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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Take Time

Did anyone else blink July first or second, and suddenly find themselves on July 31st going what happened? Undoubtedly, everyone has experienced that before in some form or another, and for whatever reason. For me, starting a new Monday-Friday 8-5 and having "normal people" hours, running a booth of baked goods at a local market, and sorting out (or trying in some form to sort out) our future plans,  have contributed to that feeling.

Whatever the reason though, often it seems like we don't realize what has caused time to suddenly slip from our hands and jump to warp speed. It's only after the fact that we can stop and reflect about what produced this whirlwind of time commitments and constraints. Reflecting on this loss of time often creates a sometimes even longer list of things you didn't do or missed or wanted to get done but couldn't, etc., etc., all of which can create a very unpleasant view of how you're spending your time these days. But luckily, I think I've found a solution. Naturally, it takes the form of food. 

Garlic Scape Polenta Topped with Mushroom and Garlic Scape Saute

2 Tbsp Olive Oil, divided
2 Tbsp Butter, Divided
1 Cup Diced Garlic Scapes, Divided (from about 8 long scapes)
1/2 Cup Cornmeal
2-1/2 Cups Vegetable Broth
1/2 tsp salt
 8 oz portobello mushrooms, sliced thick and halved
1/4 Large Onion Diced 
Additional Salt and Pepper to taste

1. In medium pan, melt 1 tbsp butter and heat 1 tbsp of the oil over medium high heat. Add 1/2 cup of the garlic scapes and saute over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until they begin to become tender. Set aside.
2. In stock pot, bring 1 quart vegetable broth to a boil over high heat. Very slowly, add cornmeal to broth, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer stirring often.
3. After five minutes, add garlic scapes, 1/2 tsp salt and stir to distribute. Simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring often.
4. Meanwhile, in medium pan, melt remaining butter and oil over medium high heat. Add garlic scapes and saute 2-3 minutes. Add onions, mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper and continue to saute until onions are translucent and mushrooms browned.
5. To serve, spoon polenta onto plate and top with serving spoon full of mushroom and garlic scape saute. Take a breath, and enjoy.
This is really a simple dish. Sauteed mushrooms and garlic scapes atop a garlic scape polenta. Easy peasy. But the entire dish provides everything you need to stop and take time to reflect and enjoy the moment, stopping that vicious little cycle in its tracks. First of all, when making polenta, all you really have is time to think. Well, and stir of course. Don't be to hasty in cutting this step short, not only do you not not want lumpy polenta, but the methodical stirring can be an instant tranquilizer to calm any frazzled nerves, the first step needed to step back from your routine.

The second component of the dish may be a piece of cake for anyone spending time much time in the kitchen. Sauteing is typically quick, letting you get from point A to point B, but at the same time produces the wonderful aromas of garlic, butter and mushrooms coming together that urges you to take a deep breath.

Finally, the best part, eating the dish. Perhaps because of its simplicity, this is the perfect dish from beginning to end to help you step and breathe before you loose control of your time. With how hectic our life is getting and will continue to be for a little while, we may be eating this a lot! Daniel will be making friends with the farmer who brings scapes to the farmer's market fairly soon.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Good Addiction

It seems strange that I am writing about a breakfast dish considering my irregularity of morning eating. But lately I have been eating a small breakfast as long as that consists of whole milk somewhere. When I was growing up my mom would whip up huge batches of peanut butter granola that I  would eat more consistently than anything. The crunchy peanuts and oats and sunflower seeds made a perfect breakfast. If you are waiting for a peanut butter granola recipe please don't start scratching your head, but if you are looking for a simple and equally addictive granola recipe to my mom's you have come to the right place.

I have only made granola a couple times but the other morning I ran out of breakfasty foods and started contemplating and when that happens sometimes wild things occur. Well, maybe this recipe is not that off the wall, but it is something that can be produced year round thanks to the dried goods and makes one heck of a perfect breakfast food and snack with loads of protein and chocolaty goodness. Well, not chocolate exactly, but the crunchy bittersweet goodness of cocoa nibs. Oh, and did I mention the dried figs and currants that pack a syrupy sweetness, and pumpkin seeds and oats for a nutty kick of protein. Even if you aren't a full time breakfast eater like myself, this stuff is aptly addictive.

Addictive Granola

1 1/4 C old fashioned oats
2/3 C green shelled pumpkin seeds
4 T amber honey
1/4 C packed dark brown sugar
1/2 C dried black mission figs, cut in 1/4 inch dice
1/2 C currants
1/3 C cocoa nibs
3 T canola oil
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix honey, sugar, oats, oil, and seeds together well in a bowl and spread thinly on a non-stick baking sheet. Sprinkle some sea salt on top and bake for ten minutes and stir. Turn the pan and bake for ten more minutes. The granola should be crisp and browned. Bake a minute or so more if not as crisp as desired. When the mixture has cooled combine with the currants, cocoa nibs, and figs. Enjoy with whole milk, Greek yogurt, or by the handful. 

