was produced by just 5 percent of farms, forcing less profitable small and mid-sized farmers to supplement their agricultural income with other work. In 2007, 65 percent of farmers held off-farm jobs.”

Support your local, small farmer.

Join a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. This is the best way to support your farmer, as you can provide funding to help them buy seeds, equipment and more during the winter, to prepare for the following year. In Audrey & Cameron’s case, their CSA will fund a new greenhouse. I know I’ll be signing up and encouraging everyone I know to participate. The winter offerings will include beets, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, turnips, kale, greens, lettuce and citrus. Contact Audrey at for more information.

Buy from your farmers market.

Buy at farm stands

It was a wonderful day at the farm. Thank you, Audrey.

Bending Bridge Farm's exceptional produce can be found at the Bethesda Central Farm Market. The displays are artful and there's a wide range of foods. I have been thrilled, just in the last couple of weeks, to find maroon and orange carrots, dinosaur kale, pea shoots, celery root, fantastic shallots, arugula, chard, fancy little potatoes, winter squashes, and all sorts of greens. The beets are as sweet as candy. The onions are perfect. In fact, all the produce is so pretty, I'm usually seduced well past my shopping list. The market is held Thursday afternoons and Sunday mornings through October, then will continue through the winter on Sunday mornings, only.

Bending Bridge Farm Chili

(adapted from my beloved Gourmet magazine, which closed yesterday)
Serves 6

2 medium dried ancho chiles, wiped clean
1 dried chipotle chile, wiped clean
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp salt
4-6 tomatoes, charred in a 425 oven for 10 min. and rough chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 small butternut squash, neck only, diced – about 2 cups
1 bunch lacinato kale, stems and ribs discarded, leaves chopped in 1/2" ribbons
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely grated
1-1/4 cups vegetable broth
3 cups pinto beans, drained (I used Rancho Gordo pinto beans I had cooked ahead.)

Open up the chilis, removing the seeds and stem and then toast them in a dry skillet VERY QUICKLY so they do not scorch.

Break up the chilis and toss them in a blender with the other spices and the tomatoes. Whir until pureed.

Saute onions in a large heavy pot until softened. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, then add the chili-tomato mixture.

Add squash and kale and toss quickly to coat. Cook for 5-7 minutes until everything is bubbling.

Add the broth, chocolate and the drained pinto beans.

Simmer 20 minutes.

Serve with cornbread, sour cream, grated cheese, chopped scallion & cilantro.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sauerkraut - Because Its Time Has Come

This is a quickie post, while I spend time working on the next one. It's time to get your kraut fermenting, folks! If Oktoberfest is calling your name. If you like to enjoy wintery stews, sausages, charcroute. And especially if you're from Baltimore, and Thanksgiving meant sauerkraut on the table, hon, get chopping! And for you non-believers, having a bit of fermented food in your diet can be really beneficial to the digestion - it's high in antioxidants and vitamin C. Here's an interesting article.

And it tastes great!

Now is the time, the farmers markets are full of the most beautiful green cabbages. About 1.5# each, they're the perfect young cabbage for sauerkraut. The best kraut comes from the freshest cabbage, so get your hands on a bright green, tightly formed cabbage and start fermenting right away.

Find a good crock or big glass jar. If I hit the lottery, I'm going to get one of these crocks, but in the meantime, I've got mine in a cylindrical vase that a flower arrangement came in! Hint: you can almost always find large glass jars at Marshalls for very reasonable prices.

I learned a great trick for weighting it down from Eugenia Bone's excellent book Well Preserved. Fill a ziplock bag with a brine solution made up of one quart of water and 1-1/2 Tablespoons of kosher salt. This provides sufficient weight, and if it were to break, it won't hurt the kraut (just make it watery.) I used to make weird contraptions including old plates and bricks in plastic bags.

So, chop up your sauerkraut. You can use the food processor, a box grater (largest hole) or, do as I do, and quarter and core the cabbage, then slice thinly to make ribbons of cabbage that turn into silky sauerkraut. Rinse the cabbage well and shake the water off using a colander.

Toss the cabbage ribbons with 1 Tbls. of kosher salt for every pound of cabbage. Pack the cabbage into your crock/jar and press down firmly. Top with the ziplock bag filled with brine. Cover with plastic wrap. Put it in a cool spot. Mine sits on the counter, in a place that's pretty dark and stays cool, because I like to see what's going on. Here's a picture from day one.

In about 24 hrs., (second photo) the cabbage will have let off enough juice to cover. If it's not completely submerged in two days, add some brine (1 quart water + 1.5 Tbls. salt) just to cover. If the cabbage is fresh, you shouldn't have to do this. Over the next few days/weeks, you'll see bubbles rising lazily. That's fermentation!

Over time, the kraut will turn from bright green to yellow and the bubbles will stop. It will take about a month to six weeks for the kraut to ferment. Lift the cover and take a sniff. You'll know when it's ready. Pack it in jars. What you do next is up to you.

Some people put the jars through a boiling water bath for 10 minutes to seal them. Others feel this kills the best qualities of fermented food, and just put the jars on the shelf. Others just dip into the jar to help themselves and, when it gets low, just add more cabbage. Giardiniera is an Italian version, adding cauliflower, celery, peppers, carrots, mushrooms and zucchini.

I put the jars on the shelf. They don't last very long. I've already made 12 pints this summer, and gone through seven of them. This batch started with three cabbages (4.5 lbs.) and looks like it will become about 5 pints. I'm going to need more.