Thursday, May 31, 2007

for your reading pleasure

There's nothing like a little tidying-up to lift one's blog depression.

You may have noticed that I added a customized Google search feature over on the right hand side there. Remember when I made that big pot of pink pudding? Or the shortbread barnyard? You can now search for those posts instead of trying to remember which month they were in.

You may also have noticed that my e-mail address (located near the upper-right corner) has changed: it is now tinybanquet [at] gmail dot com. Personally I find this refreshing; handing out a Yahoo address was a bit like walking around in petticoats and a monocle.

There will be a few more little changes during the next week or two and I want to apologize in advance to those of you who read my RSS feed: I am going to be adding labels to some of my older posts and will also be enlarging some of the photos to match the size I currently use, and as a result these posts may show up as new in your RSS reader. Hopefully that won't happen, but it's a possibility.

I'm planning to use the labels on the posts to create a menu from which someone can choose to view, say, only soup recipes, or only vegetarian recipes, etcetera, etcetera. As for the photo sizes, the template I started out using was a little cramped, and some of the photos were smaller than they need to be. If you spot a dog hair in any of the newly-enlarged photos, e-mail me and I'll send you a suitably cheap trinket.

Not sure what an RSS reader is? I will explain to save you the embarrassment of asking someone snottier about these things than I am: it is a technology that allows you to smell the aromas from food blog photos right through your monitor.

Ha, ha! No. But it's really useful. It is a technology that collects the most recent posts from blogs and news feeds that you subscribe to, so that you can go to one place to see what's new, rather than visiting all your bookmarked sites. There's a decent guide to them here.

Don't be shy about inviting lactarded people to your next party

So that your guests who have issues with cows' milk will know what they can eat, porcelain sheep, cow and goat heads for your cheese. $9.99 from Fante's Kitchen Wares Shop.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

salad with issues;
what happens when you broil lemons?

radish greens salad

This salad was going to be so delicious: perfectly fresh radish greens from the greenmarket (Windfall Farms) with tender, cotton candy-pink stems, crisp Mutsu apple (Red Jacket Orchards still has good apples), ginger candied almonds, toasted sesame vinaigrette. These flavors were a nice combination — mildly spicy greens and nuts, juicy apple, and a light but well-balanced dressing — but the salad was uncomfortably difficult to eat. The radish greens are too small to be speared with a fork and too crisp to be twirled like spaghetti, and the candied almonds tend to fall off one's fork. Recipes for the almonds and the salad are below, but I think you'll have an easier time of enjoying them if you use them to fill a Vietnamese summer roll.

First, the almonds. This recipe is an adaptation of David Lebovitz's salt-roasted peanuts, which I love. I used powdered ginger rather than fresh because raw almonds need to be roasted for a relatively long time and I was worried about the ginger burning. I also thought it would be easier to distribute evenly over the nuts, which get coated with a very sticky sugar mixture. If you try this with fresh ginger, let me know how it works out. Also note that in David's recipe he calls for good sea salt; I don't think it makes sense to use your best salt in this version because it would only be obscured by the flavor of the ginger. Kosher salt is fine.

ginger candied almonds
adapted from David Lebovitz's salt-roasted peanuts

2 cups raw almonds
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Lightly oil a baking sheet or line it with a silicone baking mat.

In a bowl, mix together the corn syrup, the light brown sugar and the ginger. Add the almonds and stir until they are thoroughly coated with the mixture.

Spread the almonds out evenly on the baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until they are deep brown in color. Stir them at least once during cooking, and rotate the pan halfway through if it looks like they're browning unevenly.

When you take them out of the oven, the glaze will be sticky and bubbling. Working quickly, stir them with a silicone spatula so that they don't stick together as they cool. If they stuck together in impossible clumps as they cooled, heat them in a 300 or 350° for five minutes or so, just long enough to soften the coating so that you can give them a good stir again.

The almonds will stay crisp in an airtight container for several days.

Yield: 2 cups.

Salad of radish greens, apple, and ginger candied almonds, with toasted sesame vinaigrette
serves 2

1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 box radish greens (approximately 2 cups of greens, not packed-down)
1/2 of a Mutsu apple (also sold as Crispin apple), sliced into thin bite-size wedges
2-3 tablespoons ginger candied almonds (see recipe above)

Whisk together the two oils and the vinegar in a small bowl and season to taste with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Mound the greens on two plates and distribute the apple and the almonds among them. Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately.