I guess it would keep for about a week if it ever lasted that long... 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Don't worry. This isn't an ode to the mutant tomato cartoon of my childhood. I didn't even watch that to be honest. Instead, this is a small meditation on the beauty and delicious summer perfection that is a tomato in July. There are an infinite number of ways to enjoy the summer tomato, and undoubtedly ballads of devotion are a dime a dozen at this point. But oh well. We'll throw our ten cents in too.

Personally, as I start thinking of the different ways to enjoy its juicy perfection, I find myself echoing the memorable shrimp dialogue from Forest Gump, citing the infinite ways to enjoy it on a sandwich or a pizza and the ultimate tomato pie.Of course one of the best compliments to the tomato is bacon. Of course. The smoky salty taste pairs with the slight acidity, reminiscent of plain sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt (a staple summer side for Sunday dinner). So, for out first killer tomato dish, we prepared a summer tomato and bacon focaccia. Simple and enjoyable as the best outdoor summer fair should be.

Summer Tomato & Bacon Focaccia
1 recipe pizza dough ready to cook
1 Large perfectly ripe tomato, sliced thin
4 Slices bacon, fried crisp and broken into small pieces
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
sea salt & pepper

1. Place pizza stone in the oven and preheat oven to 475. 
2. Toss pizza dough and roll thin. Allow to rise slightly. 
3. Combine balsamic and olive oil and sprinkle on prepared dough. Top with sliced tomatoes and bacon. 
4. Sprinkle tomatoes with sea salt and pepper. Place in oven for 10-15 minutes until golden. 
5.Serve immediately

But, to really pay tribute to the tomato, we should take a moment to appreciate it in all it's summer forms. Naturally the heirloom tomatoes have their place, but, we should take a moment to enjoy the other versions of the fruit as well. Particularly, in its green form as well.

While I'm not a huge fan of fried foods, fried green tomatoes are the quintessential way to enjoy a green tomato. Until Daniel's pickled green tomatoes a little while ago and this recipe for a green tomato salad with pistachio relish  in last month's Food & Wine, I didn't have the faintest idea there was another way to enjoy the tart version of summer's treat. Suffice it to say, the curious compliment of the sweet nutty vinegary dressing with the tart tomato made for a refreshing summer dish that was even better the second day. There was probably enough left for two meals...I managed to polish it off in one. Even if you're skeptical about green tomatoes, this one is well worth the try!!! You can find the recipe here. We didn't have the champagne vinegar, so I substituted a white wine vinegar with a teeny pinch of sugar. For an extra kick, I added a little bit of sumac to the dressing as well.

Whatever direction your summer market finds take you, hopefully you'll take advantage of developing a repertoire of your favorite summer dish too. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Necessity Meats

It seems that food eaten out of necessity during tough times continues on to steal the show during food renaissances later down the road. You know the items that I am thinking of like beef tongue that Americans are beginning to devour from taquerias like a pack full of wolves, pork belly that is leaping off menus at countless fine dining establishments in New York and L.A, and tripe at some of the more authentic Italian trattorias. It's no wonder we are devouring these cuts more and more these days other than the fact we find some kind of social link to our past in their consumption. Once you have taken the first bite you realize why you picked up that terrifying tongue that will match any beef roast and taco filling or pork belly that looks like a slab of meat reserved for the butchers wife from yesteryear. These are the items that fill your home with the smell of tradition and everything wholesome we associate with a meal around the table with family.

When you braise a pork belly in the fashion I did the results are truly mesmerizing. It punches our taste buds and mentality in the face like that perfect roast chicken demanding an answer to why we won't take a tiny bit of prep time to create these amazing centerpieces. Try serving one of your friends or family that chows down on a baby back ribs and pulled pork a slice of pork belly. Reserve the opportunity for someone who is too terrified to try something as "outlandish" as pork belly and let them try to deny they like it after you see them reaching for another bite. This dish in all its unctuous umami, sweet, and spicy glory will turn any cynic into a believer- except a full blown vegan (and for them you may have no hope). About the only thing better than this amazing food renaissance that has brought us back to the goodness of everything pork, and pork belly in this case, is the ease in which it is prepared.

Soy-Ginger Pork Belly
I cannot steal all the spotlight for this dish because I stole the idea from chef Daniel Boulud, that I respect very much, and altered it some to my tastes. His cookbook titled "Braise" is a masterpiece of inventive recipes from varying cultures that I highly recommend.

1- 3 pound boneless, skin-on pork belly
2 C beef broth
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C dark soy sauce (high quality soy sauce is important here as the cheap stuff can be cloyingly salty)
1/2 C peeled finely chopped ginger
2 bunches green onions, one diced and other for garnish
3 T brown sugar
kosher salt
3 T hoisin sauce
1 T olive oil

Score the pork belly on the skin side just deep enough to reach the meat in a diamond pattern. Place pork belly in a plastic bowl the night before cooking along with soy sauce, ginger, vinegar, brown sugar, hoisin, and one bunch diced green onions to marinate.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. When ready to cook, rake any onions and sauce from the belly and brown in a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven approximately 12 minutes. When thoroughly golden turn pork fat side up and add marinade back to cooking vessel, cover, and move to oven.