Our main course was free of issues and I'll likely make it again when I want something really simple and easy: cod with chives and broiled lemon. I love lemons as they are but I was curious as to how their flavor might soften if they were broiled for a few minutes. (Grilling would be preferable, of course, but my fire escape isn't conducive to that). They didn't quite caramelize into lemon candy, but their flavor did soften considerably and it was possible to eat entire segments of warm, juicy lemon without overpowering the fish.

broiled lemon

I strongly recommend that you use organic lemons for this recipe, since you'll be exposing the peel to high heat. You only need one lemon for this dinner but you might as well make two as long as you have the broiler heated up; the other lemon can be used for salad dressing or squeezed on vegetables later in the week.

cod with chives and broiled lemon
serves 2

2 organic lemons, sliced 1/2" thick
enough olive oil to brush the lemon slices and the fish (approximately 2 tablespoons)
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cod fillets, approximately 6 oz. each
a small bundle of fresh chives (enough to yield 2-3 tablespoons when minced)

Turn the broiler on and arrange the lemons in a heavy, oven-safe pan. (I used a cast iron grill pan covered with foil; it's super-easy to clean up afterwards). Brush them with olive oil and broil them for 2-3 minutes, or until they are well-browned in spots. Remove the pan from the broiler, flip the slices over, brush their other side with olive oil, and return the pan to the broiler until the lemons are well-browned on each side.

Remove the lemon slices to a plate or bowl and arrange the fish fillets in the same pan you used for the lemons. Brush them with olive oil and season them with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Broil them for ten minutes per inch of thickness. If they are becoming too brown under the broiler, take them out, turn the oven down to 375° and finish cooking them in the oven. (Usually this is not necessary).

Plate the fish and snip or mince the chives. Squeeze 2-3 slices of broiled lemon over each fillet of fish, letting the juice and the segments of the fruit fall on the fish. Sprinkle the chives over the fish and serve at once.

cod with chives and broiled lemon

Cod with chives and broiled lemon; on the side are roasted Carola potatoes tossed with fresh oregano.

P.S. I did not steal my salad plates from The '21' Club; I'm much too clumsy for that sort of thing. They came from Fish's Eddy, which sells restaurant and airline dishes and utensils along with their own well-designed stuff.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

While you were stuck in a Memorial Day traffic jam

I was at the Union Square greenmarket, waiting for Mr. Picky-Pants in front of me to finish selecting his fiddleheads one curly bit at a time. Maddening! Here's today's haul:

part of today's haul

A fluffy bundle of thyme and several loooong branches of rosemary ($1.75 each from Stokes Farm), and some rhubarb ($2.50, I think; can't recall who grew it).

Sweet William

An armful of Sweet William ($4, from the same people who grew the rhubard). Don't worry, we're not going to eat it.

fat organic beets

Two fat organic beets with abundant greens, from the people who also sell home-made kimchee. I can't remember how much these were but beets are never pricey. These beets are destined to become beetroot, cardamom and sour cream soup; I'm not yet sure what I'll do with their greens.

French sorrel

A quarter of a pound of organic French sorrel ($4.50-$5), from the same people who grew the beets. It's expensive but it's one of my favorite greens. I also picked up a pound of nice-looking sea scallops from P.E. & D.D. Seafood and this sorrel is likely going to be used to make a sauce for the scallops. I really want to try this recipe for butter-braised radishes with sorrel too; maybe next week.

plump shallots

Plenty of over-sized shallots ($2.50 for a small basket, from a stand in the southwest corner of the park).


A pint of fiddleheads from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm ($4). These are what I went to the greenmarket hoping to find. Like ramps, they can be hard to come by even during their very brief season. They are ferns that have yet to uncoil; they're prized in Maine but happily they grow within NYC greenmarket range too. This recipe is very simple and very good; it's the only fiddlehead recipe I've ever used but they come out perfectly tender and I'm going to keep using it. If you're inclined to pickle things (ahem!) there are a few recipes here for pickled fiddleheads.

the last ramps of the season

A bundle of ramps ($2.50, I think), also from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm. According to their sign these are the last ramps of the season. I know I've said I could eat ramps with fresh pasta every week but I've just had my biannual carb freak-out so these will likely go into some sort of egg dish.