Cook about 4 hours or a little longer if not tender enough to your liking. Taste sauce to assure it is seasoned properly: it may need a touch more vinegar to cut the richness or saltiness. Cut in small diagonal chunks and sprinkle with garnish onions. Serve very warm with sauce poured over, a side of steamed snow peas, and steamed rice. Enjoy with a French Chardonnay.

The fat can be removed and cooked under the broiler to crisp and serve alongside the pork belly. I did this when I made the dish but forgot to photograph it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cheesy Compensation

One day, we'll go on one of these series of vacations and either (a) write a post in advance and accurately schedule it, or (b) not let the two weeks pass without looking at the blog. One day. Doubtful, but one can hope I suppose. But nonetheless, when returning from trips often we find ourselves in a quandry.

One the one hand, a couple weeks of indulgent eating usually requires a week of boring super light meals to compensate for the excess of the last week or so. If included in this vacation series is a week of visiting family and a spectacular array of favorite meals, trips to favorite restaurants and of course a few infamous donuts however, it's probably time to lighten things up a bit. On the other hand however, after sampling dishes from Philadelphia's finest and rediscovering some of the dishes responsible for our love of all things food however, who wants a bland-boring-tasteless low calorie dish. No one. Your still holding on to the adventures undertaken by your palate and the memories you've just made. Hence, instead of a boring-back-from-vacation salad, we offer you instead a plate of these two dishes--a combination of vegetables and protein packed legumes to help you feel satisfied and a nice way to reminisce about recent adventures.

In case you are unfamiliar with the green snail shaped vegetable, these are the elusive fiddlehead ferns. In the US, fiddlehead ferns are typically found throughout the north east and new england states and harvested in early spring. How we managed to stumble across an abundance of these beauties in July I'm not entirely sure, but we wont complain! The fronds supposedly have a number of health benefits, including twice as much antioxidant power as blueberries. Be warned however, when undercooked they can not only be exceptionally bitter, but can also cause stomach troubles. Taste wise, they have a texture similar to asparagus, and while some describe the taste as similar too, we actually found the taste to be somewhat earthier. Most sources recommend blanching them in boiling water for two minutes twice if possible, but at least once. Once you've blanched them, quickly sauté with a little fat or oil, and season appropriately. Naturally, when trying to eat healthier or lighter we decide to use bacon for the oil or fat component and flavor. Maybe it all evens out in the end, but even if not the bacon provides a delicious depth of flavor somewhat reminiscent of southern style green beans and bacon that taste best only from a grandmothers table. 

Sautéd Fiddlehead Ferns
1/2 lb Fiddlead ferns, washed, long woody stems and dark spots removed.
2 Pieces of thick cut bacon
Salt & Pepper to Taste
Sufficient Water and Ice Water for Blanching
1. Clean fiddlehead ferns while bringing a large pot of water boil. Prepare ice bath. 
2. Once water is boiling, place fiddlehead ferns in water and return to a boil. Allow to cook for two minutes.Quickly drain and place ferns in ice bath to stop cooking. 
3. Change water and bring a second pot of water to a boil. Prepare second ice bath. Repeat step2.  
4. Once ferns are in second ice bath, fry bacon in heavy frying pan until crisp. Remove bacon and approx 1/3 of bacon grease and reserve and allow pan to cool slightly. Place ferns in warm grease and sauté over high heat until brown spots begin to appear. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Our other tastier dinner choice was a cheesy bacon and lentil dish reminiscent of mac & cheese. I know, you see bacon and mac & cheese and lighter options are not high up there on you initial thoughts. But, we consider this a better alternative. Instead of filling up on pasta, you get to feel up on the protein from the lentils with the smoky rewarding flavors of a bacon mac & cheese. For us, this dish reminded us vaguely of the truffled mac & cheese we devoured from Varga while in Philly.

Faux Mac & Cheese
1/2 Cup Split Orange Lentils, picked over and rinsed
3/4 Cup Water
2 Pieces of Crisped Bacon and approx 1 Tbsp of reserved bacon grease
1/2 Small Shallot, Minced
1 Garlic Clove
1/4 Onion Chopped
1/4 Cup Sharp Italian Cheese (i.e. Pecorino)
Salt & Pepper to Taste
1. In small saucepan, bring water to boil over medium high heat. Add lentils and bring to a boil. Cook for two minutes and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 15-20 minutes until tender.
2. Meanwhile, in skillet, sauté garlic, onion, and shallot in bacon grease until tender. 
3. Once lentils are tender, quickly add to skillet with garlic and onions and gently stir over low heat to combine. Add bacon, cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm. 

No matter where your summer adventures may have taken you or may take you soon, consider keeping the adventures going when you return to your home kitchen! Enjoy!