Araucana chicken eggs

Good thing I got eggs, then. These odd-colored and irregularly-sized beauties are from pasture-raised Araucana chickens, a distinctive rumpless breed originally from South America and now raised by fanciers in the U.S. and elsewhere. These were expensive eggs, $7/dozen, but I always buy local free-range eggs at the greenmarkets so I like to invest in super-delicious eggs. I wasn't really thinking when I asked the guy who sold these what's different about eggs from pasture-raised chickens but on the way home I thought about his explanation and realized that these chickens are really rather better-off than others — a "free-range" chicken doesn't necessarilly have a pasture to loll around in.

Monday, May 07, 2007

ramps and ramps

fresh pasta with ramps

Pasta with ramps; ramps with pasta — we've had this for dinner twice in the past two weeks and if I can find more ramps this week we'll have it again. This year's ramps seem to be milder in flavor and less pungent than in previous years, possibly because of the wet weather we had recently, but I love them anyhow.

My understanding is that ramps are wild leeks that grow in mountainous regions in parts of the U.S. for just a few weeks each spring. They are the first item I've looked up in The Oxford Companion to Food and not found an entry for; nor is there any information about them in the entry on leeks. I have only heard of them growing in the Catskills and the Appalachian Mountains, but quite possibly they are found elsewhere.

It's hard for me to explain what it is about ramps that I love so much, but I think it's their texture as much as their flavor: they come as close to melting as any vegetable can. They are at their best when prepared simply and served with minimal distractions.

The recipe below is basically a stripped-down version of a recipe that appeared on Gothamist in 2006. My version of it has three changes: (1) I believe fresh pasta, not dried, is a far better partner for the ramps. Cooked just right, fresh pasta and ramps will have the same luscious texture. (2) I omitted the pork. The original recipe calls for speck, prosciutto, or bacon, and while I love all three of those things, I prefer my pasta with ramps as simple as possible. (3) I use only one egg, in deference to Italian Boyfriends of The Past who used one egg, not two, to make me perfect plates of pasta with grated cheese.

A couple more thoughts before the recipe: Like leeks, ramps are grubby little things that need to be washed in at least two changes of water, possibly three. The easiest way to wash them is, of course, with a salad spinner: Pull off any slimy outer layer (sometimes covering the bottom two-thirds of the white and pale purple parts) and trim off the frizzled ends of the bulbs, wash them well in plenty of cold water, and spin them dry. Second, I have noticed a lot of people walking away from the farm stand with a single bundle of ramps — a perfectly reasonable way to try an unfamiliar vegetable, but for this and most other dinner recipes you'll need at least two bundles. If you only have one lonely bundle, either halve the recipe and serve the pasta as an appetizer, or make ramps and scrambled eggs for 2 instead. (Chop the bulbs, cook them until soft in a combination of butter and olive oil; then add the greens and cook for a minute or two longer, until they are thoroughly wilted; then add 4 or 5 beaten eggs and scramble as usual).

ramps ramps

Fresh pasta with ramps
Serves 3-4.

2 bundles of ramps, washed thoroughly
1 pound fresh pasta, any flat ribbon shape (tagliatelle, linguine, fettucine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
the best parmesan you can buy, grated on a microplane or the small holes of a box grater — at least 1 cup

Fill a large stock pot with cold water, salt it generously, and bring it to a furious boil.

Chop the root ends of the ramps and sauté them in the olive oil over medium heat until they soften, 1 to 3 minutes. Season them with salt and freshly ground pepper. While they're cooking, slice the green leaves in half lengthwise, and again in half crosswise if they're large. Add them to the pan with the roots, along with the butter, and cook, stirring, until they are thoroughly wilted. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Cook the pasta as directed, reserving about 1/2 cup of the water before you drain it. (You may need to drizzle a bit of the water into the finished dish if it looks dry). It is better for the pasta to be slighly under-done; if the ramps have cooled you'll need to return the pot to the heat until everything is heated through, and you don't want the pasta to turn mushy.

Return the pasta to the pot and stir in the ramp mixture, the beaten egg, and approximately 1/2 cup of grated cheese. Toss gently until combined. (If the ramps were done before the pasta, you may wish to do this over low heat). Add a bit of the pasta water, a tablespoon or two at a time, if the egg and cheese mixture is clumping. (If you've drained the pasta gently and left a bit of water clinging to it, you probably won't need the additional water). Taste for seasoning, and serve with additional grated cheese at the table.

pasta with ramps